Isabel was resting her chin on her hands as Ryan finished the story. She was chewing her lip, a habit she’d had since childhood, and Ryan had long ago learned to let her finish her train of thought if she was doing that.
“So. I need to make sure I understand this.”
Ryan nodded for her to go ahead.
“Your imaginary friend from childhood was real. You found a marble that is actually a universe and got pulled into a fight with actual gods and you’re armed mostly with the power of math. Now you beat the main god you were fighting but his bff who eats children is still out there, so you have to fight him. All of this is because the freaking world is going to end and you want to not kill everyone in the process. That about sum it up?”
Ryan thought for a moment, and then shrugged sheepishly. “Pretty much. Although it seems kind of silly when you put it that way.”
Isabel rolled her eyes. “You think. Ryan, are you sure you haven’t gone nuts and joined a cult?”
“I am. I can prove it, if you want.”
His sister’s eyes narrowed. “How?”
“I can zero out your personal gravity. You’ll float like you were in space.”
Her eyes lit up at that. When she was ten, Isabel had decided she would be an astronaut. This was at least more realistic than her previous life goal of being a unicorn. While she’d moved away from that, she’d never gotten over her fascination with space. “Okay, if you can do that, I’ll believe the whole thing.”
Ryan nodded and held out his hand, twisting the equations to do exactly that. The effect was immediate – her clothes and hair started floating loosely about her, and her startled motion at the sensation sent her spinning into the air.
For a moment she floated there, stunned, right up into her head bumped into her ceiling. That seemed to bring her back to reality, and instead of freaking out or getting sick – both of which Ryan had been worried about – she started to giggle.
“Ohmygod.” She pushed off the ceiling gently, then flipped off her floor in a handstand. As she did, she let out a joyful “Weeeee!”
Ryan smiled as his sister bounced around her apartment for a bit, alternating between delighted laugher and various “wee”s and “woo”s of excitement. It hadn’t been long since he’d gotten his powers, but everything had been so crazy, so hectic, so…high stakes, he’d never really thought about taking some time to just revel in the joy of what he could do.
Seeing his sister burst into another round of laughter as she overshot her living room and landed on her back on the hallway wall, he resolved to do so.
“So, believe me?” He finally asked, once she’d calmed down. He’d gone into the living room after she’d maneuvered in there, and taken up a spot on the couch while she floated a foot over the coffee table.
“Oh my God, yes. This is amazing! How long can you keep me up here?”
Ryan held out his hands. “Reality eventually pushes back against any change I make, but as long as I’m nearby I can keep it up indefinitely. If it was a more complex equation, I’d start getting Hungry, but gravity is pretty simple.”
“Hungry, not tired?” She turned herself slowly so she was facing him but still floating.
“Yup. Although it’s not just food hunger. Thirst, tiredness, the need for air, loneliness – those are all what Crystal called Hungers, and seem to be a pretty universal term among the gods. We’re immune to them unless we push ourselves too hard.”
Isabel bit her lip again. “Loneliness? You don’t get lonely anymore?”
Ryan shook his head. “I think it’s why gods don’t go crazy after a century or two. Once you become a god, you don’t need to socialize anymore – it’s something you enjoy doing – or at least, enjoy doing as much as you did before you got your nanoverse – but it’s like…” Ryan groped for an analogy for a moment. “It’s like eating a really good chocolate, not because you’re hungry or even have a craving, but just because you like the taste. And reading a book or watching a movie or any kind of art falls under that too.”
Isabel continued chewing her lip, and gently tapped the coffee table to set herself spinning for a moment while she thought. She stopped herself and looked him in the eyes. “Okay. Then I’m not mad at you anymore.”
Ryan blinked. “Why not? Not,” he added hastily, “that I’m complaining, but it seems sudden.”
She nodded. “I know, but it makes sense that such a sudden, major change to your psychology would probably throw you for a loop, and you’d forget little details like letting your little sister know you were trying to stop the goddamn apocalypse. Ahem.” She sighed, and then grinned a bit as the force of the sigh sent her drifting back slightly. “It’s the only thing that makes sense for you being such an inconsiderate jackhole, and it’s something I can forgive you for. So like your new bestie likes to say, roll with it.”
