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It was May 12th, and Team Quicksave the Pandas had assembled.

As he drove towards Rust Town, Ryan hoped this battle would go better than Vulcan’s doomed assault against the Meta-Gang. The time-traveler had gathered everyone he could call upon, provided all the necessary intel, and he wore a cashmere suit. Everyone would soon move into position, Shortie included.

The die was cast.

Atom Cat remained silent at the car’s front seat, having outfitted his costume with a dart bandolier. Ryan thought knives were classic for a reason, but the idea of someone getting beaten by explosive darts amused him to no end. The Panda and Wardrobe stayed at the back, the former whispering a song to himself, and the latter examining Ryan with her big, beautiful eyes.

“Yuki, I know you designed my new mask,” Ryan said, “but this is getting a little creepy.”

“You went on a date yesterday,” Wardrobe said with a smile. “I can feel it.”

Did she have a gossip radar or something? Then again, Ryan had returned to his penthouse suspiciously late into the night.

In the end, the ‘ten-minute visit’ lasted half an hour. Lucky Girl had incredible taste, both for interior decoration and her sculpture hobby, to the point the courier would introduce her to Wardrobe. He had the feeling they would get along fantastically well. However, while Ryan had enjoyed the ‘date,’ his master plan had utterly failed. Lucky Girl just sent him a message saying she would ‘allow’ him to invite her again.

“It was nothing serious, Yuki,” said the courier, “so I’m still open to new romantic applications.”

“Sorry, I really like you Ryan, but I’m already in an exclusive contract with someone else.“

“Really? Congratulations!” the time-traveler replied with a warm smile. “That’s wonderful!”

“Thanks, she’s super nice, you will love her,” Yuki said with a grin. “But we’re talking about your love life. Is she in Il Migliore? Is it Len?”

“I will leave you to your endless speculations, watching as you go down the rabbit ho—” Wardrobe’s costume instantly transformed into a cosplay of Sherlock Holmes, hat and pipe included. “Hey, that’s cheating!”

“Hm…” Wardrobe observed Ryan, making deductions in her mind. “If I had to make an elaborate guess… I would say Atom Cat’s sister Fortuna, and it didn’t go farther than a chaste kiss.”

Atom Cat emerged from his silent reverie to look at Ryan in disbelief. “What?” he asked.

“That’s awesome Yuki,” the Panda congratulated Wardrobe. “How did you figure it out?”

“Elementary, my dear Panda!”

“You know Sherlock Holmes never said that in the Conan Doyle novels?” Ryan complained, but Wardrobe ignored him.

“We know she was pestering him for a date, and from his expression, he clearly considered it a chore before being pleasantly surprised,” Yuki explained, her mannerism mimicking Sherlock Holmes’ most famous movie adaptations. “Hence, he accepted out of a sense of obligation, perhaps hoping to subtly discourage her. His hairstyle is also well-groomed and his smell remains the same. Thus, we can assume the absence of physical intimacy.”

“I hate Yellow Genomes,” Ryan said, glowering while ignoring Atom Cat’s baleful glare. “I hate them so much. Also, why didn’t you use this costume before? You could have cracked the whole conspiracy in minutes!”

“I don’t like this costume,” Wardrobe replied, changing back to her normal clothes. “If I wear it for too long, I develop a craving for cocaine, tobacco, and violins. That’s not good for my health.”

“Ryan, I warned you,” Felix said, infuriated. “I asked you man to man, friend to friend.”

The courier looked into his second favorite cat's eyes, and decided to tease him some more. “I just want us to become family, Kitten,” the courier said softly. “Is that so much to ask?”

Instead of turning red as Ryan had hoped, Felix answered with a fiendish smile. “Ryan, your adoptive sister,” he spoke with the same teasing tone as the courier, “she’s single, isn’t she?”

When Felix struck back, he hit hard! “I see the kitten is young, but he has claws."

“I’m just saying, we could become a family, Quickie. But if you take, you have to give back too.”

“That’s great!” Wardrobe said, finding twisted joy in the scene. “You marry each other’s sister, and then your kids will have a teen romance! I can see the drama!”

Ryan looked back at the road. “You discovered my only weakness, Kitten. You are a troll worthy of respect.”

