“Okay, I think I got it.” Getting Athena and Ryan to drunkenly spill the story had taken long enough that they were starting to sober up, and Ryan noted that Crystal was rubbing her temples. Frustrated with us? Or side effect of coming back from the dead. “One thing I still don’t get, yeah? How did Moloch know you were going to be in Austin?”
“Maybe you should-”
“Ryan, love, if you say I should roll with it one more time I’m going to beat you with your own bloody shoe.” She grinned as she said it though, to take the sting out of the retort. “But seriously, loves, you only went there because you happened to see it. No way he could have predicted that.”
Ryan shrugged, but Athena furrowed her brow. Watching her try to concentrate while still intoxicated had not stopped being funny yet. “I think…I don’t think he was planning on us being there. I think we got lucky – he was turning the dead into Manticores, I think he wanted to throw those at us.” She held her hand up, and Ryan grabbed her another mug of coffee.
Crystal nodded thoughtfully. “Okay, that makes sense. And you two are sure this Arthur chap’s on the up-and-up?”
Ryan took this one. “No, not really. But since the world is going to end soon anyway, would it really matter if he wasn’t?”
That got a laugh out of both his companions, though Athena’s was a second behind Crystal’s. “Fair enough, love. So what’s the next move?”
“We go on…on TV. Once I’m sober. I call Enki mean things on TV, his ego gets hurt, and he does something stupid we can…” she paused to belch, then turned pink and put a hand over her mouth. “That we can take advantage of.” she muttered into the hand.
“A good idea. But, if you don’t mind me suggesting a slight change?”
Ryan nodded and Athena motioned for her to go on.
“Well, I’m thinking we take it a step further, yeah? We don’t just tick him off and see what he does; we bloody well call him out. Give him a time and a place and tell him to meet us there for a big old dust-up over this whole thing.”
“You really think he’ll fall for that?” Athena asked.
“I don’t really see a way he can avoid it. He made this big deal about how he’s gonna save the world from us, yeah? Well, between that and his pride, if we say ‘we’re willing to settle this if you’ve got the guts…'”
“…He’ll pretty much have to,” Ryan finished, nodding. He was nodding a lot this conversation, which was probably not good for the hangover he would get. Oh, wait, no, I don’t get hangovers anymore.
“Bingo,” Crystal grinned. “Then we just have to make sure we win.”
“And…Do you have a plan for that?”
“Nope!” Crystal’s voice was cheery, but the cheer seemed like it had been stretched on a rack for a few days. “But once you two are sober and I’ve gotten my post-death hungers all taken care of, I’m sure we’ll come up with something.”
“Sounds like a plan.” Athena muttered, laying her head back as she said it. “Being sober would be a wonderful thing right about now.”
“I can bet. And I hate to do this while you’re still drunk, love, but there a couple things that maybe you and I should clear the air on?” That strain again, nearly at its breaking point.
“You never were one for patience, Ishtar,” Athena muttered, sitting up.
“It’s Crystal now, Minerva.” Ryan noted the edge to her voice, and slid slightly further away from the two women.
“I don’t-” Athena clamped her jaw shut, realizing how stupid the protest would sound. “Fine, Crystal. What do you want to ‘clear the air’ about?”
“Why’d you join Enki?” The question seemed innocent enough to Ryan, but the way Athena’s eyes flared indicated there were layers he was missing.
“Isn’t that obvious? You two were going to end the world, and I didn’t know about this sun exploding thing.” Athena’s eyes narrowed. “Or maybe that isn’t the question you really wanted to ask. Maybe you meant something else.”
Crystal opened her mouth, and then took a deep breath. “No, love, you’re right. It’s just that, well, we hadn’t spoken since…”
Athena clearly had her own sharp retort, but bit it back as well. “I know.” She sighed.
For a moment they both looked just so sad. Ryan wanted to speak up, but without knowing the history…as if he had spoken out loud, they both looked at him.
“I was there during Athena’s Roman years.”
Athena nodded. “And we were…close.”
“But then we had a…falling out?” Crystal glanced at Athena, who gave her a slight smile at the term.
“An ugly one,” Athena amended.
Ryan swallowed, but had to ask. “What…what happened? Not to cause it, no need to rehash bad blood, but what made it so ugly?”
They looked at each other for a moment, and Crystal shrugged. “How good’s your Roman history, love?”
“Heard of the Punic Wars?” Athena asked, “Rome vs. Carthage? Salting the Earth at the end?”
“Yeah, I’m familiar.” They both looked at him for a moment to let that sink in. “Wait…that was because of you two having a falling out?”
“Well…not entirely, yeah?”
“But it was a factor. Sort of the spark that lit the powder keg.”
“And then kept throwing oil on the bloody fire.”
Ryan sat back, needing to process that. The two women, meanwhile, were looking at each other.
“You know, love, you were Minerva back then.”
Athena thought for a moment over the comment, and then said back slowly. “And you were Ishtar”
“So maybe we can just say Athena and Crystal don’t have a history, yeah?”
Athena nodded slowly. “I’m not exactly sober, but that still sounds like a good idea.”
“Great.” They both relaxed from a tension Ryan had only half been aware of before it was gone. “So why don’t you two sleep off the booze, and I’ll head out there and get my dance on till I don’t have any more Hunger, yeah?”
They could only nod at that. “Lovely. Enjoy!” Crystal bounced out of the staging area, and for a moment they got to enjoy the sound of music wafting back in.
Ryan flopped back as soon as she was gone. “I thought you two were going to…to have a fight.”
“We got most of the fight out of our systems a few centuries ago.” She leaned over and looked at Ryan. “What, worried you’d get caught in the crossfire?”
Ryan laughed at that. “Goddamn right I was. I’m half drunk, you’re three-quarters drunk, and Crystal was half-mad with hunger. I didn’t see that…going well for me.”
Athena chuckled at that. “Fair. And I’m glad it’s all out in the open and dealt with.”
“When we get up, you should check on your nanoverse. We all should check on our own, really. Make sure they haven’t gone to a mess while we were gone.”
Ryan shuddered at the thought. “Fair. In the meantime…I guess we should sleep?”
For a long moment, she held his eyes. “Yeah, I guess we should. Rest well, Ryan Smith.” She rolled over, the floor forming her chair into a bed as she did so.
Ryan sat there for a moment, then opened a door to his own staging area. A bed formed for him as he did so, and he flopped into it with a sigh. It would feel good to sleep and sober up.
But still, he couldn’t get rid of a nagging feeling he was missing something.