True in Some Sense

Bright Light City; Chapter 1

Sunday, July 4, 2010, throughout the day (and the following day)

In the morning, Gidget and Paul get ready to leave. Before leaving, Gidget sends two emails — one to Gillian Palmer and one to Dr. Ebenezer Zirpoli — and then gets a cheap, pay-as-you-go cell phone before leaving San Francisco proper. In separate cars, she and Paul hit the road.

The drive is long, and there are a couple of stops as Paul still needs to eat regularly. Around lunchtime, he asks Gidget if she would be opposed to meeting another friend of his — another Promethean, in fact — and she says she would not be opposed. He indicates that he has no real way of contacting her, and that she might not be home, but Gidget still agrees. Then, back to the open road.

As evening approaches in the desert, a few fireworks from isolated communities and homes are visible. Finally, Paul calls Gidget and informs her that he is going to be moving down a side road. After making the way to a dirt road, Gidget and Paul find themselves at a run-down little trailer. The windows are illuminated, indicating that someone is within.

As Paul and Gidget approach, Gidget feels the fire in her stomach respond to the presence of two others in the trailer. She comments on this, but Paul says it’s probably all right. When he knocks on the door, the door cracks open and only half a face with glasses is visible. Upon seeing Paul, the chain comes off the door and it opens all the way. He and Gidget make their way inside.

They are greeted by a small, sparsely furnished trailer. The woman who answered the door is a young, thin woman with mousey brown hair and glasses. Gidget can also see her true self — that of a withered, desiccated corpse with a missing left little finger. The second woman in the room is another young woman, pale with black hair and stormy grey eyes. Truly, she appears pale and leathery, with great rents in her skin leaking black mist, and her completely black eyes displaying dim and distant stars. Paul introduces Gidget to Jenny Handspun and Lilith, and indicates that Gidget is new to their society. They ask Gidget a few questions, mostly about her being a robot, and then proceed to explain a few things. Lilith explains the ritual of the Measure, whereby two Prometheans can acknowledge each other and get a first impression of whether they will like each other — though as with all first impressions, this can be wrong. Next, she describes the Ramble, whereby Prometheans share their stories with each other. She starts, explaining that she comes from Terra Lake, Indiana where she lived with her creator, This Way Comes. When he mysteriously disappeared, she waited for him for a time before finally meeting a group of people, along with Paul, who tried to stop the weird, bad things of the world. After meeting Paul, the two went west, going to Las Vegas and then making their way to San Francisco. In San Francisco, she sensed the presence of This Way Comes on a truck headed east. She and Paul followed and contacted the humans from Terra Lake for help. They came upon the truck and broke into it, freeing This Way Comes and another Promethean, unknown to them. The second Promethean tried to attack, and when clones appeared — the company that captured This Way Comes was apparently using Prometheans to help make human clones — he ran away and they gave chase. Lilith, Paul, and her friends escaped in the confusion. After getting situated, Lilith and This Way Comes went to Chicago to look for a friend of This Way Comes to see if he could help with an amputated arm — taken, apparently, as part of the cloning experiments. Lilith, meanwhile, separated from him to look for the second Promethean, particularly since she suspected that he was the killer known as the South Side Slasher at the time. When the killings stopped, she wandered aimlessly until coming west when she heard that Paul was out that way and had encountered the South Side Slasher.

Jenny indicates that her Ramble is a lot less interesting; she never knew her creator, and instead spent much of her time wandering around Las Vegas. She currently switches locations every month or so to avoid creating a Wasteland. However, when she met Lilith and Paul, she did find herself in a poker game against another Jenny Handspun, who challenged her to the right to exist. Jenny, obviously, won.

Paul explains that he is from Arlington, Virginia, and that Lilith hit most of the interesting points. He has mostly been traveling, though he will probably shortly travel home to be with his family, at least for a time. Particularly since his father has been after him to come work for Lockheed Martin.

Gidget then proceeds to explain her story, mentioning her creation, her life in Portland, and her current trip.

