Setalite City Hero HQ, 7:22 PM.
Tuesday, February 22nd, 2022.
Before he’d even realized it, Loren had spent the rest of the day at the HQ. Between the training with Mongoose, the meeting with the Peacekeepers, and accompanying Alleviate to Iza’s location, he’d managed to completely lose track of time.
It had been one of the most productive days he’d had in recent memory; even if his optimism was eventually smacked down, and the whole martial arts thing didn’t carry over to the next loop, he would still feel this had gone far better than he’d imagined. A permanent solution to the pheromone situation felt like the invisible pressure that had been slowly crushing him had finally backed off—just a little.
“Well, my job is done here,” Alleviate said before tilting her head. “You’ll probably need me to do this again next time, right?”
Loren dragged himself out of his thoughts enough to answer, glancing over at Iza, who still sat on the bed.
“Yes,” Loren said, “Is there some way I can personally contact you at the start of the loop to get you to help me out with this? I know I have the Peacekeepers code phrase, but being able to call you up individually might prove way more efficient.”
Alleviate scratched her hair before shrugging.
“I’ll give you my number, but I’m really not one for codes and stuff.” Alleviate said, flashing him her contact details on her phone. “Just tell Wraith to pass it on to us with the other stuff, and I’ll drop by.”
Loren took them down to memorize later; as far as temperament went, Alleviate was on the same side of the scale as Emma in a way. Easy-going, laidback, with a take things as they came up attitude.
“When did you first get your powers?” Loren prompted, genuinely curious.
She seemed roughly his age, perhaps a few years his senior.
“Hmm? Oh, I got them during the battle against Starsealer, same as a lot of people,” Alleviate said, looking vaguely haunted. “I was just a normie working at a casino, and the first I’d heard of it was when the building started coming down on top of us during the fight.”
Loren nodded in understanding. It hadn’t been the first nor the last of attacks of that nature, but it had been one of the more notable. Starsealer, Levima, Marrow, and Monstrous were only a few of the tragedies that had happened across the city in recent memory, and he was now in a position to know that they weren’t even the last. Every time something happened on that level, there was a surge of people who awakened powers in response.
“One of the women who was at my table had her arm cut off when the roof came down—then there were bubbles everywhere!” Alleviate said it suddenly, waving her arms up. “I had no idea what was going on, but I was stuck in there for a while, so I figured it out eventually. The woman lived, but she lost most of her arm and then tried to sue me afterward for trying to heal her.”
Loren didn’t know what to say to that, but Iza shifted enough to draw their gaze, and she paused at the sudden attention.
“That’s when I got my powers as well,” Iza admitted, perhaps feeling pressured to explain her reaction. “That entire day was just—I sometimes wonder if I shouldn’t have just left Setalite after that.”
“I don’t think it’s much better anywhere else,” Loren mumbled, thinking about it all. “Ragrim City is gone now.”
“That was gone years ago,” Iza said archly, “I wouldn’t have gone there—Saltwall maybe?”
“Ah, yes.” Alleviate said, gathering her possessions and nodding to them. “Nothing bad has ever happened there. I’m out, cya!”
Loren snorted, and even Iza shook her head, amused.
“Thanks for fixing us up,” Loren said seriously.
“Don’t worry about it,” Alleviate said easily, brushing it off. “No more sleeping pills!”
Alleviate waved and shut the door behind her as she left, not even waiting for Iza’s own gratitude. Loren realized he was now standing in a small room, completely alone with Iza—he quickly opened the door once more and stepped through.
“I’ve got stuff to figure out for this whole time travel thing,” Loren said in explanation, “Stay safe, alright?”
“Hey, Loren?” Iza said quietly.
“Yes, Iza?” Loren said hesitantly, watching her from the door.
“Did you ever think about me?” Iza said murmured. “After?”
Loren studied her for a long while—the early interactions with her had changed his view on the world fundamentally. It had opened his eyes in many ways, but it had also stripped away what was left of his trust in adults and authority figures.
