Ryan sat behind the control panel, pushing buttons on the touchscreens while Athena watched. They had gone back into the “staging area,” leaving his nanoverse’s time stream to move along with the rest of reality.
“…so then I gave them a book of science,” Ryan finished up, not for the first time wishing he was being met with Crystal’s endless exuberance as opposed to Athena’s vaguely judgmental silence. I’m looking forward to telling this story for her.
“Science? Which branch? There are multiple types of science, after all.” Athena sounded…well, monotone, but maybe it was an amused monotone.
“Yeah, I know, but the book I pulled out – since I had to will it into existence – I just specified ‘all the science they need to advance their culture to the modern era as quickly as possible.’ Figured that would cover the basics.”
Athena tilted her head, considering. “A circuitous route, I think, but given how time flows…but why not just willthem to have advanced technology?”
Ryan did grin now, glad to have an answer. “I thought about that, but anything I willed into existence wouldn’t be any different from whatever we have in the real universe, right? By letting them advance it on their own, just jumpstarting their knowledge, they might produce some interesting and weird things.”
That got an actual, unmistakable turning upwards of the lips from Athena. “Clever. Did you change any physical laws while you were there?”
“Good. That means whatever they make should still work here.” Athena leaned over his shoulder to indicate one of the icons.
“I thought so.” Ryan pressed the icon Athena had indicated, and in the middle of the staging area a three dimensional model of the Earth appeared, almost as tall as Ryan. He walked over to inspect it closer. “Hey, Athena, why do Enki and his lot care what happens to Earth? Or, for that matter, why do we?”
She tensed. Not enough where you’d normally notice, but Ryan had been paying attention – the faint tightening of the neck muscles, the twitch of the fingers a hair closer. “How do you mean?”
“Well, I mean, I care because I’ve only been a god for like a week. So I’ve got people out there who care about me and stuff, and who I care about. But the rest of you are thousands of years old, right?” He shrugged. “I figure people would get callous after a while.”
The tension faded as quickly as it had arrived. “Ah. I assume you mean aside from not wanting to watch an entire world die?”
Ryan was circling the globe slowly now, taking his eyes off his companion. “Yeah, pretty much. I mean, we’re in real time now. Every Graphid I met is probably already long dead. That star will probably die out before I turn forty. So isn’t everyone used to it by now?”
Athena sighed. “You…are not wrong. After a while, you do become desensitized to it all. But tell me, Eschaton – apologies, Ryan. When you were in that world, how did you feel?”
“Me? I felt great, powerful. I could just make a book full of knowledge and pop “reading 101″ into someone’s head. I could have done it for everyone, if I wanted. I made myself invulnerable and could fly!”
She gave him a nod, not of agreement, just one of acknowledging he had said things and she had understood them. Ryan was getting the feeling he was going to Learn a Lesson. “Yes. And no Hunger afterwards, which means you didn’t expend any effort, yes?”
“Oh, absolutely. I still fainted, but that’s just my brain adapting to apotheosis, right?”
“Indeed.” She walked over to him, and leaned forward, her eyes unblinking. “Now imagine spending a hundred years there. Omnipotent, unaging, and able to do everything you want.”
“Okay, that’s easy.” He met her eyes, his brow furrowing. “So…what’s the problem?”
“Tell me, what do you imagine yourself doing?” Her voice was calm, measured, relaxed. And with a trace more emotion than her usually monotone.
“Doing?” The furrow grew deeper, a tiny canyon between his eyes. “I mean…making things?”
“After a hundred years?” She tilted her head again, and for a moment Ryan was absurdly reminded of a confused dog spotting a cat for the first time. “What would be left to make?”
“Uh…” He trailed off, realizing he couldn’t think of anything. Not just after a hundred years, but after ten or less. He’d conjure a castle, and probably a dragon because he liked dragons, and maybe put the castle in space. Maybe he’d make replicas of his favorite fictional worlds, or alien species…but none of it seemed like it would take that long.
“Now, imagine yourself in a hundred years here. What do you see yourself doing, assuming the sun doesn’t explode?”