Afterward, Lilith explains a few things about Prometheans — primarily how they organize themselves into Lineages based upon the attributes of the founder. After a little more chatter, the group decides to part company for the night.

Finding a hotel, Gidget checks her email to find responses from both Gillian Palmer and Dr. Zirpoli. Dr. Zirpoli merely writes back indicating that he is glad to answer any questions she has, and that he will be in Chicago shortly, if she happens to be out there. Gillian writes back indicating that she remembers the piece, and that Gidget should give her a call — Gidget does find her abrasive writing to be relatively off-putting.

After Lilith calls Paul to ask if they want to hang out tomorrow, Gidget and Paul spend a little bit of time at the Bellagio so that Paul can explain something about gambling. Paul only manages to break even, and Gidget doesn’t really make anything on the nickel slots. Then, the two go to bed for the night.

The next morning, the two awaken and Gidget calls Gillian around 11 AM. The two decide to meet at the hotel bar at Bally’s Las Vegas at about noon. Gidget and Paul get ready to go; Gidget asks Paul to stay in the area to keep watch over things.

Gidget arrives just before noon and orders some bar food. About ten minutes later, a woman of mixed descent looks around before settling on Gidget and sitting next to her. After they introduce themselves, Gidget explains her question and Gillian explains in her curt manner, after ordering a gin and juice, that it was just a crappy piece that she did for a local newsletter, and that she didn’t even really do a lot of research. The people at Montevista Hospital seemed to give up on Juanita Doe, though, and would probably just let Gidget see her, though she could pose as a journalist if it matters. Afterward, Gillian asks Gidget what she might happen to know about a photograph in her possession, and proceeds to slide a folded piece of paper over to Gidget. Unfolding it, she finds a picture of herself and Dr. Frye onstage, presumably at some conference. Gidget plays it off, but Gillian indicates that it seems unlikely that someone has not aged at all in roughly twenty years. When Gidget indicates that she doesn’t want to discuss it further, Gillian acknowledges this fact and leaves.

Paul approaches Gidget to ask about what happened, and despite being shaken, Gidget is appreciative of what little information she obtained. Then, the two decide to visit with Lilith, and after deciding on Jenny Handspun’s trailer, they make their way over there.

Once arriving, Gidget explains what just happened, and Jenny and Lilith indicate they don’t really have any advice. Gidget could ignore the woman, or try to talk to her; she’ll really have to determine what is best. Gidget decides to wait and see what happens about it. In addition, Lilith explains a little more about the different paths to humanity that Prometheans may take, called Refinements.

After chatting for a bit, Gidget and Paul are ready to take their leave, and Lilith asks if she may accompany them. Everyone agrees, and bids Jenny farewell before heading back into Las Vegas.

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Stranger on the Road; Chapter 5

Thursday, July 1, 2010, around 2:00 PM (and throughout the rest of the week)

After looking, Gidget decides to check Fields Book Store first, followed by Black Swan. She and Paul then get into her car and proceed to go to Fields Book Store. After looking around for a few minutes, some of the help asks Gidget if she needs anything, and she asks about two books she encountered at the library: Sojourns of the Subconscious (mentioning the Subtle Lantern tales in 1950s New York) and Threads of Superstition (recording a 19th century folk legend from Indiana featuring something that sounds like the Subtle Lantern). After checking the inventory, the man indicates that they are in stock, and he directs her to their locations (Psychology and Myths & Legends).

After getting these books, Gidget and Paul continue looking for about an hour. They find nothing else directly relevant to their claims, though they do manage to find a book entitled Secret Wisdom of the Rose Cross which contains instructions for map dowsing; potentially helpful when looking for a lost item.

Satisfied with her selections, Gidget purchases the books and returns to Paul’s hotel to read over the relevant sections of each. Secret Wisdom of the Rose Cross contains an alchemical elixir for communing with the “Stream of Mind,” allowing for automatic writing or map dowsing (though learning about a specific thing may require some sort of sympathetic connection). When Gidget asks, Paul indicates that it sounds legitimate, though it may be difficult to tell whether something is useless until it is tried.

