Ryan had to give it to Dynamis. The company spoiled its heroes rotten.

Enrique had granted the courier a full penthouse suite, located on the Optimates Tower’s twenty-fifth floor. Ryan slept in an apartment-sized bedroom, with a plasma screen TV and an unbeatable picturesque window view of the city. The suite was fully stocked with amenities and tastefully decorated, with no inch of ground left without a carpet; each piece of furniture had been carefully selected to create an atmosphere of opulent relaxation. The bathroom included a private pool with a Jacuzzi included, and even a bar.

The suite itself was only part of the package though. Ryan had a dedicated staff available at all times to fulfill all his whims, from the mundane to the truly bizarre. The courier had tested the waters and learned almost nothing was off-the-table for him, from drugs to prostitutes; so long as none of his excesses made their way to the media anyway. And the cherry on top of the cake, the walls and windows were soundproof.

Of course, the suite was filled with cameras spying on him, but Ryan hacked them five minutes after taking over.

On the morning of May 11th, the courier finished dressing in his new costume, when he heard someone ring the bell. “Somebody call security, the poor are at the gates!” he declared through the intercom, though a camera system showed him Wardrobe and Atom Cat waiting on the other side. “I can’t stand the stench of the middle-class!”

“Does Your Majesty want cake for his morning breakfast?” For once Felix didn’t wear his face-mask, revealing his true face to the world… and quite the handsome one too! He looked like a masculine version of his gorgeous sister.

“Hi, Ryan!” Wardrobe said, much more politely. “Can we get in? We have a tight schedule today!”

Ryan lowered himself to let these guests inside his lair, even if Atom Cat looked too much like a nouveau riche for his refined patrician tastes. The splendor of his suite immediately floored his teammates.

“How is it that your place is bigger than mine?” Wardrobe asked, green with envy, as they made their way into the main room. Ryan’s sofa was larger than most king-sized beds, and faced a state of the art home cinema. “I thought only Pro Leaguers could get a penthouse suite?”

“I have special needs,” Ryan replied, trying to sound as foppish and pompous as possible. “I fall ill without three hundred square meters to live in.”

“I have a big one too,” Felix said, his dirty, plebeian mind unimpressed by the luxurious penthouse. “I suppose Enrique wanted to make us feel welcome.”

That, and to bribe them. Ryan hadn’t gotten anything like this suite in his previous Dynamis Run, probably because Enrique didn’t feel the need to placate him. “What did Greenhand say when you gave him the recording?”

“He said ‘thank you’, and sent us on our way,” Felix replied with a scoff.

Disappointing, but not surprising. Blackthorn probably needed more time to make a move against his patriarch.

Unfortunately, Ryan wasn’t certain they had it with Psyshock still at large. On one hand, his demise had caused Adam to throw away all caution in his attempt to unlock the satellite, but Psyshock also provided near-limitless cannon fodder to throw at the bunker’s defenses. Though Ryan and Len warned residents like Paulie to escape the district, the courier had no idea if it would slow down the Meta-Gang’s progress.

Ryan remembered that Vulcan’s disastrous assault on Rust Town happened on May 12th, with Psyshock blasting everyone to kingdom come with Mechron’s mech. It meant that even with Psypsy, the Meta shouldn’t unlock the bunker’s full power before that date, or else they would have used the Bahamut on the invaders. After May 12th though, this loop would enter uncharted territories.

And that was without taking Livia into account.

“Though I saw Wyvern go into his office right after us,” Atom Cat added. “She looked rather pleased too. I wonder why.”

“If you want to hear all the hero gossip, you have found your gal,” Wardrobe said with a wide smile. “Do you know Blackthorn and Wyvern are an on-and-off item?”

“No way!” Ryan said with shocked surprise. “But what about Vulcan?!”

“I thought they had a passionate love-hate relationship going on too, but no! Devilry is into girls though, but Wyvern politely let her down when she made a pass at her.” The stylist looked at the two boys with her big, beautiful eyes. “Are you both…?”

“I’m straight,” Felix said quickly, “and not looking for romance.”

“I’m flexible,” Ryan said with a seductive voice, “and available.”

“I thought you were dating the Underdiver?” Wardrobe looked both curious and slightly disappointed. “The romantic tension is palpable between you.”

“It’s…” The courier looked away. “It’s complicated. I’m looking for something new.”

