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And so, Vulcan’s biblical judgment was passed upon the heathens at Dynamis. Wyvern’s movie ended in rats and pestilence, like the previous Augusti loop.

It saddened Ryan to ruin Atom Cat’s first movie appearance, especially after befriending him earlier. His adorable feline sidekick hated these commercial ventures though, so no harm done. They would make up later.

When the Made Men returned to the house in his beautiful car, the courier almost expected Shroud to blow up the place again. Ryan had never gone farther than this moment, so he couldn’t tell what would happen next. Ki-jung didn’t seem agitated in the Plymouth Fury’s back, so her rat sentries should be fine.

The courier almost wished for an unforeseen disaster, to spice things up.

When Ryan noticed Vulcan’s enormous armor parked in the garden right next to a black Lamborghini, and girls waiting at the front door, he realized someone upstairs had granted his prayer.

Instead of summoning them to her lair, Pluto had decided to visit her employees herself.

Besides her usual bodyguard and Vulcan, the Underboss also enjoyed the company of a young woman Ryan hadn’t seen before; a petite, smiling blonde with pale blue eyes, who kept her hair in two braids. She wore a white sweater and pants, and Ryan guessed she probably had Slavic origins from her facial features.

“She brought two of the Killer Seven,” Chitter said, uneasy at the sight.

“You’re ready for this?” Jamie asked Ryan, as the courier parked the car.

“Well, it feels like I’ll have to pass hard speech checks or fight a difficult boss,” Ryan replied. “But that means I’m close to the end.”

“You aren’t going to beat that one, I can already tell you,” Lanka said at the back, everyone getting out of the car.

The group approached Pluto’s own, with everyone tensing up as the Underboss looked at them. Even Ryan remained quiet at first, mostly because he knew his long-awaited reunion with Len was just around that corner.

“Boss,” Jamie cleared his throat, “I didn’t expect to see you here.”

“That’s the purpose of a surprise inspection,” Pluto replied dryly, her eyes settling on Ryan. “Our business is with him only, Zanbato. Your team can do as they wish.”

“If you don’t mind, I would like to be present,” the Made Man replied calmly. “If only as moral support to the new recruit.”

“I’ll stay too,” Lanka said.

“Aw, I knew you cared,” Ryan taunted her.

“If she kills you, blabbermouth, I’ll be the one saddled with corpse disposal,” she replied. “I would rather do less work.”

“I guess I will stay too then,” Ki-jung replied, although she clearly didn’t want to. A rat climbed on her shoulder, like a Pikachu. “Just don’t mind me.”

Pluto shrugged it off, and then immediately started barking orders. “Sparrow, search his person; Vulcan, check for any Genius tech he might have. Cancel, you know the drill.”

“I’m already on it,” the blonde said with a Bulgarian accent, before grinning at Ryan. “Hey! I’m Cancel, but you can call me Greta! Nice to meet you, Ryan!”

“Oh hi, Greta.” The courier waved a hand at her, surprised by her niceness. “I’m immortal, but don’t tell anyone.”

Pluto’s female bodyguard, ‘Sparrow,’ immediately started feeling up Ryan with her big hands, searching everywhere. She removed his mask, his hat, his jacket, and then started to look into places better left unexplored.

“You know, lady, if you wanted to look at my underwear,” the courier said as she checked a... private place… “You could just ask. I’m young, easy, and available.”

“I might take you up on that,” Sparrow replied with an amused smile. Over time, a pile of weapons grew next to Ryan, Vulcan swiftly examining them one at a time like hors-d’oeuvres, until she hit the plat de resistance.

“How did you pack so many lasers inside such a tiny space?” Vulcan asked, examining the rabbit plushie with astonished eyes. “Even my armor doesn’t have that many.”

“One at a time,” Ryan shrugged it off.

“What is this?” Pluto asked, curious. “Some toy?”

“It’s quite cute,” Ki-jung said.

“A toy with enough firepower to wipe out a small city,” Vulcan said, more and more fascinated by the plushie’s dark power. “Can I—”

“No,” the courier denied her.

