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Ryan had to give it to Hector Manada. In spite of being far richer than Augustus, he didn’t show it.

The CEO of Dynamis lived in a three-floor manor of yellow stones within walking distance of his company’s HQ, north of New Rome. The property was big, but nothing compared to Mount Augustus; the architectural style reminded Ryan of South America’s 19th century properties, though Hector had also gathered a sizable collection of mesoamerican artifacts in his garden. Statues of Aztec gods lined the path to the house, like a private guard. And of course, the property crawled with Private Security guards with top-of-the-line weaponry.

When Ryan arrived, Sunshine and Enrique’s helicopter had already landed in the garden. Security guards checked on the courier, but let him pass unmolested; apparently, the siblings had forewarned them.

Alphonse Manada had joined his brother, both backed by an elite security team. Leonard Hargraves had landed on the grass, though he somehow didn’t set it on fire even while in his sun form. Even Ryan had taken the time to change himself back to his old costume, Acid Rain having savaged the cashmere suit. One didn’t confront a final boss without looking nice.

But the scene quickly disappointed Ryan.

Hector Manada wasn’t raising a submachine gun to die in a blaze of glory, Scarface-style. He didn’t look worried about the urban warfare happening a few districts away from his house. In fact, he didn’t seem troubled at all.

For Hector Manada was gardening.

“I guess this is a family thing,” Ryan said snidely, as the corporate mastermind tended to an ugly rose bush. The floral arrangements were terrible, the work of an amateur.

“Sons.” A pudgy man with gray hair and a face resembling Pablo Escobar’s, Hector Manada had traded the business suit for casual white clothes and a straw hat. If Ryan hadn’t seen his face before, he might have mistaken him for a mere employee. “I didn’t expect you. Especially not in such…”

His eyes wandered to Leo Hargraves. “Shining company.”

“Surprised, Father?” Alphonse asked, his tone lacking any familial warmth whatsoever.

“Mr. Manada,” Leo said, always polite. “It has been a while.”

“Not long enough, I must say,” the CEO replied, before finally noticing Quicksave. “And who might you be?”

“Hi, I’m Quicksave,” Ryan presented himself. “I’m the guy who ruined all of your evil plans, but don’t tell anyone.”

“My evil plans?” the CEO answered with a forced smile. “I do not understand.”

“I think you do, Father,” Enrique said, as he straightened his tie. “We destroyed the Meta-Gang one hour ago.”

“An action which I did not authorize,” the CEO replied with a frown, before forgetting Ryan’s existence and glancing at Alphonse instead. “Nor do I remember recalling you to New Rome either.”

“You forfeited any authority over me when you betrayed us all, Father,” Alphonse replied. “You wanted to stay in power so much, you would rather clone yourself than let us inherit?”

“Clone myself?” Hector Manada feigned ignorance.

“We have Psyshock in custody, father,” Enrique said. “He admitted everything. From your secret deal with Adam the Ogre to your mind-transferring project.”

Ryan knew it was probably a bluff, considering the timeline of events, but it worked like a charm. “Is that so?” Hector asked, glancing at the soldiers following his sons. The courier could almost see the gears turning in the CEO’s head, as he weighed his options.

“We have recordings, captured technicians, proof of monetary transactions,” Enrique continued. “Did you know the Meta-Gang had unearthed a Mechron base beneath Rust Town?”

Though he quickly corrected his expression, the CEO’s brief look of genuine surprise told Ryan that no, he didn’t. As the courier guessed, the Meta-Gang had planned to betray him from the start; take Dynamis’ Elixirs, until they could overthrow the company with Mechron’s weaponry.

“So you were a traitor and a fool,” Alphonse Manada said, with a grunt of disgust. He had noticed the look of surprise too. “You despise us so much?”

“Can you blame me, Alphonse?” Hector replied with a sneer. “Sometimes I truly wonder if you came from my loins. You and Augustus would have turned Italy into a bloody battlefield if I hadn’t sent you away.”

