Ryan drove his Plymouth Fury through dilapidated streets, while his partner-in-crime explained the plan in the back. He had put on the bowler hat, like a crown of pain and destruction.
“When Psyshock dies, the bunker will go in high alert,” Livia explained, checking on her phone. Cancel waited on the other side of the line to execute the metal squid. “According to Ryan, Adam the Ogre explicitly ordered the Land to close the bunker’s entrance if intruders get too close to it. This means we have only a short time window to either take down the Land, or reach the base’s entrance before she can close it.”
“How long?” Shroud asked, trying to disguise his voice by making it rougher.
“Minutes,” Livia replied.
“How do we prevent her from noticing our approach?” The vigilante was always such a downer. “Her range extends for miles. I checked.”
“The good thing about Ghoul, is that like with Lego toys,” Ryan said while opening the glovebox, “he comes in many parts.”
A skeletal foot wriggled within it.
“Oh, I wondered where the rest of him had gone,” Shroud noted from the backseat.
“W-what is this, Sifu?” The Panda asked, disturbed.
“It’s like a rabbit foot, it brings luck.” Ryan glanced at Fortuna in the rearview mirror. “Though less than the living charm over here.”
“Thank you for recognizing my superiority, though it is obvious,” Fortuna said with smug pride. “And this is disgusting.”
Ryan froze time and tossed the severed foot at her lap, causing Lucky Girl to scream when the clock resumed. She made a cute sound and grabbed Shroud on instinct, much to the vigilante’s confusion. He seemed torn between reassuring her and annoyance.
“I have a hand in the trunk, if you prefer it,” the courier mocked the blonde.
“I will show you a hand!” Fortuna complained before throwing the foot at the driver. She would have aimed true too, if Ryan didn’t freeze time to catch the projectile. “I will slap you in the face!”
“Anyway, as long as we have her tenant’s body parts in the car, the landowner won’t pay attention to us.” Ryan put the foot back in the glovebox. “She will think Psypsy picked Ghoul up and they’re now returning home. At least, until we crash through their front door.”
Livia answered with a nod. “The Reptilian, Acid Rain, Gemini, and the thralls should protect the Junkyard’s surface, while the rest of the gang is in standby inside their base. Psyshock’s execution will free his victims, the Reptilian shouldn’t be a problem, and I can handle Acid Rain.”
Ryan blinked. “You can?”
Though he couldn’t see her face with her helmet on, the courier was pretty sure Livia grinned in response. “I can see where she teleports before she does.”
In the end, the life of a Genome was a giant game of Rock-Paper-Scissors. One power trumped another, forming a delicate, complex web.
And then you had people like Lightning Butt, who just plain cheated at life.
“Gemini and the Land don’t have any hard counters though,” Livia said, as the group came within sight of the Junkyard’s walls of car piles and trash. “Fortuna, Shroud, can you take care of them?”
“Leave it to us, Livy,” Fortuna replied before frowning. “Now that I think of it, I should get a pseudonym too. I would have taken Diana if Felix hadn’t run off, but…”
“You should choose a name that fits yourself, not others’ desires,” Shroud said.
“You’re right, but I should get something that my boyfriend will like, since we’ll spend our lives together,” Fortuna said while checking her phone. “I’ll harass him with suggestions until he likes one!”
Ryan could tell that the boyfriend in question was strongly resisting the urge to facepalm, doubly so as the Panda started offering suggestions of his own. “How about Lady Luck?” the manbear proposed. “The Legend?”
“I would have said Almost-Invincible, but the last half is already taken,” the courier joked at the front.
“Excuse you? Almost Invincible?” Fortuna sneered arrogantly. “Nobody can hurt me. I’m the world’s luckiest woman.”
The memory of the blonde model bleeding out after Pluto shot her in the chest flashed through Ryan’s mind. “Only if another Yellow isn’t involved, Goldie,” Ryan said. “The Land is one, and you should stay as far away from her as possible, least you find your luck running out.”
“That can’t happen.”
“It can,” Livia said, shocking her best friend. “The Land is a Yellow/Orange Psycho who can gain conceptual dominion over an area, and this control trumps yours over luck.”
Ryan’s brief presidential term had given him insight into the Meta-Gang’s operations and abilities. In particular, he had learned that the Land could also telekinetically manipulate earth, but her precision was inversely proportional to her range. While she was near impossible to destroy while fused to the earth’s soil, she could only create quakes in that state. However, this power combination also made the Land Fortuna’s natural counter.
