I expected to sell my car that day. I had talked to a few potential buyers about the sale, and had actually found somebody who was willing to offer up a fair sum for the vehicle. I was not really feeling so hot about having to go through with it, nor to have to sit through an eight-hour work shift first. I liked the car; I felt like I’d really formed a good connection with her. The whole situation had put me in a pretty unhappy mood, so imagine how I felt when suddenly, first thing in the morning, somebody started banging on my door.
It was really loud, too. I was worried it was going to wake up Roger, who I was rooming with then. Still in my boxers, I rushed to the door and threw it open, ready to bitch out whoever was standing there. I stopped in my tracks, though, when I saw who was there.
It was a really hot girl. Who was totally naked. And crying. When you’re a college-age guy, it’s hard to stay angry with a hot naked crying girl standing at your door.
“Please don’t send me away,” the girl blurted. “Please don’t send me away.” She was shaking all over, her long black hair disheveled and plastered to her face. She didn’t seem hurt, but she was clearly scared and confused.
“Iyesu,” I said. “Come in, please, let’s get you inside.”
I ushered her in the door and closed it quickly, admittedly somewhat concerned about what any onlookers might think. She moved inside a bit awkwardly, as though dizzy or off-balance. I guided her to the couch and sat her down, then quickly rushed to get one of my t-shirts. I rushed into my room and picked up the biggest t-shirt I could find and started to rush back, then thought better of it and got a shirt for myself. Once I was wearing it, I headed back to the living room and handed the strange girl the larger shirt.
After a bit of fumbling, she got the shirt on. “Thank you,” she murmured.
“Sure,” I replied.
“Look I’m sorry, I’m so sorry,” the girl murmured, looking like she was going to go to pieces again. “I will pay you back, I promise I’ll pay you back no matter how long it takes.”
“Whoa whoa whoa,” I said hastily. “You don’t need to pay me back. I’m just … I don’t even know what I’m doing. Do you want some coffee?”
“Um, sure,” she said.
I got up to get her some. “Cream and sugar?”
“Okay,” she said.
“Uh, ok.” I poured her a mug of coffee, added a conservative amount of cream and sugar, and returned with it. “Here you go. Why don’t you tell me what happened to you?”
“You wouldn’t believe it,” she said, then took a sip of coffee. “This is very bitter.”
“Yes, well, it’s coffee,” I replied. “Do you want more cream and sugar?”
“No, I like it,” she replied.
“How do you know I wouldn’t believe it?” I asked. “I’m a New Washingtonian; I see weird shit on my morning commute.”
“Yeah, but you’ve got names for it,” she said. “There’s magic and technology and stuff. I—I dunno.”
“Why don’t you tell me your name?” I asked.
That was the first time she really fixed those big brown eyes on me, and my heart just skipped a beat. I think that something inside me knew deep down that she would be able to ask me anything and I’d do it. My heart skipped another beat when she told me that her name was Nalley.
I looked at her oddly, then laughed. “Nalley,” I said. “Hah, that’s funny. That’s the name of my car.”
“I know,” she murmured.
I laughed briefly, but then the laugh trailed off and my smile faded. I got a very ominous feeling and rushed to the door, throwing it open and looking outside. My parking space was empty.
I shut the door, whirled and was about to shout, but the girl looked so miserable. I also realized I didn’t want to wake Roger, so I tried to stifle my sudden panic. “Where’s my car.”
“I’m sorry, I’m sorry,” she murmured. “I’ll pay you back, I promise I will pay you back.”
“What is your name,” I asked in a strained tone, moving toward her, “and what did you do with my car.”
“I’m so sorry,” she said, her voice growing thick. “I just … had to, I couldn’t—”
“Please,” I said, my voice very strained at this point. I leaned toward her, placing my hands on the coffee table. “Please. Tell me who you are and what has happened to my car. I really need the money that car is going to give me when it sells, because it is a very nice car that is worth a lot of money.”
“Very nice car…” the girl echoed, her mouth twitching a little.
“However, I am very poor,” I continued, “and I need to pay rent and eat, and if I cannot sell that car I don’t get to do those things. So please. Miss. Tell me your name and what you know about my car. I promise I will be reasonable about this, but I need to know.”
She looked at me again with those deep brown eyes and my heart jumped, which really didn’t help my anxiety. “I’m Nalley, Alan,” she said to me. “Please don’t sell me.”
I stood, I covered my mouth with both hands, and took slow, measured breaths. After a few moments, I removed my hands and said quietly, “Miss,” I said, “this is really not … not a funny joke. It’s really not.”
“It’s not a joke, Alan,” the girl said. “I’m not joking.”
I opened my eyes and looked at her. Her eyes were brimming with tears; they caught mine and devoured me. If she was lying, she was very good.
“You’re … claiming to be my car,” I said.
She ducked her head in a nod.
“How am I supposed to believe you?” I asked.
She held my gaze with hers. “The night that Mary broke up with you,” she said, “you drove halfway home, then pulled into an open parking garage.”
I stared at her.
“You pulled into a corner space and cried until morning.”
I kept staring.
“I felt so bad for you,” she murmured and looked down. I swear I felt a tearing sensation when she pulled her eyes away from me. “I wanted to hold you closer somehow.”
Naturally I waxed eloquent. “Uh,” I said.
“I can say more,” she said. “Once I got towed because—”
“No,” I cut in. “No, that’s okay.”
She bit her lip and looked up at me, rocking back and forth a little bit.