“So instead you sent Psychos to wage war for you?” Enrique asked, shaking his head. “I still remember what you told me when I welcomed Felix Veran into our fold. ‘Don’t rock the boat.’

“Augustus’ influence needs to be constrained, but we can’t afford a direct confrontation,” Hector snapped back. “We have no means of getting rid of him permanently.”

“We do,” Alphonse said with confidence. “The Gravity Gun.”

“Your obsession with miracle weapons will be your undoing,” Hector lambasted his son. “If yours fails, we will have an invincible madman with nothing left to lose on our hands.”

“Augustus will never be satisfied,” Leonard Hargraves interrupted the conversation. “He wants nothing less than total dominion over Europe.”

“His delusions of grandeur mean nothing,” Hector scoffed. “You don’t know him like I do, Hargraves.”

Sunshine scoffed. “I have been sparring with Augustus long before you came to Italy, Mr. Manada. I know him well.”

“No, Hargraves, because if you did, you would have grasped a simple truth. With all his power, Augustus could have established himself as a god-king, written laws, but what does he do? Peddle drugs, launder money, corrupt existing infrastructures. At the end of the day, Augustus is just a gangster with cancer, and that’s all he will ever be.” The CEO shook his head in frustration. “Don’t you see that to win, we only have to outlast him? Let nature do its work.”

“And let countless suffer in the meantime?” Sunshine replied. “Assuming the next Augusti generation isn’t made of the same cloth?”

“Well, to be honest—” Ryan raised his hand to speak on behalf of Livia.

“The adults are talking, Quicksave,” Alphonse interrupted him.

“Then why are you here?” Ryan replied with a mocking tone, being far, far older than the VP. The nuclear-powered cyborg glared at him, but the courier wasn’t intimidated in the slightest.

“Enough,” Enrique said, a hint of frustration in his voice.

“And are you truly so different, Father?” Alphonse asked mockingly.

Hector’s expression turned into one of pure disgust. “You dare compare me to Augustus, my son? I am no saint, I confess, but I do not go around murdering people who never crossed me.”

“You raised us to believe Dynamis had a mission. To rebuild a better civilization, based on free-market, the rule of law, and individual freedom.” Alphonse’s voice turned bitter. “One that wouldn’t repeat the mistakes of the pre-war nations. Yet all you have done is repeat the patterns of the past, and maintain a status quo unsuitable for mankind. One that benefits Augustus.”

Ryan realized he had met Fallout’s type elsewhere before. Disappointed idealists.

And as he listened to the man’s speech, he couldn’t help but be reminded of Livia’s own situation. Like her, the Manada were children disagreeing with their father’s rotten, rigid vision of the world. Unlike Livia though, who couldn’t escape Augustus’ grasp, the Manada siblings had decided to rebel.

Would it work though?

“That unsuitable status quo, as you call it, is the only one we have,” Hector replied angrily. “I’ve played with the cards dealt to me.”

“Whatever your reasons, you conspired with the Meta-Gang, provided them with company resources, and, willingly or not, nearly allowed Adam the Ogre to get his hands on Mechron technology,” Enrique pointed out. “We can’t let that slide, and neither will the Board.”

“I am the Board,” Hector replied with a frown.

Ryan couldn’t resist. “Not yet!”

“Alphonse and I have enough shares to force a vote, and you know the Board and other corporations will vote for your retirement,” Enrique said. “We have too much proof, and they can’t be seen cooperating with Psychos. Our image and reputation is our armor, but they are also our weaknesses.”

“And most importantly, we have the army,” Alphonse stated the obvious. “Do not think you can prevent what’s coming.”

Hector’s scowl deepened. “You would harm me, my son? Your own father?”

“After what you did? What you planned to do?” Alphonse asked, lowering his head to lock eyes with his father. “Yes, I would.”

Hector held the glare for a moment, before looking at his other child. “Et tu, Enrique? You know what your brother will do if he inherits my post?”

