Ryan loved Genome parties. They always involved a lot of property damage.
He had attended a few elsewhere in Italy, usually when he joined a group. However, this one looked like it would be the biggest yet; and since tomorrow would mark Quicksave’s first week in New Rome, the courier intended to cap it off with a bang.
Well, he had probably spent two months or so in the city across various loops, but still! This party might be something entirely new and surprising.
“How many people will come?” Ryan asked, having traded his usual trench coat, hat, and mask for a classy, dark purple suit. While Ki-jung had insisted he could dress casually, the Genome would settle for nothing less than the best outfit in the room.
You couldn’t half-ass elegance.
“Oh, no more than one-hundred,” Ki-jung replied, her fingers fidgeting in anxiety. She had traded her glasses for contact lenses, and her modest clothes for a sleeveless black dress. Her boyfriend meanwhile wore a simple blue shirt and black pants.
“Do you want more tuna pizzas?” Lanka asked while on the sofa while typing on a phone. That tasteless black sheep alone hadn’t made any effort to dress well. “We still got enough party funds for four more.”
“Add a few vegan ones for Fortuna,” Ki-jung said, before checking the kitchen for the fifth time in the past hour. Jamie had gathered an impressive array of alcohol bottles on the counter. “Will that be enough?”
“They’re the strongest liquors I could find,” Jamie replied, intending to work as the barman and already busy making cocktails. Since Genomes had a more efficient metabolism than normal humans, they needed ten times the usual dose to even feel the effects of alcohol.
“I’ve got Genome-only stuff in my car,” Ryan said. “But you will start shining in the dark and see invisible things.”
“Don’t worry,” Jamie said quickly. “Fortuna is bringing strong stuff, and, I quote, ‘party pills.’”
“No Bliss?” Ki-jung asked, her face tensing up.
“No Bliss,” her boyfriend reassured her, while someone hit the doorbell. “Come in!”
The first guests opened the door, Ki-jung anxiously standing straight next to Ryan while they walked inside. Night had fallen outside, and while the party was scheduled to start at eight, most guests would be fashionably late.
“Hello everyone!” Fortuna entered the house, followed by her boyfriend and a younger girl around fifteen. Lucky Lady wore a golden dress even more scandalously lavish than usual; whereas the teenage girl dressed so tastelessly, that Ryan couldn’t look at her without fighting the urge to drag her to a tailor’s shop.
Fortuna’s date was around Ryan’s physical age, with short well-groomed brown hair, blue eyes, and an elegant all black formal suit. He looked rather plain when compared to his girlfriend, but the courier felt an intense vibe coming from him.
In fact, he seemed vaguely familiar.
The mystery boy immediately singled out the courier, who waved a hand at him. “Hi, I’m Ryan. I would say I’m immortal, but you probably know that already.”
“Mathias,” the man replied, shaking Ryan’s hand with a small smile. “Mathias Martel.”
The way he moved, his aura, the slight inflection in the voice… “I know, we’ve met,” Ryan replied cheerfully, testing the waters.
“You did?” Fortuna asked while Mathias’ smile strained a bit. Since he hadn’t cut that lucky woman’s hair this time around, she seemed a lot more well-disposed towards Ryan. “Matt, why didn’t you tell me?”
“Yeah, you’re usually a very transparent kind of guy, Matt.” Ryan winked at him. “I hope you don’t hide anything else.”
Matt’s poker face remained ironclad while he answered his date’s question. “It didn’t seem important at the time.”
“Fortuna, you brought your sister?” Ki-jung asked the blonde bombshell, although her eyes remained focused on the teenage girl. “Isn’t she too young for this kind of party?”
“I’m almost fifteen!” The younger girl pouted. While she was no top model like her sister, she would probably grow into an attractive woman in time. She had short, light brown hair, ocean blue eyes, and a heart-shaped face.
“Fourteen and a half,” Fortuna teased her, her younger sister pinching her in the arm.
“Hi, I’m Narcinia, Narcinia Veran.” The teen smiled brightly at everyone. “Alias Ceres.”
“I still can’t believe Augustus gave you an Olympian name before me,” Fortuna complained, her boyfriend glancing away. “If only Felix hadn’t gone crazy, we could have become Diana and Apollo.”
