Toxic Asset – Chapter 3

A Sip of Fame

Fall 2004, Green Valley, Arizona

When we were getting close to our destination, it became obvious. The TV vans with their big satellite dishes on their roofs, the cop cars with their lights flashing, the dark green tents, and assembled military vehicles made it obvious.

The place the helicopters guided us to was about fifty yards away from “Big Al’s Truck Stop and Gas Station.” I liked it instantly upon seeing it. It was a relic from another era. One of those greasy spoon diners with a long bar you can eat at and a bunch of gas pumps out front.

It was like going back in time. Somehow this little place had survived and kept its character despite the homogenization of the commercial world.

“A little power,” I said as I positioned us vertically, arresting our forward motion, and started a gentle descent. I saw a power line close by and was running low on juice.

This was an important day for Lightningirl and me. This was our first tiny sip of fame, our first encounter with the media. This was the first time that we were being filmed close up.

When I saw the lightning arc from the power line and felt the power flow into me, I breathed a sigh of relief. I really had no grasp of what fame was like, or the crazy pressure it puts on you, I just didn’t want to screw up in front of the cameras. And, you know, I had good reason to worry about my landings. There were many craters that marked my poorer attempts.

~~~

No sooner had we landed than we were rushed into a big green army tent. We both tightened containment on our respective reactions (nuclear and electrical) so no one would be exposed to too much radiation and no electrical equipment would get fried. It wouldn’t work long-term but was good enough for a quick briefing.

“Any trouble getting here?” Colonel Williams asked, his angular face looking longer than usual.

“No, sir,” Lightningirl said.

“Good. Good. We don’t have much time. We need to get you two in there. Your priority is to keep Toxicwasteman from talking to the media.”

“What?” I was angry. Sure Williams was a military guy, answers to orders and all that, but I had come to rely on a shred of humanity always showing through. “Our priority is not the hostages? Not to save lives?”

Colonel Williams looked at me unblinking for a few moments, his hand worrying at his salt-and-pepper brush-cut hair. “Yes, lives are the priority, but you’ve got to keep in mind the big picture. If he talks too much about aliens, if it gets out, if people panic… Well, there are a lot more lives at stake than the dozen hostages in there.”

After the briefing, we made “The Walk.” It was a pathway made by military personnel and highway patrol through a thicket of media about twenty yards long.

As we left the tent, Williams shouted, “And don’t talk to the media!” The seemingly endless sea of cameras, microphones, and reporters were enough to make me never want to talk again. It was late afternoon but still the cameras’ flashes were going off, accompanying the shouts from the reporters. It was like this assemblage of oddly limbed, one-eyed cyclops following our every move.

I hated it. We both did.

And most of the questions they asked were just stupid: “How do you think Toxicwasteman escaped?” as if we would know; “How does it feel to be a national hero?” as if I could express the potent cocktail of joy and horror that make it up; “Lightningirl, what do you think about the trend of skirts getting shorter?” as if that had any relevance to anyone anywhere; and “Is that his… his… his thing there?” yes, ladies and gentlemen, that is the neutronic version of my genitals—sorry a costume is just not an option when you’re a contained nuclear reaction, as much as I would like it to be.

That last comment left me deeply humiliated and deeply self-conscious, and kind of was my first initiation to what fame was going to be like. Because that’s what it is like: walking around naked with people talking about you in intimate detail like you are not there.

Lightningirl and I were walking close together. The interaction between our two forms was evident and would be much speculated for months to come. I frankly found her electrical presence comforting as we walked down that very long twenty yards. I was beginning to hope for a meteor to go intercept, at least then I wouldn’t have my every move and facial expression analyzed.

Right at the end, just when I thought we would make it, I heard, “Neutrinoman, are you and Lightningirl together?”

I stopped and looked, my head seeking the source of the sound. Lightningirl kept walking as if she hadn’t heard (she, to this day, claims she didn’t, but I have my doubts).

When my eyes found the reporter, they stayed there. She was beautiful, but in that “too beautiful to be real” way that TV reporters often are. She had shiny black hair that cascaded over her shoulders in gentle waves, red lips, and green eyes. “Green” is not a fair way to describe them. Her eyes were luminous, as if lit by some inner light.

“Are you?” she asked, pointing a microphone towards me, the rapid fire clicking and flashing of the cameras overwhelming. “Are you together?” I would later find out that her name was Diane Madison, a reporter for WNN.

My mouth opened and closed several times in an embarrassing display of… of… Well, I’m not sure what aspect of myself was on display, but it was not pretty, and would be analyzed and talked about ad-nauseam, and make it, in full color, onto the front of several tabloids. It is one of those moments I wish I could change. I wish I could go back in time and just keep walking. It would really have saved me a lot of embarrassment and heartache.

I finally tore my eyes away from her and moved into the empty parking area in front of the diner.

“Are you okay?” Lightningirl asked.

“Uh huh,” I said. There I was with my own yes-no.

“What did she ask you?”

“If we were together.”

Her eyes widened and she opened her mouth and closed it several times. I kind of expected the conversation to continue, but it didn’t. She snapped her mouth closed and swiveled to the front door of Big Al’s. “I think we should face him together.”

Keep reading

Toxic Asset is available here:

Signed copies are available in the bookstore.

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