“Yes,” Enrique replied, “but dabbling with Psychos won’t be one of them.”

“Well said, Brother,” Alphonse added. “Enrique will be my vice-president, and we will clean up your mess. We will reforge Dynamis into what it should have been. A beacon that will rebuild civilization, one without Psychos, and certainly without Augustus. You may have failed the dream, Father, but we won’t.”

“Come with us, Mr. Manada.” Sunshine briefly ramped up the heat around him. “I promise you will not be harmed, and be entitled to a fair hearing.”

“Take the graceful way out, Father,” Enrique pleaded, before glancing at Alphonse. “Or else… it will have to be the other way.”

For a long, agonizing moment, Dynamis’ CEO said nothing. He slowly glanced at his sons, then at Leonard, and finally to the Private Security members backing them up. Whether out of fear of Alphonse Manada, disgust, or opportunism, none of them moved to shield their employer.

It seemed that in Dynamis, power shifted swiftly.

Eventually, although Ryan had prepared himself for a fight, Hector Manada offered his hands in surrender. “You doom us all, fools.”

“It is a new dawn for Dynamis, Father,” Alphonse Manada declared. He sounded quite pleased with himself. “One long overdue.”

“After me, the flood,” Hector Manada prophesied with quiet dignity, as soldiers grabbed him by the arms.

When Ryan glanced at the towering Alphonse, who watched his father being carried away, the time-traveler realized he might have put someone far more dangerous in charge of Dynamis. “That’s it?” the courier asked Enrique. “After everything he did, you just talk it out?”

“You expected a hail of gunfire perhaps?” Il Migliore’s manager replied dryly. “Unlike Augustus, we do not shoot all of our problems. My father is many things, but a fanatic isn’t one of them. He would rather go into forced retirement than die for nothing.”

“So… what, you’re going to imprison him on a private island, Napoleon-style?”

“Pretty much. If all goes as expected, his assets will be confiscated, he will be surrounded by Alphonse’s people, and he will be kept away from any form of power whatsoever.” Enrique looked at Ryan with disapproval. “This is what we adults call diplomacy, Romano. It is boring, but it usually spares us a great deal of bloodshed.”

It… it was good. Ryan had expected the change of power to end in violence, because that was all he ever knew.

“If only more villains were reasonable,” Leo Hargraves lamented. “So, it’s over. Now, we must decide what to do with the bunker.”

“Not yet, Hargraves,” Alphonse said. “There will be a transition of power, and I wish you to assist us with it. I will pay you for your service.”

“We do not work for money, Fallout.”

“You misunderstand me,” the cyborg replied with a hint of amusement. “Our goals are the same. We both want Augustus dragged off from his throne. Now that my father has been dealt with, it is time we focus on the true enemy.”

The Living Sun crossed his arms, the opportunity too great to pass up. “I’m listening.”

“Not here.” Alphonse glared at Ryan next. “And I have had enough of your blatant disrespect, Quicksave. You did your job, but that’s it. Fuck off.”

“Love you too, Nagasaki,” Ryan replied and prepared to leave, having done what he had set out to do. Besides, staying in Alphonse Manada’s company for too long would probably give him cancer.

“Ryan.” Unlike Fallout, Sunshine bowed respectfully to the time-traveler. “There is something I must ask of you—”

“Sorry, Sunshine, I won’t join your circus,” Ryan cut him off. “Too much bad blood.”

“I expected as much,” Leo said with a sigh. “Still, on behalf of the Carnival, no, all of New Rome… thank you. Most people won’t know it, but your actions saved countless lives. History books may not mention you, but we will not forget.”

“Don’t make promises you can’t keep,” Ryan replied with a shrug. “But… thanks.”

That shiny paladin was too noble to dislike.

While Ryan would have left the Manada property by himself, Enrique personally decided to escort him to his car. “This isn’t the end, is it?” the courier asked Blackthorn. It didn’t feel like an ending at all. “It’s just the beginning.”

