Thunder Struck

by MerlosTheMad

Chapter 2 : Short Circuit

Stephanie hummed contentedly in her sleep. Her dream was pleasant, more so than normal. There was a cute guy in it that was nice and witty, and not overly muscly or too skinny, either. He was being awfully forward, which was a bit strange.

Stephanie hummed again, smiling... then frowned, instead. The pulling at her clothes felt awfully real to her.

"Wha-? AH!" Stephanie opened her eyes quickly, arms jerking slightly from the sudden realization someone really was pulling on her underwear. She pushed back at that someone in the darkness. The unmistakable feeling of the elastic waist band being released, then striking her side with a good thwap made her yelp. She scurried backwards on the couch as fast as lightning to the other end, fists raised against the home invader. "What do y—!? Oh geez, Sweetie?"

Stephanie recognized immediately what had happened from the bang of metal on the wood floor. Sweetie Belle had tumbled sideways, then slid slowly onto the ground from the couch.

After a quick look around the room, Stephanie held a hand up to her chest and exhaled the panicked breath she'd been holding. "Oh thank goodness. You scared me, Sweetie. Hey, are you alright?" Swallowing hard, she laid over the couch and peered down at Sweetie.

"Are you alri— Uhm, Status?" she asked, with just a twinge of worry. The bot's eyes slowly blinked up at her.

"Statu-u-us... Systems. Normal. Chassis. Normal. Power. One-point one percent." Sweetie's voice when reporting was similar to her roots from an old web series.

Stephanie let out a sigh of relief. She knew her bot was tough, but she cared for the little machine as much as any of her real animals, or family for that matter. Actually, my family is full of jerks now that I think about it... Whether tired or not, she would probably decide she cared for Sweetie a little more.

Sweetie's normal voice kicked back in. "Steeeph, I'm hungry." It was tuned to sound quite a bit like the voice actress that had played as the original Sweetie Belle from the TV show the character originated from. "I'm boooored, too." The bot pulled its legs beneath itself, then rolled up to a sitting position and stared up at its creator.

"Is it that time of the week already?" Stephanie laughed at Sweetie's request, then sighed and readjusted her skewed underwear. "I guess I should start sleeping in pajamas or just let you plug yourself in, hm?" She stood up from the couch and planted a fist on her hip, taking up a mock stance of challenge.

The unit continued to stare up at her.

"But, you are just too cute. I don't think I could bear that at all." Stephanie bent down and patted Sweetie's head, causing her tail to wag slowly.

It was slow, a sign that she would need power soon.

"Alright, let's go. Upsie-daisy!" Stephanie picked up Sweetie, chuckling slightly at her little friend. At least, she laughed until she got her arms underneath her. She oofed instead, then; Sweetie was a good forty or so pounds of metal and plastic. "You need to go on a diet, you."

Luckily, Stephanie only had to carry her little friend across the hallway to where Sweetie's power station sat in its own little room. It was just a walk in closet, really, and maybe Stephanie was weird for decorating it like an actual bedroom, but that didn't really register to her unless she had guests that might make an odd comment over it.

Stephanie flicked on the lights to the little room with one hand, then quickly laid her little bot in its charging cradle.

Now on the floor, Sweetie Belle suddenly began counting down in the robotic, modulated tone she used for a few base functions, or possibly for the rare guest that might get the reference. "Low power-mode entering in five, four, thre— Battery is charging." There was a pause, then Sweetie looked up at Stephanie and smiled. "Yay! Thanks, Steph!" Her eyes shut in a complimentary manner, ears whirring back against her head and tail brushing the floor in an energetic way.

Stephanie let out a tired breath from carrying the machine and shut off the light, then left the room promptly. The door to the closet clicked shut behind her.

I should let her power herself, this is getting to be bothersome. She's a big girl now certainly, after all, right? She giggled to herself, thinking about how long she had owned Sweetie for. Heck, she's much older than the others. I should probably upgrade her, too. The idea of changing her first and favorite little creation wasn't a very enticing one. Over the years she had made Sweetie sturdier, tougher, more flexible and dynamic, but the idea of changing the way she acted didn't seem right.