Truth was, when Ryan woke up this morning, his drowsy mind had wondered why Jasmine wasn’t in the bed.

And then he remembered, and he felt the pain of losing her all over again.

Ryan knew he shouldn’t have grown attached to a woman or lowered his guard, but the damage was done. He didn’t want to forget Jasmine, not after she made him promise not to, but the courier only knew one way to numb the emotional pain. Filling the gaping void with distractions; better to keep running forward than sit alone with his regrets.

“Is that a Batman-Catwoman thing where you fight on two different sides of the law, and you want to be together, but the world conspires to keep you apart? We can work with that, you know!”

“Hey, Kitty!” Ryan abruptly changed the subject and asked his second-favorite cat. “Something has been bothering me for a while. Did anybody ask you how Lightning Butt’s invulnerability works?”

“You can’t evade me forever, Ryan,” Wardrobe said, determined to learn everything about his romantic life.

Felix snorted at Mob Zeus’ nickname, though it put him in a bad mood. “Enrique already beat you to it. No idea, and he murdered everybody who could possibly harm him.”

“Do you have a list of them?” Ryan asked. With the information he had gathered from his previous loops, he could perhaps find the true nature of Mob Zeus’ invulnerability. He wanted peace with Livia, but he had the feeling he might have to confront Lightning Butt at one point in order to achieve his Perfect Run.

“I know a few, but the only person with the full list is Mercury, the organization’s spymaster,” Felix replied.

“I thought that talking skull controlled gambling dens and money laundering?” Ryan asked. “Come to think of it, I wonder why they still launder money when there are no taxes to pay.”

“It’s because Mercury’s division is a submarine,” Atom Cat replied.

“He can breathe underwater better than bugs?”

“That’s not funny Ryan,” Wardrobe said as she sat on the sofa, though she forced herself not to smile at his pitch-black joke.

As it turned out, Shortie’s bubbles were an experimental technology, and not that reliable. Mosquito’s water prison ended up malfunctioning, perhaps due to his peculiar biology, and caused him brain damage from a lack of oxygen.

Then again, what did Ryan expect? Communists could never make good products.

“Don’t know, I never tried to drown him,” Felix mused. “Augustus uses the laundered money to infiltrate European communities that oppose him. Mercury funnels dirty money into ‘legitimate’ businesses that then take over companies, institutions, farms, etc… he even managed to infiltrate some of Dynamis’ contractors from what I heard. Don’t kid yourself, every branch of that organization supports a criminal takeover. Every last one.”

Atom Cat then crossed his arms while Wardrobe put on the TV and checked the news. “And… as I told Enrique, I think there’s something wrong with Augustus.”

“You mean besides the sociopathic narcissism?” Ryan asked, though he shared the same intuition.

“He has been strangely lethargic in the last few years. Beforehand, he used to track down some foes himself, to remind the masses that he’s a tough psychopath you don’t want to mess with, but now he lets Pluto do it for him and hasn’t left his villa in years. Dad told me he seems to forget the world exists for minutes at a time, and he keeps an electrical halo around himself whenever he’s in public. When I asked Livia why, she wouldn’t answer.”

“He’s sick?” Wardrobe asked with a frown.

“I dunno, he’s supposed to be invulnerable.” Felix shrugged. “Maybe it’s just age or depression.”

Ryan didn’t think so. The courier must have annoyed Lightning Butt for four years with his time-stops, but it literally took an orbital laser for the mob boss to get out of his house. The courier had seen the signs on the wall; the sick, sullen face Mob Zeus hid beneath his bright halo, the way his family members were uneasy around him...

Something was wrong with New Rome’s Godfather.

“Hey, look!” Wardrobe interrupted their discussion, a finger pointed at the TV. “They’re talking about us!”

Ryan glanced at the plasma screen, as the news showed a recap of yesterday’s events. The main video showed the Panda proudly bringing the Psychos into custody, Wardrobe answering journalist questions while Atom Cat ignored them, and Enrique congratulating everyone for making New Rome a safer place. Someone had also managed to find a photo of Ryan in his old costume, and Dynanet theories proliferated on him.

Truly, the headlines said it all: “The Menagerie: Il Migliore’s newest golden children!” “New hero team deals a heavy blow to Psychos everywhere! “Who is Quicksave?”

“The Menagerie, seriously?” Atom Cat asked with a heavy sigh. “I should have called myself Atom Smasher.”

