Although he was arrested when the new government first came into power, Paul didn’t spend very much time in prison. He beat up a few guards, dug an escape tunnel under one of the walls, and headed off into the surrounding woods, the knife he had swallowed before his arrest and hidden in his large intestine now clenched in his teeth. He survived out there for months, fighting off wild cougars and picnickers, and then circled back into our town after the political unrest had died down a bit.
Or at least, that’s the story my sister told me. Or the story he told her as he re-appeared in her life. Neither one of them was angry at the other. He brought excitement back into her world. She stopped doing crafts. During his wanderings in the wilderness, Paul had picked up one of those huge Hummers people used to drive back in the day. Hardly anybody used them anymore, so you could find them along roadways and in ditches. Paul and RedGirl raced the monster around the streets of their neighborhood.
“I’m amazed that you can keep that thing fueled up,” I remarked.
“I know, we’re in luck. Paul drilled an oil well in the backyard,” she said.
“No kidding? What does he use a Hummer for? To go shopping?”
“That, and possibly to invade something.” She didn’t sound certain. “He’s been talking about blowing up that rail line they’re building out of the city… He says he needs to disrupt any potential communications system.”
“No!” Not my beloved light rail! It wasn’t even there yet… it wasn’t supposed to be finished until two years from now, but I was already excited about it, envisioning the exotic trips I would be able to take to places outside the downtown area.
RedGirl launched into her usual lecture. “You know, they’ve done all kinds of polls, and the people of this town don’t *want* your stinking light rail.”
“But what about someone like me…?”
“Like I’ve told you a bazillion times: buy a freaking car.”
“It’s time to introduce you to the new responsibilities of your position,” Leah said, her head popping out from behind my cubicle wall like the trap of a carnivorous plant. “Follow me—we’re going to have to discuss this in the conference room under the building.”
We took the elevator all the way down to one of the rooms underneath the parking garage.
Leah sat across from me at a small table. “As you may or may not know, senior complaint associates are often involved in what we call extracurricular activities. And this one should be right up your alley. There seems to be a militia movement brewing in your corner of the suburbs.” She never failed to remind me where I came from, even though I’d lived in the central part of the city for a couple of years by then. “It’s a bunch of people driving very big cars, led by a guy named Paul.” She chewed at her lip with a small smile. “Do you think you can get us some more information about them?”
I paused for a second, then shrugged. “Sure.”
Leah was disappointed. “Oh? I expected more resistance than this. Aren’t these militia guys practically like your family?”
“It doesn’t matter if they’re family—their opinions are wrong,” I said curtly. “I hear that they’re planning to sabotage the light rail line, and I’m not about to allow that to happen.”
She leaned back and examined me. “I have to say, I might be gaining a new-found respect for you. I didn’t think you were this committed. You are willing to choose your principles over your relationships, which is very good.”
She gave a wistful look to a little side room. “Still, it’s almost too bad you said yes so easily. I was looking forward to using some of those enhanced techniques we were recently trained in.”
I squirmed in my chair.
“We’ll have to leave that aside for now,” she said. “There’s only one thing left: the matter of your bicycle.”
“But I don’t have a bicycle.”
“That’s a problem. Once we’re ready to hit the militia, you’ll bring a small group of guerrilla fighters with you. They will be on bikes, of course.”
“Why? Can’t I just take my army on the bus with me?”
“You have to be forward thinking, Blue. The bicycle is the tool of the future. It is mode of transportation and weapon in one.” She stood up. “We will get one for you, and we expect you to use it.”
I nodded. It wouldn’t be a big deal. Besides, I needed to go call my sister. I wanted to see how she was doing. I also wanted to find out where Paul would be driving next.
I could believe in the future as I looked out over the battlefield. It was a few weeks later, and from up on the West slope, I saw my city below as I loved it most. In between the islands of greenspace, there were groups of bikers at the ready. Behind them, three of the downtown streetcars slid slowly down the tracks, carrying reinforcements. Buses blinked their lights in a friendly signal, scattered along the highway into the burbs.
