Chapter 14

Secure Cell, Hero HQ, 7:52 PM.
Tuesday, February 22nd​, 2022.

Loren blinked and immediately recoiled from the bright light above him, holding his hand up in to partially block the falling glass—but it didn’t explode.

It took a moment longer before he could take in his surroundings, and he realized that he hadn’t died; he was sitting in a cell, on a single bed. The cell glittered in the low light, the thick metal bars made from some unknown dark metal that caught the light. There was a wide gap between the cell and the walls of whatever building he was in—most likely the basement of the Hero HQ, given who had found him.

He sat up on the bed and studied his cell—A foam mattress, with a thin sheet, and a pillow—That was all of the things he had at his disposal. His clothing was a simple white shirt and white shorts, completely different from what he had been wearing at his house.

That meant that Wraith had seen him naked.

“Wraith, you pervert,” Loren muttered, looking around for anything else in the room.

It was completely empty, and the only other thing of note was the electronic sliding door to the cell.

There was no locking mechanism on the inside, but he could reach through the bars; he wouldn’t be able to get his head through, though. There was also a rectangular metal box shape running away from the bottom of it and through the floor, which must have been where it received power from.

Well, shit, they hadn’t even given him a toilet.

“Ugh.” Loren groaned, lying back on the bed. “How the fuck did you even find me?”

There was no reply, but he hadn’t expected there to be one.

Had he accidentally stepped on a tracking device or something? Led them straight back to his home? He hadn’t seen anything like that, even after he’d gotten changed on his return. Wraith wouldn’t have had anything to link up to this time, like the homunculi, in order to follow the connection back to his house either.

Mongoose had touched him several times during his escape attempt; could she have marked him somehow? If that was the case, why had she fallen for his ruse and ‘chased’ him out of the door? None of them would have gotten a good look at his face either, so even if there had been cameras in the office, they wouldn’t have been able to see his face.

No, wait.

There had been a moment when he was without his mask, right at the start of the mission, when he was standing at the traffic lights before he froze time. Loren groaned again; he was such an idiot; his failure to stick to his own plan had gotten him captured.

He had picked a specific pose, easy to remember and replicate before he froze time so that he could return to his place on the street after he had delivered the letter and then continue on like nothing had happened after he restarted the world.

“I never went back,” Loren buried his face in his hands.

There would have been cameras in the area, and if anyone had checked them, they would have shown a man suddenly disappear from right in front of the building. A man who wasn’t wearing a mask, a man who’s face was clear to see. If he had managed to make it back, nobody would have been able to tell he had even moved.

“Hoisted by my own petard,” Loren said wryly, staring up at the light on the ceiling. “Why didn’t I stick to the god damned plan?”

A wall suddenly slid open with an almost silent hiss, and Wraith in his segmented armor stepped through; Loren sat up and stared at the man warily as he approached the cell.

“Loren Parker, twenty-one, commission-based artist, no prior convictions, no suspicious activity, and nothing to suggest you might have been a superhuman before today.” Wraith said sternly, “How have you come to know what you do?”

Well, that was terrifying, and coming face to face with the man who had slaughtered both Emma and himself wasn’t a nice experience—hero or not.

“About the bombs?” Loren guessed hesitantly, “I stumbled on them a couple of days ago.”

“When, exactly?” Wraith said curtly.

“Yesterday,” Loren offered.

“You are lying,” Wraith said without heat, “We already know your whereabouts for the entire week; you never approached the area in the city you have claimed to find explosives—you found out about them with a different method.”

Loren was starting to get pissed off.

“Have you disarmed them yet?” Loren said, annoyed, “Did you tell anyone about them?”

Wraith completely ignored his questions.

“I have thoroughly investigated your apartment building while you were sleeping off the tranquilizer.” Wraith said blandly, “Two known villains were found to be living under their civilian identities within five floors of your residence. Both of them have been detained, tell me; how long have you known them for?”

Two Villains? What? Emma was obviously one of those, but who was the second one? It’s not like I knew everybody in the building though, there might have been more of them if that was the case.

“I don’t know either of them,” Loren said calmly. “I don’t even know who you are refereeing to?”

“You are lying,” Wraith said once more, “We’ve found numerous…drawings of one of them in some very alarming scenarios, all stored on your personal computer-”

Loren almost choked.

“Hold on a second!” Loren yelped, “I get commissions to draw almost every superhero and villain on a regular basis! I’m an artist, man, that’s what I do! That’s totally not incriminating or anything—wait, are you even allowed to go into my computer in the first place?”

Wraith watched him for a moment.

“You left it unlocked—if you had locked it, you would be correct,” Wraith said evenly. “You have poor operational security.”

Loren couldn’t believe the balls on this guy, superhero or not, he wasn’t going to let anybody call him out like this.

“Just so you know, as soon as I get out of here,” Loren said meanly, “Fem-Wraith is going to be making an appearance online very, very soon, in an extremely explicit comic starring Tentacular-Man.”

