As soon as Isabel and Crystal had left his staging area, Ryan had stumbled over to the controls to drop it into his nanoverse’s real space. The effort of walking unaided was greater than he expected, like his feet were made of lead.
I should just sit down for a bit. It’s not like I’m going to heal any quicker in there. Something seemed wrong about the thought, and reflexively he tried to frown.
That turned out to be, to Ryan’s shock – the kind of indignant surprise at the obvious only possible by the injured and intoxicated – a terrible idea. The holes in his cheeks, while stitched together by Crystal’s skilled but amateur ministrations, were still immensely damaged, and trying to move the torn muscles was an agony unlike any Ryan had yet encountered in his normal life or even in his short godhood. Without the numbing effects of adrenaline that had come with most injuries, Ryan felt every miniscule lancelet of pain.
Reflexes demanded he shout at the pain, but his brain recognize what a terrible idea that would be. He instead let out a low sound and sunk to the ground, losing track of time for a bit as he floated on an ocean of pain.
Every second you spend here is the same as one second in the real world. Get up, Ryan, and get into your nanoverse so you can heal.
He didn’t know how long passed between the initial thought and that second one, but it was at least some time – he’d drooled a good bit, a problem he thought he would get intimately familiar with over the next few days. But that nagging thought, Ryan realized, was the problem with his initial idea of resting.
Struggling to his feet, Ryan stumbled towards the controls a few more steps before stopping and staring angrily at them. Ryan. Use your damn brain, okay?
With a small effort of will, he moved the console over to himself and pushed the button that would drop him into his nanoverse’s timeframe.
Okay, now you can rest.
Ryan spent the first week in his nanoverse in a daze. The pain remained blinding every time he tried to move his face, and as the injuries started to heal they swelled – meant any time he even moved his mouth, he risk biting on the sensitive tissue, a mistake he made exactly once and never again repeated.
He was able to, during this week, teach himself a new trick. He hadn’t expended all that much energy in his fight against the government super-soldier, and as such hadn’t triggered his Hungers. Which was a good thing, especially when it came to food and drink since doing either would be near impossible right now. But he desperately wanted to sleep through as much of the healing process as he could. He considered a few times just conjuring up sedatives for himself, but without knowing the composition of any off the top of his head he worried about poisoning himself – or worse, with these injuries, making himself sick.
So he taught himself to sleep without feeling tired. Just like he could eat or drink or socialize without the relevant Hunger, he could sleep without the need. Unlike the other three, sleeping without the need didn’t come naturally, and it took some time to figure out how to trick his brain into sleep.
Once he did, the time passed quicker, and the wakeful periods were less haze-covered. He considered during this checking on Daasti, if he was even still alive after all this time, but instead started navigating the new galaxy he’d populated with life away from the Demi-god controlled Utopia.
Without any means of faster-than-light travel, none of the solar systems had interacted yet. A few had established communication with other systems, and three solar systems had two habitable planets that had spawned intelligent life that interacted. One in particular had five planets in the habitable zone, one of which was a gas giant with habitable moons – a total of 8 species inhabited this system, and they had built a neutral floating city in the upper atmosphere of the giant planet.
During that time, he also learned what it meant to lack a need for a social hunger. When he’d been sick before, he remembered being restless, impatient, bored. Wanting to read but being too dizzy to focus, wanting music but finding it too loud for his head, wanting to hang with friends but not wanting to get them sick. He’d usually spend time bitching at Nab, who as always hadn’t responded, and watching the TV on the lowest volume.
Now he didn’t feel any of that. Just annoyed at the pain and wishing it would go away, but he found it easy to lie for hours just staring at the stars or the planet he was orbiting. A small part of him found his lack of restlessness unsettling, but for the most part he just felt…patient.
At the end of the week, he no longer felt like he would scream every time he moved his mouth, he decided to go out and explore in person. The inhabitants of the innermost planet, the Xaolith, were the most human like – though they had antennas and a third eye, their basic structure was the essentially the same as his. Time you learned how to shapeshift, anyway.
