Hell existed, and it was a corporate seminar.
Ryan had thought his first day on the job as a Little League member would involve superhero training, maybe a routine patrol with Wyvern. Something practical. Instead, the courier received an assignment to a boring, weeks-long corporate internship.
He simply had to look at the day’s planning to wish for a restart. Coffee breakfast, first meeting—with half an hour delay because of the aforementioned coffee break—then lunch, then second meeting, then the REAL lunch, then the second coffee break, third meeting, afternoon lunch, coffee break, then corporate videos. All before six in the afternoon, after which Ryan could either leave or participate in ‘afterhour drink networking.’
So far these meetings consisted of seminars about brand management, marketing guys brainstorming his ‘new and improved’ branding, lawyer interviews where they discussed auxiliary rights, and now an education video about Dynamis’ company culture.
In short, no superhero work at all.
Ryan wasn’t the only ‘recruit’ there, but much to his surprise, most of them seemed to enjoy these boring, mindless activities. They were more eager to discuss their image and royalties than actual fieldwork.
This place drained the courier of his soul. He could feel it.
With a bored sigh, Ryan reached the room where he was supposed to watch the new corporate video, putting his hand on a door scanner. Dynamis had extracted a drop of his blood soon after he signed their contract, which allowed the company to somehow track and identify him.
Ryan groaned at the generic name while the door opened. Couldn’t they have picked something more unique like Clockomancer, or Clockblocker?
The courier walked into a darkened, informal conference room wide enough to welcome dozens upon dozens of people, with Mesoamerican drawings on creamy walls. Dynamis favored an informal, comfortable style, replacing plastic chairs with cotton armchairs and sofas.
The Little League new recruits were gathered in front of a giant screen alongside the PR staff, exchanging pleasantries while consuming Dynamis-made energy drinks; most seemed aged between fifteen and their mid-twenties, wearing colorful costumes designed by the marketing department. From what Ryan heard, they were currently discussing the latest fashion trends, who dated who among Il Migliore’s Pro-League, and how they got introduced to Enrique Manada in the first place.
The Panda wasn’t among these brats. Which was an injustice of the highest order, since he would have fit in perfectly.
Ryan noticed a lone wolf at the back, who preferred to examine photos and paper reports on a luxurious sofa than looking at the screen. This man wore a white cat-shaped mask covering the upper part of his face, showcasing his smooth pale skin, blue eyes, and combed blonde hair; a true adonis. All in all, he seemed around eighteen, wearing a pink and white sleeveless gymnast suit.
The D-shaped symbol flashed on the screen, alongside colorful music. The image of an elderly Latino man with graying hair, a macho mustache, and a rather large belly appeared at the forefront, with a picture of New Rome in the background. He reminded Ryan of an older picture of Pablo Escobar, down to the casual outfit and friendly smile hiding the teeth beneath.
“Hi, I’m Hector Manada, CEO and founder of Dynamis. As a new employee, I welcome you, into the D-family. You have been chosen because of your skills and character, to become part of something greater. For we at Dynamis and its subsidiaries, we are more than a corporate conglomerate. Thirty-three years ago, from the moment I established this company, our guiding principle has always been the same… what should the world look like?”
Ryan knew a lot about Dynamis’ official history, mostly because they advertised it constantly. A twenty-six years old Hector Manada created the pharmaceutical company in Spain long before the Genome Wars, expanding its domains to shipping, warehouses, agriculture, food, biotech, manufacturing, oil, retail… and pretty much everything else.
Ironically, they had just transferred their HQ to Italy to get closer to their burgeoning shipping activities the year before Mechron bombed everyone. This stroke of luck saved most of their leadership when the old world collapsed, and since Dynamis had a finger in every pie all over Western Europe before the Genome Wars, it had the resources needed to thrive once the dust settled.
Since Spain had suffered a lot more than Italy from Genomes depredations, Dynamis had transferred most of its remaining infrastructure away from their homeland, founding New Rome as their personal stronghold. Through their mergers with other corporations and subsidiaries, they controlled Corsica, Sardinia, Mallorca, the south of Spain, western Italy, the oil fields of Libya, and currently contested Sicily to local Genome warlords.
In short, Dynamis’ board was well on their way to become the face of post-Genome Europe… if Augustus didn’t beat them to it.
Ryan decided to move at the back alongside the lone wolf, since it was the closest to the door; he intended to leave as soon as the video ended. Sitting at the back, he tried to listen to the video for ten seconds, before getting bored and checking stuff on his phone.
“Is there wifi here?” Ryan asked his neighbor. “I see a ‘Dyna-mite’ wifi but it’s password protected.”
“You see the wifi-box here?” Blondie pointed at a device in a corner of the room. “The password is written—”
Ryan stopped time before he could finish his sentence. Moving as quickly as a snake, he searched inside his coat for a mini-tracker, quickly opened the wireless box’s back, swiftly put the tracker inside, and then closed the device.
