Disclaimer: DC owns the DCU. Impulse created by Mark Waid and Mike Wieringo.
Reset!: Blackout - Chapter One: Blackout
[Continued from Reset! -- After Max Mercury's disappearance into the Speed Force, Impulse allied with Inertia to defeat Rival and rescue their mentor. However, Max opted to stay behind, causing apprehension among the speedsters. The recent brief outages in the speedsters' powers are confirming their fears. The story now picks up in Manchester, Alabama, where Max's daughter, Helen Claiborne, is fostering the fastest boys alive. One is Bart Allen, the superhero known as Impulse. The other is Thaddeus Thawne, also known as Inertia, who is held under a form of house arrest until Meloni, Bart's mother, can retrieve him.]
Bart yawned and stretched under his covers, savoring the warmth and comfort of his bed for a few long seconds. Morning light glowed behind his window blinds and he could smell Helen's coffee brewing in the kitchen. Just as he decided to hop out of bed and take a shower, he heard the bathroom door close and water rain down on the tub. He frowned and glared at his door. "Grife, Thad! Can't you wait? You don't have to go anywhere!"
There was no response from his "evil twin" in the bathroom. Bart grumbled under his breath and dug through his dresser drawers for fresh clothes in a blur. Where were the rest of his pants? He only saw two pairs left in the drawer, neither being among his favorites. They couldn't all be dirty. He did his laundry just recently! In an instant, he was dressed for another day at school. Taming his wild chestnut mop took a little more work and he didn't quite succeed. Stepping out into the hall, he gave the bathroom door an extra hard glare before meandering to the kitchen, ignoring the murmuring of Thaddeus talking to himself in the shower.
He finished his breakfast by the time Thaddeus strolled into the room with his damp golden hair slicked back. Bart immediately focused on Thad's clothes. "Hey! You're taking all of my pants!"
Thaddeus glanced down briefly and shrugged. "So? I don't have any of my own. What am I supposed to do? Wear my costume all day long? It's against Helen's rules."
Helen rinsed out her coffee cup. "Well, since we don't know when Meloni will show up to take you back, I guess we'll have to go out and get you some clothes of your own. By the way, Thad, you have to do your own laundry here. If Bart does it, you do too."
"I want my pants back," Bart demanded.
Slipping on her jacket and grabbing her purse, Helen reassured Bart, "You'll get your pants back after Thad washes them for you."
Just after Helen left for work, Bart picked up his backpack. "I'm gonna go get second breakfast at school. Later."
Thaddeus looked down at Dox, who wagged his tail and panted. "It's just us again." He slumped into a chair. "How many more days of mind-numbing boredom must I endure? I think I've been punished enough and I think I've proven that I'm not a threat." Dox just kept wagging his little tail. Thaddeus raised a pale eyebrow. "Even though Craydl was programmed to obey my dear grandfather over me, it could hold a conversation and be useful. While you have some rudimentary communicative abilities, it's not the same. I could say the same of Bart." Dox barked and wagged his tail more. Sighing, Thaddeus drooped his shoulders. "I should stop talking to myself. It will become a bad habit."
Later in the morning, students filled the classrooms at Manchester High School. Bart's biology class was treated to a quiz to start the session. The short test was easy for him this time around. It was just another case of read and regurgitate. He waited a little while and stared out of the window. If he focused just right, he could see Carol in the reflection on the glass. She was still working on her quiz, along with the rest of the class. Ever since Thad showed up, he hadn't spent as much time with her, or any of his other school friends for that matter. Maybe they should all hang out after school soon? Or maybe he could finally ask Carol out on a real date? How were those supposed to work? Maybe he should call Kon and ask? Kon seemed to know a lot about that kind of thing. Was he staring at the window too long? He started pretending to work on his quiz and the teacher moved her hawk-eyed stare away from him. Problem was, it that it took her forever to move in his perspective. There was only so much of staring at the paper and slowly wiggling his pencil he could take. At least he sat in the back of the classrooms these days. No one could look over his shoulder and see just how fast he worked. As annoying as it was, hiding his powers had become much like a game of its own.
