Chapter 15

Common Cell, Hero HQ, 2:55 AM.
Wednesday, February 22nd​, 2022.

“Alright,” Serpentine said, grinning, “What do you need me to do?”

I nodded and started tying the torn pieces of my shirt together into a long cord.

“First thing we need to do is get that bracelet off,” Loren said easily, tying off the third piece and judging the distance between the cells. “Try and snag the rope through your cell bars.”

Loren carefully stuck his hand between the bars of his own cell, making sure not to touch the buzzing metal, and tried to toss the rope across. It landed just short of Aston’s cell, but the man very carefully slid his own hand through and snagged the edge with his fingertips before pulling it back into his own.

“Alright, I haven’t tried this with another person before, so if it doesn’t work, we will figure something else out,” Loren instructed, “Just stand still; I’m going to use my power.”

The buzzing of the bars cut out a moment later as Loren used the connection to the other man to drag him into the time stop with him, making sure to leave the bracelet behind in the frozen world.

“You could probably tell me what it is first—huh,” Aston said strangely, staring at his hand. “What did you do? My powers are back.”

Aston tugged his hand but failed to move it from within the immovable power-dampening bracelet before his hand suddenly writhed, thinning out and slipping out of the bracelet before returning to normal.

“Well, that was easy,” Aston said impressed, “What’s next? I still won’t be able to pass through the bars with all that electricity.”

“It’s frozen; you can touch it without worry—just don’t let go of the rope,” Loren said seriously, reaching out to touch his own cell bars in a demonstration. “See?”

Aston looked even more impressed as he touched the bars experimentally, and his eyebrows disappeared into his heavily tattooed brow.

“Damn, man,” Aston whistled as he squeezed through the bars, his body deforming through them like he was made of playdough. “You hit the jackpot, huh? What’s the next step? I don’t think you’ll be fitting through these bars?”

Loren nodded.

“Two different things I can think of,” Loren said easily, “We make a longer rope and free the blonde girl—I have a feeling her power might be more useful here than my own—or we try to shut the power off to the cells.”

Aston glanced down the hall towards where he had suggested the ‘blonde girl’ was before humming.

“You can see through that window over there,” Loren pointed out the large pane of glass on the opposite side of the room, “There’s a circuit box on the other side; think you can get through the door?”

Aston grinned and nodded in agreement.

“Alright,” Loren confirmed, “I’m going to drop my power.”

Aston dropped his end of the rope and froze before Loren let his power end.

“Hey, what did you say your name was again?” Aston called back, moving towards the circuit box.

“Loren,” Loren said easily.

Loren watched as the man fiddled with the door handle for a moment and was zapped for his efforts. Aston swore, before taking a step back; he rolled his shoulders, stepped forward, and front kicked the door. The man must have had some measure of super-strength because the door practically exploded off its frame and disappeared into the room.

He appeared behind the glass window a moment later, prodding at the power box. He seemingly got frustrated because a moment later, he just dug his fingers in behind it and tore the entire thing off the wall in a shower of sparks and a screech of metal.

The lights flickered and died, along with the buzzing in the bars as every single cell door in the room slid open. A faded red light illuminated the room—a siren started up.

Loren gritted his teeth, as once again, everything seemed to go wrong. He hadn’t intended to free every single criminal down here; this was going to draw so much attention, it would be an incredible surprise if the leak didn’t report all of this to whoever was setting off the explosions.

He stepped out of the cell at the same time as the woman who was pacing frantically across from him—She cackled and fled the room, straight out of the door at the end of the row, followed by most of the others that were in the cells.

“Well, that seemed to work!” Aston laughed as he came to a stop beside him, “That should keep them busy enough while we escape.”

Loren just nodded and started moving towards where he had indicated Emma had been earlier. He spotted her a few moments later, waiting at the door of her cell, bracelet wrapped around her arm.

“Loren?” Emma said, watching him closely.

Aston frowned.

“I thought you said you didn’t know her?” Aston said, surprised.

Loren was once again reminded that Emma had somehow known who he was long before he had ever spoken to her—She had also admitted to tracking his whereabouts with her bioelectricity sense as well—That passive sense didn’t explain how she knew his name, however.

“I don’t,” Loren confirmed; in this loop, they had never spoken.

Emma flinched.

“How does she know your name, then?” Aston demanded.

“I have no idea, man,” Loren said incredulously, “We have more important things to worry about right now anyway! Blonde girl, give me your hand.”

It took an effort of will to not call her by her name, but despite the situation, Emma didn’t even hesitate before holding her hand out. Loren snagged it and dragged her into the time stop, leaving the bracelet and Aston behind.

“What is—what happened to him?” Emma said, shocked, “What did you do?”

If he didn’t have the cooldown to worry about, he would have taken his time in explaining everything to her, but he might need to use it again in a few seconds; for all he knew, Wraith was waiting on the other side of the door.

“Time stop, can’t use it for long,” Loren summarised, “I left the bracelet out; can you get out of it?”

