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Six.

Ryan counted six future victims in the atrium as he opened fire, Sarin included. Some took cover, while others immediately charged at him. All were Psychos, and soon, they would be dead.

One was a featureless woman made of black ink, with a rather sexy silhouette. Bullets phased through her easily, although the attack’s savagery had briefly stunned her. Another was a deathly pale guy without any hair, wearing only black pants; while looking sickly, he had the muscles of an Olympic swimmer. Unlike his fellows, he didn’t take cover, instead dodging the bullets with supernatural reflexes. The fourth Psycho in the room was a humanoid in a suit without any facial features, not even ears or eyes, and the fifth a humanoid jaguar hybrid. Unlike his kindred, that furry took a few bullets to the chest but survived them.

As for the tentacled Psycho behind the bar...

No, not tentacled. On a closer look, what Ryan mistook for tentacles turned out to be translucent arms of crimson energy. The courier counted dozens of them, lifting a disembodied woman’s head with Asian features and long black hair above the ground.

Her name was probably Fuckface or something.

“Miss Chernobyl, I once told you that no matter what, I wouldn’t take you seriously,” Ryan said, shooting Sarin again before she could recover and blowing more holes in her suit. Due to her overwhelming offensive power, he had to take her out first. “Guess what! I still don’t!”

“Sarin, who the hell is this guy?” the ink woman asked, her body turning from black to crimson while she charged at Ryan. It briefly reminded the courier of Bloodstream, much to his displeasure. “Your ex?”

“I don’t know alright!” Sarin protested while crawling on the ground towards the closest door, toxic fumes flowing out of the holes Ryan shot in her suit. The gas ate away at the metal walls of the bunker, rusting them. “I’m leaking!”

“You can turn to ink and change your color?” Ryan asked the ink woman. “What’s your name, Inky Winky?”

“Ink Machine,” the woman replied with a hint of wounded pride, turning her hands into axes and attempting to behead the courier with them.

“I guess you weren’t good enough to call yourself Murder Machine,” Ryan taunted her, stopping time for three seconds to sidestep out of her way. Considering her power, his bullets wouldn’t do anything to her, so he decided to focus on the others first. Surprise wouldn’t last forever.

“A teleporter!” someone screamed as time resumed.

“Incognito, go down and call Frank! We’ll make that faggot sleep in the dirt!” Fuckface opened her mouth and spat a stream of fire at Ryan. The courier dodged, the attack hitting a wall and starting an isolated bonfire.

“It’s an enclosed space, you stupid whore!” Pale Guy snarled, grabbing numbered pool balls and tossing them at Ryan with deadly accuracy. The Meta may work together, but clearly, they had no teamwork nor respect for one another.

Stopping time for five seconds yet again to avoid the projectiles, Ryan took the opportunity to stomp on Sarin and then cut off her retreat. Seeing the faceless man in a suit, ‘Incognito,’ run towards the elevator, the courier shot him from behind with skill honed over countless restarts right as time unfroze. Four bullets, two from the coil gun, hit his skull and chest from behind, the corpse collapsing to the ground.

Critical hit!

However, the courier ran out of projectiles for his guns, forcing him to toss them aside. Fuckface snarled and flew in his direction, her telekinetic crimson arms lunging for his neck while Inky Winky flanked him.

Ryan opened his trench coat, revealing the explosive belt around his chest.

And not the kid-friendly kind most madmen used. The adult-only stuff.

“NAGASAKI!” he shouted, rushing at the flying head like a bull towards a cow in heat.

Fuckface immediately stopped her attack and backed off in fear, leaving her open for attack. Ryan gave her the full Fisty facial experience. The gauntlet sent her crash against a wall, the crimson arms popping out of existence along with her consciousness.

“Just kidding!” Ryan taunted her. “I have to say the safe word first.”

But he was having so much fun! It was way too soon to end it with a blast!