“Felix, even marketing wouldn’t let you use such a silly name,” Wardrobe said with a smirk. “I heard rumors they want to pitch us as a team, young and hip. I will be the leader, as the senior Pro Hero, and you’ll be my padawans.”

“Yuki, no!” Ryan protested, horrified. “You know what happens to mentor figures in hero stories? Don’t become my Obi-Wan, please!”

“I know, it seems like a bad idea, but think long-term!” Wardrobe insisted. “I can stage my retirement with a Merlin costume, as you are inspired by my demise to become true heroes! And then, I can make a surprise comeback tour dressed as Jesus!”

Felix clearly didn’t understand her evil scheme, but Ryan thought it made perfect sense. “Anyway,” Atom Cat said. “Time to go. We have to go to the Dynamis HQ next door and meet with Dr. Tyrano.”

“The Elixir expert?” Ryan asked, suddenly curious.

“Yeah, he wants to study our powers.” Felix shrugged again. “The Panda is already there for a thorough checkup.”

“And then afterward, we go to Star Studios,” Wardrobe said with a bright smile. “We’re going to appear in the stinger of Wyvern’s Flight II!”

“Before we go.” Ryan looked at Wardrobe. “Yuki, I have something for you.”

“Oh, a gift?” She smiled at him. “I love gifts! I never have enough of them! What kind of gift?”

“Let me tell you of its backstory first. I was about to go to bed, wearing only my boxers, when I was struck by a surge of inspiration. A wild Dionysian spirit possessed my body, and forced me to put on the bowler hat.”

“You should have kept your scarf,” Wardrobe replied, worried for his mental stability. “I warned you. I warned you!”

“Yes, but it’s alright. Because my muse inspired me to repay the debt I owe you. You, who had made this perfect costume! I had to return the favor!” Ryan moved into his bedroom, and returned with his gift. “The media call us the Menagerie because we have an animal theme going on. Timmy is a panda, Felix is a cat, I have a rabbit plushie. I figured that, even if you can turn into an animal mascot, I had to make something for you. I remembered you had a few scandalous magazines in your office, and it clicked.”

Ryan presented her with his newest creation: a homemade costume for his favorite stylist.

His marvelous creation, inspired by his very own rabbit plushie, included a headband with brown rabbit ears, a red necklace with a yellow ribbon, and a black velvet leotard. Pairs of black tights, high heels, and golden bracelets completed the set.

In short, it was a Playboy Bunny Costume.

Felix blinked repeatedly, and then looked at Yukiko with apprehension. This foolish plebeian probably thought the stylish hero would take offense, for this scandalous, 18+ costume left almost nothing up to the imagination.

“A Puff-Puff costume!” Wardrobe squealed in joy. “How did you know I didn’t have one?”

But she was a woman of culture above all else.

“Wait, Yuki, you like that?” Felix asked Wardrobe, astonished, as she examined the costume with a joyful face.

"I love kinky costumes," she replied. "I just never get to wear them."

“Of course you don't, it’s indecent!”

“But it’s made of velvet!” Yuki’s fingers touched the bunny ears, her eyes widening in rapturous surprise. “And the ears, they’re real fur! Mink? Mink.”

“I always keep mink fur in my car trunk,” Ryan replied proudly. “You never know when you might have a clothing emergency.”

Atom Cat looked at him strangely. “There are still wild minks in Italy?”

“There were,” Ryan whistled ominously, before focusing on his new BFF. “I wanted to make the Dragon Ball costume, but then I remembered you couldn’t use anything copyrighted.”

Wait, did copyright still function if the country where it was registered no longer existed? Yuki’s power made no sense.

“Ryan, you are adorable and I love it,” Wardrobe replied before grabbing the costume. “I’ll put it in my room and try it on tonight.”

“No way Dynamis will let you dress like that in public though,” Felix stated the obvious.

“Wyvern wears a leotard just fine,” the stylist pointed out.

“Yes, but it isn’t a playboy bunny costume, and didn’t you complain that Dynamis markets you as a kid-friendly superhero before?”

Wardrobe instantly deflated. “Oh, yes, that’s right, I forgot about it… it will clash with my current branding.”

“Wait, wait, I know a way to market it,” Ryan said, struck by inspiration. He couldn’t let his new BFF down. “Yuki, you are transitioning from the Little League to the Pro Circuit. You are leaving the innocence of childhood behind, for the grim and gritty reality of crime-fighting.”

