- April 2017, France, Village of La Turbie.
It was a sunny day in Monaco. Flowers were blooming, birds were singing, and Simon rolled a boulder in hell.
How many times had Ryan looked at Monaco from this promontory? He had spent one year’s worth of loops trying to figure out this place’s ‘rules,’ and today would just be another attempt.
It took him a while, but he had found an old, pre-war UAV drone in an abandoned military base near Istres; a stealth, tactical reconnaissance device which Dassault built for the French Air Force. Ryan had modified it into a purple-painted quadcopter, and outfitted it with a submachine gun.
Controlling the device with a remote control, the courier received a constant video-feed as he directed the drone towards Monaco. His quadcopter flew through empty streets, and broke through windows to enter deserted houses. All buildings looked the same from the inside.
The whole city was a prop.
At least Ryan now confirmed the teleportation effect didn’t apply to machines, once the drone passed the two-hour time limit. The casino’s propaganda about fighting back Mechron was just as baseless as its tales of Andorran invasions.
As the sun fell behind the horizon, Ryan directed the drone to the Monte-Carlo casino. The quadcopter moved inside after blasting the doors with the submachine gun, and no clown came to stop it.
The real Monte-Carlo casino looked similar to the hellish dimension Ryan had spent a lifetime trapped inside, but it was neither infinite nor abnormal. The rooms were in their place, and the drone couldn’t find anyone within its walls.
When the drone prepared to leave the casino to resupply, the doors had repaired themselves. Ryan had the machine blast them again, fly through, and then turn around again. The doors had recovered the second they had been left out of sight.
Well, time to bring out the big guns then.
Ryan spent three months’ worth of loops mapping out the casino and its surroundings with the drone, down to the sewers. In the end, he had to face the obvious.
He couldn’t find any entrance into the pocket dimension.
“An ‘invitation only’ kind of place, eh?” Ryan said, as he put on sunglasses. Having taken offense at the situation, he had strapped a small nuke to his drone; thank the French for their pre-war nuclear arsenal. “You don’t say no to me.”
Sitting on a longchair on the coast of Cap-Ferrat, almost fifteen kilometers from Monaco, Ryan directed the drone to the Monte-Carlo with his remote control. He had to repurpose a local radio station to control his toy from so far away, but his work would pay dividends.
“After the shrimp,” the courier said while pressing the big red button, “the mushrooms!”
The video feed stopped functioning, as a bright sphere of light consumed Monaco. Everything within Ryan’s line of sight caught fire, from forests to the ruins of French ports along the Mediterranean coast. Colossal waves rose around the detonation point, and spread for miles. The ground trembled as far as Cap-Ferrat, a massive fiery mushroom rising up in the skies.
Ryan watched the cursed microstate go down in flames with a deep sense of satisfaction… at least, until the shockwave reached him and a powerful gust tossed his sunglasses off his face.
“Independence for Andorra!” the courier shouted in the microstate’s direction, as the mushroom cloud slowly died out.
A few hours later, Ryan strode through the burning ruins of Monaco in a reinforced hazmat suit, braving the firestorms, the ashes, and the irradiated dust falling from the skies. Every building had collapsed from the blast, and the roads were blocked by debris. The courier almost considered this experience a hiking trip.
“I will be the very best,” Ryan hummed to himself, as he reached the blast’s epicenter. Of the Monte-Carlo casino, only a crater remained. Whatever force allowed the place to rebuild itself, it couldn’t undo such devastation. “Like no one ever was...”
A flash of yellow and violet swallowed him whole, followed by the sight of a familiar marble hallway.
When he woke up again on the Tête de Chien promontory on April 1st, Ryan let out a scream of frustration.
Even nuking the whole place couldn’t dispel the effect!
He should have expected something like this. While the real Monte-Carlo served as the phenomenon’s anchor on Earth, the true maze existed in a separate reality. As far as Ryan could tell, the mysterious controller, ‘Jean-Stéphanie,’ lived inside his pocket dimension.
