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It was May 10th. Psyshock would attack the orphanage any minute, and Ryan intended to give the telepath a headache he would never forget.

A shotgun in hand and the Fisty Brothers equipped, the courier prowled the orphanage’s hallways, where the kids were busy gathering food and toys in travel bags. To his worry though, he found no trace of Len.

“What’s happening?” Ryan asked little Giulia, upon crossing paths with her. Unlike her fellow orphans, who had taken food or toys, the little blonde mostly carried books on herself. Meeting this child after learning what Psyshock did to her in a previous loop only reinforced the courier's resolve.

“Mama says she’s taking us to the magical place early,” she explained, looking down instead of facing the Genome's eyes. She seemed far shyer than Sarah. “So we have to pack our stuff.”

Wise. No doubt Hannifat Lecter would attack the place again with larger numbers after his pet squid bit the dust here.

Hopefully, Ryan would receive backup. The courier had informed Jamie of the attack when they met at the Bakuto, even giving him the A-bomb as a bribe for Vulcan to sweeten the deal. He provided all the intel necessary, though Ryan couldn’t be certain if the information would pass through the chain of command until the moment of truth.

“Where is she?” the Genome asked. The courier could take out Psypsy and his group on his own easily enough if he cut loose, but he couldn’t prevent the body-jumper from transferring himself.

“She’s in her room. We shouldn’t bother her.”

“Well, I’ve bothered her since the day we met,” Ryan replied, leaving Giulia behind and moving towards Len’s bedroom. From what he had understood, it used to be the office of the shelter’s director, before they left the place to rust.

He knocked on the door, receiving no answer. While it was locked, the courier had long mastered the art of breaking and entering. “Len?” he asked after unlocking the door, finding the bedroom shrouded in thick darkness. “Shortie?”

Only a meowing sound answered him.

Ryan quickly flipped the light switch and found himself facing a giant diver suit. The same one Len wore when she tried to rescue him from Acid Rain.

“Shortie?” Ryan asked, before looking behind the armor. He found Len sitting on a chair next to a mattress, staring at a wall. When he took a step forward, the Genome almost tripped on a medicine box, noticing dozens on the floor. “Shortie?”

No answer. Len just stared blankly at the wall, while Eugène-Henry von Schrodinger rested on her lap. Her eyes were blackened by sleeplessness and exhaustion.

She looked dead.

“Len? Len!” When he received no answer, the courier approached a free hand from her shoulder, intending to shake her back to consciousness.

“Don’t!” Her sudden reaction startled both Ryan and the cat on her lap; it was as if she had woken up from a nightmare. Len then put her hands on her ears, as if struggling against a terrible headache. “Don’t come closer!”

It reminded Ryan of the first time they met again under the sea, except somehow even worse.

The courier said nothing, glancing at the boxes on the ground. He grabbed one, finding it empty. “Len,” Ryan said with dead seriousness, tossing the empty container on the bed. “If you weren’t a Genome, you would have overdosed from all these pills.”

“If I didn’t have powers, I wouldn’t need so many of them.”

“It’s true Genomes had an enhanced metabolism, but still, do you know these medications shouldn’t be taken together?”

No answer.

“You aren’t following any treatment,” Ryan realized, horrified.

“If I don’t take them, I don’t want to do anything,” Len snapped. Clearly, her mood had worsened, perhaps due to the wrong drug combination. “If I don’t take them, I… I can’t talk to you at all. I don’t want to do anything except use my power.”

She couldn’t even interact with others except under heavy medication.

How many did she take under the sea? Did the fact they met in her sanctum make it worse back then? Seeing his friend deteriorating that much horrified Ryan, but he didn’t know what to say.

“I… I’m coming,” Len finally spoke up, massaging her forehead. “I’ll put on the suit. I have to.”

“I can take care of Psyshock alone if it’s too much for you.”

“No, no, can’t, can’t let you do everything,” she replied, struggling to form a complete sentence. “I have to help. I have to.”

