Our Heroes Meet
Fall 2004, Verde Valley, Arizona
As I drove up I-17 towards Flagstaff and the Verde Valley, I replayed the conversation over and over in my head. Wondering what had worked and what hadn’t. Worrying that I had made a complete ass of myself. Stunned by the suddenness of it all.
I had worked myself up to the call, that was it. When she suggested we meet today, in two hours, I was thrown way off balance. I didn’t have time to plan, or prep, or… or worry too much about it. I had to change my clothes, get in the car and go.
We had tried to arrange something later in the week, but our work schedules made that difficult. So it had ended up being that same day.
I turned on the radio to distract myself. NPR was tuned in; my dad must have had it playing last time he tinkered with this car. I changed it to a classic rock station. I needed some old friends to distract me.
I wound my way out of Phoenix and started heading up out of the Valley of the Sun. I was nearing Cordes Junction when a blaring noise broke through Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven.”
“Attention: This is the Emergency Alert System. This is not a test. Repeat, this is not a test. What is being called a sizable meteor is being tracked and headed towards Central Arizona near Camp Verde. Residents are urged to stay inside and stay off the roads. Travelers headed towards the region are urged to turn around. Repeat, a meteor is headed towards Central Arizona and expected to hit at approximately 2 p.m. Pacific Standard Time.”
I glanced at the clock on my stereo. It read 1:50 p.m.
I pulled to the side of the road, emptied my pockets, throwing the contents under the driver’s-side seat, got out of the car, and ran into the desert.
If anyone had been looking, I am sure I looked like a crazy man. I kind of felt like a crazy man, to tell you the truth. It wasn’t something heroic and graceful. It was a hurried dumping of my pockets and a mad dash into the desert.
I saw a few other cars pulling over and people getting out. I ignored them and ran. I was looking for cover, but there wasn’t much, just a few scrubs here and there. I was about to give up and risk a witness when I found a small gully and jumped in.
I let go of my biological form and summoned my neutrino form. I watched my hands turn yellow and my shirt start to smolder. I looked down at my feet. My new Simple shoes (complete with recycled tire soles, hemp uppers, and water-based glues) were smoldering too. Damn! I should have taken those off first. I had bought them in hopes of revealing another side of myself to Licia—she lived in Flagstaff, she might be of the sort.
But it was about time, and I didn’t have it to spare. Licia was down there. I had no clue how I was going to stop a meteor, but I had to try.
I surrendered myself to the process, changing quicker than I had before. I leapt into the air, a yellow streak, my clothes a smoldering ruin on the ground, and headed towards the Verde Valley.
How does Neutrinoman fly? It is a common question, one that the government spent millions trying to figure out. I suspect they thought there would be some military application if they could reverse engineer the process, but they failed.
From what I understand, from what the scientists told me, and what I have experienced over the years, it comes down to two things.
First, my body undergoes a profound shift from my biological form to my neutrino form. I am not human anymore—my neutrino form is a “coherent pattern of neutronic energy.” This doesn’t exactly rescind the laws of physics, but it puts me into a different category. I am governed more by quantum mechanics than Newtonian.
Second, I can control where and how that neutronic energy is released from my form. So, those yellow jets coming out of the soles of my feet and the palms of my hands power me to flight. Kind of like Iron Man, but you don’t have to scratch your head wondering where all the fuel is stored. I am one big nuclear reaction.
Back then I wasn’t all that refined in my skills; it took time to really get good at it. I was, though, capable of reasonably accurate flight. And boy was it fun!
I soared over the mesa that sits between the Valley of the Sun and the Verde Valley. Cordes Junction passed by in a blink, not more than a few gas stations and an artist’s community. I searched the skies for the meteor and spotted some fiery streaks heading towards Camp Verde, which sat right in the middle of the Verde Valley.
I increased my speed as much as I could. It wasn’t what I would soon be capable of (no sonic booms this time), but it wasn’t bad. Then next thing I noticed were bolts of lightning flying up from the ground near the Verde River. The lightning jumped from the ground and impacted some of the smaller rocks, exploding them into dust.
I smiled. I had, of course, been briefed on Lightningirl, but we had never met.
She was standing in the median between the north-bound and south-bound lanes of I-17, right in front of the bridge that crosses the Verde River. There was a smoldering wreck in the north-bound lane and a large hole in the south-bound lane blocking traffic. People were milling about, staring, whispering, and pointing.
I came to a rather ungraceful landing, first stumbling, and then falling flat on my face, coming to a rest several feet in front of her. I could blame it on my poor track record with landings (and that was part of it); but mostly, I think, it was her. She stood there, a coruscating display of electrical energy in the shape of a beautiful woman. I was a bit distracted; after all, what was there not to like?
She laughed. Not a sly snicker, or a suppressed hoot, but a full-on guffaw. Her laughter was loud and sharp and carried a long distance.
I was about to say something when her laughter was replaced by an intake of breath and an “Uh oh.”
I turned and looked, a clumping of about twenty bowling ball sized meteorites were headed right for us. Her lightning bolts stabbed out from both her hands, but it wasn’t going to be enough.
Those meteors would kill most of the crowd.
I didn’t think, I just reacted. From my prone position, I held up both hands in front of me to protect myself. A column of yellow shot out from my chest, forming a large shining yellow shield in front of us all.
The meteorites impacted the shield and evaporated with a sizzling sound.
“Nice,” Lightningirl said. It helped take out some of the sting of the laughter.
“Thanks,” I replied, getting up and taking a step towards her.
When I did, small threads of electricity jumped from her body to mine, and small tendrils of neutronic energy jumped from my body to hers. The feeling was… well, it was electric, and energizing, and exciting, and not wholly comfortable.
I ignored it for a moment and turned to the crowed. “Go! Run! Get under the bridge,” I shouted pointing to the bridge that was about fifty yards away. “I don’t think we’ve seen the last of this.”
Some people turned and started to walk, some ran, some stood there gawking at us.
Lightningirl turned then, pointing her hands towards them, her fingers splayed. “Go!” she shouted, as ten tiny bolts of electricity flashed out from her fingers and connected with the ten closest gawkers. They yelped and ran.
“Nice,” I said.
“Thanks,” she replied.
The energy was still flowing between us, and I was feeling… it was hard to describe it, but I felt buzzed (more buzzed than my Neutrinoman norm) and strong (stronger than my Neutrinoman norm).
I had opened my mouth to say something about it when she cut me off. “Oh my God,” Lightningirl said as I turned from the fleeing bystanders and looked south.
Up in the sky, barreling down upon us, was the flaming, spitting meteor the emergency alert had been about. It was huge, a football field across, and about ten seconds from making landfall right on top of us.
This thing was moving faster, much faster, than the speed of sound. Its trajectory was all the more terrifying because of the eerie silence.
This is the end of the excerpt.