As it turned out, Wardrobe had an entire floor of Il Migliore’s tower dedicated to her.
Ryan and the Panda waited inside an elevator, as it slowly climbed towards their destination. The duo could see the sun illuminate New Rome through a glass window, Ryan glancing at Rust Town while his sidekick sang a Spider-man cartoon tune to himself.
It was May 10th, and Psyshock would soon attack the orphanage.
Ryan’s cell phone buzzed to the tune of I Got You, Babe, drawing him out of his reverie. “Quicksave Deliveries, yes?” he said while answering the unknown caller. “We will deliver your mail, no matter how many corpses it takes!”
“There is a logic in this world,” Fortuna’s furious voice said on the other end of the line. “Everything that can go well for me in this universe, does. You violated the natural order!”
“Wait, how did you get this number?” Ryan asked, curious but not surprised.
“I typed it at random.” Goddamnit, her ability was overpowered. She could probably stumble onto the Dynamis conspiracy by sheer luck if she wanted to. “Nobody talks to me like that, Quicksave! I have men throwing themselves at my feet, millionaires, celebrities—”
Ryan hung up on her. “Who was it, Sifu?” his panda disciple asked him.
“A loony fan,” the courier replied dismissively, even as Lucky Girl kept trying to call him.
“Oh, I had one of those too! She tried to kidnap the Panda because she loved his smooth fur. The Panda… the Panda had to run.”
“Couldn’t you... you know…” Ryan looked into his eyes. “Eat her?”
“I-I can only eat bamboo in panda form, Sifu! Meat makes me want to vomit!”
The Danish warlord Nidhogg had drunk a Green Elixir and became a kilometers-long, near-invulnerable serpent. While Timmy drank the same kind of potion, only to become… that.
There was no fairness in this world.
“Sifu, why are you looking at me like that?” the Panda asked, a little anxious.
Ryan sighed and put a hand on the poor animal’s shoulder. “I will always support you, young disciple. No matter what.”
“I…” Ryan thought the Panda might start crying. “Thank you, Sifu.”
The elevator finally reached Wardrobe’s floor and the duo stepped inside.
After the ascent, Ryan had expected something luxurious, but nothing like this. The rugs in the welcoming hall had probably cost a fortune, all the chairs were made of refined leather, and the walls had been covered with artistic designs like an art gallery. Fashion and girlie mags were piled up on fancy wooden tables.
“Come in!” Wardrobe called them from another room. The new hero team followed her voice and passed in front of shooting studios, including darkrooms, props, and various photography equipment.
Eventually, they made their way to a lobby whose walls were covered with thousands of model pictures and cloth designs. Wardrobe was facing a tough customer around a table, a paper sheet and pencil in hand.
“No!” Felix the Atom Cat said, sinking in his chair in front of the hero fashion designer. “I’m not wearing a cat latex suit!”
“Felix, don’t be a child,” Wardrobe protested, “it would be form-fitting, and won’t restrict your movements in a fight.”
The young hero crossed his arms and pouted. “My outfit is good enough.”
“What? How can you say something that stupid! You take that back!”
“Personally, I suggest a Valentino suit with a cat-themed tie, but I think the outfit is already taken,” Ryan mused out loud, waving a hand at the heroes. “Hi, I’m Quicksave, and this is my trusty Panda sidekick.”
“Oh, hello, I’m Atom Cat,” Felix replied, a bit gruffer than usual. Ryan had missed him.
“Hi, I’m Wardrobe! But you can call me Yukiko, or ‘Yuki’ for short!” She was Japanese, huh? Ryan would have said Korean. She smiled brightly at the two, making her unbearably adorable. “Nice to meet you! Please have a seat!”
“She’s so cute…” the Panda muttered under his breath, before trying to sound dignified. “The Panda greets you too!”
“You’re the new guys, right?” Felix asked as they joined the fashion debate. “Shouldn’t you be at the newbie seminar or something?”
