Ryan had had many awkward elevator moments in his life, but this one trumped them all.
“Is your life always like this?” Hazmat Girl asked Ryan, as they climbed multiple floors towards the bunker’s recreational area. They shared their lift with four plushies out for blood, with Sarin wisely looking away from the fluffy abominations.
“Do you know where they put my A-bomb?” the handsome courier answered with another question, holding a laser gun in one hand and a Bliss inhaler in the other.
Sarin looked at him in embarrassed silence, and then focused back on the elevator’s doors. Come to think of it, this run was a complete inversion of Ryan’s suicide run. Instead of fighting his way inside Mechron’s bunker, he murdered his way out. The circle was complete.
As the elevator doors opened and revealed a well-lit atrium, the group faced a scene of utter devastation. Frank had reached the recreational areas first, and gone on a rampage that eclipsed even Ryan’s suicide run.
The giant fought a dozen Dynamis thralls firing at him with laser weapons, none capable of harming the enraged Psycho. Psyshock stood at the other end of the atrium, desperately trying to figure a way out of this mess, while other members of the Meta-Gang had taken cover wherever they could.
“Frank, calm yourself!” Mosquito shouted, fearfully hiding behind a broken pool table with Rakshasa. The tigerlike Psycho had summoned hordes of gremlins, with the tiny creatures trying to climb on Frank’s back. “You’re going to bring down the whole place on us!”
“I knew McCarthy didn’t go far enough!” Frank shouted, before grabbing a Street Fighters arcade game and throwing it at the thralls. The projectile immediately killed three people in a devastating impact. “The red menace contaminated our precious bodily fluids!”
“No, not Capcom!” Ryan protested at the horrifying sight. He couldn’t care less about the pool table or the bar, but destroying an arcade game? It was sacrilege!
Sarin, the uncultured bore, had the exact opposite reaction. “Argh, the pool table! Frank, what the hell, we’ve only got one of those!”
“Sarin?” Rakshasa glanced back at Hazmat Girl and her partner. “What are you doing with the prisoner? What the hell is going on?”
“President Adam is dead, and we’re taking over,” Ryan explained, laser gun raised. “Democratically.”
“Let’s play!” the plushies said, before rushing into the melee. The gremlins assaulting Frank immediately recognized the fluffy creatures and fled in terror at their approach. Unfortunately for them, the possessed toys seemed to find as much joy in chasing them as attacking humans.
A woman made of ink, which Ryan recognized as Ink Machine, peeked over a bar counter’s ruins. “Adam’s dead?”
“They are the enemy!” Psyshock shouted, running out of cannon fodder to throw at Frank. “Mosquito, Ink Machine, get out of your hiding hole and capture them!”
“You betrayed democracy!” Frank snarled back.
“Choose your side, guys,” Sarin said, raising her hands at Psyshock to blast him. “We’ve got Frank and the juice. Get in line.”
Psypsy immediately realized the danger of a mutiny. “Only I have the Elixir connection!” he snarled, before lowering himself to avoid Frank throwing one of his thralls at him. “You will run out of knockoffs without me!”
“And you’ll run out of life first!” Sarin made a terrible wordplay as she blasted the brainjacker. He dodged the attack with a leap, the compressed air hitting a wall and causing the bunker to shake.
When the Psychos present hesitated, Ryan pointed at his boxers and threatened to unleash his ultimate weapon. “Don’t force me to flash you. You shall not survive.”
After a short glance at each other, Mosquito and Rakshasa immediately left their hideout... and charged at Psyshock, much to his anger. “Traitors!”
“Sorry, Psyshock, but I would rather be on your bad side than Frank’s!” Mosquito apologized before lunging at the brainjacker, while Rakshasa tackled a thrall. Inky Winky emerged from her hiding hole too and wisely joined the winning side. “At least we can kill you!”
Thank goodness, it wasn’t loyalty that bound the Meta-Gang together.
Raising a tentacle, Psyshock managed to throw Mosquito off him and fled out of the room. Leaving his minions to take care of the remaining mooks, Ryan immediately gave pursuit. After escaping the atrium, Psyshock reached a corridor with reinforced glass windows on both sides, shattering one and jumping through the hole.