“But—”

“No!” Ryan said firmly. “I’m not loaning it!”

A-bombs, fine, but something this dangerous? No way in Hell. It couldn’t end in anything but tragedy.

Vulcan looked deeply, deeply disappointed, but didn’t push the issue. “It’s exceptionally lethal,” she told Pluto, putting the plushie back on the weapon pile. “But it doesn’t cause memory alteration. None of his weapons can do that.”

“Neither can his power,” Cancel said. “Or at least I don’t think so. He’s as Violet as they come.”

“Oh, you’re a White?” Ryan asked, the girl nodding.

“One of the mightiest.” Pluto smiled at Ryan. “Cancel can negate the powers of everyone within a certain radius. My brother excepted, of course.”

“Ah, that’s funny.”

Cancel immediately pouted. “Why don’t you check for yourself then, huh?”

Challenge accepted.

Ryan immediately attempted to stop time... and nothing happened. No feedback, no world freezing with the power of his mind, not even an itching sensation. Nothing at all. His ability simply refused to activate.

He tried again, but he kept having performance issues. His annoyance must have shown on his face because a smug, victorious smile appeared at the edge of Greta’s lips.

Well, that wasn’t good.

That wasn’t good at all! His save point shouldn’t be affected, but if Cancel negated the automatic trigger… then if Ryan perished close to her, he might die for good.

“Miss Pluto, have I told you I find you extraordinarily elegant and beautiful?” Ryan said. When in doubt, flatter them!

“Pointless, but thank you,” Pluto replied with false affability, before turning to Cancel. “Still nothing?”

“If it was memory manipulation, I should have purged the effect,” the girl replied. “Whether it was Blue, Green, Yellow, or even Violet.”

Pluto said nothing. Instead, she looked for a pocket inside her dress and grabbed a smoke; Sparrow brought a lighter and set it ablaze just as her mistress put the cancer stick in her mouth.

“I control death,” Pluto told Ryan, Jamie’s group freezing still at her words. “The metaphysical concept of death, the end of life. While I cannot count them, I can sense the weight of a person’s years. And if I’m not mistaken, Quicksave, you’re the oldest person I’ve ever met. Far older than anyone should be. Now that I’ve taken a good long look at you, I would peg you as…”

She breathed a cloud of smoke on Ryan’s face.

“Somewhere in the triple digits, and closer to four than two.”

Oh my, that long? Ryan had lost count after the first century.

“Three digits?” Ki-jung frowned. “That doesn't make sense.”

“He seems a bit young for an old geezer,” Lanka replied with a shrug. “Are you sure, boss? I don’t mean to doubt you—”

“You are,” Pluto cut her off, as sharp as a blade. She didn’t raise her tone, but it silenced all critics. “My power is never wrong. So Quicksave, care to explain this to me?”

The way she phrased it, Ryan knew that Pluto would either spare or kill him depending on the answer.

No choice then.

“I knew this day would come.”

Everyone glanced at the courier, who did his best ‘guilty culprit confession’ impersonation.

“Okay, I admit it,” the courier let out a long, long sigh. “I lied. I lied to you. To everyone. About my power.”

“I suspected as much,” Vulcan said, now listening with rapturous attention. “I can’t imagine how one could stop time and still be able to act. You should evolve in a lightless world, where every item is a deadly projectile.”

“So, you lied about the nature of your power to keep an ace in the hole?” Pluto asked, playing with her cancer stick. “A sensible thing to do, especially with strangers. I applaud your caution.”

“I guess you aren’t as stupid as you look,” Lanka teased him, Jamie elbowing her.

“How does it actually work then?” Pluto asked.

“When I freeze time, I actually jump into another parallel universe, usually to avoid death,” Ryan lied through his teeth. “One alternate world very close to mine. I ‘overlap’ with the ‘me’ of that world and we become one.”

Ryan expected denial, but much to his surprise, nothing of the sort came up.

