After making sure they both had their hungers filled – Ryan filling his need for Company with a The Story of Mankind by Hendrik Willem van Loon and the occasional lustful glance at Athena that thankfully faded when that Hunger was filled, and Athena filling it with an extended phone conversation in Greek. When asked, Athena made it clear she had no interest in discussing who that phone call was with.
The next day, they sat down to open Ryan’s nanoverse. He pulled it out of his pocket.
“So Ishtar didn’t speak with you on how to open it? At all?” Athena frowned as she asked.
“Nope. Like I said, we had more pressing matters. And she prefers Crystal.”
“She can address that with me when she revives, if she wishes to,” Athena said dismissively. “And yet she brought you to her own. Fascinating.”
Ryan blinked at that. “Uh, no, she didn’t.”
Athena cocked her head slightly. “Eschaton,” she said, slowly, in the tones one uses when trying as hard as possible to not condescend. “Where do you think we are?”
“Well, I’ve been thinking of it as her planetarium ship. Because of…the stars.”
“Yes. A field of stars and galaxies. And when you look into your nanoverse, what do you see?”
Ryan felt his cheeks flush as he glanced around. It never even occurred to him – but the celestial field that surrounded them did look a lot like what he saw when he stared into his nanoverse.
“So, this is the interior of a nanoverse?”
Athena nodded. Then paused and closed her eyes, taking a deep breath. “Apologies for my tone, Eschaton. I shouldn’t expect you to know these things instinctively – I certainly did not when I was Nascent.”
Ryan smiled. “Well, how about you call me Ryan instead?”
“Very well.” By the look on her face, he’d just asked her to pull out her fingernails. “I’ll…attempt. It’s accurate to say this is inside her nanoverse. The first area – a staging area. All nanoverses have it, and can be used to control where doors open outside by aligning the nanoverse with the real world universe.”
“Okay, that kind of makes sense.” Ryan chewed his cheek for a moment. “Only, wait. She has her nanoverse on her as well.”
“Yes.” Athena thought for a moment. “Oh. I now understand why Ishtar often asked you to just – what did you say it was?”
Ryan smiled. “Roll with it.”
Athena nodded. “Yes, that was it. You can take a nanoverse within another nanoverse, and you can even take a nanoverse within a copy of itself. The mechanics of this can be explained after your Apotheosis, but for now, I’d appreciate it if you could let that pass.”
“Fair enough. So I’ll have an area like this?”
“Since this is what you saw at first, yes, it’ll be like this. Over time it will change to suit your individual tastes. Now, opening a door – for starters, it’s best to have your Nanoverse in hand. Later on you won’t need it.”
Ryan nodded. “Okay. So then I…do what?”
“You open it. Try whatever makes the most sense – it’s not something your higher brain needs to be involved with.”
Ryan felt stupid, but remembered squeezing the nanoverse the first time and how silly that had felt. Okay, it’s too small to try to fold a hole out of, so what if I… Feeling too absurd to even finish the thought, with nanoverse in hand, he reached out to about waist height and twisted, like he was turning a doorknob.
As he did, he heard the click of a latch, and a door opened. “Oh my god.”
Athena almost smiled. “You do have a knack for it, it seems. Go through – I’ll be right behind you.”
The room beyond did look a lot like Crystals, although he immediately noticed a few differences. The touchscreens, for example, all had text written in English. There was already a bed, chair, and lamp present. And the field of stars and galaxies was completely different – much brighter and denser.
Athena followed after him. “You can tell how much younger your nanoverse is,” she commented, looking at the galaxies that swirled around them.
“Because of the star field?”
Athena nodded. “Most are much brighter than Ishtar’s, but she is very old. Your nanoverse, when you first look into it, undergoes a Big Bang. Time runs extremely rapidly in it at first, right up to the point where the first sentient life emerges – then it still runs faster than normal time, but not so rapidly that millions of years pass in an hour.”
“Gotcha.” He took a moment to just stare at the ‘sky,’ his heart pounding as he did. “So from here, I can open a door anywhere in the universe?”
“Not right now. Your door was opened from Ishtar’s nanoverse, so you can currently open a door anywhere in hernanoverse, or travel to anywhere in your own. To get anywhere in the universe, you’d have to head back out to the universe, then open a door to here from there.”
Ryan took a couple moments to process that. “I…don’t blame Crystal for waiting to tell me all this. It’s a lot to take in.” He could feel the need to faint begin to form again, for the first time in a while. Only not awhile, it had only been yesterday, hadn’t it? Spending time under a constant field of stars, not needing to sleep unless pushed too far, and bouncing between universes and world has taken his sense of time for a wild ride and passionate night without even buying it dinner or calling the next day.
