True in Some Sense

Answers on the Long Road; Chapter 1

Saturday, July 31, 2010, around 2:00 AM and throughout the following two days

Gidget begins driving out of the Bronx when she considers that she is actually quite injured. She drives around until she sees a junction box behind a chain link fence. She parks the car and scales the fence, opening the box and realizing just as she sticks her hand into the inner workings that a man in a hooded sweatshirt is watching her and calling out to her. He stands, dumbfounded, as electricity surges across her form. Once she finishes, she closes the box and tells him that it’s late and he should probably go home. He nods, still speechless, and walks off, checking over his shoulder all the while.

She returns to her car and drives off into the night.

Deciding to drive through Terra Lake, she arrives at roughly 1:30 in the afternoon. Clouds gather in the late-July heat. She hits the library to find any further information on Johnny, the dead boy she met while in the realms of the dead. She finds his name to be John Page, and that his body was discovered in Terra Lake in the stomach of one of the N. zirpoli specimens — in fact, the species of fish was discovered when police were dredging the lake in the first place. Presently, the Page case remains unsolved — an ex-trucker known as William Puckett was sought in connection with this case, particularly after his rusted rifle was found in the woods, matching forensics on the bullet pulled out of Page. However, Puckett went missing roughly six months before the rifle was found, and has not been seen since.

Gidget then decides to wander around the neighborhoods in Terra Lake, and has an enjoyable afternoon jaunt. People are socializing and having backyard barbecues, which Gidget observes as she walks. She has not gone terribly far before she feels the tingling presence of another Promethean. She wanders, looking for the source of the sensation, and is surprised when she hears a voice quietly ask what she is doing. The voice is right behind her, and as she turns, she sees the sallow face of the strange creature that attacked her and Paul St. Claire outside of San Francisco. She asks what he wants, and he indicates in his gruff manner that he wishes to speak her. She is wary, given that he attempted to kill her last time — although he indicates emphatically that he did not try to kill her. They find a public park as the thunder starts, and though he is not terribly forthcoming with information, he asks her where she is headed — she lies and says San Diego — and then he asks if she has encountered anything strange on the road. After some prodding, they get to the topic of clones, and she indicates she saw some in San Diego. He asks her to give him a ride, and when she asks why, he indicates because he will kill her and steal her car otherwise.

She agrees to take him to San Diego.

As they walk back to her car, Gidget surreptitiously inserts her implanted thumbdrive into her tablet and sends an email to Paul St. Claire telling him of her predicament and that she has been captured by “Hoodie McMurderface.” She then begins driving for San Diego.

She makes some small talk, learning that this creature has no name, even for himself. She makes a mental note to call him “Sam Diego.”

She’s about six hours out of Terra Lake when she feels the presence of an additional Promethean. “Sam” feels it, too, and begins looking around for the intrusion. Before he notices, Gidget sees a motorcycle pull through traffic. The female Promethean Gidget met in Terra Lake, only known to her as “M—,” is apparently following Gidget. Noting that she will soon need to get gasoline, she pulls off an exit ramp leading to a truckstop. “M” follows.

At this point, Sam note the robotic woman following them, and wonders aloud at her goals. He suspects she might be there to harvest substances from them.

Gidget parks at a gas pump and steps out of the car to begin filling it. “M” parks on the other side of the pump and begins nonchalantly filling her motorcycle. Without facing Gidget, she asks if the creature in the car is the “Hoodie McMurderface” indicated in her email. Gidget affirms this. After some deliberation, M recommends she begin running. M will take care of the rest.

Gidget does so, running as fast as she can. Growling, Sam steps out of her car and begins running after Gidget. Despite her headstart, he is almost supernaturally fast, and nearly catches up to her as the shot rings out. Sam snarls and turns on M, finding her with a pistol held at him. He starts to run at her, and she fires a second shot that definitely hits him but does not appear to slow him down. Claws extended, he is upon her, tearing into her arm with his talons. In one swift motion, she drops the gun and grabs him, spinning around behind him. Unable to get free, she pulls him to the ground and locks his arms and legs, holding him in a sleeper hold. After a few seconds, he relaxes. She maintains the grab until she is certain he is unconscious, and then lets go, picking up her gun. As Gidget walks back to M and the car, M thinks, then informs Gidget that there are likely cameras on them. She aims the pistol at Gidget and informs her that she is now carjacking her, and will have to leave the bike to sell the deception. Gidget agrees to this, and acts sufficiently shaken. M grabs the bags off her motorcycle before Gidget and M climb into Gidget’s car and take to the road again.

Once on the road proper, introductions are made. “M” reveals herself as Maye Burroughs, and explains that she found Gidget’s Craigslist message and started monitoring her communications in the hope that she could catch up to her somewhere out west. When she noted that Gidget was in trouble, however, she used her email, coupled with GPS data from her phone and the information from her license plates, to track her down. Gidget thanks her for her assistance.

The two speak. As Maye has never met another of their kind before, Gidget explains a little about Prometheans, as she understands herself to be. She then proceeds to engage in the ritual of the Ramble, telling Maye Burroughs all about her past. Maye, in return, notes that she was apparently some form of experimental drone robot for a Project: REGINA before the project changed directions and made her. Her creator, a Dr. Steiner, indicated he was inspired to make her in a dream, and patterned her appearance after the woman who granted him the vision. She also indicates that Steiner’s associate, Dr. Kimura, had access to some copy of Dr. Frye’s notes. Apart from that, she has engaged in various clandestine military operations — typically alone, given how people react to prolonged contact with her — and has otherwise been moved from facility to facility to prevent electronic disruption of her surroundings. When Steiner died in a car accident in 2009, the loss of REGINA’s main scientist, coupled with the economic downturn, led to the termination of the project. She’s mostly been wandering on her own since then, although she is apparently being followed by some government men, likely people connected to some agency who know the Project: REGINA. She suspects the scrutiny will slacken within the decade once her background is considered mere conspiracy theory and paranoid rumor.

Given Gidget’s tale, Maye Burroughs notes that she seems to have a few options. Dr. Kimura or Dr. Gutermuth might have additional information regarding Dr. Frye or Gidget’s origins. More promising, since Dr. Morgan made reference to selling Dr. Frye’s old notes, it is likely that she can note to whom she sold them, possibly shedding light on the robotic fellow Gidget met in New York City. Finally, the fact that multiple people have noted Dr. Frye’s disappearance, rather than his death, that seems like an extremely valid avenue of research.

During discussion, Gidget remembers that she ought to contact Paul St. Claire to tell him that she is all right. She calls him and learns that he has been driving for the better part of the last several hours, hoping to head her off and rescue her from Hoodie McMurderface. Although somewhat annoyed at driving for no reason, he is relieved that she is well, and endeavors to speak to her later.

Gidget and Maye continue down the I-40 across the country, heading toward Los Angeles.

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Questions on the Long Road; Chapter 6

Thursday, July 29, 2010, around 7:00 AM and throughout the following two days

Gidget awakens and comes downstairs to find the Zirpolis already awake and preparing breakfast. While waiting, Gidget reads until breakfast is ready. Conversation is light, and Gidget asks if the Zirpolis have any recommendations about things to see in Manhattan. Dr. Zirpoli mentions some museums and such, and Gidget decides to go exploring. Dalia says she should be around the house at some point if she needs anything.

Gidget rides the subway into Manhattan, and starts walking to see some museums and libraries, with the eventual goal of seeing Central Park, admittedly trying to stay aware of the presence of other Prometheans.

Gidget feels the presence of another flaring Azoth in Central Park.

After searching to pinpoint the source, she notes movement in a nearby alley, shadowed by the looming high-rise apartments nearby. She sees three Caucasian men — preppy-looking frat boy types, as best she can tell — beating up a fourth in similar garb. Taller than the other three, he does not wear his outfit quite as well as they do. Beneath his somewhat awkward, ungainly facade, Gidget can see that he is marred with stitching scars. Metal bolts emerge at intervals from his skin, and they occasionally arc electricity. Oddly, he has bi-colored eyes.

She watches as he continues to ask that they stop. Finally, he asks very insistently and bodily throws one of his assailants. Grabbing a nearby beer bottle, he breaks it, grabs one of the others, and holds the jagged edge at his neck, keeping the other man at bay. He starts whispering something to the man he holds, and once he lets the man go, he starts attacking his other remaining companion. The Promethean then runs.

