Anansi stroked his chin as Ryan finished the story, ending with “That’s why I’m here – we figured I was the best choice to head to Ghana and make contact with you.” He’d left out their concerns about Crystal’s health and Athena’s mistrust of tricksters, and a few other details that didn’t seem important. Aside from that, he’d told the other god everything.
“I see.” Anansi drew the two words out as if he was contemplating every letter. Ryan waited for him to continue, but Anansi seemed to believe that settled the matter.
“Uh…” Ryan started to say, and Anansi smiled and raised a finger to stop him before he could fully express his confusion.
“I assumed you had questions for me as well. Was that incorrect?” The words could have been judgmental, but Anansi’s voice came across more honestly curious than anything else. Ryan paused to think of what he was missing. Oh, I dunno, maybe you should find out what’s up with this civil war business?
“Right.” Ryan felt himself flushing from needing to have it pointed out to him, but continued ahead and hoped the dimly lit room would hide his embarrassment. “The news is claiming you’re trying to start a civil war here. What’s really happening?”
Anansi cocked his head slightly, a small grin spreading across his face. “You seem to be implying that I am not starting a civil war here. Why is that?”
“Because it wouldn’t make sense for you,” Ryan answered without a trace of hesitation. “I mean, I could be wrong, but you don’t strike me as power hungry. You might start a war if there was a just reason, but Ghana is one of the most stable countries on the continent. I don’t see a motive for starting one.”
Anansi’s head remained tilted, although his grin widened into a full smile. “You think you know me so well, when you were the one that did most of the talking?”
Ryan nodded. “I did most of the talking, but you said a lot too.” Ryan held up three fingers and began ticking each point off on them. “You frowned hard when I mentioned Enki was working with Moloch. You clenched your fists when I mentioned the mummies in Austin. You relaxed when I said we drew Enki out to a deserted island.” He lowered his hand now. “All of that could be faked, sure, but we spent hours talking – it’d be exhausting to fake your reactions the entire time. So I think that adds up to a man who doesn’t like chaos, or needless violence.”
The laugh that came out of Anansi’s mouth was deep and rich. “You see much, Ryan Smith, and you pay attention. You are correct – I do abhor needless violence, although do not think that means I fear to ‘get my hands dirty,’ as it were.” He met Ryan’s eyes, his mirth vanishing. “I did not mean to start a conflict here. But when I announced who I was, the worshippers of Jehovah and his Son thought I was spouting blasphemy. When they saw my children, they thought them to be demons. And when they opened fire, I acted to defend what is mine.”
Ryan nodded slowly. “The spider-people the news was talking about, they’re your children?”
Anansi shrugged. “After a fashion. I created them, within my nanoverse, and took a century in there to make sure their biology was compatible with the real world. I’ve become somewhat protective of them.”
“You pulled them out of your nanoverse? I didn’t think that could be done.”
Anansi smiled. “That’s why it took a century. Otherwise, when I pulled them out, they would have died horribly. It’s not that it cannot be done, just that it must be done carefully.”
“Makes sense.” Ryan returned the smile. “Well, I can say I believe your version of events. So since you’re not starting a civil war, I have no reason to believe you’re a bad person. Could you maybe lend us a hand?”
Anansi thought again, and this time Ryan leaned back and didn’t interrupt. He didn’t want to rush things – although he was keenly aware that he had spent most of his twenty four hours already.
“I think that I will, if you promise me a couple things.”
Ryan motioned for Anansi to go on. “If I can, I will.”
“A careful answer. You’re taking to being a god quite naturally.” Ryan wasn’t sure what to make of that, so didn’t say anything. Anansi continued, “Two things, then. First, if at all possible, you will give me time to get my children back into my nanoverse before you end the world.”
“If at all possible,” Ryan agreed. “I don’t know how crazy things will get here, but I will do everything I can to give you that time.”
“It is good. Second thing: Make time to go and talk to your family and friends.”
