Quiet Room, Hero HQ, 6:49 AM.
Friday, February 25th, 2022.
Loren sat up and studied the room for a moment—he was alone.
The digital clock showed that this was the first time he had ever made it to Friday, and it was an entirely strange feeling. He’d spent the last month knowing just about everything that would happen, but what about now?
Maybe Starsealer would wake up and destroy the earth now that its strongest protector was dead, or Paragon’s time-traveling twin brother would reveal himself to the world before taking on the man’s mantle.
Literally, anything could happen, and he would have no warning in advance. It was surprisingly unsettling knowing that he was once again left in the dark, and any informational advantage he had gained was gone.
Loren shook his head before dressing quickly and leaving the quiet room. It was incredibly awkward to be just walking around the HQ without any idea of where he was actually going—the feeling of doing something wrong and being where he shouldn’t was potent.
“Loren,” Secluded said from behind him. “Where are you going?”
He turned to find her leaning against a hallway and using her phone before she locked it and stashed it away.
“I have no idea, but I’m hungry,” Loren admitted, slapping his hands together in prayer. “Save me?”
“That is my job, I guess,” Secluded said amused, “You’re going the wrong way though, come on.”
“Thank you!” Loren said quickly, falling in step beside the woman. “Any word back from the big guys?”
“I’m not the one to ask,” Secluded said easily, “Wraith or Fracture is generally the ones that deal with that kind of thing.”
“Is that so?” Loren wondered, “What do you generally deal with?”
“Disaster recovery, rescue—my power is pretty good for moving things and people.” Secluded smiled easily. “Capture too, I suppose—once I’ve got a hold of someone, it’s pretty much over.”
Loren tried to remember the specifics of her power—she dragged people into a world of her own making, one that she had control over and could move freely in. That’s how it was described anyway; she’d gotten both Emma and Serpentine with it in that one loop—he’d died before he saw what happened, though. If she was moving things with it, she must have been able to stash things inside that world without going there herself.
“Pretty cool power,” Loren nodded, impressed.
“I know,” Secluded said, flashing him another smile, “You can throw marbles or something? That’s what Mongoose said anyway—she’s pretty upset with you, by the way.”
Loren wasn’t going near that with a ten-foot pole, he was very aware of Gradients absence, and he doubted she was very happy now that she had become aware of his inaction in this loop when he could have intervened.
“Hold up,” Loren insisted, ignored it entirely, “My power isn’t throwing marbles—that isn’t even a power anyway! Originally I thought it was plain old probability manipulation, but it’s kind of funky now that I think of it.”
When in doubt, distracted and divert.
“Funky how?” Secluded said curiously.
He’d messed around with it enough to know that there was more to it than that—marbles could bunch if it hit at the right angle, sure, but they were gaining speed after each hit. Likewise, he’d made Paragon trip in mid-air twice—which made no sense.
“I can raise the probability of something happening, but I’m also expending some kind of internal energy to make things go further than that?” Loren said airily, waving his hand to punctuate the vague statement. “I can make a marble bounce hundreds of times—there’s no way it had that much momentum or durability to begin with, and the force at which they were exploding was way too high. There has to be something else going on as well.”
“Funky,” Secluded agreed, scratching her neck. “Property Enhancement on top of Probability Manipulation?”
Loren just shrugged.
“Closer than anything I’ve come up with,” Loren admitted.
The HQ had its own staffed kitchen and a cafeteria for the employees to use, and Loren made good use of it. Secluded had up and ditched him soon after they had arrived, though, so he was left to eat independently.
He was, however, soon joined by Fracture, helmet still on but with the mouth guard retracted.
“Hey,” Loren greeted curiously.
They hadn’t spoken before in this loop, so having the man sit down at his table was pretty unusual.
“Hey, yourself,” Fracture said sheepishly, “Hope you don’t mind if I sit with you.”
“It’s all good; go for it.” Loren said around a mouthful of his sandwich, “I’m Loren.”