“Shouldn’t you, kitten?” Ryan asked back.
“Don’t tell me,” he sighed. “I’m supposed to waste time watching corporate videos instead of actually doing hero work.”
“We are doing hero work right now,” Wardrobe said, looking at the Augusti rebel’s white gymnast clothes. “Wearing this is a crime against humanity, Felix. Follow Quicksave’s example! Look at that perfect color nuance and this fancy noir trench coat. His costume stands for something greater than him!”
“Thank you,” Ryan said. “I am so glad to finally meet someone civilized in this savage wilderness.”
Atom Cat wasn’t convinced though. “I will take practical over fancy any day.”
“That’s what she said,” Ryan replied, Wardrobe chuckling while Atom Cat rolled his eyes. “Anyway, I am told you will be my goddess as far as fashion goes, but I’m not yet ready to believe in you.”
“Don’t worry about that, Quicksave, I got your costume covered,” she said while drawing on a blank paper sheet with her pencil. “I thought about a Valentino-style suit with artificial fibers, but the more I thought of it, the more I realized I should use a better material. One that fits you.”
“Cashmere?” Ryan asked, hopeful.
“Cashmere, my thought exactly,” Wardrobe said with a nod, revealing herself as an island of sanity in a world gone mad. “Dark purple, with a fancy black turtleneck underneath. And a bowler hat.”
“Oh, no,” the courier suddenly hit the brakes, before she went too far. “That’s too extreme and violent.”
“I thought the same, but I found a solution.”
She raised the sheet before the group, Ryan, the Panda, and even Atom Cat observing her sketch. “Instead of a corporate tie, we’re going to add a wool scarf,” Wardrobe pointed her pencil at the neck. “Light violet, almost pinkish, with tiny clock symbols everywhere.”
The costume… it was wonderful. The perfect blend of modern fashion and Victorian-style dandiness.
A pinkish bright scarf instead of a tie? That was a stroke of genius! Why didn’t Ryan ever think of that?!
“It’s wonderful,” the courier whispered as if facing a divine revelation.
“I know! The scarf will restrain the bowler hat’s energy, symbolizing the conflict between your violent spirit and society’s rules! Can you truly live up to your duty to the law, or will you stay true to your wild, single-minded pursuit of justice? That’s your message. That’s your conflict.” Wardrobe pointed at the drawing. “That’s your costume.”
“How about my bipolarity?” Ryan asked, now giddy. “What do you do about my bipolarity?”
“We paint your metal mask silver and black, light and darkness coexisting without ever mixing!”
“I have been converted! Yours is the one true faith!”
“Oh God, there’s two of them now,” Felix complained. “We’re doomed.”
“What about me?” The Panda asked, hopeful. “Can you make a costume worthy of the Panda’s pure awesomeness?”
“Yes, I can!” Wardrobe replied with enthusiasm. “I thought about leaving you shirtless, with two bullet bandoliers around the chest.”
“Bullet bandoliers?” Timmy’s face deflated. “But I don’t know how to shoot!”
“It’s not about whether you can use it or not,” Ryan enlightened him. “It's about looking cool!”
“Exactly!” Wardrobe agreed while writing down a new sketch. “So I say, two bandoliers around your chest, a green beret, black shorts that will adjust to your transformation, and maybe a pair of sunglasses. You’re no longer just a panda. You’re Rambo Panda, the last of your kind, fighting an eternal war for the future!”
She showed them the sketch, and even Ryan had to admit, it looked like one manly Chinese bear. When he glanced at Wardrobe and remembered how Mortimer had dared kill this gift to mankind from the heavens, the courier couldn’t help but feel sorrow.
“You are a national treasure that must be protected,” Ryan told Wardrobe. “And you will be! I swear you will be!”
“Oh, thanks!” she said with a bright smile. “It’s okay, I get that all of the time!”