Gidget tries to run after him, but is stopped by the three who start to lash out at her. She holds one fast with her gaze, but the others continue to lash out at her, striking her across the stomach and in the arm. The groups finally part company, but not before Gidget notices that their anger is artificial, brought on by the Disquiet that affects humans who spend too long in the company of Prometheans. For whatever reason, this deeply disturbs her, and she suffers a strange event — she returns to her original programming, that of an information-gathering, research robot, and she makes her way back to the museums.

After mechanically looking at exhibits for an hour, she finally snaps out of her reverie. She returns to the alley, and seeing little evidence behind, she asks some of the nearby doormen if they’ve seen anything. One says that he’s seen somebody matching the description of the Promethean hanging around, disturbing the residents, but that he doesn’t know anything about him. Gidget then goes looking through the alleys in the hopes of finding the other.

She feels a presence as she walks, and emerges from the other side of the alley onto a sidewalk. Leaning against the alley is an attractive woman wearing a business suit. She has long, brown hair, and Gidget can see with her strange double-vision that the woman also appears “fake,” with somewhat plastic-looking skin. The woman also bears small, delicate stitching scars around her wrists and face.

The woman gives Gidget a look, huffs, and starts walking. Gidget tries to get her attention, but she ignores Gidget. Finally, she keeps pace and asks if the woman has seen a man matching the other Promethean’s description. The woman pauses and gives Gidget a moment’s consideration before explaining that she did not expect that question. She further explains she has not seen this fellow, but she knows him; his name is “Victor,” and he is someone to be avoided.

The woman further introduces herself as Sascha, and after greetings are exchanged, she invites Gidget to join her for lunch, as she is currently on her lunchbreak — much to Gidget’s surprise.

Over sushi, the two share a Ramble. After Gidget tells her tale, Sascha explains that she was created by Stairway to Heaven, and the two were companions and lovers for a time. Unfortunately, an unexplored corner of the Mojave held hidden Pandorans, and Stairway to Heaven was killed in the conflict. Sascha escaped. After her hermitage in the desert, Sascha was eager to learn more of people once she discovered them, and came to the largest city she could find. She is currently working a secretarial job, though as she explains, she does not know how long she will stay.

She also explains that she knew Victor, but hardly associates with him anymore as he is given over to Stannum, the path of Torment. Indeed, it was the Torment upon Gidget’s Azoth that initially prompted her to ignore Gidget, although she changed her mind when she determined that Gidget did not appear to be someone given over to Torment terribly often. As Sascha explains, Torment can be communicative, and it is best not to associate with those who are given to Torment too often.

Afterward, the two exchange contact information, Sascha pays for lunch, and the two part ways.

Gidget then returns to the Zirpolis’ house, and when everyone has returned, she describes the events of her day. She also asks Dr. Zirpoli if he can give her a more thorough examination as was mentioned in Las Vegas. He agrees, makes some calls, and says that they will go to a military hospital tomorrow, though he assures her that it will all be perfectly safe.

The next day, they do just that, but Dr. Zirpoli finds nothing terribly interesting: Gidget appears human in all respects, and so a physical reveals nothing out of the ordinary.

Afterward, Gidget decides that she will head West. She thanks the Zirpolis, who send food with her, and says she will keep in contact. Then, she gets into her car and heads out on the open road.

Strangely, Gidget feels the sensation of a nearby Promethean as she is driving, and passes a sedan to see a stooped, pale figure within. He has long brown hair, and appears to be wearing a cloak of some sort. However, underneath this visage, he bears robotic features, looking less human-like as Gidget and “M” do, and more robot-like — Gidget considers that he strongly resembles the skeletal forms of Star Wars droids. She turns the car around and starts to follow.

The car eventually drives into a quiet, run-down Bronx neighborhood. Nobody is around despite it being the early afternoon. The man parks the car and exits, revealing that he is actually wearing a cloak despite the July heat. Gidget also parks and crosses the street to meet him, as he seems to be standing expectantly. She starts to ask a question when three Hispanic males in the alleyway emerge and draw knives. Their mugging attempt quickly goes awry when the man throws aside his cloak, revealing three katanas strapped to him. He gestures and electricity arcs and strikes at the feet of one of the gangsters. Gidget holds one of the gangsters fast with her gaze, while the other two run. The robot man’s arms split into two, and he grabs a katana with each hand — his right arm actually sprouts a hidden katana blade — and he brutally kills the gangster, much to Gidget’s surprise.

The man then asks if Gidget wishes to challenge him, and she disagrees. This seems to disappoint him, but after asking some questions, he says he has answers, and would she like to know more? She agrees and steps into his car. He starts driving.

Despite being somewhat abrupt and rude, he answers her questions, indicating that he was built by a “Fonyi” (“Fon-ni?” “Fonnee?” “Fon’Ni?” Gidget never managed to get the proper spelling), who is now dead by this man’s hand. When she asks if he has heard of a Dr. Frye, he initially says that he has not, but after a moment of thought, he says he recalls the name from some of the notes Fonyi used.

They decide to talk more. The man says he will drop Gidget off at her car, and that she should meet him in a couple hours’ time in a place known to her. She decides on Central Park.

By the time they arrive at her car, police have already arrived. She sneaks into her car and makes her way over to Central Park, calling Paul first to inform him of the situation. He says that this sounds unwise, but he wishes her well and she says she will keep him informed.

After a bit, she starts wandering around Central Park, eventually spotting her robotic friend, who has ditched the cloak and the swords. She catches his attention and the two sit on a bench. He explains that he has located a safe place to meet, in the basement of a tenement, and will she accompany him? She says she will. He asks to see where her car is, and says he will pull around. She will follow.

While waiting for him to come around, she informs Paul of the development. He doesn’t approve, but they agree to communicate later in the day.

The robot-man pulls around and Gidget follows. He leads her to Harlem, and finds an old, crumbling tenement. They park, and she follows him as he accesses a side door, apparently one that was kicked open at some point. He takes her into a boiler room in the basement, and the two speak briefly before he asks if she trusts him, and wishes to be initiated into his traditions. He will give her answers. She agrees.

He reaches into the duffel bag he brought into the building and tears off a piece of cloth. He asks if he may blindfold her, and she agrees. She feels herself being led around the room, and then she feels metal clamp over her wrist. A moment later, several arms are upon her and a gag goes into her mouth.

He removes the blindfold to reveal that she has been handcuffed to a handle in the wall. He then explains that she will be left here until she is ready to begin her training. He walks upstairs and the door closes.

Left to her own devices, Gidget notes blood on the handcuffs, and that they are relatively new police handcuffs, likely recently stolen from a now-dead police officer. With a hand free, she removes the gag, but is unable to slip out of the handcuffs. She debates several courses of action, and after waiting, she decides to call for help.

Unfortunately, the robot-man reappears and says she has failed the test. He stabs at her with a katana blade, stabbing her in the shoulder. She fixes his gaze and holds him fast, but realizing she cannot do anything other than buy time, she decides to play dead. He stabs her again in the heart and she slips into unconsciousness.

She is first aware of the hard ground. She awakens to find herself in a dimly-lit cavern, with twisty passages in all directions. A slowly-bubbling river flows before her. She becomes aware of another figure nearby, a young man with white hair and a gaping headwound. They talk a little — he introduces himself as Johnny, and informs her that this is the land of the dead. She curses herself for her own foolishness, but he says that he thinks she’ll get another chance, and she learned something, right? She agrees, and as they talk a little more, she learns that he is from Terra Lake, of all places. He also indicates that he is not entirely certain what happens here, as he is not usually here — he is usually in a wooded place that he cannot name, and only found himself here recently, perhaps to meet Gidget? After a while, they part company, and Gidget starts walking along the river. As she walks, everything fades to white.

Gidget awakens again on the cold concrete floor. The man is gone and she is no longer handcuffed. Her personal effects appear as though they have been searched, but otherwise unmolested. Her clothes are bloody and torn, but she is currently unharmed.

Satisfied that she is well enough to continue, Gidget checks her phone and finds that it is only about two in the morning on Saturday, meaning that she was “dead” less than twelve hours. She also finds two text messages from Paul asking if all is well, and she replies that she is back on the road. She then starts driving toward Los Angeles.

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Questions on the Long Road; Chapter 5

Saturday, July 24, 2010, around 10:00 PM and throughout the following four days

Realizing that it is late in the evening, Gidget decides to put an end to the day’s research. She calls Paul, and meets with him and some of his friends at Denny’s. She informs Paul of some of her findings, and the group hangs out for a bit before Gidget returns to her hotel to sleep. She makes certain to tell Paul good bye, though, as she suspects she will leave the following day.