Or most probably, he had become the maze.
Ryan sighed, sat on the promontory’s edge, and considered what he had learned over his various experiments.
The effect activated whenever someone crossed into Monaco’s boundaries, as described by international law. This included the airspace, but not the territorial waters; Ryan assumed it had something to do with the old Franco-Monégasque treaties, with Jean-Stéphanie’s power unable to recognize the waters as ‘fully’ Monaco’s.
A victim was teleported inside the maze if they approached the Monte-Carlo, or stayed more than two hours inside the city’s limits. If they had crossed the frontier and left, they would be trapped the moment they fell asleep. It didn’t matter if they had stayed in Monaco for less than a minute, or spent three days fleeing across Europe before falling asleep from exhaustion. Ryan had checked both possibilities, to his dismay.
Once you entered Monaco, it never let you go. Ever.
The effect also applied to animals, except unlike humans, they were immediately teleported to the maze’s kitchens instead of the relatively safe marble hallway. Ryan had sent countless puppies to their death over the course of his research, and didn’t regret any of it.
He was, after all, a cat person.
At one point, he had even strapped the same nuke to a lamb, wiring it to detonate inside the pocket dimension. Since the sacrificial animal had teleported inside the kitchen, the resulting explosion spared Suitestown and blasted a large part of the maze to kingdom come. Ryan had personally entered the pocket dimension afterward to observe the results.
The damage lasted for twenty-four hours, until new rooms replaced the destroyed ones.
Since the teleportation always involved a flash of violet and yellow light, Ryan suspected the controller was a Psycho associated with these colors. It would explain the spacetime anomaly and all the weird, conceptual rules.
This meant only a powerful Yellow or Violet could permanently destroy the maze, if at all. So far, Ryan hadn’t located anyone capable of such a feat.
“Do I truly need to destroy this place though?” Ryan pondered out loud, as he observed Monaco from afar. The city was mocking him with its very existence. “I mean, it’s static and doesn’t spread. A fence would keep it contained, at least until I find a way to terminate it.”
His Perfect Run demanded that he free the people trapped inside Monaco, first and foremost.
According to his research, he could remain outside Monaco until April 28th, after which Martine would die in a shrimp supply run gone wrong. The lights would die out, and the clowns would tear her apart before Simon could rescue her.
Ryan had to find an exit within that timespan, but where? This place didn’t have a door in or out, and nobody could interact with the outside world once trapped inside!
… no one but Ryan himself.
“I am an exit,” the courier realized.
From what he understood of his power, the courier existed in two places at once: some kind of dimension beyond space and time, and Earth. The connection remained even within Monaco, though whatever power ruled the maze prevented his two selves from fusing.
It didn’t cancel the convergence entirely, it simply pushed back.
Thus, while the pocket dimension could act as a barrier between its prisoners and the universe outside, it wasn’t an inviolate frontier. If Ryan could push the underlying principle of his power to the limit, maybe he could overcome it…
An idea crossed his mind.
It took Ryan five years’ worth of loops to master particle physics, find a Genius capable of helping him with his problem, and raid enough laboratories to gather the equipment he needed. He had to travel all the way to Switzerland and back, to scavenge parts of CERN’s unfinished Hadron collider.
And now, on this sunny day of April 27th, Ryan stood atop the promontory dressed for war.
He had decided to wear something nice for this historical day. A purple shirt and blue pants, black gloves, and boots, and most importantly, a classic trench coat. He kept an MP3 device around his belt, alongside a Japanese katana he ‘borrowed’ from a Swiss raider.
Since the clowns shrugged off most firearms, he would make sushi out of them.
Most importantly, the courier had brought with him two cube-shaped devices forty centimeters in diameter. These steel-plated machines each had a hand-sized hole on one side, the ‘mouth’ of a particle collider, and a small control panel on the other.
These nuclear-powered devices, through a science Ryan himself barely understood, should create a ‘convergence’ similar to the courier’s own power. Particles would travel from one cube to the other, forcing a path through dimensions.
