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After attacking Ghoul with his car in all his previous restarts, Ryan thought it had grown a little stale.

So this time, he hit the Psycho with a truck instead.

Ryan couldn’t find a Japanese one, but the one he ‘borrowed’ did the job, crashing through the walls and tossing Ghoul against the counter. The courier climbed down from the vehicle, carrying a black cane he had purchased at a shop down the street.

“Ghoul, there are a few things I can’t tolerate. The mass-murder? Eh, I’ve seen worse. The child-abductions? Now it gets my blood boiling. Trashing my car, thrice?” Ryan shook his head. “I can’t let that slide, Ghoul.”

“Who the…” As it turned out, a truck did a lot more damage than a Plymouth Fury. Some of Ghoul’s bones had broken upon impact, and he struggled to get back up. “Who the hell are you?!”

“You see this?” Ryan pointed at his hat. “This is my normal magician’s hat. The happy hat.”

He tossed it away and showed Ghoul a new, black bowler hat.

“This is the war hat.”

Ryan put it on and suddenly looked far more intimidating.

“You know me, Ghoul. I’m a model of mental stability and composure. I’m well-adjusted. But now that I’m wearing my war hat? Oh boy! Oh boy, no more Mr. Nice Guy! I will do great and terrible things today! It’s going to be terrific!”

“What are you—”

Ryan hit Ghoul’s knee with his cane, causing the broken Psycho to fall helplessly on the ground.

“Bartender, a Moloko Plus!” The courier ordered the frightened Renesco, before kicking Ghoul while he was down. “It’s going to sharpen me up for a wild night of mindless property damage!”

Because this restart was going to be an espresso.

Short, but intense.


After paying off the Private Security, Ryan moved to Rust Town and stopped his car in front of Paulie’s place. Ghoul’s head and torso were on the backseat, the courier having tossed the rest in a dumpster. As it turned out, the Psycho had great difficulties channeling his ice power without his arms and lower parts.

Or maybe it was learned helplessness at work.

“I have something to confess,” Ryan said, looking at his captive in the rear-view mirror. “I’ve been feeling down lately. The stuff with Len really weighed on my mind, and I still have a lot of work ahead to make up with her. I was aimless, with no main quest or distraction, nor any clear path ahead. I had no distraction to fend off the boredom and existential dread.”

The helpless skeleton looked at him with a mix of abject terror and confusion.

“But now I’m rested!” Ryan said, turning his head to look at the skeleton dead in the eyes. “I’m pumped! I’m on top of my game again, and I’ve got a new main quest! To give your whole gang a wedgie they will never forget!”

“What are you going to do to me?” the Psycho asked, more and more frightened the longer he listened.

“We’re going on a trip to Happyland, my droog!” Ryan grabbed Ghoul’s skull, bringing him close to his own face. “Happyland!”

“Somebody help!” Ghoul shouted, as loud as he could. “Somebody save me!”

But nobody came.

Ryan stepped out of the car, wielding his cane, and waltzed into Paulie’s place. Since it was the loop’s first day, the Meta-Gang hadn’t pressed the shopkeeper into service yet. He raised his eyes at Quicksave, his gaze turning into a glare upon recognizing him.

“Hey, Paulie my old friend!” Ryan announced his unforgettable presence. “It’s me, Quicksave!”

“You?” The shopkeeper raised his archaic rocket launcher at his future client’s face. “You dare show your face here?”

“Yes, yes, I know we had our differences, but ooh boys, Paulie, do I have a deal for you!”

Ryan slammed the ground with the tip of his cane.

“How much for that facehugger missile?”


As it turned out, when Paulie learned what Ryan had planned, he gave away the rocket launcher for free.

It took thirty minutes for the courier to prepare. It wasn’t the first time he did a suicide run, so it was a well-oiled routine, but he only tried that kind of stunt when he didn't risk facing a Genome capable of permanently killing him. While Psyshock was dangerous, the courier was confident he could take the maniac out, or kill himself before being brainjacked. From the intelligence he had gathered over the previous restarts, the Meta didn’t have anyone else capable of threatening future loops.

As far as Ryan knew, the circumstances were right, especially if he could take out Acid Rain early. Since the Meta had struggled to organize a counterattack when three hundred foot-soldiers had invaded their territory, then logically, they shouldn’t expect a lone wolf.

After all, who would be mad enough to attack them head-on with no back-up, and no chance of survival?

“Don’t tell anyone,” Ryan said, driving straight for the Junkyard with his trench coat closed to hide the surprise underneath. The rocket launcher waited on the seat next to him, alongside two submachine guns, and the courier had put the Fisty Brothers gauntlets on his hands. “But I’m immortal.”

Chained to the car hood, Ghoul let out a shriek of horror, as the courier drove through the streets of Rust Town at full speed.

Besides avenging the three times the Meta trashed his car—no score was too small to settle—Ryan thought they simply deserved to be wiped out. They kidnapped children, including orphans under Len’s distant care, enslaved civilians, murdered people without provocation, and just made the world a worse place to live in. While neither Dynamis nor the Augusti were perfect, some of their members were good people.

