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They crashed into Dynamis’ HQ, like Fat Man into Nagasaki.

Vulcan had been kind enough to equip the Saturn Armor with a small jetpack, but Len’s aquatic suit had no such boon. The beefed-up Mosquito instead carried her in his arms, as they crashed through Dynamis’ windows too fast for the security drones outside to react.

The President would have loved to enter through the cashmere production facility on the twentieth floor, but that would have meant fighting his way through forty more. Instead, they entered through floor sixty, the last one without any reinforced windows.

“Don’t worry, guys,” Ryan said, as he, Len, and Mosquito faced an army of office workers behind cubic desks. Guards in power armor protected two elevators. “We’ve got a search warrant.”

Automated cameras immediately focused on the trio, while acid rain clouds formed outside the building. Alarms resonated in the room, Dynamis workers hiding below their desks while the guards opened fire. Ryan almost dodged on reflex, before reminding himself that his armor should resist lasers.

So instead, the president smugly walked forward like a terminator, shrugging off the guards’ attacks. Mosquito, less dramatic, grabbed the closest desk and threw it at the security staff. The building shook, as the Land caused a miniature quake and the other Meta-Gang members assaulted the building from the reception hall.

However, Ryan caught a glimpse of a flyer rushing towards the building from the neighboring Optimates Tower. The red-skinned Devilry unleashed streams of flame from her feet like a rocket’s reactor, a furious look on her face. Acid raindrops turned to steam upon touching her warm skin.

“Take cover!” Len shouted, using her Genius-made rifle to close the windows with a wall of water. Devilry vaporized it with a fireball, and prepared to incinerate the entire floor.

“Security!” Ryan shouted, as he disarmed the remaining guards with a combination of time-stops and armored fists to the face.

“On it!” Mosquito flew out of the window right as metal panels closed them off, pulverizing most of the ceiling as he did. His attempt to tackle Devilry failed miserably, the pyrokinetic moving out of his path and preparing to blast him off with a fireball.

However, Acid Rain suddenly teleported behind the flyer and quickly shot her feet before disappearing to safety. Devilry lost control of her flight for a second, allowing Mosquito to slam her against the building.

Ryan left his men to handle the superhero, while he quickly disarmed the remaining guards and let Len trap them inside water bubbles. By the time metal panels covered every window, the president tossed a desk over to reveal an office manager hiding beneath. A golden keycard dangled from his neck.

“I will be borrowing that.” Instead of taking it off the man, the courier simply grabbed the card and dragged the terrified wearer along towards the elevator. “Incognito, Doll?”

“On it!” His gynoid friend answered, data showing up on the courier’s lenses as he examined the keycard.

Earlier during the loop, Ryan sent the Psycho Incognito to infiltrate Dynamis’ HQ. His Blue ability forced others to perceive him as anyone else of his choice, though he couldn’t fool all their security systems. Still, combined with the president’s own hacking, Incognito had managed to slip inside the HQ and gained access to the building’s main servers.

Combined with Tea and Alchemo’s long-distance assistance from the submarine, the group quickly reprogrammed the building’s access authorizations.

“Alright, guys, all keycards should grant access to any floor now,” Ryan informed his team through his helmet’s intercom. “Sarin, my dear, how are things going on your end?”

“We’ll catch up in a minute,” she answered, shockwaves and explosions echoing from her side of the line. “Shouldn’t take long.”

“Wonderful,” Ryan replied, before applying the keycard against the elevator’s security system. The doors opened, and this time the president seized the keycard for himself and left the manager alone.

“Thank you for your cooperation,” Ryan thanked the manager, as the elevator’s doors closed behind him and Len. His Genius friend clicked on floor sixty-six, their lift moving up.

“You think they expected us?” Len asked, readying her water rifle.

“Yes, but all the heavy hitters moved to Rust Town,” Ryan said, putting the card in one of his armor’s hidden compartments. “Besides Devilry, they should only have the juniors on standby.”

Though he did wonder how many heroes Dynamis had left to throw at the invaders. Wyvern’s shocking departure had caused a wave of resignations among Il-Migliore, and even in the Private Security.