“I… I will finally impress the girls in this.” The Panda looked at the costume, utterly mesmerized. “What about the car? Can we get a pandamobile?”
“The Kids Marketing department is already on the case,” Wardrobe promised, grinning at the two. “So, you’re okay with the costumes? Of course you are. Once you validate them, I can make the designs a reality within the hour.”
“Yes, yes, yes!” Ryan said enthusiastically. “And afterward we go patrol in Rust Town!”
“Patrol?” The Panda and Atom Cat asked at once.
“Well yes, we have to test these costumes in the field,” Ryan argued. “It’s like baptizing a ship, except you use the blood of your enemies instead of alcohol.”
“You want to do what exactly?” Atom Cat asked, a little skeptical. “Go to Rust Town and pick a fight with the Meta-Gang?”
“But Sifu, what about the seminar?” The Panda asked, worried. He must have thought not attending would hurt his chances at becoming an Il Migliore member. “We haven’t finished training!”
“You fail to see the truth, arrogant young disciple!” Ryan told his sidekick. “One must confront evil, instead of waiting for it to come to you! To think for yourself is the real training!”
“Yes, Sifu! I understand, Sifu!” The Panda put his hand on his chest. “The Panda shall support you, as you supported him!”
“That’s the spirit,” Ryan patted the Green Genome on the back, before glancing at a confused Felix. “Do you want to come too? I don’t have cat litter in the car though.”
“Me?” Felix the Cat asked, a bit unsure.
“You, Atom Cat, for your own good,” Ryan pleaded, rising from his chair and putting his hands on the boy’s shoulders. “There is a moment in the life of a man, where he must take charge of his own future! Where he must break the chains of corporate hierarchy and stand for what’s right!”
“Can you stop invading my personal space, please?” Felix asked, leaning back in his chair.
“They’ll milk you, Felix!” Ryan continued, completely ignoring the hero’s resistance. “They’ll milk you like a cow! They’ll harvest your happiness and turn it into cash, until you stand for nothing but a brand! They will destroy you with one hour and a half long corporate videos, addict you to coffee and catering, and brainwash you with accounting buzz—”
“You had me at the video part,” Felix interrupted Ryan and pushed him back. “You know what, even if you’re clearly off your meds, you’ve got a point. About time someone confronted this city’s Psycho cancer. Stand for what’s right? You’re talking my language.”
“Oh, can I join too?” Wardrobe asked with her usual enthusiasm. “Team trips are so fun!”
“You’re sure you can leave your atelier without authorization?” Atom Cat asked.
“I will officially join the Pro League next week, after we finish filming the new Wyvern movie,” Wardrobe said happily. “I already have a field license. It will be my last junior league adventure!”
“Well then,” Ryan raised a finger at the ceiling, “to the Quicksave Mobile!”
A few hours later, Ryan drove through the streets of Rust Town in a brand new costume. Wardrobe sat at his side, while Atom Cat, that fashion disaster, had taken over the backseat with the new and improved Panda.
“What a dump,” Atom Cat said, looking through the window. No matter the loop, nobody ever got used to Rust Town. Even the Panda—the Panda—seemed intimidated by the overwhelming atmosphere of ruin and decay. “It’s even worse than I thought.”
“Yeah, it’s… it’s a bad place,” Wardrobe admitted, her fingers twitching. “I see why they don’t let juniors patrol here.”
“Wardrobe,” Ryan said, a lighthearted idea crossing his mind.
“Yes, Quicksave?” she said, moving closer to his seat.
“You can change into any persona that isn’t copyrighted right? Fictional or not? Does that mean you can change into…”
He whispered the terrible name into her ear.
“Yes I can, it’s my ‘Apocalypse Suit,’” Wardrobe nodded. “But it’s too dangerous to use unless all is lost. I think I could destroy the world if I wear it for too long.”
Ryan needed to see her in that costume. That would be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. “Can you dress like God?” Felix asked at the back. “That would be pretty overpowered.”