“Has he answered your messages?” Ki-jung asked, a look of concern on her face.
“I wish!” Fortuna complained, crossing her arms angrily. “I swear when he comes back—”
“If he comes back,” Narcinia replied with a depressed face.
“Maybe he got hit by a car,” Ryan said, the others glaring at him. “Well, he is a cat. Or was that too soon?”
“He will come back,” Fortuna insisted, though she looked at Jamie and Ki-jung. “Can’t you help? Give him a call?”
The couple exchanged an embarrassed glance, one heavy with regrets. “He didn’t leave the house on the best terms,” Jamie said stoically. “Felix… Felix needs time to figure himself out.”
Mathias put a hand on his girlfriend’s arm before she could insist. He seemed more insightful than her, though that wasn’t hard.
Having talked with Atom Cat on the Dynamis path, Ryan quickly put two and two together. He had a pretty good idea of what caused his feline friend to leave the Augusti, namely, Ki-jung's situation.
Something else also bothered Ryan. Felix the Cat said his sister Narcinia was adopted, and she matched a certain description… Could it be?
This party already promised a lot of surprises.
“Luigi isn’t here?” Fortuna asked as she scanned the room. “He’s usually early when there are girls.”
“No, the Hockey Killer attacked him again when his bodyguard took a bathroom break,” Jamie replied with a frown. “The attacker also forced Luigi to eat a salami.”
“Hockey Killer?” Ryan asked at the same time a shocked Fortuna said, “A salami?”
“That’s probably the same maniac who attacked Luigi before,” Jamie replied with a sigh. “And yes, a salami. Don’t ask me why. They say the city is safer with the Meta gone, but if you ask me, it has enough madmen already.”
“It could be a vigilante,” Ryan said. “Some handsome fellow possessing a strange sense of justice, fighting crime with a hockey stick in one hand and a sausage in the other.”
“Why has he only attacked Luigi then?” Lanka pointed out from the sofa, too lazy to leave her spot. “Nah, blabbermouth, it’s just petty revenge. If you ask me, the jackass deserved it, always asking the wrong questions.”
“Whatever the case, this Hockey Killer will get what he deserves,” Jamie said firmly, glancing at Fortuna. “Now that the Meta-Gang has left New Rome, will you look into it?”
“Vulcan hasn’t released us yet,” Fortuna complained. “Though we cleaned up Rust Town and Sparrow chased those Psychos off to the ends of the Earth.”
Well, Ryan wouldn’t say they had cleaned up Rust Town. They had prevented a large fire, but the Junkyard had transformed into a pile of molten trash conveniently hiding the bunker’s entrance. Vulcan had tasked the group to patrol the area in case the Meta returned, while she left with Sparrow to hunt them down. Ryan hadn’t received any news since, though he heard both women would attend the party.
Truthfully, the time-traveler hadn’t yet figured out what to do about Mechron’s bunker, and Len hadn’t contacted him again either. He hoped the party would help him destress and clear his mind.
“Should we discuss this while…” Ki-jung cleared her throat while looking at Mathias. “I’m sorry, but…”
“Don’t worry, he has seen right through us,” Ryan said with a smirk, delighting at making Martel more and more uncomfortable.
“Yeah, I’m sure one of you is the Hockey Killer,” the man replied with the same mirthful face. “I hope I didn’t blow your cover.”
Everyone took it as a joke and laughed, none louder than Ryan himself. Touché. “It’s okay, Chitter, I vouch for my Mathias,” Fortuna said, putting her head on her man’s shoulder. “He’s the one.”
“I only agreed to a second date,” Mathias replied with a stoic expression.
“It’s going to happen whether you like it or not.”
“How did the two of you meet?” Ki-jung asked.
“You know that time when my third apartment had a gas leak last week?” Fortuna asked. “I narrowly avoided death by falling off the window, and Mathias rescued me.”
“No, your power rescued you,” Mathias corrected her with a deadpan face. “I didn’t expect you to fall on me from the third floor. That was completely unexpected.”
“It was love at first sight,” Fortuna declared.
