Genome parties were always fun, but the aftermath sucked.
When he returned home to Jamie’s place, Ryan found it in ruins. The floor had been buried underneath beer bottles, pizza boxes, trash, and stuff best left forgotten. Someone had drenched the sofa in a suspicious fluid, and while DJ Brain had survived the apocalypse, a partygoer drew a smiley face on the vat’s surface. Even with repeated time-stop, it was a struggle to clean up the mess.
Ryan was still working on it by the evening.
“Faster, slave!” Ryan’s cruel taskmaster, Lanka, sat on a chair while he cleaned up the sofa with a mop. Ki-jung’s rats looked at the both of them, like viewers watching a comedy movie. “I want to see this sofa shine enough to sit my ass upon.”
“Do you want me to clean your royal butt too while I’m at it, Your Majesty?” Ryan deadpanned.
“No, thank you, I already did my part,” she replied. “You’re the one who skipped town all morning.”
“You’re just mad I was invited to the big guys’ table,” he mocked her back, before hearing his cellphone bleep in his pocket. He took a break from his dirty work to check a message from Jasmine.
|JasLove: How do you want your armor?|
Ryan started typing his answer.
PlushieTamer: Have you played Fallout?
JasLove: Fallout 1, Fallout 2, Tactics, or Van Buren?
PlushieTamer: You didn’t mention Brotherhood of Steel.
JasLove: That game never existed, and I’ll kill anyone who says otherwise.
PlushieTamer: Good answer. Fallout 2, America for the Enclave.
JasLove: Figured. You’re going to look great killing muties.
PlushieTamer: You and I, and my big plasma cannon...
JasLove: Keep it loaded. Might give it a good polish if you behave.
“You’re texting your girlfriend during work, Blabbermouth?” Lanka said while looking over his shoulder, grinning upon seeing the sender. “Wait, wait, wait, it’s Vulcan’s number!”
“Jealous?” Ryan asked before putting the cellphone in his pocket.
“I’m glad you didn’t commit suicide by going after Livia, but Vulcan? Mad respect. She’s totally going to shoot you one day, but your bravery shall be remembered.”
Technically, she already did shoot him. “Well, I had to work for both of us, since you couldn’t get a date.”
Lanka grinned, sipping a beer. “Where do you think these fluids came from?”
Ryan looked at the sofa, then at the mop, and finally at Lanka, whose grin grew wider. “You know what, I paid my debt to society,” he said, tossing the mop at his flatmate’s face. “Clean your mess yourself.”
“Hey, you lazy ass, get back here!” she complained, trying to get the sticky mop off her face.
Ryan ignored her, moving towards the stereo to unplug his brain in a jar. Ki-jung’s rats left for the kitchen and trailed a towel back to the sofa with their mouths, intending to clean it up themselves. Their mistress was still holed up in her room with her boyfriend, but she might emerge from their lair sometime soon.
Jamie hadn’t believed he had been promoted at first until Livia herself called him to confirm it. After a moment of silence, the swordsman had retired to his room with Ki-jung to ‘discuss’ it, but they had been alone for three hours by now. Ryan was pretty sure there wasn’t a lot of talking involved in this private celebration.
When Jamie and Ki-jung returned to the living room, the rats had cleaned the sofa enough for Lanka to slouch on it. The couple was so close they were almost touching, and Chitter had recovered from yesterday’s breakdown. In fact, she looked so happy that Ryan thought she might ascend to heaven on the spot.
“Something big happened,” the courier said, as he separated the loudspeakers from the brain in a jar. “I can tell.”
“What’s up?” Lanka asked with an eyebrow raised. “Besides changing your names to Mr. and Miss Mercury?”
Ki-jung exchanged a glance with her man, who nodded slowly. “Jamie finally proposed,” she told Lanka, giddy with joy.
Her friend blinked. “No way!”
“Congratulations!” Ryan said with a thumb up, while the rats clapped with their tiny hands. “You should tell everyone!”
“And you accepted?” Lanka asked Ki-jung a stupid question.
“Of course I said yes!” she chuckled. “I want you to be the bridesmaid, Lanka.”
“Me?” For the first time since Ryan met her, the ex-marauder looked speechless and flustered. “But I don’t know shit about weddings!”
“You will do well,” Ki-jung replied with a warm smile, though it wavered a little. “Felix would have been Jamie’s best man, but I don’t think he will come.”
“I will ask Mercury to be the best man,” Jamie declared. “I owe my whole life to him. If he hadn’t raised me up, I would still be some pisspoor orphan selling scraps. Now… I will do my best to honor his name.”
“Yeah, I’m gonna have to call you boss now,” Lanka said with a wide grin. “If anyone deserves that job, it’s you, Jamie.”
