Stock and Trade: Aperture Science

Posted by CB Droege

Often when the protagonist of a speculative narrative must struggle against an unfeeling world, that world is represented by a faceless conglomerate, a near-governmental corporation which seems to control facets of society wherever the character looks.

So in Stock and Trade, our latest genre fiction feature series, we’re looking at fictional corporations. Today, we’re featuring Aperture Science.

Aperture Science is the mysterious corporation behind the Portal Project in the alternate history of the Half-Life video games, which include the Portal series, the second of which is being released soon. The player doesn’t learn much about Aperture in the game itself, but a lot of cryptic information has been released since, especially as part of the announcement of Portal 2.

According to these hints, Aperture Science was founded in 1953 by Cave Johnson, a shower curtain designer and manufacturer.

The company’s goal was initially only to research and develop better ways to get in and out of the shower.

Johnson, however, was a bit of a crazy person, and often his diatribe and erratic leadership led the company in strange directions. Upon the foundation of the laboratories, he codified these three pillars:

  1. Science without results is just witchcraft
  2. Get results or you’re fired
  3. If you suspect a coworker of being a witch, report them immediately. I cannot stress that enough. Witchcraft will not be tolerated.

Despite the founder’s craziness, which infected every part of the corporation, right down to the adverts and slogans, Aperture's shower curtains became wildly popular, and after only three years, the company had secured contracts to supply shower curtains to most of the US military, which, over the next decade brought in billions of dollars, which Johnson apparently reinvested into shower curtain research.

In 1976, Aperture lost its founder to Mercury poisoning, which he received during an attempt to assassinate the upper echelons of the US Navy with mercury-lined shower curtains - the Navy being the last US military branch not to give its shower curtain contract to Aperture.

It was during the mercury-fueld madness of his last few days - during which time he believed time was flowing backwards, that he made Apertures plan for the future (past), which included the "Portal Project," which at first was simple a vaguely described attempt to use tears in the fabric of space as shower curtains, but developed into an attempt at teleportation technology after Johnson’s death.

Ten years later, in an attempt to beat out Black Mesa for a government contract, Aperture started work on the Genetic Lifeform Disk Operating System (GLaDOS) to run their computers systems, and take control of the facility, which would free up more of the researchers for lab-time, rather than having them watch test subjects all day. They activated the new system sometime in the naughties during an annual Bring-your-daughter-to-work Day.

The system became immediately sentient, and killed nearly everyone in the facility in a matter of minutes. Those few who remained once GLaDOS was stopped were forced to run the test chambers indefinitely, apparently having their memories wiped in between trials. This, of course, was the end of the corporation, but the computer was carrying out the company's goals, despite this.

At Some point GlaDOS started simply killing the participants, and at the opening of Portal, approximately 20 years after GLaDOS’s activation, the protagonist, Chell, seems to be the only test subject remaining, though she finds evidence of previous subjects in graffiti around the testing areas.

Although she has no ideas about where she came from, or even why she’s in the facility, it seems likely from her age, and other clues in the environment, that she is the daughter of one of the original researchers, brought to work for that special celebration, years before.

Aperture seems mostly to introduce a comedic element to the Portal story, but it also presents themes of misdirected science, the coincidence of leadership, and madness. Specifically it can be seen as a cautionary tale about following madness to its brink, and the effects that leadership, power, and technology can have on that madness.

Come back tomorrow, when we’ll be taking a look at OsCorp Industries. If you have an idea for a corporation we could feature in this series, let us know in the comments.