“That’s awesome,” Greta all but swooned. “Does that mean you can become a woman? Like fuse with an alternate version of you that is a girl? How does it work?”

“Once, I spent three months Chinese,” Ryan lied, the bigger the better. “And I became American, twice!”

“Wait, that’s how you cheated at cards!” Lanka immediately focused on the important tidbit. “You asshole, you jumped universes whenever you had a bad hand!”

“Huh, that’s interesting,” Jamie said, crossing his arms. “That puts some of your comments at the casino in a new light.”

“That explains the Chronoradio too,” Ki-jung added.

“Chronoradio?” Vulcan frowned. “A radio that listens through time?”

“Multiple pasts,” Ryan corrected.

“You can’t have more than one past,” Lanka grunted in the background.

“A radio that can tap into alternate timelines?” The more she observed his technology, the more Vulcan seemed fascinated with it. “How does it work?”

“It’s really complicated but—”

“I’m a Genius,” she interrupted Ryan. “How does it work?”

“Observer effect, my smug friend,” Ryan replied with a shrug, unwilling to elaborate much. “The observed state changes depending on the observation method.”

“It works with past events?” Vulcan’s eyes widened, as she struggled to grasp the underlying theory.

Meanwhile, Pluto’s face was undecipherable. Finally, she uttered a single word, “Okay.”

“Wow, you guys took it a lot better than I thought,” Ryan admitted. “People usually think I’m pulling their legs when I say that.”

“My niece Minerva can interact with parallel universes, although she’s a Blue. I wonder how your respective abilities would interact. Could be interesting...” The Underboss examined the courier with a whole new look, trying to puzzle it out. “So the abnormal number of years I sense, is because you fuse with your copies and your metaphysical weight accumulates?”

“Could it be that you marked an alternate version of him,” Sparrow said. “And your power followed him through his jumps?”

“Possible,” she admitted. “Though the fact I marked him at all is a warning sign.”

“You mark every Genome you meet,” Vulcan pointed out brashly. “It’s quite vulgar, frankly.”

Pluto ignored the jab and observed Ryan closely, who gave her a smile in return. “Search his car for any devices,” she ordered her cronies next, “I’m not entirely convinced yet.”

Sparrow examined the Plymouth Fury as thoroughly as she checked Ryan’s body, searching under the seats, the trunk, and the hidden compartments. She clearly had experience with these things. Vulcan, meanwhile, examined the Chronoradio, checking multiple channels.

When she opened the car hood and looked inside, Sparrow’s bored face turned into one of confusion, then astonishment. “My God…”

“What do—” Ki-jung peeked inside, and then screamed in horror. The rat on her shoulder was so startled, it fell to the ground. Jamie immediately rushed to his girlfriend’s side, taking her in his arms, and frowning at the car hood.

Of course, everyone gathered to peek inside, much to Ryan’s confusion. Why such a reaction? Even the unflappable Pluto had raised an eyebrow, and Lanka was at a loss of words. “What the fuck…”

“Ryan.”

Jamie looked at the courier as if he were deranged.

“Why is there a brain inside your car?”

Ryan peeked beneath the car hood and understood what they meant.

Below the engines and near the heat pump, there was a hidden hatch which Sparrow had opened; revealing an elongated brain floated in a jar of green liquid, the spine linked to cables.

“Oh, my,” Ryan said, scratching his hair. “I completely forgot about that.”

“I will ask again,” Jamie’s voice had turned deadly cold, while Ki-jung hid behind her boyfriend. “Why do you keep a brain in storage?”

“It’s not in storage, it’s connected to my car. I mean, how did you think the self-driving worked? The Chronoradio? You believed it was ‘magic’ or ‘artificial intelligence’?”

Seriously, Jamie was okay with Ryan keeping an A-bomb, but he drew the line at a brain-driven car? Where was the logic in that?

“That’s so messed up,” Lanka muttered to herself. “You abducted a complete stranger and extracted his brain, because you couldn’t get a driver’s licence?”

