Fall 2004, Green Valley, Arizona
Big Al’s had a long counter you could eat at with round padded stools that swiveled on shining metal poles. It also had booth-style tables with high backs. I loved the place and wished I was just there for a burger.
Toxicwasteman was sitting on one of the stools slowly spinning himself around. The hostages, there were about a dozen of them, were all crowded behind the counter as far away from him as they could get.
I had seen pictures of him but had never seen him in person. It was clear he was a quantum-metamorph. So like I am a swirling yellow and Lightningirl is a blue-white, Toxicwasteman is a sickly green.
When we entered, he stopped his swiveling and faced us. I could see that the red vinyl of the seat was quickly eroding under his toxic touch. It smoked a bit when he stood up.
“Well, it’s about time, isn’t it?” he said.
Next to me Lightningirl was tense, and the lights flickered as she drew power from the place. I stepped forward in between the two of them and said, “So, I’m here, what do you want?”
“Oh,” he said with a frown. “Not so quick. Let’s not get right down to business. How about a little foreplay? After all, I’ve been stuck in prison for the last six months.” He paused, looking me up and down and then doing the same to Lightningirl. His expression and the way his eyes lingered on my neutrino form making me very uncomfortable. “Does she know you’re this quick?”
If I had been flesh and blood, I would have blushed, and I could feel Lightningirl bristling behind me. “What do you want?” I asked again, keeping my voice as even as possible.
He sighed and plopped himself back down on the stool. “Really? Are you really this much of a Boy Scout? No greeting to a fellow q-morph, no trading of superhero tips, no bragging about powers? Really? There just aren’t many of us and it seems we ought to try to stick together. That’s what I’m trying to do here.”
“Excuse me?” I asked. I had no idea what he was talking about, what he meant by “trying to do here.” Tom Tyree, Toxicwasteman, was a very smart guy, and I knew it. He wasn’t some lowly flunky at the Hillington chemical plant when the accident happened—he was the chief scientist. He was one of those guys that were so smart that he could often be dumb (dumb in the ways of the normal mortals around him). So, when he didn’t make sense, I assumed it was all about me. What I didn’t know then was that he liked to mess with people. He liked to make them feel dumb.
He rolled his eyes, “Oh really? Well I’ll spell it out. Look, I could have been in Mexico safely tucked away in a casita by the sea by now. All of this was to get you here, Mr. Neutrinoman.”
Lightningirl stepped next to me, tendrils of electricity running down her extremities. I’m not sure where she drew all those watts from, but she was pretty lit up. “No Mexico for you. You’re going right back to jail, if I have anything to do with it.”
“Sweet, really,” he said with a green-toothed smile and a dismissive wave of his hand. “Lovely, the two of you together are lovely. I think you’ll live a long and happy life and have many super-babies, despite Mr. Neutrino’s distaste for foreplay.”
This was starting to annoy me. Why did everyone assume we were together? How could they tell? I sure as hell couldn’t.
“But, darling,” he continued, speaking to Lightningirl, “I’ve upped my game since we last met. I won’t go down as easy a second time.” He stood and cupped his right hand, a glowing ball of green goo forming in it. “One move from you, girly, and the hostages all die a terrible death.”
I could see the reaction of the hostages behind him. They were cowering even farther back into the corner.
“You asked for me,” I said, stepping in between them again. “So, what did you want to talk about?”
He sighed and plopped down on the disintegrating stool again, the green ball quickly diminishing in size until it was gone. “Oh yes, that. Well, you see—”
“First,” I interrupted him, “let some of the hostages go.”
He smiled, “You really are a Boy Scout, aren’t you?”
“Hostages go before we talk.”
He nodded, spinning himself around on the stool to face them. “In honor of our noble Neutrinoman, the women and children can go.” He flipped his pulsing green hand from them towards the door as he spun back to face us, one leg crossed over the other.
Lightningirl and I moved aside, leaving the door clear as seven of the hostages left. An eighth, a young man, maybe twenty years old, tried to leave, but Toxicwasteman held out his arm and said, “Not you.” The young man slunk back behind the counter. “Are you satisfied?” he asked me.
“Okay then. Here’s the bullet, boys and girls. I know about the aliens. There are several species involved, and they call themselves the Arcturian Alliance. I know they knocked that asteroid out of orbit and aimed it at the Earth a few months ago, and I know you stopped it, saving us all.” When he said, “saving us all,” his hands rose up and flapped in front of him, his voice edged up half an octave.
“How do you know this?” Lightningirl asked.
“Why are you telling me this?” I asked.
“Well,” he began, “I know this because they told me. I’m telling you this because their next plan to destroy us is nigh.”
“Told you? Plan? Destroy us? Nigh?” I stammered.
“Yes, ‘nigh,’ as in here, upon us, about to happen.”
“I know what ‘nigh’ means,” I growled.
“Very well then, what was your question? I forgot it amidst all the stuttering.”
“Why are you telling me?” I repeated.
“Because, this is my planet too, and I love it dearly.” He crossed his hands over his heart, tilted his head and gave us a big smile. “Because, my dear Boy Scout, you are the only one that can stop them, again. Sorry darling,” he said to Lightningirl, “a little lightning just ain’t going to cut it.”
“Why, I—” she began, as the lights began to flicker again.
“And,” he continued, cutting her off, “because time is running out. Because we are the planet’s only hope. Because I want to be one of the good guys this time. I want to be a hero.”
This is the end of the excerpt.