“It wasn’t,” her boyfriend protested. “I checked if you were alright, and when I tried to leave because I had other stuff planned, you started shouting at me.”
“Well, of course I was furious,” Fortuna protested, while the others chuckled. “The world’s most beautiful woman falls on your lap and asks you to spoil her because she’s distressed, and you dare refuse?”
“Yes,” Mathias replied bluntly. Clearly, he was immune to Fortuna’s charm and she couldn’t stand it. “What, my world should have stopped for you?”
“Yes, it should have!” And she said it without any hint of sarcasm whatsoever. “When I look at boys, they drop at my feet, but you, Matt? You walked away!”
“When does the music start?” Narcinia finally spoke up. She seemed a bit shy in the presence of so many older people, but grew more confident as the group exchanged pleasantries. “It’s too silent.”
Jamie glanced at Ryan, who showed them the DJ: a brain in a jar hooked to the TV and loudspeakers, surrounded by Ki-jung’s rats.
“You use a Genius-made cyber-brain as a DJ?” Narcinia asked, though unlike the others she seemed more excited than bothered. “So cool.”
“I shouldn’t have asked you to take care of the playlist,” Ki-jung told Ryan with a regretful sigh.
“Remorse is for those who don’t know what they want!” Ryan replied, activating DJ Brain. “Now watch.”
The brain started playing music, and as it did, a light shone from inside its tank. As the liquid protecting the grey matter changed color, creating a nightclub ambiance with the appropriate music.
“Catchy,” Lanka admitted, nodding to herself to the tune of the music.
“I don’t recognize the artist,” Ki-jung said, while her rats started breakdancing around the TV.
“It’s a Grand Theft Auto remix,” Mathias said, much to Ryan’s surprise. “A pretty good one too.”
“Mathias is a game designer,” Fortuna said since he was clearly too modest to boast for himself. “He’s super talented.”
“To be precise, I’m a programmer and I make indie games on the side,” her date replied with a sheepish grin, the most emotion Ryan had seen him emote so far. “Mostly RPGs and Metroidvanias.”
Nobody understood the jargon, except Ryan, who had stars in his eyes. However, he decided to test that man’s knowledge first, before getting his hopes up. “Have you played Metroid Fusion?”
“Yes, but I prefer Super Metroid,” Mathias replied. “More open-ended.”
“Best Square RPG?”
“Final Fantasy VII, but VI holds a special place in my heart.”
“There’s another gamer alive on this God-forsaken planet!” Ryan was almost brought to tears at finding a soulmate. “I can die happy now!”
“Do you have powers, Nerd 2?” Lanka asked Mathias, raising her head above the sofa with a beer can in hand. “Name’s Lanka by the way.”
The programmer nodded. “One of the bedrooms, yours I presume, is painted brown, with thirty beer cans in a corner and a motorcycle magazine—”
“Oh great, a Blue,” Lanka shrugged before he could finish. “If you tell anyone what’s below the bed, I’m killing you.”
“Mathias can see anything within a short radius,” Fortuna replied with pride, putting an arm around his. He seemed much more uncomfortable about open displays of affection than his girlfriend. Ryan got the feeling she had more or less dragged him to the party.
“Pff, that’s nothing.” Narcinia grabbed a knife from the kitchen and then raised it at her thumb. “Look.”
She cut her thumb before anyone could react, a drop of blood falling on the parquet. The liquid quickly expanded into a bubble while taking a green coloration, before changing shape. The strange mixture grew horns, legs, fur...
Five seconds later, the group looked at a cute white goat.
“It’s adorable,” Ki-jung said in amazement, while Jamie smiled warmly.
“I can create life from my blood,” Narcinia boasted, her new pet letting out a cry. “Nothing too complicated or too big, but I can make any kind of animal, plant, even chimeras!”
“You can make any kind of goat?” Ryan asked, now extremely interested.
“Of course! Why?”
The courier looked at this pure-hearted girl deep in her big eyes, and then whispered two words that would corrupt her forever.
Narcinia looked at Ryan as if he were a genius, which he was, and then made a second goat. A black-furred born-fighter, with golden eyes. “Which one do you take, Ryan?” she asked, as the two goats glared at each other.