“Don Hector wasn’t wrong. This is the calm before the storm, Romano. My brother is in charge, and he is not as… subtle as our father. If Augustus didn’t know we cooperated with Hargraves already, he will learn it soon. And even if it suffered heavy damage, that base below Rust Town contains a treasure trove of technology, and we must decide what to do with it.”

“I guess overthrowing your father was the easy part,” Ryan mused, his mood turning from curious to slightly depressed. “I don’t know how to feel about it.”

“I’ve seen your reaction to my brother’s speech,” Enrique said. “You seemed… troubled.”

Sharp. “When I tried to overthrow my ‘fatherly figure’s’ hold on me, it ended with his death,” Ryan replied, his thoughts turning to Len and Bloodstream. “And even dead, his influence still holds a friend back. So when I looked at you two… I can’t help but wonder what could have been.”

Enrique said nothing, and for that, the courier was thankful. However, when Ryan put a hand on his Plymouth Fury’s door though, Blackthorn moved right in front of him. “You are not leaving yet,” the new Dynamis VP declared. “I told you we would have a talk, Romano. We’re having it now.”

“What is there to say? Though if it’s for gardening lessons, I guess you could make an appointment.”

“We have plenty of things to discuss,” Enrique said while crossing his arms. “I know your sister was in the bunker during the attack. One of the Meta-Gang’s members was found trapped in a bubble, and Psyshock’s living quarters were ransacked. And most curious of all, our men couldn't find the brain-scanning technology our father lent him.”

“I guess you should hire better people to do your ground work, Mr. Nepotism.”

“I wondered what your stakes were in this, but now I understand,” Enrique said, ignoring the jab. “You were after this tech from the start. This entire exercise was a distraction.”

“Not really.” Ryan’s thoughts turned to Jasmine. “If I told you the Meta-Gang caused the permanent death of someone I cared for, would you believe it?”

“Permanent death?” Enrique noticed the odd wording, but Ryan didn’t enlighten him. “People also saw you at a dinner with Livia Augusti and Fortuna Veran, and you apparently brought the latter home. Witnesses said the scene looked… intimate.”

“I’m putting an end to the rumors right here,” Ryan said, immediately sensing the danger. “Fortuna Veran isn’t my girlfriend. I have standards.”

“I doubt that,” Enrique replied dryly. “The Panda also told me a person matching the Augusti assassin Mortimer’s description came to your rescue against Acid Rain. You must understand that I am… suspicious about your true allegiances.”

The courier shrugged. “I’ve got no allegiances to any faction. I’m a wild card.”

“Then you don’t believe in anything? I thought you were a better man than that.”

“Aw, did you care?”

Much to Ryan’s surprise, it seemed like Blackthorn did. “For all your faults, Romano, you are a competent Genome with great potential. I would not have given you the time of a day if I didn’t believe it. You are a powerful fighter, a skilled tactician, and incredibly resourceful. I shudder to think what you could achieve, if you could look beyond childish self-gratification.”

Ryan wasn’t certain if it was meant as a compliment or criticism. Probably both. “I could return the sentiment,” he said. “I expected you to be a lot more cutthroat, but… you seem rather honorable and well-meaning below the surface. You could do a lot more for the world outside of Dynamis.”

“You are wrong,” Enrique replied. “By themselves, humans can only do so much. We conquered the planet by sacrificing our individuality for collective strength. Though I do not share his methods, I agree with my brother’s mission statement. Dynamis may not always change the world for the better, but it can.”

“After seeing Rust Town, I somewhat doubt it,” Ryan replied, before smiling behind his mask. “But I’m an optimist. People can change.”

Even if there would be unintended consequences, the Meta-Gang’s defeat had put the time-traveler in a cheerful mood. After all the darkness of the previous failed run, this loop had proved he could turn things around.

“I do not trust you, Romano. You are unpredictable, loyal to none, and probably the most dangerous individual I have met short of Augustus.”

“Thank you, Greenhand.”