“It’s not teleportation,” Pale Guy said, throwing more pool balls at Ryan’s head with incredible skill. Even with his enhanced sense of timing, the courier needed short bursts of time-stop to avoid headshots. Neither did Inky Winkey make his life easy, harassing him with her ax-hands. “He’s messing with our perception, paralyzing us! My power can’t see him clearly!”

“A Blue then,” Inky Winky replied, turning her head at the jaguar man. “Rakshasa, don’t just stand there and call reinforcements!”

The beast-man let out a mighty roar, having somewhat recovered from his bullet wounds. As he did so, tiny furry creatures appeared around him in a flash of violet light. They appeared to be cute gremlin monsters, with long hair, sharp teeth, and adorable eyes.

Aww, time to commit goblin genocide.

Ryan looked under his coat to grab a new gun and shoot them all, but Pale Guy managed to hit his hand with a pool ball, sending the weapon flying into a corner of the room. Inky Winky then attempted to behead the chronokinetic with her ax-arm, and while she missed, she sliced some of his hair. To make matters worse, the gremlins charged at Ryan like a pack of rabid rats, and their master kept summoning more.

Argh, the Psychos had recovered from the surprise and were taking back control of the fight. Since they outnumbered Ryan in an enclosed space with reinforcements on their way, he had to settle this quickly.

Desperate times called for desperate measures.

“You want a furry contest?” Ryan asked, drawing out his secret weapon from his trench coat. “I know I should say it isn’t personal, but guess what?”

He flipped the plushie’s on button.

“It is.”

And then he tossed the terror amidst his enemies.

Ink Girl was the closest, and thus got the first view of the plushie. The plushie looked up at her with its tiny blue eyes, the very picture of innocence. Its body let out violet sparkles, energy suffusing its limbs and fur.

Ink Machine didn’t understand.

And then she exploded, as two crimson laser beams disintegrated her torso and blew two holes in the wall behind her. The rest of her ink body collapsed into a puddle.

“I love you!” the plushie said with its cute pre-recorded voice, its blue eyes now crimson red. The toy turned toward the gremlins and vaporized them with a look while they rushed at it. The shadow it cast on the walls wasn’t that of a rabbit, but of something bigger, and not of this world.

“I love you so much!”

Then it ran straight at Jaguar Man at incredible speed, jumping at the surprised Psycho. Knives appeared from its tiny paw, and it leaped at the Psycho’s stomach, tearing a hole inside.

“Let’s go to Disneyland!” it said while burying itself inside Rakshasa’s chest, the jaguar wriggling in terrible pain as the plushie moved through his chest.

Ryan heard voices coming from the shadows; voices not from this world. They spoke in hushes, making death threats in an alien tongue he could barely understand. If it had progressed this far, then the effect might start spreading outside the bunker.

And it would only get worse with time.

“What is, what is this…” Pale Guy stared at the rabbit making its way into his teammate’s stomach. “It’s not a rabbit… I can see… something else inside…”

Oh my, Pale Guy had some kind of sensory power. “No, don’t look at it with your ability,” Ryan warned him, “it’s a terrible idea, you can’t handle its true for—”

He didn’t listen, and he saw.

Pale Guy let out a scream of pure horror, as his mind confronted a truth so horrific, that the Psycho’s remaining sanity could only break. He immediately grabbed a pool stick and charged at Ryan with murder on his mind. “Stop it!”

“I can’t, you have to throw a child at it first,” Ryan taunted him, barely dodging a strike aiming for the carotid artery. He couldn’t find any opening though, as the maddened Psycho relentlessly tried to stab him. “The younger the better.”

The plushie would imprint on the first preteen it found as its best friend, but, well... that would solve the problem by causing a new, even more interesting one.

The courier stopped time, cut the stick in half with his hand, and stabbed Pale Guy in the left eye with the tip. The killer let out a scream when time resumed, before attempting to engage Ryan in hand-to-hand combat. The courier backed away, more worried by his own creation than the Psycho.

