Chapter 5

Loren’s Apartment, 9:37 AM.
Tuesday, February 22nd​, 2022.

Waking up with his face pressed against the kitchen table wasn’t exactly a comfortable experience. It brought with it the reality of everything that had happened last night. The same night he had repeatedly been experiencing.

Loren had come to the obvious conclusion that he had somehow gained a superpower, but it didn’t take a genius to figure that one out. Only the mechanics of said power were more or less unknown. He seemed to be able to travel back in time to Tuesday the 22nd, early in the morning; right when his lightbulb shattered.

That was a constant every time he had experienced whatever was going on.

The difference came when on one of those Tuesdays, he was somehow able to teleport as well; while on another, he was able to manipulate Milk telekinetically. He was no longer able to teleport either; it was like that had been completely replaced by the useless power of milk-kinesis.

His best guess for what was going on with such little evidence was that his ability actually had two-component pieces. The first was the time travel, and the second was some kind of changing power whose rules he didn’t understand.

There was a fast way he could check if he was correct, but at the cost of Mark most likely dieing again, and Emma spending another night sobbing herself to sleep. They seemed to forget these…loops, but he certainly didn’t.

Witnessing the guy die over and over again was messing with him badly; every time he had managed to sleep since the first time Mark had died, he had been plagued with reoccurring nightmares, and they were only getting worse. He could barely walk down the street without flinching at the sound of a car engine.

There was also a possibility that his power had some kind of cost that wasn’t apparent, like every time he woke up on Tuesday, a star exploded or something. Loren didn’t really care about something like that, but if it was a cost much closer than that? He’d played enough video games and watched enough anime that weird things like another person being erased with every repeat were just the first thing he had thought of.

He had no way to check that facet, other than to keep an eye out for anything unusual.

The truck situation was getting any clearer, either. The truck went in a completely different direction and caused the exact same accident. Was this proof that some kind of predetermined fate or ‘destiny’ existed?

The truck driver had died this time, burnt alive in his cabin; Loren knew because the man had woken up partway through… Another voice to join his dreams. Even the other times, he had been injured so badly that he would have burned to death if he hadn’t managed to get the man out in time.

He sat back and took in a deep breath before letting it out slowly, attempting to clear his mind of everything. He needed to make a plan; flailing around and hoping for the best wasn’t going to do anything.

Loren’s Apartment, 10:45 AM.
Tuesday, February 22nd​, 2022.

“Today has been busy for our super community; we’ve had two fights downtown already, and it’s not even lunchtime.” The newscaster, Charlie Shane, laughed lightly. “Vapid was quick to put a stop to Hoisters rampage this morning, with only a few windows being shattered.”

Loren frowned before sitting up on the couch, as the familiar names snapped him out of his scheming; he was forgetting something. The floating ball of Milk spinning slowly in the air above him floated back down to the glass on the table.

“About half an hour ago the second fight occurred only a block away, the glass frontage of three buildings was destroyed this time,” Charlie said pleasantly before frowning and turning to look off-screen. “The participants of this fight were Dovetail and Serpertine-”

The man lifted his finger to his earpiece, and a red banner appeared on the bottom of the report stating there was ‘Breaking News.’

“I’m just getting word of an explosion being set off in the heart of Arrot city,” The reporter said solemnly, “It’s…bad folks, we will be moving to cover the situation as it develops, we have some people stationed there, I just hope they weren’t…”

Loren stared at the screen, horrified; he’d forgotten about the explosion. He could have fucking told someone about it! All those people just died, again because he was too fucking preoccupied playing with god damned milk.

“Preliminary reports are stating that at least eight blocks of the city are just gone…” The man said tightly, “Damage to the buildings outside of that area is substantial, but most of them are still standing at least….”

“I need to make a fucking list.,” Loren said with his face in his hands.

