Disclaimer: DC owns the DCU. Impulse created by Mark Waid and Mike Wieringo.
Reset!: Gemini Ascendant – Chapter One: Training
[Continued from Reset!: Blackout -- 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, heralding an outage of the speedsters' powers. Bart and Thad, trapped in Manchester, had to cope with living with each other and without their speed for months. When Rival returned, he possessed Wally and fought Thad. Max Mercury returned and Rival was captured and contained. Now life has returned to normal and the teen speedsters pick up where they left off.]
Max settled down in the house he lived in with his daughter and two wards. It was nice to be surrounded by familiar, material things. His comfy chair. His books and newspapers. His coffee mug full of a hot, dark brew. It was nice to be home.
A laughing Bart raced by with a pair of underwear on his head, chased by an angry, yelling Thad and a barking Dox. Max let out a measured sigh and pinched the bridge of his nose. He looked to Helen, who was curled up on the couch and unfazed by this development. "Are they always like this?"
She nodded and turned the page of her bodice-buster romance novel. "This is the status quo for them. Bart gets bored. Bart annoys Thad. Thad overreacts. Chaos, followed by a scuffle in the backyard. Boys come in dirty and exhausted. Peace in the house for a little while. Repeat."
Max grumbled under his breath and set his book aside. "I wanted a little quiet time before I started training them again, but they obviously have some excess energy. I'm going to take them for a run."
The white-haired Zen Master of Speed found the boys wrestling in the backyard, just as Helen predicted. "Well, Thad, you must be fully recovered from that beating Rival gave you." Both boys stopped to see Max towering over them with his arms crossed. "And Bart looks like he needs something to do." The boys exchanged anxious glances. Max leaned down and grinned. "Let's go for a run." He reached out and yanked the underwear off of Bart's head and handed it to Thad. "Go change into your suits. I'll be waiting."
Bart took that as a cue to go to his room to change, instead of simply switching clothes in the backyard. Once inside his bedroom, he opened up the compartment in his ring and his white and red Impulse costume popped out. How long had it been since he last wore this? How long had it been since he last had his powers? It seemed like forever.
Thad pulled his black and green Inertia costume from the bottom of the dresser drawer. How long had it been since he last wore this? He hated what that costume stood for. He wasn't just some Reverse-Impulse. He was Thaddeus Thawne! But if Max said to wear it, he would oblige.
He heard a rip and a yelp from Bart's room. Curious, he peeked in to investigate. There, he found Impulse trying to hold a catastrophic tear in the backside of his costume together. Red in the face, Bart grinned at Thad. "Um, my costume isn't stretchy enough anymore." He quickly took it off and changed back into his civilian clothes.
Thad stared at the costume he still held in his hand. "I don't think this is going to fit, either." At least Bart was good for making the embarrassing mistakes first, so he didn't have to.
"What are we gonna do?" Bart asked as he put his damaged costume back into his ring.
Max asked from the hallway, "About what?" He was dressed in the blue and white he customarily wore as Max Mercury.
Thad answered first, "We outgrew our costumes."
Max went into his bedroom for a second, and then reemerged in clothes appropriate for hiking. "Then we'll just change the lesson plan." He planted a broad palm on each of the boys' heads. "You have grown quite a bit."
They followed Max out of Manchester, enjoying the chance to stretch their legs. The elder speedster took them on a familiar route around the globe, avoiding civilization where they could. He wanted the boys to cut loose for a little while and push their limits. It wasn't long before Bart tagged Thad's shoulder in a challenge. Suddenly, it was Max who was having some strenuous excerise as he fought to keep up. Age may bring wisdom, but it had a nasty habit of slowing a man down. However, it gave him a chance to see the boys running shoulder to shoulder, equal in speed. Neither could hold a lead on the other for very long.
Max's stamina couldn't compete with exuberant youth, so he settled on tracking the boys until he found them resting on a small islet in the Pacific. Sweating and out of breath, their legs shook from the strain of the race. Max grinned and he stopped on the rocks. "Now, we can begin our lesson."