“Your power is a guardian angel,” Ryan told Lucky Girl. “But like all Yellow powers, it follows esoteric rules. Which means it’s nonsensical, but with its own internal logic.”
“I don’t get it,” Fortuna said with a frown.
Her boyfriend caught on though. “Your power alters probability and events to protect you, under the guise of luck,” Shroud explained. “But the Land has supreme spiritual control over an area. By that logic, its authority is higher than your power’s in her territory.”
“So she can harm me?” Fortuna asked shyly, her pride replaced with doubt. She felt suddenly a lot less confident about this mission, but Livia reassured her by holding her hand.
“You will live, if your…” Livia trailed off, glancing at Shroud. “Your partner protects you during the battle. The Land will need to take back physical form to use her full terrakinesis, which will give you an opening to take her down.”
“A deal is a deal,” Shroud said, though the main reason he ended up with Fortuna was due to her power foiling his assassination attempts. “Unlike your kind, we do not betray our alliance in the middle of a fight. If you have my back, I will have yours.”
“You better!” Fortuna said, regaining her bravery. “If I die, I swear I will haunt you!”
Ryan suddenly wondered how the Land and Geist’s abilities would interact, and folded the idea away into a corner of his mind. Maybe the former could exorcise the latter, especially since his power anchored him to an area too.
In any case, if they could take out the Land, then the Meta-Gang didn’t have anyone capable of bringing down Lucky Girl. With that walking four-leaf clover on their side, the battle would be as good as won.
Gemini and Ink Machine would be the hardest to contain due to their abnormal physiology, followed by Frank. Ryan could take care of his former bodyguard, but he could only hope Fortuna and her long-suffering boyfriend could deal with the former two. He had also informed the Panda of his power’s regeneration, so he could pull his weight in the battle to come.
Which would start within seconds, as the Plymouth Fury finally reached the Junkyard’s entrance fence. The Reptilian and Gemini stood watch over the entrance, with Lizard-boy’s reptilian eyes squinting as the car approached.
Ryan hoped for one of them to shout ‘you shall not pass’, and was deeply disappointed when they didn’t.
“Lucky girl!” The courier kept one hand on the driver’s wheel, and tossed Len’s water rifle at Fortuna with the other. “Aim for the eyes!”
“Go get them!” Livia encouraged her best friend, while Fortuna opened the windows with a grin.
“Stop right there!” The Reptilian panicked, but Ryan answered by accelerating. “Stop!”
Fortuna fired at the Psychos with the water rifle as the car passed, not even bothering to aim. Her projectiles hit true nonetheless, trapping the Reptilian in a sphere of water. The water phased through Gemini however, the ethereal woman of light vanishing as the car approached. Her monstrous shadow chased after the Plymouth Fury, but not quickly enough to make a difference.
Ryan raced through the Junkyard’s labyrinth of forking trash walls and twisted turns. He still carried the reflexes from his first suicide run, and experienced an impression of déjà vu. Someone should sound the alarm in five, four...
“Now!” Livia said, typing on her phone.
No bell raised the alarm.
Cancel must have executed Psyshock on the spot, freeing the thralls and sowing confusion into the ranks. Ryan didn’t understand how much until they reached the bunker’s entrance without the Land stopping them; Acid Rain guarded the tunnel leading beneath the Junkyard, and instantly summoned her toxic clouds above their hands.
“Thieves!” she shouted at the Plymouth Fury’s sight, her face twisted into an expression of frothing fury as she drew two knives. “Thieves at the gates!”
Fortuna opened fire at her with the water rifle, but the Land seemed to have finally noticed the intrusion. The Junkyard trembled as an earthquake shook its foundations, tossing trash and collapsing car walls. A golden shroud became visible around Fortuna, like an angel’s halo.
A similar glow surrounded her bubble projectile, but flickered in and out of sight. Acid Rain managed to dodge the attack, just as the Land’s invisible pressure overwhelmed Ryan’s crew; it felt like being out in the woods, stalked by a wolf pack. The courier abruptly stopped the car near the bunker’s entrance. “Go, go, go!” he shouted, all but leaping out of the vehicle.
“Y-yes!” The Panda opened his door and transformed as soon as he could, while Livia stepped out more calmly. Shroud attempted to open his car’s door to fly into the fray, but the lock refused to move. He grumbled at Fortuna, as he carried her in his hands like a bride through the opposing door.
Good thing he did too, as Acid Rain’s toxic raindrops fell from the skies while the Land caused a nearby trashwall to collapse near the Plymouth Fury. Ryan, Livia, and the Panda quickly moved out of the way, while the flying Shroud carried his beloved above the ground Superman-style. Acid Rain’s raindrops miraculously dropped where he wasn’t.