Stop the truck from killing Mark; Report the bomb or whatever the hell caused the explosion to the police-

He froze; that wasn’t the only explosion. During Paragon’s Speech, just after the hero had died, explosions had gone off under the crowd. He’d died then, he needed to report that to the police as well, but…

Explosions going off in two neighboring cities a couple of days from each other; this wasn’t a case of some kind of accidental chemical or gas explosion. This was an attack, and Paragon had been the target, at least for the one here.

So who had been the target in Arrot City?

If it had gone off right in the middle of the city, that could be a whole host of targets. There were shopping centers, malls, towering office buildings, the hero’s headquarters, schools, and everything in between.

He noted the critical points of the attack so he could send them to the heroes and the police on the next reset; the center of the city, eight-block blast radius, goes off around quarter to eleven in the am.

Loren’s Apartment, 12:57 PM.
Tuesday, February 22nd​, 2022.

He’d turned the tv off a while ago; the only thing showing was the coverage of Arrot City, and he couldn’t watch it anymore. The sudden banging on his door startled him out of his thoughts, and he stared at it for a moment, unsure.

“I know you’re in there!” The landlord’s voice hollered. “Wake up! Rents due!”

Loren gritted his teeth at the sound of Peter’s voice.

“Fuck off!” Loren called back, angrily. “I’m three weeks ahead, and I have rent receipts.”

The banging stopped abruptly before the sound of stomping footsteps went up the stairs, and he started banging on Emma’s door.

This fucking asshole.

Loren stewed in his anger for a long moment, before deciding he’d heard enough. He stomped over to the door and headed outside, before starting up the stairs.

“You do this every fucking week!” Emma hissed.

“Because you’re late every fucking week!” Peter lied, “If you-”

“Peter!” Loren said shouted, pushing the guy away from the door.

Emma was staring at him with wide eyes.

“Who the fuck do you-” Peter said angrily, face purpling immediately.

“Shut the fuck up.” Loren snarled, “I’m sick of listening to you every fucking week doing the same exact shit.”

The landlords back hit the wall.

“She didn’t fuckin pay!” Peter tried.

“Yes, she fucking did,” Loren said quietly, “Listen to me; if you do this again, I’m going to go straight to the cops, with every single rent receipt I have, and I’ll tell them you try this on me weekly.”

“That’s the first time I’ve ever asked you!” Peter said, flustered.

“I don’t give a fuck,” Loren hissed, “That will be enough to get the ball rolling, and then when they start asking all the other tenants about their experience dealing with you? How do you think that will go?”

Peter didn’t say anything, so he leaned down, forced him to make eye contact.

“Fuck off back downstairs, final warning,” Loren said quietly, before stepping back.

The landlord stormed past him and down the stairs, refusing to look at either of them. Loren stared at the wall for a long moment, trying to regain his calm and mostly failing. He was fucking losing it; he usually had much better control over himself, but everything that was going on…

He turned and started back down the stairs, but Emma caught his arm on the way past. He closed his eyes rather than look at her; he hated being angry, the feeling was awful, and then he always felt ashamed to have lost his temper afterward.

“Thanks, Loren,” Emma said quietly, watching him.

“Don’t mention it, ever.” Loren managed. “If he does it again, come tell me, and I’ll do what I said. See you around, Emma; don’t burn down any buildings.”

“What?” Emma said sounding startled. “How did you…”

Loren didn’t answer.

Loren’s Apartment, 6:17 PM.
Tuesday, February 22nd​, 2022.

The sun crawled down out of the sky, and the city fell dark as Loren sat on the roof of his apartment building. Climbing up here had been a whim, but he didn’t regret it; the view was actually something special.

The entire day felt like it had been wasted, despite his intention to attempt a reset. He was procrastinating now, hoping for something to kick start him into motion, but the idea of failing again was a strange, unfamiliar pressure pressing down on him.