Loren had spent an uncountable amount of time thinking about her—how ironic was it that she’d spent all that time thinking about him as well.
“All the time,” Loren admitted, quietly shutting the door.
Loren left the room and its occupant behind, thinking about everything. He found himself growing worried despite himself—he likely wouldn’t be able to tell with Alana, given she would be wearing her armor. But everybody else he encountered would be without the filter of the pheromones.
He’d spent years with them there, and suddenly they were gone—would people treat him differently now? Had the personality he’d developed in response to how everyone treated him no longer hold up under social settings? Would his jokes no longer land? Would his words upset those he had grown close to? Would his personality be revealed to be as shallow as he feared in the moments he was left all alone?
The janitor mopping the hallway moved his cleaning cart to the side to let him pass, and he nodded to the man in thanks, unwilling to speak.
He made it down to the next floor and was halfway to Alana’s office before he realized that something had been missing from that exchange. He slowed his pace, lengthening the time it would take him to reach his destination, frowning.
Loren was well aware of the man’s identity—He’d seen the pictures of him before, and he knew that he had yet to be cleared of suspicion and was still under covert investigation. Nothing had been strange about the man’s actions, not really, coincidence perhaps that it had been on the same floor that he was on, but it was the man’s job.
Loren came to a stop outside of Alana’s office.
He played the man’s actions over in his mind again, closing his eyes to concentrate. The janitor had spotted him coming and had leaned back to grab the handle of the cart, pulling it towards him and onto his side of the hallway.
Nothing strange about it—why did it feel like something was missing? The door opened, revealing Alana in her armor.
“Is there a reason you’re standing perfectly still outside my office?” Alana said curiously, “You didn’t knock.”
Loren opened his mouth for a moment and then closed it. He stared at her armored hand, pressed against the door, widening the space slightly.
“Loren?” Alana said, concerned.
“I can’t copy your movements,” Loren said slowly.
“Of course you can’t,” Alana said hesitantly, “You cannot see my body while I am inside my armor; we discovered this earlier today, do you not remember?”
Loren turned to stare at the elevator at the end of the hallway before turning his gaze upward to the ceiling.
“I couldn’t copy the janitor’s movements either,” Loren said strangely. “Mathew Kline has powers.”
The meeting took minutes to organize, and soon they were all standing inside the room. Loren hovered at the edge of the room, doing his best to remain out of the way. Mongoose was noticeable by her complete absence, but Gradient stood by the door with his arms crossed, staring at the ground.
There was a noticeable tension in the room that had nothing to do with the reason for the meeting, and Loren eyed them all warily.
“Wraith?” Tag said, breaking the silence. “What’s the situation?”
Fracture, the last to enter, moved from his place by the door to stand next to her.
“You are all aware we are currently investigating one Mathew Kline for criminal involvement with an unknown outside party. Mathew has now been discovered to possess powers,” Wraith said calmly, watching them. “We do not know what form the powers have taken or how long he has had them.”
Raindancer looked surprised by the topic but relatively uninvested.
“What?” Secluded said flatly, clearly on edge. “The only reason I went along with this was that you said it was to clear him of suspicion. I’ve known Mathew for years—he’s never shown any indication of having powers before.”
“I haven’t known him that long, but I speak to him all the time as well,” Tag added, concerned, “I haven’t seen him do anything suspicious—How do you know he has powers? What’s the rationale?”
“Loren,” Wraith said, not in answer, but as a request.
Loren moved up to join them, hovering at the edge of the group and opposite Gradient, feeling like he was intruding as their collective gaze fell upon him.
“Any movement a person makes that I can clearly see, I can copy perfectly, and it’s a very noticeable sensation.” Loren said in explanation, “I can copy every single person in this room, through your costumes, and through video footage, as long as I have a good visual of your body.”
He wasn’t sure exactly where the line was drawn between full-body latex and full-body armor, but it was there somewhere.
