Chapter 51

Apartment, Setalite City 2:27 AM.
Saturday, February 9th​, 2019.

“Fuck,” Loren said quietly, realizing what had happened. “It’s today.”

He had reset, and his power had chosen the ability that heralded his trip back in time.

The reason all of his things were gone was because he had yet to move into this apartment. A sick feeling washed through him as he thought about where his past self was currently living—rotting away inside a facility that had completely failed to help him.

He didn’t like to think about his time there for many reasons, but with the recent understanding of his pheromone situation, it shed new light on it. His main doctor’s professional but entirely curt nature, staff members who toed the line between cold and unfriendly men all the way to far too familiar women—not that it had been limited to staff.

How much of that hell had been of his own unconscious making? To think he’d spent so much time thinking it was a form of condescension brought on by a hidden superiority or a sick pity—the smothering nature some of the nurses possess and the uncomfortable touches that had accompanied them.

Loren spent a long while genuinely considering blowing the entire Mara situation off and meeting with his younger self. He could explain everything, give himself a reason as to why people were either too cold or too hot in his presence and never in between.

Save himself another year of torment, and give a warning about everything that was going to come down on his head.

He gripped his knees tightly, now sitting on the floor in his kitchen. Loren still had the code phrase, and Wraith was already a hero. If he looked her up, explained everything that was going to happen, he could give her years to work on the situation in Setalite City.

If he didn’t go to the train station, what would happen? Loren concentrated hard on what he knew of the situation.

Her teacher would send Emma to meet with Mara to take the transfer student around the city and help her settle in. From what he remembered of the conversation, Emma had indicated that Mara’s train arrived at nine-thirty and that she herself had been waiting there from nine-ish.

Marrow attacks the train station at roughly nine-thirty; while the two girls were talking, they are knocked down, and then he apparently ‘saved’ them. The fact that they had ended up on the train meant that he must have been at least partly responsible for that part.

The question was, If he weren’t there, what would happen?

Would Mara awaken her powers earlier and go on an uncontrollable killing spree in the middle of the city? Or would Marrow kill Emma and Mara on the platform? If Mara died, then it would weaken Epilogure immensely, but she wasn’t one of the members he’d actively wish death on.

Would Emma die if he wasn’t there to ‘save’ her? If she did die, she would never track him down; she would never move in upstairs, and she wouldn’t bang Mark at two-twenty-two in the AM.

Loren would sleep through the night unawakened by the noise, he’d wake up until a normal hour, and Mark would be permanently dead before his save point—if Cinematic still decided to target him.

He probably wouldn’t know that Mark existed in the first place or even Emma for that matter… Loren pressed his fingers deeper onto his eyes to try and sharpen his focus. If Emma was no longer around when the loops began, and she never told him about the Mara incident on the train…

Eventually, he’d hit the time travel reset power, but he wouldn’t have the required knowledge to actually go to speak with Mara on the train in the first place, and everything would change?

What happened then?

He’d be stuck in a loop where both Emma and Mark were already dead—Stalk, Piston and Dovetail, too, depending on how late he slept. He couldn’t even begin to imagine what would happen after that other than it would just make everything worse than it already was.

That wasn’t even taking into account the fact that Naomi would gain Paragon’s powers completely uncontested and start her murder spree minutes after he died, and who knew how far she would get.

Would he have to let his younger self suffer through the same things—the confusion, the pain, the staff misconduct, and everything else that had happened to ensure that he didn’t fuck everything up even more?

Loren wanted to say screw it and take the selfish option, but he knew he couldn’t—what he had said to Emma was the truth; if he changed something like this, who knew what kind of effects would carry into the future. Emma and everyone else would end up suffering so that he could free himself from his prison of self-hate just a little bit sooner.

Sometimes Loren hated being the good guy.

Downtown, Setalite City. 6:27 AM.
Saturday, February 9th​, 2019.

Three years had done so much to change Setalite City, far more than he had remembered, a building here, a missing café there—most of it had happened at such a slow pace that he had simply forgotten what it had been like.