Maybe he could use that technology to build an interdimensional radio one day. That would be funny.
Leaving one on the Tête de Chien promontory and wiring it to activate within two hours, Ryan put the other in a travel bag and drove down towards Monaco with his trusty motorcycle. He crossed the microstate’s official frontier, ignoring the anti-Andorran propaganda signs on his way to Monte-Carlo.
Ryan stopped in front of the casino, stepped away from his vehicle, and moved towards the doors with confidence.
The plaza vanished in a flash of yellow and violet light.
Ryan had lost count of how many times he had lived through this moment, but hopefully, this would be the last. He took a deep breath, basking in the conditioned air flowing through this dreadful prison, and moved to tear it apart.
“Hello, dear guest!” a gold-faced clown immediately welcomed the intruder, as he walked out of the marble hallway and into the main lobby. “Welcome to Monaco! The greatest c—”
Ryan casually beheaded him with his katana, the creature’s warm blood spraying the carpet. The courier didn’t even wait for the head to hit the floor, as he moved towards the elevator.
Half a dozen clowns emerged from behind the lobby’s marble pillars, carrying silver plates, refreshments, and appetizers. “Dear guest, we must warn you that violence is forbidden during opening hours!” one of them addressed Ryan with an obsequious tone. “If you insist on misbehaving, we will have to show you the door!”
The courier called the elevator, and hit the fourth floor button. “Pick the place,” Ryan told the clowns, as the doors closed behind him. “It’s where you will die.”
The monsters kept grinning, but behind the empty smiles, there were knives.
A few minutes later, Ryan had reached Suitestown.
The sight of the long hallway leading into the hotel suites almost made Ryan feel nostalgic. Almost. He walked towards Room 44, and knocked on the metal door. “Simon!” he shouted, “Simon! I have a hamburger, and I’m not afraid to use it!”
The door immediately opened, and a shotgun raised at Ryan’s face. Simon was outfitted for combat, his leather armor still white with the alien blood of murdered clowns. “Who the hell are you?”
“‘Français par le sang versé,’” Ryan replied in French. “‘Le schleu est dans le garage.’”
Simon froze for a split second, before asking with skepticism: “‘Il n’a pas couru assez vite?’”
“‘Je l’ai laissé en Alsace,’” Ryan replied.
The sheriff lowered his weapon, astonished. “How do you know that password, rital?”
You told me, the courier almost blurted out. “A former friend of yours in the French Foreign Legion,” Ryan lied for simplicity’s sake, “I came to save you. According to my timing, everyone should be in their respective rooms right now.”
“How do you know that? Is this a commando operation? I thought the French government collapsed?”
“That’s what we make them think,” Ryan whispered ominously before moving inside the suite. Simon was too confused to protest, as the courier quickly moved in front of his tunnel.
Ryan opened his bag, brought out the resonator, and placed it in front of the hole Simon had spent his life digging. Technically, the device would have worked anywhere inside the pocket dimension, but the courier thought this particular location was poetically appropriate.
“You have a way out?” Simon asked with a tone Ryan never heard him use before. The emotion in the old man’s voice was one he had given up on a long time ago.
And as Ryan typed on the Resonator’s control panel and activated the device, he prayed not to disappoint it.
Light built up inside the cube’s hole, projecting a stream of light into the tunnel. Space itself warped around this energy stream, warping Simon’s hole into a shining hallway. Tension rose in the air, as if an evil force suddenly took notice of these events.
Ryan took this as a good sign.
After pulsating and twisting for half a minute, the hallway of light seemed to stabilize around the particle stream. Though he couldn’t see anything beyond the threshold, the courier sensed a faint, pleasant gust brush against his face.
“Is that…” Simon removed his helmet, unable to trust his own senses. His eyes had widened, and tears of relief formed at the edge of them. “Fresh air?”
Ryan activated his power, an opposing force pushing back...
And yet Monaco turned purple.
The Resonators had breached the pocket dimension.
