Ryan wondered how many lives Felix ‘Atom Cat’ Veran had left.
He had died at the Meta-Gang’s hands at least twice, once to Fallout’s bombardment of Len’s underwater base, and probably alongside everyone in New Rome when Bloodstream escaped confinement. Which should leave him with five lives out of nine?
“Felix!” Narcinia almost rose from her seat, only for Mars to put a hand on her shoulder and force her back to her seat. The young teen looked at her adoptive brother and father in confusion.
Fortuna’s response was far less subdued. “Felix, you ass!” she complained so loudly that Mathias winced at her shrilling voice. “How dare you come to a family dinner dressed like that! You look like a plumber!”
“Glad to see you too, sis,” Felix replied as he rose up, swiping ashes and dust off his clothes. His eyes wandered to the table, meeting confused looks from the guests. “Jamie, Ki-jung… Dad.”
“You could have used the door,” Mars said, his eyes tense. To Ryan’s surprise, he didn’t immediately go for his son’s throat, perhaps because of his daughters’ presence. “We invited you.”
“And I’m sure the guards outside are for show. You would never have let me close to Narcinia if I went through the entrance.” Felix turned away from his father, before noticing Mathias and Ryan. “Who are you?”
“Your sister’s boyfriend,” Mathias replied with mixed feelings. His tense eyes met Ryan’s, silently waiting for a signal. He too understood that the situation would soon degenerate.
“Which one?” Felix asked, curious.
“The right one,” Fortuna replied.
Her brother rolled his eyes, before looking at Ryan. “And… who are you, a new member of the Killer Seven?”
Ryan considered a dozen ways to introduce himself; as Quicksave, as President of the Free World, conqueror of Monaco, immortal and all. All more dignified and flowery than the last.
But only one sentence came to mind.
“I’m BLEEPING your ex.”
The awkward silence that welcomed his declaration delighted the courier.
“Don’t give me that look,” Ryan said to Felix, as the younger hero looked at him with astonished eyes. “It was your ex or your sister, and she’s almost as pretty as you are!”
“Almost?” Fortuna asked angrily. “He doesn’t even groom his hair!”
“Whatever,” Felix said, though the revelation had clearly shaken him. “Narcinia, come with me.”
“What,” the younger Veran asked, “where?”
“Away. My current bosses are a huge disappointment, but working with them will still be way better than making drugs.” Atom Kitty extended a hand to his sister. “Now that that death factory has been burnt to the ground, you can put an end to this tragedy here and now.”
Narcinia didn’t answer, instead anxiously looking at her father. This frustrated her brother. “Narci…”
“Did you do it?” Mars asked his son, his tone dangerous. “Destroy our production center?”
Felix shrugged. “I had nothing to do with that, though I wish I did. Whoever blew up that toxic dump deserves an award.”
His father frowned, and Ryan felt a chill going down his spine. A mobile phone materialized in a purple flash within Mars’ hand, the Olympian immediately making a call.
Livia’s vision was turning into reality.
“Ki-jung, don’t you have anything to say?” Felix asked, but the woman in question avoided his gaze, much to his annoyance. “And you, Jamie? I heard about your promotion. It’s not enough to close your eyes anymore, now will you help Augustus peddle the poison that almost killed your girlfriend?”
Ki-jung flinched, her fiancé taking her hand into his own. “Why are you here, Felix?” Jamie asked, uneasy. Ryan could tell the young hero’s words had struck a nerve. “To open old wounds?”
“I’m here to close them. Bacchus needs chemicals from your division to make his drug. Just by taking that job, you’re enabling the death and ruin of thousands—”
“Felix, I…” Narcinia took a deep breath. “I don’t think now is the time to discuss that.”
“Now is exactly the time,” he protested, taking a step towards his adoptive sister. Jamie rose from his own seat, perhaps to stop him, while Mathias glanced at Ryan and waited for a signal.
Meanwhile, Mars spoke on the phone with a scowl on his face. “He’s here, Janus, but he doesn’t know… he swears he’s not involved… yes, but… please, not before my daughters… some other place...”