Finally, the teacher asked for the quizzes to be passed to the front of the class. Now came the hardest part: sitting through the teacher's droning. After a while, Bart lost track of where she was in a sentence. From there, he was clueless as to what she was saying. He leisurely doodled in the margins of his notebook just to have something to do. A quick glance to Carol told him that she was doing the same thing, but her doodles usually had something to do with the class. A long enough pause in the teacher's lecture gave him another chance to pay attention. The thought of the time he would get to spend with his friends between classes was the only encouragement he had towards staying in the room.
It was like that when he was in the thirtieth century lab, he recalled. His memories of the place were hazy and distant, despite the very few years since he left it. However, he went through game after game, knowing that he would be rewarded with a visit with Grandma Iris. When was the last time he visited her? Maybe he should drop in on her soon? He wanted to tell her about how life was in Manchester and how Thaddeus was adapting. Bart still didn't quite understand why she couldn't have been his guardian, or why she stayed away so much. He knew the reasons, he had heard them all, but he still didn't agree with them. At least Helen wanted him to stay, even though Max was gone.
The bell rang and the teacher dismissed her class. Bart shoved his binder and books into his backpack and hoisted it over his shoulder. Or he tried to. The next thing he knew, Preston and Carol were kneeling over him and the teacher was telling people to back away. Since when did she talk so fast? The hollowness he keenly felt gave him the answer. His speed was gone again.
Bart sluggishly stood and brushed the dust off of his clothes. "I'm okay."
The teacher had her hands on his shoulders to steady him. "Are you sure?"
"Yeah, it's happened before."
The teacher grew more worried. "Have you been to a doctor about it?"
Bart shook his head. "No."
"I wish we still had a school nurse," the teacher muttered.
"I'm okay," Bart repeated. It wasn't quite the truth, but what else could he say to her? In any case, she didn't look convinced.
Back at Helen's house, Thaddeus read through the instructions on the inside of the washing machine lid, the detergent bottle, and every tag on every item of clothing in the laundry basket. "Wash separately." He tossed that shirt to one side. "Like colors only." This continued on until he had several piles of clothes arranged neatly around him. One pile was for whites, another for blues, another for blacks, one for a lonely green shirt, and the "wash separately" pile owned the countertop. "How inefficient," he muttered to himself, "Washing one item at a time is a waste of water." Then again, what else could he expect from such a primitive time period?
His vision blacked out and he grabbed the washing machine for stability. It felt as if the bottom fell out of his world. He knew this feeling all too well now, but it had never been as bad as this. He staggered away from the laundry and into the kitchen to sit. After few minutes of adjusting to the world catching up to him, he tested his legs and returned to his laundry. As he started the washing machine Thaddeus wondered how long this outage would last.
Just after he loaded the largest pile of clothes into the wash, the phone rang. He ignored it, as he was instructed to. If it were important, the caller would leave a message on the answering machine. When the ringing stopped, Helen's voice echoed from the kitchen. "Thad? I just got a call from the school. Bart passed out in class and I'm going to go pick him up. I'll be home soon."
When Helen returned home with Bart, Thaddeus was waiting in the kitchen with a smirk on his face. "You passed out?"
Bart scowled and stomped off to dump his backpack and jacket off on his bedroom floor. Thaddeus snorted, still sneering. Behind the blond boy, Helen sighed harshly. "When were you boys going to tell me that you were having trouble with your powers?"
That wiped the twisted grin off of Thaddeus's face. "What could you do about it?" His answer came out more snidely than he intended, to his chagrin.
"That doesn't matter!" Helen retorted, "If there's something wrong, tell me! At least then I'll know that there might be another reason why either of you boys don't come home on time! I worry about you when you're not here. Both of you." Her shoulders dropped with a softer sigh. "I need to get back to work. Keep an eye on your brother, Thad. Don't let him out of the house until I get home, even if your powers return. If anything else happens, call me."
Thaddeus gave a curt nod. "Understood."
As soon as the door shut behind Helen, Bart skulked out of his room and flopped down on the couch. "This sucks," he grumped, "I hate being slow and I hate having to make stuff up."