Gidget awakens, and after emailing Dr. Morgan to ask if she has any classes on Monday, decides to leave for Pittsburgh in the afternoon. She calls Paul to let him know, and then she checks out of her hotel and starts driving to Pittsuburgh around 3 PM.

Gidget arrives in Pittsburgh around 10 PM. She checks her email to find that Dr. Morgan is covering a physics class on Monday morning, and so should have a lecture. Gidget notes the room and time, and then finds a quiet residential area in which to park her car and sleep for the night.

The next day, Monday morning, Gidget awakens and makes her way to the Carnegie Mellon campus. She makes her way to the lecture hall and takes a seat in the back of the room — though she notices that Dr. Morgan definitely saw her enter, and had some sort of flash of recognition. Otherwise, the lecture proceeds normally for a summer lecture on introductory college physics. Once finished, Gidget leaves the hall and wanders around campus, seeing the sights. She finally finds a quiet coffee shop to read and check her email and maybe even eat something before wandering around some more, and finding a place to park her car and sleep for the night.

The next morning Gidget awakens and makes her way back to the campus so that she can attend Dr. Morgan’s office hours. After waiting about forty-five minutes for an exasperated graduate student to finish her conference, Gidget walks to the open door and knocks. Dr. Morgan looks up, and looks at Gidget with an expression that betrays some level of recognition. Gidget explains that she is an adopted daughter of Dr. Robert Frye, and that she is interested in anything Dr. Morgan can tell her about her father. Over the course of the conversation, Dr. Morgan explains that Dr. Frye was a brilliant man, and never anything less than kind to everyone. Dr. Morgan and Dr. Frye worked together on some robotic components for the automotive industry, and also worked on some prosthetic limb projects for the military. She also talks some about Dr. Gutermuth and Dr. Kimura, but it is nothing that Gidget does not already know.

Gidget steers the conversation toward some of his other projects, trying to learn about her own development. Dr. Morgan becomes noticeably more unnerved at this time, and is obviously hiding something. Dr. Morgan eventually reveals that Dr. Frye’s android project was revealed as a hoax because people indicated that his designs were impractical, and because they met the actress playing his robot. Dr. Morgan apparently met the robot, but doesn’t offer an answer either way — she says the actress idea makes the most sense, and that the robot was probably too lifelike to be an actual robot. When Gidget asks what the robot looked like, Dr. Morgan uncomfortably answers that it looked like Gidget.

Realizing that there is still something unsaid, Gidget presses further regarding events. After Dr. Morgan grows distant for a time and seems distracted, she suggests that apart from a filing error, the only likely reason as to why a patent would disappear would be government interference, probably to prevent anyone else from accessing the technology. Finally, after continued questioning, she breaks down, indicating that she retrieved Dr. Frye’s notes after his disappearance and sold them. Gidget asks about the disappearance, and Dr. Morgan explains that there was a funeral, but she doesn’t know any more — Dr. Frye’s sons would probably know more, and since Gidget says they don’t know anything, Dr. Morgan says that nobody knows. It isn’t much longer before Gidget’s questioning causes Dr. Morgan to excuse herself, and run out of the room crying. Gidget, still stunned, picks up the phone and calls her brother, Dan. She asks about her father’s death, and he says that he simply died in a lab accident, like they told her. She asks if there was a body, and he merely replies that he died, and there was a funeral, and is there a point to this line of questioning? Not wanting to bother him further, she lets him go and Dan hangs up.

Gidget then finds a piece of paper to write a note. After being interrupted by a graduate student looking for Dr. Morgan, she simply indicates that there are no hard feelings about selling stuff, and that people sometimes do irrational things in tough situations. She leaves the note somewhere she expects Dr. Morgan to find it, and then leaves the building.

Once outside, she finds a place to sit and calls Dr. Zirpoli. She indicates that she has found some things — her tone prompts Dr. Zirpoli to ask if she is all right — and she will likely be in New York in the not-too-distant future, and asks if he will be available. Indicates that he will, and after some deliberating, she says she will likely be in New York City the following evening. Is that all right? Dr. Zirpoli agrees, and says she is invited for dinner. He also explains that his wife encourages Gidget to bring something to eat, or inform her of something she would like to eat. Gidget doesn’t have access to a kitchen, nor does she have any preferences, and Dr. Zirpoli says that is fine.

After wishing her well and finishing the conversation, she calls Paul and informs him that it seems likely that the government hid her patent for their own purposes. Additionally, Dr. Frye is confirmed as missing rather than killed. Finally — what do people bring to dinner when they are asked to bring something? Paul finally suggests bread, dessert, or a beverage, probably wine. She thanks him and the two hang up.

Gidget then spends some time on campus, waiting for Dr. Morgan to leave the building, largely just to make certain she is all right. Eventually, a group of people come out of the engineering building, huddled around Dr. Morgan. Dr. Morgan definitely notices Gidget and stares at her. Once the crowd leaves her sight, Gidget leaves the campus.

Gidget primarily spends the rest of the day reading and wandering around Pittsburgh. As she checks her email toward evening, she finds an email from a nonsensical address (jdjsksoicxmxckm@kxzjzxcjxux.fewpokfdsklhdvkkj) with no body and a subject line reading, “He knows.” She wonders about this, and tries to send an email, but it immediately pings back with message from MAILER-DAEMON about a delivery failure. Gidget then finds yet another place to park her car and sleep for the night.

The next day, Gidget awakens and undergoes a few preparations for her trip to New York City. She gets gas a couple of times, buys white wine at a grocery store, and otherwise has an uneventful trip until she pulls off by the side of the road at the Holland Tunnel to call Dr. Zirpoli. He says he will be there in about a half-hour and help her navigate to his house.

About twenty minutes later, Dr. Zirpoli parks next to her car in his late-model hybrid. Gidget notices a few occult glyphs hidden on his car. Dr. Zirpoli steps out wearing a dress shirt, slacks, and a sweater vest. He apologizes for not describing his address, but explains that his secrecy is for security purposes. He then invites her to follow.

Gidget is astute enough to notice that he navigates New York City traffic surprisingly well. He hits green lights and avoids congestion. It could be coincidence, or it could be something else.

They arrive at a nice, Victorian-style house in a residential neighborhood in southeastern Queens. Dr. Zirpoli pulls into the driveway and Gidget parks on the street. They enter into his home and Gidget has a little time to take in the sights of the home before a woman enters. She is tall and willowy, with long, wavy, grey hair. She wears spectacles and is wearing a patchwork peasant skirt and a sort of baggy blouse. She is introduced as Dalia Zirpoli, Ebenezer Zirpoli’s wife who is also a doctor and a mage, like Ebenezer. She presents her wine as pleasantries are exchanged, and then joins Dalia in the kitchen at her invitation. While preparing dinner — which is, at some point, determined to be lobster as the meal takes shape — they discuss things. Ebenezer explains that Gidget is in a mild amount of danger by being at his house, because there are some wizardly factions in the city that want him dead — magely politics and all that. He assures her that she is likely in no danger, but it is something she should know. Gidget then explains all she has learned since she last spoke to Ebenezer , telling him about her meeting with Dr. Morgan as well as her meeting with the mysterious “M” in Terra Lake. When Ebenezer asks, Gidget says she feels “M” is somehow connected to Project: REGINA. Ebenezer mentions that he hasn’t been able to find a lot of information, but he can say that Project: REGINA no longer exists. Strangely, all he could find suggests that Project: REGINA spans about the length of her old patent, 1986-2006, and that it disbanded in 2009, around the time Dr. Steiner got in his car accident. Dr. Kimura was institutionalized in 2006. All of these may be coincidences, but it is still interesting information.

After some discussion over dinner, Gidget, Dalia, and Ebenezer decide that the West Coast seems like the most logical destination. Since Dr. Gutermuth and Dr. Kimura are out West, and since her brother Dan might know something about her father’s disappearance, that appears to be where her current leads are headed. Gidget agrees that this is sound. As the evening wears on, Gidget says that the others probably want to get to bed. They offer her the guest bedroom, and she accepts; she retrieves her bag from her car and Dalia shows her to the guest room. They then bid her good night and tell her they will see her in the morning.

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Questions on the Long Road; Chapter 4

Thursday, July 22, 2010, around 10:00 PM and throughout the following two days

Before Gene arrives, Gidget sends another email to Dr. Henry Gutermuth, saying that she knows she didn’t hear from him and that she is currently away from the West Coast, but if he ever has the time, she would still like to meet with him. She also takes a moment to write some notes regarding her meeting with “M—” in Terra Lake.