“I still can’t believe it’s happening,” Zanbato replied, torn between joy, pride, and anxiety. He looked so adorable when unsure of himself. “Me, a street rat, ascending to the rank of an Olympian? Becoming a Caporegime?”
“It’s impostor syndrome,” Ryan told the swordsman. “It’s like sanity, fake it until you make it.”
“Yeah, I suppose,” Jamie replied, though he clearly had a long way to go. “Still, it’s so big… beyond all the responsibilities and sitting at the Olympians’ table, I will have all the division’s resources to call upon. Millions, billions in cash.”
“You still plan to invest in soccer games?” Lanka asked.
“We haven’t had a national cup since the Genome Wars,” Jamie replied, his voice brimming with passion. “Dynamis keeps a tight grip on sports with their Dynacup, but the slums have so many talented people. Nobody will give them a chance but us. I’m sure one of them can be the new Maradona.”
“You should give to charity, develop detox centers, hospitals…” Ki-jung looked at Ryan. “Even rebuild that orphanage the Meta-Gang trashed.”
“You should start with all of Rust Town.” Ryan shrugged. “That place is the most miserable I’ve seen, and that includes radioactive wastelands.”
Much to his surprise, Jamie actually seemed to take his suggestion to heart. “That’s not a bad idea,” he admitted, looking at Ki-jung. “What do you think?”
“You should know,” she replied, before glancing at Ryan. “You have seen the Olympians. Do you think they would mind?”
Ryan gave the question some thought.
At the end of the day, Lightning Butt didn’t seem to care about money. He only craved power and respect. As long as Jamie followed orders and didn’t interfere with the other divisions, Augustus probably wouldn’t give a damn if he used funds to create orphanages or charities. Neptune and Livia seemed more interested in developing the family’s empire, and they would probably approve the initiative if only to develop goodwill. As for Mars and Venus, he didn’t get much of a read on them.
“I think they would be open to the idea,” Ryan admitted, with a caveat. “As long as it doesn’t interfere with the Bliss business.”
That was the real problem. The couple’s mood instantly worsened, and they exchanged a silent glance. Ki-jung didn’t give up though. “If you could talk to Livia about it…”
“Moi?” Ryan replied, a little surprised.
“She seems to hold you in high esteem, from what I’ve heard,” Jamie said. News traveled fast. “But be careful around her. She’s the apple of her father’s eye, and he doesn’t take disrespect lightly.”
“Don’t worry, Vulcan got to him first,” Lanka said, laughing when Ryan glared at her.
“You ratted me out!” He glanced at the mice in the room. “Sorry. Some of my best friends are tiny rodents.”
“I had a feeling something would happen between you two,” Ki-jung smiled warmly. “The tension was palpable.”
“I’m so glad you found someone,” Jamie declared, warmly putting a hand on Ryan’s shoulder. “I don’t know if it will last, but I hope she can make you happy.”
“Well, I will retire before you give me diabetes,” the courier replied, carrying his brain in a jar to the garage. When he left the main room, the trio were discussing the wedding’s date and logistics.
Thankfully, the garage had been locked up during the party, and Ryan’s car was spared from the guests’ attention. If Lanka had used his backseat for her vile, sticky deed, the time-traveler might have gone on a suicide run out of rage.
Thirty minutes later, the courier had plugged back the brain in its place. He opened the door and sat at the driver’s seat, putting on the Chronoradio.
Instead of funny alternate universe songs, a faint voice came out of it.
Ryan remained still, checked if the garage door was closed, and finally increased the sound. “Len? Is that you?”
“Y-yes, it’s me. I don’t bother you?”
“No, no, it’s fine, I just had to confirm it.” He had to ask since it was unlike her to make the first move. “We haven’t spoken for days.”
“Yes, umm…” She stopped, not sure what to say. The awkwardness was almost palpable.
Ryan decided to spare her further embarrassment. “How are the kids?”
“They’re still getting used to the place, but they love it. We… we played games. Board games.” She marked a short pause, trying to find her words. “Sarah said you would love them.”
“Are you inviting me?”
Well, that was a big leap forward. Maybe their friendship wasn’t wrecked beyond repair, or the kids’ presence helped Len recover from her self-imposed isolation.
“Vulcan contacted me about the Meta-Gang,” Len changed the subject, “I think you should know. I followed their submarine to a hidden tunnel, leading below the city.”
“Towards the bunker.” Ryan put his hands on the wheel. “Have you told Vulcan?”
“No, I thought I should tell you first. Riri, is this true what I heard on the news? You attacked Dynamis with Vulcan?”
“To borrow one of their suits,” Ryan replied, putting his hands on the warm, soft cashmere sleeves. “It was a date, sort of.”
Len didn’t answer. The line turned into static, with Ryan wondering if she was shocked, sad, or just lost the connection. “Shortie?”
“I’m… I’m happy for you. She’s better than the others.” Another pause. “You deserve to find happiness.”