The Plymouth Fury wasn’t so lucky though.
“My car!” Ryan screamed in horror, as piles of trash entombed his beautiful companion. “You killed my car!”
Again! Did the Meta-Gang have a vendetta against Chrysler?
“Fortuna, give me the rifle!” Livia shouted at Fortuna, who tossed the water weapon at her best friend. No sooner did the Augusti princess catch it that Acid Rain teleported behind her, knives raised. The Panda attempted to pounce on her, but wouldn’t reach her in time.
So Ryan stopped it.
“Sorry Helen,” the courier said, as he put on the Fisty Brothers and quickly activated his time-stop. Acid Rain’s eyes widened upon hearing her real name, but she teleported out of range before the clock could freeze. The courier quickly grabbed the paralyzed Livia and moved her out of the way, in case the teleporter flanked her again.
Acid Rain reappeared the second time resumed, her weapons lunging for Ryan’s throat. “You piece of shit!” she snarled, as a shiver went down the courier’s spine. “I’ll gut you like a—”
Time skipped forward.
When Ryan regained consciousness, he found himself a few steps away from his starting location, and Acid Rain’s knife stabbed the transformed Panda’s arm; though her blade cut deep, it didn’t do much to slow down a seven hundred kilo behemoth.
Acid Rain herself barely had the time to blink as Livia pulled the water rifle’s trigger, the Augusti princess having positioned herself right behind the teleporter. A sphere of water swallowed Helen, and when she attempted to teleport away atop a hill of junk, the prison followed her. Acid Rain covered her mouth in an attempt to hold her breath, as she and the bubble rolled down the trash pile.
It had been too late to save Ryan’s bowler hat though. Acid raindrops had wormed a hole in it, and slightly damaged Livia’s suit.
“She tried to stab you,” the Augusti princess said while the Panda removed the knife in his arm. Livia’s secondary power allowed her to skip time forward, creating an anomaly where everyone followed their predestined actions like sleepwalkers while she could adjust her own. Ryan, though, couldn’t be interacted with in that state. “The blade phased through you.”
“How did she behave in the erased time?” Ryan asked, glancing at a flying Shroud and Fortuna. The Land seemed to have singled them out as the real danger, trying to bury them beneath debris to no avail.
“She teleported away when I activated my power, but since I can predict her actions with my Blue power, I simply had to wait for her to reappear.” Livia rushed at the bunker’s entrance tunnel, which the Land had started collapsing with a quake. “And now we must act!”
“Pandawan, with me!” Ryan shouted at his sidekick, while shouting one last observation to Lucky Girl and Looking Glass. “Windshield, the Land controls the land! I don’t think her power affects people in the air!”
“I wasn’t gonna let her go anyway,” the glass manipulator replied. He looked truly dashing, holding his girlfriend like a bride before the altar. He would soon have to walk the talk too, as Ryan noticed Gemini’s shadow slither into the Junkyard’s center.
Fortuna didn’t seem to like it one bit though. “I know how you feel,” she told her masked beau, her arms around his neck. “You fell for me at first sight. Don’t worry, I get that all the time.”
“That couldn’t be farther from the truth,” Shroud replied with heavy sarcasm, gathering a cloud of glass shards from the trash walls to throw at Gemini.
“I get that all the time,” his oblivious girlfriend repeated, deaf to both sarcasm and common sense. “The sight of me dazzled you, because you are poor and your life is meaningless. But though you have that dark, mysterious charm, it cannot be. I am not the kind of girl that cheats on her boyfriend with the first mysterious stranger!”
“That shouldn’t be a problem,” Ryan heard Shroud deadpan back, before the courier entered the tunnel with the transformed Panda rushing at his heels.
Ryan hoped they could manage the Land and Gemini, but Livia didn’t seem worried. She must have seen them prevail in her visions. In any case, the courier’s group quickly arrived in front of the bunker’s blast door, while the earth walls around them threatened to collapse. A pack of Dynamis dog drones immediately ambushed them.
“Spring roll attack!” The Panda shouted as he outpaced his teammates and pounded on the robots like a rolling boulder, flattening one of the machines. Two others attempted to flank Livia, and rushed at her with iron jaws.
“Heavier caliber?” Ryan asked Livia before tossing her his coil gun. His accomplice grabbed the weapon in her right hand while holding her water rifle with the other. Though she was no talented marksman, she shot one drone with precision, blowing off its head; most probably her power helped with aiming.
