Vulcan’s workshop echoed with the sound of welding, while Ryan reviewed an armor sketch, ass on a chair and legs on the workbench.
Ryan’s job as Vulcan’s assistant turned out to be more desk work than anything exciting like target practice. She handed him designs for new armor, guns, or vehicles, and then asked him to review and improve on them.
As he examined her sketches, the courier realized that Vulcan’s Genius power was probably ‘weapon creation.’ All her inventions either had an offensive application or served to support weaponry. The Genius could even make cyber-warfare programs, like viruses capable of detonating cell phones from afar.
While it made Vulcan a devastatingly dangerous Genius, you couldn’t make a vehicle with just guns. She never patched her armor’s joints weakness, simply because her power refused to entertain innovative solutions in theory unrelated to warfare.
No wonder Vulcan desperately wanted a Genius assistant. She was a missile without a tripod.
“So, let me get this straight,” Vulcan asked, welding a new cannon to her armor’s right arm. “Underdiver doesn’t want you in her life, and Zanbato suggested you persevere?”
“Pretty much,” Ryan replied, scribbling notes on her sketch. He always found Genius-tech to be an interesting intellectual challenge, which was why he had devoted so many loops to studying it. “Oh, and he’s also throwing a party Thursday night.”
“Well, Jamie doesn’t know shit,” the Genius snapped back angrily. “I fucking hate white knights, and Underdiver doesn’t need one. She doesn’t need anyone.”
“I’m not sure—”
“Can you even fathom that girl’s sheer potential?” Vulcan interrupted him. “At least a third of the Earth is uninhabitable nowadays, and she can make self-sustaining habitats that can survive deep oceanic pressure. I’m making weapons, but her? She’s building the future. I could do without her tech, yes. But the money I send her? It’s an investment for mankind.”
She stopped welding, put her tool and iron mask away, and wiped away the sweat with her hand.
“White knights, they’re smothering,” she ranted, grabbing a water bottle and taking a sip. “They don’t help because they’re nice, but because they’re needy. They’re oppressive. What your girl needs is self-confidence, and she’s only going to develop that by building something that is hers alone. So if you really like that Len girl, don’t get in her way. If you want to help, don’t help.”
It didn’t sound at all like psychological projection. Not at all. “I’m sure there’s an interesting story behind that opinion,” the courier teased her.
“Wyvern was the worst of the white knights, casting everyone in her shadow,” she replied, as Ryan had guessed. “You think she’s being a hero because she really believes in justice? It’s all ego. Self-righteousness. She wants the cheering children, people looking up to her, without making the hard decisions. If she really wanted to change things, she would have ditched Dynamis long ago. But she didn’t.”
“But what did she do to you personally?” Ryan asked, a bit confused.
“Haven’t you been listening? She kept me in her shadow. When we started, I was the brain and she was the brawn. I gathered intel and made the plans. She’s powerful, but she’s a mace. All the force in the world doesn’t matter if nobody can wield it in the right direction.”
The Genius continued going into a rant, venting off. Her voice dripped with bitterness and anger, her fingers crushing the now empty plastic bottle.
“Wyvern became famous because of me, but she was always the one in the field. The hero everyone talked about. And when we made a deal with Dynamis, it got worse. I wanted their resources to build myself a suit, make a name for myself. Become Wyvern’s partner, instead of her sidekick. But they kept me in a lab, vetoed all my plans. I can make any weapon, the likes that rival Mechron’s, but to the Manada… I was just the girl making their soldiers’ armor.”
“Let’s make a gun then.”
“A gun?” she frowned.
“A very big gun,” Ryan said. “A laser gun that can draw a logo on the Moooooooooon.”
“Why would I draw a logo on the moon?”
“To copyright it.”
Vulcan raised a finger, remained silent as she considered his sentence in-depth, and finally realized that she had no answer to it.
“I defeated you with logic!” Ryan gloated. In response, Vulcan threw her plastic bottle at him, although with a thin smirk at the edge of her lip. She moved towards the courier and grabbed the sketch, reviewing his additions.
