Loren’s Apartment, 4:57 AM.
Tuesday, February 22nd, 2022.
He’d spent most of the time since he had woken up just curled up and reflecting on his actions.
Everything he’d tried so far had failed, but that wasn’t to say that it was useless. He’d learned a great deal about the situation in Setalite City. Two bombs in two different cities, the manpower needed to accomplish such a thing, spoke of an organization or a group of individuals working in concert.
Someone was killing the heroes, obviously, and if you included all of the other heroes that had died in the attempts, well, he couldn’t find a pattern at all. Mark wasn’t in the same league as Paragon—not that many heroes were—but he still died in every single loop.
It was obvious he was being targeted, so what did the two have in common?
Maybe there was nothing there, and the ones responsible for it all were simply killing heroes indiscriminately-or attempting to kill all of the heroes.
Either way, he had nothing to indicate which of the two might be the truth of the situation, and it led him to the same conclusion he had come to the last reset.
He needed to inform the heroes; he needed to see how the information was being handled, who had access to it, and try and make some kind of list of people to investigate to find the leak. If the person leaking the information was a member of this conspiracy, or just someone working for them, he would have to find out.
Which meant going back to the Hero HQ again, this time without the benefit of autonomous automatons who could deliver the message in relative anonymity.
Loren closed his eyes and felt inwards, searching out whatever had changed with this reset; it was getting easier to locate the changes each time as he became familiar with the sensation. He hadn’t noticed any external changes like additional arms or limbs, but he hadn’t exactly been looking.
There was something immediately identifiable right between his eyes— a mental switch, and he, with a moment of focused attention, he activated it.
Loren pushed himself up off the bed before frowning and looking down at his hand. The mattress wasn’t depressing at all; it felt as solid as any floor he had touched in his life. He disengaged the switch in his mind, and the bed returned to normal.
He tried to reactivate it again, but it failed; instead, a countdown appeared in his mind, 13 seconds, until he could use it again.
“What exactly am I doing?” Loren frowned.
Was he freezing items he was in contact with—his clothing seemingly remained unaffected by the power, so it probably wasn’t that simple; He’d need to do some tests to figure it out.
Loren snatched his phone off the dresser. He opened up the countdown app and pressed start before reengaging the power. The timer froze, which he expected, so the entire object was frozen, not just the casing.
He canceled it, and the countdown in his mind was less than five seconds.
“Hmm,” Loren murmured, “The time I keep it activated is the exact time needed to wait before I can use it again.”
That was a hard limit if he’d ever seen one. Loren used his power again, keeping the phone in his hand unfrozen before tossing it onto the bed; he startled as it stopped in mid-air feet away. He canceled the power again, and the phone continued its arc to land on the ground.
He didn’t need to be touching it after he used his power? Loren frowned; something wasn’t adding up here. He could see the timer still counting up as it lay face-up on the bed halfway across the room; he used his power.
The counter froze even though he wasn’t touching it.
“Okay, I have no idea what I’m doing,” Loren said in frustration. “What do I know?”
He could freeze objects from a distance; if he was holding the item or it was in contact with him like his clothing, he could keep it unfrozen; he couldn’t move anything after it was already frozen, and the cooldown timer in his head matched the duration of the power usage—Loren stared at the window for a moment.
Loren walked over slowly and stuck his head out the window.
There wasn’t much movement outside, but there were some three birds participating in what must have been the most epic dogfight of all time. An older lady with a walker crossing the intersection that had caused Mark so much trouble, and a large truck hauling logs out of central careening straight towards her.
His heart skipped a beat as he realized he was about to witness yet another death by vehicle, and he desperately pressed the switch in his mind.
The birds hung in the air, wings spread in a scene reminiscent of a high-speed photograph. The old lady with the walker had stopped still halfway across the crossing, and the truck was frozen maybe twenty meters away.
The adrenaline kicked in when he realized he didn’t know what the maximum duration of his power was, and he was out the door in a few frantic seconds before speeding down the stairs two steps at a time. He had to duck around a tall man with tattoo’s all over his face who was frozen on the steps, and once he squeezed past the unmoving man, he was out the door.
He sprinted down the sidewalk, breathing rushed and uncontrolled, and once he reached the woman, he hesitated.
“Oh no,” Loren said in horror.
He couldn’t move her while she was frozen.
He couldn’t drop out of the pause and then drag her into it to allow him to move her because he’d been in it already for over a minute; he would have to wait at least that long before he could use it again.
All he’d done was given himself a front-row seat of her impending death.
