“Okay assorted gods and goddesses. Everyone have a good night’s rest?” Isabel’s voice came in over the speaker, bright and chipper.
Ryan gave one of the cameras a thumbs up, and Dianmu nodded beside him. Isabel didn’t respond right away, presumably to give the others time to confirm they were ready to go. “Great, awesome. So right now you each have four drones, except Crystal, who has two. Not that I’m telling you anything you don’t know there.”
“And yet you felt the need to point it out.” Ryan muttered, and Dianmu had to stifle a laugh. He gave her a smile and a shrug. Isabel, when she got into her Ms. Bossy McBosspants mode, was best left uninterrupted.
“Because I’m collecting my thoughts,” Isabel said irritably, and Ryan gave the camera and innocent look. Either the microphones on those drones were more sensitive than he thought, or she just knew him well. “Anyway. Ryan, Dianmu, do you see that one of your drones has blue lights now?”
Ryan checked each one before nodding. “Yeah, the bottom light changed.”
“Great, awesome. And Athena, Anansi, same for you?” While Ryan and Dianmu waited, Dianmu recharged the other drones fully.
“Great,” Isabel said. “So here’s the deal. The blue light drones are each keyed to try and find one of Crystal’s drones. They won’t get more than twenty feet from the bracelet you guys are wearing – Dianmu, you have the one for you group, and Athena, you have the one for yours. It’s not perfect, but they’re going to be running a program to try the most efficient path. You’ll probably end up backtracking some, but it’ll get you guys together quicker than if we all guess randomly.”
“Wow,” Ryan said, giving the camera an impressed look. “I didn’t know you could do that.” Isabel had always been good with computers, but something on this level was impressive.
“Yeah, I wish I did. No, it’s a built in feature in the drones, I just figured out how to make it work. Which, since we’re dealing with military software which isn’t exactly designed for use, means you should still totally be impressed.”
“Fair enough,” Ryan said, shaking his head with a laugh. “What about Crystal?”
“Woah, Stereo from Athena and Ryan there. Kinda creepy actually.” Isabel laughed into the microphone. “Anyway, she and I did some talking this morning, and she thinks she’s should hunker down where she is, throw up some defenses. Her wandering around makes things more difficult, and you guys might end up running in exhausted and need her to be able to kick and-slash-or save ass. For what it’s worth, I agree.”
“Okay, awesome.” Ryan scratched his chin, glancing at Dianmu, who nodded her agreement. “Anything else?”
“Hold on Ryan. Go ahead Athena.” Dianmu shrugged at Ryan, who returned the gesture with a grin. No constant Minotaur sounds, a plan to get the group back together – things were really starting to look up.
He’d dreamt again last night, and like the previous dream, it didn’t fade with wakefulness.
He was back in that alley, the one where this all began.
“I told you, only one question. But I’ll give you some free advice.”
Ryan took a deep breath to steady himself. “Okay.”
“Don’t put it in a drawer and forget about it. You’ve got a pretty amazing thing there, Ryan. And in spite of the fact that I kind of accidentally turned you into a nervous wreck…I think you’re going to do some pretty amazing things with it.”
Nabu turned and walked through the wall.
In reality, he’d only gotten a few seconds before the gun had been cocked, before Enki had said “Put down the nanoverse and you might get out of this alive.”
In the dream, however, he’d just stood there, holding the nanoverse but not looking directly at it. He hadn’t yet, in the dream, hadn’t had that field of stars fill his vision. He’d been plain and ordinary Ryan Smith. Instead of looking at the Nanoverse, he’d turned around and walked out of the alley, the black stone stuck in his pocket. He’d gone home, called Isabel and told her the delusions were gone.
He didn’t take Nabu’s advice. He stuck the nanoverse in a drawer. Called Patty, the woman he’d dated for two years before she finally couldn’t handle his intimacy issues, even if they stemmed from his imaginings of a man in a suit following him around. They’d tried getting back together. They were actually making it work this time!
A few months later they were on a double date with Isabel and some guy, and Ryan had been planning to tell his sister he was going to propose, when the sun had exploded and he’d watched a wave of fire engulf everyone he loved.
He’d woken up gasping, but at least he’d been alive. And now…
Hang on. He’d just replayed the entire dream in his head, perfectly, and Isabel still hadn’t spoke through the drone. “Isabel?” he said, looking at Dianmu.
No response from the drone.
“Isabel? Earth to Isabel, can you hear me?”
The drone hovered mutely, it’s only a response a gentle whirring of its engines.
“Maybe it’s something with the drones?” Dianmu asked, but Ryan was already shaking his head, panic seizing at his chest. He hadn’t felt fear like this since Enki had grabbed him by the neck back on Grant Island.
“All four drones fail at once? No, something happened, something’s wrong. Isabel!” The last time wasn’t a question, but a demand. Someone would answer him, and they would answer *for this*, or so help him he’d…
He’d do nothing. He could do nothing as the drone continued to silently float there.
“Back,” he half-said, half-hissed to Dianmu. “I have to go back. Make sure she’s okay. Make sure she’s…” He couldn’t finish the sentence, instead trailing off and giving Dianmu a look of wide-eyed panic.
“Ryan, it’s two days back, assuming you don’t rest. Maybe more. And that’s assuming you don’t get lost.”
“I don’t care, Dianmu. I have to get to her before it’s too late!”
Dianmu folded her arm and looked at him, clenching her jaw – not in defiance, but in thought. “Fine. We will go back, together,” Ryan started to perk up, but she held up a finger. “If, and only if, you can tell me which of these four paths we came down last night. If not, we press forward to find the others and come up with a plan.”
Ryan glanced down the paths. They all were the same, each one leading to a T intersection that had no distinguishing features. Some were longer than the others, but he couldn’t tell from here which one was the right one.
“She’s my sister,” he half screamed, half begged Dianmu.
The goddess was unyielding. “Yes, Ryan. And we will do everything we can to help her. But panic is not the right way to do that. It could easily be some kind of mechanical issue or something with the software. Right now, we press forward, and once we find the others we decide what to do next.”
Ryan took a few deep breaths. They did nothing to calm him down, and certainly did absolutely nothing to shake this dread that something terrible had happened to Isabel, but they did prevent him from hurling several choice words at Dianmu. He couldn’t find any words to say to her instead, just favoring her with a furious glare. “Reshaph. We left her alone with him. It has to be him.”
Dianmu frowned and drummed her fingers on her arms as she considered. “Maybe. But if it was, that would be the quickest any god has reformed from complete destruction ever. I think the mechanical problem is the more likely one.”
Ryan gave her a wild eyed stare. “I…Dianmu, I brought her here, if anything happens to her-”
“Then we will punish whomever was responsible, because it falls on their shoulders, not yours. I specifically remember you, Ryan Smith, telling her you did not want her here. You did all you could to keep her away. But right now…right now, the best thing you can do for her is press on.”
Ryan didn’t agree with that, not really. But without knowing the way back, it was the only thing he could do. They turned to follow the blue-lit drone, which had already chosen a path.
Please let her be okay, Ryan silently thought, hoping that the universe would give him some answer.
As was usually the case, it did not.