Once unleashed, there was no putting the genie back in the bottle. Unless he could flip off the switch by surprise, Ryan had no way of controlling that murderous rabbit.

The plushie had emerged from Rakshasa’s corpse drenched in blood, reshaping his intestines into a thick noose. It then leaped on Pale Guy’s back before he could react, put the organ garrote around his neck, and then started strangling the Psycho. The killer tripped while desperately trying to throw the rabbit off his back, gasping for air.

“Let’s hug!” the plushie said, its white fur was now tainted red. It looked so happy and peaceful strangling Pale Guy. “I’m your friend!”

The worst part was, Ryan didn’t program it for such violence.

It just loved killing.

Except for Pale Guy, only Sarin was still alive, but she couldn’t keep the gas making up her body inside her suit. It looked like someone bleeding to death, except gas instead of blood. Without waiting for reinforcements to arrive or the plushie to turn its deadly attention towards him, Ryan moved towards the elevator, called it, and entered. There was only one other floor available, and down.

Pale Guy raised a hand at Ryan, his eyes pleading for mercy while the plushie choked him to death with a blissful expression. “Why?” he managed to rasp, while the courier pushed the down button. “Why?”

“You wrecked my car,” Ryan replied, abandoning Pale Guy to a painful death as the elevator’s doors closed.

The transport system went down multiple floors, making Ryan wonder how far the bunker went… and how large it was. Did it span all of Rust Town?

The elevator eventually reached its destination and opened its doors.

Ryan walked inside an underground chamber of thick black metal walls. At the center of the room, a projector provided a source of blue light, alongside a holographic bust of Mechron: an old man in his seventies, with wrinkled skin, unkempt hair, and a white beard. One could have mistaken him for a Gandalf or Dumbledore type, if not for the cold intensity in the hologram’s gaze. Two blast doors stood on opposing sides of this room, although only one was opened.

The debris of broken robots covered the ground. Some looked like black metal humanoids, equipped with laser rifles, while others were bulky, spidery assault drones. Ryan recognized the designs as Mechron’s, many of these machines having massacred entire communities during the Genome Wars. In some spots, the courier noticed traces of dried blood and moss. Bodies had been left to bleed out and decompose in some corners, before being moved away.

The Meta had clearly fought a hard battle for the floor and only bothered to remove the bodies of their own. They probably harvested them for the Elixirs within their blood.

“Anyone there?” Ryan shouted, but received no answer. Once confident no one would ambush him, he examined the room, finding a map of the complex in front of the projector.

As Ryan had worried, the installation was large enough to encompass most of Rust Town, although located so deep below the earth it couldn’t be accessed except through the main entrance. The upper floor which he had just left was actually the living quarters and the smallest part of the complex. The rest, far better fortified, was a labyrinth of corridors and rooms with worrying names written in Bosnian.

Laboratory A and B. Quarantine Area. Nanobot Factory. Robot Production Facility. Army Storage A, B, and C. Robot Maintenance Center. Armory. Munitions Depot. Weapon Testing Ground. Matter Replicator. Orbital Communications Center. U.B. Command Center. Reactor Core. Forbidden Area…

It wasn’t a survival bunker.

It was a weapon production and research facility.

One of Mechron’s facilities.

Even six feet under, that megalomaniac had left a mess behind. If so many robots defended the less important areas, then there must have been a whole army in storage below New Rome. An army without a master.

A chill went down Ryan’s spine, as he finally understood the Meta-Gang’s plan.

These bastards sent people to their death in an attempt to break past the defenses, all to access the command center. If they took control of Mechron’s robots and whatever weapons the Genius had left, they would be able to take over New Rome, or at least contest it to the other factions. Hell, the armory alone would give the Psychos a tremendous boost in firepower.

Dedicated to causing as much destruction as possible in the time he had left, Ryan moved through the only opened door.