The relevant section from Sojourns of the Subconscious talks about rumors about a dread lantern in Utica Psychiatric Center in the 1950s; though these rumors were eventually quelled, they were traced to a woman named Juanita Doe since her past is unknown and she appears to be of Hispanic descent. The rest of the section in the book is just an interview with her and her situation in Utica, as of 1976 (the book’s publishing date).

The relevant section from Threads of Superstition describes a 19th century folktale of two traders who purchase a lantern from a traveling salesman. They claim that the lantern shows them many terrible things, and though they try to get rid of it, it always returns. The tale ends with the traders paying an outrageous sum to get the merchant to buy the lantern back.

After reading through her books, Gidget decides to look for Juanita Doe. After determining that Utica Psychiatric Center closed in 1978 and that its patients were released or transferr, she continues to research more. Eventually, she determines that Juanita currently resides in Montevista Hospital in Las Vegas; this is especially strange considering that she was described as a little old lady in 1976, and should be truly ancient by now. As for Juanita being in Montevista, the article was a human interest story written for a little Las Vegas paper by one Gillian Palmer, for whom Gidget determines contact information. Gidget informs Paul of this information, and the two decide to go to Las Vegas once their affairs are in order. After a bit of hanging out, the two decide to go to bed for the evening.

The next day, the two retrieve Paul’s car and go sightseeing, going to Alcatraz, Haight-Ashbury, and a few other spots. In the afternoon, Gidget decides to look to see who among her father’s colleagues are still around. She manages to find the following:

  • Dr. Henry Gutermuth was among naysayers, though conspiracy theorists note that he only claimed the proceedings to be a hoax when rumors started to circulate that he was not only a homosexual, but extremely sexually deviant. The rumors disappeared, but he left his teaching post at the University of Southern California and became a special effects technician. Within the past five years he has “come out” and lives with his partner in Los Angeles, CA.
  • Dr. Rose Morgan did not believe Dr. Frye’s claims, though she noted him to be a genius in the field and did concede that “if anybody could create artificial life, it would be Doctor Frye.” Despite her doubts about Frye’s claims, she kept in touch with him up until his death. Most people note that she repeatedly expressed concern over Dr. Frye’s mental health after the passing of his wife, though conspiracy theorists claim that this is merely a ploy, and that she was paid or threatened to deny the possibility of the “Genius” system. Dr. Morgan currently resides in Pittsburgh, teaching engineering at Carnegie Mellon.
  • Dr. Katashi Kimura supported Dr. Frye’s claims and were close colleagues, but some sort of falling-out occurred in the late eighties. Dr. Katashi Kimura is not mentioned in periodicals or other such sources until 2006, when his nervous breakdown is recorded. Since 2006, he has resided in the West Seattle Psychiatric Hospital in Seattle, WA.
  • Records indicate that Drs. Frye and Frye engaged in several decades of correspondence with one Dr. Ebenezer Zirpoli, though no meeting in person is ever recorded. Dr. Zirpoli currently resides in Queens, NY.

After a little bit of searching, she only manages to find a little more information on Dr. Zirpoli, though it’s quite scattered. She does have enough information to contact him.

Having finished her research for the day, Gidget and Paul decide what to do next. For entertainment, they consider clubbing again, though for proper planning, they decide to go the next night, and they decide on Club Six. The following day, they decide to go to Las Vegas.

The following day, after readying themselves, they go to Club Six where Gidget primarily people watches. She and Paul dance a little, and make their way back to his hotel before midnight. Caught in a sudden and violent thunder storm, they make their way back to the hotel, and to Gidget’s surprise, she feels a certain sense of peace and fulfilment when she first hears thunder and sees lightning while in the driving rain. She excitedly tells Paul that he was right before the two rush inside.

After drying and preparing for bed, the two go to sleep, ready for the open road the next day.