Emma started tugging her hand, but the bracelet remained unmoving, and her hand couldn’t quite compress enough to escape it.

“It’s too small,” Emma managed, still pulling.

“The power blocking aspect of it is gone. Can you charge up an attack and hit it just as I drop the time stop?” Loren suggested, “You’ll only have a fraction of a second.”

Emma’s hand started crackling as she started focusing her power there, and Loren had to step back as arcs of electricity flashed out, tendrils reaching outwards.

“Count of three?” Emma said quietly, “One, two, three—”

Loren dropped the timestop, and Emma’s bracelet exploded into fragments. He barely managed to twist away like a piece of the metal cut across his face, tearing a red line along his cheek.

“Fucking give me some warning first!” Aston snarled, but he was far enough away that he hadn’t been struck by any of the debris.

“Fuck.” Loren hissed, holding his hand up to his cheek.

“Sorry!” Emma said horrified.

“It doesn’t matter,” Loren said quickly, “Let’s get the hell out of here before Wraith turns up again.”

Aston was on board with that idea because he strode past them towards the door and palmed the doors open—Loren and Emma both hot on his heels. The doors led to a long hallway with a series of branches, and when he peeked down one, he saw each had an unadorned door.

“Either of you knows where to go?” Aston said offhandedly.

“Up is my best guess,” Loren admitted.

“There are people moving up a staircase, that way? And a single person standing at the top.” Emma said, indicating the area. “There’s another one—further away—that way, with three people at the top.”

The singular person could be Wraith or another strong hero who was comfortable holding that area by themselves against a number of opponents. The three at the other staircase were likely weaker individually.

“We should follow the group,” Aston said easily. “Safety in numbers and all that.”

Loren shook his head.

“If that’s Wraith at the top, none of them are getting out that way; we should try and fight our way past the three on the other side,” Loren said firmly.

“Ten people verse one hero seems like much better odds than three of us verse three heroes,” Aston argued. “Wraith is a sneaky bitch, but we can slip past in the fighting.”

A sneaky bitch? Did this guy even know who he was talking about?

“Wraith could single-handedly destroy half the people in this damn building with just pure melee,” Loren said incredulously, “I’m not going near that menace with a hundred-foot dick!”

Aston laughed at the phrase and turned to Emma.

“Well, blondie—you’re the tiebreaker.” Aston grinned, “We going left or right?”

Emma glanced down the hall before biting her lip.

“Right,” Emma said hesitantly.

“Hah!” Loren bragged, “She likes me more, idiot.”

“Fuck off!” Aston barked out a laugh. “Fine, three on three—let’s go.”

They slipped through the hallways, and Emma started disabling the camera’s before he turned the corner to try and remove any additional intel they were receiving on their location. It wouldn’t really matter in the long run; the destruction of the cameras would show where they were going easy enough.

The door to the staircase came into view, and they stepped inside carefully, trying not to make any noise. Loren peeked out and up the stairwell; a bright light right at the top was all that he could see besides the many levels of the building.

“Can’t see anything,” Loren admitted, “Are they still waiting up top?”

“Yes,” Emma said easily, “The other group seems to be moving back down the stairs down, away from whoever it was.”

Yeah fuck that; Wraith was broken.

“Let’s go before they end up coming all the way here then!” Aston said, grinning, starting up the stairs.

If the hero’s plan was to tire them out before they even reached the top—well, it was working on Loren more than the other two, but he didn’t have any kind of physical enhancement to aid him, so he didn’t feel at all bad about it.

The levels passed by quickly, with only Emma providing several updates on the location of the other group. They had been pressed almost entirely back to the bottom floor once more at this point, and whoever the lone hero was slowly moving downward.

“They’re moving towards the door!” Emma called as they reached the top floor. “Incoming!”

They stopped just as the door smashed inwards, missing them entirely before tumbling down the stairwell.

“Well, they aren’t fucking around,” Loren said nervously, “Three-two-one-go!”

Loren froze the world and moved out into the room, immediately stopping and turning around, heading back to the stairwell.

“Wait!” Loren called as he unfroze the world.

The other two stumbled at the beginning of their attack.

“What—” Emma said, shocked.

“There’s a bunch of sticky looking ropes crisscrossing the room,” Loren explained quickly, “There’s also a guy with a glowing rifle on the right side of the room, kneeling on a desk, behind a cubicle, he’s aiming straight at the door.”

The cooldown to his power had already returned, and he chose his target.

“I’ll go after the rifle guy—wait until you hear a commotion before you come in; it’s unlikely that he is a melee guy if he’s running around using a gun,” Loren said quickly. “You guys get the other two, I didn’t see them, but one is probably responsible for the ropes—don’t get caught.”

Loren froze the world again and stepped back outside—the room was much the same, a dozen or more cubicles, some pot plants, and glass windows showing the city outside. The guy with the rifle had moved to the next desk over, for reasons unknown. He stepped over the frozen ropes, picking his way across the room, and then strode past the guy with the rifle and hid inside the next cubicle.