Around 11 PM, Gene shows up, and after some discussion, he leaves for his apartment with Gidget and Paul following shortly thereafter. The evening is fairly low-key, primarily consisting of multiplayer first-person shooters, beer, and cigarettes. Gidget watches and interacts, though she notes that Gene seems particularly interested in her. Before Gidget and Paul leave for the night, she and Gene exchange numbers at Gene’s request. Paul then drops her off at her hotel so that she may retire for the night, though on the way, they discuss the possibility of going to a club or something.

The next morning, Gidget goes into D.C. to spend the day at the museums. In the afternoon, Gene calls and asks if she might like to get something to eat later, maybe Carraba’s around 6:30? She agrees, though she notes that she has made vague future plans with Paul.

After returning from D.C., she gets ready and looks to see what and where Carraba’s is. She then meets Gene at Carraba’s at 6:30. They have dinner and talk about themselves a little, deciding afterwards to meet Paul and determine where to go in D.C. They retire to Gene’s apartment, and after Paul arrives, they discuss what they might like to do. After looking for some of the clubs in the area, they decide on the Science Club.

Upon arriving at the Science Club, they find it to be a somewhat small venue playing reggae and dub dance music. Paul leaves Gene and Gidget alone to talk, dance, and drink beer. Toward the end of the evening, everybody returns to Gene’s place to talk and hang out, and Paul eventually takes his leave. Gene sits next to Gidget on the couch, but she shortly takes her leave and returns to the hotel. She checks her email, finding one from Dr. Morgan telling her that she has office hours on Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday mornings. She also finds that she missed a message from Gillian Palmer saying that she received Gidget’s email, and when are they going to write together? Gidget then goes to sleep.

The next day, Gidget drives back to D.C. to visit the Library of Congress, hoping to gain some information. On the way, she receives a phone call from Gillian Palmer, again asking when Gidget plans on writing stuff. Gidget laughs it off, and asks again about Project: REGINA, though Gillian doesn’t really know anything new. When Gidget arrives at the Library of Congress, she gets to work.

Gidget spends over six hours at the Library of Congress before leaving when the building closes at 4:30 PM. During that time, she finds very little; she primarily determines that her patent is completely and totally gone, and that Dr. Katashi Kimura, a former colleague of Dr. Frye who is currently institutionalized in Seattle, apparently worked with one Dr. Aloysius Steiner on Project: REGINA.

Upon returning to her hotel, she continues to search, finding that Dr. Steiner was a roboticist from MIT who worked with the Army Corps of Engineers as a civilian. He did nothing from about 2002 to his death, though it is rumored that he was working on Project: REGINA at this time. Gidget also researches Dr. Rose Morgan, finding that she got her start in academia before working on robotics projects for the automotive industry. She then returned to academia in her current teaching role at Carnegie Mellon.

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Questions on the Long Road; Chapter 3

Sunday, July 18, 2010, throughout the day and following week

As Gidget gathers her things, she feels the subtle presence of another Promethean. She decides to look outside, and seeing nothing, she walks around the outside of the motel. Still seeing nothing, but feeling the same presence, she makes another circuit, and is then greeted by the sound of a clearing throat. She turns around to see a woman — tall, tanned, attractive, fit, and wearing sunglasses, a tank top, black BDU pants, and combat boots. With her strange double-vision, however, Gidget sees her as she truly is — a synthetic humanoid of plastic and metal, just like Gidget. Initially too stunned to speak, Gidget finally murmurs that the woman is just like herself. The woman agrees. Gidget excitedly extends her hand and begins to introduce herself, and as the woman returns the gesture, she only gets to introduce herself as “M—” before looking to the side and telling Gidget to run. Gidget glances to see two men in BDUs wielding submachine guns. They order the two to get on the ground; Gidget responds by running. As she runs around the side of the building, she hears the man in pursuit. She tries to lose him in the woods behind the motel, but he catches up to her and attempts to tackle her. She dodges to the side, and as he starts to raise his weapon, she stares him down, hypnotizing him. She instructs him to relax and leave her alone, and then scampers off into the woods and hides behind a tree. He seems confused and disoriented at first, but finally jogs back to the front of the building.

Gidget then scampers up a tree to see if she can get a look at things. After a bit, she sees the mysterious woman speed away on a motorcycle. Shortly thereafter, she sees the two men leave in a black Hummer. Climbing down, she returns to her room, grabs the last of her things, and quickly checks out. She drives after them, but is not terribly surprised when she cannot find them. She then finds a place with Wi-Fi and first posts a “Missed Connections” advert on Craigslist, obliquely referring to her encounter with “M.” She then calls Lilith, describing the encounter and asking her if she knows anything about “M.” Lilith says she is unfamiliar, but if she happens to hear any references to “M,” she will let Gidget know. Gidget also emails Dr. Zirpoli, referring to her discovery.

Gidget then starts driving for New Orleans. Along the way, she emails Billy Taylor to let him know that she will be in the area, and to inform him of her progress. When she checks her email as she nears New Orleans, he asks if she would care to meet him for lunch tomorrow. Responds affirmatively, and arrives in New Orleans around midnight. She finds a hotel and goes to sleep.

The next morning, Gidget walks around the city for a few hours before meeting with Billy at a nearby restaurant. They talk about how things are going with his oil recovery efforts, and Gidget tells him that she encountered another robot such as herself, though she had little opportunity to talk to her because they were attacked by the uniformed men. Billy says they sounded military or paramilitary, and said the whole incident seemed to remind him of something, though he couldn’t place what. He said he would let her know if he remembered, though.

After lunch, Gidget accompanies Billy down to the delta, where he puts his raft and netting to use, collecting tar balls. Despite the hard work, Gidget is interested in the process, and returns the next day to aid him before indicating that she is leaving New Orleans. He wishes her luck and says he will contact her if anything interesting happens or he remembers anything.

She stays in the city that night, leaving New Orleans on Wednesday morning. She makes the trip to Arlington, VA over the course of two days, sleeping in her car at night and calling Paul St. Claire to ask if he can recommend a good hotel. He indicates that he knows somebody who works at a hotel, and that he can get her a discount.

She arrives at the hotel Thursday evening, and meets Paul. He introduces her to his friend, Gene, who gives her the employee discount. Gene says he will catch up with them later, and then the two proceed to retire to her room and discuss what has happened. Paul says he has not been doing anything terribly exciting since returning to Arlington, and Gidget informs him of her encounter with “M.” She indicates that she has little to go on — just a description and the first letter of her name — though Paul then proceeds to ask about the uninvestigated leads she still has. She eventually determines that she still does not know the full scope of the mystery surrounding Dr. Frye’s death, and she also has not spoken to Dr. Henry Gutermuth in Los Angeles (though she did send an email and never received a response), Dr. Rose Morgan in Pittsburgh, or Dr. Katashi Kimura in a mental institution in Seattle. She also has not recounted the full events of her meeting with “M” to Dr. Zirpoli. In addition, they determine that this is all probably related to Project: REGINA that Gillian Palmer mentioned in Las Vegas. Paul also dissuades her from putting out information to search for “M,” particularly if some unknown government group is looking for her. Despite the fact that it occurs to her that “M” might stand for a title rather than a name, and thus she might have a little less information than she thought. She sends an email to Gillian Palmer to ask if she might know anything further about Project: REGINA, and she sends an email to Dr. Rose Morgan saying she is related to Dr. Robert Frye and that she is interested if Dr. Morgan could tell her anything noteworthy.

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Questions on the Long Road; Chapter 2

Sunday, July 11, 2010, throughout the day and following week

Gidget drives east from Los Angeles, deciding to drive during the day and sleep at rest stops by night. Her drive is uneventful, largely passing through desert, until she stops in Kansas on Tuesday night. She is awakened by a tapping at her door, and sees a disheveled African-American woman with mismatched clothes and a pistol. The woman demands a ride north, so Gidget unlocks the passenger door and lets her in. The woman seems overall intense, and mutters under her breath about “escaping them” and “going to Canada.” Gidget tries to make conversation, but as the woman does not seem terribly jovial, she simply drives north, driving about fifteen hours straight through. The woman asks to be let off as they approach the border, and Gidget stops the car, allowing her to get out. Gidget then gets her bearings and drives the roughly three hours to Fargo, North Dakota, before finding a place to stop. She emails Dr. Zirpoli to let him know that she plans to meet him in Terra Lake, Indiana, and then stops for the night.

