Ryan always did science in his underwear.
Clothes embodied society’s restrictions upon the human spirit, the crushing power of civilization attempting to make the individual fit into the mold. But by being mostly naked, Ryan reconnected with his creativity, unbound by conformity; while his boxers represented his lingering attachment to his mental stability, preventing him from going completely off the rails. The one time Ryan had worked completely naked, he ended up building his rabbit plushie.
Also, his boxers felt comfy and warm. Len had made them for him, years ago.
Having rented a hotel room near the city center, Ryan spent the early morning splitting his time between researching information about New Rome and improving his gadgets. The receptionist had given Quicksave a strange glance upon seeing him move upstairs with his hands full of weapons, but didn’t call the Private Security. Masked strangers were nothing unusual in this city.
Of course, Ryan took the time to hack the bedroom’s camera to protect his secret identity, and to avoid panic. He had a lot of unsafe stuff in his arsenal.
Resting on a chair, Ryan typed on his computer with his toes—a skill he spent many loops mastering— while he worked on his coil gun with his hands. The client had wired him his money for yesterday’s delivery, with compliments for Ghoul’s arrest, although the courier didn't care much. The job was just an excuse to travel across Italy, looking for new adventures.
Though he had put his endless wandering on hold, once he heard Len might be in New Rome.
From what Renesco had told him, he should go to Rust Town for information; according to the local Dynanet, that was the nickname given to New Rome's poor northwest neighborhood. The corporations controlling the city had put all the industrial plants there, turning the area into a dumpster. They had even built a wall to prevent vagrants from moving into the other districts.
According to the receptionist, the ‘Junkyard’ was a landmark of that area, an old coal mine transformed into an open landfill. Many rogue Geniuses and adventurers exchanged stuff there. Maybe Len was among them.
Someone knocked on his bedroom window.
Ryan glanced at it, a woman waving her hand at him from the other side. “Hi,” she said. “Can we talk for a minute?”
Ryan’s room was on floor ten, and it had no fire exit.
“Hey!” Ryan grabbed his mask and put it on, alongside the hat. “You’re violating my secret identity!”
“You don’t have one, Ryan Romano,” the woman replied, raising an eyebrow. “And according to your file, you never did anything to hide it.”
“I have a file?” Ryan asked, overtaken by happiness. “I’m famous! How am I described?”
“Deranged, but reliable.’” Sweet! They got him halfway right! The flying woman eyed him from head to toe through the glass. “Don’t you intend to put on your other clothes?”
Ryan chuckled. “No.”
He would always stand against oppressors.
The personal space invader responded with a frown, knocking on the window again, albeit with a bit more frustration than before. “Can you…”
Ryan rose from his chair to open the window with one hand, and kept the coil gun aimed at the newcomer with the other.
Now that he had a better view, Ryan immediately recognized the woman, having seen her on a publicity board yesterday. She was floating in midair thanks to translucent dragonfly wings flapping at high speed on her back, her hands on her waist. This made her look as graceful as a fairy, especially since unlike bugs she made no sound while hovering in place.
“I’m Wyvern,” the show-off introduced herself. She wore a sleeveless, skintight white uniform with Dynamis’ D-shaped logo on the left, and a silver star surrounded by golden laurel on the right. She was probably between her mid-twenties and early thirties, and quite the eye-catcher. “I wanted to thank you for Ghoul’s arrest yesterday.”
“Oh, you’re welcome.”
Then Ryan started to close the window.
“Hey, wait!” Wyvern caught the window and kept it open; Ryan had heard she could bench press a school bus even while partially transformed, so he didn’t press the issue. “What are you doing in town, Quicksave? Can I call you Quicksave?”
“Sure.” Ryan then shrugged. “I’m a courier, I deliver mail. No matter how many people want me dead!”
“So the Augusti didn’t hire you as muscle?” the superheroine asked, a bit amused by his last comment. “The place you defended was one of their fronts. I figured they might have hired you to defend their turf from the Meta-Gang.”
“Nah, I beat that geriatric disaster because he was in the way of completing my side quest.” Wyvern made a strange face, unable to understand his jargon. The Genome Wars had all but destroyed the video game sector, making Ryan feel very alone. “Oh, by the way, have you heard of a girl my age called Len? Black hair, blue eyes, Marxist-Leninist?”
“Marxist-Leninist?” Wyvern’s frown deepened. “You mean communists? Those guys still exist?”
“I know that’s probably a dirty word in this city of unbridled capitalism, but yes.”
“No, never heard of her.” The superheroine shook her head. “But I can look at our files. Is that why you are in New Rome? Looking for her?”
