Captain Stellar had been sober for fifty days. No. Captain Stellar wasn’t around any more. It was Vincent who had been sober for fifty days. Only Vincent.
Vincent, off the bottle and here to make amends to the people he’d wronged. He’d written an anonymous cheque for the damage he’d done to the DIY Barn and the Place O’Pets, but that was just impersonal property damage. Now he had to make amends to the real people he’d hurt: Popplewell. Harper. Cho.
The awful woman who usually made the coffee at the Handy Pavilion was checking purchases at the door. That was something at least. It meant a decent cup for once, perhaps? The barista behind the espresso machine was a young man whose scraggly beard was just beginning to fill out. Vincent observed that he was quite a handsome man –or he would be if he didn’t have an expression like he was sucking a lemon. Even featured, well built. Younger than Vincent, but not so much younger, not socially unacceptable younger. His badge said ‘Norman’. Well, at least he wasn’t ‘Norm.’
But the observation was purely theoretical. Vincent felt no visceral reaction at the sight of Norman. No lust, no envy, no attraction even. Just the grey recognition of feelings that weren’t there. He ordered his coffee, and watched the young man go through the motions with mechanical precision.
“I’m meant to be working in power tools,” the young man said. “This look like power tools?”
Norman looked at the espresso machine. “Yeah, technically. But not really, you know?”
“Way of the world,” Vincent said. “I just lost a job myself. To a younger worker.”
Seriously, the Vigilancers had chosen Voyager to replace him? Vincent’s felt terrible when he thought of his role in the accident that had granted Voyager her powers, but that pang of guilt was balanced by envy at the woman’s meteoric rise. Sobriety was awful. Sometimes not enough emotions, sometimes too many.
“Yeah, that’s what happened to me,” Norman said. “You’d think a man in his early twenties wouldn’t have to worry about that, you know?”
The little café was empty aside from Vincent and Norman. Vincent considered sitting in the far corner and having his latte and muffin quietly, but suddenly he found the thought of silence terrifying. He took the closest table to the counter, where he could hear Norman muttering as he refilled the cookie jars.
“Hey, do you know Axel Platzoff?”
“Yeah, he’s a friend of yours, right? I’ve seen you talking to him.”
“He’s not a friend. More of a former co-worker.”
“Don’t tell me you were a supervillain too?”
“No, no.” Vincent had said too much, damn it. “A different job. A long time ago.”
Norman nodded. “Yeah, you don’t look the supervillain type. If anything, you look more like Captain Stellar.”
“Well except for the glasses. I guess you get that all the time.”
“No,” Vincent said, truthfully. “First time ever.”
“I liked Captain Stellar,” Norman continued. “Seemed like a decent guy, until he flipped out. It’s probably nothing. It’ll turn out to be a mind control ray that made him do that, or an evil duplicate or something.”
Something stirred in Vincent’s guts, a desire for… what? Validation? Probably. It was a little pathetic, how badly he needed to hear something nice about himself… but damn did he need it.
“Was he your favorite hero?” Vincent said.
“No, not favourite,” Norman said. “I liked Doc Submarine when I was a boy. Still got an autographed photo, somewhere. Might be worth a buck or two on Ebay. But Captain Stellar was pretty cool. My mate Leonard in high school, Stellar was his favourite, but I think that’s mostly because Leonard’s gay, too.”
Vincent started coughing on his coffee.
“You alright, mate?”
“Fine. I just, uh, it was surprising.”
“Didn’t you know Captain Stellar was gay?” Norman said. “I thought everyone new. Didn’t they have a bunch of guys in Stellar costumes at the Mardi Gras for a few years?”
“I thought they just liked him,” Vincent said. Holy shit, did everyone know? “Wasn’t he dating Antarctiana?”
Norman laughed. “Yeah, and everyone knows she’s a lesso. It didn’t fool anyone. You okay, mate? You’re looking pale.”
“I’m fine. I just… I think…”
Norman looked at him in an appraising, thoughtful way. He seemed to be on the verge of saying something, when a red haired woman walked in. She looked familiar, but Vincent couldn’t quite remember where he’d seen her before.
“Hey, Sadie. Soy latte?”
The woman nodded. Norman breathed deeply twice, seeming to steel his resolve. “You know, mate,” he said to Vincent, “Axel actually saw what happened with Stellar, out the back of the Pavilion,” he said. “If you’re interested in… that particular superhero… maybe you should ask Axel about what happened.”
“It was in all the papers,” Vincent said.
“Not all of it.”
Vincent waited for him to say more, but the young man clammed up. What did he mean? What did he mean?
There was only one way to answer that question. Vincent finished his coffee and went to have a chat with his archenemy.