Toxic Asset – Chapter 2

Piggyback Ride

Fall 2004, Central Arizona

Licia pulled the truck over and parked next to the road. There was a small bridge that drained water from a side canyon into Beaver Creek just behind us and that would have to do. We dumped the contents of our pockets under the seats. Licia locked the truck and put the keys under a nearby rock. We scrambled down the shoulder and under the bridge.

“Umm…” I began, eying my clothing and hers, knowing they would be burned off when we changed into our superhero forms. I didn’t say anything else, just pointed at my clothing and then hers.

“Boys’ side,” she said pointing to the far side of the culvert.

I went to the designated area, my back to Licia, took my clothes off, and changed into my neutrino form. “Ready?” I asked when I was done, keeping my back turned.

“Yes, let’s get moving.”

I turned and gasped. Not that I hadn’t seen her as Lightningirl before, but something about the intimacy of our outing and my inherent romantic nature amplified it for me. The cement walls were lit up brightly with the blue-white light of her coruscating electrical form. She was gorgeous: petite, well proportioned, and very feminine.

I walked over to her, the yellow light of my neutrino form mixed with the blue-white of her lightning form and danced on the cement walls. We walked to the edge of the tunnel, where she moved to stand on my feet and assume the “slow dance” position we had used when we had flown before.

“Sorry, that’s not going to work,” I said. With her fear of flying, I hated to break it to her.

“What?”

“I am going to need my hands. We’re not going straight up. I will need both my hands and feet to fly us.”

“Oh,” she said, her electric face scrunched.

I turned my back to her and squatted a bit. “Piggyback. It’s the only way.”

I was facing out of the tunnel and couldn’t see her. After a few moments of silence, I turned around. Her arms were crossed and a frown was on her face.

“You’re not messing with me, are you?” she asked.

I held up my hands. “No. God no. If we are going straight up I can manage that with my feet. But we are going to be flying like this,” I put my hand out so it was about 15 degrees angled up from horizontal. “I am going to need my hands to keep us steady.”

“Oh… Well… Wait. Why can’t you shoot those yellow jets out of other parts of your body?”

I started to laugh, imagining what other parts of my body to shoot jets out of, but cut it short when I saw her face. She was perfectly serious. “I guess I could, but I’ve never tried before, and I don’t think this is the time.”

She nodded, fear returning to her face quickly replaced by stony resolve.

“Okay then,” she said, waving for me to “assume the position.”

I went back to the edge of the tunnel and squatted. She hopped on my back, her arms wrapping tightly around my chest and her thighs clamping my waist. I put my arms down straight and pressed them against her legs holding them firmly against me.

As I was about to take off, it occurred to me why she thought I might be messing with her. We were in our quantum forms, which meant we were, to all intents and purposes, naked, which made this arrangement pretty intimate.

I took us up into the air quickly, angling us out of the tunnel and up at an angle slightly to the south. The idea was to limit our exposure to witnesses. Once we were up about five thousand feet, I took us past the Verde Valley and south to the large mesa that sits between the Verde Valley and the Phoenix Area.

There is a set of high-tension power lines that runs from the northern edge of Arizona, at Glen Canyon Dam, all the way south to Phoenix; that was our destination.

This area is high desert, with beautiful rolling hills and canyons. It is a magical area that I always love driving through.

Once I thought we were in the right place, I brought us down quickly, adjusting our trajectory as the power lines came into view. We didn’t know it then, but we were very close to where Casita de Soledad would someday be.

When we were about a thousand feet up, I felt my energy failing—the neutrino jets that were keeping us aloft started to sputter out.

“Woops,” I said as we suddenly started to drop.

“Got it,” Licia said as she removed her left hand from my chest extending it towards the power lines that were rapidly approaching. Electricity arced from them to her left hand and from her right hand into my chest.

Properly powered, I landed us gracefully next to the power lines. She got off my back, I turned to face her, and she directed the electricity into my chest. We did this for about ten minutes until I was feeling powerful enough to get us down past Tucson.

It wasn’t comfortable, the lightning bolt she was directing into me, but I enjoyed the moment because we were still alone.

~~~

“You okay?” I asked as we soared high above Phoenix. Her grip around my chest was a bit tight. Well no, to be honest, it was very tight.

“Uh huh,” she mumbled. It was what I have come to fondly call her yes-no. She said “yes,” but she meant “no.” It wasn’t the words, but the delivery. It’s often more subtle than that, but even a dolt like me could tell she wasn’t having a good time.

“Not too much longer,” I lied. Well, I guess the magnitude of the lie depends on how much is “not too much.” Clearly we were already past her limit, so any longer would be too much longer for her.

And I think maybe it was the mode of flying. When we had dealt with the meteor (excuse me, asteroid), we had flown straight up. For this we were flying almost horizontally. She was basically lying on me as I flew us. She had nowhere to look but down.

It took us about forty minutes to do the 250 miles. So we were going fast, but forty minutes is a long time when you hate flying. Even more so when you hate flying and you’re holding on to a controlled nuclear reaction with nothing to protect you but said nuclear reaction.

So yeah, she was holding on to me pretty tight. I can’t say that I minded in the least.

I could have gotten us there faster, but I thought nearly 400 mph was fast enough. This type of flight was new for both of us. I also kept I-17, then I-10 and I-19 in sight. Even though I had spent quite a bit of time studying maps after I learned how to fly, I wasn’t ready to attempt a straight, as the superhero flies, route. I don’t have any technological navigational aids, and I didn’t want to get lost.

“So, umm…” I began, speaking loudly so she could hear me clearly. “So, did you go to high school in Flagstaff?” I was trying to distract her.

“Yeah,” she answered without elaboration.

“Born there?”

“No. New Mexico. My dad moved us out when I was young.”

That was better. At least I got a sentence that time. “How come?”

“Construction. Flag was growing a lot back in the 80s, lot of opportunity for him.”

And so it went, soaring ten thousand feet above the Desert Southwest, the dry and rugged landscape passing below us. I did my best to distract her. When her answers got short I would change topics. For example, I learned that she doesn’t like ice cream (who knew that was possible?); is an avid rock climber (Flagstaff’s a pretty good place for that); loves to get pedicures (she is a girl, I know, but an APS linewoman and rock climber—I wasn’t expecting that); and can’t stand romantic comedies (that was, given my romantic nature, a disappointment).

As we skirted to the east of Phoenix, Colonel Williams had cleared a flight path for us, I asked, “So why are you a vegetarian?” I had noticed this the night we had met at dinner at my folks’ house. That one act of perception had been important in our relationship getting this far.

“Is that a problem?” she countered.

“No, not at all. Just curious.”

She was silent for a while and I was about to change subjects when she said, “A failure to have compassion for one species of animal, but not for others.”

“What?”

“I love dogs. When we got to Flag, the family got a dog. He was a coyote-mix rescue from the reservation. I loved that dog: he played and howled and loved to tromp through the forest with me. His name was Jake—he adored me and I adored him. He saw me all the way through high school before his poor old body gave out.”

She was silent then, and I let it be for a bit. I knew I had just learned something important about her. This vegetarian backstory was clearly a big deal.

“So…” I said, trying to wrap my head around it. “Because you love Jake, you can’t eat cows?” I frankly didn’t understand, but that is as well as I could state it.

“Exactly,” she said. I could hear the smile in her voice. I dropped the subject, which was wise, considering that just because I said it didn’t mean I understood it. In love, it is often best to quit while you are ahead.

When we got past Tucson and were headed south above I-19, two Apache Attack helicopters showed up and escorted us in.

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