“Who are you?” Simon asked when time resumed, unable to take his eyes off the portal. “Who are you?”
Quick, Ryan, think of a clever superhero name!
“I’m Quicksave,” Ryan declared confidently. “The boulder who rolls.”
Damn, that sounded way better in his mind.
A horribly familiar voice echoed through the floor’s loudspeakers, a promise of deadly retaliation.
“We regretfully inform you that due to the current Andorran invasion threatening our border, the Monte-Carlo will permanently close until further notice.” Far from professional, the voice sounded downright passive-aggressive this time around. “Please exit the suites, so our beloved staff can help you check-out.”
The sound of countless doors opening caused Ryan’s heart to skip a beat, as he rushed outside Simon’s home.
All the suites’ doors had snapped open, people looking through their thresholds in confusion. Ryan recognized so many faces, from Martine, to Jean, and Geoff, and Sally. The illusion of safety had been stripped away from them, and the lights started going out.
Monaco wouldn’t let them escape without a fight.
Ryan looked for what remained inside his bag: a metal mask with two rounded glasses for eyes, custom-made for the occasion.
“Game on, Pogo,” the courier said, as he put on the mask and activated the night vision mode. “Simon, evacuate everyone through the portal. I’ll take care of the comedy rejects downstairs.”
“Alone?” the gunman protested, clocking his shotgun. “You’re mad, I’m coming with you!”
“No, Simon,” Ryan said, as he moved towards the elevator with only his katana for a weapon. He would have blown it up if he didn’t know the place could repair itself. “You can’t fathom how long I’ve rehearsed this one-man show.”
As the elevator climbed down the floors towards the final showdown, the courier activated his MP3 and put on a cheerful song. “Nobody but me…” Ryan hummed to himself, as the elevator’s doors opened. He disliked that show, but it had an awesome intro.
The courier entered the lobby, and faced an army of clowns.
Hundreds of them had crawled out of the shadows, and into the casino’s main lobby; all carrying napkins around their neck. Ryan could scarcely see the giant roulette in the middle of the room, and the ceiling’s candelabras had all been extinguished.
The Monte-Carlo’s staff had grabbed all the weapons they could find. Silver cutlery; golf clubs; sushi knives; and even a few nightsticks. Their metallic masks kept smiling, though their grins had turned downright vicious.
And the only person standing between them and Suitestown, was one handsome courier.
“Monaco...” Ryan raised his katana, and uttered his war cry. “Monaco isn’t a real country!”
The smiling horde charged at him like a screaming chorus.
What followed was a whirlwind of blood and fury, as Ryan cut through the creatures like butter. His sword’s edge disemboweled five clowns in a single strike, thick white blood flowing from their wounds like a wine waterfall.
Two monsters attempted to shank him, one with a knife, the other with a fork. He threw one into the other, impaling the two in a single strike and causing them to drop their weapons. When a clown attempted to bypass him and reach the elevator, Ryan grabbed the knife and threw it behind him. The projectile hit the back of his target’s head, killing him instantly.
“The armies of Andorra will fail!” a frenzied voice shouted through the loudspeakers, as a berserk Ryan killed clowns left and right. “Pledge your life to Monaco! Glory to Jean-Stéphanie! The Monte-Carlo shall stand forever!”
“Where are my winnings?!” Ryan snarled as he smashed a clown’s head against the floor, his face smearing the giant roulette below their feet. “What do I win?”
He froze time in quick succession to dodge two knife strikes, only to notice something coming from his left when the clock resumed tickling. One platinum-faced clown had thrown a silver plate at the courier like a frisbee, with enough force to turn it into a deadly weapon.
Ryan barely had the time to blink, before the projectile hit his neck and sliced it in half.
Time and again.
The second time around, Ryan dodged the plate, grabbed it in midair, and threw it back at the sender. The improvised frisbee snapped the monster’s skull open.