The Olympian’s face strained, and though Ryan couldn’t hear what was said on the other end of the line, he could guess. Mars was trying to convince his boss one last time not to execute his godson, or to at least make the hit discreet.
But Ryan knew the older man was wasting his breath. Lightning Butt was convinced Felix had provided the Carnival with the intel that made the devastating Ischia raid possible, and his organization’s myth of invincibility was in jeopardy. A brutal, public murder would carry a clear message to both his foes and followers.
“No traitor shall survive, not even my godson.”
In the end, as Hector Manada once said, Lightning Butt was a gangster with too much power. When threatened, the answer was always more violence and terror.
The time-traveler looked at the fireplace behind Atom Kitten, noticing the tip of a gun’s barrel sticking out of the stone.
“I see.” Mars sighed, his face dark and sorrowful. He looked at his stubborn son, the phone in his hand. When faced with a choice between disobeying his invincible boss and paying the price, or offering a sacrificial lamb… the Capo quickly reached a decision.
The click of a revolver’s trigger echoed in the room.
Ryan froze time, leapt from his seat, and pushed Felix out of the bullet’s way.
When it resumed, the projectile impacted on the wall, Fortuna screaming in surprise while Felix stumbled in shock.
“You should stop shooting people in the back,” Ryan said, as he glanced at the fireplace. Mortimer had phased halfway through the stone, a gun in hand. “It’s getting predictable.”
Mortimer answered with another pull of the trigger, and the room erupted into chaos.
The windows exploded into a rain of glass shrapnels, Narcinia screaming as Ki-jung and Jamie hastily grabbed her and dived down below the table. Mortimer missed and retreated back into the wall, while the shards avoided a horrified Fortuna and a focused Mathias.
The projectiles struck Mars, only for a Roman-styled centurion armor and mask of steel to materialize over his skin. The Olympian moved his hand over the only part of his body exposed, the eyes, and rose from his seat.
“What the—” Felix said, utterly shocked.
“Later, boomer,” Ryan replied, grabbing him by the chest like a princess in distress, and jumping through the opened window. The dining room was on the first floor, and so while the time traveler gracefully landed on the grass below, his favorite cat rolled on the ground. The courier whistled, calling his Plymouth Fury to the rescue.
“Get up!” Ryan ordered Felix, helping him back to his feet. A storm of glass kept Mars busy on the first floor, but not for long.
A car’s headlamps emerged from the night’s darkness on their left, just as lightning struck the earth.
Felix and Ryan looked up in terror, as a man of ivory descended from the night sky, shrouded in a cloud of crimson lightning. Lightning Butt looked down on the duo, his eyes flaring with murderous fury.
But while Felix seemed to give up on the spot, Ryan wisely activated his time-stop. Instead of moving within the frozen time, Augustus vanished from his sight, alongside his red lightning.
One of Night Terror’s illusions.
Ryan quickly found the responsible party standing near the mansion’s wall to the courier’s right, his black bodysuit meshing with the darkness. The time-traveler grabbed two knives hidden in his pocket, and threw one at the hitman.
When time resumed, the blade hit Night Terrorized in the eye and made him fall to his back, screaming. His illusion collapsed into nothingness, as if it had never been there. Felix blinked repeatedly. “Where did he go?”
“No time, come with me if you want to live,” Ryan said as the car approached. But to his surprise, it wasn’t his Plymouth Fury, but a Mercedes Benz stopping in front of the duo. The right door opened, revealing the driver.
“Here!” Livia said, inviting them inside. “Quickly! Before the others arrive!”
Ryan almost took the bait, so perfect was her face and voice, even the clothes… before realizing Cancel wasn’t with his girlfriend. Felix, too confused to think straight, took a step forward; the courier stopped him with a hand on his chest.
“Livia always calls me ‘Master Ryan’ when things are heating up,” the courier declared.