Athena regarded him with what almost looked like sympathy. Or a shoulder cramp, hard to tell with her. “It takes time, Escha- apologies. It takes time, Ryan. But time is short, and you should know what you have here.”
“Okay.” He took a few more breaths, letting the faint feeling begin to fade. “Go on.”
She motioned to the touchscreens. “It seems that’s what you use to command this platform. Take a look.”
So he did. They were covered with icons and text. “Okay. Some of these – Refrigerator, Bed, Lights, and Temperature – those refer to this platform, right?” Athena nodded for him to go on. “Then there’s a bunch of greyed out ones, like prophecy and endow – I’m guessing those are after I finish Apotheosis?” Another nod, this one with a hint of approval. “And then…so Batherians, Graphids, and Shal’nath. Each with a little face. These are sentients?”
“Very well done,” she said, although her tone only carried a hint of the praise. “And three already? Shocking. Later on that will be filled with hundreds, maybe thousands. So which would you like to visit first?”
Ryan gaped at her. “I’m sorry, visit?” “Yes. As interesting as it can be to play on dead worlds, I think it would be more educational to pick one and meet them. They’ll all be human-like for now, so don’t worry about that too much.”
“Uhh…then the Graphids, I suppose?”
Athena motioned for him to go ahead, so he pushed the tablet. Immediately the field of stars around them began to move, and Ryan had to sit down as they raced by. It felt like when you’re sitting in a parked car and the car next to you backs up in the corner of your eye – you’re not moving, but your brain thinks it is, because your brain was designed for a hairless beach monkey and ‘cars’ weren’t a factor in that equation. It’s really doing the best it can, bless its heart. And Ryan’s brain was still designed for a human, not fully adapted for a god, and it just was doing the best it could to handle the stars rushing by.
It was an immense relief when they stopped hovering over a planet. The star it orbited was bright, younger and more energetic than the Sun, and the planet itself was covered with vast oceans a few patches of green. Clouds did swirl around the globe.
There was a button Ryan couldn’t resist pressing. “Orbit.”
Immediately, a glass dome formed over the top of the platform, and suddenly it didn’t look like the planet was on a screen, but it moved under them as they moved above it – it wasn’t a visualization of the planet, but an actual orbital view.
Ryan grinned at it, then started laughing. Athena gave him a raised eyebrow. “What is so funny?”
“It’s not…it’s not humor. Goddamn, Athena, how long has it been since something was just so amazing you had to laugh?”
She didn’t answer, just favored him with a small, sad smile. “Point taken, Ryan. Did you want to savor the moment? We’re operating on your nanoverse’s time now that you’ve dropped into orbit – into what we call realspace, since you’re not a real part of the nanoverse – so you can wait as long as you want to. It’ll be hundreds of years before even a minute passes in the True Universe.”
He turned towards her, feeling his eyes widen. “Wait…then can we bring Crystal here? So almost no time passes in the real world while she revives? And why don’t we spend like a year training here?”
“Good thoughts, but two problems. Training you here is useless because you are nearly omnipotent here, and Ishtar’s nanoverse – and mine – will not function here. We get treated the same as any other sentient being. And-“ Ryan started to open his mouth, and she cut him off “-since Ishtar is not part of your nanoverse, you cannot return her soul to her body here. You cannot reach beyond your own nanoverse.”
Ryan let out a deep breath. “Should have known it wouldn’t be that easy. Nearly omnipotent, eh? So I can…create a new world if I wanted to?”
“But…not out of nothing, right? I mean it’s a basic law of physics – matter cannot be created or destroyed, right?”
Athena bit her lip, trying to find the best way to explain it. “This is your nanoverse. In the True universe, you can modify the laws of physics, cheat and manipulate them. Here, you are the laws of physics.”
“Don’t overthink it. You can change the rules later – but for now, stick to what you know.”
Ryan felt that faint feeling building up again. “Yeah. Probably for the best.”
“Do you need to rest?”
If it had been Crystal, he would have said yes in a heartbeat. Because Crystal knew him, he knew her, and he trusted her. Athena was…well, still an unknown. She was on their side, Ryan believed that, and was an ally – but only because they shared an enemy. She wasn’t a friend, because popular wisdom – the enemy of your enemy is your friend – wasn’t always right. Usually, the enemy of your enemy was just someone who had a shared interest of seeing your enemy’s ass kicked.
“Nah, I’m good. Let’s go meet the natives.”