Awakening on Thursday, she decides to drive straight through, stopping halfway to check her email. She finds that she has received an email from Dr. Zirpoli, and he indicates that he should arrive in Terra Lake on Friday and be there over the weekend. Gidget finally arrives in Terra Lake on Thursday evening.

Entering from the west, Gidget is initially greeted by a brick building with a gaudy neon sign reading “Bird of Paradise” and tagged on the side with the phrase “THE WHITE ZONE IS FOR LOADING AND UNLOADING ONLY” in white spraypaint. After seeing the sign for Terra Lake and passing what appeared to be a diner called Eddie’s, she finds herself in the town proper. She drives for a while until she sees that a carnival is occurring in the town square, and parks to investigate. She takes the opportunity to text Paul and Lilith to ask about things she should do while in town.

Gidget is greeted by the “First Annual Terra Lake Carnival,” apparently sponsored by Jones-Klein-Beauchamp, which she recognizes as a European pharmaceutical company. She acquires a pamphlet that features a map and some information about the town, and hears from Paul, who recommends the Super 8 as a place to stay, and recommends eating at the Emerald Dragon or Eddie’s. Lilith later responds, indicating that she didn’t do a whole lot while there, though her shack in the woods might still be around if Gidget needs a quiet place to stay. After having her fill of carnival food, Gidget goes to the Super 8 and gets a room for the night. Before going to sleep, she checks some news, first learning that she likely gave a ride to one Elinor Fossett, recently escaped from a mental institution in Kansas. She also learns that Jennifer Caulfield is in custody, as noted in Portland and San Francisco newspapers, though information about the shooting incident is pending. Finally, she reads a little about the town, learning that during the first half of 2009, Terra Lake was subject to a period of disappearances and murders. The FBI came to investigate, and uncovered a serial killer and corporate corruption at the local chemical plant. Around summer, the strange events in Terra Lake end roughly around the time about fifty members of a local small church called the Church of Ezekiel’s Divine Revelation commit suicide. The articles also mention the discovery of a new species of fish called the groetnich (Neouranolophus zirpoli) in Terra Lake, apparently the case that brought Dr. Zirpoli to the area in the first place.

Friday morning, Gidget awakens and decides to explore. She first calls Dr. Zirpoli and leaves a voicemail message for him, saying she is in the area. Then, she drives out to the woods — past a pond surrounded by a chainlink fence — and goes hiking. Not finding anything out of the ordinary, she drives back into town and does a little more newspaper research at the local library, though she doesn’t find too much more information. After hearing from Dr. Zirpoli, they decide to meet for dinner at the Emerald Dragon at 6:30 PM.

Gidget arrives around 6:30, finding Dr. Zirpoli already there. After exchanging pleasantries, she asks about the strange occurrances in the town. Dr. Zirpoli says he knows little about them, only arriving in the wake of a murder investigation to investigate the groetnich. He does know that one of the paranormal investigators in town committed the murder, unbeknownst to his fellows, and that the investigators were sickened by radiation poisoning. When Gidget inquires about this, Dr. Zirpoli explains that it was some sort of giant cockroach that produced a blue flash, though he knows no details about it, having been in the town for a short time. He did help clean the radiation, however, surreptitiously. He also mentions a series of caves under the woods, which he also briefly surveyed, and noted a gate to Another Place in them.

After explaining that he is in town to check on the progress of the Terra Lake Ichthyological Research Society, he indicates that she is welcome to join his survey. She agrees, and he indicates he will call her tomorrow, though he expects it to be around noon. The two then part company for the evening, briefly seeing each other at the motel before Gidget goes to her room for the night.

The next morning, Gidget awakens to explore more, possibly to look for Lilith’s shack or the caves. She finds the caves, but has to return to town to purchase a flashlight. After doing so, she goes through the cave network, filled primarily with old, gnawed animal bones and occasional streaks of dried blood. The most interesting thing appears to be a dead end marked with an old cave painting of a horned serpent. Underneath this is a smiley face, painted in spraypaint, and smears of dried blood mark the cave wall. Gidget recalls that the horned serpent was the guardian of the Underworld to the Southern Cult, but still is not certain of the significance.

She emerges from the cave and returns to her motel just in time to hear from Dr. Zirpoli, saying that everyone is meeting around noon. He says that he can drive her if she would like, and she agrees, taking a moment to clean up. Then, she and Dr. Zirpoli drive to the lake.

Upon arriving at the lake, they meet with the members of the Terra Lake Ichthyological Research Society — still primarily academics from Indianapolis — for the survey. They bring Dr. Zirpoli up to date on their findings, largely involving what little they are able to observe of the voracious predator. This also includes anecdotal evidence from old Indian legends and current urban legends. After a few hours of investigation and discussion, Dr. Zirpoli and Gidget take their leave. Gidget thanks Dr. Zirpoli for the opportunity, and then returns to her motel room.

Gidget then calls Paul to talk about what she has done and to ask him a little more about what he knows regarding the town. He mentions some of the people whom he encountered in town, though she doesn’t really find anything on them other than their involvement in several news stories of the time (and a lone YouTube video). She takes the rest of the day to do some more research, explore a little more, and read.

The next morning, Gidget awakens and after looking around a bit, decides to move on. She starts gathering herself to hit the road once again.

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Questions on the Long Road; Chapter 1

Saturday, July 10, 2010, about 8:00 PM (and throughout the following day)

Gidget makes her way out of San Francisco, prepared to drive to Los Angeles. Her drive is initially uneventful.

After making her way out of town, she decides to stop at a little roadside motel about three hours down the highway. She checks into the motel, and after checking email and whatnot — having not received an email from Dr. Gutermuth as of yet — she decides to go to sleep.

At least until she hears a scratching at her window. Wary, she opens the curtains to find nothing but the parking lot. She recloses them and returns to bed, but the scratching starts again. She initially ignores it, but figures she must do something when it grows insistent, thudding against the glass. As she throws the curtains aside, she sees a small, humanoid, reptilian creature with a toothed muzzle and elongated limbs throwing itself against the glass, putting a splintered crack in it. Initially confused, she begins to call the front desk when the thing breaches the glass, sending slivers in all directions with a great sound.

It snaps at her a couple of times, but she manages to evade it and backpedal her way into the hall, just in time to see the night manager making his way down the hall at a quick pace, evidently having heard the breaking glass. She looks to him, and hears a dull thud on the ground, her head swinging back around to see…a charred and burned log.

Though still confused, she tells her story to the night manager, explaining how she saw some animal thing battering against the glass and trying to attack her. Does the area have a zoo that might be the source of some komodo dragon or something? He says no, and eyes her warily. He throws the wood in a plastic bag and calls the police. She is sent to another room for the evening. After getting situated, she speaks to the officer that arrives, telling her story, and then goes to her room for the night. She does not sleep, instead reading for the evening.

Around 3:00 AM, she hears a scratching at her door. Looking out, she sees movement toward the bottom of the peephole, but does not actually see anybody at the door. Placing the security bar on the door, she opens it to be greeted by a slender, clawed hand reaching in. The thing quickly batters the door open, fouling the security bar. Gidget throws her suitcase at it, but the luggage goes wide, leaving her arm open to the thing’s slavering jaws. It bites a chunk out of the crook of her elbow. She manages to evade its further frenzied bites, evading it, grabbing her bags, and running out the door. Seeing a security door on her left, she runs for it, throws it open, and slams it shut. She feels the beast slam against it, and as she runs, she hears a gunshot ring out, accompanied by an indentation on the metal security door. A second shot is fired, and Gidget throws her things in her car to loop around for a better look.

Upon entering the front of the motel, she is greeted by the night manager holding a revolver at his side. He freaks out upon seeing her, telling her to get out of his motel. He fires three shots at her — all miss — as she runs out of the motel and speeds away in her car.

After getting away from him, she pulls to the side of the road to use her cell phone. She calls Lilith first, getting her voicemail, and leaves a message just seeing that all is well. Having texted Paul earlier in the evening, he calls back to see what is happening. She explains her situation, and he explains that she was likely attacked by Pandorans, the abortive attempts at creating more Prometheans that he has previously described. He recommends she finds a place to heal, and then bids her good night.