The hangars below the junkyard were no more peaceful than the atrium, for the Black Elixir had managed to invade them; perhaps another elevator connected the lower levels to this floor. The creature rampaged in the hangar holding the Meta’s submarine with the technicians fleeing in panic. The giant slime had grown with each victim, now reaching five meters across in size.
Most importantly, Ryan noticed his Plymouth Fury near the submarine, its engine removed from the husk. “Shortie?” The courier muttered to himself, remembering that Psyshock sent Len to work among the thralls. Yet only the screams of the enslaved answered him.
Ryan glanced at the other hangar within reach, the one where Psyshock had fled. The nerve squid was making a desperate dash towards Mechron’s scorpion mech.
“Oh no you don’t!” Ryan said from the corridor above, freezing time and sniping the Psycho with his laser weapon. A light ray hit the Psycho when time resumed, blowing a hole in his brain. Unfortunately, the engineer closest to the mech started to undergo a terrifying transformation, Psyshock reshaping his body into his new vessel.
“You thief!” Ryan glanced at the corridor’s other end, which led to the bunker’s entrance. Acid Rain had climbed down inside alongside two hound drones. “I knew we should have gutted you first!”
“Sorry honey, no indoor rain on the weather report today,” Ryan replied before firing at her with his gun. Even though she couldn’t summon her poisonous downpour underground, Acid Rain still had sharp reflexes and managed to dodge the attack by diving to the side. She retaliated with a thrown knife, while the hound drones lunged at Ryan.
With no other way out, the time-traveler jumped through the broken window to escape and landed inside the mech’s hangar a few meters below. Two thralls guarding the area immediately fell upon him like a pack of hyenas; the blisters on their skin informed the courier they were Bliss addicts, abducted off the street, and transformed into brainwashed tools.
How many people had Psypsy enthralled since he arrived in New Rome? Every hour wasted on a run increased his kill-count.
Swearing to destroy the brainjacker as early as possible in his Perfect Run, Ryan regretfully opened fire back, though non-lethally. His weapon’s rays hit the addicts’ hands, forcing them to drop their guns, and he punched them both out cold.
Acid Rain prepared to jump into the hangar above him, only to take a blast of compressed air for her trouble. The powerful attack threw the teleporter through the glass window, and she crashed on the ground unconscious only a few steps away from Ryan.
Sarin emerged from the recreational area, and quickly blasted the hound drones before they could retaliate. “Get Psyshock, I’ve got your back!” she shouted to the courier.
“Sure, blow off steam as much as you want!” Ryan said, as he charged after Psyshock’s newest host. A thrall with a laser rifle attempted to intercept him, but the courier’s backup propelled him backward with a blast. Though Sarin couldn’t take a hit, she had a lot of firepower at her beck and call.
Soon, Ryan reached Mechron’s mech right as Psyshock had started climbing its metal hide. He probably intended to use it against Frank, even at the risk of destroying the bunker, but the courier wouldn’t let things get that far.
However, Psypsy had one last thrall emerge from below the mech and stand in Ryan’s way. The courier instantly froze in place, when he recognized her.
She must have been working on the mech when the battle started, for she wielded a small drill in her hands. Her beautiful eyes were devoid of emotions; Psyshock had drained her soul and left only a husk behind.
“Back off, Cesare,” the brainjacker warned, as Len put her drill against her left temple, “or I will have your beloved kill herself right before your eyes.”
Ryan froze in place at the odious threat. “I can bring her back,” he said, raising his laser gun raised at Psyshock. The bastard immediately had Len move in the line of fire.
“But you will always remember,” Psypsy taunted him. “Whenever you look at her from now on, you will see that moment flashing back before your eyes. The sight of her brain spilling out on the floor, because you wouldn’t back down.”
And he was right. The memory would haunt Ryan forever.
But he couldn’t look the other way.
His best friend’s index finger slowly pressed the trigger, and his heart skipped a beat. The courier froze time before Shortie could activate the drill, and rushed at her while the universe turned purple. Ryan felt sick in his stomach, for he never raised his hand against Len in any loop. The mere fact Psyshock forced him to do this, even to save her life, filled the courier with intense fury.
Tossing his laser gun aside, Ryan raised his free hand, joined his fingers, and quickly hit her multiple times in the carotid and aorta. It was a highly dangerous technique, with a strong chance of causing medical complications, but he didn’t know any other method to prevent her from harming herself.