Steph liked the simplicity of her. Her other hobby projects were the complicated ones. "Wow, how long's it been? Eight years?" It seemed like Sweetie had been around a much shorter time than that to her.

As she spoke, Stephanie did not register the bright flash of light from outside her window. Instead, she covered her mouth with a hand and yawned big enough that she saw stars beneath her eyelids. "How long was I asleep for?" She patted her cheeks as she walked down the hallway, then stretched with one arm over her head in an effort to work out the stiffness from sitting still too long.

A clock hanging on the wall told her it was almost ten. "Twenty minutes!? Was that it? I feel like I was asleep all night or-"

A cracking noise boomed loud enough to make her house shake.

"AAAAAaaaahhhh..." Steph wailed out the scream of surprise and fear, which died slowly as the situation dawned on her. Immediately after, she felt ashamed that the boom had gotten her the way it had. Her arms lowered themselves from clutching at one another as she turned to glare out the paned glass window.

"Really!?" Stephanie yelled, addressing the rude weather, as if it could answer her back. Surprising her again, it did so with a second crack of lightning. After flinching, her only response was another glare directed back.

The sounds of Stephanie's animals distressing over the storm bothered her more than the storm itself. She found herself thinking worriedly if she had put all of her strays and various critters away in their homes earlier.

Stephanie clicked on the lights in the hall.

Immediately, four of five cats, kittens, a skunk, one raccoon, two rabbits and a plethora of other animals looked up from cages or scurried about, surprised by the light and already skittish from the storm.

Steph ran a hand through her hair and walked through the living room towards the kitchen, nimbly stepping over her adopted charges. Her home wasn't a shelter, not legitimately, but the upstairs areas certainly served as one. The seclusion of her basement was in fact where she tinkered and practiced her tech hobbies.

"Hey, Glados, make some toast would you?" Stephanie said to the empty room. She sat at the kitchen's breakfast counter and turned on the television, picking up and moving a cat that had donned to sit in front of it.

A robotic figure, which had previously been motionless, whirred to life where it had been curled silently in a far corner of the ceiling. Obediently, it wheeled over on its ceiling track from the next room and into the kitchen. The optical 'eye' it sported at its front lit up in a rich orange, then panned over to focus on Stephanie.

It spoke in the typical, smarmy tone of a certain A.I. from an old puzzle video-game.

"Are you sure you wouldn't rather have some cake?" Glados asked its owner wryly. "You're not that over weight after a—"

Glados was, however, not a true A.I. like its namesake, despite the wide range of interesting dialogue and insults in her repertoire.

Stephanie didn't bother looking up. "Glados, toast. Save the act for when company's over." It must have been twenty four hours since she last woke Glados up; it couldn't make more than one fat joke a day. That could get old pretty quickly, otherwise.

"Of course, toast, right away." Glados droned back in a half disinterested tone. Its glowing optic bathed the room in orange light as it turned around to make use of the kitchen's appliances.

The gadget's voice was refreshing to Stephanie to hear, actually. Something about the way her creations acted always picked up her mood. It probably had a lot to do with the fact they were icons of her youth.

Stephanie's eyes drifted over to the birthday cake that really was in the room. It was sitting on top of the counter, left out and half eaten from the get together she'd had the week before. Can't believe I'm twenty six already. She shut her eyes for a minute and thought on that, or tried not to think on that. Tiredly, she tried just listening to the rain beating against the windows and the wind pushing the branches of trees against her home's siding.

The loud clatter of a ceramic plate in front of Stephanie made her jump.

"Glados!?" Stephanie looked with a glare from the plate spinning to a stop, and up at the machine wheeling across the ceiling away from her. "What exactly was that for, huh?"

The moody sounding contraption turned around again. "The weather report has posted a severe storm warning, Stephanie. I placed the plate before you under acceptable parameters in order to expedite my shut down. It would be ill-advised of me to remain active. Of course, you're usually full of bright ideas, so maybe I shou—"

Stephanie rolled her eyes while Glados spoke. "Glados, switch to solitary battery power, then go offline."