Gidget wraps her arm and decides to drive straight through the night to Los Angeles. When she finds her way to the city, she gets a first aid kit for future preparation and to better bandage her wounds, putting an Ace bandage on the whole thing to make her gaping wound less noticeable. She checks email and gets breakfast, and not having received an email from Dr. Gutermuth, decides to go south to San Diego. Along the way, she stops for gasoline, and goes to the bathroom, taking the opportunity to stick a finger in an electrical outlet. The lights dim, her wound closes, and electricity starts to arc from her as she removes herself from the outlet. She then pays and makes her way out.

Finally, she arrives in San Diego, deciding to go to the San Diego Zoo. Much to her chagrin, however, she finds that she sees little, as the animals actively avoid her presence, typically positioning themselves as far away from her as possible in their enclosures. Most stay calm, but wary. Some panic.

Saddened, she decides to wander in the Gaslamp Quarter, taking in the sights. After a bit, she realizes that she is being flanked by three fairly nondescript men who all look similar, like brothers. As one tells her that she needs to come with them and shows her his gun for emphasis, she screams “RAPE!” and all hell breaks loose. Most people hide or scatter, possibly calling on cell phones, but a few actually jump in to help. Amid the chaos and the gunshots, Gidget slinks away. She calls the police on her cell phone to inform them, as a bystander, of what is happening. Finally, she returns to her car, and despite not having heard from Dr. Gutermuth, decides that the West Coast is far too crazy. After driving out of the city a brief distance, she turns to head East.

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This Little Light of Mine; Chapter 1

Wednesday, July 7, 2010, about 11:00 AM (and throughout the following three days)

Wednesday is spent on the road. During the drive, Gidget feels a change in her system, as a built-up substance in her body effects its change. Unalarmed, she is aware that she can see hidden entities by concentration and possibly even revive herself in the event of an emergency.

Other than this revelation on the road, the evening is spent at a little motel. Thursday’s drive is similarly uneventful, and in the evening, Gidget and Paul arrive in Wolframbed, Wyoming.

Nestled in the eastern side of the Rockies, Wolframbed is a small place, a loose confederation of buildings bound by a single traffic light. Gidget and Paul drive until they find a little motel — unimaginatively called the Wolframbed Inn — and go to get settled.

The man at the desk does not introduce himself, and seems off — as if daydreaming or otherwise preoccupied. He asks a few questions about where they are headed and gives them a room for $60 a night.

After getting situated, they go back to the front desk and ask for a map so that they may determine what to do in the area. With the map, they return to the motel room and get the remaining portion of the elixir and the pendulum. Gidget consumes the stuff and starts moving the pendulum. It eventually comes to rest somewhere roughly on the outskirts of town. They note the location on the map.

Gidget and Paul return to the front desk to learn about places to eat nearby. The man at the desk replies that there is a diner a ways up the road — “The Diner,” he calls it. They thank him and go on their way, taking Paul’s car.

First, they go to the location noted on the map — which turns out to be a faded and abandoned building labeled the “Wolfram Bed Mining Co.” Strangely, a Camry with Indiana plates is parked out front of what otherwise appears to be an abandoned building. They decide to investigate the place, finding a building with worn surfaces, boarded-up windows, and a fenced-in yard with several rusting pieces of mining equipment. After some discussion, Gidget notices a shadow in the dark and speaks. She is greeted by a large man wearing flannel and denim and carrying a staff. He asks what they are doing there and says that residents tend to be jumpy, and that they should probably leave and return during the day. They acknowledge that, and return to the car.

After a bit of discussion, they decide to go to the diner and get something to eat. The older waitress takes their orders with the same distracted demeanor as the man at the motel desk. As they eat, a very large man with a brown uniform, gun, and badge enters. Greeted as the Sheriff, he says nothing when he sits at the counter, apparently either being expected or simply ordering his usual. He stares pointedly at Gidget and Paul before eating.

After they finish and pay, they are about to leave when the Sheriff clearing his throat gets their attention. They look and see him sitting with his back toward them, but with his hand sitting ominously upon his pistol.

After leaving, they decide to return to the motel. They return to the room for the night before discussing things further and deciding that they should probably try to retrieve the lantern tonight. Gidget is to talk to the motel manager while Paul takes their stuff to the car so as to be inconspicuous. Paul decides to leave money to pay the motel manager.

Executing the plan, Gidget asks about things in the area while Paul loads the car. She then takes her leave, going outside. They decide to take both cars so that they will have access to them, and drive them outside of the town to regroup.

After driving about a half hour outside of town, they park and decide to take a brief jaunt into the woods to pass the time. They manage to get lost, taking another hour to extricate themselves and return to Paul’s car. They notice that a police car is parked up the road with its lights off, and they decide to drive until they can lose it. Getting back into their cars, they start to drive with Paul in the lead and Gidget behind him. After losing the police car, they pull off down a side road and Gidget gets into Paul’s car.

Finally, they return to Wolframbed around midnight. They park a little bit away from the Wolfram Bed Mining Co. building and then walk the rest of the way. After debating, they decide to just break down the front door, but are interrupted when Paul gets struck in the side by a large staff.

It appears to be the flannel-wearing man from earlier, wearing football pads and wielding his staff. Paul turns around to face him with his baseball bat, while Gidget grabs a chunk of concrete and smashes the door open. Leaving the sounds of struggle behind her, Gidget kicks the door open to find an office that appears recently used. A handsome man with slicked-back brown hair, lightly tanned skin, brilliant green eyes, and a nice suit greets Gidget. They stare at each other for a moment and he explains that the police are coming before she rushes at him. Though he somehow changes — appearing so beautiful that the thought of assaulting him seems highly distasteful — Gidget manages to throw off the sensation and shoves him to the side, gaining access to the next room. In this room, a lantern sits prominently upon a desk, and Gidget runs for it. Then she sees a pale, nude girl in the corner of the room. Heedless of everything else, Gidget throws the concrete at one of the plywood-covered windows. When it doesn’t buckle, she runs at a side door, battering through it with the lantern in hand.

Hearing sirens, she starts running. When the police SUV catches sight of her, she makes a beeline for the woods and quickly scales a tree. The Sheriff doesn’t see her, so returns to his car and drives away. She descends from the tree just in time to hear commotion, and sees Paul running up the road followed by the Sheriff, the night occasionally punctuated by the potshots he takes at Paul. Just as he stops to take another, Gidget runs out of the woods and catches his eye, concentrating to freeze him in his tracks. She tells Paul to get the car, and he runs up the road to do so. Gidget also notices the suited man walking calmly up the road. Just as he is about to reach her, however, Paul’s car barrels down the road, pulling up beside her. She jumps in and Paul takes off. As they screech away into the night, Gidget nearly falls out of the car before managing to secure herself inside. The sound of a gunshot punctuates the night, accompanied by a loud pop. Paul corrects and keeps driving down the road, throwing sparks from one of his rear wheels.

When he is convinced that he lost them, he stops to change the tire. They also check the lantern, and seeing its archaic shape and occult symbols, conclude that it is the Lantern they seek. He then returns to Gidget’s car and helps her load her stuff into it, including the Lantern. She thanks him for his help, and they say their goodbyes. He says that he will likely be in touch with her again soon, and they agree for her to call him when she arrives safely in San Francisco; she plans on driving straight through for the roughly eighteen hours it takes to return. Getting into their cars, he follows her until she turns onto the highway, and she starts the journey back to San Francisco, alone.

She arrives in the early evening on Friday. After calling Mr. Long to make arrangements, he gives her an address at which to meet him. Finding it to be above a laundromat, she follows the instructions to tell the manager her name and that she is expected.

She enters the office above the laundromat to meet Mr. Long and two of his bodyguards. She tells him about what she encountered in her search for the Lantern, including the poem from Juanita Doe. He thanks her and says that he will be unable to give her the papers he promised at this time, as she is done much faster than he anticipated. However, he will be able to deliver the identification the following evening. He says that she should return at that time and he will seal the deal.

She then asks if he can recommend some place for her to stay and some place for her to eat, and he says if she goes downstairs he will make arrangements. After she waits downstairs for a few moments, he joins her and explains that a car will come around to take her to a safe house, and that they can get her anything she wants. She thanks him and agrees to this, getting into the sedan when it arrives and finding the driver to be a tall man of mixed Chinese descent. She is taken to an apartment complex a few blocks away, and led to a room toward the back where she is put up for the night. She says she has no preference for food, and so is brought Chinese food from somewhere nearby. Before going to sleep she calls Paul to let him know that all is well, and she sends an email to Dr. Zirpoli to wish him well and indicate that she might be heading east, so could they possibly meet in New York?

