Athena was, apparently, taking Ryan shopping. The store they were in was the sort of up-scale location that Ryan had seen in TV shows and movies but never been in before – he thought that, technically speaking, it was a boutique, but he couldn’t be sure.
Athena approached shopping with the same ruthless efficiency she used in battle, and Ryan – and the poor woman helping them – found themselves drawn along with her like leaves floating on whitewater rapids. He was poked and prodded and measured, and by the time it was over, Ryan wasn’t sure what he had bought, what Athena had bought, or how they’d paid for it. (The clerk, for her part, was sure of those things, and was trying to figure how to best cash the Roman denarii she’d been given as a tip by the strange woman. She’d faint a couple days later when she found out they appraised at almost 10,000 dollars.)
After shopping they had gone back towards the nanoverse. While they were walking, Ryan had asked why they didn’t just get clothes out of there.
“For where we’re going, getting clothes generated out of your nanoverse would be a social gaffe on par with wearing a trash bag to a wedding.”
“And where are we going, exactly?”
This smile actually reached Athena’s eyes. “To dance.” She’d not been willing to offer any further explanation.
Back in Athena’s nanoverse, they changed as the nanoverse traveled to their mysterious destination. “It might be little while to travel,” Athena had said from behind the curtain. “We’re going a bit of a long way.”
“That’s fine,” Ryan responded, working on the clothes. “I’m still figuring out what I’m putting on myself.”
An exaggeration, but only by half. It was a suit and vest and button-down shirt and tie thing, and prior to this Ryan had the same relationship with suits cats had with a vacuum cleaner – they were fine when they were in the closet not bothering anyone, but the moment they got anywhere near him it was time to panic.
He put the whole ensemble on like it might bite him at any moment, but once he was dressed (after using a bit of twisting of the equations that govern how things tangle to make the tie knot itself perfectly) and looking in a mirror, he had to admit it was a good look. Part of it wasn’t the clothes, but that thing Crystal had mentioned, where he was becoming an idealized version of himself. He’d lost fat and gained muscle, and the outfit did a good job of accentuating that. Beyond that, though, there was something just classy about the suit-and-vest look. Heh. Me, classy. He barely recognized himself. Not that he had been ugly before, but just…ordinary.
Then Athena came out from behind her curtain, and he was too busy collecting his jaw off the floor to feel awkward. She looked like…well, it was kind of silly to say she looked like a goddess, since she was one, but the term still was what stuck in Ryan’s head. She’d traded her usual, functional clothing for a classic ‘little black dress,’ one that flared out a bit after her waist as opposed to hugging her hips and legs. Even dressed up, she’s thought of mobility, the analytical part of his brain commented. Her hair, instead of the usual ponytail, was down and loose.
He swallowed, realizing he should say something, and went with the tried and true “You look amazing.”
She gave one of those ghostly smiles in response. “You look presentable.” She winked when she did to take the sting out of the comment. “Shall we?”
Ryan offered his arm, and she took it. The stepped out the doorway and once again, Ryan found himself needing to collect his jaw.
The ‘club,’ if you could call it that was directly under the Crab Nebula – or more accurately, gravity and the club’s domed roof had been oriented in such a way as to make “up” appears to be the Crab Nebula. Multifaceted lenses dotted the roof in places to capture and reflect the light from the nebula into rainbow rays that spotted the dance floor. Three parts of the outer edge were lined with a bar, its surface silver and gold and dozens of bartenders flitting about behind it. There were stools at the bar, though those were mostly unoccupied.
The music wasn’t exactly like anything Ryan had heard before, a mixture of deep club rhythms with a delicate, ethereal melody running above it. But it was the dancers that drew his eye more than anything else. There was a man with the wings of a dragonfly, dancing with a woman with pale skin and fangs. Near them a man with the legs of a goat was locked in an intense gaze with a man covered in a serpent’s scales. Another woman floated to the ceiling in a graceful leap, all four of her arms spread out in a ballerina’s pose to be caught by a man with three faces. Some of the beings were stranger still, with few or no humanoid features.
Athena glanced over and took a moment to enjoy his stupefied gaze. “Welcome to Empyrean Provocation. Where gods across the universe come to let their hair down.”
“Indeed. So, Ryan Smith, dance or drinks first?”