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Stranger on the Road; Chapter 4

Thursday, July 1, 2010, throughout the day

Gidget awakens first, and finding the room more or less as is should be, decides to take a shower and dress. Upon exiting, she finds Paul awake. He agrees that this is a decent idea, and does likewise. Paul then calls his Chinese contact and relays the information that they are to meet at noon in Golden Gate Park. Afterward, he asks if Gidget can follow him to an auto garage so that he can get his car repaired, and then if they can get breakfast. Gidget agrees, and after Paul consults with the front desk, he takes Gidget to her car, and then the two drive over to an auto repair service so that he can get his windshield and convertible top repaired. The two then go to Denny’s, and finally make their way to Golden Gate Park in Gidget’s car.

After wandering for a bit, they find three Chinese men, sharply dressed, sitting on a bench. One is the large man whom Gidget recognizes from the previous day. Another is a slight man, quite small, wearing spectacles. Both are flanking a third man, a regal man in a fine suit. Once introductions are made — he introduces himself as Mr. Long — he indicates that Gidget must be the one requiring these papers, and that the price as mentioned yesterday will be $5,000. When Gidget indicates that she does not have that money just at the moment, he makes a counter offer: if she is willing to retrieve something for her, he will do it for free. When she asks for further details, he explains that he believes he may speak freely with Gidget and Paul; it is a magical artifact of tremendous and terrible power known as the Subtle Lantern. It may have once belonged to an entity known as the Inevitable and Subtle Light. Otherwise, he does not know anything about it. Would she be interested in this offer?

As she indicates that she would, he explains that she will have a season, roughly three months, to retrieve the object. Once done, he will ensure that she has the appropriate papers. Similarly, during the time of her retrieval, he will make sure that she has the tools necessary to complete her task, including a legal identity. Additionally, if she requires more time, she may ask him in person, though he may ask for an accounting of her time to ensure that she is actually doing something. If she fails, she will die, pure and simple. After deliberating for a moment, she agrees to the terms. He says it is official, then, and Gidget feels a brief feeling like elation or heart palpitations before everything feels normal again. Then, the three men take their leave, leaving Gidget and Paul to comprehend the proceedings. After some discussion, and a few comments on how weird the whole conversation was, the group decides to go to the library.

Gidget and Paul spend a little under two hours at the library, finding little. They learn that the Subtle Lantern is also known as the Illuminated Lantern, or alternately as the Terrible Subtle Lantern or the Terrible Illuminated Lantern. There are references to traders and miners seeing it in dreams and visions in the nineteenth century in Indiana, as well as some who claim to have held it. A rare case of folie à plusieurs in an insane asylum in upstate New York in the 1950s also records the dread object in the visions of patients. Finally, internet message boards record a rash of sightings and visions in Indianapolis, Gary, Chicago, and Las Vegas, all in the past year. Despite these few leads, Gidget does post a message on an internet forum mentioning the Subtle Lantern, claiming to be a student doing research and asking if anyone in the San Francisco can speak to her personally. Deciding that this is a good time to invest in a computer, Gidget and Paul decide to leave and look for a Best Buy.

On her way out, Gidget is stopped by a librarian, who claims that she dropped something — a pocketbook. Somewhat surprised, Gidget thanks her and leaves. When she and Paul return to her car, she checks it to find a driver’s license, debit card, and bank book all bearing her name. Before going to Best Buy, she checks her balance and determines that she likely will not need Paul’s help in buying a computer. She then goes and purchases a small laptop.

After some discussion, Gidget and Paul decide that their next stop to learn about the Subtle Lantern is to check out some occult bookstores. Gidget finds a Starbucks with free Wi-Fi and starts looking.