“Fracture—I’ve been hearing a lot about you from the others.” Fracture said, smiling. “You’re from the future, huh?”
“Uh,” Loren waggled his hand. “This is further than I’ve gotten before, so technically, I’m from the past? I don’t know, man—you’d probably be better at this stuff than I am, don’t you make like future tech?”
Fracture shook his head amused.
“I just build stuff,” Fracture tapped his helmet once, “It’s all up here already; I’m just following the recipe in a way.”
Loren nodded in understanding.
“Hey, sorry I hit you with a pot plant that one time; that was mean of me,” Loren said, guilty.
“Wait,” Fracture paused in the middle of his own bite. “When did—Why did you hit me with a pot plant?”
“You were trying to shoot me at the time,” Loren admitted, “You should probably strengthen your leg armor; I think I managed to break something.”
“Thanks for the tip,” Fracture said, looking down at his armor. “I can’t say I remember it, so don’t worry about it too much—It’s all in the past.”
“Ugh,” Loren groaned, “That was terrible.”
Fracture rubbed the back of his head for a moment, smiling at the reaction—At least he hadn’t said it was all water under the bridge. The man’s gaze flicked up over his shoulder for a moment, and his smile grew.
“Tag, care to join us?” Fracture said kindly. “Loren was just allowing me to test out my new comedy routine.”
“Yeah?” Tag snorted, “Is it as bad as I’m imagining?”
“It’s far worse,” Loren insisted.
He followed the female hero with his eyes as she rounded the table to sit by Fracture.
“Why was I trying to shoot you?” Fracture wondered, sounding a bit concerned.
Tag blinked at the line, turning to face her co-worker.
“I was breaking out of the jail downstairs,” Loren said honestly, “It turns out you can get arrested for having too much junk in your trunk—who knew?”
“Eh, it didn’t look like much to me,” Tag said, shooting him down in flames without mercy. “I would have let you go with a warning.”
“Ouch,” Loren pouted. “Come on, man, you’ve only gone and hurt my feelings.”
“This story is getting more interesting,” Fracture wondered, still smiling, “What were you actually arrested for?”
Wraith’s Office, Hero HQ, 7:42 AM.
Friday, February 25th, 2022.
Loren rocked the chair back and let the legs tap down onto the ground, wondering where she had gone.
He’d received a message from Alana, indicating that they had something to discuss regarding the healers—the ones they had hired for Iza Gracen. That had been the entirety of the message, and it left him a bit on edge, wondering if something had gone wrong.
That had also been fifteen minutes ago, and the edge started to wear away into boredom. He saw the shadow pass by the window before the door opened, revealing Alana. She was wearing a face mask, clear glass over her mouth and nose, seemingly sealed tight around the back of her head.
Dread started to build up in him at the sight of her hesitation at the door—something had gone wrong. He settled the legs of the chair back on the ground and sat up straight, watching as she rounded the desk to take her own seat.
“What happened?” Loren said quietly.
“When I went to observe the latest medical checkup for Iza Gracen, she noticed my location immediately and found her attention completely fixated on my person,” Alana said quietly. “She seemed to experience a loss of control and began to unconsciously move closer to me at any opportunity from that point onwards.”
Loren frowned as he put it together. He had changed Iza in some invisible way with whatever his original power had been, but why was she acting that way to Alana?
“Iza reported an experienced degree of arousal when prompted to describe what she was feeling.” Alana continued, “But her attraction was not directed at me, as much as it was directed in my direction.”
That sounded exactly like what happened when she came into contact with him.
“She was also found to be experiencing intense withdrawal symptoms,” Alana said seriously. “It has since been discovered that Iza Gracen possesses an extreme receptiveness for a previously unidentified and almost untraceable pheromone.”
Loren had heard the word before, but he didn’t know the specifics other than it had something to do with smell—Something about insects using it to navigate as well, perhaps?