The courier couldn’t say the same for the Meta.

It was the last loop that settled it. These Psychos were simply too dangerous to be left alone, and Ryan needed to check on that famous bunker for himself. Stealth was a lost cause, from what Shroud had told him, and the Meta-Gang would quickly organize a defense if a large group moved into their territory. A lone wolf suicide attack, fast and unpredictable, seemed more likely to succeed in gathering intelligence.

As he approached the junkyard, Ryan briefly raised his mask to consume red pills. They were doses of Rampage, a Genius-designed, combat-enhancing drug. It boosted pain tolerance, reaction time, accelerated the production of adrenaline, and hastened the metabolism for four hours. It was powerful enough to affect even Genomes.

Well, afterward the drug made the user vomit for days and increased the risk of strokes, which was why Ryan never took it during normal runs. Thankfully, that wouldn’t be a problem for this one.

After passing the dilapidated neighborhood without being interrupted, Ryan finally came into view of the Junkyard. Stacks of cars, piles of trash, and cranes overshadowed a three meters-tall fence topped with barbed wires. The metallic items seemed organized into hills of various sizes, with the biggest one at the center.

Two Psychos protected the entry point in the fence. One was some kind of humanoid lizard, two-meters tall, with scales of various colors. The other was a pale woman, whose whole body, from her long hair to her creased face, were as white as milk; her shadow, however, was that of a monstrous, demonic creature. Ryan identified the woman as Gemini but didn’t recognize lizard-boy.

“Ghoul?!” Lizard-boy shouted upon seeing the car approach, his yellow, reptilian eyes widening upon realization.

In response, Ryan screamed like a berserker and accelerated. "Valhalla!"

Gemini instantly disappeared in a flash of light, but lizard-boy wasn’t so quick. Ryan ran him over, the body letting out a ‘thump’ as it went flying against the fence nearby, his body jolting from an electrical current.

Ryan drove inside a labyrinth of trash walls, with forking twists and turns. The Rampage drug started taking effect, accelerating his heartbeat, sharpening his senses. He quickly crossed paths with a few Psychos scavenging the area, Mongrel among them. The mutant raised his head in shock upon seeing him approach, his teeth sunk inside the carcass of a large rat.

Ryan opened the car’s window, grabbed a submachine gun, and fired at anyone in his path. The fastest Meta members dived to the ground to dodge a hail of gunfire, but Mongrel took a full volley to the face for his trouble, collapsing on his back.

“I thought life was meaningless, but I was wrong!” Ryan shouted to Ghoul. “It’s your suffering! Causing you pain is my reason to live!”

As he drove through the labyrinth in search of the bunker’s entrance, Ryan heard the sound of bells echo through the Junkyard. Someone had sounded the alarm.

Immediately afterward, he sensed an invisible pressure weighing on his shoulders. The same effect as during the last loop, before everything went to hell. The feeling of someone judging him.

The Land.

So that settled it. The Meta used their new recruit as a sensor, but as Ryan had guessed, it wasn’t a perfect spying method. He doubted anyone could oversee an area as vast as Rust Town and pay attention to every single detail.

It clicked during the visit to Paulie's place. Mosquito ambushed him the last time Ryan went there, but no welcome committee had interrupted the courier today. This implied that since Ghoul was nearby, the sensor didn’t pay much mind to the Plymouth Fury. She must have mistaken the situation for a return trip, especially since bone daddy had gone on an assassination mission hours before.

The trash walls started to tremble and rain debris on the Plymouth Fury, though Ryan dodged them with driving skills honed over countless loops. The courier guessed the Land couldn’t cause an earthquake inside their HQ, and her geokinesis didn’t seem very precise.

However, acid clouds had started to appear in the skies. Ryan had expected something like this. Considering her power, Acid Rain was only effective in an open space, and thus would be assigned to defend the surface.

Moving towards the center, Ryan tossed grenades behind him, causing trash piles to fall and condemn the roads behind him. Eventually, after a wild ride, the courier finally reached a twenty-meter tall tower made of rusted cars, debris, and domestic items like washing machines. As he had thought, the base of the ‘landmark’ had been dug up, revealing a tunnel leading down below the earth.

Mosquito and Acid Rain guarded the entrance, the psychotic woman already drawing two knives. Instead of paying attention to her, Ryan focused on Mosquito. Having emptied the submachine gun, he tossed it through the window, then drove straight at the insectoid monster.

Mosquito looked up, saw death approaching, and extended his wings. But while he may have the appearance of a genuine bloodsucker, he couldn’t move faster than a car racing at two-hundred forty kph. Ryan grabbed the rocket launcher, opened the door, and then jumped out before the collision.

Ghoul let out a final scream, as the Plymouth Fury hit Mosquito head on before he could fly away.

SQUASH!

Mosquito perished the way of his kind: stuck to a windshield.

The Plymouth Fury finished its course inside the trash tower, sending pieces of Ghoul flying in all directions. Ryan himself had managed to roll over the ground, but the collision with the ground had torn some of his trench coat. A normal human would have had their skin torn off, but for a Genome, the wounds were superficial.