He leaned back a bit from her gaze, suddenly feeling the intensity of the look was a bit too much. He turned instead back to the model of the Earth. For the first time, he noticed tiny red and blue dots kept appearing on it and vanishing, with the occasional yellow dot with them. It was a quick process, clustered mostly around cities. “I mean, that one’s easy. I’m rebuilding the world, or building a new one if everyone died. Or helping. Maybe exploring, seeing what’s around now that everything’s changed. Or maybe, I dunno, Crystal and I and you and whoever, we take a break, bounce around the universe and meet some aliens.”
“Does that sound like fun in your nanoverse?” He looked at her again, drawn away from the blinking dots on the globe, and shrugged.
“I mean, sure. But…” Again, he trailed off, struggling to find words.
“But not as interesting as setting foot on Mars? Or rebuilding civilization? Or meeting aliens in this universe?”
He shook his head, and she nodded. “The trap of omnipotence. When you can do everything, why bother doing anything? Life is struggle, it is challenge. The idea of retreating to fantasy lands we have complete control over may be appealing, but a thousand worlds built by a whim can’t hold a candle to a single house built by your hands.”
After a moment, it was Ryan’s turn to nod, the motion slow and deliberate as he pondered every word. “So that’s why we’re fighting over the fate of the Earth? Because we’d be bored otherwise?”
Athena thought that over, chewing his words for a bit before swallowing them. “No, not exactly. Because without struggle, we’d have no reason, no purpose. Earth gives us purpose.”
They both looked in unison at the globe watching as it spun in a lazy rotation, clouds whirling across the simulated sky. “Yeah, makes sense. Like playing a video game with all the cheat codes on. So what’s this do?”
“It’s a Zoisphere. A living globe. You can use it to manipulate weather across the world.”
Ryan’s shock must have looked pretty ludicrous, given that he got another half-smile from Athena. He closed his mouth and swallowed. “So I could, what, make a hurricane and throw it at DC right now?”
“It’s not as precise as being directly on location and sending down thunderbolts or forming hurricanes, but yes.” She raised an eyebrow. “You’ve heard stories of gods, in their wrath, sending great storms to throw ships off course or destroy cities, yes? But when you’ve been on the ground, could you imagine manipulating that much power?”
He shook his head, remembering the effort of holding back the tornado before Enki interrupted.
“So this gives you an alternative. Much less precise, slower to work. For example, if you wanted to, as you put it, ‘make a hurricane and throw it at DC’, you’d have to start it a ways out as a tropical storm and feed it till it grew into what you wanted.”
Ryan chuckled slightly, drawing a curious look of Athena. “Just…the way the conversation went. ‘Here is why having unlimited power is boring. Now check out this cool globe that lets you control weather across the world!'”
“I see the humor there,” she said, and again – wonder upon wonder – Ryan earned a half smile. It faded almost the instant she noticed Ryan noticing it, as though she was afraid three in a single conversation would devalue them too much.
“So what are the little dots then?”
“Red is a death, blue is a birth. Yellow is a manifestation of a gods power.” She glanced at Ryan’s eyes, and answered the question she saw carved into his face. “I’m not surprised Ishtar didn’t show this to you sooner, at least in this case. If your divine sight was not strong enough, it would have shattered your mind.”
“Oh.” He sighed. “I’m really looking forward to getting to the point where that’s not a risk. So this is how Enki was tracking us?”
“Yes. Yellow is normally rare, so if he just went to each one, he’d eventually find you.”
Ryan watched for a moment, the eternal cycle of life and death playing out as pretty little dots across the globe. The weight of it began to set in, and he wanted to sit down…when something got his attention. “What’s going on in Texas?”
She focused her gaze there. Red dots were appearing with increasing speed, dozens, spreading out from a central point like a ripple in a pond, but these waves were human lives being snuffed out. “We have to go. Something terrible is happening.”
They both ran through the doorway to Crystal’s staging area, and Athena went over to the controls and began pushing the touchscreen. Apparently, she could read whatever language that was.
“Think it’s Enki?” Ryan asked, bouncing on the balls of his heels in anticipation.
“Absolutely. And for whatever purpose, he’s killing hundreds. Thankfully, we’re not far – in fact, the door has just been placed.”
Ryan turned to rush out of it, Athena vaulting over the staging area to follow him. They opened the door and stepped out into the street, just in time to watch a long, gaunt, eyeless mummy, half wrapped in tattered cloth, pull the heart out of a man’s chest.
“Oh hells.” Athena whispered, drawing a sword out of thin air.
The mummy turned to them and let out a low, echoing scream.