When the elevator’s doors to Lab Sixty-Six opened, the President expected to face an entire battalion's worth of corporate stormtroopers. Victims against whom he could test the full power of his armor, in preparation for whatever horrors awaited inside Dr. Tyrano’s lair.

Instead, Ryan found himself standing in a colossal beast’s dread shadow. An ancient titan from the west and east, from the lost magical land of Zhongguo; a guardian protecting a reinforced blast door so heavy that even a giant couldn’t lift it. The monster’s head reached the metal ceiling, while his fur was as white as his victims’ bones, and as pitch black as his soul.

“So,” the giant bear said, his voice echoing with the power of the world’s ancestors. “We meet at last, villain!”

The fools at Dynamis had summoned the Panda.

“I love your new armor!” And Wardrobe too, to Ryan’s delight. “The ears are cute!”

Ryan and Len calmly stepped out of the elevator and into a hall of concrete separating the floor’s entry points from a thick blast door. Cameras and two automated turrets dangled from the ceiling, watching the intruders. Three fearsome guardians stood between the forces of the United States, and their objective: the Panda, Ryan’s most powerful rogue; Wardrobe, wearing a black and white Brioni tuxedo; and Reload, wielding a laser blade and eager for payback.

Ryan recognized Wardrobe’s outfit, gasping in shock and delight. “I thought James Bond was copyrighted worldwide?”

“Me too,” she said. “But not in Canada!”

Those hockey-loving traitors! “Well, now I know which country we’re invading next week.”

“Step aside,” Len said with her weapon raised, not in the mood for jokes. “You’re fighting on the wrong side.”

“The wrong side?” Reload snarled angrily. “You brought New Rome to its knees and threatened it with a nuclear bomb!”

“And your boss mass-marketed a Psycho in a bottle, who is waiting right beyond that blast door by the way,” Ryan pointed out. While Reload didn’t believe him, both Wardrobe and the Panda clearly winced. “It’s the pot calling the kettle black!”

“As if I would believe that!” Reload snarled, weapon raised. “I don’t know what evidence you fabricated to mislead Wyvern, but no way I’m trusting a deranged Psycho warlord!”

“The Panda is the only one who can stop you,” the Panda said grimly. “Even if he must ally with a lesser evil to do so.”

Wait, did he believe Ryan’s words on TV? Did Dynamis believe him? Either that or they had to recruit anyone they could find. Still, the president didn’t have the heart to correct the manbear.

“I’m sorry, but they arrested my girlfriend when they realized she took money from you, and I have to play nice to get her out,” Wardrobe said, raising a Walther PPK at Ryan’s armored head. “Nora is pissed you used her by the way. That was mean of you!”

Oh? Argh, Ryan didn’t think of that. He had no intention of endangering the Architect in his schemes. “I shall buy her forgiveness… with AUSTRALIA!”

Wardrobe carefully considered the proposition. “I think she would prefer France, is France on the table?”

“For Nora, everything is on the table,” Ryan reassured her.

“Sweet, you can tell her that when I bring you in!”

Reload let out a shout of rage, blade raised, as he charged at the President without any regard for diplomatic protocol. Ryan lazily glanced at him with utter disdain, while Len pressed her water rifle’s trigger. A second later, the hero floated inside a bubble of pressurized water, his laser blade on the ground.

Wardrobe opened fire without skipping a beat, aiming for the Saturn Armor’s lenses. Ryan quickly dodged, while Reload was trapped in a cycle of death by drowning, followed by rebirth.

“Mr. President…” The Panda tried to look brave and confident, but the poor manbear couldn’t hide his fear. He raised his paws and adopted a kung fu stance. “I… I’ll fight you, in Justice’s name!”

“I am Saturn now.” Ryan flexed his unlimited power, by raising an authoritarian fist raised to the heavens. “You expected to face a president, but instead, you’ve found a god!”

“God or not, you won’t get past me!” The Panda leaped at Ryan with all his might, while Wardrobe kept providing cover fire. “You won’t get past the Panda!”

Ryan raised his hands, roaring as he prepared to meet his destiny.

Pop, pop.