“It’s like Paris in the Second World War or something,” I thought, moved.
The bicyclists were starting to trickle out onto the highway. This was the moment for my triumphant entrance. I raised my arm in a sign to my own squad of bikers, wobbled forward on my jittery bike and instantly fell into a giant pothole.
When I finally limped back out of it, the battle had moved into suburbia, and it wasn’t going well. From the treacherous, quiet streets and cul-de-sacs, an opposing force of vans and SUVs was knocking the bikes over and squashing them like bugs.
As Paul had once said to my sister, “It’s all about who’s in the bigger vehicle.”
I glanced back at my bicycle, tangled up at the bottom of the pothole. “Fuck it,” I thought. I should have followed my instincts in the first place. I had always trusted public transit most of all.
Fully transforming into BlueGirl for the first time in what felt like centuries, I fell down the slope until I landed at the bottom in a painful heap. I jumped onto the roof of the nearest streetcar, propelling it with my energy until it flew off the tracks and, throwing off sparks, moved through the air over the river, the highway, the hills and came down with a grating sound right in the midst of the war. I ducked to dodge a water bottle and tried to get an idea of my surroundings.
And then, there it was in the distance, the Hummer I had heard so many tales of. Rolling down the hazy street, it looked more like a tank. It had a bumper sticker which read “I Wipe My Ass With Hippies”.
I gritted my teeth. I accelerated again and went riding the streetcar into the fray, clanging the bell. Cars and bikes alike swerved out of my way. The streetcar crashed into the Hummer, sending it spinning over its side.
A swarm of bicycle soldiers gathered around the overturned car and pulled Paul and RedGirl out of it. One of them spoke on a cell phone. “Yes, ma’am. We got them. Thanks.”
Paul smiled up at me. “Well, hello. I’m not surprised to meet you here. I could always see through your supposed liberal values.”
“Be quiet,” a bike activist ordered. “We will talk to you about your crimes against the planet shortly.”
RedGirl was already being led away to a bus on standby, designated for the holding of POWs.
Paul laughed. “You are about to learn yet another reason why cars are superior. My Jeep has been set up for just this kind…”
His voice was drowned out by the explosive he had rigged up in his Hummer detonating. The blast was so strong it knocked me off the roof of the streetcar and straight into the bed of a rusty pickup truck.
A couple of days after she was released, I called my sister to apologize. I was having twinges of conscience, even though that went against my principles.
“Don’t feel bad for me,” she said. “You’re still a loser who doesn’t drive.”
“I’m just glad they let you out….”
“They know who I was friends with. I’m part of a group they oppose, but I am part of a group. Paul was independent—that was his biggest mistake.”
“Yes, sorry about Paul.”
“It’s okay. He went out the way he wanted to go, like a warrior. He will be remembered,” she added, in a tone of voice which suggested that I didn’t understand what she meant, although I did.
In honor of our victory, we had a poetry contest. I hated poetry, but as one of the heroes of the army, I was required to sit through the recitations of the contest winners.
“With two wheels and a brave spirit….”
A question clouded my mind as I listened. I bent to whisper to one of the soldiers in the audience.
“I don’t remember Leah being at the battle. She wasn’t there, right?”
“Well, she was one of the commanders of the war, so no, she wasn’t. She was the one we called when we arrested the militia guy,” he said. “But she was watching the battle from her car.”
“Yeah, she has that silver PT Cruiser.”
“But I thought our goal was to have no cars at all. Isn’t that what we were fighting for?”
He frowned. “I guess the way it works is that as long as the majority of us don’t have cars, then it won’t do much damage if a few of the deserving leaders have them.”
I got up and left the auditorium just as the poet bowed to thunderous applause.
Outside, in the rainstorm, Leah closed the door of her PT Cruiser and drove off to her house in the eastern suburbs of the city.