“Oh, I see where it's going.” Ryan raised his hands. “You think I abducted homeless people off the streets with the help of a creepy hunchback assistant? And that his name was Igor?”

It said something about Pluto and Vulcan that they looked more curious than disturbed by the possibility. And Greta kept smiling, fascinated. It should have looked cute, but now it seemed downright disturbing.

“It’s not a human brain,” Vulcan pointed out. “The shape doesn’t fit. It looks like a manta ray’s but… no, I don’t recognize it. Some of the parts are clearly artificial.”

“It’s homegrown,” Ryan replied. “Entirely synthetic.”

“Explain this,” Pluto said. “Now.”

“I worked a few jobs for Geniuses in the past, and usually, they paid me with tech rather than cash. Like my A-bomb.” He drew quite a few angry glares at this, except Vulcan, who was more and more interested. The courier powered through. “I couldn’t get the Chronoradio to work due to lack of processing power, and I wanted my car to drive by itself. A client proposed to solve both problems at once.”

“By putting a brain in your car?” Lanka deadpanned.

“One of his specialties lied in wetware computers,” Ryan replied. “He had like, hundreds of brains in jars. He grew them like weed.”

“So it’s not sentient?” Ki-jung asked, looking at the brain matter with an anxious face. “It’s just a computer?”

“Of course it’s not sentient,” Ryan protested. “You think I would do half the things I do with my car if there was a real person inside? Do you take me for a savage?”

Nobody answered that. Jamie kept his arms crossed. “I don’t know how to feel about this.”

“Me neither,” his girlfriend admitted.

Pluto, who had remained completely unflappable so far, threw her smoke on the lawn and glanced at Vulcan. “What do you think?”

“He clearly had multiple Geniuses work on his car, and I think I see a miniature particle accelerator connected to the brain,” the weapon designer replied, before closing the car hood. “It will take me a few days to review everything, but I doubt any of his devices can be used for memory manipulation.”

“I see,” Pluto said, turning to Ryan next, “Quicksave.”

“Yeeees?”

“You’re on probation for now. I'm not entirely sold yet, but I will give you the benefit of the doubt. Don’t make me come back.” She glanced at Vulcan next. “Jasmine, he’s yours to do as you wish. If he fucks up, I’ll hold you responsible.”

Jamie seemed a bit disappointed in the background, perhaps believing she would assign Ryan to his own superior’s division. But he knew better than to mouth off to that lethal woman.

Without a word nor goodbye, Pluto considered the matter settled and moved towards her car. “See you soon!” Greta waved at everyone, while she and Sparrow went for the Lamborghini.

Crisis averted!

No sooner after they left, Vulcan tried to buy Ryan on the spot. “Okay, three thousand,” she declared out of nowhere, unable to resist her newfound feelings for the courier. “To work as my lab assistant, and let me examine your rabbit.”

“Does a toy warrant more attention than a brain-driven car?” Ki-jung whispered to Jamie, who shrugged his shoulders. He had long stopped trying to make sense out of the situation.

“Three grand per month?” Ryan smiled smugly at this cute offer. “My, you’re cheap—”

“Per day,” Vulcan corrected the courier. “Half cash, half wired.”

Ryan merely raised an eyebrow; Lanka was the one who almost died of a stroke on the spot. “Per day? For him? He cheats at cards!”

“I will make you your own armor, everything else you want,” Vulcan continued, completely ignoring the minion. “Drugs, enough whores to break your nuts on, your own personal lab? And of course… your girl.”

“You grease the hinges, the door opens,” Ryan replied. “My main quest first, then we’ll see about the side-quests.”

“Alright, fair,” Vulcan replied, moving towards her armor. “We’re going.”

“To the Moooooooon?”

“To your friend,” Vulcan replied as if he was saying something stupid. “There’s a second seat in my suit’s cockpit, so climb in.”

Finally.

He was going to see Len at long last.

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Void Herald

Bio: I'm Maxime Julien Durand ([email protected]), a European warlock living in the distant realm known as France, spending all his time writing tales and forbidden scrolls.

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