“Oh yes, she’s beautiful and kind and she’s my best friend!” Ryan couldn’t help but gush about her. "I've been looking for her since forever!"
“I’ll help if I can,” Wyvern replied with a smile. “Actually, I believe I can help you a great deal.”
Here comes the recruitment offer...
“I belong to a group called Il Migliore,” Wyvern said, confirming Ryan’s suspicions. “You’ve probably heard of us.”
Il Migliore. A bunch of corporate superheroes who were the official protectors of New Rome, and modern celebrities. Of course, they were also on Dynamis’ payroll, who owned their image, merchandising rights, and told them whom to fight. Nothing like Leo Hargraves’ Carnival.
Now those were real, pro-bono superheroes, wandering knights style! Ryan couldn’t help but admire them, even if they had caused the worst day of his life.
“We’re always on the lookout for new talents, and while you have a… reputation for collateral damage… you possess an extremely useful superpower, and as far as we know you haven’t dabbled into reprehensible enterprises, nor closely associated with wanted criminals.” Poor girl, if only she knew. “Since you stopped Ghoul before he could go on a killing spree, I think you have your heart in the right place.”
“So what, you want me to audition for a movie or something? Because I've only ever tried theater once, and it wasn’t funny.”
Wyvern laughed. “I wish we did fewer commercials and more arrests,” she admitted, Ryan sensing a little bitterness in her tone. “But we do our best to protect citizens. Come visit our HQ, see if you match with our organization. After that stunt with Ghoul, you’ll need people to have your back.”
“I can take care of myself, thanks,” Ryan replied, a bit insulted that she thought he needed coddling.
“Look, Quicksave, the Meta aren’t reasonable like the Augusti,” she insisted. “They are a roving band of Psychos, and you’ve beat up one of their own. Their boss, Adam, eats people.”
“Then he must have a lot on his plate!”
Wyvern didn’t like the joke, her smile straining and her wings slowing down a bit.
“Alright, alright,” Ryan said. “I’ll think about it if I ever get sidetracked on my main quest.”
The superheroine frowned, looking sideways. Ryan suddenly noticed an earplug in her left ear, although he couldn’t hear anything.
“Understood,” Wyvern said, although not to Ryan, before handing the courier a business card. “If you change your mind, visit us at this address.”
And on these words, Wyvern flew away. Her wings moved so fast it became impossible for the human eye to notice them. Yet they made no sound either, except for the wind they produced. She was gone within the blink of an eye, moving north and accelerating until she reached near supersonic speed.
The sound frequency of her wings must have been inaudible to humans, or run on abnormal physics; everything was possible with Genomes. The courier memorized that observation for later.
Finally alone, Ryan closed the window and returned to his task. But no sooner did he sit back in his chair, that he received a vocal communication demand on his computer. The Genome immediately recognized the caller as the same person who ordered the Renesco delivery.
He lazily opened the vocal channel with his left toe. “Quicksave Deliveries, what can I do for you?”
“What did the bitch tell you?” an encrypted voice on the other end answered.
Ryan raised an eyebrow behind his mask. “Wait, am I being spied on?”
“Few places are off the grid in New Rome.”
Note to self: find a more discreet hotel next loop. “I’m pretty sure the last person who used that line didn’t encrypt their voice. Who are you, creepy mystery voice?”
“My name is Vulcan,” the caller answered. “I represent the Augusti. We are the organization that runs things in New Rome, and most of Italy.”
“I thought it was Dynamis?” Ryan deadpanned.
“That’s what they say,” the voice laughed. “But Italy only has one emperor, and his name is Augustus.”
Hard to disagree, the guy was invincible and could shoot homing lightning. He had more victims to his name than the cigarette.
“You have our thanks for saving our employee from that Meta trash,” Vulcan said. “All this to say, whatever the winged lizard promised you, we can offer more.”
“Is it an offer you can’t refuse, or an offer-offer? ‘Cause I’m allergic to horses.”
“We need tough people who get things done,” Vulcan replied. “You want women or boys? New hardware, good weapons? Enough Bliss to fly you to the moon? All that shit can be yours… if you prove you’re a team player.”
“And how do I do that?”
An email notification popped up, indicating an address. Ryan quickly checked, identifying the location as a casino called the Bakuto. “We own the establishment,” Vulcan explained. “Come tonight, alone, and don’t make us wait. We never ask twice.”
Ryan ended the call, pondering about the offers. Phew, you beat up one guy—showing extreme restraint and delicateness by your usual standards—and suddenly everyone wanted a piece of you.
Then again, either group could help him find Len, and he had created a save point before coming to town.
That could only mean one thing.
“Multiple routes unlocked!”