“Drinks,” he said, without a moment of thought. “Definitely drink.”
“Well, you have my arm. Lead on.”
He did, finally maneuvering around the edge to get to the bar. The bartender – a female with dark grey skin and six antenna emerging over each eyebrow and wide, dark eyes that glittered like obsidian – turned around to face them. “Athena! I haven’t seen you since…was it the sixteenth century?” Her voice had the unmistakable brogue of Ireland, which was all the more alien with her appearance.
Athena nodded. “It has been awhile, Brigit. This is Ryan Smith, the newest God on Earth.”
“Oooh, Ryan Smith. Very…interesting name you have there.”
He grinned. “My name’s boring as sin, which among gods I think makes it unique.”
That at least got a good laugh out of the woman. Athena added as Brigit calmed herself. “Brigit is one of the Aos Sí. Their race was one of the first to emerge after the last cycle.”
Brigit nodded. “Not many of us left anymore, and most of our kingdom’s been sunk till all we were left with was a wee island. Then it got overrun by you lot, so we moved off into space.”
Ryan glanced at her, “I thought humans were the only species of this cycle?”
“Oh no lad, you’re just the only ones left. Haven’t you ever heard of Neanderthals? They almost won out, but not quite clever enough. Now, what can I get you?”
Athena ordered some drink in Greek Ryan didn’t recognize. Staring at the wall of alcohol, he felt a bit overwhelmed. “Uh…what do you have on draft?”
Brigit giggled. “Everything, take your pick.”
“Uh…I’ll have your best pale ale?”
The woman flitted away, back in a moment with the golden drink. He took a sip and had to admit, it was the best he ever had.
Athena finished her drink, and ordered another as Ryan sipped his beer. “You should know, Ryan, that we can still get intoxicated, but will almost never suffer ill effects from it.”
Ryan stared at his drink for half a moment before he downed it in a series of massive gulps. Because universal law decreed that one such individual is present at every bar in reality, someone began to chant the ritualistic “Chug, chug, chug!” As soon as Ryan finished the beer, the Chug-chanter shifted to a shout of “wooooo!” as tradition mandates, then wandered back to their own group.
Ryan smiled at Athena. “So no matter what, I won’t get sick, or die?”
“Precisely. And I like that you asked that after inhaling a drink with an unknown alcohol content.”
“Well,” He paused, thinking it through. “I’ll be honest, Athena, this is the first time I’ve done something straight up fun since I became a god. Crystal and I were dealing with life-or-death the entire time, and even the fun things we did were about training – like the mud fight on Mars – or about…” he coughed, thinking he should have asked how strong that ale was. But that was about filling Hunger and nothing else. Have I really not had a real break? Technically this was about filling Hunger too, but it felt…different.
“You seem very fond of her.”
Athena’s voice startled Ryan out of his reflection, and he wasn’t sure he could read her tone, not that it was ever an easy task even when he wasn’t already starting to feel a buzz at the base of his brain. “I mean, yeah. But not like…you know?”
She nodded. “I do. So finish that drink,” Ryan wasn’t sure when the second ale had arrived, but he took it gladly, “and let’s dance.”
“Okay. But I should warn you, I don’t know how to dance.”
Athena’s lips turned up slightly. “You also didn’t know how to wield a sword, yes? I think you’ll find you can do just fine.”
He downed the drink, just slowly enough this time to not summon the chug-chanter. “Well…let’s see how I do.”
Athena pulled him on to the dance floor, and like with his swordplay, he didn’t let himself think too much. Instead, he just let the beat of the music become the pulse of battle, and let himself flow with it. That seemed to be what Athena was doing, and her movements still had that power to them, that raw primal energy she unleashed on the battlefield, but unlike there they were tempered by a grace that he found absolutely enchanting.
Ryan was only half aware of what his own body was doing with the music, but it didn’t feel awkward or arrhythmic like it normally did. Just like with the sword fighting, it felt natural. He could hear Crystal’s advice. Roll with it, love.
So he did, letting the music flow through him and Athena. He danced like the end of the world wasn’t looming over his head, he danced like there wasn’t a small cabal of gods out for his head, and he danced like he knew what he was doing.
Which, of course, he didn’t, but for once that didn’t seem to matter.