Ryan parried a golf club’s swing, then another swing. His foe’s short game was good, but the courier cut his hands off with a stroke of his own. He leaped around, dodging strikes and swings, countering, killing, swirling. His sword was one with his body, his focus unparalleled.
Three clowns tackled him by surprise and threw him to the ground, as a fourth crushed his head with a giant token.
Three clowns fell with one swing, and the fourth’s legs were sliced clean. His own token crushed him, and Ryan stomped on the body.
Dozens he had slain, and more followed. A lifetime of suffering he avenged. Backs were smashed against pillars, shrimps force-fed down a throat. Wine bottles flew, and plates shattered. His fury couldn’t be quenched.
The bloody floor turned slippery, and yet Ryan kept going with a grin.
Each life he took was a pleasure greater than sex. Each strike carried the weight of a century of pain, the exaltation of a performance rehearsed for years. The hyenas that hounded him for decades fell like flies before his blade, and he couldn’t put into words how amazing it felt.
He killed many clowns, but more took their place. An endless tide of death, but he would cut them down all the same.
“Tonight, we have the pleasure of introducing veteran entertainers from the International Circus Festival of Monte-Carlo!” The loudspeaker’s voice said with fear, as its mooks perished. “Everyone, please applaud... the acrobats!”
Four shadows leaped amidst the carnage, clown faces atop black bodysuits. They wielded swords, and into the fray, they charged. They threw shurikens at Ryan’s face, and with his blade he parried them.
Swords clashed, and on one he was impaled!
A sword swing he dodged, and a ninja he slew!
Time froze and began again. He raged and cursed as he parried, dodged, and struggled. They pushed him back, back against the wall. And his blood they shed.
And Ryan tried again!
Again, and again!
Their blades clashed in a storm of steel, but Ryan was pushing them back, and the clowns no longer grinned.
Each run made him a little faster, a little deadlier. Each sneak attack he dodged, each strike he countered. Each opportunity he exploited. None could harm him, but every one of his strikes landed a kill. No breath was wasted, no step was for nothing. He stole a second sword, for double the pain.
“It’s impossible… nobody ever expects the clown ninjas!”
The loudspeaker’s voice screamed in rage, and the courier laughed.
More minibosses came, firecrackers and magicians, strongmen and ringmasters. All of them Ryan faced, and none lived to tell the tale.
All his foes fell, until only one remained. His rounded hat Ryan coveted, and he would not be denied. Against the statue of Jean-Stephanie the clown was pushed, and under which he was crushed!
The massacre finished, the song ended. Ryan gathered his breath, a hill of corpses before him, and frightened clowns behind.
“Well.” Ryan looked over his shoulder at his future victims, drenched in white blood. None of it was his own. “Up for more?”
The clowns had stopped smiling, and ran away screaming.
With a blissful smile, Ryan dropped his swords, grabbed his last victim’s rounded hat, and put it on his head over his mask. What a good souvenir it would make!
The courier returned to Suitestown, finding it almost empty. Only Simon remained, keeping watch over the portal with his shotgun raised. “You could have left some for me,” he said while glancing at the courier’s bloodied clothes. “I was about to go downstairs and help.”
“You know that the whole point of last stands, is that you’re not expected to survive them?” Ryan asked rhetorically. “Why didn’t you leave already?”
“You asked me to evacuate everyone,” the man replied, “you’re part of everyone.”
So nice. Ryan activated a code on the Resonator’s control panel, triggering the self-destruct sequence to make sure the clowns wouldn’t follow them outside. “Explosion in five minutes,” a digital voice came out of the device.
“How big?” Simon asked, quickly searching below his bar counter for his last belongings.
“Nuclear,” Ryan replied, as he grabbed his travel bag. As expected, Simon brought a pile of books as souvenirs, with a familiar one at the top. “The Myth of Sisyphus?”
“How did you know?” the old sheriff asked, suspicious.
Ryan chuckled, as they walked into the light. “Intuition.”
You won’t be missed.
“Are you sure you don’t want to stay?”
