Fall 2004, Buckeye, Arizona
I am Neutrinoman. You know: mild-mannered janitor at the Palo Verde Nuclear Generating Station by day, Neutrinoman by night. Radiating our way to a better tomorrow.
She is Lightningirl. I know. I know. Why is the male superhero a “man” and the female superhero a “girl”? I asked her about it once and she said, “Yeah, I used to hate it, but now that I am over thirty, I kinda like it, actually.”
Where was I… Oh yeah… She is Lightningirl: mild-mannered Arizona Public Service (APS) lineman (line-woman as she calls it) by day, Lightningirl by night. Electrifying our lives.
You’ve heard how it all happened, on that full moon day in 2003 when the world was awash in cosmic rays. When the accident at Palo Verde happened and I went into the reactor and opened the stuck valve on the emergency cooling system, exposing me to a deadly dose of radiation. And how, as I lay there dying, that golden-hued, neutrino-mutated rat took a big bite out of my leg, and with help from the cosmic rays, mutated my DNA and turned me into: Neutrinoman.
And you’ve heard how on that same fateful day she was repairing high tension power lines near Flagstaff, trying to restore power to half of Arizona, when she was struck by lightning and thrown onto an open transformer. How, as she lay there dying, the mutated raven pecked on her hand, and with help from the cosmic rays, transformed her DNA and turned her into: Lightningirl.
Well, there are some things that need to be set straight. The origin stories, considering the PR machine they went through, are close enough. But there are some parts of our stories that have never been told, and now that we are both retired, and out of the game, I can tell you. Finally.
How, before the public knew very much about us, how Lightningirl and Neutrinoman met, and fell in love, and—-
But I am getting ahead of myself, aren’t I?
It all began in Buckeye, Arizona, at my parents’ house about one year after the accident. I was still working as a janitor at Palo Verde and not making very much money. I was living at home, and my mom had invited some friends from Flagstaff over for dinner. The Lopez family. I suspected a setup; my mom was always doing that.
“A setup, what do you mean a setup?” she asked when I casually brought it up. I was setting the dining room table while she was in the kitchen, with her head in the oven, poking at the roast.
“The Lopezes have a daughter, right? And she is about thirty, about my age, right?” Mom hmmm-hmmmed from the oven. “And she is single, right?”
Her head out of the oven, she said, “So what is so wrong with that? I can’t invite friends over for dinner that happen to have a single daughter your age?”
“And how well do you know them?”
“We sat next to them at the Cardinals game last month.”
“So not at all, then.”
“They seemed real nice, no harm in getting to know them.”
“It’s a setup, Mom, why can’t you just admit that?”
She came out of the kitchen wiping her hands on her apron, and placed her left hand on my chest. “I just want to see my son happy.”
I looked at her. She had blond hair this year, which still threw me, but her brown eyes were as deep and as kind as ever. She meant well, she always meant well, it was just complicated.
“Mom, I am not in a good position for a relationship right now. Since the accident, I—”
“I am so tired of hearing about that accident. My boy, he talks to the president, but can’t tell anyone what amazing things he does. All the lives he saves. Well, if he ever comes over for dinner, I’ll have a thing or two to—”
The doorbell rang, cutting her off. “Al,” she yelled to my father, “it’s the Lopezes. Can you get that?” She turned back to me, fooled with my collar, and said, “You look handsome, Nik. She’s a nice girl. I think you’ll like her.”
I guess, strictly speaking, I didn’t have to live at home. And, I’m not sure if that makes it more or less lame. It’s clichéd (a thirty-year-old man living at home) and I know it, but you know what? I have great parents, and I had a great childhood. I don’t have horrible traumas in my past to explain it or deep psychological scars to fall back on. At that point in my life it made more sense to save what money I could and live with them instead of saving no money and living in a crap apartment.
I know, I know. Thirty and a janitor. Well, believe me, I didn’t plan for it to go that way. I just wasn’t one of those driven people. I never felt the need to change the world, or prove myself, or any of that. I made it through college (took me six years) and just kind of floated. I could certainly have gotten a better job than janitor, but I was working at Palo Verde because I wanted to. I would have taken something else, but that was the first job I could land that got me in the door.
What can I say? I was curious about the power plant and wanted to learn about it and see the inside. So I figured out a way to do that and get paid at the same time.
It was kind of a pain back then, though. You wouldn’t think Neutrinoman would still need to hold down a day job, but the Feds wanted to keep things quiet. That, and my need to have access to the radiation, kept me there.
And I guess me being Neutrinoman is the crux of it. I wasn’t living at home at the time of the accident, but after it I moved home. Mom and Dad know about what happened to me, and I have found that I need people around me who know the truth. I just can’t keep a secret like that all the time.
So, yeah, I’m sure it looked lame, but it was the best thing for me.
Licia Lopez was petite, with moderate curves, a round face, jet black hair, and soft brown eyes. I can’t say I could argue with my mother’s taste, in this case.
I carefully shook hands with Elena and John Lopez first. I took great care, as I always did, when making physical contact to ensure that I was fully in my biological form. Elena’s hand was small and soft, her grip light. John’s hand was calloused and his grip strong.
“And this is our daughter Licia,” John said. I reached out and took her hand, shaking it, and felt an electrical shock.
“Ow!” I said, rather involuntarily.
She pulled her hand back when I did, looking at it like she felt something too. “I’m sorry,” Licia said, “I am just a magnet for static electricity.”
I smiled, but something wasn’t right. She had just shaken both of my parents’ hands and there hadn’t been any shocks. Something was going on.
After we had eaten, the fathers were discussing sports, and the mothers were discussing—well, I don’t know what they were discussing, I couldn’t follow it. I do know it involved shoes.
Anyway, after we had all eaten, I started gathering plates up.
“I’ll help,” Licia said, grabbing an armload of plates like a pro.
“You’ve done this before,” I said in the kitchen.
I nodded. I put everything in the sink, poked my head out and saw the folks were deep in conversation. Licia was going back for more when I whispered, “Hold up.”
She threw me a questioning look so I said, “Let the older generation bond. Besides, I have a question for you.”
She shrugged her shoulders, “Okay, what is it?”
“Umm… this is going to sound weird.” She just stared. “Do you mind if we shake hands again?”
“It was nothing. I told you I have static electricity problems.” Her downcast brown eyes were avoiding mine as she turned to go.
“Why is this so important to you?”
“I… I can’t say, not yet.”
She turned around again, and I reached out a finger to touch her exposed arm.
As my finger approached, I saw sparks arc from her skin to my finger. I saw my finger involuntarily glow yellow. And I saw her spin, breaking the near contact, her eyes wild.
“Don’t touch me. Ever.”