“The only person I’ve seen that I can’t copy is Wraith, and I’m guessing it’s because her armor completely blocks her actual body from sight,” Loren explained, “However, the uniqueness of her ability to frustrate me is no longer unique; When I passed by Mathew Kline earlier, my power didn’t work on him.”
There were some glances tossed about, but they seemed to take the information seriously.
“Loren, could it be that his uniform crosses whatever your threshold is—” Tag tried before realizing how weak the argument was. “No, that doesn’t make sense because it works on full-body costumes—never mind.”
Tag trailed off, but Secluded bounced off the argument, taking a different track.
“Perhaps it’s a defensive power of some kind—something that cancels other powers passively,” Secluded said pointedly, “It may be that Mathew had the power for a while but doesn’t even know it’s there.”
He remembered Secluded’s comments on the man’s ‘well-maintained body’ in the other loop and how he kept himself in shape. It had given him the impression that the two of them had perhaps dated in the past or were even currently involved in some manner.
“You’ve never used your power on him?” Loren wondered.
“Spicy,” Raindancer cut in with a laugh, seemingly unaffected by the building tension.
It was a bit inappropriate to mention that in front of the group, but if he had power like that, he’d definitely have used it to have some fun with a willing partner. Secluded grew flustered at the unexpected comments, and it hadn’t gone unnoticed by any of the others.
“I—yes. Okay, I have used my power on him before, and it worked.” Secluded amended, vaguely defensive at being caught arguing in bad faith. “That doesn’t completely discount the idea; it could be an immunity more specifically aligned towards visual powers like your copy ability, or something else entirely—Look, Mathew is a good guy, just because he might have powers doesn’t mean he’s the leak those two things aren’t mutually exclusive.”
“Dude, you’re a total Mathew simp,” Raindancer accused, grinning. “If he is the leak, then what? Are you going to become his lawyer next? Give him that pro bono because he gave you the prone bone’o—”
“Oh my god,” Secluded said, flushing completely.
Loren did his best not to laugh despite himself, but the battle was hard-fought.
“Shut up, youdumbass.” Tag managed, trying and failing to hide her smile.
“Lanette,” Fracture said, exasperated. “Please try to be serious.”
Raindancer shrugged like she’d done nothing wrong.
“Can we move this along?” Gradient said flatly, the humor unable to penetrate his bad mood. “Is he still in the building?”
“Yes,” Alana said, nodding. “He is still on the medical floor.”
“Share the feed.” Gradient said, without feeling, “See if it was a fluke or if Loren can use his power now.”
Alana turned, and a small black protrusion rose from the shoulder of her suit, projecting a crystal clear image of an upstairs hallway on the wall behind her. Loren stepped forward and watched for a moment—but he still felt nothing. He turned back and made sure his power was working on those in the room with him before trying once more.
“I’m not getting anything from the feed,” Loren admitted. “Can you bring up a second one—this room will work; I can compare the two, see if I get anything from the other one.”
Another protrusion and a second feed appeared—Loren looked between the now-waving Raindancer as she spun to find the camera and Mathew cleaning the hallway. Raindancer’s motions were as clear as day to his copy-sense, and still nothing from Mathew.
“I’m picking up everyone in this room fine, but I’m not getting anything from him,” Loren said honestly. “He definitely has some kind of power.”
“Mathew failed to disclose that he had powers when he joined the hero agency as a member of the support staff. He signed legal documents to that effect when he joined, just like everybody else does.” Gradient said, “That makes him a criminal—we need to take him in now; we can figure out if he’s the leak afterward.”
It was clear that he had already made up his mind on the subject; Raindancer seemed to be on board with it as well, judging by her easy nod of agreement—That wasn’t the case for the others, though.
“Hold on!” Secluded snapped. “We don’t need to rush this, Mark—let’s just talk to him first. We can ask him if he’s willing to undergo some tests to determine what his power is—we don’t need to go in hard on this one.”
The undercurrent of tension that had been hiding in the room revealed itself, no longer content to stay in the shadows.