The robotic head bounced up, then down once in a mockery of a nod. "Oh, alright then."

Glados wasn't true artificial intelligence, just clever programming and an advanced voice synthesizer. She had taken Stephanie five years to build and perfect, however.

Stephanie looked up at the machine for a moment, wondering if she was forgetting anything else.

"Oh!" Something caught Stephanie's eye and distracted her from whatever it was she had tried to remember. She smirked and turned the volume of the television up louder.

"Awesome, 'A New Hope' is on." Stephanie grinned and leaned in closer towards the television; the intro to the iconic episode IV of the franchise was only five minutes in. Nothing beats this, although, I didn't mind the new ones Disney made. Then again, anything's better than Jar Jar... The memory made her shudder.

Without warning, the television chose that moment to flicker several times, then shut off, as did the lights, and everything else in the room.

Stephanie sighed, the darkness purveying the room completely. "Great."

Another second later, and her exasperation was shattered by an unexpected, earth shaking boom that shook and rattled her home. She thought she heard something shatter somewhere, as well as the scurry of dozens of little feet scattering across the floor and furniture. It seemed reasonable to her that there was about a fifty-fifty chance the thunder had been the one to break something.

Despite half standing out of her seat, she managed to not scream again.

Once calmed down, Steph muttered, "Just what my home needs." Now I've got to reset the breaker and clean up a mess... She grunted angrily over the realization, then felt around for her toast and took a bite. Beginning to stand up in order to go flip the circuit breaker, she chewed the toast slower and slower, noticing a funny taste to the midnight snack.

"What the-" The toast indeed tasted a little funny. "Bluhg! You— Icing?! Who puts icing on toast, Glados!?"

Unit Sweetie watched the door to its power station swing closed behind Creator. It continued with its tail wagging subroutine for approximately five more seconds, in case Creator returned. The action was another mystery to Unit Sweetie. There was much its logic matrix could not understand. Creator took pleasure in thinking of it as 'cute', but why? What was cute? Why was it important?

The processors re-filed the question away, as unable to come up with an answer as it had ever been. Instead, it idled and paid close attention to its systems and the slow stream of power gently working its way to recharging its battery back to full. It would take approximately ten hours, rounded generously down.

The logic matrix in Unit Sweetie observed the secondary computer's offline status. Without it, certain control functions were offline, as well as many secondary safety net programs. It would only take three-point two seconds to bring the secondary computer and its warning systems online, but Unit Sweetie decided to leave it off until charging was complete. Activating it while stationary wasn't logical. Nothing could happen while stationary.

Unit Sweetie's ears rotated, whirring softly. It was a purely aesthetic function, its ears didn't need to move to hear any better. The sound of thunder crashing outside the door and Creator yelling in fear were plain, either way. It waited for another yell, in which case it could be authorized to render assistance.

None came.

Unit Sweetie relaxed its motors and eased back into the power cradle once again, listening, waiting.

The sound of Glados, another automaton that resided in the house, came through the door. Glados was almost as confusing as Creator. It seemed to be communicating with Creator. Or perhaps Glados was a she? Unit Sweetie wasn't very good at assigning pronouns. That, and Glados was irritatingly only designated as 'Glados'.

Their dialogue was difficult to make out; both of their voices were garbled by sound pollution from the rain storm taking place outside.

The logic matrix multi-tasked constantly while taking note of these small things, as it always did. The way it was programmed dictated that learning and remaining busy were important.

It studied the wall idly with its optics; continued to calculate the true extent of pi; and at the moment was deciding whether or not to force a disconnect from the power station. There was that storm to consider, after all. Still, doing so seemed illogical.

Creator Stephanie had hooked it up, then left. If Unit Sweetie disconnected, it would be dictated to seek a reconnection in its current power state. It was, however, simultaneously dictated to seek self preservation. The secondary processor would have forced a disconnection, but it was offline because Unit Sweetie had already determined that its being online wasn't necessary at the moment.