When time resumed, Len collapsed. The strikes had temporarily blocked the blood influx to the brain, causing unconsciousness and making her drop the drill. Ryan carefully caught his best friend with his free hand and gently put her on the ground.
And of course, that bastard Psyshock used the opportunity to launch a tentacle straight at the courier’s skull.
Ryan dodged and froze time for two seconds. Leaving Len on the ground, he rose up and prepared the Bliss inhaler.
“You should have seen it coming from Shortie’s memories. I’ve been in this city for months, and yet you have never managed to possess me.” Ryan dodged the tentacle when time resumed, grabbed it with his free hand, and quickly pulled the metal squid down to earth. “Do you know why? Because for all of your vicious, cowardly tricks, I always beat you.”
Psyshock replied with a hateful snarl and a tentacled whip, but the time-traveler dodged with quick bursts of his time-stop.
“As your boss once said it…” Ryan quickly closed the gap and applied the inhaler to the brainjacker’s face. “Time to take your medicine.”
Psyshock took a full dose of Bliss to the face.
His tentacles thrashed around in panic, but as Enrique guessed, his mutated body made him especially vulnerable to brain-altering chemicals. Psyshock gasped and wriggled on the ground, his tentacles falling inert as the euphoric rush paralyzed him.
The courier kicked the brainjacker in the head, just to be sure he wouldn’t get up again, and then focused on Len. Thankfully, his friend was still breathing. She would need quick medical attention, but she would live.
“It’s okay, Shortie.” Ryan sat at his friend’s side, holding her close to his chest. The battle raged around them, plushies escaping into the bunker while Frank smashed a wall to get into the hangar. “I’ve got your back.”
He always did.
It took one more hour, but Ryan’s side eventually won the Meta-Gang’s civil war. Though one-sided slaughter might have been a better term.
Psyshock’s thralls had continued fighting even without the squid, but they were no match for the terrible host assembled before them. Unfortunately, while Ryan reined in the violence whenever he could, neither the plushies nor the Meta showed any mercy. Even if they were brainwashed tools, anyone fighting back was fair game. Only the Black Elixir had shown some restraint, as it didn’t finish off the wounded once they were no longer a threat to it.
It said something about plushies and mutants when a giant monstrous slime looked more merciful in comparison.
But in the end, once the dust settled down, the bunker belonged to Ryan.
“I know the transition from the previous administration has been difficult.” Standing atop Mechron’s mech with his hands behind his back, the courier looked over his audience of Psychos, orphaned children, plushies, and one slimy abomination. Though Psyshock did get rid of Ryan’s suit, he had found a black turtleneck and pants to wear. “The summary executions, the waterboarding sessions… but it’s all in the past now. For we successfully purged the leftist menace from our ranks!”
“Now, it is time to focus on the true enemy.” Frank the Mad nodded to himself, never losing sight of what mattered. “The Mexicans.”
“Exactly. And it is with great reluctance that I accept the role of President, and the unlimited emergency powers that come with it. Powers that I promise to give up once the crisis is over.” Ryan winked at his audience. “Honest.”
Twenty Meta-Gang members had survived the short civil war, either because they wisely sided with the winning side or outright surrendered. Ryan recognized most of them, from the Land to Mongrel, though not all. He would have all the time to exploit them in the following days.
They might be his new minions, but they were still assholes.
As for the plushies, they had each bonded to an orphan, keeping watch over them like jealous pets. They had also enslaved Rakshasa’s gremlins, forcing them to fawn over the children by whipping them with harvested intestines. Ryan had the Psycho summoner teleport more creatures as an offering to their plushie overlords, which seemed to satisfy their bloodlust… for now.
In short, the pecking order had been established.
“Hey, who made you the leader?” Ryan recognized the dissenter as the lizard Psycho he beat up at the orphanage, in the previous Dynamis run. Unfortunately, it seemed a few people disagreed with the new status quo. “You’re not even one of us! Come to think of it, I’m pretty sure you were a prisoner hours ago!”
Ryan looked at this rebel scum. “What’s your name, my scaled friend? The best I can come up with is ‘Mook.’”
How original, another conspiracy trying to take over the government! Who was next, the Illuminati? “I assure you that this is a democracy: one man, one vote.” Ryan put a hand on his chest. “I am the man, and I have the vote.”
“Women can’t be president,” Frank agreed, Sarin flipping him the bird in response.