“What does that mean?” Loren said hesitantly, staring at the mask she was wearing.
“I subjected myself to the same tests and was surprised to discover that I had recently come into contact with the pheromone in question,” Alana said quietly.
“I don’t understand,” Loren admitted.
Alana nodded simply.
“Loren,” Alana said quietly, “It is highly likely that the source of these pheromones is you. Our recent proximity resulted in a transfer of those pheromones to my person, and I then brought them to Iza.”
Loren closed his eyes and bridged his fingers on his face, thinking. He’d treat it as a smell—he had a scent on him, and he’d gotten it on Alana through their recent contact—simply enough to understand. What he didn’t understand was how he could possibly have that scent, to begin with?
The power that his scent must have originated from had been gone for years—as far as he was aware, it was the very first power he’d gotten—that day at school and the fight that had driven Isaac away from him. He’d only had that power for a day at most—
“Oh no,” Loren horrified.
“Loren?” Alana said quietly.
He hadn’t even thought about it; if it was true, then everything he’d done since…
“The very first time I unlocked my powers, I was in the middle of a fight at school, and I had the power that affected Iza,” Loren said, barely above a whisper. “I somehow changed her, made her receptive of the pheromones my power was giving off.”
Alana was watching him closely but hadn’t yet received the final piece to understand how he could still have it.
“That first loop I was in, the reset point wasn’t the same moment I obtained my powers,” Loren murmured, “It was the first time I slept afterward, much later in the day.”
Alana’s eyes widened before she nodded slowly.
“The power changed you both, then you went to sleep, and your power placed its first marker—after your body was already changed to produce the pheromone passively,” Alana said quickly, slotting everything together in an instant. “Then you died sometime after that, and the biokinetic power vanished—but the effects on both you and Iza remained because the loop began after that change had already become permanent.”
Loren didn’t respond for a long moment. He remained still, holding his face in his hands. That sense of dread grew in him as he asked the question that he thought he might already know the answer to.
“What exactly does this pheromone do to normal people?” Loren mumbled.
“Without the physical receptiveness mutation in the other party, its effect is far, far weaker, but its two primary functions remain the same,” Alana said slowly. “Females who come into contact with the pheromone experience an enhanced attraction to its origin, while males experience a heightened state of irritation.”
Loren forced himself to speak, voice barely audible, but Alana caught it easily.
“You haven’t been wearing your helmet,” Loren whispered.
“No,” Alana said quietly, “I haven’t.”
Downtown, Setalite City, 10:10 AM.
Friday, February 25th, 2022.
Loren wondered if any of the women that had shown interest in him had done so because of a genuine attraction. It was impossible to know; even if he decided to reroll right now, he couldn’t just go up and ask someone. They’d just be exposed to the same thing, and the knowledge would taint every interaction he had with them past that point.
A dark thought kept tingling at the back of his awareness—males that were near him experienced increased irritation, and it made him wonder. If someone was already furious and at the breaking point, was his presence alone the catalyst?
Was he the little push they needed to step over the line? Where without his presence, they otherwise wouldn’t have? He remembered a furious Mark, smashing him against the railing and Dovetail invading his home…
He remembered a little boy on a bridge and countless attempts to try to calm him down, the countless failures. All those arguments—all the fights, and he never knew that even just approaching his friend might have been the little spark that drove him over that edge.
The sound of shattering glass from somewhere up high drew his attention, and he noticed a stream of water shooting out of the top of a familiar-looking highrise apartment building—what was the reporter’s name?
Eris—No, Elis Frisk, the man that Isometric was supposed to meet in the original loop. It was his building; he remembered the pictures that Wraith had shown him. It had been the next spot for him to investigate if Isometric hadn’t been at her own building.
The water flow increased several times over, and the rest of the glass panel window shattered outwards, followed by a torrent of water.
“That’s not a broken sink,” Loren said sullenly, moving in the direction of the building.
