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A few minutes before the shootout, Ryan was sitting behind Vulcan inside her mech, both partners in crime observing Dynamis’ HQ through a computer screen. The tower looked like some game’s final dungeon, with increasingly dangerous enemies guarding each floor with the boss at the very top. It almost made Ryan wish for a suicide run, but that would be for another time.

His suit awaited him.

“Should you be drinking while driving?” the courier asked Vulcan, who just finished a bottle of vodka.

“I haven’t taken enough to feel any effects,” she replied, opening a hidden compartment and putting the empty bottle there. Ryan noticed a few other bottles inside, including a Bordeaux wine and a few other delicacies. Vulcan immediately rose up further in the courier’s esteem for showing such exquisite tastes.

“You have a minibar?”

“I’m a Genius,” she replied with a smirk. “Maybe I will put one in your power armor when I get around to making it. I’m thinking of something sleek, optimized for close combat.”

“I would prefer a Megazord honestly.” Maybe it could have a panda-themed animal mode?

“From those Japanese-American shows?” She made a disdainful face. “They’re campy as hell!”

“Hey, don’t spit on my childhood,” Ryan complained, before squinting. “Wait, you watched them too?”

“I looked into many sci-fi TV series for inspiration,” Vulcan admitted with a look of brief embarrassment, before changing the subject. “Anyway, I finished scanning the area, and we’re good.”

“So we’re going in?”

Vulcan looked over her shoulder, with Ryan leaning on her back due to the cockpit’s lack of space.

That may have come out a bit dirty.

“I studied their defenses,” Vulcan told him before focusing back on the screen. “Been itching to test my stealth system on Dynamis, but never got the occasion. I still can’t believe Livia gave her blessing, especially if she doesn’t know how it will end.”

“She gave her blessing because she doesn’t know,” Ryan pointed out. The mafia princess seemed as desperate as he was for new and unexpected entertainment. “Thanks for helping.”

“I wouldn’t try that if Alphonse Manada was in town, even for your pretty face,” Vulcan admitted. “That ruthless mofo is everything his brother isn’t. Even without him nearby, we have minutes before they send heavy hitters after us, after which we’re toast. Grab the suit and don’t play around.”

“Not even a little?”

“Don’t play around, Ryan,” Vulcan replied firmly, pointing at the building right next to Dynamis' HQ, namely the Il Migliore tower. “Their best can take on our best, and it’s their territory. They will move to reinforce the strategic areas like the labs once the alarm is sounded, but confusion will only buy us so much time. Now hold on to me.”

Ryan sighed but consoled himself with the thought of finally getting a cashmere wool suit.

In preparation for this fateful moment, the courier had left most of his clothes behind at Jamie’s place, except for his pants, shirt, mask and hat. The only thing he carried with him was the plushie, too dangerous to be left without supervision; Vulcan put it in a compartment inside the mech, sealing its evil away.

Vulcan had her mech fly off its current spot and above New Rome, shrouding its metal hide with some kind of camouflage. It might trick Dynamis’ radars and drone defenses, at least until impact.

Vulcan’s mech quickly accelerated, the g-force increasing until Ryan had no choice but to hold on to the pilot to avoid being thrown backward. He could see Dynamis’ building get closer and closer on the computer screen, wing-shaped drones flying around the perimeter. The combination of speed, low altitude, and stealth hid the power armor from their gaze.

And then, the mech hit the building like a missile, shattering the twentieth floor’s windows and most of its ceiling. Vulcan powered through furniture, assembly lines, and wardrobes before finally stopping.

“Go, go, go!” Vulcan shouted at Ryan while the cockpit opened, the courier immediately emerging from the mech.

Dynamis’ wool factory was a sanitized floor lacking anything resembling warmth or color, with mechanical arms replacing humans as part of the assembly line. Only a few desks oversaw the production lines, and since they each housed a computer, they probably belonged to engineers. Two elevators and stairways linked the floor to the rest of the building south of the duo’s current position.

Alarms started resonating across the floor, metal panels closing the windows outside and security cameras immediately focusing on the intruders.

Ryan didn’t pay it any attention. A Gregorian song in his head drowned all noise outside, his attention entirely focused on something straight out of his wildest dream.

The freshly made cashmere wool suits were gathered in a wardrobe near his position, each one a different color. Among them was a purple-dyed one, with pants included.

The perfect suit had been waiting for him all along.