High in the altiplano of the Bolivian Andes, Max sat on a patch of exposed earth with his legs crossed. In front of him, his two pupils did the same. Thad's back was ramrod straight and he eyes held a focused determination. Bart squirmed and shifted as he looked around the secluded mountain valley. Max could already guess how this was going to go, but it was a phase that they had to pass.
Bart's voice piped up, "Are we gonna learn how to connect with the Speed Force like you do and go all freaky lightning eyes?" He waggled his fingers around his face to pantomime electricity.
"We're going to start," Max admitted, "But it requires a great deal of concentration." He saw Thad's smirk and sidelong glance at Bart. "Quieting the mind is more difficult than it sounds."
"Yeah," Bart agreed, "After you disappeared, I tried to do it the way you do and I couldn't. I kept feeling twitchy and hungry." He paused a beat. "I'm kinda hungry right now."
"You're always hungry," Max remarked without pause, "So, let's get started. I want you both to close your eyes and relax. Breathe slowly and deeply and focus your attention on that. I want you to clear your mind and just breathe."
Bart struggled to ignore the itches and complaints from his body and tried to quiet his mind. What was Carol doing right now? He wanted to hang out with her. What was he going to have for dinner? Max would be surprised to find out that he could cook, now. He was sure of that. Maybe he could get Young Justice together this weekend and hang out on the spaceship. That would be awesome! He wanted a grilled cheese sandwich. Something melty cheesy, at the least. He hadn't seen anyone else but Kon for a long while now! He had talked with them via phone and email, but that just wasn't the same. Was that a hummingbird flying by? Don't peek. Max is watching. Nevermind, peeked anyways. Whatever it was, it was flying behind him. How was he going to get a new costume? If he made it, it wasn't going to fit in his ring. Enchiladas sounded good too. Could they stop for enchiladas on the way home? Didn't Wally say it was STAR Labs that made the old costume? Would they make a new one if he asked really nicely? That would be awesome! His back was itching in that spot that was always really hard to reach. Yeah, that had to be a hummingbird. The wind was picking up a little speed too and it felt cool. Maybe he could update his costume while he was at it? Maybe something with pockets. Pockets were awesome. A utility belt like Robin's! That would be even cooler! How would that fit into the ring? Chili cheese fries! Enchiladas and chili cheese fries! His nose was itching again and there was a muscle in his shoulder that was getting twitchy. How long was he going to have to sit here?
Thad frowned against the onslaught of thoughts and memories that were anything but relaxing. Max had finally returned, much to his satisfaction. The end result of that mission had not failed, it had simply been delayed. Rival was contained and in custody. He hadn't heard where, but he didn't much care, either. Thad would have preferred that Rival had been destroyed, so that the body-hopping speedster couldn't do any more damage ever again. Like that clone he had killed when he reunited with Bart. Thad's jaw clenched. Did Max know that he had killed? He knew that Max would not approve. What would happen if he found out? What if Bart said something? Bart was upset over the matter when it first happened. Thad hoped that Bart had long forgotten it. Would Max cast him out if he discovered the sordid affair? Would Max turn on him too? Thad once thought that his only ally was Craydl, the sophisticated computer system that tended to his upbringing. He thought that Craydl was loyal to him and would serve his every need. How naive he was! Craydl was loyal to President Thawne above all else and when Thad lashed out against Thawne, Craydl moved to subdue him. It was only a stroke of luck that he avoided the engulfing grasp of the technoplasm. It was luck that let him escape the warehouse-sized complex where he was raised. Thawne was going to replace him with clones. How could a man render his own grandchildren disposable? How could a man take away his daughter's children and treat them like lab animals? Thad struggled against the building rage to keep his breathing calm and steady. His mother hadn't come for him yet. She didn't want her children, Thad was sure of it now. Why else would she abandon them in a primitive time? Was he disposable to her, too? Max was here now, shouldn't he be happy with that? Bart certainly seemed to be. That simpleton. Of course he would be happy. He never thought ahead far enough to be worried by anything. That idiot. Didn't he realize that he was abandoned?