“Thank you, now drive,” Felix replied. “If the Meta don’t kick your ass today, I’ll do it myself afterward.”

“Oh, we’re going to Rust Town?” Wardrobe asked with a frown. “I had the feeling we would go there, but Enrique refused to tell us until we arrived.”

“I guess now the cat is out of the bag, we could check our intel,” Ryan said, Felix rolling his eyes. This reminded the courier that he should sneak into Jasmine’s foundry and recover Eugène-Henry after the raid.

Felix brought out his phone, having recorded files on it.

“Adam Fontaine, alias Adam the Ogre, alias the Brooklyn Cannibal,” Atom Cat read the report while showing Wardrobe and the Panda a picture of Hannifat Lecter. “The USA issued an international arrest warrant after he was suspected of murdering four people in Brooklyn, but he escaped to Europe on the Genome Wars' eve.”

“Wait, he was a cannibalistic serial killer before getting his Elixirs?” Ryan asked. Every time he thought Hannifat couldn’t get worse, he was proven wrong.

“Yeah, Adam was a psycho long before he went Psycho. Orange/Violet. He can turn his skin into a highly-resistant carbon alloy, granting him enhanced strength and tank-like resilience; additionally, his stomach has been turned into a pocket dimension where he can store almost anything.” Felix paused briefly. “Huh, he has almost the same power as Dad, though way weaker.”

“Mars has an armory dimension, right?” Wardrobe asked. “I really like his war god costume. Very classy.”

“Except unlike Adam, he has a large range,” Felix said gruffly, before quickly changing the subject. This time, he read them the report on Adam’s bodyguard. “Frank the Mad, identity unknown. Suffers from schizophrenic delusions where he identifies as a WWII commando, Vietnam veteran, US secret service agent, and an Area 51 super-soldier experiment. However, his testimonies contradict real events, and he becomes aggressive if called out on the inconsistencies. Orange/Red, his body is made of metal and can consume more to grow in size; also absorbs kinetic energy.”

Ryan frowned. “He can only consume metal? Not stone or ivory?”

“Only metal,” Felix replied, a little confused by the question. “Why?”

Because of how Frank’s power had reacted to Augustus.

Ryan had heard the rumors that Augustus’ body was in temporal stasis, which sounded plausible since he could act in the courier’s frozen time. However, then he shouldn’t age and a tumor wouldn’t threaten his life. As for the other possible colors, if Augustus was a White Genome, then his invulnerability should react differently to powers and normal attacks. Yet it didn’t.

The courier remembered the end of his disastrous Augusti Run. Frank the Mad and Augustus had briefly traded blows, and the Psycho’s power had automatically reacted. It tried to absorb Lightning Butt, though it failed.

The fact Frank’s power reacted at all meant Augustus’ body was made of something that registered as metal, albeit one the Psycho couldn’t consume easily. This excluded the spatial stasis hypothesis. But then, how could it explain the immunity to the time-stop, and well, everything? Perhaps Lightning Butt had consumed a Yellow Elixir turning him into a Roman deity metal statue?

Yellow or Orange, Ryan thought. The courier had the feeling he had all the pieces of the puzzle, but he needed to assemble them the right way.

He barely listened to the conversation afterward, though much to his amusement, he learned that Psyshock’s real name was Francis Grey of all things. The group passed the Private Security checkpoint without trouble; either they were the first heroes on the scene, or a few patrols had been warned to let them through.

Instead of driving straight to the Junkyard though, Ryan drove to the north of Rust Town and its industrial district. The plan called for Dynamis to surround the Meta-Gang from all sides, and knowing Psypsy, he must have taken the courier’s prank personally. Better to lure the Psychos to an unpopulated area.

“Raid should start in thirty minutes,” Atom Cat said while checking the time. Rust Town was eerily silent as they drove, the air suffused with tension. Either Psyshock had already brainwashed the locals, or they could sense a fight would start soon and stayed home. Old neon lights flickered dangerously as the sun rose in the skies.

No, Ryan realized, a sun. Leo Hargraves traveled through the skies like a missile, aiming straight for the Junkyard at a fighter jet’s speed.