However, other more prominent things like the Museum of Unusual Art had been completely rebuilt from the ground up after Levima had destroyed it during her attack. The memory of all the webs that had been strung together between the buildings as the horde of massive spiders moved around the city brought a shiver to his spine—That wouldn’t happen until next year, and he was more than glad he hadn’t arrived in the middle of it.

Once was more than enough.

Loren spotted the Hero HQ, another of the eventual casualties of Levima’s sudden appearance, but now, it was much smaller, only three stories tall, and the windows were shaded with physical slats bolted to the outside and equipped with blackout curtains on the inside. Tens of floors were missing, and there was no dark tinted glass to be seen.

He watched it for a few minutes, wondering. The front door opened, and a tall figure in a grey business suit that he recognized on sight emerged for a moment to stand in the sun. The man was taking a call, and Loren studied him for a long time.

Charles Parker looked much younger, given only a few years separated him from his older self, the stress of his job at the Hero HQ had started to get to him.

The indifferent attitude the man had permanently held at home was entirely gone as he spoke animatedly to whoever was on the line. Loren knew that at this point, his past self would have stopped taking visits at the facility entirely, and it would have been at least six months since he’d last received one from his father.

His mother was already long dead.

He frowned in thought, trying to remember—He hadn’t seen the man at all in years after he’d gotten out, neither of them willing to bridge the gulf that had grown between them. It had been bad after Leslie’s death, but it had grown infinitely more vast after he refused to sign him out of the facility.

After he’d turned twenty and finally been freed, he buried almost everything he had felt for the man—he wondered if he’d played a greater role in that as well.

His father seemed so much more right now; he couldn’t even remember a time where he hadn’t looked sullen or annoyed. If he hadn’t been unconsciously and passively turning the man against him for years, he wondered if they would have had something more resembling a relationship between a father and a son. Loren stood up when the man lowered his phone and stared in his direction, looking alarmed.

Loren turned and walked away.

Downtown, Setalite City. 8:43 AM.
Saturday, February 9th​, 2019.

Loren tossed his used cup into the trash can and stuffed his hands in his pockets. He’d been watching the station entrance from nearby for a while now, just in case he’d been wrong about the time Emma arrived.

He’d come no closer to a satisfying answer to the situation either. He thought about letting everything happen without his interference and then sending Wraith a message in advance about the bombs.

The problem was that even working together with the Peacekeepers, Wraith, and everyone else, they hadn’t managed to initiate a loop successful enough to try and keep.

What happened if they failed to stop some individual part of what happened? Would the bomber simply move the explosives to a different city? Would Naomi still manage to infect Paragon with the nano bomb, just at a different time?

They still hadn’t managed to stop the explosion in Arrot city either, and he didn’t have nearly enough information on that to give them.

He had two choices, either he worked to keep things as similar to the original timeline as possible to retain the advantage of foreknowledge and seemingly infinite tries, or he let it all happen without his presence and then put his hopes in the heroes succeeding on the first try.

He knew the answer before the thought had fully manifested—they all failed numerous times in the tens of changing scenarios already, and there was no way he could just leave it up to chance like that. As horrible as being trapped in an endless cycle of repeats was, at least he could eventually work towards a perfect solution where everyone lived.

It also made him realize that he may have accidentally discovered a way to escape the current loop—at the cost of everyone else in Setalite City being killed. He’d put that down as the third option, one that he had hesitated in thinking too deeply about on the off chance that he might actually take it—he forced himself to acknowledge it properly for the first time.

Loren could stay here at this time…

Loren could do his best in the coming hours to make sure as many people survived as possible and then go stay in a hotel or something until Tuesday and set a new save point, here, in the past. It would be too late to save Mara from her fate of becoming Monstrous, but he would have years to get used to his powers in a way that didn’t force him to act within minutes of dying.

He could live out an entire lifetime of loops without the threat of the explosions, car crashes, or Epilogue haunting the city. He’d have to live through Levima’s eventual attack, but he’d done that before he’d been aware of his powers.