That got a laugh out of Ryan. “Thanks, Izzy. I appreciate it.”
“No problem. Of course, this goes away if you don’t take me with you.”
Ryan sputtered. “I’m sorry, what?”
The grin faded away, and her face hardened. “I’m coming with you, Ryan. I won’t get in the way, I’ll stay safe in your pocket universe staging area thing, but I’m coming with you.”
“No, absolutely not. If I die and you’re in there, you’ll be trapped forever – and if it gets destroyed, I don’t even know what happens to you then.”
Isabel shrugged. “And if you die and I’m not, I’ll burn to death when the sun explodes. At least this way I’ll know what’s going on.”
Ryan felt himself getting ready to argue, but instead took a deep breath to really think about it. If Isabel was with him, he’d also know she was safe – after all, if the government could find her, so could Moloch or Bast or anyone else after him. And if she’s in your nanoverse and you have to end the world violently, you can be sure she’ll survive.
Isabel tilted her head to the side. “Woah. You just went down a dark road in your head. Care to share?”
Ryan sighed. “Not really, just an ugly thought. But alright, you can come.”
Isabel relaxed again. “Good. Just don’t forget I’m just a mere mortal, and will need to be fed and watered and all that.”
“I won’t, we’ll make sure you’re well stocked while you’re in there. Think I can even make you your own room and stuff.”
“Good. I shared a room with you that one summer when mom and dad remodeled. Not an experience I want to repeat.” She stuck her tongue out at him, and Ryan returned the gesture.
“One thing to think about,” he said, after retracting his tongue. She leaned forward in the air. “I found the last nanoverse of the Old Age. The new nanoverses will start appearing soon, according to Crystal – might not even wait for the world to end to do so. If I find one…”
“You’re asking if I want to be a goddess. You’re actually asking, like I might say no?” She gave him an incredulous look.
Ryan’s face was serious. “Izzy, it’s a one way thing. You’ll be immortal, which means everyone you know and love – aside from me – you’ll watch die. You’ll see civilizations end, and you’ll be there when whatever comes next rises. You’ll be forgotten and-”
Isabel cut him off. “Wow. You really haven’t had a chance to enjoy this at all, have you? Ryan, you’re a freakinggod. Who cares about all that? Sure, it’ll be sad, but you get to make the world better – and have the power to make a difference. And get to be awesome while you do it.”
For a few seconds, all Ryan could do was open and close his mouth, and then he chuckled. “I should have come here sooner. Thanks.”
“No problem. Now let me get closer to the ground, turn on gravity, and then I’ll get packing.”
Ryan did, and once she was back on the floor she headed to her room to start throwing things in a suitcase. “You know I can just make new clothes for you out of air when we’re in my nanoverse, right?”
“Yup. And I’ve seen your fashion sense and oh my god I do not want that. Plus, it’s not just clothes.”
Ryan did notice she was grabbing other things in her mad frenzy. “What else?”
“Sentimental crap. Like the stuffed bear dad got me before the accident. And the photo albums I took from the house. Stuff that we can’t replace in a brand new world.”
Ryan was surprised by hard that hit him. It hadn’t even occurred to him that he’d lose those things, but now that she’d brought it to his attention…”Thanks.”
“No problem. I still have your stuffed T-Rex, want it?”
She wasn’t looking at him, but he could only nod, unable to talk past the lump in his throat. She looked up at him and gave him a soft smile. “We’ll get through this, Ry. Same way we did when mom and dad passed.”
“Yeah, we will. Thanks, Izzy.”
“No problem. Dork.” She stuck out her tongue again before going back to packing, and he laughed.
As he did, he decided one thing. No matter what happened, he was getting his sister a nanoverse, period.
At that moment, there was a knock at the door. “That must be Crystal,” he said, headed towards it.
“Okay. I’m almost finished in here; just give me another moment or two.”
Ryan headed to the door and opened it. “Hey Crys-”
The word was cut off when he saw he was staring down the barrel of an assault rifle. One of the government-made gods was standing there, and Ryan couldn’t see the harness he had worn before.
“Goodbye, Mr. Smith,” the man said, his finger tightening on the trigger.