Max's voice broke into the stream, "Slow breathing, Thad. Focus on staying relaxed and breathing. You too, Bart."
Bart's voice answered back, "But I'm hungry and there's an itch on my back and on my nose! Those birds are really noisy too."
"Relax and breathe," Max reminded him.
Max let them struggle on with the meditation until he heard both of their stomachs grumble. "That's enough for today. Let's get something to eat." He stood up and brushed the dust off of his pants. Bart started scratching at all of his itches.
Thad rubbed at the bridge of his nose. "I couldn't quiet my mind at all."
"I didn't expect you to." Seeing the surprise and irritation from Thad, Max added, "But with some time and practice, you will."
He led the boys northward until he stopped along the bank of a small lake in a North American wilderness. An open meadow along one side of the lake was hemmed in by the forest. "This looks like a good place to get some lunch." Seeing the bewilderment of his pupils, he grinned. "Without leaving my sight, find something to eat."
Bart gaped. "What?! There's nothing here! How are we supposed to find something to eat?"
Settling down at the base of a tree, Max crossed his arms. "You two are smart boys, you figure it out."
Bart and Thad exchanged anxious glances. "How are we gonna find food around here?" Bart asked his brother.
"I don't know! Why are you asking me?" Thad snapped, "My training did not include wilderness survival." His yellow eyes widened with realization and he faced Max. "That's why we're here, isn't it?"
Max stretched out his legs on the earth. "Like I said, you're smart boys."
Searching for anything food-like, Bart ran over the lake and along the river that fed it. The glint of silvery scales under the water caught his attention. Racing back to Thad, he pulled on his brother's arm. "Hey, I found a fish! We can eat fish!"
Thad jerked his arm away, but followed him back to the river. There, he watched Bart run along the surface of the water and snatch up the fish. Holding the fish, Bart mused, "Now what?"
Frowning, Thad watched the fish slowly begin to struggle in Bart's hands. "It's still alive. Kill it."
Bart recoiled from him. "What? No! We don't kill!"
"Every bit of meat that you eat came from an animal that someone killed," Thad reminded, "If you want to eat that fish, you have to kill it."
Bart looked down at the fish in his hands, not liking the idea. "How?"
Thad snatched the fish away from him and slammed its head against the nearest tree hard enough to pop one of the eyes out of its socket. Bart winced at the impact. The memory of Thad killing the other clone all those months ago flashed in his mind. "There," Thad said as he handed the limp fish back to Bart. "It's dead. I'm going to find another one." Thad ran off to search the waters for another fish swimming close to the surface.
Bart returned to Max with the fish in hand. "Here, I found this."
"Largemouth bass, nice job." Max stared at the smashed head with wide eyes and an grimace. "Did you club it?"
"No, Thad used it like a club," Bart answered, still unsettled by the event, "He said we had to kill it first to eat it."
"Well, he was right, although you don't usually don't need to club it that hard." He spotted Thad still searching the waters for easy prey. "As soon as he gets back here, I'll you boys how to clean the fish and build a fire."
Thad soon returned and held out two more small largemouth bass to Max. His pants were soaked to the knee and his sleeves were rolled up. "I also found some small lobsters in the river. Should we get those?"
Max's eyebrows rose. "Crawfish?" He thought about this for a moment. "We don't have a pot to boil them in. We can leave them for now. They are edible, though."
Bart turned towards the river. "Can we take some little lobsters home?"
"Crawfish," Max corrected again, "And I don't see why not. I can show you how to cook them up when get back to Manchester. Helen might like the change of pace, too. We'll have to make a basket to carry them, though." He pulled his folded utility knife from his pocket and opened it. With a few strokes, he demonstrated how to clean a fish. Bart wrinkled his nose at the display, while Thad watched in studious interest. Max finished and offered the knife to Bart first. "Here, you try on your fish."
Bart reluctantly took the knife. Several awkward strokes later, his fish was gutted and cleaned. "That's kinda gross," he remarked about the small pile of innards now laying on the ground.