Loren wondered what would happen to everyone from the original timeline he had left behind him after he had woken up in the past—would it just cut off? Would the Alana of that time be erased? Would Emma? Would he even notice as everything changed around him? Or maybe, there would be two Lorens and two different timelines, and he wouldn’t even know if he was the original or a copy-pasted version of himself transplanted into the past—

A familiar head of strawberry blonde hair caught his eye, and he was quick to note that Emma didn’t look all that different from her future self, although she was missing her nose piercing. He stood up slowly and stretched for a minute before moving towards the entrance she had vanished down.

He kept his pace casual and wondered how good she was with her power at present—she had mentioned that she’d only had it for a little while before today. Could she sense him already? Or was that something she learned to do in time?

Loren worked his way down the long staircase with a workhorse’s determination, wondering when the escalator had been added—most likely after what happened today. He didn’t have much trouble following her; the hair was distinctive enough to pick her out of the somewhat populated platform.

He ran all of the facts he knew about the situation over in his mind again before coming to a decision.

“Nice hair,” Loren said in greeting, coming to standing a few feet away, facing the tracks.

“Thanks!” Emma said, surprised, before blinking. “Whoa, speak for yourself—white is a bold choice.”

He’d forgotten, honestly, but he managed a quick laugh.

“I suppose so, gotta show off my confidence, you know?” Loren said, smiling, “I’m Loren Parker; what’s your name?”

“Emma Young,” Emma said happily before raising an eyebrow. “A confident one, huh?”

“Sure,” Loren nodded, “Today it’s white hair, tomorrow it’s a facial tattoo.”

“Yikes,” Emma laughed, “I’d suggest a piercing over that—but you do you.”

Loren tapped his chin thoughtfully.

“Piercings are awesome, but I think you’d look better with one than I would,” Loren said honestly before nodding. “One of those nose rings since you practically demanded my opinion on the matter.”

Emma snorted at both the suggestion and his phrasing before she reached up to touch her nose.

“You think so?” Emma said hesitantly, genuinely considering it.

“Absolutely,” Loren said confidently. “Trust me; I’ve known you for at least a minute.”

Emma smirked and shook her head, but the sound of a distant train approaching washed over them, drawing her attention away from him. Loren felt most of his frivolity vanish at the sound and turned back to face the tracks.

“Are you waiting for someone?” Emma asked pleasantly as the train pulled up. “I’m here to pick someone up—can I get your number before you vanish? You seem like fun; maybe we can hang out this afternoon?”

Loren tossed her a bemused glance—was this the pheromones at work? Or was he actually pretty good at this kind of thing?

“My number? Yeah, I’m sure we will end up hanging out at some point,” Loren said honestly, “I’ve got a feeling today’s going to be a bit busy, though.”

The doors on the train opened, and people started to leave the train car. Loren made no move to leave his spot, and Emma turned towards the crowd, searching them for her person.

“Busy?” Emma said curiously, still looking.

Loren spotted a short woman with neat dark hair and extremely pale skin. Emma was right—Mara was ludicrously pretty. Delicate features, and large eyes, she looked rather worried, searching around her in distress. The difference between her clear nervousness and the controlled blank mask that she had in the future was jarring.

If there was some kind of emotional aspect to her power, as he suspected there might be…

“Mara?” Emma said quickly after she spotted her.

“Yes!” Mara said, relieved, coming to stand before her. “Emma Young? Ms. Andre called me to say you would be waiting for me—thank you so much for coming.”

“That’s alright—” Emma said happily before shaking her head. “Wow, why are you so pretty? I’m jealous.”

Mara looked a bit embarrassed from the attention, but a crack rang out from behind them before she could respond. Loren glanced over his shoulder as a big grey thing barreled down the stairs, taking the railing with it and pinning an elderly man to the pillar.

The man screamed as he began to rapidly decay into ashes from the point of skin to skin contact outwards. More of Marrow’s constructs tumbled down the stairs lunging for those nearest to the entrance.

People began flooding back onto the train, but Emma and Mara were frozen in terror as one of the hulking creatures dragged itself toward the three of them. Loren realized he was at the moment of decision, and he could no longer flirt with all of the choices—he needed to commit.