Enrique put his hands in his pants’ pockets, the perfect picture of corporate confidence. “However, you probably prevented a disaster and saved Dynamis, in a roundabout way. So… while I hate to use the term, I will look the other way this once. You are no longer welcome in Il Migliore though; I cannot look past your ties to the Augusti. At least Felix burned that bridge.”

“It’s fine, I took the job to do one thing, and it is finished.” Ryan pointed a finger at the manager. “I’m keeping all my merchandise rights though. Don’t you dare sell Quicksave miniatures.”

“I will do my best to forget you even exist.”

“I return the feeling. I’m still going to visit my team in the hospital though. Spoiler warning, if you try to stop me, you will fail.”

“Here’s what will happen, Romano. I will allow you to say your goodbyes to your teammates unmolested, and I will wire you a generous compensation for your service.” Blackthorn locked eyes with Ryan through their respective masks. “But afterward, you and your sister will leave.”

“Leave for where?”

“Anywhere, far, far away from New Rome,” Enrique said. “He will be too busy with the transition in the next few days to do so, but once his position is secure, my brother will hunt you two down. I know him. Your allegiances are too dubious, your ties to the Augusti too suspicious, and your sister too important.”

Ryan understood the Manada might want him gone now he had outlived his usefulness, but Shortie? Why were they so interested in her? “What is it you’re not telling me, Black Gardener?”

Enrique remained silent for a few seconds, his body so still the courier thought he might have turned into a statue. “I let Len Sabino go once,” he finally admitted. “But I cannot protect her forever. Alphonse knows her base’s location, and he can access it if he so chooses. Take everything you can carry with you, and go.”

Ryan’s tone turned dangerous. “Is that a threat, Greenhand? Because as the Meta-Gang can attest, I’m very effective at killing weeds. Your brother won’t be the first nuclear device I made go kaboom.”

“No, Romano, it is not a threat. It is a warning. Strange as it may sound to you, I harbor no ill-will towards you or your family.” Blackthorn raised his sleeve to look at the time on his watch. “I must go now. Though I have the feeling we will meet again.”

And Ryan felt it would be under circumstances far less friendly.


Ryan was halfway to the harbor, when he received a call on his cellphone.

“Livia?” he asked upon answering.

“Ryan,” she answered on the other end of the line, a hint of worry breaking through her composure. “How is Felix?”

“Alive, but wounded,” the courier answered. Livia sighed with relief on the other end of the line. “He will recover, but they don’t allow visits yet. I’ve tried.”

“It’s… it’s fine, I’m glad he is alive at all. I did not inform his sisters yet. I…” Livia gulped, “I dreaded a different answer.”

“I wouldn’t have let him die,” Ryan replied. Or rather, he would have reloaded afterward. “Thanks for sending Mr. Passe-Muraille. He didn’t help much, but it’s the thought that counts. I guess you listened to me.”

“About how we weren’t enemies?” Livia briefly paused before continuing. “I hope I won’t regret trusting you. You do work with my family’s nemesis.”

“Well, if it can reassure you, I’ve just been fired.”

She immediately seized the opportunity. “Perhaps you would consider employment with us then? The Killer Seven are missing a Violet member.”

“Sorry princess, I’ll stay a free-spirit for a while,” Ryan answered, as he reached the harbor. “I’m not sure if my presence is needed anymore. I get the feeling Dynamis will hit your drug factory even without my influence.”

“My father’s reaction will be different if Dynamis does it, rather than an unknown party. But we can discuss that when the situation becomes clearer. When do you think Felix can receive visits?”

“I’ll be honest. I don’t know, and I’m not sure you will even be able to visit Atom Kitten at all.”

Her tone harshened. “You think Dynamis will prevent us access?”

“No, I think Felix won’t want to see you or his family.” No answer. “Hey, you can always try. If I’m right, I can carry a message if you want.”

