Ryan stumbled out into Crystal’s nanoverse. She glanced away from her globe and over at him. “Bloody hell, what happened to you?”
“I was hoping you could tell me.” A chair appeared for Ryan, and he sank into it. “I was in my nanoverse, and while I was there, I found out my followers had made…I don’t know. An evil empire? I guess that’s the best term.”
Crystal walked over and called a chair to sit across from him. “Let me guess. You got there and you started feeling angry, imperious, cocky – went a bit ‘Bow before me, worms!’ on them?”
Ryan gulped and nodded. “Yeah.” For a moment it felt like old times, when Crystal had first picked him up, what felt like a lifetime ago, and had first explained to him what a nanoverse meant. That moment of comfort, of familiarity, was enough – and with no hesitation, the entire story of what had transpired came rolling out, his breath getting ragged with fear as he described the way he was acting. “So what the hell happened to me, Crystal?” he finished, almost shouting, but not at her. “Why did I turn into that guy?”
She paused to let him catch his breath, and gave him a grin to try and defuse his panic. “I’m guessing you’ll try to sock me if I tell you to roll with it, love?”
Ryan’s eyes narrowed and he felt his fingers clench, but the response was so absurd it got a much-needed laugh out of him. “It had crossed my mind.”
“Right. Well, I told you your mood influences your nanoverse, yeah? Goes both ways – your personality, especially when over there, is shaped by what people believe you are.” She patted his knee reassuringly.
Relief flooded Ryan for a moment, followed shortly thereafter by its total opposite in panic. “Wait, what you do mean especially when over there? What about over here?”
She smiled. “And that, love, is why you should always go back and check on your nanoverse every couple of weeks at least. It takes a while to start impacting you in the real world, but it can.” She frowned. “I wonder if that’s what happened to Enki?”
Crystal got up and walked back to the globe. “Want a story to distract you, love?”
Ryan settled into the chair. “God yes, I could use a distraction.”
Crystal gave him a small smile. “You sure? I’m warning you, it’s not a happy one, yeah?”
She moved her hand, spinning the globe a bit, as she started to speak “So back in the day, when you lot were first figuring out this civilization thing and the first round of deities were fading away, sick of life and letting their nanoverses die, a man of a hunter-gather tribe – it’s been so long I’ve forgotten the tribes name, not that it matters – found a nanoverse.”
Ryan settled in to listen.
“This newfound god, on the short list of human gods at the time…oooh, but that man was a bloody clever bugger. So clever he ended up – after a couple thousand years – helping found the first really urban spot of humanity, good old Sumer, and the five cities that made it up. He was worshipped, like all the older gods were, but he wasn’t all that interested in being worshipped, at least, not at first.” Her voice trailed off for a moment, and Ryan let her vision drift for time before prompting her.
His voice seemed to startle her, and Crystal ran her hand through her hair. “Back then I was going by Inanna, which later on became Ishtar, yeah? Pretended like I had just found my nanoverse, same as that clever bugger and his friends – the first pantheon with a city. And let me tell you, love, it was something else. Watching humans figure out language and pottery and weapons and culture – it’s not like watching it happen in a nanoverse, not like seeing it for real in real time.”
Crystal shook her head, like she was trying to clear something away – perhaps the moisture in her eyes. “But with civilization comes war, sure as rain makes mud. And for the first time, Enki, god of craft, god of intelligence-”
Ryan couldn’t help himself. “God of intelligence? Enki?”
“Oi, do I interrupt you?”
“All the time.”
She chuckled at that. “Fair enough, love. Yes, Enki, who was associated back then with being a clever boy and making stuff. Can I continue?” She didn’t wait for Ryan’s nod. “Where was I? Oh, yeah. For the first time, Enki found the limits of his power. Lamashtu – that’s who we were up against – she created a whole bunch of monsters and just threw them at us. We were losing, so badly that Enki only saw one way to deal with the mess, only one way to win.”
“What was it?”
“The Deluge. The seven of us – the Seven Gods who Decree they called us – flooded the whole damn valley. Drowned all the monsters and the people, because Enki figured we could always get more people, but Lamashtu would need too long to get more monsters.”
