After a night of drinking that heavily, Ryan expected to wake up feeling like he’d slept in a sweaty gym sock that was being tossed in a cement mixer. For half a moment, he almost managed to give himself a psychosomatic hangover, but divine biology was good for things besides not needing to breathe on Mars, and once the moment passed he realized that he felt fine.
He got out of bed and took a moment to look around his staging area. It had changed some since he was last here. The panel of touchscreens had morphed into classic, Hollywood style floating holograms, which made him grin – he’d wanted them to look like that. A chest-high wall also encircled the entire platform, which reduced the feeling that he was standing on the edge of reality and could fall off at any time.
Finally, and most importantly, a gentle hum filled the air, punctuated by the occasional beep. On some level he knew those sounds did and meant nothing, but compared to the semi-eerie silence of Crystal and Athena’s nanoverses, it was a welcome addition.
He poked his head out of the door into Crystal’s nanoverse. She was splayed across a chair with the complete lack of dignity usually reserved for cats that want you to believe it totally meant to end up in this position and sleeping here was every bit as comfortable as anything else, thank you very much.
The stars and galaxies drew his eyes. He hadn’t really looked at them in the past couple of days, and noted that they were heading more and more strongly towards red and darker yellows. I’ll ask her about it when she gets up. Instead of waking her, he quietly walked across to check on Athena in her nanoverse.
She was awake, inhaling coffee. Not in the figurative sense of drinking it quickly, but actually just sitting there, cup in hand, breathing in the steam. “Good morning,” he said quietly, closing the door to Crystal.
The look Athena gave him was borderline friendly, although full of the fuzz that clings to some brains as they wake. “Crystal still asleep?”
“Yup. Though I think I saw her shift as I closed the door, so she might be up soon.”
“Noted.” She finally took a drink of the coffee she’d been breathing. “Headed to your nanoverse then?”
“Think I’ll wait for Crystal to wake up. You?”
Athena nodded. “I haven’t been in almost ten thousand years their time, I’m probably forgotten. Will need to take a bit of time to reestablish myself as their goddess.”
“I was wondering about that. I know worshippers don’t get us anything over here, but in our nanoverses?”
Another sip of coffee. “Some argue that it does, that you can get more power out of a devoted nanoverse, but others argue we just want them to worship us, that it’s a Hunger we gods have. It doesn’t matter – even if you don’t intend to, you’ll find yourself making it clear you’re their god to anyone you meet there.”
That made sense to Ryan. The door to Crystal’s nanoverse opened and she walked in, her hair what she’d likely call a “right bloody mess,” yawning as she did so. “Oh, good, caught you two before you scampered off to your ‘verses.”
They focused their attention on her. “Something on your mind?” Athena asked.
Crystal nodded. “Didja see the state my bloody nanoverse got into while I was dead? Half the stars burned out, even some of the red dwarves, cosmic microwave dropped to .3 k. going to be dealing with bloody iron star formation soon – I’m not going to bother going into mine. Just going to run it to the ground and do a Big Crunch after we kick Enki’s arse.”
Athena gave Crystal a look that just said ‘this is a perfectly sensible line of reasoning and not a bunch of science fiction gibberish,’ that Ryan couldn’t match. “What’s all that mean?”
“Oh, a problem you don’t have to worry about for a good ten thousand years, or more. My nanoverse is dying; same way the real universe would eventually if it wasn’t for the cycle of ending worlds to keep stars burning, yeah? So I’m going to collapse it all into a singularity, force it to go through a Big Crunch followed by a Big Bang. Total reset, start fresh.” Crystal grinned. “I’ve done it more than a few times, love.”
Ryan did his best not to think about the fact that that involved snuffing out trillions of lives that, granted, probably would have died anyway in the time it took him to think about how he was not thinking about it. “I guess that makes sense. What happens if you don’t?”
“Entropy takes over, love. Galaxies fall apart, and you’re left with a bunch of dead stars, brown dwarfs, free floating planets, and black holes. Then those start to decay or vanish due to quantum tunneling, and then…heat death.” Crystal grimaced at the thought. “It’s the only other way for a god to die for real, yeah? Let their nanoverse undergo heat death. Some of us just get tired of living and go somewhere quiet to let their nanoverse die.”
Thinking about a universe like that, dead and lifeless and cold, made Ryan shiver. Athena and Crystal gave him sympathetic looks, and Athena brought the topic back to its original point. “When you do a Big Crunch, though, you go through something like a Nascent period again. Not the fainting spells, it’s a bigger strain to use your powers, and during that time your death could be permanent, same as where you are now. Something you best want to save for when things are calm.”