The woman in front of him blinked in shock and surprise, before trying to grab a revolver hidden beneath her clothes. Ryan froze time and nailed her hand to the driving wheel by throwing his other knife at it.
“I lied,” Ryan said as time resumed, the impostor dropping her weapon and hissing at the pain. “But seeing your expression was worth it.”
Felix quickly guessed what was happening. “Mother?”
“You ruined everything, you ungrateful little…” Livia’s voice turned into Venus’, as the Augusti regained her true form. Great, she could also alter vocal cords. She attempted to remove the knife with her free hand, her teeth grinding in pain.
“You’re… trying to kill me?” Felix stood in place, too horrified by the realization to even muster anger.
“They are, but not me,” Ryan said, and to his relief, his self-driven car was making its way to their location. “Now, apologies, but we’ll miss the dessert.”
“I knew you were a traitor the moment I saw you,” Venus hissed. “There’s nowhere to run.”
Behind the group, the glass storm had ended, either because Mathias had been caught, killed, or something else. Mars stood at the window’s edge with a cold expression, purple rifts in space opening all around him. The tips of swords, arrows, spears, tridents, and other weapons peeked through them.
Mars could have launched them at the duo below and skewered them, but he didn’t. Though it was nighttime, Ryan could have sworn he had seen a flash of doubt and guilt in the older man’s eyes.
But when he noticed his wounded wife, Mars quickly made up his mind.
Ryan barely had the time to push his kitten out of the way, as weapons fell on them by the dozen. From what the courier understood, Mars could pull and summon items from a pocket dimension armory, but he had never imagined the speed at which he could throw them. The spears and swords flew in the air as fast as arrows, impacting the ground with enough strength to cut a man in half.
Thankfully, Ryan managed to dodge the initial volley, reaching his car. “Get in!” he ordered Felix as he swiftly took over the driving wheel, the superhero taking over the front row.
Ryan noticed Fortuna grabbing her father by the arm, trying to keep him away from the window and briefly halting the bombardment. “Daddy, stop!”
“It’s either him or the rest of us,” Mars replied, before summoning thick chains and binding his daughter’s hands and legs. They quickly started to fall off her, probably due to her power causing structural damage, but it paralyzed her. “Mathias, Mercury, move my daughters to safety! The glass user is nearby!”
By then, Ryan was driving away from the mansion, moving out of the Olympian’s range. Mortimer phased through the building’s walls, opening fire at the car with his gun, but his bullets only grazed the bodywork. While the Plymouth Fury escaped the property, Mars leaped outside the window, a red Suzuki Hayabusa motorcycle materializing below him.
“It was a trap…” Felix whispered as the duo escaped into New Rome’s streets. The Plymouth Fury overtook two cars, bypassing a red street light with Mars in hot pursuit. The Roman cosplayer materialized flying swords and attempted to skewer his targets, but the distance was too great for him to aim right. His blades impaled the road instead, and Mars briefly interrupted his assault, focusing on closing the gap between both vehicles through skillful driving.
“Dinners are more dangerous than battles,” Ryan said, opening the glove box to grab a hidden revolver, “but not as much as weddings.”
Ryan quickly drove away from the suburbs and the shadow of Mount Augustus, moving towards the Mediterranean coast. The shortest path was through the Little Maghreb district, but that would force them to get close to Vulcan’s base.
The time-traveler decided to take the longer way through the southern neighborhoods at the city’s edge. The homes here were in dire need of a paint job, and a mass of ravers and seedy individuals begging to get laid lined up in front of seedy nightclubs. Ryan noticed a woman vomiting on the sidewalk below a streetlight, a friend helping her back to her feet. Low-rent pimps and dealers openly hawked their ‘wares’ in a back alley. The tall buildings and narrow alleys would have cast a dark shadow in the area, even during daylight hours.
Ryan veered off the road to dodge a drunkard, doing his best to avoid casualties. Mars didn’t share his mercy. When another civilian nearly stumbled on his path, the Olympian materialized a wooden spike inside the victim, nailing them to the street Vlad the Impaler-style. Onlookers screamed in panic and fled, but the Plymouth Fury and its pursuer were long gone. A night of drinking had turned to horror.