The next day, she awakens and asks the guard outside her room if she can retrieve her car. He says she may and that he will drive her. After she gets situated, she goes with the man to get her car. They talk for a little bit, and she learns his name is Greg. He drops her off at her car, and she says she will likely be around at the safehouse later. She then goes to a café to get some breakfast, write, and work on her computer.

Much to her surprise, she hears the door open to see Jennifer Caulfield, her “brother” Daniel’s fiancée, walk into the café. She looks rough, haggard, and as though she hasn’t slept or bathed in days. When she sees Gidget, she smiles and looks genuinely glad to see her — this despite the fact that Jennifer never really liked her, and was probably the major reason why she left Daniel’s house in the first place. Jennifer sits down — the smell reinforces the fact that she probably hasn’t bathed — and when Gidget asks, she explains that she came looking for Gidget because she wants her to come home. Gidget says that she is flattered, but will likely continue traveling, at least for a time. When she continues to rebuff Jennifer’s attempts to get her to return to Portland, Jennifer finally seems hurt and stands to leave — before turning around and firing a pistol through the front pocket of her sweatshirt. Gidget is struck in the shoulder, and is almost too dumbfounded to react. As the café explodes into chaos around her, she starts to gather her things as another bullet pierces her shoulder. She manages to run most of the way across the café with her things haphazardly gathered in her arms when another gunshot sounds and a bullet punctures her back. She staggers through the doors into the kitchen.

She finally runs into an alley and collects herself, shoving her things into her bag. She calls Daniel to inform him of what happened — he says that she has been missing for several days — and then, while blending into the crowd, she calls Mr. Long. He says he will send a car to pick her up.

She waits for a while at the corner before Greg’s sedan arrives. He steps out and is quite surprised to see her, as she has apparently been shot — and even moreso because nobody appears to be reacting and because he overlooked a bleeding woman.

Upon returning to her room in the safehouse, she explains what happened while he bandages her — she gets the vibe that he is keeping cool despite the fact that he hasn’t seen too much of this, that he thinks there is something weird about her, and that he thinks she is rather cute and happens to be shirtless at the moment — and he explains that he primarily drives, and hasn’t really seen injuries like this before.

When he leaves to find clothes, she decides to try what she knows about electricity. She scrounges a penny and sticks it in the light socket, feeling a gentle vibration as the electricity flows through her. She feels fine in a few seconds, and stops when electricity starts to arc from her. The lights brown, but otherwise nothing untoward happens.

Greg returns with some baggy clothes, and she thanks him and takes them. After he leaves, she calls Daniel. He explains that she left after Gidget called him last week, and that he couldn’t find her. She didn’t take one of the cars, and she had been acting so weird that he wasn’t terribly surprised to hear that she starting shooting. He also called the San Francisco police just to inform them of what he knew.

After her conversation with Daniel, she calls Paul to find that he has already heard about a shooting in downtown San Francisco on the news. She explains what happened. Paul says it might be a byproduct of the Disquiet she instills in normal people, while Gidget wonders if she may have been replaced, like the Fae do to people. She also tells him about Greg, and he says that she should ask him out, because he sounds interested. She says she probably won’t.

Finally, she asks Greg if she could go shopping for some new clothes until she can return to her car. He agrees, and takes her to Urban Outfitter at her request. She buys clothes for the next day or so, and then returns to the safehouse to be greeted by Mr. Long. He explains that the woman was arrested, and gives Gidget a box that should contain all her papers. She asks about the purpose of him taking the Lantern, and he explains that he hopes to destroy it, and that her information may help him do so. He indicates that he does this sort of thing — fighting these Fae entities — though he refuses to elaborate how he knows about them and why.

Upon returning to her room, she checks the box to find a birth certificate, Social Security card, passport, and the like. She also checks her email, finding a response from Dr. Zirpoli (he says that all is well and that he won’t be back in New York City for probably another week or so, but that they might be able to meet in Chicago), as well as correspondence from Billy Taylor and Ashley Moore, indicating that they are well and wishing her the same. She also writes an email to Dr. Henry Gutermuth, a former colleague of Dr. Frye’s in Los Angeles, essentially asking if she can ask him about Dr. Frye, much as she did with Dr. Zirpoli at first.

Finally, as evening approaches, she is allowed to return and retrieve her car. As she will likely leave the city shortly thereafter — Mr. Long recommends staying away for a month until things blow over — she bids him farewell and he gives her a business card and tells her to keep in touch if she encounters anything else from Faerie on the road. Finally, after he drops her off at her car, she gives Greg her number. Though initially surprised, he accepts and gives her his number for when she may return to San Francisco. Then, she gets into her car and heads south.

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Bright Light City; Chapter 3

Monday, July 5, 2010, about 7:00 PM (and throughout the following two days)

After Gidget and Paul return to the hotel, Gidget decides to check her email. She receives a message from Billy Taylor, indicating that things are going well, that Ashley will probably stay with him another week (and that she was upset about some boy trouble), and asking how things are with Gidget, and how was Eddie Chang doing?

Gidget responded by saying that things were going well, though nobody was in Eddie’s shop when she went.

Gidget also receives an email from Dr. Zirpoli, indicating that he will be in Las Vegas from Tuesday to Thursday, if she wishes to meet him in person. Gidget responds saying that she would like to do so, and to let her know when he is available.

Gidget then does a little research about Wolframbed, WY. She doesn’t learn a whole lot about the town, though she does learn that there have been a few anomalous events in the surrounding area over the past year — namely two suicides, including a murder suicide, involving people who were just passing through. She also learns that the town itself was founded in the late seventies as a tungsten mining town, but has been in decline since the price of tungsten fell. Despite losing people each year and losing money, the town still survives and anecdotal evidence suggests it may even be thriving recently.

After informing Paul of her findings, the two wonder what to do before finally deciding to catch a Penn & Teller show. Upon their return, Gidget checks her email one last time to learn that Dr. Zirpoli should be available between 4:00 and 7:00 PM on Tuesday, or after 10:00 PM, and that he can meet her in the lobby of his hotel, the MGM Grande. Alternately, she can just call him; he gives her his number. She decides to make her way over in the 4:30 or 5:00 range and lets him know. Then, she and Paul go to sleep for the evening.

The next day, Gidget and Paul spend their time preparing for the upcoming trip to Wolframbed — particularly when it is decided that Paul will accompany Gidget — as well as preparing for Gidget’s meeting with Dr. Zirpoli. In the early afternoon, Gidget receives a phone call from Gillian Palmer, indicating that she has some information, and would she be willing to meet her at the same location as soon as she is ready? Gidget agrees, and after conferring with Paul, they get ready and go to Bally’s Las Vegas.

Gidget and Paul arrive to find Gillian already at the bar. After Gidget asks what this is about, Gillian begins by explaining that she paid somebody to hack into Gidget’s email. When Gidget begins to protest, she cuts her off, explaining that it allowed her to learn a few things; namely, that Gidget doesn’t really know anything about herself. The email to Dr. Zirpoli — who, incidentally, works for the government — indicates this much. Gillian explains that she found obituaries for Dr. Frye, but no actual death certificate; in fact, he is listed as missing in some places. She also explains that she researched Juanita Doe, and found her to be rather long-lived. She and Gidget agree to stay in contact, particularly since Gillian would be interested in her story and because she may have further questions or find more information. She also tells Gidget about her primary employer, Patmos Publishing. When Gidget asks why Gillian would have bothered to look up some college student, Gillian explains that recognition of the name prompted her to look up Gidget Frye, though she didn’t expect she would actually meet the Gidget Frye. Before she leaves, she tells Gidget to look for a decommissioned government project known as Project: Regina. She doesn’t know more than that. Gillian then leaves.

After she goes, Gidget spends the next hour or so looking for more information regarding herself and Dr. Frye, though she doesn’t exactly find what she is looking for. After 4:00, she arranges herself to go visit Dr. Zirpoli, and she and Paul part company for the afternoon.

Gidget calls ahead and makes her way to the MGM Grande. Arriving a little after 4:30, she finds an older, grandfatherly gentleman waiting in the lobby, reading the paper. He puts the paper down and stands to greet her, indicating that she must be Gidget. After he says that it is good to see her again, she inquires, and he explains that he has never met her in person, though he did see photographs and helped design her nervous system. At this, she brightens, relieved that he knows about her. She asks a few questions about her design, and he indicates that he knows little, mostly having read about her in journals of the time — otherwise, his correspondence with Dr. Frye mostly involved her electrical systems only. After some more discussion, in which he indicates that he once met Dr. Robert Frye but never met Dr. Elisabeth Frye, they decide to go to his room so that he may examine Gidget more thoroughly, particularly as she has never been given any sort of examination.