Ryan froze in place, as he faced two bubbles of pressurized water. Len had shot both heroes with her weapon.

The time-traveler had heard pandas were wonderful, elegant swimmers, but… not this one. His short legs wagged in the water bubble keeping him imprisoned, the bear unable to fight the intense pressure; Len had improved the design after Ryan informed her Psyshock could still move inside them. Wardrobe wasn’t doing any better, though she changed to a mermaid outfit to avoid passing out.

Ryan sighed, glaring at his partner. “Shortie…”

“What?” she asked, confused.

“Shortie, I love you, you know that,” Ryan said, pointing a finger at the three trapped heroes in the room, “but you can’t bubble all your problems away.”

“Riri, we are on a schedule,” she replied, unapologetic. “My father… my father is beyond this door.”

“Yes, I know, but… look, Shortie, it’s like strolling through a garden without smelling the flowers. You’re missing the important part.”

Even the defensive turrets opening fire on them didn’t improve Ryan’s mood, the weapons failed to pierce the duo’s armors. The president raised his arms at them to reveal Vulcan’s hidden lasers, blasting the defenses to smithereens.

Splash!

Ryan turned around to see Wardrobe wearing a toga and a coral crown, a trident of light in her hand. The water that kept her contained swirled around her weapon like a liquid snake.

Poseidon’s costume.

Before Wardrobe could point her weapon at her trapped allies’ bubbles and free them, the courier quickly moved to disarm her with a kick. Her trident vanished into dust particles the second it left her hand, the water falling on the ground.

Yuki switched costumes to that of a ninja in order to leap away from the courier and dodge another bubble from Len. Ryan raised a hand to prevent his sidekick from interfering. “Open the door, Shortie,” he said, eager for a duel. “I shall take good care of her.”

“You underestimate my power!” Wardrobe replied, picking up Reload’s laser blade and switching her costume for a fencer’s one.

“Look, I swear we will free your girlfriend on our way out,” Ryan said. “I’m a villain with class, I don’t endanger my nemesis’ family. Just don’t hate me over that blunder.”

“I don’t!” Wardrobe replied while doing some footwork. “I believe you, and Enrique confirmed it! If they didn’t have Nora, I would have walked out like Felix did!”

Wardrobe was only making a token effort at defending the place, to keep up appearances. No wonder she didn’t bring out the apocalypse suit, or the Augustus costume.

In that case, he would make it a performance.

“So be it,” Ryan replied while revealing hidden switchblades hidden in his armor’s arms. Wardrobe’s eyes widened at the sight, realizing she would get the duel of her dreams. “I shall show you the true nature of the Oval Office!”

The two duelists appraised each other for a solid minute, before charging at each other with roars. Len ignored them both, as she started cutting open the blast door with a stream of pressurized water.

A solid laser clashed against Mechron-made steel, neither able to penetrate the other. The duo danced to the tune of a song that only existed in their head, though Ryan hummed Duel of the Fates to himself. Wardrobe leaped, and sidestepped, and pierced forward. The president pushed, smashed, and forced her back.

The blades drew lines in the concrete walls, sending sparkles everywhere as they clashed. No word could describe the deadly duel they engaged in. Wardrobe channeled all sword masters who had ever lived, moving with the grace of water. Ryan fought with experience accumulated over centuries, a perfect style honed through countless iterations. They were evenly matched.

But Sarin had been right about one thing.

Ryan cheated.

The president stopped time, and when it resumed, he pointed Wardrobe’s own blade at her throat. The defeated hero took a step back in surprise, hitting the wall behind her.

“You are beaten, it is useless to resist me,” Ryan declared, taking deep, powerful breaths. “Don’t make me cut off your hand.”

Wardrobe looked at him defiantly, rebel scum to the end. “Do you expect me to die, Mr. President?”

“No, Miss Bond.”

He retracted his blades, threw away his sword, grabbed Wardrobe by the waist, and pulled her closer.

“I expect you to marry me.”

Wardrobe covered her mouth with her hands in shock at his proposal, while Len abruptly stopped her work to look over her shoulder. The president ignored his childhood friend and focused on his archenemy.