“Interesting idea, though it’s useless in the rain,” she said, before raising an eyebrow. “Why is there a duck drawn in the bottom left corner?”
“I got bored halfway through.” She wanted him to review a stealth-model of armor, capable of blending into the environment. Invisible lunch-thief had given Ryan the idea to use optic cameras to record the wearer’s surroundings, and then portray them on the surface.
“You don’t enter a fugue state while working,” she noted. “Curious, curious.”
“Nice work,” a voice spoke from behind Ryan. “I want one.”
“Why thank you,” the courier said, peeking over his shoulder to welcome the newcomer.
A Genome had entered the room, somehow without opening the only door. It was a tall, lanky figure whose costume reminded Ryan of a scarecrow. A ghoulish, metal skull mask hid the face, and a black hooded cloak the rest of the body. Most importantly, that gentledevil seemed as fond of weapons as the courier, carrying guns on bandoleers and a sniper rifle.
“Tch, not even spooked,” the man complained, although Ryan wasn’t sure it was a guy at all; the skull mask digitally altered the voice, even if it sounded vaguely male. “You’re not fun.”
“Mortimer, stop bullying the newbie,” said Sparrow, as Pluto’s bodyguard entered the room through the door; instead of her absent mistress, she was followed by Cancel and a new face. “Sorry, Quicksave, he gets off on startling people.”
“Hi Ryan, hi Jasmine!” Greta waved a hand at them with an endearing smile.
“Hi, Greta!” Ryan returned the greeting, though he paid more attention to the third person in the group.
It was a young woman his physical age, and gorgeous. Not pretty-gorgeous, but top model-gorgeous. A hazel-eyed blonde whose hair fell down to her hips, with tanned skin and a perfectly chiseled face, this Venus could probably bring any man to his knees in adoration. Even her bright white clothes and jewelry were the apex of New Roman fashion, things Ryan would have expected to see on an actress.
Unfortunately, from the way she carried herself, her appearance had clearly gone to her head. She moved with such pompous pride and self-confidence, it was almost nauseating.
But Ryan didn’t care about her beauty.
He cared about her resemblance to a certain feline.
Unfortunately, she mistook his rapturous attention as something else. “I’m Fortuna,” the bombshell introduced herself, the courier immediately remembering the name as one of Atom Cat’s sisters, “the world’s luckiest woman.”
Ryan chuckled. “If you have met me, no, you aren’t.”
“Oh, really?” she moved in front of a metal wall and put her hands on her waist. “Shoot me.”
“You’re sure?” the courier asked for confirmation.
“Yes. Shoot me.”
Ryan immediately rose from his chair, pulled his Desert Eagle out of his coat, and then fired with enthusiasm. The suddenness of the gesture startled Fortuna’s teammates, although they made no move to step in.
When he ran out of bullets, Ryan didn’t bother reloading. Instead, he threw the gun away, pulled another sidearm in his arsenal, and fired away. When he emptied the magazine, the cycle continued with new weapons.
AMT Hardballer, Browning Hi-Power, Beretta 92FS Inox, gold-plated Beretta 92FS Inox, CZ 75, Glock 17, two Glock 17L, Sistema Colt Modelo 1927, Stechkin APS—because the Russians made the best guns, followed by a Smith & Wesson Model 629.
“He’s persistent,” Mortimer muttered, Ryan almost unable to hear him over the sound of gunfire.
“That’s a lot of weapons,” Sparrow noted. “Where does he find the space?”
“The only certainty in life is that when death comes for you, you will never have enough guns!” Ryan shouted. His gloves fumed with gunpowder.
At that point, armored guards entered the workshop, perhaps expecting a shootout. They looked at the scene, Ryan glanced back, and froze time. When time resumed, the guards found their submachine guns missing, the courier wielding both as he opened fire on Fortuna. Vulcan raised a hand at the confused guards, who wisely returned to their post with confusion and sheepish embarrassment.