No man would have been insensible to such a sight, and Ryan was no exception. He carefully touched this luxury cloth with his bare hands, feeling the texture, the warmth, the weight of the thousand euros spent on making this vision of heaven. He took this snazzy suit away from the wardrobe, basking in its glory.

Suddenly, Ryan decided that existence wasn’t meaningless. All the conflicts in mankind’s history had been worth it, for they led to the creation of this suit.

“Ryan!” Vulcan shouted at him from inside her mech, growing tense and impatient. The machine had to lower itself not to hit the ceiling. “What the fuck are you waiting for?”

“I’m sorry…” Ryan had to suppress tears of joy. “This… this is the meaning of life!”

Unfortunately, newcomers decided to interrupt his divine revelation.

A six-man squadron in white power armor stepped out of the two elevators, escorting Blackthorn. The Dynamis executive finished adjusting his suit as if preparing for a meeting rather than a fight.

“Mr. Romano, Miss. Sharif,” Enrique Manada said, always dryly polite. “If you wished to make a late-night appointment, we had a receptionist downstairs.”

His soldiers pointed their weapons, powerful laser rifles, at the two Augusti Genomes. Vulcan raised her own cannon-arm at them, both groups facing each other in a tense standoff. “I don’t take appointments,” the Genius declared, trying to sound badass, “I force them.”

Ryan groaned at her lack of wit. She needed some coaching on that front.

“Your attack is bound to fail,” Enrique said with icy confidence. “The labs are secure, Don Hector is in another location, and our heroes will be there any minute. I don’t understand what you’re trying to do here, but this was suicide to even try.”

“Oh, a minute is fine,” Ryan replied, walking towards Vulcan’s mech. “We just finished our shopping and we will be on our way.”

“You won’t get—” Blackthorn suddenly stopped, his composure disturbed by something for the first time in the conversation. “Wait, what do you mean by shopping? I don’t understand.”

Ryan pointed a thumb at his shirt.

“Good.”

Ryan stopped time, and when it resumed, he had stripped down to his underwear. He kept only his mask, hat and boxers on, the rest of his clothes on the floor.

Six laser rifles were instantly pointed at him: five at his head, and one at his crotch, by far his most powerful weapon. “Behind me, sir, he’s going to flash you!” a soldier said, moving in front of a speechless Enrique Manada.

Ryan ignored the jab, even as the entire squadron seemed ready to blast him to death at a moment’s notice. He slowly put on the suit, pants last, ignoring the pervading tension in the room. No one dared interrupt him, his sheer moxie and the absurdity of the situation commanding everyone’s full attention.

“Better.”

Once he had put on the suit, Ryan started closing its buttons.

Slowly.

Methodically.

Lovingly.

Finally, once he had finished dressing up, Ryan put his hands on his waist. The suit’s colors mixed perfectly with his mask and hat, making him look fabulous. The way any Genome’s costume should.

Perfect.”

For a moment, nobody dared utter a word.

Enrique Manada looked at the courier, left speechless by the time-manipulator’s overwhelming glamour. Il Migliore’s manager glanced at the suit, then at Vulcan, and finally at his men; they rolled their shoulders in confusion, so he looked back at Quicksave.

“You… you broke into our HQ… threatened to start a war… for a suit…” Enrique seemed unable to make a full sentence, interrupting himself whenever he said more than five words. He kept raising and lowering his hand as if trying to point out something, but unable to finish his action. “Not for the Elixirs... or Don Hector... but for a suit...”

The Brand Manager turned as stiff and lifeless as a Dynamis ad.

“Sir?” One of the armored soldiers turned to Enrique, keeping his rifle pointed at Quicksave’s crotch. “Sir, what do we do? Sir?”

“You can’t possibly… this has to be a diversion… can’t possibly be that stupid...”

“I think you made his brain bug the hell out, Quicksave,” Vulcan mused out loud, her cannon arm still pointed at Dynamis’ squadron.

“I’m…” Enrique shook his head, still unable to regain his composure. “I’m trying to process the sheer stupidity involved.”

“Oh,” Ryan said, “and here I thought you were the smart one.”

The taunt snapped Blackthorn into action. The rose on his business suit grew to the size of a small cannon and fired a volley of sharp thorns at Quicksave, who dodged with a combination of time-stop and hiding behind the closest desk.

Vulcan immediately opened fire back with her weaponry, only for an armored soldier to shield Enrique with his body. The power armor resisted an artillery shell, although it made the bodyguard stumble. The rest of the squadron retaliated with lasers, targeting Vulcan first.