There was some apprehension there, approaching what most likely Liquid—or Raindancer, for that matter. He’d already been killed from proximity to them once before, and drowning hadn’t been fun. Either way, there was no reason for either of them to be flooding a building unless they were in a fight.
He ducked under the overhang at the bottom floor of the building and moved inside the building. The water was pouring down behind him. He opened the door to the stairwell warily, but no water was present—he moved quickly up the stairs, pausing by each of the doors and listening for water.
He could hear the sound of crashing and a voice calling for assistance—he saw a flash of pink hair and yanked his head back into the stairwell.
“Beat, we aren’t getting to her like this,” Arret said, panicked, “She’ll just hold out until reinforcements arrive.”
She—that meant it was Raindancer.
“Who the hell just destroys their own apartment?” Beat said exasperated, “This is bullshit—my power doesn’t fucking work if I’m swimming, and if I miss I’ll be stuck in there.”
The sound of Beat’s voice brought with it the pounding of adrenaline, and he found himself picturing the man dangling in the air, unable to breathe.
“Orient? We need—uh, who do we have that can swim fast?” Arret said quickly. “Cutaway, maybe?”
“Idiot,” Beat snorted, “Tell her to send Screener, or Archetype—that asshole can just zap her.”
“Don’t call me an idiot,” Arret protested, “You’re the one who wanted to go after her without a plan—”
“Does this look like the time to argue, girl?” Beat said exasperated, “Just tell her already.”
Loren stuck his head back out, eyes tingling, and he glared in the general direction of Arrets ear. The earpiece she was wearing gave a small crackle and exploded. Arret ripped it out of her ear with a yell of fright and pain.
“Beat!” Arret cried.
Loren repeated the same thing to Beat, but the man spotted him in the process. He shouted as his own earpiece exploded and then began to glow white. He pulled his head back into the stairwell and slammed the door before Arret could freeze him, and climbed up onto the railing of the stairs, balancing precariously.
Beat came through the wall in a blur of white, angling for where the stairs descended, expecting him to have gone downwards. None of the debris hit him as his eyes lit up with power, and a broken piece of rebar bounced off the ceiling and down into the palm of his hand.
Loren lifted it up as Arret stepped through the hole in the wall and threw it at her—it spun twice before hitting her on the nose, and she cried out in pain, clenching her eyes shut. He jumped off the railing towards her as Beat returned on an angle for the railing, passing through the spot he had just been in.
The piece of rebar bounced off her at the impact, and he snatched it out of the air, readjusted his grip, and then slammed it over her shoulder with a crack. Arret went down screaming, and he dragged her shirt up over her head and tied it in a messy knot.
He could hear Beat approaching more cautiously now.
“Hey now!” Beat called, “Let’s not do anything we might regret, okay?”
Loren dragged Arret back to her feet and held her in front of him; he stepped them both through the hole in the wall. Beat was standing by another hole in an apartment wall, water lapping around his feet.
“Get on your knees and put your hands on your head,” Loren said seriously, watching him for any signs of movement.
Beat waited a moment too long to comply, and he kicked Arrets knee from behind, sending her down face first to splash in the water, still tied up in her shirt. Beat scrambled down to his knees and stuck his hands behind his head.
“I’m down!” Beat insisted, panicked. “Get her up already.”
Loren dragged the pink-haired woman back up, and the water began to recede quickly. He felt horrible about treating her like this, but he also remembered that she had been the reason both he and Chloe had died—because he’d been stupid enough to show her mercy.
“Hey, you’re that guy,” The woman that could only be Raindancer said in relief, dressed in a very wet, very white tank top and black slacks. “Thanks for the help, man, though I was screwed for a minute there.”
Loren didn’t take his eyes off Beat as she stepped out of the apartment behind him, dripping wet.
“Did you call in back up yet?” Loren said quietly.
“I already tried,” Raindancer admitted, “They are busy dealing with a situation at HQ—Crescent is trying to break out her team.”
When it rained, it poured.