"You mean lie?" Thaddeus clarified, "That's easy. All you need to do is tell people what they expect to hear. You should be used to it by now with the secret identity matter."
"That's the problem!" Bart flung his hands up into the air. "I can't tell anyone that I'm a speedster or the real reason why I blacked out! I couldn't figure out what to say and now the school asked that I go to a doctor and get checked out! I've never been to a doctor! Not like the kind that everyone else goes to! What if the doctor figures out that I got powers? I know that there aren't medscans here like in the future, but they still got ways of finding stuff out, right?"
"Maybe you should go." Thaddeus paced from one end of the living room to the other. "Either if this particular outage lasts long enough or if there's another one that is convenient. If your medical records confirm that you aren't a speedster, then that should help you maintain your separation of identities."
"Grife," Bart swore as he reached for a videogame controller. "I hope the Speed Force stops glitching soon." In a sudden change of mind, he dropped the controller and got off of the couch. "I'm gonna call Wally. Maybe he's mainlining it and that's why we're cut off."
When Wally unsurprisingly did not answer his phone, Bart called Jay, only to find out that all of the speedsters were out of power. After hanging up, Bart called out to Thad, "It hit everyone." He sighed and crossed his arms. "I'm gonna make some lunch." Pausing on his way to the pantry for inspiration, he noticed the neat piles of clothes. "Um, I think you're taking the laundry sorting thing a little too far, Thad. That's not the way Helen showed me how to do it."
Carol led the way to Bart's house after school. Preston, Mike, and Roland - otherwise known as Rolly, trailed after her, all a little uneasy. Mike seemed the most agitated. "What if there's something wrong with Bart's heart and no one knows yet?"
"Or it could just be a case of low blood sugar," Carol tried to reassure, "He's probably fine."
Dox was the first to notice company arriving, signaling to Thaddeus that he should disappear. Silently, he darted to his room and closed the door. "It's just Carol," Bart remarked after glancing through the window. "Oh, the guys are here, too." He shut off his game and answered the door.
Thaddeus could hear the commotion from down the hall and through his door. Bart managed to convince his friends that he was fine. "I had some lunch and felt a lot better," he added.
Mike relaxed and sat down on the couch. "So, it probably was low blood sugar or something."
Bart shrugged at that, not wanting to add anything more to the answer. As much as he wanted to tell the truth to them, Max's training managed to stay firm.
Preston set his backpack down on the floor and dug through it, producing a sheet of paper. "Here, I wrote down what you need to do for homework."
"Thanks." Bart accepted the paper half-heartedly. Staring at the list, his shoulders drooped. "This is gonna take forever."
"Tell me about it," Preston slumped onto the couch. "It's like they think we don't have anything to do after school."
Carol pushed her glasses higher on her nose. "Want to get it done with? The sooner it's done, the sooner we can do other stuff."
"Homework?" Preston reached into his backpack for his binders and books. "Yeah, sure. Let's get it over with."
Mike grinned and sat up. "This is why Carol gets A's all the time."
When Helen returned home, she found that she had a full house in her living room. Books and papers were scattered all over the coffee table and floor. Two open bags of chips and several open juice bottles added to the chaos. After polling her guests to see how many of them were planning on staying for dinner, Helen meandered to the pantry to look for inspiration on what to feed her hungry teenagers. "Who left a pile of clothes on the floor?" she called out to Bart.
"Thad," Bart called back.
Carol's head jerked up and the rest of the group looked at Bart in confusion. "Who?" Preston asked.
Bart opened his mouth to answer, but it hung on an awkward, "Uhhhh..." He cast a frantic glance to Carol for help.
She gave a shrug. "Might as well tell them. Your mom hasn't come to pick him up yet."
"Okay," Bart answered, "Thad's my twin brother. He's staying here until Mom gets him."
Jaws slackened and eyebrows rose around the coffee table. Preston was the first to find words. "You have a twin brother? When were you gonna tell us about that?"
Bart shrugged again. "I dunno. He's not staying here for long, anyways."
Rolly leaned forward. "So, what's going on? I mean, you were sent here to live with your uncle. You have a mom, but you don't live with her. Now you got a twin brother who gets to go with her, but you don't? That's all kinda messed up."