That and he had some doubts about how his sorry excuse for a plan would go; if they didn’t believe him about the explosion and act immediately, they might not find whatever caused it in time. If they didn’t believe him, and then the explosion happened anyway, he would then become the prime suspect. Maybe he could raid a grocery store for a few liters and spell it out above the city in Milk, well, if he still had that ability when he went back.

The sound of quiet clanging came from behind him, and he turned to watch as ‘Sparklite’ crested the rooftop in her costume; a duffle bag slung over one shoulder. She didn’t spot him immediately because he was sitting against the ledge, and it was pretty dark.

“Emma, I told you not to burn down any buildings,” Loren said, amused. “Did you forget already?”

Sparklite spun into a crouch almost immediately and stared at him in the dark, electricity crackling over her form.

“Loren?” Sparklite said quietly, “So, you did know.”

“I’ve known for ages,” Loren lied easily, “I’m the god damned Milkman.”

Sparklite let her electricity fade and dropped the duffle bag onto the roof but held onto the handle; he could hear the sounds of several bottles clinking together.

“The Milkman?” Sparklite said strangely.

“Nevermind that,” Loren said immediately, “Are you seriously going to go burn down the Wrightway building?”

“How do you know that?” Sparklite rubbed at her eye in frustration. “I didn’t tell anyone.”

“I can see the future, sometimes.” Loren hedged. “It’s a bad idea, trust me.”

“I didn’t think you even knew my name.” Sparklite said quietly, “When you said it earlier…”

“I didn’t know it until today; future powers and all that,” Loren admitted, “I know how the rest of this night is going to go as well.”

Sparklite bit her lip for a moment before caving.

“What happens? Do I get caught?” Sparklite said intently.

“Nope, you burn down the building, nobody dies, then you come back here and get wasted on the roof,” Loren summarised, “You end up falling down the fire escape, crash through my window, then throw up on my floor.”

Sparklite shuffled awkwardly at the words.

“Do know,” Sparklite mumbled.

Loren shook his head easily.

“I try to kick you out, but you keep spewing everywhere, so you have a shower and then pass out in my bedroom,” Loren revealed, “It’s all very traumatic; for me, the smell of curry is pungent.”

They watched each other quietly for a long moment.

“So why come up here now?” Sparklite said quietly.

“I thought we could just skip straight to the drinking part, and you could have someone to talk to for a few hours,” Loren said easily, “What do you say, Sparky?”

Sparklite bit her lip again before dragging the duffle bag over to where he was sitting, and then sat down across from him.

“Okay,” Sparklite mumbled.

Loren smiled at her cheerfully; he had better set the tone for the evening.

“You know you exploded my lightbulb this morning?” Loren laughed.

Sparklite looked mortified, and it was hilarious.

“So, tell me about Emma; why does she wear the mask?” Loren said snobbily.

“What are you, my therapist?” Emma snorted.

“That’s exactly what I am, Sparky,” Loren grinned, “Tell me all of your secrets, but only the interesting ones; I don’t have time to listen to how you wet yourself in first grade.”

“That never happened,” Emma said immediately, eyeing him hesitantly through her mask. “I don’t know, ask me something more specific…”

“Hmm,” Loren hummed, “When did you first become a villain?”

“When I was nineteen,” Emma answered after taking a drink. “I’m twenty-four now.”

Loren blinked; she was several years older than him, weird.

“What about you?” Emma asked after he didn’t reply.

“I’m not a villain, idiot.” Loren grinned.

“Loren.” Emma huffed. “How old are you?”

“Twenty-one,” Loren said cheerfully, “Why didn’t you become a hero instead?”

“I needed money,” The villain said self-consciously, “So I used my powers to break into a store and cleaned out the safe. It was pretty satisfying getting away with it, so I did it again-”

“Boring.” Loren said immediately, “Why don’t you have some cool origin story? You are the lamest villain I’ve ever heard of.”

“Shut up,” Emma whined. “I’m not lame.”

“How’d you get your powers?” Loren asked, smirking.