“The black one.”
He could already see the untapped market.
Narcinia ended up making eight goats, as new guests decided to participate. She granted each of them a different color and held a tournament while the house slowly filled up with people. A few had formed a circle around the sofa, to watch the final battle.
“Go, ma biquette!” Ryan cheered up his champion half in French, half in English. She locked horns with her rival, ready to claim her rightful place as the competition’s winner. “You can do it, Shub-Niggurath!”
“You gave it a name, blabbermouth?” Lanka asked, having bet on a golden goat, and grown strangely invested in the fight. “Kick her ass!”
Unfortunately, her animal couldn’t stand long against Shub-Niggurath’s implacable ferocity. The black goat managed to toss her rival to the side, who joined the other defeated contestants in shameful exile.
“Yes, yes!” Ryan instantly petted his black goat, who raised her head with smug confidence. The spectators applauded, though none as loudly as Narcinia. “You did it! You did it!”
“I’m sure you cheated by stopping time,” Lanka grumbled while finishing her current smoke. With the spectacle finished, most guests dispersed to talk in a corner or grab a drink.
“Would you say that if she were white?” Ryan accused her, stroking Shub-Niggurath’s ear. Actually, he did cheat once, but only against Fortuna. Considering her insane luck, he had to level the playing field somehow.
Anyway, Lucky Girl proved to be a sore loser and left the competition with her beau. The couple had moved to the kitchen-bar, with Fortuna spending her time advertising her boyfriend to everyone who would listen. Jamie, ever the peoples’ person, engaged Mathias in a friendly conversation while mixing cocktails, though the programmer remained guarded. Ki-jung welcomed every new guest as they arrived, growing more anxious by the second.
All of the guests were Genomes, and most of them advertised. A telekinetic whom Ryan recognized as one of Renesco’s customers helped Jamie with the bar by moving drinks around, while a fire manipulator showed off to a girl by creating burning shapes out of thin air.
Knowing Genomes, Ryan would be disappointed if the party didn’t end up with one or two explosions.
“Are you accusing me of goat racism?” Lanka brought him back to the conversation.
“What do we do with the goats now though?” Narcinia asked. Her creations had started playing with Ki-jung’s rats, the rodents climbing on top of the larger goats. Most of the guests looked at them with amusement, and some with hunger.
“You make a wolf, to eat them,” Ryan suggested, his goat champion looking up at him. “Only the losers, Shub-Niggurath. Only the losers.”
“And how do we get rid of the wolf afterward?” Lanka asked the hard question, expecting to corner him.
Ryan stated the simple solution. “You make a bear, to eat the wolf.”
“I can’t make a bear,” Narcinia replied with a giggle, sitting on the sofa with Lanka. “Too fat.”
“Then we call the Panda. Who will win between him and a wolf?”
“The wolf, it’s not even a contest,” Lanka said, before offering a beer can to Narcinia. “Want some, Overgoat?”
“Mom and Dad said I could go if I didn’t drink,” Narcinia replied while joining her fingers. “And Father Torque told me alcohol is poison for the soul.”
“Do you see your parents or a priest around here? Trust me, it would take ten times more before it poisons anything.” Lanka shoved the can in a surprised Narcinia’s hands, who looked at it with clear hesitation. “Do you see any pretty boys around, blabbermouth? I’m hungry.”
“That depends, do I include myself?” Ryan joked. “Because everyone else will feel like a huge disappointment in comparison.”
“You aren’t my type, blabbermouth. I prefer the strong silent type, and you talk too fucking much.” Lanka glanced at the entrance. “Though the cavalry is coming to rescue you.”
Greta and Sparrow had arrived through the front gate, the first dressing casually, the latter wearing a red gown. A third woman accompanied them, a drop-dead gorgeous redhead in a stunning green dress. She kept her hair in a bun and tried to look dignified, but Ryan noticed an undercurrent of playful, foxlike cruelty in her emerald gaze. Clearly one of the Killer Seven.