The mafia princess had fallen completely silent. Though he had only said the truth, Ryan regretted his bluntness. For a second, he had forgotten how emotionally fragile the woman truly was, beneath her icy facade. “Livia?”

“Have you ever loved someone?” She asked out of the blue. “Not a fling, but true love? To the point that even though you know it’s over, you still cling to any hope you can turn things around?”

“I’m really not the best counsel on the matter,” Ryan said sadly, as he noticed Len’s bathysphere near the old piers. “I came to New Rome chasing after a ghost.”

“So you do understand,” she said with a sad chuckle, before gathering her breath. “You lived for centuries. Don’t you have wisdom to offer?”

“Things can change,” the courier admitted, before considering it thoughtfully. “But sometimes, it’s better to learn to let go. You’ll hurt yourself otherwise. Some wounds never heal, and you have to live with them.”

Livia seemed to see the wisdom in his words, but she didn’t appreciate it. “Thanks for your answers, Ryan.”

“You’re welcome,” the time-traveler replied, before falling silent. His thoughts turned to the meeting with Dynamis.

“Ryan?”

“The Manadas overthrew their father,” Ryan said out of nowhere. “They… talked it out and forced him into retirement. Now they intend to reform Dynamis into something better than before.”

He didn’t even need to elaborate. Livia could probably see the parallels with her own situation, with a major difference. “My father won’t surrender with dignity, Ryan.”

No, probably not. Her regretful tone was heart-wrenching.

“I will get my cat back,” Ryan said, changing the subject. “The furry kind.”

“I think I can arrange that,” she replied with a chuckle, though it was mirthless. “Goodbye Ryan.”

“Goodbye princess,” he said before hanging up on her and parking his car.

Enrique and Alphonse had managed to free themselves from their father’s hold. So why was it that Ryan couldn’t help Len and Livia do the same? Bloodstream was long dead, and Augustus, for all his overwhelming power, couldn’t overcome a mere tumor.

“No,” the courier muttered to himself. “I can’t let them win.”

He couldn’t let things end this way. Not again.

Never again.

He banished these thoughts and stepped out of his car. Len waited for him on the waterfront in full armor, two bathyspheres floating in the sea nearby; she carried a device in her hands. A gray metal helmet with pylons protruding from the front, and with a plug at the back. Dynamis hadn’t printed its logo on it, probably to avoid being tied to the Meta-Gang should the device be found.

“It’s underwhelming,” Ryan said as he rejoined his friend. “I expected something more complex.”

“It’s only a small part,” Len replied with a genuine smile. The mere sight caused Ryan to forget all his worries for a brief instant. “I moved the rest to your place.”

Your place.

Such simple words, and yet so powerful. “So, you were serious?” Ryan asked. “You’re okay with me moving to your undersea paradise?”

“Yes I am,” she said with a nod, her smile faltering. “It’s over, right? You don’t… you don’t owe Dynamis anything anymore.”

“No, and I’ve been fired anyway.” Ryan would miss the condo, and he would steal a cashmere suit as a parting gift. “I’m officially homeless again.”

Len considered her words for a second, but they came swiftly and firmly. “No, Riri. No, you are not homeless.”

Ryan’s heart skipped a beat for a moment, and he had to look away at the sea to hide his unease. It… felt great, to know Len wanted him back into her life. Even if their teenage relationship had long perished, she had Ryan’s back, and he had hers.

And with that tech, maybe his old lonely days would finally come to an end. “You think it can work?” Ryan asked for confirmation, praying not to be disappointed again.

“We will need time, but… maybe,” Len said with a smile, perhaps the first time she had shown some optimism in a long, long time. “We… we will need to extract the chronoradio from your car though. I have, uh, a bigger submarine. To bring it under the sea.”

An undersea garage. Marvelous.

“Frankly, if this loop doesn’t end with my Plymouth Fury getting an underwater mode, I will be sorely disappointed,” Ryan mused, before a darker thought crossed his mind. “But we might have to move to another location. Dynamis won’t leave your base alone for long.”

