“When is the sound coming?” Lanka asked Ryan for the third time, an elbow on the loudspeaker.
“When you find me another brain,” Ryan replied, tinkering with the device. A few people had already taken over the dance floor, but the house’s equipment couldn’t support a true rave party. Seriously, Ki-jung needed to stop buying Dynamis home products. They were barely a cut above pre-Wars Chinese imports.
Actually, did buying the enemy's products count as collaboration?
“Stop distracting him,” Narcinia told Lanka, defending Ryan with such zeal that he considered making her his sidekick. The Green Genome was busy cultivating strange, phosphorescent mushrooms on the ground. She had promised it would help with the rave, and the courier let her run wild with her imagination.
Quicksave glanced at Mathias, who was talking with Fortuna and other members of the Killer Seven. Half an hour had passed since their conversation, and the house was now filled to the brim with guests.
“So, you’re adopted?” Ryan bluntly asked Narcinia. “Did you ever learn who your birth parents were?”
“Ryan!” Lanka snapped at him.
“They were raiders,” Narcinia replied, almost casually. “Father Torque said they were killers and rapists, and that Augustus punished them because it was divine justice.”
Ryan could have sworn the TV’s screen threatened to crack for a brief second. He glanced up at Mathias, whose smile contrasted with the icy look in his eyes.
“Sorry,” Lanka said, glaring at the courier. Thankfully, the power outburst had been subtle enough for her to miss it. “Blabbermouth has no tact at all.”
“It’s okay!” Narcinia replied with a cute smile. “My real family is the one that raised me. My mom and dad are awesome, and my siblings even more so.”
“I was adopted too, but it sucked,” Ryan said with a shrug. “Well, half of it.”
“Really?” Narcinia’s head perked up in interest, while Lanka listened in silence.
“My parents died when bandits wiped out our community to steal our supplies,” Ryan said. It had been so long ago, it had lost almost all emotional effect. “I was… eleven I think? Maybe twelve. And I turned out great!”
“Ryan.” Lanka’s voice had lost all playfulness. “Did these bandits...”
Ryan glanced at the snake tattoo on her arm, that of her former gang. “You weren’t among them and they’re all dead,” the courier replied with a shrug. “I’m over it.”
Lanka fell silent with a thoughtful look on her face, while Narcinia looked between them in confusion. Thankfully, a newcomer interrupted them before the mood turned even more awkward.
Ryan almost didn’t recognize Vulcan at first sight, because the Genius had cleaned herself up; she had traded her usual clothes for a black halter-top and pants, and let her hair fall down on her shoulders. While she was no head-turning beauty, the Augusti Capo looked great.
He really had a thing for Geniuses shorter than him.
“Ceres, Sphere.” Vulcan smirked upon seeing the courier. “Ryan.”
“Hey, my favorite arms dealer,” Ryan rejoiced, raising a screwdriver. “Your arrival is just perfect.”
“Always,” she replied, a hand on her waist. “Tell me something I don’t know.”
“Do you have anything to boost the sound?” Ryan asked. “I’m trying to jury-rig the loudspeakers, but I need more juice.”
“Now you’re talking my language,” Vulcan said, searching inside her pocket and tossing him some kind of mouse-sized battery. “It’s a mini-generator.”
“Why do you carry that in your pocket?” Lanka asked, an eyebrow raised.
“‘Cause my phone has less autonomy than a sloth,” the Genius replied with a shrug, before grabbing a beer can from Lanka’s personal reserve. “It’s been an exhausting day.”
“Did you kill the Meta?” Narcinia asked before Ryan could.
“Almost, but Dynamis got to them first. Fucking kill stealers.”
“What, they tried to buy them off?” Lanka snickered.
“With bullets and lasers,” Vulcan replied. “They sent three armored squadrons, plus heavy hitters like Devilry and that bitch Wyvern. Those vultures fell on the Meta and opened fire on sight.”