“Uh, somewhat?” Wardrobe admitted, a little embarrassed. “But I can’t do much in most gods’ costumes actually. The more defined a persona, the better I master it. Nobody agrees about what God can or can’t do, or what He even looks like, so the persona isn’t all that stable. I have an easier time cosplaying as Jesus or Moses. I can’t wear a persona too long though, or else I start to become it.”
“So if you dress like Augustus, you start to think like him?” Ryan asked.
“Yeah, don’t, you’ll probably become a colossal asshole,” Felix said with hateful venom.
“It’s… strange, to be Augustus?” Wardrobe admitted. “I’m not sure if it’s his power or just the idea people have of him, but I become so cold that I don’t feel anything. I become more like a statue than a living being. I can’t relate to other humans anymore.”
“I figured as much.” Felix shrugged. “Any idea how his invulnerability works? I thought Dynamis would test out its limits.”
“Well, I don’t actually copy people or their powers,” Wardrobe explained. “I copy the idea that people have of them. I mean, Dracula could walk under the sun in the original novel just fine, but I can’t stand daylight because everyone thinks vampires are weak to it. So Dynamis isn’t sure if my insight is very reliable.”
Ryan wasn’t so sure. Both the original Augustus and his cosplayer had been able to move in the stopped time. Come to think of it, this run might be a rare opportunity to figure out the limits of Lightning Dad’s power.
“Could you cosplay as me?” The Panda asked with enthusiasm.
“He’s the last panda on earth, Yukiko,” Ryan told the fashion goddess, who had earned that nickname with flying colors. “You could save the whole species!”
“I don’t think I can,” Wardrobe admitted sheepishly. “You aren’t famous enough.”
“What about me?” Ryan asked, his heart filled with hope, while the Panda deflated. “Or Cancel? Can you copy Cancel?”
Atom Cat looked at the courier strangely when he mentioned the power canceller, but Wardrobe had clearly no idea who she was. “Who? No, I can only copy personas ingrained in mankind’s collective consciousness. I’m sorry.”
Uh, well, that sent Ryan’s plan to deal with Psyshock down the drain, and Wardrobe wouldn’t be able to mimic his power if nobody knew its true nature. A shame.
Atom Cat grabbed his cell phone, read the screen, and then put it back in his pocket. His mood clearly worsened afterward. “What is it, Felix?” Wardrobe asked, clearly worried for his well-being.
“My sister, and my ex,” Felix replied.
“Oh, Livia?” Ryan asked out loud.
“How do you know that? Did Blackthorn tell you?” Felix crossed his arms. “Yeah, it’s Livia.”
“Oh, you had a girlfriend?” The Panda asked, immediately interested. “Do you still love her?”
“No, we’re over,” Felix replied bluntly, looking sorrowfully through the windows. “At the end of the day, it’s family over what’s right, or even what’s good for her. I can’t compromise anymore. Not after what I’ve seen.”
“Yeah, I see exactly what you mean,” Ryan said with a sigh, remembering the old bad days with Bloodstream. He heard his phone buzzing, checking it with one hand and keeping another on the driving wheel. It wasn’t responsible, but he had mastered the art of text-driving early in his loops.
You have forty-one messages from: Lucky Girl.
You have one message from: Unknown.
Fortuna was quite persistent.
Wait. She was all over Matty boy because he didn’t give in to her attention. Just like Ryan himself this run…
He had a bad feeling about this.
Anyway, he didn’t check these messages, and instead read the text from his unknown caller. The message consisted of a single sentence.
|Unknown : The orange is in the hen house.|
Ryan hit the brakes so fast it startled everyone.
“Sifu, you shouldn’t text while driving!” The Panda complained from the back.
“Sorry, sorry,” Ryan replied, frantically typing the answer before driving back towards the orphanage, his mind bustling with questions. Though he only sent one to the unknown caller.
|PlushieTamer: Where and when?|