He walked through a tall corridor, noticing a large window to his right. He peeked through, observing what appeared to be an infirmary, albeit the asylum kind. The room had clearly been left to rust for years, the white walls having lost their color, though Ryan noticed crates of medical supplies piled in a corner. Two people, one man, and a woman were strapped to different operating tables. From the spots on their skin, they were Bliss addicts.

Psyshock was busy brainjacking the man, his wire tentacle shoved through the druggie’s mouth. The woman meanwhile, seemed sedated, her gaze empty.

The Psycho raised his head when Ryan stepped inside the infirmary. “Little Cesare.” If he was afraid or surprised, he didn’t show it. “How strange to—”

Omae wa mou shindeiru,” Ryan cut him off in Japanese.

“What?”

Very poor choice of last words.

The courier froze time, closed the gap between them in ten seconds, and then punched him the second the effect ended. Psyshock’s head exploded in a shower of brain matter and other fluids, his wires thrashing around. The one inside the captive slipped away, the tentacles laying on the ground like a squid’s corpse.

“Are you alright?” Ryan asked the captive, although he didn’t move to remove the bindings, since the run would end in a few hours.

The man responded by shaking in place, something wriggling below the skin. The skull shifted in shape, and the eyes turned white.

“Is this a drug withdrawal thing?” the courier asked.

Ryan’s reflexes saved him, as a wire tentacle erupted from the man’s chest and nearly smashed his skull. The courier backed away, as more cables emerged from the body, with the exception of the skull, which underwent a biomechanical metamorphosis.

Soon, a monstrous amalgam of wires stood over the drug addict’s husk, cold eyes peering at Ryan.

“I have your father to thank for this.”

Ryan’s eyes widened in shock, as he faced a reborn Psyshock.

“When he gave me those wounds during our last encounter and showed me his true power, I wondered… What if I had misunderstood my ability’s limits? Could it allow me to transcend mortality itself too?”

His tentacles lunged at Ryan’s head, the courier using a brief burst of time stop to leap towards a corner of the room.

“I can do more than read minds,” Psyshock ranted while continuing his assault, tossing the operation table at the courier. Ryan lowered himself to dodge the projectile as it hit the wall behind him, trying to make sense out of the situation. “I can reshape them, rewire their brains, make them into vessels for something greater. Assume direct control.”

Every time he died, Psyshock possessed a thrall whose brain he had tinkered with. The courier remembered the battle at the orphanage; how the Psycho had forcefully connected with his hostage, and how the medics noted her abnormal brain waves even after the madman’s demise.

“You tried to do that to a child,” Ryan realized, horrified.

“Which one?”

The chilling response filled the courier with fury.

Ryan froze time and punched this soulless monster’s face into a fine paste with Fisty without giving him any chance to defend himself. No matter the consequences.

Immediately after time resumed, the second captive started undergoing the same ghastly transformation. Ryan spared her the misery with another deadly punch, disgusted.

“I’m killing you in every single restart now,” the Genome promised the corpse. As soon as he figured out a way to negate this horrifying ability. It was Bloodstream all over again, although thankfully, Psyshock needed to die first to activate this ability. The similarities with his save point also made Ryan somewhat uneasy, and all the more determined to get rid of the maniac permanently.

The courier moved towards the medical crates, breaking them open to peek inside their content. His suspicions were immediately confirmed.

Dynamis Knockoff Elixirs.

Dozens of them. If all the crates contained more, then the number increased to the hundreds.

Okay, that settled it. No way a theft of that magnitude wouldn’t have made it to the news or caused a retaliatory strike from Dynamis. Atom Cat had guessed correctly, someone within the company supplied the Meta with their fix, weapons, and information.

Why? To have them weaken the Augusti while maintaining plausible deniability? Make villains for their heroes to arrest? Or were the Meta exploring the bunker on behalf of their client, instead of pursuing their own interests?

Who was the supplier? Enrique? His father Hector? Or someone Psyshock had brainwashed with his loathsome ability?