“A dark age phase...” Wardrobe muttered to herself. “And then when I become too grim and controversial, I emerge from the darkness with something classy and elegant! Like a bodysuit with a cape!”

Ryan summarized her marketing strategy in one sentence. “A seamless transition from kid’s mascot, to adult icon.”

“You know what, I don’t think I’m comfortable wearing this in public yet, but I will totally wear it in private!” Wardrobe kissed Ryan on the cheek. “Thanks. You really shouldn’t have.”

“Wardrobe, there are beautiful things in this world… and you’re one of them,” Ryan admitted, struggling to hold back tears. “I felt so alone before meeting you. The last bastion of culture in a world gone mad.”

“I felt the same way too,” she replied, with tears in her eyes. “When I joined… When I joined, they asked me to wear synthetic fibers. Synthetic fibers! No respect! No respect!”

“It’s okay, Yuki, it’s okay,” Ryan said while hugging Wardrobe, letting her head rest on his shoulder. “Cry on my cashmere suit. Do you feel the softness? Do you feel better?”

Atom Cat watched the scene without a word, his face blank and his eyes squinting. Ryan felt attacked. “Hey Kitten, stop judging us.”

“Please don’t reproduce,” Felix deadpanned. “New Rome won’t survive three of you.”

In the previous loop, Ryan had long talked with Vulcan about Lab Sixty-Six, the birthplace of knockoff Elixirs. She particularly disliked the Genius behind the operation, the so-called Dr. Tyrano; so when the courier learned they were supposed to meet him, he hoped to get a free tour of the mystery lab.

But as it turned out, Dynamis afforded their head science honcho two floors for his experiments, and the group had an appointment in Lab Sixty-Five.

Even there, security was tight. Automated cameras monitored everything in the Dynamis HQ building, from the entrance lobby to the parking lot. One needed keycards to access each floor individually, so no thief could access everything even if they had stolen the necessary key. Guards in power armor waited before all elevator doors while drones patrolled the corridors, assisted by infrared and motion-detection systems.

Even Ryan would have a hard time sneaking in undetected, and it would certainly take more than one loop. An open assault or suicide run would be easier.

When they passed through the blast doors leading to Lab Sixty-Five, the time-traveler expected to enter some kind of dimly-lit mad scientist’s lair. He was slightly disappointed. While the lab included mainstay features like liquid-filled tanks containing what appeared to be dinosaur embryos and operation tables, it was well-lit and clean.

Though the scene before them made up for the place’s blandness.

“Sifu, save me!” The naked Panda had retreated to a corner of the lab, putting an operation table between himself and some kind of humanoid dinosaur. A monstrous, horned dog with scales instead of fur barked at the scene. “He wants to cut me open!”

“I only need a lung!” The humanoid dinosaur hybrid reminded Ryan of a two meters tall T-rex, albeit with human-sized arms, black scales, and crimson eyes. The strange mutant wore a white lab coat and tiny glasses optimized for his head shape, but most importantly, he carried a scalpel and a syringe in each hand. “Stop struggling, or I will have to use anesthesia.”

“You’re not vivisecting the Panda!” Ryan instantly froze time and disarmed the dinosaur, tossing his weapons aside. “He’s the last of his kind!”

“Yeah, back off, doc!” Felix warned, hands raised as if willing to use his power inside the lab.

“Oh, hi Mr. Tyrano!” Wardrobe waved a hand at the saurian with a bright smile.

“Oh, hi Yuki!” the scientist replied with a deep reptilian voice, stopping his Panda harassment to look at Ryan. “You, from your power, I assume you must be Cesare Sabino?”

Ryan instantly flinched, his playful mood replaced with frostiness. “How do you know that?”

“Sabino?” Felix asked with a frown. “Isn’t that the Underdiver’s family name?”

Wardrobe gasped in shock. “No way, you are—”

“We’re not blood-related!” Ryan quickly said, raising a finger at his BFF. “Don’t you dare write fanfics about us!”

“What, really? You are adopted?” Dr. Tyrano didn’t hide his disappointment. “Such a shame, I would have loved to compare samples from various Genome relatives. It is a rare opportunity.”

“Wait, you took Len’s DNA?” Ryan asked, squinting suspiciously at the Genius.

“The Private Security takes DNA scans of everyone in their custody,” Felix reminded him.