Dr. Zirpoli apologizes for the fact that he lacks appropriate tools, but says he will do the best he can with what he has. He asks her to undress, and then examines her breathing, heart rate, and the like. He determines that she seems more or less normal, though there are some anomalies (like a strange, fluttering heartbeat) that would indicate something wrong. After discussion turns to her supposed affinity for electricity, he asks if he may test this. After cutting her arm with a scalpel, he then indicates as she is an extranormal being, he could be considered such as well. As if to demonstrate, electricty arcs from the electrical outlet and into her, though as it does, the cut closes. She indicates that she felt no muscle seizure, though he indicates that she briefly appeared entirely robotic when that happened. When she expresses interest in an X-ray, he similarly does something uncanny when he examines her for a moment and then produces an X-ray photograph from his suitcase. She appears to be more or less human, albeit with some anomalies that would probably frighten a doctor or just generically seem strange. He tells her that she should probably avoid doctors whenever possible. After having her dress, they discuss a few more things. He makes it obvious that he has a huge admiration for Dr. Frye’s work, and he is sad that things went awry. He says that any coverup is likely goverment-related, though he doesn’t know for certain. He does indicate that he will try to use his government contacts to learn more — he indicates that he is a government contractor, and that he is in Las Vegas for this reason, though he is not at liberty to say more. He also talks a little about living in New York City, and mentions his wife Dalia. He also indicates that he knows Paul St. Claire, having encountered him in Terra Lake while researching a radiation spike and a strange species of fish — indeed, after Las Vegas and Chicago, he will likely go back there to see how research is doing. He asks if he may discuss Gidget with his wife, and Gidget allows that. He also indicates that, like him, Dalia is strange — possibly another stage of human potential, typically known by names as “wizard” or “magus” though, again, he is not at liberty to say much about them.

Before his meeting, he says that he will go get dinner, and he asks if Gidget would care to accompany. They do, and have a pleasant dinner and conversation before Dr. Zirpoli calls her a taxicab and they part company for the evening.

Gidget calls Paul, and getting his voicemail, leaves a message. Upon returning to the hotel, she knocks on the door and enters the room to find no one there. With nothing else to do, she calls Lilith, and they decide to hang out.

Gidget drives over to Jenny’s trailer, and the group talks for a bit before Gidget and Lilith decide to go back into town. Jenny decides to stay home, and will probably stargaze a little later. Gidget and Lilith discuss what to do for a little while before finally deciding on wandering around town looking for other Prometheans by sensing their Divine Fire. They have no luck, though Paul does call back. Once he learns that everything is okay, he leaves them on their way, but indicates that he should return later.

Eventually, Gidget and Lilith make their way back to the hotel room, joined shortly by Paul. The three chat and hang out before going to bed.

The next morning, Gidget awakens early and decides to research some more things. She looks for her patent, but finds that she cannot find it. She can find some of the lesser components of her system, but only things that are used in other applications — anything invented by Dr. Frye solely to create a humanoid robot is gone. Gidget starts by calling her “brother” Daniel. She is greeted by an uncharacteristically chipper Jennifer, his fiancée, who asks about Gidget’s trip before giving the phone to Daniel. She asks about her findings, and he indicates that he never renewed the patent, and indeed, never really maintained any of that stuff. He apologizes that he doesn’t know more information, and the phone conversation ends awkwardly, as most of their conversations do.

Next, she calls Dr. Zirpoli, who says he will make his way over. He does so, and introductions are made. When Gidget asks about the patent, he explains it is his understanding that a patent should stay in a given database even if it was not renewed. Given everything Gidget has explained, it seems likely that the patent was taken out of circulation, likely to keep the information out of someone else’s hands. For somebody to do that, it was likely a government operation. She asks if he might be able to learn anything, and he indicates that he only has limited access and limited information, but if he manages to find anything, he will let her know. He then takes his leave.

Gidget and Paul then get ready to leave Las Vegas. After packing, they take Lilith back to Jenny’s trailer, everyone exchanges farewells and promises to maintain contact. Then, in separate cars, Gidget and Paul start driving to Wolframbed, WY.

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Bright Light City; Chapter 2

Monday, July 5, 2010, about 2:00 PM

Gidget, Lilith, and Paul decide to hit some of the casinos — after watching Paul play poker and do reasonably well, Gidget decides to try and does all right for herself. Lilith just watches.

After a bit of wandering, Gidget and Paul decide to return to the hotel to plan their next move, and Lilith decides to go wandering around the Strip. They bid her farewell, and return to the hotel.

Finally, after some discussion of things with Paul, Gidget feels confident with going to Montevista to see Juanita Doe, and so decides to go visit. Paul will stay in the car in the event of any trouble.

Upon arriving at Montevista Hospital, Gidget goes to the reception desk and introduces herself as Ginger Fries, considering that people apparently recall her name. She claims to be working for a blog, and she would like to see Juanita Doe. At the name “Juanita Doe,” the receptionist’s demeanor changes and she nonchalantly just sends Gidget to see her. After speaking to a few orderlies, she is allowed to see Juanita.

Upon entering, she is greeted by a small, old, Hispanic woman, just as described in the things she read. Over the course of the conversation, Gidget doesn’t get much out of Juanita’s cryptic ramblings, but learns that Juanita remembers nothing before 1952. She speaks mysteriously of an entity known as the Inevitable and Subtle Light which may own or may even be the Subtle Lantern — this thing apparently takes people away for unknown purposes. After producing a deck of playing cards, Juanita then lays out ten, apparently as a sort of reading. Prompted by the reading, Juanita asks Gidget for paper and a pen and writes the following poem:

Go round & round a twisty road until you find the mountain

The cave was dug and lit by the dragon and blood flows from a fountain

The lantern screams murder at the breaking of the dawn

Only shattered by the maddening tunes of Huitzilopochtli’s Song

Juanita explains to Gidget that she will need that poem with the new book she acquired that will tell her where the Lantern is, though the paper will likely be destroyed in the process. After some more discussion and asking for clarification, which Juanita cannot really provide, Gidget thanks her and takes her leave.

After getting into Paul’s car, they sit for a moment as Gidget tells Paul about her unnerving experience in the institution. Then, they decide to return to the hotel so Gidget can research some things.

First, Gidget decides to look up her father — specifically, what happened to change the reception he received over his robotics research. Strangely enough, there didn’t seem to be any particular even that did the trick; just sometime in the late eighties or early nineties, scientific opinion turned, his experiments were declared hoaxes, and he was discredited. When she looks up herself, Gidget finds very little — certainly not enough to warrant the reaction she received from Gillian Palmer. This is a story only really considered by conspiracy theorists and the lunatic fringe anymore.

After these things, Gidget starts looking for references to Huitzilopochtli’s Song. Paul contacts Lilith for help, and goes to get her. Once she arrives, they decide that “Huitzilopochtli’s Song” may refer to the hymns that Gidget found, the fact that Huitzilopochtli was a hummingbird, or may be entirely metaphorical. After a few more questions, Lilith asks what this is all about, prompting Gidget to explain the trip through San Francisco and the quest for the Lantern. Lilith says that the bargain to find the Subtle Lantern in return for an identity may have been a fae contract, making Mr. Long one of the people taken by the True Fae. The fact that his group seems to oppose slavery — as indicated by raiding the brothel in San Francisco — would further imply this. The group then decides that it might be a good idea to determine why Mr. Long wants the Lantern — does he want to destroy it, hide it, or use it to make himself more powerful? As such, Gidget says she will call him once she knows a little more about the Subtle Lantern. As she has one major thing remaining, the group decides to perform the ritual in Secret Wisdom of the Rose Cross, which provides an alchemy elixir for map dowsing.

After going around town to gather components, the group goes to Jenny Handspun’s trailer to enact the ritual. After Paul fumbles with it for a time, Lilith builds the fire for the kettle. Paul mixes the ingredients and manufactures the elixir. Gidget drinks the stuff, and feeling a bit lightheaded, holds a crystal pendulum over the maps that they purchased. After ensuring that it is in the United States, they narrow its location down to Wolframbed, WY, in the Rocky Mountains.

The ritual finished, Gidget thanks everyone for their assistance, and Lilith bids everyone good night, as she plans on staying with Jenny for the evening. Gidget and Paul then return to the hotel so that Gidget can perform some more research.

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