Ryan heard heavy steps coming from the corridor and quickly exited the infirmary. Psyshock and a new Meta walked at the end of the hallway, opposite of the entrance. The other Psycho was a three meters and a half tall colossus, a towering monster entirely made of rusted steel. The upper body was larger than the lower half, with the arms slightly longer than the legs. The US flag was painted on his chest. The creature looked more like a humanoid tank than a human being, with even the face was replaced with a mask device that reminded Ryan of a famous Star Wars character.

Oh god, Ryan loved Star Wars, even the prequels. He was glad the old world ended before anyone could make cash-grab sequels though. They would have sucked. He knew it deep within his bones.

“It’s useless, Cesare. I have hundreds of vessels around.” Psyshock glanced at the enormous Psycho. “Frank, kill him please.”

“Yes, Mr. Vice-President,” he replied with a deep voice, having to lower his head to move inside the passage.

“Mr. Vice-President?” Ryan asked.

“The Vice President of the United Fucking States of America, the greatest nation on Earth!” The giant lunged at Ryan and—HOLY SHIT HE WAS FAST!

Ryan would have died without his time stop, Frank’s enormous fist stopping within an inch of his face. The courier quickly back flipped away while throwing knives at the giant’s eyes.

When time resumed, Frank’s fist hit the ground with enough force to shake the entire floor, the hand punching through the alloy ground up to the forearm. As for the knives, they went through his eyes. Literally. The Psycho’s body absorbed the metal knives into itself.

“After the initial push, humans let me in. They want it, Cesare.” Exploiting the narrowness of the corridor, Psyshock used his tentacles to hang from the ceiling above Frank, moving like a biomechanical spider. “People want to be my slaves. The burden of thought, of individuality, it oppresses them. But I get inside their brain, when I remove the confusion and replace it with my will… they become truly happy. Deep down, you want it too.”

“You are a living birth control advertisement, Psypsy.” Every word he spoke was somehow worse than the last. It took a lot of effort to make Ryan truly hate anyone, but Psyshock had won the lottery.

“I’m going to free you, Cesare,” the madman said in response, Frank managing to free his hand from the hole he had made. “I’m going to free you from yourself.”

“You know, killing me is only going to be a temporary solution!” Ryan shouted, grabbing a grenade under his coat and tossing it at the two. “Only therapy can help you with your problems!”

The grenade exploded right in front of Frank’s face, unleashing a powerful blast.

And it did…

Absolutely nothing. The giant didn’t even flinch, and Psyshock had retreated behind his bodyguard for safety. Worse, a crimson aura surrounded Frank’s body, and the Psycho seemed to grow a few inches taller.

“Uh oh.”

“Pearl Harbor…” Frank trembled as if having a PTSD episode. “It’s Pearl Harbor all over again...“

“I’m sorry?” Ryan asked.

“I will never forgive the Japanese!” he snarled, raising his fists in fury and hitting the ceiling, causing the hallway to shake. “I’ll never forgive them! Never ever!”

Ryan started to understand why they called him Frank the Mad.

However, if he could shrug off grenades and absorb metal, then the courier didn’t have anything that could take that guy down. Except maybe the A-bomb, but obviously, it would end the run here and now. Ryan had to think of a solution, and fast.

The lights started to malfunction, and tiny steps echoed in the hallway. Ryan worryingly peeked over his shoulder.

The plushie walked inside the corridor carrying Pale Guy’s scalp, its eyes shining maliciously.

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A note from Void Herald

The face of evil.

Also, I've been recently informed of a plagiarism attempt on Webnovel.com, thankfully taken down. So I will say this: I only publish on RR, Tapas, Patreon and Amazon Kindle/Audible (the compiled versions). If you see my works anywhere else, it's not me. It's a thief. 

So if you encounter one such plagiarism attempt, I would be thankful if you could inform me. 

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About the author

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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