Dr. Tyrano shrugged it off. “Doesn’t matter, I will still need a sample anyway.”

“I wouldn’t recommend it,” Ryan replied, slightly bothered by this scaled man. The courier loved attention, except when it involved being carved open on an operation table. It happened to him enough times already! “I’m a drug so addictive, you won’t be able to get enough of me.”

“You have a Green power in addition to your Violet one?” Dr. Tyrano asked, completely missing the point. Clearly, humor was a mammal-only feature. “Then, I will need blood or hair, though sperm can work too. Some people prefer ejaculation to extraction.”

“What, Quicksave, you didn’t do a DNA test when you joined?” Wardrobe asked.

“No, it’s against my religion.”

“You should reconsider,” Dr. Tyrano insisted, his strange reptilian dog leaping into his arms. “Violets are the second rarest powers in circulation after White Genomes! Think about science!”

“Yeah, nope,” Ryan replied, while the Panda breathed easy now that he no longer interested the scientist. The courier patted his sidekick on the shoulder, before looking at the dinoman’s strange pet. “What is this?”

“It’s Tricerador, one of my creations,” Dr. Tyrano answered, petting the abomination against nature behind the horns. “Half Labrador, half triceratops.”

“So it’s like the platypus of dinosaurs?” Ryan asked, his mood softening as he scratched the beast’s belly. The animal made a saurian sound, but wagged its tail like a dog. “Can you make a dinocat?”

“I tried to splice a Persian cat and a velociraptor, but the end result died,” the mad scientist replied. “But I, Dr. Tyrano, swear that each household shall have its own dinosaur one day! And I would have already done so, if management didn’t pester me about that T-rex hunting safari!”

“What, they want to create a reserve where rich people can hunt dinosaurs, like lions?” Felix asked.

“Ridiculous, right?” said the man who tried to cut open a Panda one minute ago.

“For a moment, I forgot we lived in a world where everything is for sale.”

In any case, Ryan immediately forgave the doctor for his terrible first impression. Someone wanting to make dinosaur pets couldn’t possibly be a bad person, no matter what Jasmine could have said.

“Felix, don’t blame Dr. Tyrano, he is a misunderstood genius,” Wardrobe declared, with her hands on her waist. “He’s the one who made me my hero costume.”

“A techno-organic symbiote capable of mimicking the shape of pre-recorded costumes,” Dr. Tyrano explained almost absent-mindedly, while his Tricerador escaped his grip to wander around the lab. “Anyway, since you are new I want to test your powers in a controlled environment. See if there are potential interactions, record the energy readings, etc...”

“By dissecting one of our teammates?” Felix mused, while the Panda cowered.

“He fully regenerates whenever he switches from one form to another!” Dr. Tyrano all but shouted. “Even Wyvern needs time to heal naturally, but not this werebear! With his ability, we could have an infinite, renewable source of organs!”

“The Panda… the Panda was abducted by someone like this once.” The poor animal seemed to relive a particularly nasty PTSD-induced episode. “They thought they could make aphrodisiac from his blood. The Panda… the Panda had to flee.”

“Now, I have to figure out where the extra organic material comes from by studying the transformation,” Dr. Tyrano said, completely oblivious to his animal cruelty.

Ryan needed to distract him, before he harmed his sidekick. “Well, there isn’t much to check,” he lied to the scientist. “I can stop time, my pandawan can shapeshift, and my cat can blow up pebbles.”

Wardrobe chuckled. “You can stop time and there is nothing interesting about that?”

“About the pebbles part, after our last battle, I realized I could modulate my explosions.” By now, Felix ignored all of Ryan’s cat jokes, much to the courier’s displeasure. “Charge weapons, delay the blast by a few seconds, and then throw them.”

Dr. Tyrano nodded a few times as he listened to the explanations, as if they confirmed his own observations. “As I thought, you probably charge solid matter with a unique form of energy, causing it to detonate afterward.”

“Red Flux?”

Ryan flinched as Dr. Tyrano’s head abruptly snapped in his direction, so fast it fooled even the Genome’s enhanced sense of timing. “How do you know that?”

“Well, I’ve been studying powers with my last Genius girlfriend,” the time-traveler said. “We kinda figured out Genome powers come from alternate dimensions, one for each Elixir color.”

