Normally, I wouldn’t ever have the courage to approach him, much less to speak with him. He was an A-lister, after all, and I barely managed to hold onto my own meager C-list position. I was a rookie, dwarfed by his all-star shadow.
Still, it was a Friday night, and I already had a couple beers pooling in my stomach and lightening my thoughts. What was the worst that could happen? And he always seemed friendly enough, if a bit distant. I gathered my half-finished beer, summoned up my courage, and approached him.
He turned at his name, looking over at me. His frown smoothed out, replaced after a second by a smile. “Firebolt, right?” he replied, pointing a finger at me.
I nodded, perhaps a little more enthusiastically than was necessary – but I hadn’t expected him to recognize me! “Yeah, that’s me! Firebolt, a young man gifted in a laboratory explosion with the ability to manipulate and control all forms of heat, although I can’t create a flame on my own-”
He held up a hand, his smile fading slightly as his face twisted into a wince. “Yeah, got it. No need to do the monologue bit.”
“I’m sorry,” I said, suddenly concerned that I’d managed to offend him.
“Nah, it’s fine. Everyone does it; they can’t help it here.” He gestured to a stool beside him. “Here, pull up a seat. Next beer’s on me.”
Still slightly dazzled by sitting this close to an A-lister, having an actual conversation with him, I obediently did as commanded. The bartender came by, and I ordered my favorite beer – it reminded me of my father, although he vanished from my life almost a decade earlier, and my mother refused to ever tell me what had happened.
As I explained this, I saw Impulse wincing again. “Is there something wrong?” I asked.
He sighed. “Nothing you’d understand, kid.”
“Go on, try me.” That was the beer talking, grabbing ahold of my tongue before I could regain control. Still, it was just saying what I’d been thinking, although I normally wouldn’t have dared to speak so blatantly to such a great superhero.
Impulse looked over at me for a minute, frowning. He seemed to reach a decision after a minute, shrugging and lifting his own beer to his lips. “Why not. Answer me this, kid – what are my powers?”
I frowned. Why would he ask me? “Well, you’re able to think incredibly fast, make tactical decisions that blindside your enemies and bring them down before they can react,” I recited, remembering the hero’s profile page in the Super Manual.
“Wrong,” he said, and finished off his beer. He gave a little wave to the bartender, as I blinked.
“What? But that’s what’s listed in the Super Manual-”
“But it’s wrong,” he interjected. “See, my reflexes aren’t any faster than anybody else’s. I’m not a tactical genius. It’s not a gift that I have. Instead, it’s something I’m lacking.”
“Lacking?” I repeated, totally confused. “What are you lacking?”
Impulse’s new beer arrived in front of him. “And as always, it’s on the house,” the bartender said, grinning at the A-lister. “After you came in here the other month and stopped those punks from trying to burn down my bar, the bar that I’ve inherited since my great-grandfather ran a Prohibition backroom club here, I owe you a hell of a debt.”
I listened, raptly, to the story. Impulse, however, seemed to be gritting his teeth, just waiting for it to end.
“That,” he snapped, once the bartender finished and turned away. “That’s what I’m missing.”
I still didn’t understand. “A bar?”
“Monologuing!” He grabbed his beer off the counter with enough force to spill a few drops on the stained wood. “Everyone in this universe monologues!”
“Monologue?” I echoed. “What do you mean?”
“I mean, whenever anyone tries to do anything in here, they need to give ten minutes of backstory! Some murderer pulls out a gun, but he doesn’t shoot the victim. He stands there for ten minutes, blabbering on about how he’s lost his morals and he needs to man up and do it!”
“So?” I still didn’t understand what was so strange about this.
“So it’s bloody stupid, that’s what it is!” Impulse shouted, slamming his fist down on the bar. “Someone’s blathering about how he’s gonna kill someone, I just walk up and smack him!”
“After announcing your attack name, of course,” I added.
“No!” He spun on his stool to glare at me, eyes a little too wide for my liking. “No announcing! No shouting! No ‘powering up’, whatever the hell that is. And no… damn… monologues!”
I just looked back at him. He breathed heavily for another second, but then, with an effort, calmed himself.
“Don’t worry about it, Firebolt,” he said, sighing. “You wouldn’t understand. Think of it more as…” He grappled for some words. “Think of it as I’m not from around here, and I can act outside your physical limitations.”
“Right.” Hesitantly, I recalled the words from the Super Manual. “You can make tactical decisions that bring down your enemies before they can react.”
“Eh, why not.” Impulse nodded towards my own drink. “Enjoy that, kid. And you know why I bought it for you, why I decided to invite you over, share my secret?”
I shrugged, leaning forward and waiting for the deep, involved, wonderfully complex explanation.
“Because I felt like it,” he said, grinning at my confused expression. He slid off the stool and strode out of the bar, not pausing or looking back.
Wow. A real A-list superhero. I sat there, on the stool at the bar, for a good ten minutes before I realized that I forgot to ask for his autograph.
Too bad, really. It really would have meant the world to Henry, the young man I visited in the hospital every weekend. Henry had been one of the first bystanders I tried to save – but although I stopped the villain rampaging through the city, I wasn’t able to save Henry from breaking both his legs. I felt like I owed it to the kid to visit him in the hospital, encourage his recovery. He helped make me a better person, because he acted as my morality, grounding me. He would have loved Impulse’s autograph.
Next time, I promised myself. I couldn’t let myself forget Henry again. He needed to always come first.