Late Winter 2005, Phoenix, Arizona
I had to wonder about the whole black bag over the head thing. Didn’t they know who I was? Didn’t they know how I became Neutrinoman? My hearing and sense of smell were better than human norm. Even though I couldn’t see, I could tell a lot of what was going on.
Not that it was that surprising. We got on the Superstition Highway and headed west; the sounds of the surrounding buildings and traffic confirmed that. We headed north, on the 101. The afternoon sun made the direction obvious. We ended up at a small airport in Scottsdale.
Hell, I really didn’t need to have good senses to tell where we were. Just the noise and the sun was enough, and knowing the area.
But, I played along. This was the game, why the hell not?
I was still in a foul mood… and scared. Scared of the life that was coming. Scared that I would never get Licia back, scared of the alien threat of annihilation that hung over it all.
Chaosboy kept up his percussive yammering the whole way. I couldn’t tell if it was to distract me or because he couldn’t help himself. Most of it was inane stuff about gambling and sports. But some of it was interesting.
“Toxic is a genius, ya know. That saying, ‘the smartest guy in the room.’ That’s him, all right. It’s always him. He’s the smartest fella in the room.
“You’re gonna love Byte. She’s smart and she’s… well wait until you see her. She’s quite the bird. That’ll take your mind off that little ole firefly of yours.
“It’s the Greys we need to get. They are from Zeta Reticuli. Mean little bastards. All those stories about alien abductions. That’s them. They’re the ones. Those stories of anal probes—that ain’t bullshit. They get their kicks out of that kind of stuff.
“Ya ever seen a crop circle? Up close? It’s freaky. Toxic had me researching them early this year. He’s convinced its aliens. Not the Zeta, too creative for them. But some other race. He’s thinks they’re trying to communicate with us. Maybe trying to help us.
“I heard ya been to Area 51. Did ya get to see the remains of the ship? Damn military has known about all this for sixty years. They just sat on their hands. What a waste. They could’a been ready for them. But it’s down to us, Neutrino. It’s down to us.”
Once we were on the plane, Chaosboy took the black hood off.
“Thanks,” I said.
He nodded. We were in a small gulfstream jet. The shades were all drawn on the windows.
He gave me jeans and a T-shirt in my size, so I changed out of my running clothes and we soon took off and headed north. The sun was up, so even with the shades down the direction we were headed was obvious. We were in the air maybe thirty minutes and we landed.
My heart leapt. Flagstaff. Licia might be up here. It was a stupid and childish thought, and I kinda hated myself for having it. But what is that saying? The heart wants what the heart wants. Duh.
The plane braked really hard and fast and the bag went back on over my head. As soon as we got out of the airplane I knew it wasn’t Flagstaff. It was cool, but not freezing cold. We must have gone farther north. I suspected the little airport at the Grand Canyon.
The noise as we drove confirmed my suspicions. We weren’t in a city the size of Flag. The drive took a while and was slow. We eventually ended up on a dirt road and things got real slow.
“So, why do you believe in him?” I asked when Chaosboy had finally run out of things to babble on about.
“Toxic?” he asked.
“Like I said, he’s smart. He knows what he’s doin’. He’s got a plan. And…” He trailed off and I heard him sniff. “All my life people, they never gave me a chance. Being short I got pushed around a lot in school. Got picked last for sports. Girls weren’t very interested. But Toxic, he gave me a chance. He gives me responsibility. He trusts me.”
“How did you meet?”
“Do you know my origin story?” he asked.
“I don’t,” I said, although Toxicwasteman had shared some of it on our way to Yellowstone.
“Well, ya know. It was that day. That day we all changed. I was in Vegas down on Freemont Street. They got this crazy zip line that’s, like, seventy feet above the street. The street’s all blocked off now, and at night it’s full of folks gone in the head. People in costumes. Bands. Things projected on that long-ass awning they have over the street. A lot of fun, really.
“I was really diggin’ the zip line and kept doin’ it over and over. I was working in Vegas, fixing slot machines. Anyway, Queen was on the awning, singin’ ‘We Will Rock Ya’ while I am sailing above the street. And then the freakiest stuff starts to happen. It’s like one of those crazy machines, where the domino falls and triggers the match, which lights the stove, which heats the pot, the steam of which inflates a balloon, which—
“You mean a Rube Goldberg device?” I interjected.
“Yeah, yeah, that. For me it was a Michael Jackson impersonator doin’ the moon walk who bumps into the tourist takin’ a picture of me, who stumbles in the crowd as he presses the button. His flash blinds this cowboy from Montana who stumbles into a biker from Omaha. The biker takes a swing at the cowboy. Now, some of this I see as I am streaking along. Some of this I put together later. Got lucky and found people who had seen it all.
“Anyway. The cowboy had friends and so did the bikers. A nice, lovely brawl ensues. Security on their goofy Segways head down from just past where the zip line starts. There’s this big scaffoldin’ and pylons that anchor the thing. The rent-a-cop bumps into a little ole lady who gets her favorite scarf stuck on the little linchpin that anchors the cables to the pylons. She yanks hard and it comes out. Shouldn’t matter, right? But there’s this lady with a cane in a dirty weddin’ dress. She loses her balance and stabs out with her cane and the pin pops out.
“Shouldna happened. The odds, they were a billion to one. But when the thing was built they had trouble with that pin. The worker put some WD-40 on it to get it in place. That bride popped it right out and down came the zip line I was ridin’ on.
“So there I am fallin’. My too short a life flashin’ in front of me eyes because of some freak accident that should never have happened. Sixty feet up and hard pavement below. I am gonna die. But I don’t. I crash into this booth where people sit around with tubes in their noses sucking on colored oxygen. By some miracle the booth breaks me fall. I walk away unhurt.
“The cosmic rays did their thing. The odds against it happenin’ were as high as the odds of me landin’ unscathed. I was the luckiest guy in the world. I walked right into the Golden Nugget and started gamblin’. I couldn’t lose.”
He went silent as we bumped down the road. “You didn’t tell me how you met Toxicwasteman,” I finally said.
“Oh, that. He heard about the accident and came lookin’ for me. I had been hitting Vegas pretty hard, racking up a lot of wins. Too many. The casinos were banning me. Then they tried to run me out of town. It was like high school all over again. I was surrounded in an alley behind the Golden Nugget. Six big guys. The odds were too far out of my favor to get me out of there without some damage. But I did get lucky. Toxic showed up, showed off, and they went a runnin’.” He chuckled before continuing. “I remember what he said. He said, ‘You and me, we’re gonna go far, kid.’”