Wraith tilted his head slightly but made no further move to follow up on that comment; Loren took it as a complete and total surrender on his part.

“Your ability is extraordinarily potent,” Wraith said steadily, watching him. “How long have you been able to stop time?”

Loren frowned; the guy had even managed to figure out his power—he’d been hoping that it had been mistaken for a line of sight teleportation, maybe with physical obstruction-restrictions—but Wraith had nailed it, and he hadn’t even been the one to fight him.

“Wrong, my power has nothing to do with time. It’s a one-second burst of Super Speed, idiot.” Loren taunted, “Mongoose tell you that? That’s hilarious—imagine getting it so totally wrong.”

“You are lying,” Wraith said simply.

Did this jackass have a lie detector? Or was he bluffing? There might have been another hero with that power listening in or something as well.

“I’m not,” Loren said easily.

“You had to resort to having Mongoose open the door for you because you couldn’t interact with it yourself,” Wraith said without a change in tone. “All the while, you hid in my locker.”

Loren opened his mouth to shut him down but had to scramble to think up a logical reason as to why he’d done it like that.

“I wanted to look around your office more, so I had to get her to leave,” Loren said carefully, “So I tricked her into thinking I had left.”

“You are lying,” Wraith said patiently. “If your power was super speed, you would have had more then enough time to perform the same ruse in your initial move to open the door, but you had to drop out of your ‘Super Speed’ to open it while later on, you had enough time to open my drawer, remove the tape, restrain Mongoose and then tie her to the door; instead of simply opening it and hiding inside the locker, which would have been much, much simpler to accomplish and would have had the exact same effect on her.”

Loren stared at the armored hero, dumbfounded.

“More damning than that, you wouldn’t have hidden inside the locker, to begin with when you arrived in my office—You disappeared from in front of the building, and arrived outside my office instantly before letting yourself in, then you proceeded to drop a letter on my desk before hiding in my locker for almost ten minutes.” Wraith said evenly, “Your power has a time limit before you can reactivate it, likely tied to however long you spend using it.”

“Oh, fuck off.” Loren said, genuinely annoyed, “It took me all morning to figure that out, and you just magically know it after just watching a clip of a ten-second scuffle? That’s such bullshit, you need a nerf—this patch sucks.”

Wraith tilted his head again but didn’t respond.

“Look, you have the letter,” Loren said, frustrated, “There’s no way you haven’t read it yet; you know there’s some kind of crazy person trying to blow up the city, you know that there’s an information leak here somewhere that will cause the bomber to set them off early.”

Wraith simply watched.

“I know it’s not you; as far as I’m concerned, you are in the clear—otherwise, I wouldn’t have brought the message to you specifically,” Loren snapped, “Just tell me you are going to look into the god damn bombs and try to stop whoever this is?”

Wraith didn’t say anything for a long while, just studying him.

“You’ve only had your power since this morning,” Wraith said calmly, “Yet you somehow know of the existence of these devices, and that there is an enemy infiltrator somewhere in the building, you are somehow sure it isn’t me, despite us having never interacted before.”

Loren felt like banging his head against the bars of his cell; he just wanted to know if he could repeat this in the future—more carefully, and with a safer power perhaps. If he could confirm that Wraith could handle this without half the city dieing, then he could move on trying to figure out some of the other problems.

“You are also substantially less worried then a person in your situation should be, given the current circumstances, you are not afraid of being confined at all,” Wraith said intently, “You don’t even seem to be particularly worried about the explosives, given you’ve indicated that there is one hidden in this very building, that is very telling.”

Loren was once again dumbfounded as the hero dismantled him; Wraith might have been a dickward, but the hero was brilliant.

“You most likely have a way to remove yourself from this situation or to avoid the consequences somehow,” Wraith deduced, “You haven’t done so yet, which suggests you either can’t, you don’t want to, or that you haven’t fulfilled your purpose here.”

“My purpose is to know whether or not I need to leave the city because it’s going to explode—come on, man,” Loren said, frustrated.

Wraith simply turned to head for the door, neither confirming nor denying he would do anything and thus forcing me to stick around to watch the events unfold.

“Male-Mongoose is now the third character in that comic,” Loren called after him, but he didn’t reply. “I hope you like barbeque! Because there’s going to be a spit roast!”

Common Cell, Hero HQ, 12:34 AM.
Wednesday, February 22nd​, 2022.

The next time he woke up, he was in what appeared to be a more common cell block; the room was larger and filled with a series of other cells, each with a gap wide enough that they wouldn’t be able to reach one another.

They had apparently judged him as unable to escape from a locked room, even with the power to stop time—He almost felt personally attacked at the idea; he was going to show them why they shouldn’t underestimate him.

They had handcuffed him, though, but it was simple to step over the chain and bring it up in front of him.

“Hey, you!” A voice called from the cell that bordered his. “You’re finally awake.”

Loren turned to study the man; he was exceedingly familiar—the tattoo’s on his face revealed him as a man who lived in his building; he’d seen him on the stairs once.