Ryan almost agreed without thinking, and then processed what Anansi had said. “I’m sorry, what?”
“You heard me,” Anansi said, his voice low and gentle. “You had a life before all this, yes?”
“I mean, yeah, but it wasn’t much of one.”
“Oh, but it was yours. Yet in your tale you did not mention them once.” Anansi’s gaze was intense, and Ryan couldn’t maintain eye contact. He found himself looking at the floor as Anansi continued, “You want to save the world, but you have removed yourself from it. Let yourself get completely engrossed in being a god, so much so you are losing what it means to be human. Talk to the people you are trying to save so that you do not lose sight of that which matters.”
Ryan let out a long sigh. “It’s been crazy. I can’t be sure there will be time to go talk to them.”
Anansi shrugged. “Maybe it will be hard. But in the long run, you will save more time if you have me as your ally, I can assure you of that. If you do not…well, then you will at least not have to make time to see them.”
“You’d seriously refuse to help us if I don’t make time to see my friends and family? Seriously? With the entire world at stake?” Ryan felt the heat rising in his voice and tried to clamp it down.
“Yes, Ryan Smith, I would. Because if you do not, I believe you will become as dangerous as Enki. You are not grounded. You do not have anything in the world to make you want to save it, other than the abstract of good and evil. But war, it has a way of eroding the abstracts. Anchor yourself, so you do not lose your way.”
Ryan found the strength to meet Anansi’s eyes again, but they were unyielding. Ryan let out another sigh, though this one was less frustration and more resignation. “Fine. I agree to your terms.”
Anansi smiled. “Then I will work with you. I do have some questions, though. For example-”
Whatever question he was going to ask was cut off by the sound of shattering glass from the front room. Both of them whipped their heads to the door. There was a gentle hiss in the air, and they could hear Kwadwo let out a surprised shout that quickly turned into coughing.
Ryan was on his feet, reaching into his nanoverse and pulling out a sword. Anansi was doing the same, although he pulled out a pair of daggers. “Do you feel that, Ryan?” the other god asked, his voice a low whisper.
He did. It was a strange feeling, like the physical embodiment of fingernails on a chalkboard being run through his teeth. Whatever was out there was strange and unnatural and dangerous.
“I think we should-* Ryan began, but he didn’t get a chance to finish.
The wall erupted in a hail of gunfire, and both Anansi and Ryan had to hit the floor or be riddled with bullets. White gas began to come through the holes in the wall, and they both could hear footsteps approaching.
“Ryan Smith and Anansi! Surrender peacefully or die, by order of the United States of America.”
Ryan glanced at Anansi, and could see he was thinking the same thing. The idea of facing off against some special forces out of their jurisdiction didn’t bother either of them.
The idea of fighting whatever that unnatural force was had both of them on edge.
“Fight or flight?” Ryan asked, in a horse whisper.
A single gunshot rang out, and Kwadwo’s coughing abruptly stopped. Anansi’s face turned to stone. He didn’t need to speak. Ryan nodded in agreement and they both rose to their feet.
“Come out now or you will be destroyed!” the authoritative voice demanded once again.
Ryan answered the demand with a twist of his hand. The wall separating them from the room where Kwadwo certainly lay dead exploded outwards, sending wooden shrapnel flying towards the attackers. “You just made a serious mistake,” Ryan said, stepping out to see what they were facing.
Four soldiers looked at him, each one wearing some kind of weird harness. They didn’t look shocked at the display of power, though – they looked almost excited.
Then they moved their hands, and Ryan could see them each manipulating equations individually. Bolts of lightning burst through the ceiling to strike at both Anansi and him, and they barely dodged out of the way.
“I think you’re the one who made the mistake, buddy.” This was the authoritative voice, but it wasn’t demanding now – it was harsh and menacing. The speaker didn’t glance at his companions. “Dead or alive. Go!”
Ryan was getting to his feet again as they began to manipulate equations, wondering how the US government recruited four gods – and how Anansi and he were going to survive this.