When the bathysphere reached the shore, it stopped at the only place which the Meta-Gang hadn’t opened fire on yet: their own turf.
Ryan walked the streets of Rust Town, people fleeing the neighborhood in panic on the other side of the road. The toxic atmosphere, already terrible, was now saturated with smoke and ashes. Without his mask on, the courier might have coughed every minute. The locals were so terrified of the orbital bombardment, that they trampled on other people while trying to escape.
Another pillar of light hit New Rome’s south, illuminating the skies and causing a mini-earthquake. A building crumbled at Ryan’s left, forcing him to use a time-stop to avoid falling stones and glass shards. He kept going through the chaos until he reached his destination.
Before going to this cursed place, the courier had tried to contact, well, everyone. But he received no answer but static when he used his phone. Either the orbital laser had damaged underground cables and other methods of communications… or there was nobody left to answer him.
And when he had looked at Ischia Island from the coast, Ryan only saw flames and smoke.
Ryan had seen the worst hells the post-apocalyptic Earth had to offer across his travels. Irradiated cities, mutant-infested ruins, Monaco, and stuff straight out of H.R. Giger’s worst nightmares. But none had hit him as hard as New Rome’s current state.
The courier had found his bad ending, and it was all his fault.
He shouldn’t have waited for Leo’s Carnival to arrive in town nor left the bunker in the Meta’s hands; even Augustus would have been more responsible than Adam with this technology. The courier might not have pulled the trigger, but he left the gun for anyone to find.
Ryan was alone now, just like when he lost Len the first time. Except for all he knew, she probably died on that island. Died saving him.
He would have to go back in time. He couldn’t continue after this.
All Ryan could do now was clean up the trash.
As he walked inside the Junkyard’s ruins, Ryan started to hear music. An indie-rock tune, sung by none other than Big Fat Adam himself. Only rats watched as the courier made his way through molten trash hills.
In preparation for the confrontation, Ryan had rigged a bomb hidden beneath his suit alongside his other ultimate weapon, to explode on command. It would make him reload should Adam have one last trick up his sleeve. Thankfully, he always kept a dose of Rampage on himself, and so juiced himself up for the big finish. One way or another, this run would end soon.
The scene that awaited the time-traveler at the Junkyard’s center was almost surreal, even by his standards.
A mighty, technologically advanced communication tower had sprung from the ground, close to the bunker’s entrance. The device reminded Ryan of a black obelisk, albeit one covered with antennas pointed at the sky.
And the Meta-Gang were partying in its shadow.
They had cleared the trash around it to form a wide area of ground on which to stand, half the size of a soccer field. After all that happened during this loop, only five of the Psychos had survived to its final conclusion: Big Fat Adam, Frank the Mad, Acid Rain, Sarin, and a fifth soon-to-be-dead maniac. And instead of securing the area, the group had decided to hold a music jam. Acid Rain and Sarin were playing guitars, Frank was at the bass, Adam sang with a mike.
Ryan recognized the fifth one as the Land’s rumored true form, which Jasmine had briefed him on. He could have mistaken the deformed creature for a parody of Area 51 aliens: a misshapen, mouthless humanoid with baby-like short legs and a humongous, hairless head. Unlike its softer grey-skinned cousins, the Psycho seemed almost entirely made of solid dirt, with her eyes glowing yellow.
Holding a rock concert while the city burned? Typical Psychos. But worst of all, Adam looked happy. Blissfully happy, even as smoke and firestorms filled the skies.
This. This scene summed up the Meta-Gang in a nutshell.
“You should have named yourself Big Nero, Whalie,” Ryan taunted them as he revealed himself, laser blade in his right hand and a sharp edge to his wit. “That would have been more appropriate. Though I would have suggested a fiddle.”
The music stopped, as Ryan leaped onto the open field and faced the Meta. The Land immediately reacted by mentally lifting dirt below her, forming a platform to fly on. Perhaps her geokinetic power was inversely proportional to her range, and fusing with an area came at the cost of precision.
“A thief!” Acid Rain snarled, throwing away her guitar and drawing a knife. “I’ll gut him open!”