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Stranger on the Road; Chapter 3

Wednesday, June 30, 2010, about 8:00 PM

Gidget and Paul ride to Paul’s hotel. He leaves her to her own devices while he quickly takes a shower and changes clothes. Upon his return, they discuss a few more things — like Gidget getting a computer and such — before they come to the topic of identification. As Gidget has no legal identity, Paul says he can take care of some things by speaking to the friends — that is to say, the members of the Smiling Dragon Triad with whom he liberated the brothel earlier in the evening — whom he has met in San Francisco. After some deliberation, he calls one of the men and agrees to meet him at a Chinese restaurant. Gidget agrees to come along. Along the way, Paul answers Gidget’s question about how he met these men — after meeting a woman attached to the Triad at a club, he helped defend her against some rival gangsters from the Crimson Blossom Triad, and that’s how he established contact and learned about the brothel, which he and a few others proceeded to raid.

Upon coming to the restaurant, Gidget and Paul meet the larger of the two men Gidget met earlier. Paul explains the basic situation — that he needs a more or less complete identity for his friend — to which the man replies that he is not familiar with the process, but he will call Paul later in the evening once he finds out costs and suchlike. After he leaves, Paul has some egg rolls and Gidget has some egg drop soup. Then, the two drive around for a bit while deciding what to do. Once Paul decides on going clubbing, and decides on trying to find a rave after some discussion, he returns to Gidget’s hotel so that she may change.

After hearing the discussion of a rave, Gidget decides to try her red dress and cat ears. After calling around and finding a field party outside of town, and then hearing from his Chinese contact and learning that they will discuss matters tomorrow but to expect a price around $5,000, Paul returns to his hotel and affects a more “preppy” look. He then runs one last errand — going to a little bodega and purchasing some beer and then something extra in a small paper bag from the merchant. Once outside, he explains to Gidget that Half Baked does portray some accuracies when it implies that many little corner stores do clandestinely sell marijuana on the sly. Then, they make their way outside of the city.

It takes the better part of an hour to find, but Gidget and Paul finally arrive at the party. When they do, Paul explains that if they are separated, she should look for him or regroup at his car. This agreed, they stick together for a time before they decide to investigate the party separately. Gidget just watches for a time before one of the revelers, Brad, strikes up a conversation with her. After getting her to have a beer with him and dance a little, they talk some more, and after he has several more beers, he implies that they should go off alone. When she is confused as to what he means, he awkwardly stumbles over his words for a moment before leaving.

A little later, she is persuaded to perform a “keg stand.” Not seeing Paul around to ask if such is all right, she decides to go for it. After being hefted upon the keg and drinking for several seconds, she finds that she is legendary when the is returned to the ground, as she apparently drank a prodigious amount of alcohol. Within a few minutes, Paul finds her to confirm that all is well, and they both find that she displays no ill effects from the alcohol. He then proceeds to explain some of the things she has seen, with her eventually concluding that a party such as this is a modern bacchanal. After hanging around a bit more, the two return to Paul’s car.

As they start to enter, Gidget senses a presence nearby, though she cannot tell from where. It almost seems as if the spark within her stomach is flickering at the presence of another. She explains this to Paul, though neither can hear anything. By the time Paul starts the car, he says he can feel a presence as well, and when he flicks his headlights, both are startled by the sickly figure standing in jeans and a hooded sweatshirt in the lights. Paul exclaims suddenly that he knows the figure as he throws the car into reverse just as the thing leaps for the car.

Latching into the convertible top, the thing tears it open and peers in as Paul tries to knock it off with a combination of baseball bat and erratic driving. As the thing peers in, Gidget sees that it looks like a sickly, sallow human, but bears a strange double-image — that its true face is even more wiry and sickly, bearing a sheen of greenish sweat and burning red eyes. As it stares at her, it says that she has something he wants. She scrambles into the back seat, and the man-thing jumps into the passenger seat she previously occupied. While staring at her, it gets struck several times with the baseball bat and is quickly smacked by her to no avail. However, by this time, Paul has accelerated to about 100 miles per hour, and he quickly slams on the brakes. The car screeches and shudders to a sudden halt. Gidget manages to grab hold of the seat in front of her, though the man-thing does not. It is thrown through the windshield and into the street. As Paul throws the car into reverse, it starts to stand, and quickly moves out of sight as Paul drives away.

