“Oh, I’ve gotten word from Nabu.”
Crystal’s voice startled Ryan slightly. After training, he had some Hunger, so he’d taken care of most of them and was now reading to fill the need for Company. Crystal hadn’t been up for any kind of socializing – instead, she’d gone behind one of those silver curtains, muttering something about “Bloody Messianic prophesy, should have gone with a Chosen One.” He’d gotten bored after a couple hours and checked, but she’d been deep in some kind of trance.
He hadn’t realized she’d awoken from her trance, let alone gone over to the panels.
“Great, what’s it say?” He didn’t want to let her know how he’d jumped, but from the grin on her face, she already did.
“He’s getting some responses. Týr, Bast, and Athena. Good news is we’ve got at least one interesting party – Moloch’s in”
Ryan bit his cheek for a moment in thought. “Uh…I’m not exactly a mythology nerd, but isn’t Athena a good goddess?”
Crystal nodded. “Oh, yeah. Just and wise. Týr you’d probably also call good, he’s all about heroism. And Bast too, yeah? She’s big into protecting people, from back when she was guarding the Lower Kingdom.”
“Right. Okay.” Ryan furrowed his brow. “And Moloch…wasn’t he a demon?”
“Yup! But don’t worry about that, love. That’s just Judeo-Christian propaganda – when they got big, they started calling tons of us demons, yeah?”
Ryan let out a sigh of relief. “Oh, good, because I was worried-”
“Of course, he was big on child sacrifice, so he’s not exactly hugs and cuddles, yeah? But he’s mellowed the last millennia on that.”
She looked up at Ryan and pursed her lips. “You’re not happy with that one, are you? And don’t bother, love, I know that look – you can’t just roll with it.”
Ryan nodded, frowning. “It’s just…he’s getting a lot more response than we are. Three to one, and it doesn’t sound like our one response is a particularly nice god.”
“He’s not.” Crystal shook her head, not in negation, just brushing away an errant thought. “I mean, he’s better than he used to be, but…yeah, his nanoverse is a nasty place. He’s been trying to reform it some, though.”
“Wait, what do you mean?”
“He’s…look, love, a lot of the old morality is gonna go out the window right now. Every god or goddess that wants to protect humanity, no matter what? They’re gonna go with Enki, yeah?” Her brow furrowed at that. “I’m the only one who remembers how badly that worked last time, love.” The forehead smoothed. “Of course, on the other hand, there will be all the gods or goddesses that are just terrified you’re gonna hit the reset button like I did. So you’ll have selfish and good reasons for being over there.”
“Well, okay, but-”
Crystal was relentless, “and in our corner, we’re gonna get two types too. Those that know there’s nothing else to do, that this is the way it’s gotta be – and then ones like Moloch, who is probably hoping you’re gonna go big. Ice age, plague, meteor impact – major slaughter event. So good reason and psycho ones on our side, yeah?”
“Okay, Crystal, I get it.”
She smiled, with a hint of mischief in her eye. “Good. Any more questions?”
“Yeah, but you’re asking so you can tell me to roll with it.”
That got a genuine laugh out of Crystal. “Hole in one, love.”
Ryan noticed at that moment his nanoverse was getting big, and gave it a squeeze. He savored the barrage of sensation, and a small part of his mind wondered if he was getting addicted to it. It certainly was wonderful, especially when not in a fight like earlier. For a moment he wallowed in feeling like he had taken a sip of liquid thunder that had been strained through solid gold and cut with chunks carved out of a rainbow. “Does that ever become less of a rush?”
“Yeah, it does. But you’ll start doing it less often – it’s still a pretty young nanoverse, probably doesn’t even have any life yet. You’ll start letting it grow once it gets older.”
Ryan wanted to ask about life in his nanoverse, but the look in Crystal’s eyes told him that he knew the answer. “Okay. But…Crystal, what do we do next? I mean, are we just going to gather up a bunch of gods and goddesses, have a big old punch-up with Enki, then end the world?”
“I’ve been thinking about that. We need to get back to Earth, find out what Enki’s up to. He’s a crafty wanker, and if we’re not careful he’ll sucker-punch us right when we don’t notice it.”
He nodded. “But how do we avoid him finding us right away? Hell, how did he find us last time?”
“It’s easy to detect when a door opens somewhere, if you know to look. But right now lots of deities are popping in and out of their doors, chatting about the upcoming dust-up. Makes it impossible to know who is opening what door, so we should be able to sneak in without him knowing it’s us, yeah?”
“That…makes a ton of sense, actually. Then let’s go.” Ryan settled back, grabbing his book to wait for the ride to Earth.
“Well, I didn’t expect it to be this bloody easy,” Crystal commented, rolling her eyes. They’d stepped out into an alley, and the first thing that happened had been Ryan’s phone going insane. Apparently cell reception in Crystal’s planetarium-ship or, you know, on Mars wasn’t the best. He’d checked his alerts – friends were all sharing the latest viral video, and tagging him in it.