“Behind me, Mr. President!” Frank the Mad declared, rising from behind the bass and tossing it out of his way. The three meter and a half-tall titan prepared to smash the courier like an egg.
Adam raised a hand, stopping his teammates dead in their tracks.
“Come on,” Hannifat Lecter said with a cheerful grin, eyeing Ryan with amusement. His soft human skin quickly turned to a shell of hardened carbon. “It’s Cesare. He’s almost part of the family.”
“And soon I will be an orphan,” Ryan replied with venom. His eyes trailed to the tower behind the group. The Meta must have caused the tremors Len sensed beforehand by unearthing it.
“Wait, he’s alone?” Sarin asked the Land, who raised her tiny arms in confirmation. “Wow, it’s true what they say. Some folks are just too dumb to live.”
“Don’t worry about that, Miss Flatulence,” Ryan replied, stretching his limbs. “You won’t live past the next ten minutes.”
“And here I thought you came to listen to our performance,” Adam said with mock sadness. “It’s Franz Ferdinand’s This Fire, mate. One of the last songs the band recorded before the wars. Still, call me surprised. A full blast on that island and you lived? They don’t make doomsday weapons like they used to.”
“So, you were targeting me personally?” Ryan asked. “I’m honored you thought you needed a Mechron-made WMD to take me out. Must have been hard to see me with a paunch that big.”
“You and the precog princess. When things started to go sour, I tried to look for the cause, and your name came up a lot.” Adam raised his fingers as if to count. “First you got Ghoul, then you put Psyshock six feet under the only way he could ever be. Then the Land tells me you convinced Augustus’ goons to give pursuit instead of letting us skip town. That’s an awful lot of coincidences, mate. I think you knew exactly what we came in town for, and tried to beat us to the prize.”
“What can I say?” Ryan shrugged his shoulders. “I’m a cheat. Did you see the name Cesare in the Dynamis’ files? Because it looks like you sent them a pretty nasty severance package.”
“Their Elixir supply and resources were useful… until they weren’t.” Adam dropped his mike and adjusted his clothes. “There’s a whole juice lab down there, mate. Advanced enough to make knockoffs of our own. For my men, that’s all that matters.”
“But not for you,” Ryan noticed. “Before I kick your whale ass and make sure this horrible moment never happens again, you’re going to answer one question, because I truly want to know.”
“A last request?” The Meta straightened around Adam and tossed away their instruments, like a hyena pack waiting for the signal to attack. “Do tell, I’m in the mood to honor it.”
“Why?” Ryan asked, pointing at the burning city. “Why?”
Adam chuckled. “Actually, mate,” he said, a savage grin on his face. “This is all your fault.”
Ryan’s fingers tightened around the laser blade. “My fault?”
“Your fault. See, I’ve been juicing up on Elixirs for almost fifteen years. You know the drill. My genetic code degrades, causing cellular degeneration, shortening telomeres, mental instability, tumors, etc... until I take a shot and become healthy again. For a while, I was happy that way. Until I noticed a tiny problem.” Adam raised his thumb and index finger, keeping them straight and close to one another without touching. “My powers are starting to go, let’s say, haywire. I guess the Elixirs can’t heal everything, ya know? Bugs slip through.”
“You’re going to die.” Having studied their condition, Ryan knew very well that the Elixirs Psychos consumed were just delaying the inevitable. “Good.”
“Yeah, yeah, well, I came to this place because I thought I could find a cure. But now that you killed Psyshock, we can’t fully hijack Mechron’s central mainframe. We could only settle on partial control.” Adam shrugged, though the dangerous glint in his eye betrayed his true feelings. “Thanks for ruining everything, boyo.”
“You’re welcome. I did my best.”
“Well, looks like you messed up pretty bad then. Because partial control meant we could get our hands on that big interstellar firestick… and it got me thinking.”
Adam looked into Ryan’s eyes, and for a second, the courier saw it all. All the sociopathic, solipsistic narcissism lurking beneath the friendly facade. The savage beast wearing the human skin.
“I’m going to die, but you people…” Adam’s sneer turned into one of pure hatred. “You will continue to live your miserable, meaningless lives as if I never existed. That’s fucking selfish, mate. So I figured, pharaohs and kings, they were entombed with their slaves; that’s just the way things are. If I have to go, then my sendoff party will set the whole place on fire.”