“Alright, I will keep watch until you’re ready then.” Ryan left to give her some breathing room, though he did notice something on the bed on his way out. The rough schematics of some kind of sonar, although messy and incomplete. Len must have worked on this new device during the day.

The courier walked outside the orphanage, stopping at the threshold. His car was parked nearby, Ryan remembering how Sarah and her friend had stood at the exact same spot in a previous loop.

However, when he saw Psyshock’s black minibus approach, Ryan decided to spice things up a little this time. He raised the shotgun and hit the wheels at the front, causing the Meta's car to spiral around itself in an attempt to avoid a crash.

“Strike!” Ryan gloated for good measure. “It’s a strike!”

The driver managed to stabilize the minibus, much to his disappointment. Ryan heard heavy footsteps behind him, Len emerging from the orphanage in her full power armor. She carried a waterthrower as her main weapon, clearly determined to defend the orphans.

As Psyshock stepped out of the minibus, wearing his disguise, Ryan relaxed a bit. The brainjacker had only brought Mosquito and Mongrel with him, like in the previous loop. No heavy hitters in sight.

“Little Cesare,” Psyshock said, removing his sunglasses to reveal his biomechanical eyes. “And is that Little Len too? I could recognize her work anywhere. Is your father joining us from beyond the grave too?”

Len remained eerily silent, radiating a sense of unease. “If you want, I’ve got old times’ slides,” Ryan mocked Psyshock. “Half of them are dedicated to your royal asskicking.”

“You were not so brave during our last encounter when my wires connected to your brain,” Psyshock replied, his tone heavy with menace. “Though we only came for the goblins in that shelter, this is a good day indeed. It is true what they say… you never forget those who got away.”

“So are we killing them or what?” Mosquito asked while Mongrel showed his teeth. “The smell of their blood drives me crazy.”

“No one will die today,” Psyshock replied, his wire tentacles wriggling below his coat. “They are mine, both of them. Always have been.”

Len raised her waterthrower without a word.

“You wish to fight, little girl?” Psyshock mocked them. “Check your math, you are outnumbered, outmatched.”

“Check yours, Psypsy,” Ryan replied, noticing a white Yamaha motorcycle approaching from behind. “It's a ménage-à-trois.”

A blonde woman rode at the vehicle’s back, without wearing any helmet; though she did carry a Genius-tech staff, like a knight showing up for a jousting tournament. She abruptly stopped her vehicle upon reaching the orphanage’s courtyard, her mere presence changing the Psychos’ mood from confident to tense.

“Hi, guys!” Cancel introduced herself with a winning smile, leaving her bike behind while swinging her weapon. “Nice to meet you!”

Psyshock’s electronic eyes let out a brief flash of light, his cronies flinching in dread.

“Hey, don’t look at her like that,” Ryan said, raising his shotgun. “I wanted Pluto, but she declined.”

Psyshock’s power was not so different from the courier’s own ability. A save point allowing them to try again after death. Ergo, they probably shared the same weaknesses.

As he realized the danger, Psyshock did something new and unexpected. Something he had never done in the previous loops, no matter how suicidal the situation.

He tried to run away, tearing through his clothes with his tentacles while his cronies attacked Cancel.

Gotcha.

Ryan froze time, raised his shotgun, and blasted Psyshock’s tentacles apart. When time resumed, the brainjacker pathetically tripped and fell onto his smug face.

“Don't worry, haven’t you looked at the dog shelter sign?” Ryan taunted him. “Euthanasia is free.”

Meanwhile, moving with the speed and agility of an Olympic Gymnast, Cancel quickly rushed at Mongrel. The Psycho attempted to incinerate her with his hands, but the flames fizzled out into nothingness at the tip of his fingers. The hitwoman impaled him through the chest with her staff before he could react, the device then letting out a powerful electric shock. Ryan would have likened it to a taser, but a taser didn’t fry its victim alive the way Cancel’s device did.

Meanwhile, Mosquito attempted to fly away, but Len opened fire at him. A jet of pressurized water came out of her weapon, slicing his left wing clean and causing the overgrown insect to crash; Ryan immediately tossed the shotgun aside and attacked Mosquito with Fisty, beating the tar out of him. When the bug attempted to raise his fist to retaliate, Len cut off his arm with her water weapon.

