This time, Ryan wasn’t out long enough to be put into a bed. When he came to, Crystal was crouched over him in the sand.
“I saw math,” he croaked at her.
She blinked. “Damn. That’s a terrible thing to have to see.” She put the back of her hand to his forehead, and made a tutting sound.
“Oh, I have no idea what that’s supposed to do. Just saw it on the telly.” She grinned and offered him a hand. He took it. “But likely nothing. Your brain is still adapting to its new capabilities. Seeing maths is probably just a way of processing it. Hopefully it passes and your brain doesn’t decide that is the absolute best way to see the universe.”
He was on his feet, and his head was pounding. She glanced down wards. “Oh god, please tell me that’s your bloody nanoverse in your pocket.”
He looked at the bulge and blushed. At some point in the passing out the pants had gotten twisted, and the lump created by the nanoverse was awkwardly placed. He shifted his pants around and pulled the nanoverse out. It was about the size of a baseball, maybe slightly larger.
“It’s so big,” she said, wonderingly, and his blushed deepened. She gave him a grin. “Teasing you, love. But you should probably soak some of that power out before it gets too big to carry easily, yeah?”
“I…sure? So how do I get the power?”
“Remember what we said about rolling with it?” He nodded and she continued. “Then how would you get the power out of it?”
After a moment’s hesitation he took the nanoverse and cupped both his hands around it, so they were almost completely covering it. Feeling silly and wondering what Crystal would do when this failed, he squeezed.
The sensation was difficult to describe. It was like someone had stuck an IV in each arm and in one was pumping ice cold water, in the other boiling tomato soup. It was like being smacked in the face with a sock full of gold-plated dandelions. It was like being shot to death with down feathers freshly plucked off a duckling. With every nanosecond, it was like increasingly unlikely similes, until it was finally like having your cheeks sliced open with the first rays of a dawn while chugging molten lightning.
He didn’t pass out again because of the aforementioned barrage of sensations, but he did scream. Crystal took a step back, smiling. “Oooh, yeah, should have warned you. First time is a bloody bugger of a rush, innit?”
A small part of Ryan noted that her accent was constantly hopping around the UK, but the rest of him was preoccupied with the feeling. He was light, he was sound, he was…feeling pretty dizzy.
“I’m gonna…” before he could say, he sat back down hard.
“Oh, please don’t pass out again.”
“I won’t. Just…give me a moment.”
She did, giving him some time to gasp until he was back into the realm of normal sensations and sensible analogies, where it just felt like he had downed way too much caffeine after pulling three straight all-nighters, but had done so because he’d been having the time of his life.
“Okay. I’m good. Wow.” He stood up on his own again, then gave a bit of a shiver.
“Right? It’s a good look on you, too.”
He glanced down. His arms were thicker and the musculature was more defined, his gut was pulled back under his shirt. He hadn’t been in terrible shape, just the general pudginess you get when your metabolism slows down but you don’t change your diet or exercise at all. “Squeezing a universe made me ripped?”
She laughed at that, for a couple moments, wiping her eyes after she did so. “Not exactly. You’re getting the ability to impose your will on reality. And most beings, first thing they do – subconsciously – is turning themselves into an idealized version of what they look like. Later on you’ll have more control over it. For now…” her eyes sparkled. “Squeezing a universe makes you ripped.” She laughed again.
“Oh.” A thought crossed his mind as it pulled himself back together from coming to and then the rush of squeezing the nanoverse. “Wait. If there was a Hecatoncheires here, couldn’t we still be in danger?”
She shook her head. “Was wondering how long it would take you to think of that. No worries, love, I checked while you were having your nap. We’re clear.”
The tension that had sprung up faded away. “That’s…thanks.”
She cocked her head at him. “Ryan. You’re on another world, just watched me kill a giant, and got your first taste of the rest of your life and seemed to like it. Why the bloody hell are you all frowns and brooding all of a sudden?”
“It’s just…” He chewed his lip for a moment. “I felt powerful, when I did. Powerful enough to do anything. Leap a tall building, run a marathon, and slay a dragon – all at the same time,” She kept her head cocked and quirked an eyebrow. “Powerful enough to end the world,” he finished.
“Oh.” She nodded and put a hand on his shoulder. “Try not to let it get to you, yeah?”
“The fact that I’m going to end the world? How the hell do you not let that get to you?”
“You roll with it. All you can do.”
“I know you said that, but Crystal…can I avoid it?”
She sighed. “Way to ruin the moment, Ryan.” There wasn’t any actual anger in her tone. “Technically, you can, but I wouldn’t recommend it. Things get ugly if you don’t.”
“This is one of those things where I can’t explain how. You won’t understand enough. But short version? And you won’t ask any more questions about it for now?” He nodded. “If you don’t end the world, my little Eschaton, then the world dies.”
He felt himself blink, opened his mouth, remembered he had agreed not to ask any more questions, and closed it. “Okay. I guess that’ll make more sense when I understand more.”
“Yeah, too right it will. Glad to see you’re catching on.” She smiled. “So instead of focusing on that, why don’t we head to Earth? It’s been long enough Enki has got to be thrown off your trail, yeah? Gives us some time to test drive those new Aspects of yours, see what you can do.”
“Powers, gifts, whatever. You want to go see what you’ve got now that you’re fueled?”
“If you’re sure it’s safe.”
“Of course I am,” she said brightly, grabbing his hand. “Time flows funny, it’s been a week back in the real world. Come on, let’s go.”
And before he could try to ask any more questions – and get told to roll with it, most likely – he was getting dragged back to the doorway that held the planetarium room she could use to travel between worlds.