On the way back to the city, Gidget asks what that is. Paul briefly explains that it is a Promethean; a creature such as her, except likely made out of corpses rather than artificial parts. He further explains that he previously met the creature in Illinois, when a group of friends were trying to liberate another Promethean, and ended up releasing that one as well. It apparently tried to attack the liberating party and ended up killing some people before they never heard about it again. They decide to stay in the same hotel for the evening.

Paul first takes Gidget to her hotel so that she may gather her things, and then he returns to his own hotel. He lets her take the bed and sleeps on the floor, watching a bit of television before the two drift asleep.

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Stranger on the Road; Chapter 2

Sunday, June 27, 2010, throughout the day and following week

Gidget awakens in the morning between eight or nine. With Ashley still asleep, Gidget goes to the bathroom to get dressed. She then goes to the kitchen to find Billy already awake and reading the paper. After getting her some tea, he asks a couple of questions about her condition — what does she eat, what happens when she sleeps, that sort of thing — and then indicates that he is going to run to the store. Gidget is welcome to have run of the house while he is gone.

She reads for a bit, then goes to wander around the junk piles. While outside, she hears movement behind her, and encounters a disheveled man in a business suit, clutching a crushed envelope in one hand. He asks if he may have water, as his car appears to be overheating, and could he have some so that he can make it into Yreka to an auto garage? Gidget asks him to wait outside and goes inside. She unsuccessfully attempts to wake Ashley, then fills a milk jug with water and brings it to him. He thanks her, puts water in the coolant reservoir, and leaves, dropping the note as he gets into the car. She attempts to get his attention and return the note to him, but he does not notice and drives away. When she looks at the envelope and sees that it is labelled “Gidget,” she drops it and contemplates for several moments before deciding to get the note. She goes inside, puts the empty milk jug away, and reads the note, finding the following:

To whom it may concern:

Lest your Divine Fire scorch the Earth around you and turn these people against you, you must leave. Stay no longer than tomorrow morning.

Your success requires that you allow yourself to drift on the currents of Fate for a time. Follow the instructions given to you until you meet a creature wearing the flesh of a man, bearing the broken words of two Saints. He will tell you things you do not yet know about yourself, things that will be important to your Pilgrimage.

Heed these words, for they will only come to you once. This is the Will of the Principle.

Sincerely,

The rest of the note is torn away, rendering most of the “Sincerely” unreadable, though still somewhat discernable, and removing what is presumably the name of the writer. Gidget reads it a few times to make certain that she fully understands — at least as much as can be understood — and then puts the letter among her things.

When Billy returns, she explains that somebody came around asking for water, and then asks if Billy has a computer. He says he does, and that she’s welcome to use it. She attempts to research some of the things in the letter, but returns empty-handed.

After Ashley awakens, Billy makes sure she gets breakfast, and then he and Gidget start working on his raft. It takes about half of the day, but they manage to make a workable raft out of the water bottles. After lunch, they also make a net-like bag in which to catch tarballs for transport to whatever centrifuge device Billy will make whenever his centrifuge arrives.

The next day is fairly quiet. The centrifuge does not come, so Billy mostly works on other projects, and Ashley tries to busy herself with reading and other things. Billy also seems tired, as he apparently hasn’t been sleeping well, and Gidget wonders if that relates to her continued presence.

On Tuesday, when the centrifuge still does not arrive, Gidget continues to follow Billy and try to help, and ends up going with Ashley into town to purchase a movie. She purchases Alice in Wonderland, and the two watch it, even though Gidget is not entirely impressed. That evening, Gidget decides to leave the next day, and announces her plans at dinner. Billy mentions again that she’s welcome whenever she is in the area. He also mentions that she should look up a friend of his, Eddie Chang, who runs a book store in San Francisco’s Chinatown.

Wednesday morning, Gidget gets ready to go. Everybody exchanges contact information, and both Billy and Ashley hug her and wish her well. She then leaves, headed for San Francisco.