Loren took a deep breath and tried to calm down; he had all the time in the world to think of a solution here. He couldn’t move the woman, and he certainly couldn’t move the truck. He couldn’t move anything in the way of the truck because everything was frozen and unmovable.
He approached the truck and got a good look at the driver in the carriage; the man’s eyes were wide open in horror-he’d clearly seen the woman at the last moment. The front wheels were just angled away to the right, the beginning of his attempt to avoid striking her.
Loren wasn’t exactly an expert on how trucks acted under sudden attempts at turning while driving at high speed. Still, he didn’t think he needed to be one to understand that the car was probably going to end up on its side with its load being dragged outward behind it.
He could almost envision in his mind how the massive load of logs would swing out and crush her instead of the cabin.
There may have been enough room between them to attempt to drag her out of the way as soon as time resumed, but it would be a gamble of both of their lives. Loren resigned himself to the fact that he was most likely going to die in the attempt.
Forcing himself to walk back to the old woman felt like walking to his own execution, and he stopped in front of her; she had a pleasant smile on her face, completely unaware of what was about to happen.
He swallowed before crouching down and wrapping his arms around her waist in preparation to tear her straight off the ground and start running. The truck was suddenly looking much, much closer than it had before, as he tried to force himself to take action.
“Fuck you, lady.” Loren gritted before lifting the old lady off the ground and sprinting towards the sidewalk.
Almost immediately, he was unbalanced by the woman’s sudden weight, but he managed to stay upright. The truck driver slammed his hand down on the horn as he swung the wheel to the side, and with a massive screech, the cabin hit the road with a shower of sparks as it was tipped over from the momentum and the weight of the logs.
The old lady squawked something indecipherable out as she was suddenly moved against her will, struggling against his grip in an attempt to free herself.
Loren could hear the grinding of the trailer sliding towards him as he stepped up onto the sidewalk and kept on running. The truck slammed into the shopfront on the corner of the street and slowed just enough for him to clear the back of it.
He stumbled to the ground as the truck tore out the entire front of the store and spread it across the intersection before sliding to a screeching stop. The old woman clawed her way free and gasped for breath as she realized what had just happened.
Loren panted in fear and relief as he barely avoided dying once more, unable to believe he’d managed to save her; his track record with people and trucks was pretty horrible.
“Thank you, young man!” The old woman gasped out, “Oh my lord, he came out of nowhere! Totally irresponsible!”
Loren had more than enough time to check on the situation during the pause, she absolutely walked through a no-walk signal, and the truck-driver had the green light. He wasn’t going to attempt to call her on it, though there were more important things to worry about right now than arguing with her.
“Stay here,” Loren managed as he pushed himself to his feet. “I’m going to go check on the driver.”
He didn’t hear her response as he jogged over to the mess; unlike the Mark accidents, there was no fire to be seen, and the truck was completely stationary on its side. When he got to the shattered front window, he could see the driver struggling with his belt—bloody but alive.
Loren climbed up carefully and planted his foot on the frame of the front window.
“Fucking belt!” The man gritted out, “Did you see that? She just walked straight on through—didn’t even fucking look!”
“I saw it,” Loren agreed as calmly as he could. “I’m going to help you get out.”
“Where did you even come from? You just appeared in front of her,” The man grunted, “You a hero?”
“Something like that,” Loren admitted, “Only got my power today; suppose she was lucky I spotted her.”
He climbed into the cabin, and between the two of them, they manage to unhook it enough for him to get free. Loren helped the man crawl out of the front window and drop down to the road.
“I can’t walk like this,” The man said, pained, “ Right leg is messed up pretty bad; you’re going to have to help me.”
Loren stepped under the guy’s arm and lifted, before hobbling towards the sidewalk; cars were already stopping, the passengers moving to help, and he could hear the sirens in the distance.
“Thanks,” The man mumbled, slipping down to sit on the ground. “You should get out of here before anyone else arrives if you intend to keep your identity a secret, hero.”
His power had three minutes left before he could use it again, and he didn’t want to lead them straight back to his apartment; Loren patted him on the shoulder in thanks before making his way towards central.
Nobody stopped him.
Loren’s Apartment, Setalite City, 1:52 PM.
Tuesday, February 22nd, 2022.
He’d tested his power for most of the day but had learned basically nothing new. Simply put, it froze time, and however long he stayed like that, the longer the time before he could use it again. Loren had been strategizing on how to use it to accomplish what he actually intended for this reset.
He wanted to drop a letter off at the Heroes HQ and remain anonymous. He also wanted to track who had access to the information, one of those things as possible with his current power. He could simply walk straight in and deposit it on someone’s desk and then leave. Nobody would know he was there; nobody would attempt to stop him from going; it was somehow even better for this job than the Homunculi had been.
