Ryan dived towards the servers, dodging flailing wires while the glass windows shattered around him. Outside, someone had opened fire on the garage, bullets piercing through the walls and damaging the computers inside.
“If it’s the paparazzi,” the courier complained, raising his coil gun at the ceiling, “here’s my autograph!”
He opened fire, projectiles going through the roof while glass shards formed flying walls to cover the holes in the ceiling. However, the acid rain quickly corroded them, the liquid falling on a server and starting an electrical fire.
A monstrous mass of wires stood on the roof, its malevolent eyes glaring at the courier through one of the remaining openings.
Ryan blinked. “Aren’t you braindead, Psypsy?”
“I told you,” Psyshock replied, an undercurrent of anger in his robotic voice as he raised his wire tentacles. From above, he looked like an alien metal squid. “I heal.”
“Oh good, that means I get to kill you twice.”
Ryan always saw the bright side of everything.
The courier wondered who helped the Psycho with his plastic surgery though. The skull’s shape had changed slightly, turning slimmer. Either the telepath had improper regeneration, or he had a different powerset than the courier thought.
Also, his body had been recovered by Dynamis for study. How did he escape quickly enough to launch this ambush? Something didn’t add up at all.
Psyshock moved his head out of sight before Ryan froze time, making it difficult for the courier to aim at the mutant’s only vital area. It didn’t help that the Psycho’s backup kept firing bullets from outside, providing suppressing fire. The invisible jackass created glass walls the best he could to keep the rain and the Psycho out, but the silica didn’t last long.
Deciding he would rather risk the acid rain than Psyshock brain-jacking him, the courier shot a few projectiles at the ceiling, dodged the frozen bullets, then rushed outside.
Toxic clouds had overtaken the skies as far as he could see, unleashing an acid downpour on the ship graveyard and corroding the metal husks. A large part of the area had gone up in smoke, probably Atom Cat’s doing; Ryan hoped that the kitty could hold his own against whatever allies Psyshock had brought with him.
Two mechanical hounds were the source of the gunfire, one standing atop an airbus husk, the other on the ground. They had the shape of dogs, except with a glass visor for eyes, a machine gun mounted on their back, and ammo compartments on the belly. Dynamis probably used these drones to support the Private Security, and Ryan wondered if the Meta had somehow hacked into them.
When time resumed, the courier sensed the acid rain drip on his clothes, eating at his hat and mask. Ryan’s clothes provided him little protection from the acid and had already started to dissolve; since he didn't know of any natural acid with these properties, the courier guessed it was a unique chemical composition, probably from an Orange Genome. A few minutes without cover, and he would look like a hunk of cheese.
Psyshock, standing atop the garage, attempted to pursue him, only to be forced back to dodge a glass spear aimed at his brain. A flying figure emerged from the workshop, attacking the Psycho with floating shards.
The Shroud occupied Psyshock, although the acid rain prevented him from using his invisibility. The poison corroded the vigilante’s glass armor, making him visible to everyone. Yet, he could still control the glass and silica from his machines, summoning an entire storm of sharp projectiles to keep the Psycho busy. Psyshock seemed immune to the acid rain, and moved at high speeds to dodge glass spears and blades.
Meanwhile, the drones’ machine guns opened fire on Ryan, who retaliated by targeting the one on the ship’s husk and pressing his coil gun’s trigger. The projectile, faster and more powerful than normal bullets, went through the robo-hound’s face and came out of its ass, blowing a hole in its circuitry.
The other leaped around, firing at will. Ryan whistled, his car rushing out of the smoke, and towards his location; the acid rain had consumed its windows and damaged the paint, much to the courier’s horror.
Still, the machine hound couldn’t dodge both Ryan’s shots and the vehicle. The Plymouth hit it like a deer on the road, smashing the drone into pieces.
“Cat!” Ryan shouted, rushing towards his car to take cover from the rain. “Cat!”
A chill went down his spine, as one of the raindrops suddenly transformed into a grenade right above his car.
Ryan barely had the time to backtrack before his wonderful Plymouth exploded in a burst of flames and iron parts. “My car!” the courier shouted in horror. “Not again!”
“Caught you, thief!”
A woman appeared in front of the courier, unaffected by the toxic rain. Her skin was bleached white, her golden hair cut short, and her eyes a bloodshot shade of crimson. She wore a sleeveless white shirt and tight shorts; Ryan might have called her attractive, if not for the crazy violent glint in her eyes.