By then, the courier had reached an abandoned gas station north of the area, vast swathes of concrete covered in oil stains. The place looked like a graveyard, facing a series of abandoned projects and crumbling industrial buildings. A figure stood on one’s roof, hands pointed at the Plymouth Fury.

Sarin.

A second after Ryan noticed her, she unleashed a blast of concussed air straight at the car. “It’s time, boys and girls!” the driver whistled as his car swerved to avoid Miss Chernobyl’s blast. The attack hit the concrete pavement and blasted it to bits, while Ryan kept his car on the move.

Almost immediately, a pack of customized Dynamis dog drones broke through the buildings’ doors, having waited in ambush for the group.

“Panda!” Ryan shouted, as his team prepared for battle. “Show them your training!”

“Yes, Sifu!” The young apprentice opened his door and jumped out of the car, having fully shapeshifted before he hit the road. His bestial form tackled the drones, while Sarin kept bombarding the car from her sniping point.

By now, Hargraves had hit the Junkyard like a cruise missile, but he was only the vanguard. A swarm of helicopters flew above Rust Town from the west, led by Alphonse Manada's own vehicle. Wyvern, Devilry, and other fliers followed in their wake.

The Meta-Gang’s response was swift and brutal. Missiles surged from the Junkyard and demolished some of the helicopters; probably the doing of Psyshock’s mech. Immediately afterward, tremors shook all of Rust Town, before turning into a full-blown quake. The weakest buildings collapsed under the strain, forcing Sarin to fly away from her current position. Acidic clouds spread across the skies, threatening to engulf the entire district.

The battle for Rust Town had begun.

Now that he didn’t have to dodge Sarin’s blasts, Ryan abruptly stopped the car near the gas station. He and his remaining teammates quickly stepped out of it, the whole place smelling of gasoline. With a whistle from the courier, the Plymouth Fury’s autopilot took over and drove it to safety.

“Now,” Ryan said, as he brought his coil gun and Desert Eagle out of his suit, wielding one in each hand, “who goes first?”

“Me, me!” Wardrobe’s suit changed into a cosplay of Frankenstein’s Monster. Lightning surged through her body, allowing her to move at an impressive speed. She powered through a hail of gunfire from a Dynamis drone and smashed it to paste with her bare hands.

Less cheerful, Atom Cat grabbed darts and threw them at Sarin. Hazmat Girl blasted them midflight, causing the projectiles to violently detonate and throw her back against a crumbling building. Ryan opened fire on her, trying to open a few holes in her suit.

However, as acidic raindrops fell from the heavens above, Ryan realized he had a date of his own.

A feeling of dread went down his spine, as he pointed his coil gun behind him and pressed the trigger. Acid Rain had teleported behind him, knives in hands, but had to duck out of the way to dodge the courier’s own projectile. The coil gun’s bullet grazed her cheek and narrowly missed her head, a drop of blood falling on the ground.

“You thief!” she snarled angrily, raising her weapons threateningly. “You bar the gates!”

“You always try to stab me in the back when we meet,” Ryan taunted her, having grown almost accustomed to it. “You don’t have to be so shy!”

“I’ll carve you open, back and front!” Acid Rain snarled as she threw a knife at his head with deadly accuracy. While the courier dodged, Atom Cat attempted to grab the Psycho and blow her into nothingness, but she quickly teleported away before he could close the gap.

Sarin jumped from her observation point and landed on the street, opening fire at Ryan and Atom Cat. The courier quickly stopped time, grabbed his Kitten, and moved them out of the way. Hazmat Girl’s blast hit the gas station and detonated whatever was left of the gasoline within in a fiery detonation. The blast tossed Ryan and Atom Cat onto their chests on the ground, while the Panda and Wardrobe were too busy with the drones to assist them.

Sarin prepared to fire another blast, only for an invisible blade to behead her. Her hazmat suit collapsed while rusting gas escaped its confines, and shields of glass formed above the various heroes to protect them from the acid raindrops. This gave Ryan and Felix precious time to rise back up.