It was Jonestown all over again.
“That’s your motive?” In all of his endless wanderings, Ryan had never hated someone as much as this heartless, psychopathic prick. “All this pain and sorrow, just because you wanted to pull off a Jim Jones?”
“What can I say, mate?” Adam shrugged it off with a cold, cruel smirk. “Life ain’t about winning or losing. It’s about being happy. And the truth is, I don’t want anybody to be happy without me.”
Ryan flinched, these words a cruel perversion of his own philosophy.
“Anyway, Cesare…” Adam cracked his knuckles, while Acid Rain played with her knife. Poisonous rainclouds appeared in the skies above them. “I know all about your sister’s underwater base. And all the little children inside.”
The Ogre’s grin turned savage.
“I guess I will have fried fish for dinner.”
Ryan stopped time and went straight for the kill.
Obviously, Acid Rain immediately teleported away before his ability took effect, but Ryan anticipated as much. Running straight at Hannifat Lecter, the courier grabbed the plushie hidden inside his suit, flipped the switch, and tossed it into the melee.
When time resumed, Ryan had closed the gap with Adam, getting past his goons to leap on the Meta leader’s chest. The madman could barely flinch in surprise before the courier sliced his face horizontally, targeting the eyes.
The madman let out a scream of pain and surprise, before attempting to grab Ryan with his bare hands. Thanks to his enhanced sense of timing and Rampage-boosted body, the courier fled out of range, before dodging a mighty punch from Frank the Mad. The giant’s fist smashed the ground with enough force to create a small crater, the entire area shaking from the impact.
Unfortunately, Acid Rain immediately teleported to Ryan’s left and stabbed him in the flank with a knife. Only the courier’s Rampage-boosted reflexes allowed him to leap away and avoid a follow-up strike to the throat; blood dripped from his flank, but the performance enhancer dulled the sharp pain.
“My eyes!” Adam snarled, covering his wound. As Ryan expected, the madman’s power only covered his skin, like an outer shell of diamond scales. But one couldn’t see with eyes of hardened carbon.
Still standing atop a flying platform, the Land mentally caused stones to rise from the ground in the form of sharp spikes, forcing Ryan to stay on the defensive. Though he leaped around to dodge the stone traps, Frank the Mad began pursuing the courier with astonishing speed. Unlike the frail courier, he simply smashed through the Land’s spikes. Sarin, meanwhile, had floated atop a molten trash pile to gain the high ground. Acid droplets had started falling in a faint rain, damaging Ryan’s cashmere suit.
And the plushie had awoken, looking around with curious eyes.
“An angel…” Acid Rain said upon noticing the rabbit, so amazed by its terrible cuteness that she stopped her assault on Ryan. “It’s an angel.”
“The other kind!” Ryan replied while running circles around Frank. Thankfully, while the colossus had speed and range thanks to his size, it was much easier to dodge his attacks in an open space than the bunker’s narrow corridors. “Rabbit!”
The plushie raised its ears, listening to him intently.
Ryan pointed a finger at Acid Rain. “Attack!”
“Happy birthday!” The plushie leaped at Acid Rain with astonishing speed, hungry for blood. The maniacal Psycho realized the danger and quickly teleported away. Unfortunately for her, no sooner did she reappear above a pile of trash that the plushie started climbing it. “Let’s hug!”
Once the beast was unleashed, none could escape it.
While Acid Rain teleported out of sight and the plushie pursued her across the junkyard, the blinded Adam recovered from his wound to go on the offensive. His mouth widened like a pelican’s, enough that the madman could shove an arm down his throat. He brought a long spiked chain out of his own stomach, swinging it with both hands.
“We fight to the death, mate?” Adam asked, with a mix of gleeful savagery and fury. Somehow, he managed to pinpoint Ryan’s position even without his eyes. Perhaps he had an enhanced sense of smell or hearing.
“Yours first,” Ryan replied, cutting a stone spike with his laser blade as it threatened to impale him. The courier might have said a joke under other circumstances, but he was through playing.