Oh, and she also carried a bloody butcher knife in her right hand. Let’s not forget that part.
“Acid Rain, I suppose?” Ryan asked before activating his time stop. As he did so, the same feeling of tension ran through his spine.
When he entered the frozen time, everything was tainted by a Violet hue, but the woman had vanished. Did she manage to teleport away?
Pain raced through his body, as the acid waters managed to eat away his clothes and reach the skin beneath. While furious about his car’s destruction, the courier decided to retreat into the shadow of a ship husk, to get protection from the downpour.
The second time resumed, once again, a wave of tension went down his spine as—
Ryan let out a cough of pain, as a butcher’s knife found its way to his hand, cutting his fingers and causing him to drop his coil gun on the ground. Blood flowing through his right hand, although having experienced worse, he could still focus.
“You can see it, too…” Acid Rain chuckled, blocking his path towards the husk. “The purple world.”
“That place between two moments and two angles, paradise!” she cackled, holding her head with both hands as if overtaken by rapturous desire. “It’s so wonderful! My brain shines with its beauty!”
“Okay lady, I’m done here,” Ryan said, looking inside his trench coat for the atom bomb. He barely had the time to bring it out of storage when the nimble killer teleported right in front of the courier, kicking the bomb away with a swift attack. She immediately vanished before the courier could return the favor.
Before she reappeared and fled, Ryan sensed… he could not quite describe it, a gut feeling. The same feeling as when his own power activated.
Not only could she summon acid rains, that Psycho could also switch places with raindrops, giving her an impressive teleportation range. A Violet Genome coupled with an Orange. One who drew her power from the same source as Ryan’s.
Their powers interfered with one another, enough that each could sense the other’s activation.
The problem was, while the courier only needed a thought to activate his time-stop, it took a fraction of a second to take effect. If she could sense its activation, Acid Rain had a very short window to react before the temporal anomaly manifested.
And not only were her reflexes superhuman, but her power also took action faster than his own. Ryan guessed it made sense. His time-stop affected the entire observable universe, while her teleportation only switched two objects in a short radius.
Ryan had found a counter.
“Geez, this city has a huge balance problem!” he complained, before taking cover under a husk’s shadow. He should have expected the Meta to send a heavy hitter after him considering all the headaches he gave them in this restart, but damn, that girl hit hard! “Cat! Cat, where are you?!”
He couldn’t hear anything with the downpour, nor see much. Even the battle between Shroud and Psyshock had turned into a distant background echo.
“I got him first,” Acid Rain laughed, reappearing atop an airbus’ remains with a machine gun. She had a clear line of sight towards Ryan. “Gutted him like a fish, chin to ass!”
She opened fire at Ryan, forcing the courier to duck. He attempted to target her with a well-placed thrown knife to the face, but she teleported away before the weapon could connect.
“Send me there!” the madwoman snarled upon reappearing on the ground near Ryan’s own location, daggers in both hands, his eyes lost in feverish madness, “Send me there, you thief! You think you can keep it all for yourself, you miserable little punk? You think you can take this beautiful world from me?! You selfish brat, you’re violating my rights!”
Ryan stopped time for a second, the woman vanishing before the effect halted the clock. He immediately stopped the effect within two seconds, deciding to stick to short bursts as a defense.
The woman reappeared, aiming for his chest, but this time he anticipated her. While she managed to put a dagger in his stomach, Ryan grazed her left shoulder with his own knife, barely missing the neck. Showing extreme nimbleness rivaling his own, she backflipped to safety, standing beneath the rain while the courier remained safely below the rusting husk.
Ryan examined the wound, realizing he couldn’t remove the blade without bleeding out. The situation wasn’t good; he only had one hand left, and he took more damage than she did. To add insult to injury, the acid droplets seemed to avoid hitting her body, leaving her impeccably dressed even in the middle of a downpour.
“Aw…” Acid Rain licked her own wound, her face one of blissful happiness. “Aw, it’s so warm… so warm...”
She enjoyed getting hurt.
“My compliments to the chef,” Ryan deadpanned dryly. “May I suggest some fava beans with your drink?”
Instead of quipping back, the madwoman let out a maniacal laugh. “I’ll hurt you for this!” she snarled, her expression a mix of anger and pleasure. “Oh yes, you will squeal! I’ll knife you until you squeal, you little piggy!”
She immediately disappeared from Ryan’s sight as he activated his time stop, perhaps returning to a safe house to grab weapons. The courier didn’t mind dying now, since his perfect run towards Len would require an Augusti loop, but he would rather perish with dignity rather than die to this… this discount Joker!