"Those are the parts we don't eat," Max calmly pointed out.
Thad took the knife from Bart and gutted his fish in quick, clean strokes. "There. Mine's done." He offered the knife back to Max.
Nodding approval, Max accepted his knife and wiped it clean. Afterwards, he showed the boys how to build a fire using friction. "As a speedster, it's easy for us," he said as the sticks he rubbed together began to smoke in the prepared pit. "The trick is getting it to catch on the tinder. As opposed to creating friction, that takes a more subtle touch. Blow too hard and you extinguish the flame before it begins. Too soft and it doesn't catch."
Bart helped feed the tinder of dry grass and moss to the smoldering start of the fire. "Why not use matches or a lighter or a flamethrower?"
The fire caught under Max's guidance and Thad fed the first twig to it. The elder speedster answered the question, "At some point, you'll find yourself without those options. I want you boys to be able to take care of yourselves, no matter the circumstances."
Soon, the skewered fish roasted over the fire. "Now, about those crawfish you wanted to take home." He stood up and pointed to a stand of black willow nearby. "We'll use that for the basket to collect them in."
He showed the boys the difference between willow branches suitable for the skeleton, rim, and body of the basket. The boys opted not to use the knife to cut the wands. Instead, they made their chosen lengths of willow intangible and pulled them away from the tree. Around the cookfire, Max showed them how to weave the branches into a basket. However, when the boys had difficulty getting the weave to hold, they simply vibrated and merged the trouble spots together. Max sighed, but allowed it.
Once the baskets were done, the boys waded into the shallows of the river and collected crawfish to take home. Bart held up on crawfish and watched its legs wiggle. "We're gonna eat these?" He frowned. "They don't look like they're good to eat."
"Lobsters are held in high culinary regard," Thad remarked, "These look like smaller versions of that. Besides, Max confirmed that they're edible."
Bart dropped the crawfish into the basket with the others. "How do you eat something like this?"
Thad shrugged and examined the basket. "I don't know."
They brought the basket to Max, who was tending the cooking fish. It wasn't long until the fish was done and they settled down to eat. Bart examined his fish as he ate it. "It's kinda bland. I think it needs some salt and lemon and maybe something else. I dunno what. Oh! Can you wrap fish in bacon?"
Max noticed Thad's reflexive grimace and raised his eyebrows. "I don't see why not."
Bart was still babbling on his tangent of the moment while he ate. "I guess you would have to skin the fish first, 'cause you can't eat the scales, right? And 'cause bacon has salt in it, you wouldn't have to add salt. Butter! Oh, wait, if you used bacon, you wouldn't have to use butter, either. Hey, I bet it would work! We gotta try it!"
Max chuckled at Bart's enthusiasm. "Since when were you so interested in cooking food, instead of just eating it?"
"I dunno. Helen makes us take turns at making dinner, and then me and Carol sometimes make dinner at her place when I go over there, 'cause we can't eat out all the time. When I'm the one making the food, I get to eat what I want to eat, so that's cool." He picked the last little bits of meat off of the bones. "Can you cook fish with cheese? Besides a tuna melt?"
Now, Max had to shrug. His culinary knowledge was not strong enough to field these questions. "I don't know."
"Thad just cooks out of a box or a can, so I can't ask him," Bart continued.
"It's still food!" Thad retorted.
Bart ignored his brother's outburst. "Is there such a thing as a fish enchilada? I know there are fish tacos."
Thad was not letting go of the subject. "You used to just cook out of box or can too," he accused Bart.
"Well, yeah, but I leveled up." He stuck his tongue out at his brother. Thad's arm shot out and he grabbed Bart's tongue, eliciting a yelp of surprise.
Max reflexively barked, "Thad! Let go of him!" Thad immediately complied and Max sighed. "Can't you two keep your hands to yourselves for one day? Just eat your fish and we'll get on our way."
Once they finished, they extinguished and buried their fire and took their catch back to Manchester. Helen sighed when she saw the basket full of wriggling crawfish. "What am I supposed to do with this?"