“But if you’re skeptical about election results, let’s settle this.” The courier glanced at the audience. “If you want me in charge, raise your hand, or paw, or tentacle.”
“You’re my friend!” All the plushies raised a tiny paw, cautiously imitated by the frightened orphans; Sarin, Frank, and the wiser Psychos imitated them as well. Eventually, the Black Elixir formed a tentacle of goo with seven eyes at the tip to salute him.
“See?” The courier asked the Reptilian once he had secured an overwhelming majority. “Why vote for the lesser evil?”
“I have a shoggoth,” Ryan interrupted this dissenter with a foolproof argument. “I am now president.”
The Reptilian glanced at the Black Elixir, finally understood his place, and submitted. “Yes.”
Ryan glared at this fool. “Yes who, handbag?”
The Psycho kept his head down. “Yes, Mr. President.”
“That’s better.” Ryan searched in his pocket, and brought out his secret weapon. “Of course, the new administration is nothing if not generous.”
A Dynamis-made, knockoff Elixir.
The Psychos present immediately looked at it with hunger. Even Sarin and Frank, whom Ryan was pretty sure couldn’t indulge in its consumption with their particular biology. The Elixirs within their blood probably caused a psychological craving.
Ryan dangled the knockoff at this pack of hungry hyenas, and then tossed it in their midst. Though they all reached a hand to grab it, Mosquito used his wings to grab it midair and immediately consumed it.
“Obey the government, pay your taxes, and everyone will benefit from our Elixicare,” Ryan said as Mosquito let out a moan of blissful pleasure, and the other Psychos snarls of frustration.
“What about the connection?” Ink Machine voiced her skepticism. “Only Psyshock knew how to contact the supplier.”
“I’ll take care of it,” Ryan said, already having a plan to deal with Dynamis. “The juice will flow.”
“It’d better do,” Inky Winky said, arms crossed. “Or I’m out of here.”
“Also, I only saved your ass for the cure you promised,” Sarin reminded Ryan of his campaign promises. “If you don’t follow through with our deal, I’ll blast you dead before you know what’s coming.”
“I… helped…” The Black Elixir’s alien voice startled most Psychos present, and especially the children. Everyone gave the creature a wide berth, even the plushies. “You… help me… now...”
“I assure you that unlike any other politician seen before, I will fulfill my electoral campaign’s promises. In fact, I will immediately make a few calls. We’re going to take this bunker by storm, and then...”
Ryan waved a hand at the ceiling. “The woooooorld!”
The people present exchanged glances, floored by their president’s grandiose vision. “The world?” The Reptilian asked, as if he already controlled it.
“The woooooorld,” Ryan corrected them.
Since the run was doomed from the get go, the courier could afford to throw safety out of the window, and try risky strategies that would work in the short-term. He would call in favors, even from people he would have rather avoided.
“What about Ma?” Little Sarah asked with a frown. “Will she… will she recover?”
“Uncle Ryan has a plan to cure your mommy,” the courier reassured her. Len and the surviving thralls had been heavily sedated, until Ryan could figure out a way to undo their brainwashing; Acid Rain too, since he had questions for her. Psyshock would be kept in a drugged haze until the courier found a way to throw him at Cancel, which shouldn’t take long. “Just be patient. Everything will be alright.”
“So what next, Boss?” Sarin asked, arms crossed.
“First I will nominate you as my vice-president, because we believe in gender equality.” Ryan glanced at the Black Elixir. “Our goo friend will become secretary of state, to fill out the alien minority quota. Agent Frank will ensure the people respect the government’s will.”
“Yes, Mr. President,” the agent nodded, the perfect patriot.
“Rakshasa, you will keep summoning gremlins to pacify our plushie overlords.” Though every plushie had bonded to a child and none had escaped the bunker, Ryan knew very well this was only the calm before the storm. As soon as they ran out of gremlins to kill, the creatures would multiply and take over the surface world. Hopefully, he could delay the plushipocalypse by a few days. “Reptilian, you’re going to the orphanage to bring me my cat back.”
“A cat?” the lizard asked, surprised by the order.
“A Persian cat, with white fur and pure blue eyes,” Ryan explained. “Spoiler warning, we’re going to ham it up and chew the scenery.”
They had a secret base and access to a doomsday weapon. The signs were painted on the wall.
It was time for Ryan to go full Bond Villain.