At the wheel of an old Renault Mégane II, Ryan replied with a negative. “There’s someone I’ve got to find,” he told Martine and Simon, as the two stood outside his window, “No offense, but that side-quest lasted long enough already.”
“I’m not familiar with the term,” Martine said, while Simon shrugged. “We owe you our lives. Whoever you are, you’ll always be welcome among us.”
Whoever you are.
Ryan glanced through his car’s window, and at the forty men and women he just saved today. The group had established a makeshift camp atop the Tête de Chien promontory, celebrating their freedom around a campfire. Monaco remained in the distance, a prison without captives.
It had been three days since the jailbreak, and nobody had been yanked back to the pocket dimension, even when they slept. Either the forceful escape had broken the pocket dimension’s power over its captives, or they would have to cross its frontier again like anyone else. No one was stupid enough to go back there.
From his point of view, he had lived with these people for over a century. He had learned all of their secrets, helped them through the darkest times, seen them react to all possible circumstances.
He knew Simon’s real name, the one he abandoned when he joined the French Foreign Legion. He knew what happened to his sons, the horrible past he tried to leave behind, and even the books he wanted to read, but never got around to.
He knew Martine’s hometown, the names she wanted to give her future children, her favorite movie, the one she loathed most, that she had always wanted to become a nurse but never could. He knew her deepest fears and greatest triumphs.
And they had just learned his name.
He knew these people better than they knew themselves, but he remained a stranger to them.
“Maybe we’ll keep in touch,” Ryan said, though he didn’t really believe it. “You know how to contact me.”
“If you need a favor, you just have to call,” the blonde woman smiled warmly at him, though there was a sadness to her gaze. She knew they were unlikely to meet again.
Simon watched as Martine rejoined the other survivors, remaining with Ryan a little longer. “Have we met before?” he asked Ryan. “I can tell you know me, but I don’t remember you.”
“Without false modesty, I’m unforgettable.”
“Yeah, you sure know how to make an introduction, freeing me from twelve years of captivity. Now, what’s your secret? Everything that happened so far seems a bit too… convenient.”
“I’m immortal,” Ryan confessed with a sigh, “but don’t tell anyone.”
Simon examined the time-traveler for a moment, before offering him an old, dusty book. “Here. Take this.”
Ryan expected a copy of The Myth of Sisyphus, but it was another book entirely. “Thus Spoke Zarathustra: A Book for All and None,” the courier read the cover’s title. “By Friedrich Nietzsche.”
“There’s a concept inside, the eternal recurrence, that I think you’ll like.”
Ryan looked into the older man’s wise, knowing gaze. “Thanks,” the courier said, before putting the book at the car’s back. “What will you do now?”
“Martine and the others will probably move west towards greener pastures, but I’ll stay here. My life is almost over, so I figure… someone has to watch over this place. Put fences all around this giant death trap, and make sure nobody wanders inside. Nobody ain’t goin’ past me, I can tell you. I’ve got experience with border duties.”
Ryan didn’t doubt that. “Well, if anybody wanders where they shouldn’t, give me a call.”
“Sure, p’tit rital,” Simon said, before patting the courier’s shoulder. “Don’t break your back climbing the hill.”
Ryan looked at Simon’s book, and then at its previous owner as he joined the Monaco survivors. The courier watched the bashful smiles on their face, the happy glances they sent one another. They had gone through Hell, and made it out. They would rebuild their lives, and begin again.
This… this was the perfect ending, for everyone.
Everyone but Ryan.
The courier froze time, and let it last more than ten seconds. Two periods converged, a flash of violet light swallowing the courier whole.
He lived through everything in the span of a second. This cursed century spent trapped in Monaco, and the shorter stays afterward. His years of research, all the pain, all the joy, and all the sorrow. All these moments that could have been, but that only Ryan remembered. He took all his memories into himself, and they would live on through him.
Time resumed abruptly, the past set in stone, and the save point moved into the present.
His Perfect Run complete, Ryan drove into the sunset and didn’t look back.