“We have to kill Acid Rain,” Shroud warned as he appeared next to Ryan, acid raindrops turning him visible. Soon, the rain threatened to transform into a downpour. “Her power will kill thousands—”

“Left!” Ryan shouted a warning as he sensed Acid Rain’s power activate.

The Psycho teleported back into sight, two submachine guns in hand. She unleashed a hail of gunfire at Shroud and his companions, the Carnival member raising a multilayered barrier of glass to protect the group.

“Open the gates, you thief!” Acid Rain snarled with a maddened face, her projectiles unable to force their way through the barrier. “You won’t keep that place away from me!”

When she ran out of bullets, Shroud reshaped his defense into a volley of deadly shards, while Ryan assisted him with bullets and Atom Cat with explosive darts. Acid Rain tossed the machine guns away and teleported away before any projectile could hit her. The more he observed her lightning speed in action, the more Ryan grew convinced her teleportation ability came with enhanced spatial awareness; the same way his own power provided an enhanced sense of timing.

Explosions shook Rust Town, and Ryan noticed flashes of crimson light coming from the Junkyard. Frank the Mad came into view, now the size of a ten meters tall giant and smashing a transformed Wyvern through whatever buildings hadn’t yet collapsed after the quake.

Kaiju battle!

Ryan would have fanboyed, if his entire team’s life wasn’t on the line. A shiver went down his spine, as he sensed Acid Rain teleport all around them at blinding speed. In the blink of an eye, Shroud, Ryan, and Atom Cat found themselves surrounded by falling grenades.

Shit!

Ryan froze time to save his allies, grabbing as many grenades as he could and tossing them away before they could explode. But ten seconds were far too few, and while he could spare Felix and himself the worst of the bombardment, two grenades exploded right next to Shroud. The detonation blew the glass manipulator’s right arm off and shattered his armor, sending him crashing to the ground.

Immediately, his control of the glass shards faltered and the heroes’ rainshields collapsed into dust. Ryan sensed acid raindrops eat at his cashmere suit, much to his chagrin.

Worse, Acid Rain exploited the cooldown to appear right in front of Felix and stab him in the chest with two knives by surprise. The young man collapsed to his back, two knives still embedded in his body.

Though he thought he had grown numb to these things, Ryan panicked. “Felix! Mathias!”

“I’m on it!” Wardrobe broke away from her fight with the drones, leaving the Panda to manage them, and rushed at the wounded.

“Right!” Ryan shouted a warning, Acid Rain teleporting right next to Wardrobe with a gun in hand. Thankfully, Yuki’s costume changed into a ghost bedsheet before the teleporter pressed the trigger, the bullet phasing harmlessly through her head.

He had to distract that bastard. “I’m the one you want, blondie!” Ryan challenged Acid Rain, though she teleported out of his bullets’ path. “I’m leaving for the Purple World and stranding you here!”

The taunt worked, Acid Rain reappearing in front of him and opening fire with her gun. “You selfish punk, you think you can keep it all for yourself?”

Ryan froze time to dodge, before engaging the Psycho in a gunfire version of whac-a-mole. The Panda had smashed the last drone with his bare paws, while Wardrobe had changed her outfit to that of a nurse, dragging the wounded away from the battlefield.

She’s too fast, Ryan thought, as he frantically attempted to hit Acid Rain and failed every time. And unlike Lightning Butt, his projectiles couldn’t change direction mid-flight. He could have brought Paulie’s Facehugger missile, but decided against it. Such a weapon was ‘safe’ to use when the courier fought the Meta solo, but with teammates? The risk of the Psycho purposefully leading the projectile towards an ally was too great to ignore.

This may have been a miscalculation.

Thankfully, Acid Rain ran out of projectiles before he did. In the blink of an eye, she disappeared and reappeared to his left, nearly beheading Ryan with a katana.

“The Ultimate One favors me!” she snarled, forcing the courier to back down to avoid a strike. She didn’t give him any time to aim, or even think of a joke. “It wants me to win!”

“Sifu, I’m coming!” The Panda attempted to flank Acid Rain and save his master, paws raised. “Panda Roll!”

With inhuman speed, Acid Rain dodged the attack and raised her blade to behead the slower animal. Realizing the danger, Ryan abruptly stopped time to force her to disappear, but the second time resumed, the Psycho eviscerated the Panda by surprise, spilling his bowels all over the ground.