He had at his hand’s the perfect stealth power.
So now he was staring down at the envelope that contained everything he’d learned about the bombs. Last time his message had been sullied by the fighting that had broken out immediately afterward. The bombs had been set off somehow in the aftermath, and the city had been mostly destroyed. This time, there would be no fighting to sully the message, no reason for anyone else to hear about it other than the person he sent it to.
Loren couldn’t see how it could possibly go wrong, so he stood up, snatched the letter, and then walked downstairs. There was no reason to activate his power until he was close to the building; that would uselessly inflate the cooldown for no real gain.
“Ready or not, here I come,” Loren said wryly.
He walked straight past the Hero HQ entrance and stopped at the sidewalk with the group that was waiting to cross. Loren stood still for a moment, choosing his pose carefully before activating his power.
He brought his phone with him and clicked the timer app to track how long he had.
The world stopped again, and he spun on his feet before jogging back towards the building, the door was still open, and he squeezed past the person walking through it and into the lobby.
The HQ was a sleek building, all straight lines and glass panels lining the exterior; the inside was minimalist. Clean white floors, a waiting room on one side, signs point every which way lined the walls. It was the first time he’d ever been inside, and he couldn’t help but think that it looked very close to a hospital, if anything. There usually wasn’t this many costumes in a hospital, sure, but other than that, it was strangely similar.
He needed to find the office for a hero who was at the top of the chain here, someone he could be sure wasn’t the bomber or working with them. He wasn’t sure who that would be exactly, but he had all the time in the world to find out.
Loren searched the ground floor, but there were only two doors that were actually opened, neither of which was an office-he would have to go higher. The staircase seemed the best option, given that the elevator wouldn’t rise unless he dropped his power.
He resigned himself to checking every single floor for the best option, he had the chance to be careful here, and there was no reason he should rush it. The second floor had just as many closed doors, and he couldn’t recognize half of the names on the plates.
Except one, Gradient.
It was open, and a woman was sitting in his chair with her face in her hands. He wouldn’t have been able to see what she looked like either way, given that she was wearing a white mask; she was, however, identifiable as a brunette.
He glanced at his phone; the app was still ticking upwards, 3 minutes, 26 seconds.
Loren left the room; he had more important things to do than figure out who that hero was. He searched the third and fourth floors as quickly as possible and actually started to recognize some of the names. He didn’t stop until he reached the sixth floor and found a door with a name that struck him still.
There were windows lining his office, with pull-down blinds, one of which was partially raised to give the man an indication of who would be approaching his door.
There was nobody inside, and Loren realized abruptly that he was probably the most trustworthy person in the building. He’d gone on a rampage after everybody had died and tracked him down for revenge—that wasn’t something a person who participated in the bombing would do.
He was also strong enough that it wouldn’t be an easy task to get rid of him if Wraith was the one bringing the information to his peers. He’d survived the bombing in the last reset, seemingly unharmed. Wraith fit all the criteria he wanted and was essentially the perfect candidate to leave the message for, but there was one small problem.
The door was shut.
Loren would need to drop his power to open the door, which meant that—a quick glance at his timer app—he would need to wait 9 minutes and 53 seconds before he could use it again. That was a long time to illegally idle in a superhero’s office, in the middle of a building with hundreds of them present. There was a solid desk with a computer monitor resting on it, two large lockers and a bookcase resting against the opposite wall, and a leafy green potted plant in the corner of the room.
Once again, he found himself hesitating with the decision, he wouldn’t be able to take it back once he’d made it, and if Wraith was on his way to his office right now, he was doomed. Ten minutes was an eternity for a person who could move as fast as he did.
Loren gripped the door handle tightly and decided on a battlecry to bring himself to action.
“Fuck you, door!” Loren whispered.
The words vanished into the frozen world, and Loren dropped his power.
The door was thankfully unlocked, and Loren swung it open before clicking it shut behind him as quietly as he could. No alarms, no shouts, no automated defenses shredding him, just him standing in an office of a superhero.
He quietly pulled the blinds all the way down before moving to drop the envelope on the desk and proceeded to check behind it; he could hide under the desk. He checked the lockers and found one of them open and empty, while the other was locked—presumably with something inside it.
It would be a tight squeeze, but he could probably fit in the locker; he’d be stuck in there if anybody came back, unable to open the door without alerting the occupants of the room. He briefly considered hiding behind the pot plant, not that he would ever say it aloud.
Loren thought about his choices.