Isabel’s version of the story was choppy and full of speculation. She hadn’t been there for most of it, and for most of the parts she had been there for, she’d been watching through a drone. The only part she could personally attest to from first hand experience was the battle with Moloch, and that Isabel glossed over.
She focused her story on Bast and everything she had been told about what happened with her.
“The first thing I know for certain she did was side with Enki. Unlike Athena and Tyr, she knew the full extent of Enki’s plan, including the fact that it involved stabbing Athena and Tyr in the back to get everyone who might oppose Enki out of the way – and get their nanoverses for him to merge.”
Ra yawned. “You do not know this mortal, but the merging of nanoverses is impossible. You’re repeating Ishtar’s lies.”
“My brother saw it with his own eyes,” Isabel protested hotly. “And destroying it corrupted Crystal’s nanoverse so badly, she…” Isabel frowned. Crystal had been less than forthcoming on the details of the corruption, just that it had happened and had caused her some problems. “She had serious problems, okay?”
Ra frowned. “Let’s assume I believe that such a thing is possible. I do not, but let us assume it.”
Isabel bit her lip. That wasn’t good enough, not to make their case. “Can you at least believe that Enki, in his madness, believed it? Can you at least believe that Bast believed him.”
Ra cocked his head, a gesture so naturally leonine that it almost made Isabel laugh. “I suppose I can believe that.”
Isabel nodded. “And Tyr has not respawned, so we know something bad happened to his nanoverse.”
Ra blinked. “Respawned? I do not know this word.”
“You speak English even though you have been on the Moon for millennia, but respawn is where you draw the line?” Isabel asked, incredulous. She looked at Crystal.
“May I explain, Ra?” Crystal asked.
Ra nodded assent.
“Being gods means we can speak and understand any language, but only it’s most technical version, as it is understood by the majority of speakers, love. It’s one of the last tricks we learn before we undergo Apotheosis. But we struggle with slang, especially niche terms. So something that’s only understood by, say, the video game community, is impenetrable to us. You might as well announce that you’ve met a sat-reteh.”
Isabel frowned. She’d heard the word sat-reteh, but she’d also heard another word in there. It just wouldn’t come into focus. Ra was chuckling, like he understood a joke. “A what?”
“Loosely translated, it means a baker’s daughter. But it was really just a kind way to call someone obese – like a child that grew up with easy access to bread at all times. You see how you didn’t understand that, even though you understood everything else I said?”
“I understand.” She turned back to Ra. “Respawn is a term from a form of entertainment we play on Earth now, where we control avatars in a box of moving pictures. If your avatar dies, you have to wait a short time before it comes back and you can play it again. The act of coming back is called respawning. I…kind of have been using it to refer to how gods resurrect.”
“I see. Tyr has not resurrected?”
“No. So if nothing else…”
“Bast destroyed his nanoverse.” Ra chuffed and frowned. “An abhorrent gesture.”
Isabel had been about to blame the destruction of Tyr’s nanoverse of Enki, but was more than happy to let Ra leap to the conclusion that benefited her stance the most. “Exactly.”
“That is one atrocity, but hardly enough to justify letting someone access the Staff.”
“She also unleashed mummies on a town!” Isabel said. “Dozens of people died. If it wasn’t for Athena and my brother, they could have killed hundreds. Maybe thousands.”
“Mummies?” Ra asked, leaning in with interest.
“Yes. The Mummies of Yes.”
“Ys, love,” Crystal corrected gently.
“Right, sorry. The Mummies of Yiss.” Crystal winced at Isabel’s butchering of the word, but Isabel forged ahead. “Surely the fact that she was willing to do something so…large would indicate she might be a threat to the world.”
Ra paused to consider. “Unleashing monsters sounds more like Moloch’s stratagem than Bast’s.”
“You know her better than anyone else. Has Bast ever worked through proxies before?”
Another long pause, during which Ra settled down more onto his paws, curling them in for comfort. The hallway was finally no longer being distorted to accommodate the Sphinx’s movement, and settled into its normal proportions, giving Isabel a chance to look at the surroundings.
The hallway was not, as Isabel had assumed, constructed purely of metal. Most of it was metal, but in places jagged lunar rocks had punched through it. Isabel could see what Crystal meant by the nanobots – the seam around the stones were so smooth, it looked almost like they had been intentionally placed in the walls. Remnants of some long forgotten asteroid impact, no doubt. There were wires and lights running along those walls as well, and in one place one of the jagged fragments of stone had cut right through the wires. Isabel could see where it had been cut off, but it had also been spliced to reroute the power to the facility around where the stone had penetrated.
Isabel felt some tension she hadn’t realized she was carrying drain away. If the auto-repair nanobots were so advanced they could reroute power, this place really would withstand anything short of a direct meteor hit. She knew the void of space still sat outside those walls, but it no longer was an oppressive presence on the back of her mind. If something happened, she’d only be in danger for a short time before the nanobots repaired the damage – and Crystal could surely keep her safe for that long. There’s always a Tardigrade, too, Isabel reminded herself. I could survive for long enough for the bots to do their work.
Assuming, of course, the cause of death wasn’t being mauled by the giant leonine creature that was now thinking. “What else has Bast done?” he finally asked, his voice slow and steady.
“That’s the worst part, we don’t know.” Isabel said firmly. “But we do know…” she glanced at Crystal then back at Ra, “or at least suspect that she’d been starved, her power somehow being routed to empower some soldiers with her…ichor? Is that the right term?”
Crystal gave Isabel an encouraging nod as Ra spoke. “Starved?” Ra asked. “Is she…did she develop a new Hunger?”
“We don’t know.” Isabel said, wondering why there was a quaver in Ra’s voice at the question. “What would that mean?”
“Anthropophage,” Ra hissed. He fixed his gaze on Crystal. “Do you believe it’s possible?”
Crystal nodded. “Possible? Absolutely. In fact, I’d go so far as to say it’s bloody likely.”
Ra considered again, and Isabel waited with baited breath. They had nothing else to offer Ra, no other true claims to what Bast had done. Speculation and fear was all they had. She made a mental note to ask Crystal later, if they survived this, what the hell an Anthropophage was, because it did not sound like anything good. If a Bacteriophage is a virus that preys on bacteria, and Anthro means man…I really hope it’s a colorful term for a vow of peace.
Isabel didn’t think that was particularly likely.
“I will allow you entrance,” Ra said slowly. “And will allow the remaining guardian to decide your fate.”
“Oh, c’mon, love,” Crystal said. “Can’t you-”
“I never imagined anyone would need access to the Staff. I cannot even enter the levels where the guardian lies. I have sealed it against my own power.”
“Can you at least tell us what we’re up against?”
Ra nodded. “I have set a Typhon to guard the Staff.”
Crystal swore, and Isabel looked over at her. “What? What’s a typhon?”
“You remember the Hecatoncheires, the big giant you saw on the news?”
Isabel nodded, feeling the color draining out of her face. “It’s…it’s one of those.”
“No, love.” Crystal sighed. “It’s what gives hecatoncheires nightmares. We’re in for a very rough time here.”
Isabel looked up at Ra, and saw it in his face.
Even he believed they were doomed.