After much deliberation, the twelve-point three percent chance of an electrical surge occurring which could maybe damage Unit Sweetie was determined to be within acceptable risk levels. Secondary processor could remain offline.

Unit Sweetie began to close its eyes, deciding finally to maximize the charging rate of its energy cells.

Just before Unit Sweetie deactivated its optics and entered voluntary low power-mode, the lights in its small room flashed and flickered, until finally going out completely.

Just after, warnings began flashing for precisely two point-seven nano seconds before—

Stephanie finally found the trashcan in the kitchen, cursing as if she had just stubbed both big toes. She tossed out her ruined midnight snack and set about with finding the basement door in the dark; the power still needed resetting, after all. Whatever had glitched in Glados for her to mix up toast spreads would have to wait.

Meanwhile, there were about half a dozen small furry animals running around the house at the same time and they were proving to be an even bigger obstacle than usual.

"I gotta get you guys homes, you know that?" Stephanie groaned, and after stumbling across the floor, guiding herself with the wall, finally closed her hand around the basement door's knob.

The sounds and squawks of animals answering her followed her down the stairs as she quickly closed the door behind herself; hopefully it would keep any of them from following. Carefully, she began stepping downstairs, one step at a time.

Stephanie paused about midway down the stairs. "Hal? Are you there? Come on, turn on the lights." There wasn't an answer. "Alright, I know you have your own power, playing dead won't work."

A series of small, glowing bars partially lit the basement in a blue glow.

"It was you that programmed me to be coy, wasn't it, Stephanie?" Hal's own orb of red light glowed to life at the crest of the staircase, staring at her.

Steph began walking downstairs quickly now that she could see. "I programmed you, yes, but if you keep taking advantage of the clever-bot files for conversation then I'll un-program you just as fast."

Hal chuckled, his robotic tone echoing slightly in the basement. He was programmed to trade witty banter. It wasn't real, though. "I see. I'll tread lightly, then. Stephanie, is something wrong?"

Steph spotted the circuit breaker on the far wall, opposite from the staircase. Between her and it were numerous work benches, circuit testers and a collection of tools she had acquired or gathered over the years. "No, nothing's wrong. Why would anything be wrong?" Her voice held a hint of sarcasm and heat.

Another of Hal's eyes in her lab lit up. "I usually equate a rise in your body's heart rate with something being wrong. It tends to happen after you have a date and things don't go accordi—"

"Hal, offline." Stephanie scowled at the eye, which blinked off abruptly. She sighed, then stepped over a pile of spare parts and various raw materials to reach over at the circuit breaker. Her hand gave the box a flip.

The main lights came back on, bathing the basement in a normal, white light..

"Ah, much better—" Stephanie screamed as the circuit box burst into sparks.

Fluorescent light bulbs all around the basement room burst, each making crackling sounds as glass was pulverized. She dove away from the circuit box, moving this way and that to avoid the sparks, until finally it stopped.

"Son of a— What!? Hal!"

There wasn't an answer.

Stephanie took a deep breath, a hand over her heart. "Hal, online."

A red light glowed to life on the wall once more. The voice he used was as slow and monotone as ever, but held a hint of question for once. "Good heavens, what happened in here?"

Stephanie groaned over whatever her ill-advised home project was saying. "I don't know, I'm hoping you can tell me."

The red orb remained silent for a moment before speaking. "There was a power surge. A large amount of electricity came back through the house's grid, circumventing the surge protectors."

Stephanie's face worked into an expression of confusion, still a little too tired and slow to figure out right away what could have happened. "That doesn't make any sense. I—" A possibility emerged in her thoughts. After a blink of realization, she flung her hand up to her forehead. "Sweetie Belle!"

Stephanie dashed towards and up the stairs of the basement immediately, her retreat only partially lit by the glow of the scant remaining lights.

Hal's camera swiveled inside its lens, studying the debris and ruin of its subterranean home. "I'll just stay here and clean up then?" it asked no one. The computer's logic center evaluated that if it could feel exasperated, it would, right then.