“I got struck by lighting,” Emma said cagily.

“I have the power to detect lies,” Loren teased. “You got your powers by sticking a fork into a wall socket.”

Emma actually flushed, as he used what she had told him in a moment of weakness in the other reset.

“How do you know that!?” Emma cried, “Stop laughing!”

“Lame!” Loren cackled.

Loren!” Emma whined, “I’m not lame. Fine; how did you get your powers then.”

“Struck by lightning,” Loren said immediately. “It was really, really cool. You had to be there.”

“Liar,” Emma said, annoyed.

They fell into a long silence, and he could tell by the way she was staring at him that she wanted to ask something. He was pretty sure he knew what it was as well; he should just get it over with.

“Just ask already, I’ll answer honestly,” Loren said quietly.

“You said you can see the future,” Emma said evenly, “Did you know about Mark?”

“Yes,” Loren said easily.

“I saw you coming home after Mark left my apartment,” Emma said intently. “You would have passed him on the stairs; why didn’t you do anything?”

Loren nodded; it was a valid question given the information she currently had at her disposal.

“Originally, Mark was going to speed out of the parking lot, run a red light, and then get hit by the Wrightway truck on it’s way to central; he would have died on impact,” Loren said steadily, “I went down and slashed all of his tires so he couldn’t leave the parking lot.”

Emma’s eyebrows pulled together as she tried to parse what he was saying.

“Obviously that didn’t go as planned,” Loren admitted, “The truck shouldn’t have turned off onto our street; there’s something weird going on here.”

There was a long, tense silence before she spoke again.

“Do you think he was killed on purpose?” Emma murmured. “Was the truck driver after him for some reason?”

“I saw three different versions of the future, and in every single one of them, the truck driver would have died in the cabin unless someone pulled him out.” Loren mumbled, “The guy could have been planning on killing himself in the attempt, so I can’t really be sure of anything. Did Gradient have any enemies?”

“How do you know he was Gradient?” Emma groaned to herself, pulling her knees up to her chest.

“Future version of yourself told me in one of the branches,” Loren lied.

He watched her quietly, waiting for an answer.

“He had heaps of enemies, he was a hero,” Emma said distantly, shaking her now empty bottle before tossing it off the roof.

Loren heard it shatter on the pavement far below them, but his mind was on trying to figure out how to get her on his side in a new reset.

“Hey,” Loren said idly, “Tell me something you’ve never told anyone else in your entire life.”

“What-why?” Emma said, bewildered at the sudden topic shift. “Like what?”

“I don’t know, think of something-the only conditions are that it has to be true, and you can’t have told anyone else,” Loren said intently, “If you lie to me, I’ll know, so don’t bother.”

Emma bit her lip before blowing air out of her nose in a quick burst.

“Tell me something about you first, and then I will,” Emma demanded.

“I have an entire folder on my computer dedicated to rule 34 of heroes and villains,” Loren said immediately; she wouldn’t remember after the reset anyway. “You’ve got your own folder.”

“Wow,” Emma said, cheeks flushing, “How can you even say that with a straight face? Aren’t you embarrassed at all?”

“Nope,” Loren said easily. “Your turn.”

“Um,” Emma hedged, “When I was eight, I was playing with my dad’s lighter, and I ended up accidentally starting a bushfire behind our house.”

Loren raised an eyebrow at her in disbelief.

“Stop looking at me like that,” Emma huffed, “I snuck home and pretended I didn’t know about it; I never told anyone it was me, not even my parents.”

“So that’s how you became a pyromaniac, huh?” Loren said, amused. “Well, thank you for that; I lied about my power before.”

“What?” Emma said, confused.

“Yep, I’m actually some kind of time traveler or something,” Loren scratched the back of his neck, before grinning at her. “So, I’m going to go back and make sure Mark doesn’t leave the building.”

Emma stared at him with wide eyes.

“See you around, Emma,” Loren said, smiling.