The rabbit was Ryan’s most beloved character in all of fiction, and he had watched all its cartoons during his endless wandering. The courier always laughed at hunters’ failure to catch the wily animal, their rage growing with each missed bullet.
So it must have been very frustrating for these two.
“Stop it!” By now, Ghoul fumed so much that it became difficult to see through the white mist surrounding him. The whole harbor was slowly freezing, while the Psycho threw car-sized blocks of ice at Ryan. “Stop dodging!”
Ryan lazily stopped time, moved out of a projectile's path, then cancelled his power. The Psycho was actually getting worse with his aiming the more angered he grew. Unfortunately, the white mist surrounding Mr. dem bones also made it impossible for Ryan to get in close without freezing in place.
He knew he should have invested in a thicker sweater.
“Ghoul, he’s a speedster!” Sarin snarled, still standing on a roof to keep the high ground. She was no more successful than her ally at hitting Ryan, who mocked her by activating his time-stop just when her blasts were within an inch of reaching him. At one point, the courier even took the time to blow her a kiss. “Just freeze him already!”
“I’m not a speedster, I’m Quicksave!” Ryan shouted, before revealing his greatest secret. “I’m immortal, but don’t tell anyone!”
“Soon you’re just going to be blood on the pavement!”
What pavement? By now the two Psychos had destroyed the entire waterfront, turning it into an icy wasteland of snow and craters. Ryan had to keep moving north to find ground to stand on, eventually luring the duo to an empty parking lot.
While Ghoul pursued him on foot, his female companion glided on top of a streetlight, somehow managing to avoid slipping up. There was something wrong with the way she moved, as if she had no weight at all. All Psychos were mutants, so she must have an abnormal physiology beneath the hazmat suit.
“I’m sorry but you make ice cream and blow off air,” Ryan pointed out. “Household products can do it. While I control the lynchpin of all reality. I try not to sound patronizing but…”
Ghoul unleashed a wide burst of white mist with a furious growl, freezing everything in its path.
Ryan simply activated his time-stop and dodged once again. Still, growing bored with the pursuit and now having an opening, he grabbed two of his throwing knives; launching one at Ghoul’s remaining eye, the other at Sarin.
When time resumed, Ghoul lost his remaining eye, and Sarin took a knife to the chest.
“You ain’t making it easy.”
Ryan stopped talking, however, when green gas came out of Sarin’s hazmat suit. The strange substance immediately rusted the streetlight below the Psycho, causing the electrical parts to short-circuit and the metal to slowly bend. Sarin put a hand on the opening, trying to keep the gas inside.
He knew she was full of hot air.
“I’ll kill you…” Ghoul whined, his face now looking like a strawberry sorbet with all the frozen blood flowing from his skull. It was vaguely horrifying, but Ryan had seen worse. “I’ll kill you…”
“Ghoul, I know the sight of my dashing costume and my long, bloody bat made you fall for me at first sight,” Ryan taunted him. “Trust me, I get that a lot. But I just don’t see you that way.”
“I swear to God, I swear it,” rasped the abominable ice cream, his hands on his face, “If you crack a joke again, I—”
“You will give me the cold shoulder?” Ryan chuckled, unable to resist.
Ghoul exploded in a snarl of fury, his body swallowed by white mist. The strange substance seemed to swirl around him, creating layers upon layers of stalagmites.
When it dissipated, Ghoul was gone, replaced with a four meters tall titan of ice and snow. This strange fusion between a snowman and a hedgehog had maces instead of hands, and a thick defense of ice spikes.
Ryan barely had the time to leap to the side, as the enormous snowman attempted to squash him like a bug. The sheer strength of the elemental construct shattered the concrete and shook the ground. Sarin meanwhile, was too busy trying to cover the hole in her suit to assist.
How did Ghoul manage to make that body work? Ice didn’t work that way, it couldn’t even bend! Ryan called cheating!
A rumbling noise echoed across the parking lot, growing louder with each new step. Something heavy was rushing towards the battlefield, to claim part of the glory.
“Quicksave!” Zanbato entered the parking lot, his hands manifesting a sword of crimson light. “The Security is coming!”
“I thought you guys paid them off?” Ryan asked, dodging another strike from Ghoul. He wondered how the Psycho could locate him without his eyes, guessing it probably had something to do with temperature.
“We paid them to ignore a delivery run, not the harbor’s destruction!” Zanbato glanced at the two Psychos present, and first cut the streetlight on which Sarin stood. Miss Chernobyl glided to the other end of the parking lot, confirming Ryan’s suspicions that she was made of gas.
Zanbato switched target from Sarin to her compatriot, who was closer; moving at great speeds in spite of the heaviness of his armor, he cut through the giant snowman’s leg like a turkey, slicing it clean in half. Yet the limb quickly reattached itself to the body, Zanbato having to step back to avoid being frozen by mist. The Augusti mafioso still tried to hack at the giant, proving himself so annoying that Ghoul abandoned his pursuit of Ryan to attack this new foe.
The sound of an aircraft echoed above them, Ryan raising his eyes to watch an attack helicopter fly above the parking lot. He recognized it as a customized Agusta A129 Mangusta, piloted by two security guards.
Ryan waved a pile of bank notes at them, as a sign of friendship.
They responded with a missile.