When he ran out of small arms after ten minutes of nonstop shooting, Ryan moved on to shotguns, bombarding the model with a Remington Model 870. Then he upgraded to his coil gun, and finally threw almost every single knife he had.
He only had two surprises left.
Ryan paused, as his hand didn’t find the first of his prized weapons. “Hey, where did my A-bomb go?”
“I took it while you were busy shooting,” Vulcan said, raising the metal sphere in her hand. “I knew it would come down to this.”
“Give it back!” Quicksave pleaded like a child, but Vulcan kept the bomb out of arm’s reach. “Give it back!”
Ryan turned to look at Fortuna, who stood completely unharmed while the wall behind her had turned into Swiss cheese. She didn’t have a single scratch.
Not a single one.
And he was only three steps away, shooting at point blank range.
Goddammit, now Ryan felt like a Stormtrooper in Stars Wars.
“That’s a Pulp Fiction level of divine providence,” the courier admitted. “Although…”
“Although?” the young woman replied with one of the smuggest grins the courier had ever seen.
“I have a secret technique,” Ryan said, abandoning the use of nuclear weapons to get back to his trusty knife. “Which, if I use, will cut your hopes short. I must warn you though. Nobody ever managed to stand up to it.”
She silently told him to bring it.
Alright, she asked for it.
Time stopped, the workshop turning purple.
Ryan quickly glanced at Cancel, as frozen in time as the others. As he suspected, her negation power offered no automatic defense: she had to switch it on and off.
Good to know. Ryan memorized that information for later.
He took three steps towards Fortuna, expecting to slip up through her ridiculous luck… but he didn’t. His power trumped her own. The courier briefly wondered where he should hit her, hesitating about giving her a light cut, but that sounded a bit too savage.
Instead, as Amerindians scalped their victims as trophies, he swiftly cut her blonde hair to shoulder-length with his sharp knife, keeping the rest for himself.
“Za Warudo: Hairdresser Style!”
She may be lucky, but in this world of frozen time, the courier ruled without equal.
“Toki wo tomare,” Ryan spoke in Japanese, quickly returning to his original spot in the nick of time, before his power ran out.
When the clock turned again, Fortuna let out a ghastly wail of horror and surprise, which startled Ryan by its intensity. Greta didn’t flinch, Mortimer glanced down at his teammate’s hair with what appeared to be quiet satisfaction, and Vulcan…
Vulcan didn’t pay attention to the girl. She only had eyes for one handsome courier.
“You cut my hair!” Fortuna protested, her arrogance replaced with shock. “You cut my hair!”
What? Her stylist probably did that every month, and that woman reacted as if she had been stabbed! “You asked for it,” he replied, putting the cut hair inside his coat. “Now, I shall keep your hair as a war trophy.”
“How could you?” she replied with noble indignation. “Have you no respect?”
“Mademoiselle, I believe in true equality,” Ryan declared. “Equality of gender, of religion, of race. All shall suffer without discrimination. I have no chivalry, no scruples, no respect for the elderly, and I’m utterly color-blind. Doesn’t matter which gods you pray to, none of them will help. Beautiful or ugly, I shall torment without respite!”
Fortuna didn’t share his civilized point of view, but Ryan guessed such was the lot of those ahead of their time.
“Morty, Greta,” Fortuna clenched her teeth, “say something!”
“Serves you right,” Mortimer rasped, unsympathetic. “All the times you mocked poor Mortimer, because he couldn’t hit you. Not so smug now.”
“Wait, is this the first time someone managed to ‘wound’ her?” Vulcan asked, curious.
“I never use my power on my teammates,” Greta replied, her expression ever cheerful. Ryan thought that her behavior had gone from endearing to positively creepy.
“Hey, don’t look at me like that,” the courier told the crybaby, who kept glaring at him. “If anything I’m the victim.”
“You?” Her glare morphed into a confused expression.
“Yes, I grant you your wish, obey your command without flinching, and I only get ungratefulness in return. Truly, I don’t think we’ll ever be friends.”
Fortuna merely stared at him, unable to form a coherent answer.