“Fascinating.” Now the courier had to take a step back as Dr. Tyrano started invading his personal space. “I came to the same conclusions, but to have them confirmed by an outside researcher…”

Goddammit, now Ryan could smell the dinosaur’s warm reptilian breath, and Felix the Cat delighted in his unease. “That’s not so funny when you’re the victim rather than the perpetrator, uh?” Atom Kitten mocked the time-traveler.

“So you suggest the werebear’s extra organs come from an alien green dimension made of organic matter?” Dr. Tyrano focused on Ryan and completely ignored the jab. “I would be delighted to pick your brain open and compare notes.”

“I do have a question of my own actually,” Ryan said, pointing a finger at the dinoman’s tail. “Aren’t you a Blue, rather than a Green?”

“I am a Genius specialized in cloning, splicing, and gene therapy. My current appearance is the result of an experimental transformation serum. It’s purely temporary.”

Felix hesitated, as if afraid to ask his question. “Why, Doc? What was the point?”

“Because I wanted to turn myself into a dinosaur,” the Genius replied like it was the most normal dream in the world.

“Oh God, you’re a furry,” Ryan realized. “I guess we’ll never be friends.”

“You need fur to be a furry,” Wardrobe pointed out. “It’s in the name.”

“What’s a furry?” The Panda asked naively.

Ryan looked at him with a gaze of pure compassion, and quiet appreciation for the hero’s sheer luck. How could he survive in the wild so long? “Your innocence must be protected, my young student.”

“Hey, I’m not the one judging you on your appearance,” Dr. Tyrano complained.

“But seriously, it all makes sense now,” Ryan said. “I always wondered how you managed to make knockoffs at all, but your power should give you a heads up.”

“I couldn’t make Elixirs,” the dino Genius admitted. “Not truly. What I did was synthesize a specific resource that mimicked the properties of a true Elixir. It’s a shoddy imitation, and an imperfect one. It took years to create the Hercules serum from Wyvern, and even then I could only replicate a subset of her ability, namely her enhanced strength.”

“And you never managed to copy my power,” Wardrobe mused with a smile.

The scientist grumbled before giving back Ryan his personal space, making circles in the room with his hands crossed behind his back. “Because besides the usual Genome health enhancements, your Elixir didn’t change much about your genetic code. The mechanics that allow you to channel multiple abilities transcend the sphere of flesh.”

“I believe the Elixir mostly serves as an intermediary between a Genome and the dimension providing their esoteric powers,” Ryan stated. “They also support their host by subtly guiding them with their ability, or in the case of Psychos, pushing them to consume more Elixirs.”

Felix coughed, interrupting the discussion. “Excuse me, but… hosts, guiding? You make it sound as if Elixirs are alive and intelligent.”

“Yeah, they are,” Ryan replied, much to his teammates’ shock. “Sort of. They’re closer to viruses.”

“Except they do not use RNA or DNA to transmit information,” Dr. Tyrano pointed out. “Though they manipulate ours.”

“Sorry,” Wardrobe said with a forced smile, “you are losing me.”

“They’re like aliens who do not work the same way life on Earth does,” Ryan explained the best he could. “We don’t understand how Elixirs carry information, but they understand and manipulate how our bodies do. Enough to focus on modifying humans only, and ignoring animals.”

“Exactly!” Dr. Tyrano shouted, happy to find someone with whom to brainstorm. “After being used, the Alchemist’s Elixirs bond to an homo sapiens’ cells on a molecular level, rewriting the DNA to make their host the vessel of a unique power. And no powers are exactly the same, though they may be variants, which implies the Elixir selects the ability from a collective database and makes it unavailable to new hosts.”

Yeah, Ryan figured as much after extensive testing during his previous loops. Even when divided into doses distributed to a group, an Elixir always bonded to one person only.

Ryan could never bring himself to give someone two Elixirs at once though, not even in a research loop. Nobody deserved to transform into the new Bloodstream.

“Unfortunately, when you have more than one, even from the same color, they start to conflict,” Ryan continued, while his teammates clearly struggled to understand. “They edit the same genes. Think of it as two writers fighting over a script. They keep rewriting the other’s work until the sentences don’t make sense. And you can only have two powers at most.”

“After which, the original two Elixirs in the host’s cells cannibalize the newcomers,” Dr. Tyrano finished, he and the courier working in perfect synchronicity. “They repurpose new Elixir injections towards stabilizing the unstable genetic code, but only for a while before they start fighting again. Psychos instinctively know that, as the Elixirs in their bodies influence them to collect more in a doomed attempt to reach an equilibrium.”