"Yeah," Bart agreed, "I don't think about it much." He stood up and stretched. "I'm gonna tell Thad that he can stop hiding now. He's probably getting hungry and he's supposed to make dinner tonight, anyways."
As soon as Bart disappeared down the hall, the other boys turned their gazes to Carol. "So, what's the deal?" Mike asked, "I mean, he's obviously told you more than us."
"His family is really messed up," Carol admitted, "Really messed up. I'm not sure if I can explain it."
Bart returned with Thaddeus sullenly following after him. The blond boy gave a short wave and ducked into the kitchen. Preston tilted his head. "He's blond."
Carol flipped through the pages of her textbook, already getting back to work. "Twins don't have to be identical."
Helen's voice was audible from the kitchen, "It's fine, Thad. The oven temperature doesn't have to be exact like that. You can stop playing with the knob."
"You need at least digital control on this," Thad stated.
"Yes, yes, I know. I'll get around to it later. Now leave it alone."
Bart sighed. "He's always like that." He shoved a handful of chips into his mouth and tried to finish his homework.
Later, around a crowded table, Helen listened to the chatter of her guests. Thaddeus was quiet, but she expected that. Then Preston asked a question, "So, where is your mom going to take you?"
"Tokyo," Thaddeus simply answered.
"Yeah," Bart chimed in, "She has a really nice place there in a tower."
Rolly perked up. "Wow, what she do there for work?"
Bart and Thad exchanged glances. Neither had a good answer at hand for that. Bart shrugged, "I dunno. Stuff."
An awkward silence descended on the table. Carol cleared her throat, "So, when is Thad leaving?"
Thaddeus gave a succinct answer, "Whenever Mom gets here."
After dinner was finished, Bart saw his friends to the door and bid them all goodnight. As he started cleaning up the mess left in the living room, he jerked to a stop. "I forgot!"
Darting out the door, he pounded the sidewalk to catch up to Carol. "Wait!" he called out to her as he closed the gap. He stuttered a little before finally saying, "Wanna go out later? Like go out?"
"Like a date?" She was already smiling.
"Yeah!" Bart nodded eagerly, shaking his wild mop. "Do you wanna?"
Carol squeezed him in a hug. "Of course I would! Friday?"
"Sure! Um, but if my speed doesn't come back by then, we'll have to stay in Manchester."
"It sounds fine, Bart. Let's keep it simple this time."
"Okay! We'll go out on Friday!" He started to jog back to his house, but paused a few steps in. "What if there's a crisis or ninjas attack?"
She laughed. "We'll deal with it."
Bart grinned and bounced back home, cheering to himself. This was going to be awesome! Once he was inside the house, Bart picked up the phone and called Kon, hoping that it wouldn't just go to voicemail. He grinned when a live Kon answered with a distracted "Yeah?"
"Hi, Kon! It's Bart. I asked a girl on a date and I don't know how those are supposed to go and since you go out with girls more, I thought you could help me figure it out."
Kon was quiet for a moment. "Wait, what? You want my advice on how to take a girl on a date?"
"Um, well, I..." Kon fished for words a little longer before replying with, "Dinner and a movie is a classic. Wait, who are you going out with? Is she a normal girl or is she in our realm of weird? Please don't tell me it's a gorgeous alien girl with cute face tattoos. I think I would experience rugged, manly tears of woe if you managed that."
"She's Carol," Bart answered, "You met her the last time you were at my place."
"Cute girl with the glasses and the sweet figure? Yeah, I remember her. Um... Oh, that can't be good. Can I call you back? I gotta take care of something."
Bart could hear the screeching roar of some new monster in the background. "Okay." Bart hung up and stared at his phone in disappointment. Now what?
Thaddeus leaned against the doorway with crossed arms. "You're pathetic," he sneered in Interlac.
"Sprock off," Bart retorted in kind, "At least I have friends."
Blond eyebrows rose in surprise, and then furrowed in a scowl. "I don't need friends," Thaddeus grumbled as he sulked away.
A/N: I'll try to keep these fics to shorter story arcs, rather than do one epic fic.