“Alright, enough with the bullshit.” Vulcan clapped to get everyone’s attention. “Quicksave, these are the Killer Seven. Our organization’s hit squad.”
“I must be bad at math because I only count four,” Ryan deadpanned.
“We’re six with the Vamp and Night Terror,” Sparrow replied. “The former isn’t good for direct combat, and the latter’s power only works in the dark.”
“Wait, wait,” Ryan immediately asked the important question. “Why do you call yourself the Killer Seven when you’re only six?”
“We started at seven when Boss Pluto led us, one for each color,” Mortimer answered. “But since she mostly does admin nowadays, we’ve rotated between four to six members depending on turnover. The name stuck though. Killer Seven is catchier than Killer Six, ya know?”
“Only Mortimer and I remain out of the original lineup,” Sparrow explained. “We were each a different color.”
“We would need a Violet to complete the set,” Greta said, grinning at Ryan. “Want to join?”
“I veto that proposal,” Fortuna said immediately.
“Me too,” Mortimer added with a shrug. “He’s new meat.”
“But we don’t have a Violet to complete the rainbow,” Cancel complained.
“Greta, you cannot invite an unproven recruit,” Sparrow said, before looking at Ryan. “Nothing personal, Quicksave. Our missions are the most sensitive, so we only welcome Genomes with an extensive history of loyalty towards our organization. Maybe in a few years.”
“Don’t poach my boys,” Vulcan shot down the idea.
“I’m sorry, but I can’t get past the name thing,” Ryan pointed out. “I mean, if you aren’t able to commit to a theme, you should find another one entirely. What, next you’re going to tell me Sparrow’s supervillain name has nothing to do with her superpower?”
Sparrow answered with a forced smile.
Ryan glanced at her with disbelief. “It doesn’t?”
“She shoots lasers,” Mortimer said. “Sort of.”
“I find sparrows adorable,” the Genome replied, embarrassed. “They’re my favorite animals, and the name wasn’t taken.”
“What’s wrong with you people?” Ryan complained, disappointed. “No respect for tradition and proper branding.”
“I’ll give you a brand, you crazy…” Fortuna mumbled, still reeling from the humiliation.
“Enough chit chat,” Vulcan said, growing frustrated with the banter. “I gathered you to attack the Meta-Gang today. We will drive them out of Rust Town, even if we have to fight them city block by city block.”
“‘Bout time,” Mortimer snickered.
My, Ryan may actually fulfill most of his goals in this loop. Could this run finally improve, after the disastrous reunion with Len?
“What about our armor?” Sparrow asked the important question.
“I’ve designed variants for each of you.” Vulcan glanced at Ryan. “With one exception.”
“I’ll pass.” Frankly, while he understood the appeal of armor, Ryan preferred mobility over defense, since his power made death a non-issue. As for stealthy versions, well, he wouldn’t dress in bright colors if he didn’t want to be seen.
“Even one that enhances your power?”
Ryan squinted his eyes at the Genius. “You can’t.”
“Mechron could enhance powers,” she replied, annoyed. “That’s how he recruited his few living followers.”
It said something about Vulcan, that she took the comparison to the world’s most powerful Genius as a challenge. “I can make armor which enhances the user’s power, though I need to study it in depth. I managed to do so for our Fireman division.”
“They took the Firebrand knockoff Elixirs, which grants pyrokinesis,” Sparrow said. “You’ve probably seen one in New Rome. They’re very popular.”
Maybe? He didn’t pay attention to extras. “How much firepower did they gain?”
“They went from throwing embers to fireballs,” Vulcan boasted, putting a finger on her chin. “Now imagine what your power could do.”
This was a trap.
Ryan had noticed it the moment Pluto interrogated him at Jamie’s place. His power fascinated Vulcan to an unhealthy level, perhaps because she suspected he lied about its particularities. That was only an excuse to lower his guard, so she may gather data.
Ryan had struggled for years to explore his power, and he knew he hadn’t tapped into its full potential yet. If he could enhance his power, create multiple save points, or move his current one further back into the past...
“I will think about it.”