“—on the back,” the man finished, Ryan having returned to his original spot with nobody noticing. “It’s incredibly long and case sensitive though. Took me five tries to get it right.”
The courier feigned a groan of laziness, his eyes still on his phone. The tracker had already activated, sending him information.
Ryan had placed similar devices all over the floor during the day, which should grant him a way inside Dynamis’ systems. The courier needed a quick scan for vulnerabilities which he could exploit in future loops to get inside, and didn’t particularly care if he was identified afterward.
If anything, Ryan considered committing suicide and find a way to skip this internship phase entirely. He was a creature of fun, and the staff here seemed determined to drain him of every drop of life.
Putting his phone back in his pocket and having consumed enough Dynamis content for a lifetime, Ryan didn’t pay attention to the video. Instead, his curious eyes wandered to his neighbor, who seemed to share his disinterest.
As it turned out, Blondie was busy looking at photos of the Meta-Gang.
Ryan immediately recognizing pictures of Sarin and Ghoul, alongside that of a large, horrifically obese bald man with menswear straight out of the fifties. His scarred face and prominent teeth reminded Ryan of a hippo.
Blondie noticed Ryan’s curiosity and felt the urge to give details. “Adam, the Meta’s big bad boss.”
“I could tell from the paunch,” Ryan replied, approaching to get a better look at the photos.
“He’s somewhere in the city, but nobody knows his exact location,” Blondie mumbled, his voice rising with frustration. The recruits closest to them looked over their shoulders, before focusing back on the video. “Too much counter-surveillance, no electronic trail, and he contacts his men, not the other way around. The only people who might know are his lieutenants: Psyshock, Acid Rain, Frank the Mad…”
Ryan decided to make the Meta one of his main priorities for this restart. These Psychos were far too organized and well-behaved. Four years ago, Adam could barely keep his junkies in check, and never without a healthy dose of family-unfriendly violence.
“My, they have grown very large over the years,” the courier mused, as he examined the file closely. According to Dynamis’ information, the Meta-Gang now included around fifty members. “I still remember when they could barely fill a minibus.”
This caught Blondie’s interest. “You met the Meta before?”
“Four years ago,” Ryan replied. “It was just Adam, Psyshock, and a few hanger-ons back then. They didn’t differ much from a normal Psycho pack, except the fondness for ultraviolence and medieval execution methods.”
“Anything you can tell me about them?” Blondie whispered, making it hard for Ryan to listen to the video’s sound. “Their tactics, their organization, their weaknesses?”
“If you want the full story, my feline friend, Psyshock tried to convince a member of my old group to join them. It didn’t go well, and it ended in a bloodbath.” Typical Psychos. “Oh, and Psyshock is a sadistic creep who can hijack your nervous system with his wires if he catches you.”
Telepaths were some of the few Genomes with the ability to do Ryan lasting damage, by tampering with his memories or destroying his personality. He avoided them like the plague whenever he could.
Psyshock though, the courier might seek out and beat up on principle.
“He needs physical contact?” Blondie asked, scribbling the information on a paper sheet. “Good to know. Does he need to maintain physical contact too?”
“Yep, but the disconnection is incredibly painful for the victim,” Ryan explained while putting his legs on the sofa, taking as much space as humanly possible. “So my feline friend, are you planning a mutant mice hunt?”
“I wish,” he grumbled, his eyes wandering to the video. “I asked Enrique if I could follow Pro-League members on patrols, and instead I must guest star in their new movie. He said it would introduce me to the public better than any action in the field.”
“Since when do you need authorization to start trouble?” Ryan asked mirthfully. “What’s the point of being a hero if you can’t legally sublimate your violent urges and receive acclaim for it?”
It seemed to amuse him.
“Hey, by the way, I haven’t introduced myself,” Ryan shook his hand. “I’m Quicksave. I’m immortal, but don’t tell anyone.”
“Atom Cat,” he replied. “I can blow stuff up on touch.”
“Oh, the mafia boy?”
The handshake turned into an iron-grip. “How do you know that?” he hissed. “Are you a spy? Enrique told you? That bastard, I should never have listened-”
The video paused, and everyone looked at the duo with angry gazes; while Ryan remained unfazed, Atom Cat bristled a bit. Nothing like a shared embarrassment to start a new friendship!
A marketing guy in a suit and tie looked at the duo, letting the awkward silence set in. “Are you not interested,” he began, the frozen face of Hector Manada behind him, “in the company where you will work for the next five years?”
“I am interested, sir,” Atom Cat lied through his teeth. “It won’t happen again, sir.”
“Absolutely not,” Ryan replied bluntly, “but please continue, we’ll be as quiet and dutiful as unpaid interns.”
The marketing guy glared at the courier, imitated by the other recruits. It was kindergarten all over again. “If you make another comment like that, Timelord, I will ask you to politely leave the room without a word.”
The new name hurt, physically.
Wait, they could leave early?
