“Eschaton, take us back to your door!” Athena was limping badly, especially under the dead weight of Crystal’s body. Ryan felt a few cracked ribs on his part, although he could barely care. He could barely think.
“Yes.” She looked at his face, and saw a glimmer of emotion. Was it pity? Sympathy? Annoyance? Stomach pain? Ryan couldn’t tell. “You haven’t learned. Fine. Then where is her door?”
Ryan bit his cheek, feeling the grief start to well up. “Follow me,” he said, turning to walk down the street. People turned to stare. Athena was a beautiful woman, both of them were injured and battle scarred, and Athena was carrying a corpse.
Phones were coming out. “We’re going to have police soon.”
“Then we should hurry.” They picked up the pace, and a couple blocks later – around the time they were hearing sirens approaching – they got to the exit point Crystal and and Ryan had established. *I wonder what happens to her ship now. I guess I can use it? At least until this is all over.*
The door opened, and they stepped into the planetarium. Athena dumped Crystal’s body unceremoniously on the floor.
“Hey! Be careful with her!”
Athena cocked her head slightly. “Why? It’s empty. Just a load of meat.”
Ryan’s grief decided to take a break and let rage take over “Just a load of…she was my friend! And now she’s dead! Show some damn respect!”
There was an emotion. Not much, but Athena’s lips got a hair thinner, and the ghost of a wrinkle formed on her forehead. “Respect? I left Tyr behind to save her. And you were too injured to carry him, which is why I had to make that choice. So forgive me if I don’t show respect for her meat.” The monotone had some slight heat to it, pulling it from frigid to lukewarm.
Ryan stepped closer, anger dulling the pain. “If it wasn’t for you, she’d still be alive! You were helping Enki!”
“And it’s because of me she’ll get to fight another day!” The temperature in Athena’s voice increased another couple notches.
“Well…wait, what?” Ryan felt himself deflate. “What do you…fight another day?”
Athena stared at him, then let out a long breath. “You didn’t know. Ishtar didn’t tell you? As long as her nanoverse is secure, she’ll reform.”
Relief washed over Ryan, followed closely by embarrassment. “Oh. Uh…Crystal did tell me that, but…”
Athena nodded. “But it was the first time you saw death of someone you care for. Forgetting is understandable.”
“Wait…” Ryan’s brow furrowed. “That mean’s Tyr-”
“Bast will likely destroy his nanoverse, yes. He will not reform.”
“I’m sorry. I didn’t-”
“-no, you did not. Why did you act to protect us?”
Ryan blinked at the abrupt change of topic. He hadn’t even had time to process his relief that Crystal was alive, let alone that Athena seemed to be switching sides. “Well, we couldn’t let those people just get torn apart after you and Tyr were dead.”
“Why not? You’re going to end the world, Eschaton. What does it matter when and how they die?”
“We were – are, I guess – trying to find a way to end the world without resorting to mass murder. I mean, the cycle says end of the world, not ‘kill everyone.’”
Athena bit her lip in thought, and a small and extremely annoying part of Ryan noticed for the first time that she was a beautiful woman under the emotionless face. *Oh, right. Burned a lot of power in that fight, so Hunger.*
“And how would one end the world without killing everyone?”
Ryan shrugged. “We hadn’t gotten there yet. We’ve been too busy trying to teach me how to be a god, and how to keep you all from blowing up the sun.”
Athena’s nodded. “When we joined Enki, he told us that was the lie you were being told by Ishtar to keep you compliant. Since, it’s apparent Enki betrayed us, however, I’m beginning to believe that is the actual result.” Her lips twitched in a half-inch frown. “I regret that it took me that long to figure it out – in hindsight, such a specific objection should have been obvious.
Ryan really wanted to get off the topical roller coaster talking to Athena was becoming. “Wait, back up. How is that apparent? It was Bast who shot Tyr and Crystal, and Moloch was obviously working with her.”
“The antigravity trick. Clever, but Enki should have been able to undo that in less than thirty seconds. The only reason he wouldn’t have come back to the fight…” she deliberately trailed off, looking at him expectantly.
“Was if he knew what was coming. To keep up appearances, he would have had to join us against it, and put himself in danger.”
“Good, you’re you’re not completely hopeless.”
It was Ryan’s turn to purse his lips. “Gee, thanks for that.”
Athena let out a puff of air. “I…apologize. You may have noticed, Eschaton, that I’m not exactly the most welcoming person. I lost a friend today.”
Ryan winced. “No, I get. I’m sorry for your loss.” She nodded, a simple acknowledgement of what he had said. Ryan continued. “Can I ask…I mean, I’m not ungrateful, but…why?”
“Why did I choose her instead of Tyr? A few factors…is there anything to eat here?”
Ryan nodded, walking over to the banks of touchscreens. “I”ll see if I can figure out how to call the food.”
Athena nodded and moved to sit down. A chair appeared as she did so – that, at least, seemed to still be automatic. “For starters, it was what Tyr would have had wanted. I don’t think he ever would have forgiven me had I let a ‘maiden’ die to save him.”
Ryan did grin at that. “He seemed like that type of guy.” The buttons were all in a language Ryan recognized vaguely from inscriptions in Cipher Nullity.
“He was.” A smile ghosted across her face. “But there were also practical considerations. Aside from the fact that Enki seemed particularly concerned with one or both of you. You pose a threat to him in some fashion. But even more importantly, the monster that would have born of her permanent death would be far, far worse than what will come from Tyr.”
Ryan blinked, slowly. “I’m sorry, what’s that last one?”
“Endless void, did Ishtar tell you anything?”
“Uh…” Ryan rubbed the back of his neck. “When I asked too many questions, she usually told me to just roll with it. That I wasn’t able to process the information because I was Nascent.” Realizing how that made Crystal sound, he continued. “Of course, we were also focused on things that were pressing, y’know? Like the end of the world and Enki and all that.”
Athena took a moment to process that. “That was likely the best course of action. But this you should know. Hecatoncheires and their ilk, all sort of abominations, form from when a nanoverse is destroyed and its god is dead. The older the god, the more potent the abomination. I can’t imagine what would have formed from one as old as her.”
Ryan swallowed hard. “I think this one is for food.” He pushed it, and the refrigerator appeared. “Huh. That worked.”
“Why wouldn’t it have?” Athena walked over and grabbed a sandwich out. She tossed one to Ryan as well.
“Well, they weren’t written in a language I know.”
“And that was a barrier for you?” Athena took a bite of her sandwich. She swallowed before Ryan could respond and continued, “Your lack of knowledge could easily get you – and us – killed. Slake your hungers, Eschaton, and then once you’ve rested I’ll take up your education until Ishtar revives. And before you ask – I can’t be certain how long that would take. It varies.”
“Okay. Uh, about the need for comp-”
“Okay, yeah, that makes sense.” Ryan took another bite of his sandwich. “I’m going to…figure some way to keep her body safe.”
“As you wish.” Athena leaned back in her chair, eating. “Once you’ve taken care of the Hungers, we’ll start with the basics.”
“What’s the basics?”
“You don’t know how to make your door. We’re going to go to your nanoverse. You’re a god now, Eschaton – you should learn how to actually be one.”