“They’re not going to let us be?” Her sweet face turned into an angry scowl. “I should have known. They’ll never be satisfied.”

“I don’t get why they’re so interested in you though,” the courier admitted. “Yeah, you attacked a factory, but that’s peanuts compared to the Augusti and the Meta-Gang.”

“And in the end, it didn’t cost them anything.” Len sighed, as if reliving her failed youthful rebellion. “I don’t know, Riri… I think what they can’t control, they destroy.”

No. Ryan sensed something bigger was at work, and it bothered him. “What did they do when they captured you the first time? What questions did they ask?”

“I don’t… I don’t remember much,” she admitted. “The first thing they did was to force me through a DNA test and take a blood sample. Afterward… nothing noteworthy. A sales pitch.”

“A blood sample, you said?” Why a blood sample of all things?

And then it clicked.

Memories flooded Ryan’s brain, and he suddenly saw them under a new light.

“Lab Sixty-Six."

“Enrique was supposed to oversee the whole Elixir operation instead of Il Migliore. He visited the lab for two hours, and he immediately asked for a transfer afterward.”

“If you ask me, there’s something really shifty about the knockoffs; even Augustus’ scientists never found a way to copy them.”

“Dynamis keeps the Underdiver under close surveillance.”

“You let her go?”

“It was our early days all over again.”

“I couldn’t make Elixirs. What I did was synthesize a specific resource that mimicked the properties of a true Elixir.”

“Such a shame, I would have loved to compare samples from various Genome relatives.”

“Various Genome relatives.”

“Genome relatives.”

Relatives.

“Len?” Ryan asked, a terrible doubt creeping in his mind. “When did Dynamis start producing their knockoff Elixirs? Do you know the exact date?”

“Uh… I’m not sure, I think… I think they had a few in development, but they only started flooding the market three years ago or so…”

Shortie shut her mouth, and Ryan instantly regretted asking that question. She was smart. She had figured it out too.

“It’s impossible,” the courier said immediately. “It can’t be that.”

“But it would fit!” Len protested, genuine emotion breaking through her monotone voice. “It would explain it all. It—”

“Len, your father is dead.” The Genius flinched, as Ryan’s tone turned deadly serious. “Sunshine burnt him to ashes. I saw it with my own two eyes. He’s gone.”

“But if one of his clones…” Len locked eyes with her old friend. “You know it’s possible, Riri. You just don’t want it to be.”

No, he didn’t. Ryan wanted to think that nightmare was over. That Bloodstream was dead and buried, and could no longer harm either of his children, adopted or otherwise.

But Len had never truly woken up.

“Riri, I… I’ve trusted you, even after everything we… I’ve… I’ve killed for you, Riri. I trusted your words, I gave you a second chance. I… I’m willing to start fresh.” She gathered her breath, struggling to find her words. “I just… I just want to get closure, Riri. I want to know. If it’s… if we’re wrong, we can move on. But we need this. We need to check.”

“But if our hunch is right?” Ryan asked. “What will you do? What will we do?”

Len bit her lower lips, and looked at her feet without a word.

“I just…” Ryan gathered his breath, as he thought about his next words. “I just want you to be free, Len. I want you to be free of him. To exorcise his ghost, so he no longer haunts you. You...”

He paused. “Say it,” Len said, without looking up.

“You remind me of a songbird in a cage, Len,” Ryan admitted. “You could be smiling and shine like the sun. You could fly away. The cage is open. But you’re afraid he will close the door as you try to escape. No one will take away your freedom… but you’re still afraid.”

Len looked back at her friend once more. “Ryan,” she said with an iron gaze. Not Riri. “It’s exactly why I won’t budge on this. I need to know. I… I need to know. To get closure.”

Ryan wanted to argue further, but he could see in her gaze it was pointless. She wouldn’t change her mind.

And the worst part? While he hated to admit it… he needed to be sure too.

“Lab Sixty-Six,” the courier muttered to himself.

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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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