“That’s…” Ryan swallowed, thinking through the logic there. “That’s horrible.”
Crystal nodded. “So imagine how bad Lamashtu’s monsters had to be, yeah? If I was going to sign off on that, they had to be pretty nasty.”
Ryan decided he didn’t want to think to think too hard about how bad they must have been, instead nodding in agreement.
“And it worked. Enki’s plan, even though it boiled down to ‘if we can’t save it, we’ll decide how it ends,’ it wiped out Lamashtu’s monsters, and left us with enough people to rebuild. But he wasn’t the same after that, not really. Spent lots of time in his nanoverse, sure there was a way he could have done it better. He brought me there once.” Her voice was low, and she focused more intensely on the globe in front of her.
“What was it like?”
“A million Earths, orbiting a million suns, with a million river valleys being invaded by a million Lamashtus and defended by seven million Gods that Decree. The same situation, playing over and over again, each world resetting as soon as they flooded the valley. He wanted to show me a world where it hadn’t flooded, where they’d won. See, he didn’t have nanoverses – we can’t make them in our own universes, love, in case you ever get it in your head to try – so he created these godstones, which conferred the same powers. On one Earth, that Enki killed the other seven and took their godstones. Had seven times the power. He crushed Lamashtu, and the world was a gleaming Utopia.” Again, the trailing off, but this time she took a few deep breaths, her eyes closed tightly.
“I told him it wouldn’t work, that we can’t use other gods’ nanoverses. I figured that was the end of it, that he’d realize it was impossible. Instead, that night, he killed the other gods to try to claim their nanoverses for himself. I had to run for my life. It was the beginning of the Dynastic period for Sumer, when it became more secular, since the gods had apparently murdered each other or vanished. I lost track of him for centuries afterwards, and then…and then he pops up, trying to kill you.”
Ryan sat in silence. When Crystal took a deep breath, shifting her shoulders to get rid of a weight. “Anyway, I think spending so much time in his nanoverse while replaying the whole thing is part of what drove him so nuts. So take it as a cautionary tale, love. Your nanoverse isn’t your playground, and it can warp you if you let it. Go every couple weeks – anywhere from ten thousand to a couple hundred thousand years local time, depending on how time flowed that period – make sure you prune the dead branches and plant some good soil – but otherwise leave it alone.”
“Yeah, will do.” He watched her take a few more deep breaths. “The story helped. But are you okay?”
She gave him a smile that came nowhere near her eyes. “Of course I am! Just some old wounds, that’s all – they’ll fade right quick.”
Ryan considered pressing her, but Athena chose that moment to return from her nanoverse journey. Or maybe she’d been back, and waiting for the story to end – Ryan could see her doing that.
“How’d things go,” Athena asked, looking at Ryan.
“Ugh. Apparently giving primitive people a bunch of advanced science with no context turns them into assholes, and them being assholes makes you one too.” He rolled his eyes.
“I thought that was a possible outcome of your actions. Did you deal with it?”
“Yeah. Why didn’t you warn me when I gave them the book?”
Athena looked at Crystal, who gave her a supportive shrug, then back to Ryan. “Some lessons are better learned through experience. Any luck with a location for our battle with Enki, Crystal?”
“Oh yes. Think this is our best bet,” She pointed to a spot in the ocean north of Canada, that huge chunk of islands that made up much of the northern part of the country. “Graham island. About two kilometers across in both directions, home to zero people. Big enough for a proper dust up, yeah? But no innocents in the crossfire.”
Athena nodded. “That sounds optimal. So I guess there’s naught else to do but prepare our challenge.”
Both Ryan and Crystal voiced agreement. “I think it should be me,” said Ryan, “to give the challenge, I mean. I think he hates me most, so if I’m the one to call him out, he’s most likely to respond.”
“That also sounds optimal. So, what do you need?”
“Nothing we can get here. Give me a couple hours to draft it, and then let’s give Gail a call.”
Ryan headed back into his nanoverse, giving Athena and Crystal time to catch up, and sat down to figure out how to best convince Enki to RSVP to a War.