Oh, was there gas in their alliance? “Well, I guess it was time to clean up loose ends,” Ryan said.
“Adam didn’t look surprised. He sacrificed a few men, but he managed to escape on a goddamn submarine.”
“A submarine?" Narcinia immediately asked, unable to resist the lure of undersea adventures.
“Yeah, a freaking submarine with Mechron’s emblem on it.”
The dreaded Genius’ name instantly killed the playful mood. Lanka toyed with her smoke, a frown forming on her face. “Well, that doesn’t sound good.”
“I get the feeling the situation is more complicated than it looks.” Vulcan sipped her beer while glancing at Ryan. “I called the Underdiver to investigate since she’s a specialist for underwater hunts.”
The thought of calling Len had crossed Ryan’s mind, but he was wary of involving her now. She was probably busy with all the orphans, no need to add more pressure on her shoulders.
Anyway, thanks to Vulcan’s gadget, he completed his design and amplified the sound, turning the modest loudspeaker into a weapon of mass destruction. As if to answer his success, Narcinia’s mushrooms unleashed a faint colored mist onto the dance floor, instantly grabbing everyone’s attention.
Trading his screwdriver for his drink, Ryan cleared his throat.
“Boys and girls!” the courier shouted while raising his glass, his voice reverberating through the loudspeaker. “With great power, comes ZERO RESPONSIBILITY!”
Cheers answered his declaration, while Lanka created multiple colored spheres above the dance floor, one for each Elixir type. They floated near the ceiling and pulsated with energy, slowly shrinking while they provided a solid light show.
“How long do they last?” Vulcan asked Lanka, more people started taking over the dance floor while the music switched to a catchy Synthwave song.
“Around an hour if nobody touches them,” Lanka said, before turning to Narcinia. “Nice trick with the mushrooms. What’s your job again?”
“I work on Ischia island,” the teenager replied. “I help Father Torque open the path to heaven.”
“That kind of heaven?” Ryan asked, immediately interested. “Are you an angel?”
Narcinia’s smile faltered a bit. “Sorry Ryan, I’m not supposed to say anything about it.”
“I’m just saying, I’ve always wanted to sell drugs for a living,” Ryan declared, pumping his fist. “Building a South American cartel has always been my dream. If you need a drug wizard, I know all the good recipes. Meth, cocaine, heroin, opium, doesn’t matter, just give me a truck and I’ll start cooking.”
“You know how to make drugs?” Lanka asked, finishing her sixth cancer stick. “Good to know.”
Well, Ryan had spent… twenty years? At least twenty years trying every addictive substance on the planet except Elixirs, and when he ran out, he learned how to create his own supply. His drug cartel phase had been quite enjoyable actually, even if the last overdose sucked.
“I’m afraid you will have to abandon that childhood dream, Ryan.” Vulcan brazenly put an arm around his shoulder. “You’ve got an exclusive work contract with me.”
“Can’t we settle on an open relationship?” Ryan replied while brazenly putting his hand around her waist. Lanka looked at him as if expecting the courier to lose that arm very soon.
“I ain’t finding anyone half as good as you are,” Vulcan replied, without pushing his hand away. “So it’s 'til death do us part.”
“Are you talking about work or something else?” Lanka joked.
“He could visit,” Narcinia said, clearly eager to meet Ryan again. “Father Torque says the equipment needs an update. Especially the defenses.”
“Bacchus doesn’t know jack shit about tech,” Vulcan replied, her amusement turning into frustration. “Besides, you’ve got a freaking ghost guarding your precious island.”
“Mr. Geist says he can’t be everywhere at once, and that he may ascend to Heaven anytime.”
“Pretty please?” Ryan asked Vulcan, doing his best impersonation of a kitten’s cute stare.
“Don’t start.” Vulcan rolled her eyes, before glancing at the dance floor. “You know how to dance?”
“If I say I’m amazing, then I’m being modest.”
“Let’s put that boast to the test, shall we?”