He just wanted these monsters dead.
“Texas smash!” Frank the Mad relentlessly continued his pursuit, attempting to bullrush the courier. The ground trembled with his steps, Ryan narrowly managing to sidestep to the left before the impact. Instead, the colossus hit a nearby pile of molten trash, metallic garbage absorbed in the colossus’ body. When he recovered, Frank had grown half a meter taller.
As Ryan suspected, the Psycho could absorb metals to increase his mass… and his range. He had to kill the weaker Meta first, to make the stronger ones more manageable.
“Let’s see you dodge this!” Sarin unleashed a blast of air from her high point, while Adam and Frank converged on Ryan from both sides. The courier stopped time, moving between the various obstacles.
Keeping Frank and Adam for last, Ryan instead rushed at the tower and the Land defending it. The courier grabbed a grenade from under his suit and tossed it at both. The projectile exploded when time resumed, the blowback blasting the Land off her platform and sending the silent Psycho to the ground.
But though Mechron’s tower trembled, it didn’t break; crimson force fields automatically appeared to shield it from damage.
Though disappointed, Ryan settled for a consolation prize. Like a hawk falling on a mouse, he cut the Land in half below the waist with Reload’s blade before she could recover. The creature made no sound and didn’t shed blood. Instead, both halves fell off the ground without any reaction.
Was she even alive?
Ryan didn’t have time to ask himself questions, as Adam was instantly upon him. The cannibal maniac moved with cat-like grace in spite of his enormous size, his spike chain surging through the air like a swift serpent.
The courier had to stop time to dodge and noticed Sarin ready to attack from her rookery. Grabbing a small gun inside his back pocket, Ryan shot her repeatedly in the face in the frozen time. When the clock moved again, Sarin’s head exploded into gas, vaporous fumes escaping from her hazmat suit. Ryan also noticed that Acid Rain’s toxic clouds had moved north, perhaps to escape her pursuer.
Changing his strategy from close-combat to ranged attacks, Frank the Mad grabbed his bass and tossed it at Ryan as easily as a frisbee. Ryan managed to leap to the side while the projectile crashed behind him, only to almost stumble. The courier glanced at his left foot, finding it encased in a shell of stone.
The Land’s upper half was crawling at him with her arms, her hateful eyes glowing yellow.
Exploiting his distraction and the timestop’s cooldown, Adam caught Ryan’s right arm with his chain, the spikes tearing at his flesh. Though he had grown almost numb to any form of pain, the time-traveler had to keep his teeth clenched, as the two Psychos pulled him in opposing directions. The spikes tore through his hand’s muscle, making him drop his lightsaber.
Damn, if this continued, they might tear his whole arm off!
“On second thought, mate, I won’t kill you.” Adam opened his mouth again and spat out a new item from his gullet. A syringe full of an azure blue liquid, and bearing a familiar helix symbol.
Oh God no.
Anything but that.
“I’m going to destroy you,” Adam said with a laugh, raising the potion like a knife with one hand and holding the chain with the other. “You know what they say… like father, like son!”
Ryan shouted the safe word. “Jar-Jar B—”
He didn’t finish his sentence.
A crimson sphere hit Adam’s chain and melted its links, while the surprised Psycho took an anti-tank shell to the face. The blast propelled the invulnerable maniac against the tower’s forcefield, while the Elixir shattered on the ground.
“Mr. President!” Frank the Mad immediately attempted to rush at his leader’s side, only for an enormous shape to fall upon him from the skies. The impact blew dust in all directions, Ryan only able to see a winged shape pinning the colossal Psycho to the ground, two giants trading blows. Meanwhile, a horde of rats emerged from the junkyard and immediately fell upon the bisected Land, burying her beneath their swarming mass.
Ryan glanced at the spot where Sarin used to stand, noticing Lanka and Jamie in civilian clothing in her place. They looked like shit, their face covered with ashes and minor wounds, but the courier had never been so relieved to see them at all.
And of course, she was there. Her mech landed right behind Ryan, battered, dented, but still ready to take names.
“You made me keep your fucking cat, Ryan!” Vulcan declared, raising her cannon at Adam. “You aren’t dying before I kill you!”