However, this gave Ryan a brief time window to aim, and he managed to hit Acid Rain in the stomach with the Desert Eagle. The Psycho vanished before she could collapse, but some blood droplets remained behind.

“Sifu…” the Panda gasped, a hand on his stomach while his bowels spilled all over the pavement.

“Young apprentice!” Unfortunately, before he could even reach the Panda, Acid Rain teleported above Ryan and struck him in the head with a steel pipe. The courier’s world briefly blurred and he dropped his guns, only to get hit in the chest before he could recover his breath.

“Once you’re dead, I can finally go back!” Acid Rain started pummeling him with two steel pipes, one in each hand. She had no style and no skill whatsoever; she didn’t need them. She was pure savagery and speed. Even Ryan’s enhanced sense of timing struggled to keep up the pace, and the acidic raindrops had started burning the skin below his costume. “I can go all the way back! You think you can keep my family away from me? You’re killing me!”

But while the courier couldn’t match her inhuman speed or strength, he more than dwarfed her in sheer skill.

Using a boxing move, Ryan sucker-punched Acid Rain in the stomach, right where his bullet had hit. The Psycho let out a scream of pain, but the courier kept pummeling this weak point, blood tainting her white shirt. She lost her breath, and dropped one of the steel pipes on the ground.

“Sifu!”

Acid Rain looked at her left, as the Panda flanked her. He had shapeshifted back into a human, and as Dr. Tyrano guessed, it had fully healed him.

The Panda lunged at a distracted Acid Rain, fist raised, and shapeshifted in the middle of his attack. Instead of a human punch, the Psycho took a full bear paw to the chest, some ribs breaking with a sickening crack. The blow tossed her backward like a ragdoll, but she teleported away before hitting the pavement.

Ryan sensed her teleport again above the Panda, a knife in hand. She fell upon the beast like a guillotine, but the courier grabbed her wrist before she could hit him and tossed her to the ground with a judo move.

She teleported away again, trying to stab Ryan from the left. This time, slowed down by her wounds, he managed to avoid Acid Rain’s stab and punched her in the face.

“The more I get into a situation, the better at it I become. And now...” Ryan grabbed the steel pipe on the ground. “I got the hang of you, Rain Woman.”

Illustrating his words with action, Ryan hit her in the face, sending teeth flying. The Psycho took a few steps back, while the Panda and his master flanked her from both sides.

“Ah… ah…” Acid Rain panted in exhaustion, searching inside her pocket with a hand and raising her knife at the duo with the other. Blood flowed from her chest and mouth, her wounds taking their toll on her. “I… send me… send me there…”

She raised a grenade at the heroes.

“Send me there!” the Psycho snarled, threatening to detonate the bomb. “Send me there, you son of-”

Boom.

Before Ryan knew what happened, Acid Rain collapsed to the side, blood flowing from the back of her skull. A shadow had risen behind her, a rifle in hand.

“Good grief, poor old Mortimer thought she would never stop teleporting around,” Mortimer said, as he reloaded his rifle. “You alright, kid?”

“Sifu, who is this guy?” the Panda asked, a little shocked by the assassin’s surprise appearance. “He… he looks like a supervillain.”

“Because he is one,” Ryan said, while glancing down at Acid Rain’s corpse. Considering the downpour started to dissipate, she wouldn’t get back up. “You should stop doing that, it’s almost vexing.”

“Lady Death’s got no owner, corpo; only dealers,” Mortimer replied with a shrug. “Anyway, you should check on your friends. I think your nurse dragged them behind a pile of concrete.”

“Just to be sure, you aren’t going to fight us?” Ryan asked. Since Sunshine had made a very public appearance, the courier worried Augustus had sent the Killer Seven to attack the Carnival and everyone present. Then again, the assassin wouldn't have helped in that case.

“What? No, Fortuna would whine like a baby if poor old Mortimer did that. By the way, you have all my respect for not having strangled her yet. I admire your self-control.”

“Then why are you here, my kill-stealing friend?”

Mortimer snorted, before sinking into the pavement. “Miss Livia sends her regards.”

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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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