She arrives in San Francisco a little after 5:00 PM, finding a cheap hotel near Chinatown and looking up Eddie Chang. Finding that he runs a shop called Jolly Elephant Books, she gathers some books she wants to sell or trade, and goes to the Jolly Elephant.

When she arrives, she opens the door to find nobody inside and nobody manning the front. She sets her books on the counter and looks around, noting a back door slightly ajar and stairs leading up. She peeks in the door, and seeing no one, she shouts up that she left some books on the front counter. Getting no response, she prepares to leave when she hears somebody else enter the shop.

She is greeted by a well-dressed Chinese man with wraparound sunglasses. He raises the gun in his hand and orders her upstairs. She complies. She walks into the room to see two similarly-dressed men standing around the corpse of a third who has been inflicted a gunshot to the head. His blood coats most of the upstairs room. The men briefly converse in Chinese and search her. Finding nothing, they converse some more and then order her to stand and come with them. The load her into a Cadillac and drive to a completely different neighborhood, bringing her into a crumbling apartment building. When she enters, she sees more Chinese men with guns, and she is marched upstairs, brought to a door, and forced inside. She is thrown on the bed, administered some drug in a syringe, and then left. The door is locked, but no other guard remains.

Finally having a moment to get her bearings, she sees that she is in a room with a bed and few furnishings. The windows have been bricked-up. She pieces together that she is probably in an inner-city brothel, and that she has just been administered heroin as a sedative, though she feels no adverse effects. After contemplating her situation for a few minutes, Gidget hears a few gunshots downstairs, followed by another cluster of shots. Figuring that she may escape during the confusion, she starts battering a chair against the door. She only gets a couple of swings before the door bursts inward, and she is greeted by a young man with a baseball bat. He seems immediately confused at her presence, and at her chair, telling the other two men with him to continue onward. He asks if she is a Promethean, a Created, and she displays confusion over these terms. When he quickly establishes that she has never met any such as herself, he tells her to wait next to the Mustang convertible outside, and that he’ll be down in a minute. He runs off, and Gidget goes outside, finding the battered guards scattered in the stairwells and on the floor.

After waiting by the car for about ten minutes, the three men return. The one who spoke to Gidget previously is a young fellow, in his early twenties, with spiky hair, a baseball cap reading “HAT” in gold letters, and a shirt displaying only a hand bearing its middle finger. He appears to have been shot, as holes and bloodstains mar its front. The two men with him are both Chinese, and look just as professional as the previous Chinese men she met. The young man invites her to enter the car, and as they get in, he explains to the two men that she is a friend of his. He then calls the police on a pay-as-you-go phone, explaining the situation at the building, and then keeps driving. He drops them off at a Chinese restaurant, waits for a moment for the men to deliver a duffel bag to him, and then he starts driving for Gidget’s hotel.

On the drive, introductions are made — he introduces himself as Paul St. Claire, a sometime alchemist — and proceeds to once again ask if she is the only one of her kind that she has met. Over the course of the conversation, he explains that he was traveling with those men to “liberate” the brothel. She explains that she is a robot made by her parents, two scientists. He says he is not familiar with robots, per se, but that he is familiar with creatures similar to herself known as Prometheans. They tend to be made from corpses, like Frankenstein’s monster, but like her, they feel a strange fire in their stomachs, find the land corrupting in their presence, and make people uneasy. He proceeds to explain that Prometheans, or the Created as they are also known, are alchemical beings who are using spiritual alchemy to create a soul for themselves and become mortal.

Once at her hotel, Gidget shows him the letter, and he explains that it probably came from the qashmallim, the strange spirits that serve a force known as “the Principle” and occasionally intervene in fate. He also explains some minor things, such as the fact that Gidget should be able to use electricity to heal faster, though she thinks it might be detrimental, and that she may sometimes feel moments of clarity that lead her closer to becoming human. She indicates that she has already felt such a moment.