“Shortie, do you have insecticide?” Ryan shouted, pounding Mosquito onto the ground. “My fly swatter isn’t working right!”

Len didn’t respond. While she was no stranger to brutality and didn’t hesitate to use lethal force when needed, the Genius usually retreated into her own mind in a fight. Unlike Ryan, she didn’t thrive in chaos.

Meanwhile, having fried Mongrel to death, Cancel immediately moved on to Psyshock. The Psycho attempted to rise back up, but the hitwoman swiftly caught up with him. Her power clearly didn’t affect the telepath’s physical mutations, so Ryan supposed it only canceled the esoteric power sources which supported them.

“Look at me,” Cancel asked Psyshock, her tone always positive. “Look at me in the eyes. I want to remember your face.”

The malevolent Psycho glared at the hitwoman, raising his remaining tentacles in an attempt to hit her skull.

But he didn’t react fast enough.

Cancel swiftly impaled Psypsy through the skull with the staff, pounding his head into a smear on the ground. Some of the Psycho’s blood ended up on her cheek, her smirk turning downright sadistic while the wires flailed around.

Ryan briefly checked his time-stop and failed to activate it. So far so good. A few seconds later, Mosquito looked like a crushed bug at his feet, still alive, but bleeding to death. Cancel had swiftly murdered the other two.

“Well, that was quick,” Ryan noted, slightly disappointed. He guessed Vulcan’s absence, the surprise ambush, and having two professionals at his back had made quite the difference.

“You know, I had orders to kill everyone if it turned out to be a trap, but I’m so glad I didn’t have to,” Greta said with a cheery smile, tossing Psyshock’s immobile corpse aside with her staff. His blood was still on her cheek, and she seemed in no hurry to wipe it off. “I’ve been getting rusty.”

“Thank you, but didn’t anyone tell you that I was immortal?”

“You’re funny,” she replied, leaving Psyshock’s remains and looking at Mosquito. “He’s still alive?”

“Unless he gets medical treatment, he won’t last long.”

“Please…” Mosquito pleaded.

“Too much work,” Cancel replied, stomping on his face with her staff. Len visibly flinched at her casual brutality, catching Greta’s attention. “Who are you?”

“I’m…” It was so strange to hear Len’s gentle voice come out of the giant armor. “The Underdiver.”

“Oh, nice to meet you, I’m Greta.” You already said that before, Ryan thought. He realized her lines weren’t spontaneous at all, but rehearsed. “Is there anyone else to deal with?”

“No, we’re good,” Ryan replied.

“Alright, I hope we meet again then!”

“Me too, Greta!” Ryan replied with the same cheery smile. “You’re the nicest sociopath I’ve met yet!”

“Thanks! What’s a sociopath?”

Ryan answered her question with two thumbs up.

Cancel waved them goodbye and left on her motorcycle as swiftly as she came, leaving the Psychos’ corpses to rot. Clearly, she had a lot of experience with casual murder. Ryan wondered what her CV looked like.

“She’s hollow inside,” Len said when the hitwoman was gone.

Before Ryan could respond, he sensed an invisible pressure on his shoulders; the Land’s gaze had suddenly fallen upon him. The courier waved a hand at the skies, wondering if the Psycho would see him.

The moment lasted only a few seconds, but it made Len almost stumble at the sheer tension. “What was that?”

“Peepers,” Ryan replied. “I suggest we move out before more arrive.”

“Yes, yes,” Len turned towards the orphanage and raised her voice. “Sarah, Giulia—”

All windows in the vicinity, the Plymouth Fury’s windshield included, cracked at once.

“It’s okay, it’s my fault,” Ryan lied before Len could panic. Fortunately, she was used to weird events around him and didn’t question it.

“Sarah, Giulia, gather the others, we’re leaving now!”

“Ma, can we take the doggies?” a little girl shouted back from within.