“They are still in the stairwell,” The guy with the rifle said calmly, “They must have seen the traps or the door scared them off.”

There was a faint noise from across the room, that might have been someone responding quietly, but he couldn’t make it out. The cooldown was slowly ticking over, and he had no intention of moving until he had it back—he knew he had no chance in a fight against a trained hero without it.

The man was wearing a bodysuit, likely resistance to any kind of slashing or stabbing attacks, not that Loren had either the will or the tools to attempt such a thing on the man. What he did have at his disposal were his surroundings.

He needed something heavy, but something that he could lift by hand.

The second his cooldown was back, he slowly moved over to the nearest potted plant; it was large, filled with soil, and didn’t look impossible to lift.

“Tag,” The man said pointedly. “Did you hear that?”

Loren froze the world just as he got his hand on the pot plant, dragging it up off the ground and manhandling it over to the desk. He dropped it on the desk next to the man and climbed up after it, moving as quickly as he could.

He lifted it up into the air, above the man’s extended leg, and dropped it; it froze in the air a moment before it landed on his leg—Loren sprinted across the room into a different cubicle and hid under the desk.

“Fuck!” A man screamed, followed by the shattering of the pot. “One of thems in here—lookout!”

A flash of electricity surged through the middle of the ropes, tearing them into pieces that rained down onto the floor and into the wall two meters from his face. Loren threw himself down as the arc cut across the room, and a buzzing noise rang out, followed by a crash as the rifle was discharged.

Loren snagged a paperweight from the desk above him and sprinted out of the cubicle towards the guy with the rifle again. The man was slumped against the cubicle wall now, looking directly at him, rifle cradled in his arms.

He tossed the paperweight as hard as he could and then froze the world the second the rifle moved towards him; even with the speed of his movement, he still only barely managed it. A glowing orb of red hung between them in the air, and he stepped to the side out of its path before unfreezing the world.

He froze it again in panic and a second shot hovered right in front of his face—he ducked under it, sprinted towards the man, and jumped. He unfroze the world just as his feet slammed into the man’s helmet, sending him rocking back into the cubicle wall before the weak material broke under his weight and the man’s torso fell through it.

Loren snatched the rifle off him ripping it out of his grasp, and then the man kicked him in the chest, sending him stumbling backward. The man dragged himself back to his feet, limping on one leg; even when he raised the rifle to point it at the man, he didn’t even stop.

The rifle clicked, but nothing happened, and then the guy was on him; Loren froze the world even as his face erupted in pain from the man’s punch; he stumbled to the side and swung the but of the rifle at his head, unfreezing at the last moment.

The man’s front kick missed, as he was no longer there, and the rifle landed with a crack on the man’s helmet, sending him stumbling to the side.

“Timeout!” Loren yelped as the man came at him, completely unaffected by the attack.

He froze the world, slipped the punch, and then punched the guy in the uncovered throat before releasing it again. The guy choked, and Loren managed to whack him over the head again with a crack, sending him to his knees.

“Go down, you fuck!” Loren cried in outrage, whacking him on the head again. “Fucking helmet! This is so much easier in games!”

Something hit him in the shoulder, sending him spinning to the ground, and he froze the world again in reflex. There was a head of an arrow sticking out of his arm, and he stared at it in horror, even as the agony washed over him.

“Fuck!” Loren yelled, stumbling back to his feet.

He moved into the next aisle where the hero with a crossbow was standing, the second arrow already in transit towards his previous location. Loren ducked into a cubicle and unfroze the world, waiting out his cooldown.

“Fracture, you alright!?” A woman called only a couple of meters away.

“I’m fine, Tag—legs busted, though!” Fracture called back, “Secluded get them?”

“They’re inside,” Tag confirmed, “I’ve marked the target as well, shouldn’t be long now.”

Loren froze the world, leaving the arrow behind, and stared down at it.

“Fuck you, arrow,” Loren said weakly and stepped backward.

He screamed as the arrow stayed where it was in the air, and the pain grew worse; moments later, he realized he was on the floor. He forced himself to get back up and released the time stop; the arrow clinked to the floor, covered in blood.

“Get ready—three, two, one—” Tag said quieter, and then the arrow glowed blue before suddenly smashing through the cubicle wall towards her. “He removed it!”

Loren froze time and stumbled out of the cubicle, rounding the next one to find Tag standing, with the blue arrow lying against the next wall over; he moved behind her and raised the rifle.

“Next time, wear a helmet, idiot,” Loren said weakly.

He let the time stop fail and smashed the rifle into the back of her head—Tag dropped like her strings had been cut. Loren fell down to his knees, dizzy with pain, and slumped against the wall—head lolling to one side as he watched Fracture moving towards them both.

Loren blinked as a bright light started to swell behind Fracture; the guy didn’t even turn to look at it as it washed over them and everything vanished beneath the light and noise

What a cool guy.