“Um, okay,” I said. “Assuming for just a moment that you are telling the truth, which I still am having some trouble believing … are … all cars like this? Sentient beings that can turn into people?”
The girl looked puzzled. “I don’t … think so,” she said.
“Are you … human now?”
“I think so,” she said, nodding.
“Did you do that on purpose?”
“Why?” I asked. “Why did you do that?”
“Because I c-couldn’t stand the thought of n-not being yours,” she stammered. A tear rolled down her cheek.
“Why … couldn’t you?” I asked.
She looked up at me once again. Her eyes were earnest and innocent. “Because,” she said, “I love you.”
We stared at each other. After a moment of floating helplessly in her gaze, I was able to pull away. I stumbled backward and fell heavily into a chair.
“This is all extremely implausible,” I said.
“I know,” she said. “I’m sorry.”
“And … there’s no car any more,” I said.
“Just me,” she replied.
“So I’m fucked,” I said.
“I’m so sorry,” she said, crying again. “I just couldn’t, I couldn’t—”
“No, no,” I said, unable to stand watching her in this state. “No, it’s okay. Please don’t think about it right now. Have your coffee.”
“I’ll work,” she said. “I’ll be your slave, you can take all of my money—”
“No, please,” I said, leaning forward in my seat. “I really don’t want a slave, I just—”
“—I’ll do anything, anything, just please don’t send me away.”
“No,” I said, moving across the space between us and taking her by the shoulders. “I won’t send you away. I don’t want a slave, but I won’t send you away if you don’t want to go.”
I looked at her tear-stained face and her trusting eyes and sighed. “I will talk to my roommate. We’ll see about finding you a job, and you can be our third roommate. At first you’ll have to lean on us. I don’t know how that’ll work, but we’ll think of something. But I’m … not going to send you away. You can stay in my life. I promise.”
Steve leaned forward on her pile of laundry, rapt.
“At the time,” Alan said, “I seriously believed that I would regret putting so much trust in this girl and her crazy story. The fact that I never did is still one of those things that gives me hope for this godawful world.”
“Wow,” Steve replied. “She was in love with you from the get-go?”
“Yeah,” Alan said. “And honestly, I thought she was attractive and wonderful from the moment I met her. But I was her protector at first, and she really felt like she belonged to me. It wouldn’t have been right to date somebody who thought of herself as a possession. It wasn’t until December that I admitted that I really wanted to be with her.”
“What did Roger think of the whole thing?”
Alan laughed. “He thought the story was actually pretty awesome,” he said. “He believed it from the start, and was happy to help shoulder the financial burden of Nalley’s presence while she found a job. Funnily enough, we put her to unskilled work at first. Food service, custodial stuff … even construction, once we found out that she was strong for her size. But she didn’t like any of it; the work was too stupid.”
Steve grinned. “I know the feeling.”
“It wasn’t until a month after she’d appeared … when she was talking to me about one time when I was being bad about keeping up with proper maintenance, and she was talking about how her battery unit was aching because the motor unit hadn’t been properly lubricated in months, and talking about how this connection and that connection were loose and if they’d kept up she was just going to stop running … and it hit me. I asked her how much she really remembered about the way a car was put together, and she basically said she knew everything. She used to have a computer dedicated to keeping her up-to-date, after all.”
Steve laughed. “I bet that’d come in handy.”
“Yeah,” Alan said. “We took her to a few places and managed to bypass the experience requirements and rush-certified her. Turned out that she already had the expertise of a mid-level Chiaroscuro mechanic, a job that carried a hefty enough salary to bring us back into the black.”
Steve shook her head. “Wow…” she said, then looked up at Alan. “So … what is Nalley?”
“She’s a human girl,” Alan said. “She’s my girlfriend; a talented vehicle mechanic and bassist.”
“But … is she a technomantic construct?” Steve asked. “Or, like, a car morph? Or—”
“She is a human girl,” Alan said with finality. “Who used to be a car.”
Steve frowned a little bit, but didn’t ask any more questions.
“Honestly, Steve, that is all that matters,” Alan said, shaking his head. “It’s all that Nalley wants to be. She wants to remember her history and be what she is now.”
“I guess I’m just sort of curious about how it happened.”
“I know. I was too,” Alan said. “But it’s funny, you know? This is New Washington. It’s a city where legends and epics take place. There is more unexplainable stuff in this city than anywhere else in the world, and we’re just scrambling to come up with scientific terms for it all. Infinite and Emergent Potential. The Law of Naming. The 26 recognized schools of magic, monster thaumotypes, and registration cards.”
Steve nodded slowly. “Okay,” she said. “Okay.”
“You see what I’m saying?” Alan said. “We’ll never catch up with all of the things we can’t explain, but some people are determined to try. People who’d love to strap Nalley down and cut her apart, just to make sure that none of her organs were made of HD-Plastic. But I don’t care. Nalley was a car once, but now she’s a girl, and I love that girl.”
Steve smiled. “You guys are totally adorable,” she said.
Alan laughed. “Yeah, don’t tell anybody.” He took a deep breath and let it out. “So there you go. Nalley’s big secret.”
“Aw,” Steve said. “It ain’t so big. She’s a wonderful girl.”
“Think it’s okay to go home yet?” Steve asked.
“Yeah, I think so,” Alan replied, shifting his weight and starting to maneuver his way toward the apartment’s front door. “I’ll see you tomorrow, yeah?”
“Same Securemarket™ time, same Securemarket™ channel,” Steve said.
Alan finally made it to the door, opened it and looked back. “Oyasumi, Steve.”
“Oyasumi, Alan. Be well.”