Both put the drinks aside and moved to the dance floor alongside other couples. It quickly became apparent that Vulcan didn’t have much experience, but Ryan had mastered every dance under the sun, so he guided them through. Mathias also danced with Fortuna, and the glass manipulator seemed to enjoy it a bit more than he would like to admit.
“Is there anything you aren’t good at?” Vulcan asked Ryan. He could feel her sweat on his fingers, her breath accelerating.
"Ice-skating." Vulcan chuckled in response, and Ryan may have smiled, if not for the unpleasant sensation of someone watching him from afar. A quick glance quickly told him whom.
Livia observed him from the bar, her gaze first one of surprise, then confusion. She started asking questions to Sparrow nearby, and while Ryan could read lips, the lighting didn’t help him understand anything.
He did capture the mysterious woman’s attention though. It must have been his magnetic personality.
Ryan and Vulcan interrupted their wild dancing when they heard Jamie’s voice cut through the noise. The swordsman had grabbed a fire-manipulator whom Ryan had sighted earlier during the party by the shirt, and looked ready to murder him. The guest carried a broken inhaler in his hands, full of a bluish, almost phosphorescent liquid.
It seemed one idiot had ignored Jamie’s rules and brought Bliss to the party. And Ki-jung…
Chitter looked at the drug with a pale face, shaking. She seemed paralyzed and unable to say anything; a former addict faced with her personal poison.
Bliss could be taken either in liquid or gas form, and it was powerful enough to affect Genomes. It was also incredibly addictive, which Ryan could personally attest. He could never finish a run after trying it, and while he had only ever found one way to cure the addiction, it was horribly painful.
Not to mention the hidden, long-term side-effects...
The idiot tried to protest, even while Jamie looked murderous. It was not a pretty sight, since the Made Man was a tall brawler built like a bear. While he hadn’t manifested any laser weapons from his hands, the scowl of black fury on his face made it clear he was barely restraining himself. The contrast with his usual kindness made it all the more jarring.
In fact, Ryan had only ever seen him this angry when Luigi had exposed his infiltration in some loops.
“Fuck off!” Jamie snarled before throwing the Genomes backward, his tone turning venomous. “Don’t bother ever coming back.”
The guest looked around, surrounded by glares from other guests, and moved towards the door with a cowed face and his inhaler. “It’s okay?” Jamie immediately asked his girlfriend, his frightful face softening back into a kind one.
“Yes,” Ki-jung said, although she clearly didn’t mean it. “It’s fine. It’s fine.”
Jamie put his hands around her waist in a protective manner and then turned to Ryan when he and Vulcan approached the couple. “Sorry for the mess,” Zanbato apologized.
“Your house, your rules,” Vulcan replied, glancing at the house’s entrance. “I’ll discipline that idiot, Zanbato. You got my word on this.”
“Thank you.” Jamie looked at his troubled girlfriend, then back at Ryan. “I think we will retire early. Can you and Lanka take care of the guests in our absence?”
“Sure,” the courier said.
“Can I trust you not to do anything stupid?” Jamie asked, an eyebrow raised.
“I swear I will not start any fires under this roof.”
“That’s oddly specific,” he noted but had more pressing matters on his mind. “Don’t burn down the house.”
Ryan raised a thumb up with one hand and crossed his fingers behind his back with the other. Jamie and Ki-jung moved upstairs, leaving the ground and main room to the guests. “I didn’t know Chitter was a recovering addict,” Vulcan noted, showing surprising insight. “I’m glad I never took that stuff.”
“Don’t get high on your own supply,” Ryan replied.
“Scarface?” She smirked at his surprised face. “I watch movies too. Maybe I’ll show you a few, one day.”
Sparrow approached the duo before they could return to the dance floor. “Quicksave.” The bodyguard cleared her throat. “Ms. Livia wants to talk to you.”
“About what?” Vulcan asked, her tone shifting from flirtatious to serious.
“I don’t know,” Sparrow replied. “But you can come if you want.”