Ryan stopped time just long enough to move out of the bomb’s way, thankful that they didn’t use laser weapons; he was fast, but not as much as light. When time resumed, he quickly realized that the Private Security targeted everyone, the missile impacting in the middle of the battlefield.
Zanbato protected his face with his hand and avoided being knocked back, his armor deflecting debris; while Ghoul’s snowman form took the projectiles without showing any form of discomfort. Sarin, however, was pushed backward by the blast, quickly getting back on her feet with fury.
“Fuck off!” Hazmat girl moved a hand to cover the hole in her suit, and the other towards the skies. A second later, she fired a blast straight at the helicopter, destroying its tail and sending it on a crash course towards the ground.
Alright, it had gone on long enough. Playtime’s over.
As Sarin pointed her gauntlet at Ryan, the courier stopped time for the last time.
He glanced at the helicopter, to assess if he had to rescue the guards, only to notice a flying form next to the aircraft. A humanoid figure, nearly impossible to see in the darkness, and only visible due to the smoke blurring their features. Probably a Genome on Dynamis’ payroll, rescuing the guards.
Good. That meant Ryan could focus on the ground.
The time-manipulator moved behind Sarin, avoiding the clouds of toxic fumes hanging in the air from her wound, and moved her hand towards Ghoul.
Time resumed, and the giant snowman took a full, sustained blast of compressed air head-on. Physics being physics, the ice construct exploded in a rain of droplets and shards, a helpless Ghoul hitting the ground face-first. Zanbato quickly cut him in half execution-style, while the helicopter crashed on the frozen beach further west.
Suddenly realizing what happened, Sarin barely had the time to turn her head around and look over her shoulder.
And Ryan introduced her to Fisty, face first.
The pisto-gauntlet shattered her mask’s glass parts and tossed her backward. Ryan barely had the time to dodge by leaping to the side, as the holes in her mask unleashed a stream of gas; like a balloon, Miss hazmat flew towards the horizon at full speed, unable to control her trajectory. She continued for a while, before finally crashing into the distant supertanker’s wreck.
Ryan glanced at Fisty, making a face as the gas rusted the pistons into scrap within seconds. Yeah, sure, he could have ended it a lot sooner by gutting them in the stopped time…
But life wasn’t about winning. It was about having fun.
“Is she dead?” Zanbato asked, upon reaching Quicksave.
“I’m not sure,” Ryan shrugged, before realizing he couldn’t see his favorite undead among the snowman's remains. “Is Ghoul?”
“No, that’s his other power. He never dies, even when missing the right organs.”
“He’s immortal too?” Ryan gasped, shocked.
“He won’t enjoy it much. I cut him in more pieces than a birthday cake and tossed the head into the sea.” Zanbato glanced at the space where Sarin had blasted the Private Security’s helicopter. The machine had crashed into the Mediterranean Sea, the mysterious superhero gone. “Luigi’s team has already left, and we should make our escape before more Security guards arrive. Can you give me a lift?”
“Anytime,” Ryan replied, whistling. He could already hear his self-driven Plymouth Fury circle around the battlefield to reach them.
“Your car can move by itself?” Zanbato asked, impressed.
“If you really want to know,” Ryan confided, “I don't have a driver’s license.”
In the end, the duo left the harbor in ruins, and almost crossed paths with three Private Security armored minivans.
Before leaving the area, Ryan had given a last glance at the destroyed helicopter, the remains having sunk into the sea. He hoped the guards were okay; they were just doing their job—albeit a bit too zealously—and if they had died, he would consider creating a new loop to save their lives.
“You can leave me at this corner,” Zanbato pointed at a railroad station. “My girlfriend will pick me up.”
“You have a girlfriend?” Ryan asked. “That’s wonderful.”
“Yes, I already told…” Zanbato stopped himself, “I get it. I’ll introduce the two of you one day, I’m sure you will get along. Same sense of humor.”
“Without false modesty, I am inimitable.”
“That’s for sure!” Zanbato replied with a chuckle, climbing down of the car and stepping on the walkway, two drunk guys passing by them. “Look, about your girl… If it’s her tech for the submarines, then I’ll ask Vulcan for you. We’ll solve that mystery in no time.”
“I would appreciate it, Zan! Can I call you Zan? Or Zanny?”
“Jamie,” the samurai replied, shaking Ryan’s hand before leaving. “You can call me Jamie.”
Ryan watched him leave with a fine feeling of contentment. What a fine night.
Not only did Ryan find a lead towards Len—Len—he also made a new friend! A nice, friendly mobster fellow. Certainly, it locked him on to the Augusti Path, but so far so good. A few more missions and they would give him the critical information he needed to find his best friend.
But that would wait after a night of good, gentle sleep. He would have to repair his rusted Fisty tomorrow morning, and dodging attacks all night had exhausted him.
One hour’s drive later, Ryan finally reached the door of his hotel room, ready to collapse on the bed.
His hand touched the doorknob, feeling a little pressure fight against his push.
Before Ryan knew what hit him, the floor exploded in gas and fire.
It was May 8th 2020 for the fifth time, so Ryan stopped his Plymouth Fury in the middle of the road.
Of course, quite a few motorists honked him in response, threatening the Genome with bodily harm if he didn’t move. The courier ignored them, meditating on what just happened, before reaching a decision.
“I’m changing hotels,” Ryan promised, driving back to Renesco. “This city isn’t safe at all.”
He wondered if inns were insured against terrorist attacks.