It took Ryan a second to realize that all three of the assassins escorted a young woman in her early twenties; a stunning, queenlike lady with long platinum hair, almost silver. Unlike her companions, she dressed very conservatively and all in black, highlighting her pale skin. That stoic woman scanned the room, an apathetic look in her blue eyes. Her expression was one of pure, absolute boredom.
Quicksave was halfway tempted to approach her, but when he got a good look at her emotionless face, he backed off.
She looked a bit too much like a younger Pluto for his comfort.
Greta noticed him though and gave him her usual fake smile, while the pale lady muttered a few words to Sparrow and the redhead. She didn’t seem interested in social interaction, moving towards the bar to drink in a corner.
“Vamp,” Lanka said, indicating the redhead with her chin. “She’s a bitch and she drains her partners dry, so don’t approach her. Obviously, you’ve met Nash and Greta already.”
Nash? Nice nickname for a Sparrow. “And the platinum—”
“Don’t,” Lanka said, her voice no longer playful. “Seriously, don’t get near her.”
“It’s Livia,” Narcinia said as if it explained everything.
“I ain’t cleaning your bloody corpse, Blabbermouth, so follow some social distancing guidelines,” Lanka said, starting her fourth smoke of the night. “Vamp will kill you while you fuck, but you won’t get that far with Livia.”
“What, she can turn me to stone with a glance?” Ryan asked.
“It’s not Livia you should fear,” Lanka replied ominously, “it’s her father.”
“And she dated my brother,” Narcinia told Ryan.
“So she’s a cat person?”
Narcinia pinched him in the arm. “That was stupid,” she said with a smirk. Teenagers. “Don’t you want to date my sister, Ryan? We could have goat fights every weekend!”
“I’m pretty sure she’s already taken,” Lanka snickered while reviewing the guests, before letting out a sigh. Apparently, she hadn’t found anyone to her liking yet.
“But I don’t like that guy!” Narcinia complained, snapping the beer can open. “He stares at me sometimes, it’s creepy. I hope my sister gets bored of him soon.”
“I’ll settle that right now.” Ryan glanced at the stoic game designer and started shouting at him. “Hey, Matty!”
Mathias Martel looked at him, clearly at his wits’ end.
“Wanna grab me a drink and talk pop culture outside? You still owe me one!”
The game designer exchanged a few words with his girlfriend. A few seconds later, Fortuna glared at the courier while Mathias grabbed two glasses off the counter.
“Protect the goats, my Green friend,” Ryan told Narcinia. “We may need to sacrifice them for your wish to happen.”
“You aren’t a satanist right?” the teen asked, suddenly worried.
“Nah, he’s way worse,” Lanka said, while Ryan already moved towards the terrace.
“The big fire below’s got nothing on those I started,” the courier replied playfully.
“I-I was kidding!” Narcinia pleaded, Shub-Niggurath letting out small cries. “I was kidding!”
Ryan winked at her over his shoulder, before being joined by Mathias. A few Genomes had taken over the infinity pool, but for now, most remained inside. The courier grabbed a drink offered to him, then sat on the ramp, an inch from falling into the void below. He looked up upon hearing noise, watching Vulcan’s mech pass over the house and land in the garden outside.
Good, Ryan would interrogate her about how her hunt of the Meta-Gang had gone. “I thought you were unlucky in love?” he asked Mathias.
“I am, she’s a job,” he replied, confirming Ryan’s suspicions about his identity. “One that backfired spectacularly, I should add. Her power is busted.”
“That’s pretty cold.”
“Says the pot calling the kettle black.” The programmer sipped his glass and glared at the courier. “You’re a colossal dick, Quicksave.”
“I know, and you love me for it.”
“Good call for Luigi though,” he replied, low enough that no one else would overhear. “I was going to take care of him, but you acted quicker.”
“I’m sorry my hatred of truthsayers got in the way of your cold-hearted assassination attempt.” Ryan glanced at Narcinia. She and Lanka moved the sofa aside, clearing out the living room to turn it into a dance floor. The rave party would begin soon. “So, it’s her?”
Mathias Martel didn’t look at him, instead staring at the Veran sisters. For a moment, the mask slipped, and the real person beneath spoke through.
“Yeah,” Shroud replied, a dangerous look in his eyes as he observed Narcinia. “It’s her.”