Loren grabbed both of their arms and dragged them onto the train just as the doors shut behind them; the creatures reaching arm got stuck in between the closing doors as the train began to pull out of the station.

“Loren—” Emma said, cutting herself off in relief. “Fuck me; I couldn’t even bring myself to move.”

“Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.” Mara cried, tears leaking down her face. “Oh god… it’s going to get in—”

They passed through the tunnel with a squelch, and the grey mottled arm fell to the floor of the cabin, bubbling.

“Run.” Loren said quietly, “To the front of the train, GO!”

They scrambled up to the door to the next cabin, and Loren spent a moment trying to open the door enough to kick the arm out—the arm split into two and began to grow larger. He was forced to jump back to avoid one of them that went for his foot.

Loren abandoned the idea, slamming the door shut behind him and moving into the next car—he flinched and looked back over his shoulder as the grey fleshy beast slapped into the window on the door before sliding back down and out of sight.

There were people in this cabin already, watching him—Loren passed them by, pointing to both Emma and Mara before motioning to follow. They fell in step behind him as he moved up into the next cabin, ignoring the requests for information from the other occupants. They pushed their way into the next cabin after that and then once more again, finding enough room to sit down.

“What was that thing?” Mara said, breathing heavily.

She was clearly terrified and clinging tightly to Emma’s arm.

“I don’t know,” Emma admitted quietly, looking back at the door fearfully.

“It’s a villain called Marrow; he creates those things—they decay anybody they come into contact with.” Loren said concisely, “Cutting them up just makes more of them, but they die if you hit them with enough fire.”

He’d researched it after he’d first heard about his presence here—shame he didn’t have a flamethrower on him or an actually offensive power he could fucking use.

He tried to think about what he should do here—he hadn’t expected it to go this well. Mara hadn’t awakened her power, and Emma was still alive. Had he stumbled onto the perfect solution somehow and missed it?

Emma was still alive, so he’d still get his powers, and Mara never becomes Monstrous—A scream rang out, loud enough to be heard several cars away. Loren turned to face the door in horror, had someone had let the fucking monsters in?

“We need to move,” Loren said quietly.

They followed on his heels as he passed through to the next cabin, but the sounds were growing behind them, and people were starting to take notice. More people began to flee up the train to get away from the things, and soon Loren was forced to climb up onto one of the benches to keep moving.

“Open the fucking door!” A man called, banging on the door in front of him. “Fuck! Fuck!

More people started banging on the doors, the walls, and everywhere else they could to try and alert whoever was up front, but the doors never opened, and the noises grew louder behind them.

“Oh god…” Mara said, crouched on the bench with her face buried in her hands. “Oh god. Oh god—”

“It’s going to be alright, Mara,” Emma said nervously, pulling the shorter girl against her side.

Something smashed into the locked door, grey and bulging, and everyone began screaming and trying to force themselves back down the train—Loren realized some of the constructs had gotten on the front of the train as well—they were stuck in the middle.

Emma yelped and scrambled away from Mara, and Loren turned to face her. Her skin was moving, five bulges pressing outwards against the inside skin of her cheek.

“Mara!?” Emma said, horrified.

More ripples formed on the skin of her arms and the exposed skin of her legs beneath her skirt. Loren grabbed Emma and pulled her backward across the benches. There was a screech, and the entire train jolted to a sudden stop, and Mara was thrown into the divider and onto the floor of the train.

People began to notice her and scrambled to get away from her; a section of the aisle was empty as she writhed on the floor pleading and begging.

“What’s wrong with her!?” A woman shouted.

Mara fought her way to her knees, face still buried in her arms, before she managed to sit up. Hands began to emerge from her skin, lined with mouths and teeth and eyes—the woman that had called out screamed as the long-fingered hands lanced out in every direction, grabbing onto everyone around her.

People broke beneath the unyielding nature of her body, crushed and torn apart by the hands. The mouths chewed flesh like paper, and the sheer mass of Mara swallowed most of the cabin.