“I’m sorry,” Ryan apologized to his car as he rose back to his feet, the Plymouth Fury buried alongside Mosquito’s remains under a pile of debris. “I will make it up to you later!”

“You teasing thief!” Acid Rain shrieked, charging at him with astonishing dexterity, knives raised. Toxic raindrops already fell on the ground, eating at Ryan’s hat. “I’ll tear you apart!”

“Duty. Honor. Courage.” Ryan pointed the rocket launcher at her pretty face and pressed the trigger. “SEMPER FI!”

A missile with a smiley face painted on it flew straight at Acid Rain, who teleported atop a wall of cars.

The rocket switched directions and pursued the Psycho.

Acid Rain immediately teleported to another trash wall, only for the facehugger missile to chase after her with relentless, implacable ferocity.

Ryan rejoiced at the sight. He had had the idea when Paulie warned him his facehugger missile could track him down in a previous loop, even if he could stop time. Acid Rain wasn’t so different from Quicksave as a fighter, except she moved through space instead of frozen time.

The missile would keep tracking her until it either caught the Psycho or ran out of fuel. Which could take minutes. By then, Ryan would hopefully be in the bunker, the absence of rainfall negating Acid Rain’s power.

Still, Ryan hurriedly rushed towards the tunnel before the acid rain could turn into a downpour. He tossed the rocket launcher away before bringing out his coil gun and desert eagle from under his coat, wielding one in each hand.

He descended into the tunnel, fires spreading in the labyrinth behind him. He didn’t know how long it would take for the Psychos outside to clear the way after he had collapsed some of the trash walls, but he might find himself surrounded anytime soon. He had to keep the initiative and adopt an all-offense strategy.

When Ryan had advanced far enough though, the earth walls around him trembled. The Land must have figured out his intentions and tried to block the entrance by collapsing it. If she hesitated so long about doing so, it meant a lot of her teammates were inside and risked being trapped as well.

“Just what I was looking for,” the courier said, “victims!”

Rushing against the clock, Ryan quickly arrived in front of an opened blast door with Mechron’s symbol on it. The thick steel construct probably weighed more than two dozen tons, and wouldn’t disgrace the Cheyenne Mountain bunker. The Meta had clearly forcefully opened it with a laser weapon of some kind, removing the joints and putting the gate next to the entrance.

A pack of four Dynamis drones protected the area, immediately charging at Ryan with their weapons raised. The Genome stopped time and shot each of them with the coil gun, the electromagnetic projectiles piercing through their metal shells. When time resumed, the various machines crumbled into scrap and screws.

Ryan loved to challenge himself, but sometimes, it was relaxing to play life on Easy Mode.

The courier rushed past the blast door before the tunnel collapsed behind him, entering a long metal corridor. The second he walked inside, the invisible pressure vanished. For whatever reason, the Land’s power didn’t carry inside the vault. She probably needed dirt or earth to serve as a relay for her sensory abilities. He briefly tested his time-stop, just in case a power negation effect covered the bunker, but thankfully his ability worked perfectly.

Reinforced glass windows on both sides of the path allowed Ryan to peek inside underground hangars below the Junkyard.

The one on the left held the mecha which Psyshock piloted in the previous loop, waiting on top of a platform. Ryan noticed a closed door embedded in the ceiling, perhaps to allow the robot to quickly move the surface. The hangar on his right, meanwhile, housed some kind of sci-fi submarine, halfway submerged inside a large pool probably leading into the sea. Like its brethren, Mechron’s symbol was painted on the back. Normal humans whom Ryan assumed were engineers worked on both of the vehicles.

Huh, so they had already unearthed these mechs prior to the courier’s arrival to New Rome. That made his plans for a blitzkrieg much more complicated.

The Meta had forcefully opened each gate on the path and didn’t bother to close them afterward. The distance also muffled sound from outside, so Ryan simply walked in the room at the end of the corridor without anyone bothering him.

He eventually entered some kind of atrium, which the Meta had repurposed into a recreational area. Well-lit, the room included an assortment of pastimes, such as a pool table, a bar stand, and even a Street Fighters arcade game. Considering the number of doors on each side, it seemed to be some kind of hub room; he also noticed an elevator on the other end of the atrium, leading to levels below.

A group of Psychos, Sarin included, were in the room. Hazmat girl was currently wielding a cue stick, and sending a ball into a hole, much to her fellow mutants’ frustration.

“Hey, what was the cause of the racket out….” Sarin asked as she raised her head from the pool table, trailing off as she didn’t recognize Ryan, “side…”

“Sarin,” Ryan raised his guns. “Do you have a boyfriend?”

Hazmat girl looked at him in confusion. “Who are yo—”

“Don’t break my heart like that!” Ryan shot her in the chest with his Desert Eagle, the impact propelling her backward. “I’m a sensitive soul!”

And then, the courier opened fire on the surprised Psychos while laughing like a maniac.

For the Meta, the survival horror had only started.

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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 half my time writing and the other half managing magical websites.

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