Paul then indicates that he needs to get cleaned up, but will gladly talk to her some more. After some discussion, she decides to ride with him to his hotel while he gets ready. She has some time on the ride to reflect over the things she has seen, and contemplates the friends she has made in the past few days.

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Stranger on the Road; Chapter 1

Saturday, June 26, 2010, about 5:00 PM

The rain starts just as Gidget’s little compact makes its way out of Portland and starts down I-5 South. Traffic moderately heavy, but everything keeps moving. Despite only limited automotive experience, Gidget manages to keep the car under control.

A few minutes out, the girl by the side of the road draws her attention. Young, strawberry-blonde. Ill-dressed, caught in the rain with her bag and her thumb out. Too much highway for anybody to stop.

Gidget stops.

The girl seems grateful for a ride, and is happy to go as far south as Gidget will take her. Gidget says she’s just going south, so she’ll take her to her destination.

Once introductions are made — the girl’s name is Ashley — she determines that said destination is just outside of Yreka, CA. Over the course of conversation, she also determines that Ashley is just seventeen, and that she’s upset about something. Precisely what is unclear, but she plans on visiting her uncle.

After stopping in a town to consult the library and gather some food, they determine that it’s about five hours south — a little over 300 miles. Despite Ashley’s protestations, Gidget says she’s just headed south, and so it’s no trouble.

So they head south.

Close to about eleven, Ashley calls her uncle — indicating to Gidget that this was an impromptu trip. They arrive in front of a rundown rambler in some junkyard, and Ashley’s uncle comes out to greet them. Upon meeting Gidget, he invites both of them inside to have some soup.

Gidget is somewhat alarmed, but after being assured that she won’t be a bother, she shuts off the engine and makes her way inside.

Following after Ashley’s uncle — having introduced himself as Billy — and Ashley, Gidget peeks into the living room and is sidetracked by a bunch of stray water cooler bottles in the process of being lashed together, along with other junk and half-finished projects. Billy enters after her, and when she explains her interest, he says he’ll explain at the dinner table.

Upon arriving, he procures drinks and bowls of soup, and proceeds to explain that he currently plans to travel to the Gulf Coast. Given that BP oil is just leaking into the Gulf at present, he figures that salvage rights are in effect, and if he collects it and either uses it as fuel oil or resells it, there won’t be any trouble. He plans on a totally green operation — a raft built out of water cooler bottles, netting made of recycled materials, and a homemade centrifuge similar to that proposed by Kevin Costner — and would reinvest any profits he makes into alternate energy technologies. Gidget says she is intrigued by the idea.

After Billy asks Ashley about how things are going, he comes to the conclusion that he knows Gidget from somewhere. Finally, it dawns on him, and he leaves the room very excitedly, returning with a dog-eared copy of the Paris Match. He places it on the table, revealing an old photograph of a science conference. Front and center are Dr. Robert Frye and Gidget. Though surprised at the revelation, Gidget does answer Billy’s questions to the best of her ability. After Billy leaves the table to put the magazine away, Ashley asks how there could be a picture of Gidget in such an old magazine. Gidget lies, saying that it merely looks to be old, the way some European media just happens to look old despite being recent. Satisfied, Ashley excuses herself to get ready for bed.

Billy returns, and asks a few cursory questions about Gidget before insisting that she stay. When he asks about her programming, he comes to the conclusion that she ought to learn if she is unique, or if there are other robots based on her design. Perhaps that is the reason for her road trip. She thinks about it, and agrees that it might be a possibility.

Indicating that he awoke early, Billy excuses himself for bed, but lets her know where everything is and where she is welcome to stay. He indicates that he will see her in the morning, and that she is welcome to help him with his work. He then bids her good night. When Ashley returns, she says she will probably be awake reading a little while before going to bed. Gidget then gathers some of her things out of her car before similarly going to sleep for the night.

Before going to sleep, she reflects upon the lie she earlier said to Ashley. Though not necessarily proud of it, she feels a certain sense of understanding the human condition and a certain contentment with it before drifting off to sleep.

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