Ryan always did science in his underwear.
He did it because it helped him think better and as a political statement. Clothes embodied society’s restrictions upon the human spirit; the crushing power of civilization attempting to domesticate the individual, to make him fit into the mold. But being mostly naked, Ryan reconnected with his creativity, unbound by conformity; while his boxers represented his lingering attachment to his mental stability, preventing him from going completely off the rails. The one time Ryan had worked completely naked, he ended up building his rabbit plushie.
Also, his boxers felt comfy and warm. Len had made them for him, four years ago.
Having rented a room in a hotel near the city center, Ryan had spent the early morning splitting his time between researching information about New Rome and improving his gadgets. The receptionist had given Quicksave a strange glance upon seeing him move upstairs with his hands full of weapons but didn’t call the Private Security. It appeared that masked strangers were nothing unusual in this city.
Of course, Ryan hacked the bedroom’s camera to protect his secret identity. And avoid evacuating the district. He had a lot of unsafe stuff in his arsenal.
Resting on a chair, Ryan typed on his computer with his toes—a skill he spent many loops mastering— while he tinkered with his coilgun with his hands. The client wired him his money for yesterday’s delivery, with compliments for Ghoul’s arrest. Ryan didn’t care about the amount, although he hunted down those who broke their contracts with him. The courier job was just an excuse to wander around the ruins of Italy in the search of new adventures.
Though he had put his endless wandering on hold, once he heard Len might be in New Rome.
From what Renesco had told him, he should go to Rust Town for information; according to the local Dynanet, that was the nickname given to the poorest neighborhood of New Rome, located in the northwest. The corporations controlling the city had put all the industrial plants there, and obviously without any Old World regulations, turned the area into a dumpster. They even put a wall around the area, to prevent vagrants from moving to the other districts.
According to the receptionist, the ‘Junkyard’ was a landmark of that area; an old coal mine transformed into an open landfill the size of a hill. Many geniuses and adventurers exchanged stuff there. Maybe Len was among them.
Someone knocked on his bedroom window.
Ryan glanced to the side, a woman waving her hand from the other side. “Hi,” she said. “Can we talk for a minute?”
Ryan’s room was on floor ten, and it had no fire exit.
“Hey!” Ryan grabbed his mask and put it on, alongside the hat. “You’re violating my secret identity!”
“You don’t have one, Ryan Romano,” the woman replied, raising an eyebrow. “And according to your file, you never did anything to hide it.”
“I have a file?” Ryan asked, overtaken by happiness. “I’m famous! How am I described?”
“Deranged, but reliable.’” Sweet! They got him halfway right! The flying woman eyed him from head to toe through the glass. “Don’t you intend to put on clothes?”
Ryan chuckled. “No.”
He would always stand against oppressors.
The personal space invader responded with a frown, knocking on the window again, albeit with a bit more frustration than before. “Can you…”
Ryan rose from his chair to open the window with one hand and kept the coil gun aimed at the newcomer with the other.
Now that he had a better view, Ryan immediately recognized the woman, having seen her on a publicity board yesterday. She was floating in midair thanks to translucent dragonfly wings flapping at high speed on her back, her hands on her waist. This made her look as graceful as a fairy, especially since unlike bugs she made no sound while hovering in place.
“I’m Wyvern,” the show-off introduced herself. She wore a sleeveless, skintight white uniform with Dynamis’ logo on the left, and a silver star surrounded by golden laurel on the right. She was probably between her mid-twenties and early thirties, and quite the eye-catcher. “I wanted to thank you for Ghoul’s arrest yesterday.”
“Oh, you’re welcome.”
Then Ryan started to close the window.
“Hey, wait!” Wyvern caught the window and kept it open; Ryan had heard she could bench press a school bus even while partially transformed, so he didn’t press the issue. “What are you doing in town, Quicksave? Can I call you Quicksave?”
“Sure.” Ryan then shrugged. “I’m a courier, I deliver mail. No matter how many people want me dead!”
“So the Augusti didn’t hire you as muscle?” the superheroine asked, a bit amused by his last comment. “The place you defended was one of their hotspots. I figured they might have asked you to help defend their turf from the Meta-Gang. Those guys have been encroaching into New Rome recently.”
“Nah, I beat that geriatric disaster because he was in the way of completing my side quest.” Wyvern made a strange face, unable to understand his jargon. The Genome War had all but destroyed the video game sector, making Ryan feel very alone. “Oh, by the way, have you heard of a girl my age called Len? Black hair, blue eyes, Marxist-Leninist?”
“Marxist-Leninist?” Wyvern’s frown deepened. “You mean communists? Those guys still exist?”
“I know that’s probably a dirty word in this city of unbridled capitalism, but yes.”
“No, never heard of her.” The superheroine shook her head. “But I can look at our files. Is that why you are in New Rome? Looking for her?”
“Oh yes, she’s beautiful and kind and she’s my best friend!” Ryan couldn’t help but gush about her.
“I’ll help if I can,” Wyvern replied with a smile. “Actually, I believe I can help you a great deal.”
Here comes the recruitment offer...
“I belong to a group called Il Migliore,” Wyvern said, confirming Ryan’s suspicions. “You’ve probably heard of us.”
Il Migliore. A bunch of corporate superheroes who were the official protectors of New Rome, and real modern celebrities. Of course, they were also on Dynamis’ payroll, who owned their image, merchandising rights, and told them whom to fight. Nothing like Leo Hargraves’ Carnival.
Now those were real, pro-bono superheroes, wandering knights style! Ryan couldn’t help but admire them, even if they had caused the worst day of his life.