When the marketing guy received no answer, he put back the video on. Atom Cat waited for everyone to lose interest in them, before whispering into Ryan’s ear. “If you don’t answer, I’m blowing you up. Same if I let go of your hand unwillingly.”
“Can you keep a secret?” Ryan looked around as if they were being spied on, and then approached Atom Cat’s ear to whisper back into it. “I come back from the future. I used a DeLorean.”
“Your references are quite outdated,” Atom Cat replied. His grip grew tighter, and the courier felt his skin heat up. “What do you know?”
“That we are close enough to kiss,” Ryan replied, his free hand shifting to grab a weapon. “That your parents are Augusti Capos, that you joined the other team out of teenage rebellion, and that you should rethink having children.”
Atom Cat looked down, noticing the hidden knife very close to his manly parts. Thankfully, nobody had noticed, their eyes focusing on the screen. "My power will be faster," he replied.
"And I'm very good at neutering cats, Kitty."
“At least a spy would have been subtler,” Atom Cat mused, his eyes squinting behind the mask. “So you don’t know who my parents are? Their actual identity?”
The courier rolled his shoulders.
Atom Cat looked at the other recruits, and spoke only when certain they didn’t listen, with a voice so low the courier could barely hear it, “They’re Mars and Venus.”
Ryan gasped in shock. “You’re Cupid? But where are the wings and bow?”
Atom Cat marked a short pause. “Not the mythological gods, you idiot,” he said, finally releasing Ryan’s hand. “It takes some kind of elitist narcissism to name yourself after deities. As if you stood above normal people, like mice and men.”
“I heard there was a Genome who tried to use the name Little Jesus once," the courier replied, putting back the knife up his sleeve, "He didn’t last long.”
“Augustus fried him alive,” Atom Cat replied, relaxing a bit. “You’re not an Augusti? No, you wouldn’t have risked a DNA scan otherwise. They’ve been sending people asking me to come back into the fold a lot lately.”
“And why did you leave it in the first place?” Ryan asked, crossing his legs and faking interest in the video when the marketing guy looked at him. Now it showed Hector with children before a school sponsored by Dynamis, the poor kids struggling to smile at the camera.
“If you knew half the things they do, you’d understand,” Atom Cat replied angrily. “Their Bliss drug kills thousands each year, their weapons slay more, and that’s what makes it to the news. The kidnappings, the murders, the racketeering, and the prostitution… After a while, I just couldn’t take it anymore. I thought I could make a difference at Il Migliore.”
“Not yet,” he grumbled. “The Manada and Augustus have been at each other’s throat for years, so I thought they had plans to take him down, but apparently, Dynamis’ motto is ‘don’t rock the boat.’”
“Enrique seemed quite motivated when I met him,” Ryan pointed out.
“He and his brother Alphonse yes, but their father…” Atom Cat glared at Hector’s image. “‘Don’t rock the boat.’”
Ryan tried his best to watch the video for thirty more seconds and quickly realized he would go mad if this continued. “Okay,” he said, crawling on the sofa closer to the door, “I’m out.”
“Where are you going?” Atom Cat asked, curious.
“To Rust Town, to beat up the Meta.”
The would-be superhero appraised Ryan’s words for a long, long minute. “You want to go to their new territory and… what, pick a fight with the first Psycho you meet?”
“You make it sound so complicated.”
“Dynamis will cut your salary if you do that,” Atom Cat replied weakly. “Maybe even fire you.”
Ryan considered the statement thoughtfully, remembered that he had more money stashed away than he would earn at Il Migliore, then shrugged it off. He was confident he would learn more about Dynamis’ activities by hacking them than by following a week-long seminar.
“Your nickname is Quicksave,” Atom Cat mumbled the name, finally remembering where he had heard it. “Wait, didn’t you beat up Ghoul with a golf club?”
“I had to buy one just for that occasion, and I almost didn’t make it in time. Still, I improved my short game by quite a lot.” Ryan rose up from the sofa, looking casual and ignoring the marketing guy glaring at him. “Now, are you coming or not?”
Atom Cat looked at Ryan, then at the video, and noticed it still had fifty-seven minutes left before its conclusion. The young hero immediately rose up from the sofa, gathered the photos and reports, before following the courier towards the door.
“Timelord, Atom Cat, the video is not over yet,” the marketing guy said, trying to sound firm and failing utterly.
“I’m escorting him out of the building to make sure he never returns, sir,” Atom Cat promised. Apparently, in spite of his spiel, getting rid of the courier made the marketing guy a lot happier.
“Teacher’s pet,” Ryan accused Atom Cat, as he closed the door behind them.
“You have a car?” the young superhero asked. “I can only drive a motorcycle.”
“I have the best of them, but before we go,” Ryan cleared his throat, “do you know where they make cashmere suits?”
“Floor twenty of the Dynamis HQ, right next to this building,” Atom Cat replied, clearly well-informed. “Why the question?”
“Because I will get a cashmere suit, even if I have to fight for it.”