Here in his nanoverse, it was easy, although as Crystal had warned he couldn’t fix his injuries. I need to ask. If I shift to look injured, would that actually hurt me? Beyond that, it was just a matter of focusing for a moment on how he wanted to look. He chose the form of an elderly male Xaolith, recalling myths of gods doing this exact same thing. I suppose I should ask Athena if any of those are true. He frowned at the thought, an uncomfortable but not agonizing motion at this point. I really hope the ones about Zeus’ and his bestiality affairs aren’t. Maybe it’s best not to ask.
The cloud city of Olithika was his starting point. He teleported himself into it with a snap of his fingers.
The atmosphere of this world, Ka-gyre, was breathable at these altitudes, which allowed it to be uncovered. Its sides were attached to a trio of zeppelins, each one multiple times the size of the city itself – Ryan had to estimate the one he could see was probably six or seven kilometers long. Cloud formations the size of small moons drifted by in the background, and Ryan found himself just staring at them.
“Out of the way, you old fart,” a harsh voice behind him growled, and Ryan turned slowly around.
The owner of the voice wasn’t a Xaolith, but another species – the Gurtum, Ryan recalled. Tall and thin, they looked like featherless chickens with hands. The Gurtum recoiled at Ryan’s face.
“Dark Saints! What happened to your face?”
“Injured,” Ryan croaked, wondering how this individual would react.
“Well, you should wear a damn mask. It’s hideous, and decent folk shouldn’t see it. Now,” the man raised a gun, which Ryan regarded with idle curiosity, “are you going to get out of my way? Or do I need to dump another insurgent off the side?”
Ryan considered the ways he could destroy this Gurtum. Snapping his fingers and teleporting him to the clouds surrounding the city seemed most fitting, since that was the threat he had made.
But part of the fun of this wasn’t being his all-powerful self, just blending in as a normal person. Instead, Ryan stepped aside. “Good,” the Gurtum said, holstering the weapon and brushing by.
After some time wandering about, Ryan came to realize that this interaction with the Gurtum was what passed for a warm embrace on Olithika. Most people he encountered just raised weapons and gestured him to move out of the way. He found an alley to watch them, and saw that was pretty much universal here for how the armed greeted the unarmed. When two armed people met, the nonverbal conversation went as such:
“This is my gun.”
“This here is mine.”
“I do not want to be shot.”
“Nor do I. Holster together?”
“That seems fair.”
Then both parties would, and any interaction that followed was fairly cordial. Once, one party didn’t indicate they were willing to holster their weapon, and shortly thereafter there were two dead bodies.
Damnit. It’s not as bad as theocratic dictator space empire I made last time, but…I should do something about this. He sat on the edge of an alley for a while, but no ideas came to him. Well, not entirely. But every idea that came to him – like making all the guns stop working, or revealing he was god and wasn’t happy with peace coming from mutually assured destruction, was incredibly heavy handed and he’d learned his lesson from that mistake before.
A clatter on the ground brought him out of his sulk. Coins had been tossed in front of him, and he looked up.
A female Xaolith was standing there, and although she shuddered at his face she didn’t look away. “Hope that helps, sir. Blessed day.”
Ryan smiled at her, much as it pained him to do so. “And you will have one,” he said, gratefully. “What’s your name?”
She blinked at the question. “Phox, sir.”
“Might an old man impose further and ask you a question?”
Phox looked uncomfortable for a moment, then slightly ashamed. She rubbed her elbow but said, “Absolutely.”
“Well, I was just wondering…why did you help me?”
Phox sighed. “I just…I know it’s discouraged, but I believe compassion isn’t a weakness.”
Ryan chuckled at that. “I agree with you, Phox. And I think you’ll find it repays itself well. Tell me, what is your greatest desire?”
That got a blink out of her, and Ryan enjoyed how expressive blinks were with such a large, central eye. “Well…I mean, my mother. She’s sick; doctors don’t give her more than a few days.”
Ryan nodded slowly. “Go home, Phox. Go home to your mother.” He focused for a moment as he forced his will on reality. “Mixim will be happy to see you.”
“Oh, I will.” Phox nodded. It would be another three blocks; based on the barrier Ryan had put on her mind, before she realized she’d never told the strange old man her mother’s name. By that point, she’d be closer to home – where her now fully recovered mother was waiting.
That’s it. That’s how I’ll clean things up here. Let’s see what I can do with a few careful acts of kindness.
If nothing else, it seemed like a damn good way to spend his recovery.