Loren stood with his back to the corner of the train car, and Emma’s head was buried in the back of his shirt, trapped between him and the wall. A single long finger brushed against his jawline as he stared unflinchingly into the countless eyes and teeth.

Everything writhed inwards and was drawn back into Mara, who was left sitting on the cabin floor, without a shred of clothing left. She was completely red and dripping with the viscous remains of the passengers.

Her eyes were wide and empty as she stared ahead at nothing.

Loren grabbed Emma’s arm behind him and slowly moved towards the doors; Emma shook in terror as they passed Mara on the floor. He pressed the emergency release button for the doors, and they slide open after a moment.

Mara sobbed once and shook.

“Emma,” Loren said with forced calm. “You need to leave now; you can use your power to enhance your speed, focus on spreading the feeling through your body.”

“What about you?” Emma whispered, already sparking.

“I’m going to stay here with Mara,” Loren said calmly. “Don’t worry about me; I have powers—I’m immortal. Go now.”

Loren pushed her out of doors, and she dropped out of sight, still sparking before a streak of blue tore across the grass and out of sight. At least one element of this horror show had gone right—Emma would survive, ensuring he woke up in time to save Mark.

“Hey Mara,” Loren said quietly, closing the doors. “It’s me from before—Loren Parker. I thought I better introduce myself to you.”

Mara sobbed, and her skin rippled dangerously. Loren stepped closer to her before she writhed again.

“You probably don’t feel like listening to me right now, so I’ll keep it quick—I know you didn’t want this to happen, but I can tell you with one-hundred percent certainty that you will get control over your body eventually.” Loren promised, “It’s all about emotional control and willpower—I know you can do it, so don’t give up, no matter what happens.”

“I can’t… I don’t understand what’s happening…. Loren…” Mara sobbed and contracted her entire body inwards as she tensed.

“I know, Mara. I’m sorry I’m not smart enough to fix this, and I don’t have the tools or the power.” Loren said gently, “I wish I had something tangible to help you, but all I can do is speak to you, so listen carefully.”

Loren swallowed as she shuddered.

“There’s going to be more instances like this, where you can’t control yourself, but it’s not your fault.” Loren said gently, “There is… a group of bad people are going to notice you—they will reach out—I need you to do something for me, okay Mara?”

Mara sobbed again.

“When they come to you, you should go with them,” Loren said, swallowing. “They are bad people, but they’ll be able to help you—give you somewhere to belong. I just want you to remember that you aren’t a bad person for accepting their help, okay? So hold onto all the things that make you, well, you.”

Innumerous fingers began to emerge from her back, like the spines of some kind of twisted ribcage of an archaic creature. Loren kneeled down in front of her and tried to meet her gaze; he swallowed as the fingers started to lengthen and curve around her shoulders towards him, growing more and more knuckles to accomplish the task.

“I want you to know that I don’t think you’re to blame for any of this,” Loren said seriously, “I know you didn’t want it to happen, and I know you’re doing your best to stop it. I’m not going to blame you for anything you do to me either—I’ll come back eventually, trust me.”

“Because…” Mara whispered, and the fingers curled around him in a cage of flesh. “You’re immortal?”

“Yeah, Mara,” Loren said, strained, wincing as the fingers began to dig into his skin. “Because I’m immortal.”

Loren couldn’t help the noise of pain that crawled out of his mouth as the grip of the fingers began to grow painfully tight.

“I’ll reach out to you in the future, okay?” Loren gasped, trying to keep his mouth uncovered as the fingers clawed at his lips. “I’ll figure out a way to help you, I promise—you’ve done nothing wrong…”

Loren screamed as the fingers clenched, sinking into his flesh like it was wet paper. The million knuckled appendages wrenched outwards, and he was torn into pieces. For a few seconds, there was a numb feeling where his body used to be.

At the moment before everything faded—He saw Mara, sitting amongst all of the horrors, screaming and crying—hands knotted into her hair as she destroyed everything around her.

Enjoy the thicc chapter, a bit more than a thousand extra words, oh my. I also noticed some of you guys are having trouble following the timeline, so I’ve included a very basic guideline. Timeline.

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