“You live downstairs from me. Looks like I got you caught up in my shit.” The guy said, frowning, “Sorry, guy.”

Loren blinked. What?

“What’s your name?” Loren said honestly, having no idea.

“My identity is basically non-existent now anyway; too many people saw me without a mask earlier. My name’s Aston, or Serpentine if you want—I don’t care what you call me,” Aston said, annoyed. “They have that blonde chick from our building in here as well, at the end of the row; who is she?”

“I don’t know, man.” Loren said, shrugging, “I don’t even know why I’m here.”

“I dunno why you’re here either,” Aston said, frowning. “Might have thought we were connected somehow.”

Loren remembered that ‘Serpentine’ had been the man fighting Dovetail this morning, near the coffee shop.

“I saw your fight this morning, or part of it anyway,” Loren said curiously. “I didn’t realize Dovetail actually managed to catch you.”

“That murderous piece of shit didn’t catch me,” Ashton snarled. “I fucking put that cunt in the ground.”

Loren had no idea what to say to such a blatant admission of murder and stared at the man without comprehension.

“You killed Dovetail? That wasn’t on the news…” Loren managed to force out. “Even if you’re a villain, why would you kill a hero? That’s just asking-”

“That fucker wasn’t a hero, man,” Aston bared his teeth; he had two slightly sharper teeth pointing down. “The cunt killed Stalk and Piston, not even five minutes before he went after me—I’m not fucking around either—we were doing a job, and he just went lethal straight out of the gates.”

Loren couldn’t think of an appropriate response to that. What the fuck was going on in this city?

Common Cell, Hero HQ, 1:56 AM.
Wednesday, February 22nd​, 2022.

Loren was growing increasingly more restless, and the woman across from him, who was pacing back and forth muttering, wasn’t helping him.

He’d tried to think of a way to exit the room and had even tried several ideas, none of which had worked.

The first thing he had done was drag the sliding door into the time stop with him, hoping it would interrupt the connection–nothing had happened when he released it once more, and the door remained firmly closed. He’d tried bringing the metal rectangle thing he had identified as the power container with him, and the door hadn’t moved. He tried bringing both the cell door and the power box into the time stop before releasing either of them to no avail; it refused to move.

His repeated testing had shown him that he could selectively bring sections of objects into the time stop with him while leaving other parts out—but that didn’t mean he had anywhere near enough strength in order to make use of that facet.

He’d tried freezing a ruler sized piece of the cell bars and kicked it, but it hadn’t budged in the slightest— he’d had the idea about an hour ago to try and break out of his handcuffs. So he had torn a piece of his shirt up into a strip and picked at it until he found a long piece of thread, much to Serpentine’s confusion.

Loren left the thread frozen in the air along with the rest of the world and then dragged the chain of his cuffs against it until they finally snapped. It had taken him much, much longer than he had expected, and he would need to wait almost an hour before he could use it again.

“You have a power?” Aston said, surprised. “I thought you were a normie.”

While it had taken almost an hour to wear away at the link from his perspective, it had taken only an instant from Aston’s. Loren was tired from the constant sawing motion and just lay on the floor for a while, recovering.

“Yeah, I do.” Loren managed after a while, “What can you do, Aston?”

“Bunch of shit,” Aston said easily, tugging his sleeve up. “Can’t use any of it in here with this thing on.”

A black band of metal around his wrist, two inches wide.

“Why haven’t I got one of those?” Loren asked, frowning.

They were treating him like a complete non-threat, and it was starting to really piss him off; he had broken into this building and got out again already. Did they seriously think he wasn’t going to get out!?

“I’ve been in a bunch of times, nothing this serious before though, just theft and shit,” Serpentine shrugged, “Guess they finally figured out how to shut me down; last time I could still use my venom, but even that isn’t running anymore.”

Oh—maybe they weren’t underestimating him; they just didn’t know how to stop his power yet. On the other hand, I’d already shown difficulty escaping a room whose only security was a closed-door, so maybe an electrified cage was a decent containment option.

“If that thing was turned off, could you get out of the cell?” Loren inquired, already turning his mind to the task.

He wasn’t alone here; he could sway others to his side, free them of the restraints and have them free him. He didn’t particularly like the idea of releasing a self-professed murderer, but he needed to get out.

He would have to investigate and see if Dovetail really insane at some point, one more thing on his ever-growing list of things to do.

“Yeah, I could just slip through the bars,” Serpentine said easily, before reaching out and touching the bars in his cell, before pulling his hand back with a yelp. “Maybe not, that fucking hurt—first time for that as well.”

If Aston could get through the bars, he could reach the power box that he could see through the window to the next room. Loren had one tool at his disposal, so he was going to have to work out how to use it to solve multiple problems.

The first one was the bracelet—and Loren had an idea.

“Right, I’m getting out of here, and I’m going to save that blonde chick too,” Loren said evenly. “I have one question—Aston, are you coming with us?”

Aston grinned.