When Ryan came to, he was in a bed. For one sweet, blissful moment, he thought it was his bed, in his apartment. He’d roll over and open his eyes and the silent man in the suit would be taking notes and none of this would have ever happened.
When he opened his eyes, there wasn’t any such luck. He was in a strange bed in a strange room, and the ceiling above him was an open sky of galaxies, and instead of the man in the suit, there was a Crystal in a dress.
“Oh, good, you’re awake.” She looked up from the tablet she was tip-tapping away on. “You’ll probably be doing that a few more times.”
He groaned as he sat up. “There’s that many more Earth-shattering revelations?”
“Well, yes, I suppose that’s true too. But mostly it’s your brain reconfiguring to fit your new role. Tends to lead to fainting.” Her tone was matter of fact, and she tapped away at the pad.
She sighed and took off her glasses, giving him a bored look. “Ryan, love. You’re a perfectly intelligent individual for the limitations of your species. You know exactly what I said. Your little nap used up much of our completely safe time, and I could give you an entire textbook to try and explain it all and by the time you got done reading it, you’d understand only a tenth of what I was saying. Try to just roll with things, yeah?”
Ryan took a deep breath. “Okay. But I need to ask a couple more questions, at least.” She motioned for him to go along. “First, who was the man in the suit?”
She shrugged. “Exactly who, I don’t know. There’s lots of those buggers running around. Gone by different names. UFO, Men in Black, Angels – those are the terms you’d know them best as in English. They go by curators in our circles. They make sure things don’t go too out of sorts.”
Ryan felt more follow up questions building, but reminded himself of what Crystal had said. “Okay. I’ll roll with it.”
She smiled. “Good, you can learn! And the other?”
“What does Enki want with me?”
Crystal sucked in air between her teeth. “Ah. Good question. You’re bound to the nanoverse now, yeah? Well, none of us has ever managed to hold on to two of the things. He gets that, he’d be the most powerful, without question. So he wants your nanoverse, and he wants you dead so he can claim it.”
“So…just giving it to him isn’t an option?”
“Not while you’re alive.” She cocked her head slightly as he finally got the rest of the way out of bed. It was silver, like the chair had been, formed out of the floor. As he stood up, the bed flowed away like it had never been there. She gestured, and a chair formed for him to sit back into. “And I’d prefer it that, even if you decide you’d rather not be alive, you don’t give it to him. Enki is a right bastard.”
“Okay. But I’m good. Want to stay alive for now.”
She chuckled again. “For now? Love, you’re immortal now. Staying alive is going to be easy, especially once you learn to master your new powers.”
“I have powers? Like…flying and lightning?”
“Maybe. It varies for everyone, depending on your personality and your nanoverse. You can selectively filter the perceptions of lesser minds, ignore things like walls and crowds, and as long as your nanoverse is intact and hasn’t been compromised by another god, you’ll come back from pretty much anything. Eventually. It’ll take awhile for you to sync up to it fully enough, yeah? You’re still undergoing Apotheosis, what we call a Nascent. You’re vulnerable right now.”
“Oh. How long…”
“Nope!” She interrupted cheerfully. “Question time is over, Ryan Smith, the dullest named one of us in history. For starters, roll with it, remember? Second of all, we’re here.”
“We’re…here? Where’s here?”
The door appeared against the wall. “Why don’t you go ahead and look. It’ll be awhile before Enki thinks to look here. Try not to faint or vomit again, love.”
He opened the door and peered out. He hadn’t felt any movement, any motion, but they definitely weren’t at the same storefront they had gone through before. Or the same city. Or, as Ryan glanced upwards and saw the sky was a patchwork of colors broken by frozen lines of black lightning like stained glass.
From behind him, Crystal cheerfully intoned. “Welcome to Cipher Nullity. It’s not a wretched hive of scum and villainy – it’s where you go where you’re trying to hide from one of those hives.”
Ryan barely heard her. That sky drew his eye, but he still registered the landscape. It looked like a city, an old one. An ancient city, built of pillars and pyramids. Red dust swirled around the buildings, dancing on wind he couldn’t feel from the doorway. There was an empty sadness to it – it screamed that it was once grand and glorious. The place you’d come back to later on and say “You should have seen it!”
Ryan felt his vision grow dark again, but Crystal was suddenly there, a hand on his arm, gentle but reassuring. Real. “We’ll be safe here for awhile, love. Not because Enki can’t get to us here – he can – but he won’t think to look.”
Ryan took a deep breath. “What is it? Another world?”
She smiled sadly at him. “Something like that. It’s a long abandoned afterlife. No one’s been here for millennia, and all the souls that were here have faded away.” There was a mournful note to her voice, and Ryan turned to face her.
“The gods of Lemuria – yeah, it was real – built it for their worshippers. It was a heaven.” She pointed at the central pyramid. Time had worn away a huge chunk of it, leaving it bare and exposed, like a wound. “That was Mount Olympus for them. Where they hid their nanoverses and ran an entire continent in reality.”
He felt goose bumps rising on his arm. “What happened to them?”
She didn’t look at him, instead casting her gaze over the abandoned city. “The last Eschaton did. Lemuria, Atlantis, Mu, Hyperborea, Leng…the five continents of the last world, making the seabed of the new one. One of the greatest eras this world has ever had, the people that came after the Saurids and before humanity. Ten billion people – and six different species, the only era this world ever had with multiple sapients – walked the world. They were about to leave, about to go into space…and then it ended. But still…you should have seen it.”
He gulped. “I know you said not to…to just roll with it, but…is that what I’m going to do? Will someone be standing in…I don’t know, Hades or something, talking about the Americas and Europe and Asia and Africa and Australia and all of it, and how I destroyed it?”
She turned back to him, putting a hand on his cheek. “Not if I have anything to say about it, love. Let me show you around.”
And keeping a firm grip on his arm, she led him into the wasteland of a Lemurian afterlife.