“Shoot them!” Enrique ordered while grabbing a Beretta hidden inside his suit, a hint of anger breaking through his composure. His rose fell off his costume and started growing to colossal size, turning into an abomination of thorny vines.

Ryan peeked over the desk only to quickly hide back behind it, a laser barely missing his head and incinerating his beloved hat instead. The situation had devolved into an open shootout, lasers and artillery shells flying in all directions. The ceiling started crumbling above them, chairs and office supplies falling through growing holes.

“Romano!” Enrique Manada pointed his gun at the courier, while furious vines moved to surround him. “Drop that cashmere suit!”

“Stay back!” Ryan shouted from his hiding spot, noticing a few pencils and a suit’s sketch on the desk. “I’ve got a bottle of Roundup, and I’m not afraid to use it!”

“You people have gone too far this time,” Enrique snarled, his pride wounded. “You think this is a game? Are you high?”

“Naturally so!” Ryan stopped time as vines lunged at him from all directions, leaping over the desk and grabbing the pencils while at it. When time resumed, Blackthorn’s mutant rose crushed the spot where the courier used to hide.

Enrique reacted by pointing his gun at the time-traveler’s chest. Ryan threw the pencils at the manager’s hand with near-superhuman accuracy, forcing him to drop his weapon. However, before the courier could reach Blackthorn, rope-sized roots broke through the ceiling and attempted to grab him by the neck like a noose.

Ouch, so Il Migliore’s manager could not only control plants in a large radius but boost their growth too.

“I guess you should have called yourself Greenhand,” Ryan mocked Enrique but was forced to run away to avoid the deadly plants. The courier rushed at Vulcan’s mech, managing to grab his old clothes on the ground while a laser barely missed his shoulder.

“Get i—” Vulcan ordered, the cockpit opening. Ryan froze time again, climbed on the mech’s back, and then slipped inside, “—n!”

Without a pause, Vulcan closed the cockpit and activated the propellers. The mech flew straight through the metal panels covering the windows, shrugging off lasers and thick vines. The vegetal abominations couldn’t catch up with the mech once it escaped the building, Enrique glaring at it through the window's hole.

Flying Dynamis drones immediately gave chase and fired at Vulcan, who responded by accelerating. Ryan had to grab the Genius by the waist to avoid being thrown back by the sheer g-force involved, as the mech flew away towards the Mediterranean Sea.

Vulcan kept increasing the speed and lowered her altitude until her mech all but touched the waters, distancing the drones. After a five minutes chase, the mech lost its pursuers and decelerated.

Once safe, Vulcan and Ryan looked at each other while still high on adrenaline, then erupted into shouts and victory cries.

“That was amazing!” Vulcan laughed, beaming with joy.

“Yeah, right! It’s comfy and classy!” Ryan examined his new suit. “As if it were made for me!”

“I can’t wait to see the news tomorrow morning and the Dynamis press release!” Vulcan grinned ears to ears. “It will have been worth it just to see that Manada ass’ face while trying to explain this! He can’t even cover it up!”

“So we win the bet, chief?” Ryan asked mirthfully.

“Oh yes, we do!” Vulcan replied with a chuckle. “Handily.”

“I hope there’s a prize,” Ryan deadpanned, seeing a notification on the screen. “Looks like we’re getting a call.”

“It’s the defunct channel from my old Dynamis days,” Vulcan said, picking up the call.

“Sharif, do you even understand what you have done?” Enrique spoke on the other side of the radio. “You vandalized our HQ to steal a cashmere suit? You think you are above consequences?”

“You should thank us for testing your defenses,” Vulcan replied with a grin.

“Dynamis won’t take this lying down,” Enrique replied, his tone laced with menace. “This time, you’ve pissed into a volcano.”

Vulcan responded by shutting off the channel. “So what next, chief?” Ryan asked. “I mean, you’re the designated driver there.”

“Jasmine. You can call me Jasmine when there’s no one around.” She looked through the screens, checking if anyone followed them so far, but her stealth device worked perfectly. “We’re going home.”

“Uh, Jamie’s house is the other way.”

Jasmine looked over her shoulder, looking at him as if he were the biggest idiot she had ever met. “We’re going to my home.”

Oh.

Ryan took in her proposal, and while he was short on words for a moment, something quickly came to mind.

“Is Wyvern the safe word?”

Vulcan’s hand lunged for Ryan’s hair, grabbed it, and forced his head to move within an inch of her own. “Yes it is, smartass,” the Genius said, showing the courier her bare teeth, “but spoiler warning.”

Vulcan whispered into his ear.

“I won’t be listening.”

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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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