The other machine was within an inch of closing its iron jaws around Livia’s neck, but Ryan froze time and punched it with Fisty. The blow sent the metal hound crashing against a wall when time resumed.
Individually their abilities were powerful, but together, they were invincible. The sheer synergy had turned this whole raid’s difficulty from hard to easy. “We should strongly consider taking over the world with our combined powers,” Ryan told Livia. “None shall stand in our way!”
“Which of us gets America?” the mafia princess asked a hard question. “I take the south, you take the north?”
“Or we marry and we share everything.” He couldn’t help himself but flirt with ladies mid-battle.
To his surprise, Livia teased him back. “Only if you conquer France for our honeymoon.”
The Panda, who had summarily crushed the remaining drones while screaming his attacks’ names, looked at the duo in horror. “Sifu, you aren’t considering turning to the dark side?”
“Nah, it’s purely hypothetical,” Ryan reassured him while the trio crossed the blast door, the tunnel collapsing behind them. The Land had closed the bunker’s entrance for now, trapping them inside.
“Unless…” Livia left her sentence hanging, looking at Ryan. He immediately caught on.
Unless they tried in another loop?
Ryan had worried bringing in more people through loops would limit his options, but a time-traveling buddy opened so many possibilities. “You know what, how about we take some holiday time after we finish work?” It had been a while since he had gone on a vacation loop, but it would be perfect to de-stress after all these doomsday scenarios. “I will show you places you can’t even imagine.”
“That would be fun,” Livia replied with a warm, delightful chuckle. The seer seemed to enjoy this raid as much as the one on Star Studio, and somehow her good mood only reinforced Ryan’s. “Though we should find a team name.”
“Crimson World?” Ryan happily suggested.
“Two Violets do not make a red, Ryan,” Livia giggled in return, as they crossed the metal corridor leading towards the recreational area. The invisible pressure of the Land’s power vanished, either because Looking Glass managed to force her to manifest or because her power’s range stopped at the bunker’s entrance. “How about Lady and Knight?”
“Crimson Queen and Purple World?”
“Are you two together?” the Panda asked, unable to suppress his curiosity. “You look so cute, it makes me fuzzy inside.”
“Not yet,” Ryan joked, before glancing at the reinforced windows on both sides of the path. The area had fallen into complete chaos, with Psyshock’s thralls having collapsed unconscious after their brainwasher’s demise.
Most importantly, Shortie had risen from the bunker’s sea access in full power armor, and took the Psychos by surprise. Ryan noticed a few familiar faces like Pale Guy and Fuckface trapped in water spheres, but his best friend struggled with Rakshasa and Ink Machine. The former summoned gremlins faster than the underwater Genius could trap them in water bubbles, while the latter harassed her in close combat, stretching her liquid limbs into axes.
“No, not yet,” Livia said, her tone changing from teasing to serious. “She can handle them, Ryan. But only if we take down Adam and Frank quickly enough, or else there will be casualties.”
The courier nodded. Though this loop was a test run for the final bunker raid, he couldn’t let any innocents die if he could help it.
Ryan’s thoughts turned to what he would do after New Rome. He came to this city expecting to either return to wandering the Earth if he couldn’t find Shortie, or settle down with her if he did. In the end, while he and Len reconciled, they couldn’t return to the happy, blissful romance they once shared. The wheel of time had turned. They would remain close family, but no more than brother and sister.
Ryan was happy with it, but he wondered if he would stay with Len and the orphans after solving the crisis in New Rome. Adventure was in his blood, and he yearned for new experiences. At one point, the courier had found a lively partner in Jasmine, who shared his sensibilities, but… but she was gone.
For the first time in a long while, Ryan wondered what he wanted to do with his life, now that he had friends who could remember him. And he had the intuition Livia was the key to figuring it out.
But these questions could wait for later.
The trio rushed into the recreational area, finding the atrium deserted. Though the Street Fighters arcade game was mercifully intact, alongside the bar, no group of Psychos barred the group’s path. Perhaps Shortie had already dealt with the main defenders, or some had perished trying to access the bunker.
The moment of respite lasted until the elevator’s door opened, and a colossal figure with carbon skin walked into the atrium.
“I am sorry.” Big Fat Adam said as he walked out of the elevator, with Sarin and Frank in tow. He carried some strange, coiled cannon in hands, probably salvaged from Mechron’s armory. “That is not an exit.”
“Indeed, fatass,” Ryan replied, Livia taking position at his side while the Panda let out a fearsome roar.
This time, Hannifat Lecter had nowhere to run.