“Marry me, Wardrobe,” Ryan said, losing himself in Yuki’s beautiful eyes. “You’re the perfect partner. The only one who understands who I am. Together... together we can rule the galaxy, as husband and wife!”

“I’m sorry,” Wardrobe apologized, tears in her eyes and hands on her nemesis’ cashmere poncho. “I know we have that raw sexual chemistry going on, but I’m already taken!”

“I’m a Mormon,” Ryan reassured her softly, “I can make bigamy work.”

She gently touched his helmet’s left side, shaking her own head in denial. “No harems on my watch, silly.”

Ryan’s heart broke in his chest, as his mad hopes of a hero-supervillain romance were utterly dashed. She was too loyal, too pure, to embrace the dark side.

“But we can totally stay good archnemeses, even if I will probably get fired soon,” Wardrobe reassured him with a low voice so the cameras wouldn’t hear, before shouting, “I will never join you! Never!”

“So be it, hero!” Ryan deftly hit her in the chest and neck to activate her pressure points. Wardrobe collapsed in his arms like a sponge, the supervillain carefully laying her against the nearest wall.

By now, Len had managed to carve a circle in the blast door, though the enormous gate of metal refused to fall. “What was… what was I looking at?” she asked her best friend.

Ryan sobbed. “A tragedy.”

Damn it, why was she already taken? There was no justice in this world!

Instead of answering, Shortie shook her head. Ryan had the feeling she was sulking for some reason. “Help me kick down the door.”

Ryan did so, but neither armored warriors were strong enough to open the hole through the thick metal. The president hesitated to use his chest blaster to get around the problem, only to hear the elevators open behind him. He half-expected a battalion of Dynamis men to try to ambush them.

Instead, Sarin and Mongrel moved into the hall. Hazmat Girl barely took a glance at the room before figuring out the situation, raising her hands at the metal door. “Move out.”

Ryan and Len hastily obeyed, right before Sarin blasted a hole into the next room.

The group finally took their first step into Lab Sixty-Six, an immaculate, sterilized white room fifty meters in length and twenty in width. The sound of metallic clinks echoed around them, as automated medical drones took care of thrumming machines and terminals.

A claustrophobic, medical assembly line stretched as far as they could see, and continued into the next room. Colored Knockoff Elixir bottles came out of a metal hole right next to a door equipped with a bioscanner. Robotic arms stamped the bottles with Dynamis’ logo and moved them into various crates ready for delivery.

Ryan glanced around looking for guards or defenders, but didn’t find any. It appeared Dynamis only trusted machines inside this facility, perhaps due to the danger of Elixir contamination or theft.

“Where are the others?” Len asked Sarin, as the group moved into the laboratory.

“Frank is climbing up the other shaft,” Hazmat Girl replied with a scoff. “He was too big to fit inside the elevator. The others are holding the line downstairs.”

“So this is the place, huh?” Mongrel asked, as he examined the next room. “Where’s the Genius in charge?”

“Probably beyond this door,” Ryan said, as they walked along the assembly line to reach its end. Unfortunately, his keycard didn’t work on the door’s bioscanner. As Nora warned him one loop ago, the laboratory used its own secure computer system. “President calling to VP, please blow that door open. I can smell reptilian immigrants behind it.”

“Rya—Mr. President!” Acid Rain called through Ryan’s intercom, though he could barely hear her with the interference. “He’s here, on the roof! He’s fighting Mosquito!”

Ryan tensed up in alarm. “Whom? Hargraves?”

He didn’t have to wonder for long. The entrance hall’s ceiling collapsed, someone having smashed their way through the floors above like a drill into the ground. The impact had blown dust into the laboratory, with Sarin, Len, and Mongrel all forming a defensive perimeter around their president.

The Saturn armor let out an alarm sound, as it detected an abnormal amount of radiation flowing into the room.

“You’re going all-in, huh?” A towering shadow emerged from the smoke, tossing away Mosquito’s charbroiled corpse while acid raindrops slipped inside the building. “Well, I’m calling your bet, muties.”

Alphonse ‘Fallout’ Manada stepped past the blast door and into the laboratory, his hands shining with deadly radiation.

“Time to die.”

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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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