Ryan woke up, his head pounding. Pushed it too far. Athena was standing nearby, swinging his sword. It sang in her hands, each strike humming through the air as she removed limbs and heads from straw training dummies.
He took a moment to just watch. Her motions were still full of the brute force she had used earlier, a raw power that years of video games and movies had caused Ryan to associate with the masculine. She didn’t flip about, there was no waifishness to her movements, none of the delicate grace that was given to action heroines or even that he had seen in Crystal’s motions. Seeing a woman rip into target dummies with a savagery that in no way matched her features, all with a near emotionless face…it was so enthralling, it took him a moment to realize they weren’t in the silver planetarium of Crystal’s nanoverse.
The sky above them was still swirling galaxies and stars, but it was much brighter than Crystal’s – although not quite as bright as his own. Instead of a row of touchscreens, it had marble tablets with inscriptions that shifted and flowed like something organic. The floor was likewise marble, although with some carpeting in spots, and around the edge were pillars that held up arches. The whole thing, fittingly, brought to mind a Greek ruin in its glory days.
“You moved us,” he commented quietly, hating to interrupt her destructive dance. She impaled the final dummy as he spoke, dragging Ryan’s sword up to cut it in half.
“Yes. Spending so much time using Ishtar’s nanoverse was feeling invasive. She’s still in there, but that archway,” she pointed with the sword at one in particular, “leads there now.”
Ryan sat up slowly. “Makes sense. How’re you liking the sword?”
“It’s a remarkable weapon. I don’t suppose you’d mind me keeping it? Assuming you can pull another from yours, of course.” She gave it another few swings before placing it in a scabbard it hadn’t had before.
“Sure, if you’ll answer a question for me.” She raised an eyebrow, encouraging him to continue. “Why the swords? Bast used a gun, but pretty much everyone else has fought with swords – and I think I was subconsciously imitating that when I pulled mine out.”
Athena walked over to one of the pillars and placed the sword on it, and looking around Ryan realized the pillars all had weapons hanging from them. Swords and guns and axes and pikes and other, more exotic implements.
“As Socrates was fond of doing, I’d like to answer your question by asking you some. How do you see your power?”
“Uh…I’m adjusting equations. Changing variables, sort of…hacking reality, I guess?”
She gave him a smile. An actual, genuine smile. “And your nanoverse, it obeys those same laws, yes?”
“Of course. You said it obeys the laws of reality unless we change them, right?”
“I did, although that was imprecise.” She sat down on a stool that rose from the floor near the bed he was laying in. “It would be more accurate to say it obeys the laws of reality as you understand them.”
“Okay, so what’s the difference?” He had to admit, he enjoyed getting answers, even in this roundabout way, more than being told to roll with it. Although, in Crystal’s defense, I’m probably further along than I was then – if she’d told me, it might have broken my brain.
“I was born in Greece, millennia ago. I was twenty-three when I got my nanoverse. How much do you know about the classic elements?”
“That’s earth, air, fire, and water, right?”
She nodded. “And Aether, the less famous one. It was believed that all matter was made of those five elements in varying ratios. Since that was what I believed, those are the rules my nanoverse abided by for millennia, before I could adapt it to keep up with modern understanding. Now, why do you think I would have had to rely on swords, shields, and other simple weapons?”
Ryan thought for a moment, chewing his cheek as he did so. “Because…that’s not how reality works, so they didn’t work over here?”
A genuine smile again. It almost would have been patronizing, a teacher giving an exceptionally bright student a rare moment of approval, but something in it was just soft enough to not feel like that. “Exactly. Now? I could pull out guns and other, advanced weapons, but…well; they say you can’t teach an old dog new tricks. It works equally well if you swap the first and last letter of dog.”
A moment passed before Ryan got the comment, then he started to chuckle. Not because the joke was particularly funny, but because it was the first straight up joke he thought he’d ever heard from the normally dour goddess. After a couple minutes he got his laughter under control and asked, “So Bast just decided that she’d be an exception to the rule?”
Athena nodded. “Which following our earlier line of reason, does make sense.” Ryan’s mouth hung slightly open as he tried to figure out where she was going with that line of reason, and she continued after a moment of him gaping at her. “She was associated with cats, after all.”
That got another round of ‘it’s a lot funnier coming from you’ laughter out of Ryan. “Okay, you got me there.”
Athena’s smile hadn’t wavered. Seeing an actual emotion on her face, she looked less like one of her marble statues brought to animation and more like a living person. “I do have good news for you, Ryan. Ishtar’s body is beginning to warm again. She’s started her rebirth cycle.”
“Oh thank God.” He paused, realizing that was a bit of an odd turn of phrase giving what he was now, but rolled with it. “No offense, of course. I’ll be glad to have her back, is all.” Ryan didn’t admit, out loud at least, that he’d also had doubts whether or not she’d come back. He’d believed Athena when she’d told him, but…he still hadn’t internalized the idea that death wasn’t always permanent.
“None taken. When she does revive, you should talk to her without my presence – after all, when she died, I was still an adversary.”
Ryan nodded. “Makes sense. In the meantime…we have to strike back at Enki and company, especially after that mass-murder in Austin.”
“Agreed.” The smile vanished from her face, but her eyes were bright with emotion. “But we do not know where they are, or what they want. We have limited options to strike at them.”
“I think we do have an option there. We go back on the news, only you do most of the talking. Given that you were part of his original team, you talking about how awful he is might actually carry some weight.”
Athena’s looked up and to the right; something Ryan had read meant someone was engaging the logical part of their brain. “It…Makes sense. I hope you are not intending on another live engagement?”
“Oh god no, we don’t want to drag them into a fight right now. But I think we’ll get some good use out of it, and if nothing else, hit him the one place we know it hurts – in his ego.”
She stood up. “Then let’s go into the real universe. You have Hungers to fill as well while we are there.”
Ryan felt his stomach agree with the idea as he climbed out of the bed and followed her to the door. The street they walked out on wasn’t one Ryan recognized, but that hardly mattered. As always, his phone started buzzing with notifications as soon as he hit a cell tower, and he pulled it out to check it as they walked – making a mental note to charge it while they were in the real world.
One particular notification drew his eye. An email, from an address he didn’t know. Not that he didn’t have a lot of those, but this one just seemed to call to him, so strongly he almost felt like there was some power making sure he noticed it.
We should talk. I think we can help each other out a great deal. Or, rather, my boss and you can help each other. Especially with this whole ‘antichrist’ mess you’ve gotten into. Give me a call, and let’s talk about what we can do for each other.
Church of Adversity
It was followed by a phone number. Part of his brain screamed at him to take this message seriously, a part that didn’t sound much like him at all.
“Athena?” She glanced over her shoulder at him. “I think we have something we need to do first. Any idea what a Heresiarch is?”