Something in her voice broke Ryan’s heart. “Shortie?”
“Does she know?”
“No, I didn’t tell her.” He glanced out of the window, and at the garage’s cold walls. “It always ends the same way.”
While he genuinely enjoyed Jasmine’s company, Ryan wouldn’t hesitate to stand against the Augusti to achieve his Perfect Run. Though she didn’t seem loyal to Augustus, Vulcan also had a fiery temper, enough to try murdering the courier in a previous loop. In spite of his best intentions, they might end up on opposite sides.
And almost all his relationships ended up undone at the end of a loop. Getting too attached would only make the inevitable end more heartbreaking.
“I… I see,” Len said, clearing her throat. “But maybe not this time.”
Ryan’s head perked up in interest. “You’ve found a solution?”
“I think so,” she said, before asking him questions. “You create your time-stop by aligning your two selves, right? So for the ten seconds duration, both time periods interact.”
“I see where this is going,” the courier said, his mood deflating. “I’ve thought of using that period to send stuff in the past, but you can’t send anything physical. Even cats. I’ve checked.”
Physical time-travel seemed to break some of the underlying laws of their universe, even by Genome standards. Or if it could be done, you needed a unique, undiscovered Violet power that Ryan couldn’t replicate.
“But you can send signals. Information, like the Chronoradio does.”
“What are you getting at, Shortie?”
“Psyshock, he can overwrite minds, even transfer his own, without physically changing the brain. He alters the brainwaves and neural signals. Ergo, the physical storing space matters less than all the electrical reactions taking place every second. If we make a snapshot, and send that information back to a perfectly compatible vessel… like their own nervous system…”
Ryan pondered her words. “You want to send someone’s consciousness back in time.”
“The way you do, yes.”
“It’s a good idea, but besides the fact brains aren’t exactly your area of expertise, how do you plan to copy a whole human mind, guide it through a temporal anomaly, and then have it transferred to their past self? A human brain had more than one million billion connections, collectively sending a quadrillion signals per second.”
“Yes, it’s…” She let out a sigh. “I can only do one small part of the design, the navigation to guide the signal through the anomaly. You will need resources I don’t have to complete it. Other Geniuses, more processing power. More time to figure it out.”
Of that, Ryan had aplenty. “But you think it can be done?”
“I can upgrade your Chronoradio to send signals back to a target,” she said. “I already wrote the design down. I can send the plans to you. It’s… it’s not that different from communicating through water or in hostile environments. It’s harder. But it can be done.”
“Do you think it can be completed in this loop?” Ryan asked. “Before everyone forgets?”
Len’s silence was an answer all of its own.
“There…” she cleared her throat. “There’s one place that may have the tech.”
“The Meta-Gang will be there.” With their current resources and intel, Ryan doubted he could defeat all the Psychos in the base. He still hadn’t figured out a way to get rid of Frank in particular, and Hannifat Lecter would certainly use hostages like last time.
“I can help,” Len argued. “You helped me defend the orphanage, so the least I can do is return the favor.”
“If you die in front of me again—”
“I can take care of myself,” she replied with annoyance, before noticing something. “Again?”
Ryan didn’t respond. His thoughts turned to his Dynamis loop, and how Acid Rain had blown them up to kingdom come.
“Maybe you can ask the Augusti?” Len proposed, running out of solutions.
Ryan hesitated, considering the odds, before reaching a decision. “No,” he said. “No, absolutely not.”
And after seeing Lightning Butt in the flesh, Ryan couldn’t give him access to Mechron’s armory. The organization had good members, but the man at the top was a colossal dick. If he found Mechron’s technology, Augustus would probably use it to sow death; he barely resisted the urge to kill with his current resources, and Mechron's weapons would only make him nastier.
“I don’t like them, but once you have the design…”
“I will have to restart afterward to avoid a disaster,” Ryan replied, “and you will forget me again.”
“Don’t think about me, Riri.” Another pause. “I don’t want to be a burden.”
Not again, was left unsaid.
Ryan sighed. “Just give me time to figure it out,” he pleaded. Maybe Vulcan’s armor would boost his power, or a better option might present itself. “Don’t say anything about the Meta or the bunker yet.”
“Alright. I… I’m here if you need anything.”
Len didn’t answer. Instead, the Chronoradio put on some melodramatic cyberpunk tunes.
Len didn’t fully understand the responsibility on Ryan’s shoulder. He could spare everyone, find the perfect scenario with the best results. If he saved while on a suboptimal route, even to preserve their friendship, then all the consequences would be on him. Lives taken would be forever lost. The time-traveler would have no excuse since he could have preserved them, had he tried hard enough.
And after giving the present situation some thought, Ryan had to admit the truth to himself.
This loop was good. Very good.
But it wouldn’t be perfect.