“Gotcha,” Ryan said, both glad for the information and sorry he had asked. Crystal seemed to pick up on his mood, and Ryan was reminded of how much he’d missed having her around.
“Since I can’t do much about that now,” Crystal picked up, “I’ll keep myself busy while you two tend to your nanoverses. Gonna do some recon, see if we can’t find a nice safe place to have our battle with Enki without getting a bunch of civilians caught in the crossfire, yeah?”
Agreeing that was the best choice, Athena and Ryan headed off to head deeper into their nanoverses. While passing through Crystal’s to get back to his, Ryan did his best not to look at those red, dying galaxies.
Ryan dropped into his own nanoverse easily, having more fun than he cared to admit navigating by flicking holograms around. He saw the number of races had increased from the three that had been there before – and of the original three, only the Graphids still existed. Dozens of others spotted across his screen, and he noticed they were starting to take more exotic forms.
As enticing as meeting a whole new alien species was, he was more interested in seeing how the Graphids had progressed. He dropped into realspace, and set a course for their homeworld.
A small part of his brain took a moment to note this was the first time he’d done anything major without support. Sure, Athena hadn’t been with him when he met the Graphids the first time, but she’d been back in the staging area, so if anything went wrong-
That part of his brain was interrupted as he got close to the Graphid homeworld, his mouth quite literally hanging open as he looked.
The planet was circled by series of platforms of dark metal, large enough to qualified as a ring and far enough out to be in geostationary orbit. Similarly massive structures, easily the size of small moons, sat at the Lagrange Points. Vessels travelled back and forth between sections, and when he focused on them, he could tell they were full of members of dozens of species.
It had a vaguely sinister look to it. Like, this would be the opening shot in a sci-fi movie, showcasing the evil empire, before zooming in on a rebel ship flitting to escape the massive fist of tyranny chasing after them.
A quick scan told him no such ship existed, but his control panel informed him he was being hailed. He swiped at the communication.
When the holographic screen appeared, Ryan’s eyes had to widen further. The man behind the screen looked somewhat like a Graphid, and after taking a moment to scan his DNA, genetically he was, but so many cybernetic augmentations had been jammed into his flesh it was barely recognizable. The cyborg Graphid glared at the screen, his telescoping eyes narrowing. “I am Daasti, Captain of the Fearmonger. You are violating Imperial Graphid Space – state your name and your designation or be disintegrated.”
Some perverse anger rose up from a pool Ryan didn’t know he had. Days and days of being hounded by Enki, lectured by Crystal and Athena – and now someone’s who’s entire life depended on his existence was giving him threats?
“I don’t have a designation. My name’s Ryan Smith, and I’m your god, you totalitarian dipshit.” Why did I provoke him? Why am I so furious with this guy? How could he possibly be expected to know-
“Heretic!” Daasti screamed it at the camera, his veins literally bulging with rage. “You will be purged in the true name of Ryan Smith for daring to claim to be our Lord and God! In the Name of Our Emperor, Ryan’s Son and Heir of his Chosen, open fire!”
The name of my what now? But things were happening. One of the larger ships turned to face him. It looked like the talon of some bird of prey, rotating so the lens in the center of the talons was facing his staging area.
Seeing the incandescent energy building up in the center of the lens, Ryan felt his heart begin to pound. Apparently the Graphids had mastered fusion, and the harnessed power of a star was unleashed in a beam of white-hot plasma, an entire solar flares worth of energy lashed and bound into a single beam and expelled with enough force to scour a planet clean.
His body screamed in terror, but his brain clenched its teeth in rage. They dare fire at me? With a flick of his hand, he stopped the beam, midway in space between the two ships. He glanced at the screen, saw Daasti’s eyes begin to roll with fear. “Are you paying attention, Captain? Because you won’t survive a repeat performance.”
Daasti head jerked up and down.
Ryan clenched his fingers, moving them towards a fist but stopping while there was a small gap between fingers and palm. At the same time, outside, the billions upon billions of watts of energy rolled into a cylinder less than a mile across. Making sure one last time Daasti was watching, Ryan held up his hand to his mouth and blew through the gap.
Outside, all that power, enough to purge an entire planet of heretics, simply winked out of existence.
“My god!” Daasti exclaimed.
“Told you.” For a moment, that perverse anger rose again, and Ryan considered waving his hand to erase Daasti’s entire warship with the same ease he’d dealt with their attack. But the rational part of his brain, the part that was still reeling from what he did, tackled that rage to the ground and choked it out before he could wipe out thousands of lives for the sake of a slight. I need to get a handle on what’s happening to me.
Daasti stared at him, too terrified to speak. Ryan leaned back against the console, letting his grin widen.
“So, Emperor, huh? I think he and I should have a talk.”