“And if he isn’t willing to go along with it?” Gradient shot back, “What If he’s aware of his powers, and he is the leak? What if he’s been actively working against us this entire time? We will have lost our advantage over him; the bomb may be gone already, but that doesn’t mean this guy doesn’t have a backup plan—and he’s in on the plan to kill us all; stop treating this so casually.”
“You’re already treating him like he’s the bad guy, without even talking to him first.” Tag said, frowning, “He may still be an innocent.”
“This isn’t the time to argue—” Alana tried, but they ignored her completely.
Gradient’s attempt at maintaining civility vanished entirely.
“Real cute, Skye! That’s what I said to you about Louis, wasn’t it?” Gradient snapped, raising his voice. “How interesting that you didn’t give a shit about it then—what’s so different now? Is it because he’s your friend this time—fuck you.”
Tag flinched but lashed out in return.
“It’s different! We knew that Louis was planning it!” Tag said, shocked, “We have a fucking time traveler feeding us information!”
“That doesn’t mean he was going to do it this time!” Gradient shouted, stepping forward and stabbing his finger at her. “I could have talked to him—made him understand! You all just abandoned Louis for something he hasn’t even done yet! You’re playing at being the fucking thought police—”
“Mark, look—we’re all stressed, but we haven’t abandoned Louis at all; you know we’re seeking rehabilitation.” Fracture said gently, interjecting. “Nobody wants—”
“Fuck off, Erin,” Gradient snapped, startling the man, “Always the voice of reason, aren’t you—after everything’s already been dealt with, grow a fucking backbone! You stood there like a coward while our friend was thrown in a cell.”
Fracture looked genuinely hurt.
“He was planning the murder of four people! You’re arguing for leniency for Louis, but here you are, ready to put Mathew in a cell with no proof.” Secluded said furiously, “You’re slipping, Mark—Leena, should have stayed; we can do better than you.”
Loren noted the hypocritical nature of her argument but didn’t speak up—if Mathew was the leak, then he was complicit in planning the murder of an entire building full of people and the rest of the city as well.
Leniency, in that case, would be better served for the lesser crime—Dovetail.
“Eloise—” Alana reprimanded, most likely noticing it as well.
She did have time to finished, as Mark spun around on his heel and booted the door open, shattering the locking mechanism—he caught the door on its backswing and looked back at them.
“Bunch of real heroes, aren’t you? Sit here and defend your criminal fuck buddy all you want, Eloise—I’m going to go do our fucking job and stop the guy who is trying to kill everyone in Setalite.” Mark said, absolutely livid. “Then, I’m putting in for reassignment—I’ve had about enough of you fucking hypocrites.”
The door smashed into the frame as he left and swung open again as the lock failed to catch.
Secluded snarled, making for the door, but Alana’s hand clamped down on her shoulder. Loren hadn’t even seen her move; he’d place it more at the feet of his own distraction than her stealth this time.
“Fracture, assist Gradient. Make sure he stays non-lethal.” Alana said icily, “Everyone else, stay where you are.”
Fracture was out the door in under a second, a long rectangle on his back already unfolding in a series of complex motions and taking shape as his energy rifle. There were a few tense moments where Loren expected Alana to disappear into Secluded’s inner realm.
Alana eventually let go of her shoulder, and Secluded stayed still—the clenched fists spoke of great effort.
“Well shit,” Raindancer said belatedly as the door swung closed again. “That didn’t go well.”
Loren glanced up at the projection on the wall, just in time to see Mathew Kline vanish into thin air, along with all of his cleaning equipment.
“He’s gone,” Loren said belatedly.
Another one down!
Reroll – Some of the commission character artwork is now up on the wiki; Rapid Response Team, Ogre, Outplayed, Sparklite, Wildcard. So go check it out. Discord roles for Reroll now available for Patrons as well.
Contention – Been working on a map for the new story, making sure I know where everything is before I start writing. Got some interesting stuff here, slowly figuring out the biome for the island the story begins on. Creatures, resources, etc.
Reroll – Chapter 61 – Updated
Ameliorate – Chapter 8.