Ryan searched inside his trench coat and brought out the plushie. It felt so tiny in his hand, and yet so dangerous.
“I want you to know this,” the courier said as time resumed, trying to flip the hidden switch on the plushie’s back. “You forced me to do this. You forced me to do th—”
Another mental signal followed, and a grenade appeared right in front of him.
Two words came to mind.
Ryan’s vision turned white, his hearing went deaf, and his back hit the ground. He felt the plushie slip through his fingers, far away from him.
When he regained his sense of sight, and his ears started to make sense of words again, he laid helpless on his back, half his body burned, the rest bleeding out. Acid Rain towered over him, like an angel of death.
“I’m going to knife you to death,” she said with an angry face. “And then I’m going to get inside your bowels. I’m sure you keep the map to the purple world there. Yes, you thief, I know that. Your intestines will look so tender and beautiful.”
This woman had serious issues.
Ryan sighed and tried to come up with famous last words when Acid Rain glanced away from him and towards the shore. “Who are you?” she hissed. “Another thief? How many of you—”
A stream of pressurized water targeted the Psycho, who teleported away long before it could hit her.
Ryan frowned in confusion, as he heard heavy footsteps on the ground, powerful enough to overshadow the noise from the downpour. Something big had emerged from the sea and moved on to the shore.
Although Ryan’s vision was starting to blur, he could see it approach. A towering figure of bronze alloys, carrying some kind of flamethrower device. The figure looked like a mix between a diver suit and advanced armor, smaller than Vulcan’s, yet as thick as a tank and painted crimson. Its helmet’s single opening projected light like a lighthouse, illuminating Ryan as it glanced down at him.
His eyes widened behind his mask, as he recognized the design.
The iron giant didn’t answer, but although the courier couldn’t see the person within due to the lighthouse visor, he immediately recognized her posture. The way she moved and carried her weapon, the slight concern when the titan observed him...
It was her. She was out of jail and free and alive and well! Ryan’s heart beamed with happiness.
Maybe she had always been there, watching him from afar.
“Mine!” Acid Rain snarled, teleporting so quickly she seemed to be in a dozen places at once. “Mine mine mine! I am filled with disdain! Disdain and fury!”
“Len, don’t!” Ryan pleaded as the bronze giant raised her weapon, realizing the danger. “Get away!”
When Acid Rain ended her teleportation onslaught, she had replaced multiple raindrops with grenades. A rain of bombs fell upon the duo, with enough explosives to wipe out an entire city block.
Ryan activated his time stop in a hurry, trying to drag Len away or remove the bombs. But his body collapsed under the strain of his injuries, his face hitting the bloody sand.
Time resumed, and this loop ended in a cataclysmic blast.
It was May 8th, 2020 for… the seventh time? The eighth?
Ryan had lost count, though like always, he opened the day by ramming his car into Ghoul’s back.
“You guys,” Ryan sighed, climbing down from his car as Renesco’s bar erupted into chaos. “You guys are real assholes, you know that? I hope you do.”
And since they insisted on making his life difficult, the courier would return the favor tenfold this time around.
“I’m calling Security!” Renesco complained behind the bar counter, while the bar’s customers watched on. Ghoul was trying to get back on his feet, dizzied by the blow.
Calm and hopeful after seeing Len again, Ryan grabbed the Fisty Brothers and put the gloves on. “But I am an optimist, and since this should be my perfect run, I think we can let bygones be bygones,” he said, as he playfully approached Ghoul. “Start anew, play tennis, even become friends! Do you want to be my friend Ghoul?”
“Who the hell are yo—”
Ryan sucker-punched him in the stomach, the Psycho falling to his knees with a groan.
“I think we will do it the anime way.” Ryan grabbed Ghoul’s head with the Fisty Brothers and brought it closer to his own. The Psycho’s eyes widened in confusion. “I beat you up, you will develop Stockholm Syndrome, and then you will become my Robin! Quicksave and the Ghoul Wonder! We’re going to have merchandise, comics, television shows, sitcoms. and pointless derivatives! Everything that makes life worth living! We’ll be together forever!”
The people in the bars looked at Ryan as if he were insane.
"We'll have our faces on every fast-food! McDonald, KFC, Burger King! We'll get happy meals, Ghoul! Free happy meals!"
Ghoul just stared at him with straight up terror in his eyes.
“It’s a whole new franchise!”