He can teleport stuff anywhere within a ten meters radius, Ryan reminded himself, as Mars started catching up to them, but his launched projectiles can fly a hundred times that range.
Though the Plymouth Fury was no Pandamobile and matched a motorcycle in speed, the narrow streets forced the courier to slow down to maneuver. Soon, Mars would get close enough for his projectiles to reach them. “Shortie!” Ryan shouted, “Shortie, you’re listening?”
“Riri, what’s happening?” her voice came out of the Chronoradio. “I'm listening to the Private Security’s radios, and they say there’s a firefight—”
“Let’s just say the Augusti are in a heavy competition for the ‘Father of the Year’ award,” Ryan replied. “Can you pick us up?”
“I’m tracking your signal. Move to the sea, and I will be there.”
Ryan opened his car’s window, stopped time, and shot Mars’ motorcycle in the frozen time. The bullets bounced off the Roman cosplayer’s armor but hit the wheels. When time unfroze, the man almost lost control of his vehicle; unfortunately, a violet flash erupted around his motorcycle, and when the light died down all damage had vanished.
Damn, he could instantly switch damaged pieces of his vehicle with spare parts. The transition was so smooth the vehicle didn’t even break down.
“Maybe I could touch a streetlight on the way,” Atom Cat suggested as Ryan reloaded, his hands off the driving wheel. “I can blow stuff up behind us.”
“Now, kitten, that would be a terrible idea.” Felix’s explosions had been useful on the highway chase a few loops ago, but would be disastrous in a crowded area. It would be even worse if he caused a gas leak. Ryan didn’t look down on collateral damage, but he would rather avoid having civilian lives on his conscience.
Unfortunately, Mars didn’t share Ryan’s viewpoint. Now that he was close enough for his launched projectiles to reach his target, the Olympian materialized iron spears and shot them at the Plymouth, uncaring about hitting passersby. One of his spears tore a prostitute in half, another hit a house’s window. Ryan thought this would be a repeat of the car chase with Pluto two loops ago, but the previous race had been on a highway, not a metropolis at night.
The courier had to take back the wheel with one hand to take a difficult turn, an enemy projectile grazing his car’s paint job. If the pointless murder of civilians hadn’t earned Mars the time traveler’s fury, this callous war crime did!
“Now you’ve done it!” Ryan snarled angrily, before turning at his kitten. “How many weapons does your dad have?”
“I dunno, thousands? Dad is a hoarder.”
“Compensating for something?” Unfortunately, as Ryan navigated through a tangle of back alleys, he noticed the shadow of two other motorcycles joining Mars. Mortimer rode one, and a helmeted woman the other. Since she didn’t carry any weapon, Ryan assumed she was probably Sparrow.
Felix removed his mask and wiped the sweat off his forehead. His smooth skin glittered as they passed below a streetlight, his beautiful eyes capable of melting any maiden’s heart. “Who are you?” he asked. “You’re on Livia’s payroll?”
“Now, come on, I never sold my body for cash,” Ryan said. “I give. I’m a giver. Also, you’re an idiot.”
“I… I didn’t think they would try to kill me. I mean, they’re… they’re my parents. I thought it counted for something.”
The young hero didn’t even sound angry.
Just sad and crestfallen.
“Well, at least you’ve got sisters willing to fight for you,” Ryan reassured, as they escaped the narrow streets of the nightlife district for wider roads. They were close to the New Rome strip, but unfortunately, the riders at their back gained ground, Sparrow and Mortimer on each side, with Mars at the center. “But it was stupid to come alone.”
“I didn’t,” Felix replied, looking through the windshield and at the night sky above. One could see a few bright stars in spite of the city’s lights. “Come alone.”
A great dragon’s wings overshadowed the stars, as she flew over the street. The noise of a Private Security helicopter echoed above the road with the call of screeching sirens.
For once in his life, Ryan was glad to see the cops.