It showed the fight from that derelict gas station. Ryan thought back to it and was pretty damn sure there wasn’t anyone with a camera present, which raised the question of how Enki had gotten the video. He also was sure Enki didn’t look like that. Sure, the man in the video Crystal and him had been fighting had echoes of Enki in his features, but only if you assume the fight had knocked all the ugly out of Enki with so much force it had disrupted space-time and made him handsome retroactively. Which, Ryan couldn’t help but think, wouldn’t be in the top ten strangest things I’ve heard since this started.
To make matters worse, newer and prettier Enki was currently doing an interview, live, with the American News Channel.
“Oh, bloody hell, this is so much absolute bullshit,” Crystal muttered.
Enki in the interview was not the Enki Crystal and Ryan knew. He was smooth, handsome, and articulate.
“So you see, Gail,” Enki was remarking to the younger woman sitting across the desk from him, while a still of the lightning bolt coming out of the sky sat in the background. “We have decided that we were tired of hiding, tired of protecting humanity from the shadows.” He gave a smile that was so perfect, Ryan half expected his teeth to make a little ting with a lens flare effect. “Myself, Athena, Týr, and Bast are the first to step forward.”
“I see. And you are all actually the mythological figures?” The reporter, to her credit, didn’t sound like she was completely swallowing the line, but also wasn’t treating Enki like he was completely full of crap.
“Of course.” His smile managed to somehow widen, even though it seemed it was already stretched to its maximum. “And don’t worry, we aren’t expecting to be worshiped like we were in times of old. We just want to help.”
“And you’ve demonstrated some impressive powers so far. But tell me, Enki, why wait until now?”
Enki motioned, somehow, to exactly where the box was on the screen. “Because of reactionary elements like these two. Cruel beings who want nothing more than to destroy the entire world and watch humanity suffer.”
“Hey!” Ryan interjected, nearly shouting at the tiny screen, “I don’t want people to suffer! Just…the first one.”
Crystal made a shushing noise at Ryan. Enki was still speaking, “…calls herself Crystal now, but in the old days she was Ishtar, goddess of wanton fornication and murder.” Ryan risked a glance at Crystal, and noticed a vein was throbbing in her forehead. “The man, on the other hand, isn’t old like most of us. He’s new, probably about thirty. Ryan Smith. But your people have been warned about him, and know him by another name.”
Oh no please don’t go where I think you’re going with that. Gail was leaning forward, caught up in new-and-less-sweary Enki’s charisma.
“And who is he?”
“I believe your bible refers to him as the Antichrist.”
Professionalism flew out the window as Gail let out an audible gasp, and Ryan wondered if Enki was manipulating her somehow. She seemed to realize how over the top that had been, and took a moment to compose herself. “So, if that’s true…I mean, you’re trying to imply that…”
Enki nodded somberly. “Yes. Armageddon is here, and this man will bring it about.” He turned to the camera. “If you know this man, we’ve set up a hotline for any information about him. Please, if you see him, call us, but do not engage – he has the power of a god, and will kill you.”
“Well, thank you for that.” The camera zoomed in on Gail’s face. “Right now, Enki’s companions – this “New Pantheon,” are currently in labs across the country, providing additional verification of their abilities. We go now to Chad in Atlanta, where Bast is-”
“Turn it off,” Crystal said. Her voice was an angry growl Ryan didn’t expect to hear from her. “Turn the bloody thing off.”
Ryan did. “How bad is this?”
“It’s pretty bad, love. He’s just turned the entire bloody planet into his spies against us. And when he finds out we’re working with Moloch…”
“I doubt he’ll hold back on mentioning the whole ‘used to kill children’ thing.” Ryan could feel a headache building.
“Right.” Crystal leaned against the wall, and was rubbing her own temples. “Okay. How do we deal with this?”
Ryan almost recoiled from the question. “You’re asking me?”
“Yeah. Love, this is a media thing, yeah? I hired someone to build me a website, you know more about viral videos and all that than I do.”
Ryan looked at the ground, thinking hard. Enki had backed them into a corner here – if they wanted to be able to move on Earth, they’d have to deal with tons of eyes looking out for them. Slowly, an idea began to occur to him.
“He gave my name, and they have my face,” he said, slowly.
Ryan began scrolling through his phone. Tons of missed calls and voicemails, some from friends, but others from numbers across the country Ryan didn’t know.
“And that means some of these calls are from reporters. I think, Crystal, our best bet is to play his game.” He smiled and held up the phone.
“Oh, no” Crystal’s eyes widened. “You don’t mean…”
“Yup. He can lie to the press, so can we. Let’s see about doing an interview.”