“What about Mongrel?” Felix asked. “He could use more than two abilities when I fought him.”

“Ah, I can already answer that question!” Dr. Tyrano said triumphantly. “From the samples gathered from his custody, I can attest that this Psycho consumed an Alchemist-made White Elixir, followed by almost all knockoffs available on the open market.”

“So he’s a White with the power to have more than two powers?” Atom Cat asked, while the Genius nodded. “That’s cheating.”

“Instead of cannibalizing newcomers, the original Elixir seems to force them to play along like a referee. It allowed his body to channel more than one ability, but unfortunately didn’t protect him from Elixir conflicts, mutations, and addiction. The substances don’t destroy each other, but they still conflict. Truly fascinating.”

Such was the tragedy of Mongrel. He had earned an overpowered ability in theory, but lost the mental faculties needed to use his limitless potential.

“Do you think the Psycho condition can be cured?” Ryan asked Dr. Tyrano. He had given up after facing roadblocks in his understanding of Elixirs, but perhaps the saurian knew more than he did.

“Of course it can be!” The genius lambasted the time-traveler. “Nothing is impossible!”

“Yeah,” Felix said. “Augustus has two powers without any side-effects as far as I know.”

“Oh, could the Panda get two powers?” Naive Timmy’s eyes widened in hope. “One for each form?”

“Possible, though unlikely!” Dr. Tyrano said, seizing the opportunity for a free mad experiment. “We can always try, but you will need to sign a discharge first.”

Ryan lightly slapped the Panda in the back of his skull, much to his surprise. “Ouch, Sifu, what was that for?”

“Your real power is there, arrogant young disciple,” Ryan said, pointing a finger at his sidekick’s heart. “Do not be greedy, you already have the greatest power of all!”

“Y-yeah, right,” the Panda said and nodded, but misunderstood his master’s wisdom. “I should master it first, before thinking of gaining a new one.”

“There are rare cases of individuals with two powers and no side-effects,” Dr. Tyrano said. “Augustus is the most famous, but not the only case on records. Either these lucky few possessed specific genes, or their Elixirs modify different parts of the DNA sequences without conflicting. Since unlike Psychos, Augustus’ powers haven’t formed an obvious synergy, I believe they coexist independently.”

“I think I get it,” Wardrobe said, having struggled to follow the discussion so far. “You have two creators, but instead of fighting, they each design a different part of the ensemble?”

“And if an equilibrium is possible, then it can, in theory, be replicated,” Dr. Tyrano declared with enthusiasm. “Imagine, giving two powers to every Genome with no side-effect? I could become a Blue/Green and maintain this transformation permanently, joining my bountiful intellect with a powerful saurian body!”

“But you need to figure out the reason why there is an equilibrium at all,” Felix pointed out. “All your points are mere hypotheses. For all you know it depends on the Elixirs used rather than anything innate in the host.”

“Yes, yes, and unfortunately the few individuals with two powers in Italy refused to cooperate.” Dr. Tyrano shrugged. “In any case, we do not yet understand Elixirs enough to cure the Psycho condition yet. But if Mechron understood enough about powers to enhance and reverse-engineer them, then why not us?”

Ryan’s thoughts turned to the bunker below Rust Town, and his last visit there. The courier remembered entering a room with animals kept in Elixir-colored liquid, and Big Fat Adam said the armory included knockoff production facilities. Perhaps even a cure for his power degeneration.

He really needed to explore that place, after purging the Meta from it. “I would love to exchange notes on Elixirs, and especially your brain-copy project too.”

The last part caused Dr. Tyrano to snort in anger. “Does everybody know of it nowadays? I’m afraid you need a Level 5 clearance before I can even talk to you about it. The CEO already gave me an earful about security yesterday.”

Felix instantly tensed, while Ryan simply shrugged. “Well, my scaled friend, how can I gain one such clearance and build a strong bond of sciencehood between us?”

“I will petition management, but the procedure usually takes months.” Dr. Tyrano snorted with disdain for Dynamis’ bureaucracy. “Anyway, talking is time wasted, and I have a busy schedule. Go into the testing chambers and strip. You are all older than eighteen, right? My lawyer is very adamant about that part.”

A note from Void Herald

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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 all his time writing tales and forbidden scrolls.

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