Ryan and Vulcan exchanged a glance, and while the Genius clearly wasn’t happy about it, she didn’t seem willing to deny the request either. That Livia clearly had sway in the organization, or at least her father did.
Livia awaited them at the counter, playing with a cocktail. Greta and the Vamp formed a security cordon around her, giving her a safe space among the crowd. Her eyes remained set on Ryan with a mix of curiosity and interest.
“Are you there?” Livia asked Ryan, her voice radiating quiet confidence.
“Maybe, maybe not,” Ryan replied. “Can we ever be sure that we truly exist?”
“As in, are you physically there, or are you a hallucination?”
“Well, true hallucinations don’t ask if they’re real,” Ryan said. “That’s how I tell them apart.”
Livia chuckled in response, but Vulcan’s face remained an unreadable mask as she asked a question of her own. “Shouldn’t you know that already, princess?”
“I would, if my power worked on him,” Livia replied. She sounded oddly pleased about it. “It doesn’t. As far as it can tell, the man in front of me does not exist.”
Vulcan frowned. “You mean, you can’t see him in any alternate universe?”
“No, which should be impossible,” Livia continued, studying Ryan with clear curiosity. “My name is Livia Augusti or Minerva. Are you a Blue? Perhaps a White?”
“No, I’m not a smurf. I’m closer to magenta.”
“A Violet? Oh, then you must be Quicksave. My aunt spoke of you.”
“You know I’m immortal?” Ryan asked her, happy to have become famous. “I didn’t tell anyone before.”
“I’m sure of it,” she replied with a bright smile that made Ryan strangely uneasy.
Wait, Livia Augusti? As in the core family? She was Pluto’s niece, and Lanka had said he should fear her father...
Ryan’s heart skipped a beat. “Who’s your daddy?” he asked for confirmation.
The young woman’s smile widened, and she glanced through the windows, and at Mount Augustus beyond it.
Shit, Augustus can reproduce!
“I can see and interact with alternate realities,” Livia explained. “I won’t give you all the boring details, but I can see the different ways a situation can play out; even a human being. But for some reason, my power simply fails to take you into account.”
If so, then no wonder she had looked so bored beforehand. If that mafia princess could observe multiple realities, she probably knew how the party would turn out before it even began.
Until Ryan himself entered the picture. “Interesting,” he said, noting that information for later.
“You said you overlap with your alternate selves,” Vulcan told her dance partner. “Maybe that’s why. Your powers interfere with each other.”
Well, except he lied about that part, and Ryan couldn’t tell them his own theory without revealing his bluff.
“I can’t suppress my curiosity,” Livia admitted. “Even Greta only prevents me from seeing anything when using her power on me, otherwise I can see her just fine. This situation is truly a first for me.”
“The orange is in the hen house.”
Both Vulcan and Livia frowned at Ryan. “I’m sorry?” the mafia princess asked.
“If you remember that sentence, then it means everything is fine,” Ryan said while grabbing a drink off the counter.
“I will be sure to remember it then,” Livia replied with amusement. The more they talked, the more delighted she looked. “I would be interested in examining how our powers interact if you don’t mind. I’m still figuring out my limits.”
“How about a wager then?”
Livia put a hand on her cheek, considering the courier’s proposal. “A wager?”
“I thought of something to cap the party.” Ryan raised an index finger, sipping the cocktail. “Something so daring, so risky, so mad, that I promise you will never have seen it in any alternate universe. Something which will piss off Wyvern something fierce.”
Livia raised an amused eyebrow, while Vulcan looked ready to take the bait. “I’m listening,” the mafia princess said.
Two hours later, Ryan hid from lasers behind a desk on the twentieth floor of Dynamis’ HQ. He wore a new purple suit on his person, while an armored Vulcan was engaged in a firefight with the Private Security.
“Romano.” Enrique Manada pointed a gun at the courier, while furious vines moved to surround him. “Drop that cashmere suit!”
The things he did for his wardrobe...