There were two coffee shops at the South Hertling Super Centre. One, in Captain Stellar’s opinion, was quite a nice one. It was located just in between the Barbecue Imperium and Arthur C. Clock’s Timepiece World. The barista there was a slightly annoying but basically quite nice hipster woman named Carol, who sold organic coffee and gluten free wraps.
The other was in a dingy little corner of the Handy Pavilion, just by outdoor furniture. It sold second-rate coffee at first-rate coffee prices to those too tired or lazy to walk all the way across the vast car park to Carol’s.
Captain Stellar would have liked to go to Carol’s, but without his coffee he didn’t have the energy.
“Ironic,” he said.
“What?” the barista said.
“That I need coffee to get coffee.”
“Oh, I thought you were saying that I was ironic,” the barista said. “Good thing you weren’t, I don’t take kindly to insults.”
The strangeness of the remark momentarily pulled the Captain out of his funk. “I don’t think ‘ironic’ is an insult.”
“Well, you might be okay with being called that sort of thing,” the barista said. “That’s your choice. Me, I don’t take that sort of crap.”
“Didn’t you used to work at the checkout counter?” Captain Stellar said.
“That’s right,” the barista said. “Nearly didn’t get this transfer, too. Just one more formal complaint, and I’d be stuck on the checkout for another year, at least. Here’s your flat white.”
“But I ordered a latte… Oh, never mind.” Sighing, the Captain paid the barista and took his coffee. It tasted even worse than he’d expected. Still, it had caffeine, and that gave a little life back to him.
One more formal complaint. Ironic indeed. Captain Stellar was powered by cosmic rays in the pursuit of justice. In his civilian life, he was powered by the occasional cup of coffee, sleepwalking towards the part of the day when he could finally drift off to sleep in front of a documentary.
“May I sit here? There are no more seats.”
Stellar could have pointed out the dozens of unused seats in the Outdoor Furniture department just next to the cafe. Instead he shrugged his massive shoulders. “Feel free,” he said, though he hoped she didn’t. He didn’t feel sociable. He hadn’t since Len had… Had…
The woman sitting across from him was red headed and thirtyish. Was she going to try to make conversation?
“Don’t worry,” the woman said. “I won’t bother you at all.”
Oh, God, she was going to try to make conversation.
“I see you around here a lot,” she said.
“Do you?” Stellar said. Smartphone! Where was his smartphone? Everyone knew that a man looking at his smartphone is not a man who wants to talk. Right? Crap, did he leave it in the car again? Why don’t civilian clothes come with utility belts, damn it!
“Yes. I work here, usually. I’m not wearing the uniform because it’s my day off.”
“Ah,” Stellar sighed, giving in to the inevitable. “Yes, I remember you. You work in lighting, don’t you?”
“No, that’s my sister,” the woman said. “I’m Angela. Work in curtains.”
“Did anyone ever tell you that you look like Captain Stellar?”
“Ha, yes, I get that all the time,” Stellar said. “My name’s Vincent. I’m a solicitor. That’s stressful enough without fighting the Human Iceberg, ha ha.”
Angela sipped at her coffee. “I guess you must work from home. Men who have to go to work usually either shave regularly, or grow a beard. Five day growths are pretty rare.”
God damn it. Had he forgotten to shave again? Had he showered at least? Was his shirt fresh, were his shoes tied? What had he even come to the Handy Pavilion for, anyway? It wasn’t like he needed anything in particular. Certainly not bad coffee.
Something inside him strained. He was better than this. Len… Cycloman had left him. Okay. That was bad, but it happened. Relationships break up every day, all across the world. People, regular people dealt with it. Here he was, Captain fucking Stellar, the man who’d defeated the Centipede Empire for God’s sake, sniveling like a lost puppy. Screw it. Cycloman wanted to move on? His call, his loss. Let him…
“No,” Angela said. Stellar had been so lost in his thoughts he had forgotten her, but now he was staring into her pale blue eyes. Her pupils were tiny, but he couldn’t pull his eyes away. What was it he saw in there? Something comforting. Something dark.
“No, I need you to pull yourself together,” Angela said. “But not yet. Don’t let go of your resentment completely. Not now. Can you do that for me?”
That was the stupidest thing Captain Stellar had ever heard.
“Yes,” he said.
Angela smiled, her lips barely less white than her teeth. “There’s a lot of light in you, Captain Stellar,” she whispered. “A lot of light. But that’s where my sister gets it wrong. Sometimes darkness is not about shutting the light out. Sometimes it’s about rearranging it. Delaying it. Illumination delayed is illumination denied, you know.”
“Yes, yes I see,” Stellar said, though he didn’t.
“Why do you keep coming back here with nothing to buy?” Angela said.
“Because I miss Cycloman, and we used to come here together.”
“Because I am suspicious of Axel Platzoff and I want to keep an eye on him.”
“Because I am lonely, and I don’t like to admit it, so I’m channeling my lonliness into suspicion and resentment.” Why was he saying this? Why was he floating in the pinhole pupils of Angela’s eyes, telling her things he could barely admit to himself?
“It’s a start,” Angela said. “But you’re all wrong. You have hit the skids because of a disloyal lover and a treacherous foe. You are right to hold onto your anger. Do you understand?”
Stellar’s watch started buzzing. All at once he was out of the eyes and back in his own head, drinking bad coffee. Eyes? What eyes? Why was there a half empty coffee cup opposite him? Had it been there when he sat down? Didn’t they clean the tables in this dump?
But there was no time to worry about that. His Vigilancers signal watch was buzzing, and Captain Stellar was needed in the never-ending fight against evil. Finally! Something to take his mind off of everything. His knuckles itched. He hoped that it was Granite Man. Granite Man was invulnerable enough that Stellar could hit him really hard without feeling bad about it.
But first, he had to change. Better change in his car, behind its tinted windows. The toilets in the Pavilion were always filthy.