“I’m sorry sweetie, but no, we can’t. We’ll leave the pens open, so they can go out.” Len turned to Ryan. “Thanks, Riri.”

“No problem. Do you need any help moving them to safety? It’s a long way to the harbor.”

“It’s fine, I keep transporting bathyspheres in the sewers, and there’s an access point in the basement,” she explained. That explained how she could move in and out of the orphanage undetected. “Riri, I…”

“It’s okay,” the courier reassured her, knowing what would come next. “It’s your home, I understand you don’t want me in it yet.”

Last time had been something of a surprise visit.

Len must have made a guilty face behind her helmet, though Ryan couldn’t see through. “I… I think I’ve found something. For your power.”

The courier froze still. “Come again?”

“I… I’ve been listening through your Chronoradio for a while,” she admitted. “Now that I examined it more closely, there’s a part of the design where my power can help. The navigation. I—I’m sorry, I need more time to really explore it. I need to focus. It’s just an idea in my head right now, and I’m not sure if it will work. If it can work at all. Don’t get your hopes up or anythi—”

“Shortie, I’ve been through so many false hopes, you could make a graveyard out of them.” Ryan shook his head. “As I told you before, the mere fact you want to help after everything means the world to me.”

Len seemed too flustered beneath her armor to answer. “I guess I will contact you,” she said, sounding embarrassed. “S-see you, Riri.”

“Len,” he said while she turned away to go back inside. “Please be careful with your medicine.”

Len stood still for a moment, unsure of what to say. “I will,” she said. “Don’t worry, I… I can manage.”

Ryan couldn’t tell if it was a lie, or if she believed it. The courier sighed, watching her disappear inside with a heavy heart.

“You owe me a new windshield,” Ryan said once Len was out of earshot.

“I apologize,” Shroud answered next to him, as invisible as ever. “She startled me and I lost control for an instant.”

“You’re afraid of little girls? I would have said pigeons were your kryptonite.”

“I’m looking for someone with the same name,” the vigilante explained. “Giulia Costa. But it’s not that girl. The age, face, and body don’t match. I know she’s somewhere in this city, but I have no lead yet.”

“What happened to your Giulia?” Ryan asked with curiosity. He also noted that Shroud could apparently see the orphans through the walls.

“Augustus murdered her parents and kidnapped her as a child, to use as a hostage against Leo.” A chill went down Ryan’s spine. “Whenever you have doubts, remember that this is what the Augusti stand for.”

“I will look into it,” the courier promised. “What does she look like?”

“She should be around fifteen, light brown hair, blue eyes.” That was better than nothing, but barely. “You’re not really Cesare Sabino, are you? The way you interact with Ms. Sabino isn’t very brotherly.”

“Oh my, it just took you four years to figure it out? What a detective you are.”

“I dare not imagine what went through Bloodstream’s head. It must have been harsh.” It was more emotion than Ryan had ever heard coming from the invisible man’s mouth. “You love her?”

“I did once.” But a rift had grown so wide, Ryan would be lucky to end up on speaking terms with Len after his Perfect Run. “But that was a long time ago.”

“All men are hopeless fools, a friend once told me. Unfortunately, I don’t have any advice to offer. I’m unlucky in love myself.”

“I guess they see right through you.” Ryan shook his head. "I help because she's a dear friend and she needs it."

He wasn't looking for romance anymore, but for a human connection - any connection - that would persist through his endless restarts. The courier felt something on his shoulder, like a brief, sympathetic pat.

“It was well-done,” Mr. Looking Glass said. “I thought I might have to intervene, but you had the situation in hand. I will check if Psyshock is truly gone for good, though I would suggest getting away from Rust Town. I get the feeling you threw a wrench in Adam’s plans, and he won’t like it.”

Oh, he didn’t. Ryan already noticed acidic clouds expanding from the Junkyard. Perhaps Wyvern’s absence had made the Meta-Gang bolder, or Cancel’s power had truly prevented Psyshock’s body-transfer.

In any case, Ryan was just getting started. “Game on, Moby Dick.”

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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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