Stars danced as Athena and Anansi stepped into Athena’s staging area, the doorway clicking shut behind them. “There’s something I don’t understand,” Anansi said as they wove between the pillars. “If Arachne has been in here since the age before even ancient Greece…well, haven’t you had to reset your nanoverse since then?”
Athena pursed her lips. “Yes.”
Anansi waited for Athena to elaborate. When she did not, he sat down on one of the chairs and rested his head on his hands. “How is such a thing possible? I’ve seen and created plenty of impressive life forms in my nanoverse, but never one that could survive the Crunch.”
Athena approached the altar that served as her console, running her hands over the lettering. Ryan had told her that she should modernize the display, take advantage of familiarity with videos and touch screens and keyboards to give her a more flexible control option. He hadn’t understood. Athena had been using this method for controlling her staging area for thousands of years. Trying to learn a new system was like trying to believe a river would flow uphill without a twist to manipulate it.
“I made her existence a fundamental law of reality. She was woven into the fabric as intrinsically as gravity. When the Crunch happens, her experience stops, and it begins again as soon as life has evolved.”
Anansi let out a low whistle, watching the stars begin to move around them with more purpose as Athena navigated them. “That would make her as much as part of your nanoverse as you are.”
Athena nodded. “Before we can recover Arachne, I’ll have to change that. It will be…delicate work. I was very careful to make sure she lived.”
“As a spider this entire time?” Anansi asked.
“Yes.” Athena was glad she could look down at the console to avoid her companion’s gaze. “It’s been…trillions of years from her perspective. She’s lived through dozens of Crunches. A spider’s mind was a filter, a way to keep her mind from snapping. If I hadn’t she would have gone mad.”
“Of course,” Anansi said, and Athena was relieved to note there was no judgement in his voice. No agreement either, just a calm statement of fact. She’d take that right now. “Is that the planet?” he asked as one zoomed into focus.
Athena nodded. It was a beautiful world, a paradise. It always was. This time the world was a mostly oceanic world, peppered with hundreds of islands covered in dense forests. Carefully laid out currents in the oceans carried warm water across the globe, keeping the tropics from becoming too hot and the rest from being too cold, with a few vertical currents carrying cold water down to thermal vents deep in the sea where it would be heated back up. Single biome worlds were the hardest to maintain, but every iteration of her Nanoverse, Athena made sure there was at least one where the entire globe was perfect for spiders.
“Local sentients haven’t developed too far technologically,” Athena said, “although their boating is far ahead of where humanity was at the same technology level. Unsurprising, I suppose. We shouldn’t need to interact with them much, however.” Athena dropped the ship into real space, and the planet’s orbit slowed as they synced up the time streams. She pointed to a tapestry on one of the pillars, that was now showing a vaguely humanoid form with purple skin, long prehensile tails, and a third eye in the center of its forehead. “This group is the dominant ethnic group of them. The Skabin. I’m going to adopt one of their forms.”
“Change me into one, too?” Anansi asked. “I’d like to blend in.”
Athena nodded and changed them both with a simple thought. She could still see hints of Anansi’s features in the three eyed face, and had left traces of her own in her adaptation of the shape. “I’ll also translate for you if we need to interact with them.”
Anansi nodded in thanks. “So what do you need to do to…unfix Arachne from the fabric of your nanoverse?”
Athena gave a shaky laugh. “Honestly? I need to be ready for what comes next.”
She earned a sympathetic look for that comment. “Athena. You did a terrible thing to Arachne. You know that.”
“Thanks for that, Anansi.” Athena said with a frown, unable to keep the sarcasm from her voice. “I feel so much better now.”
Anansi held up a finger. “I started that poorly, but wasn’t finished. Yes, you did a terrible thing. But you’re here to make it right. You’re here to correct the error that you made. There is an honor in that.”
Athena drew a ragged breath. “What was I thinking?” she said quietly. “Why did I think this was just?”
“Did you ever, truly?”
Athena paused to consider, then shook her head. “I suppose not. I didn’t think it was just, but after what she did I was supposed to kill her. I couldn’t do that to her, and I couldn’t end all those lives in her nanoverse. This seemed like the gentler option.”
“Then you did it with a good reason, and you did it to protect the innocent. There are worse choices one can make, Gray-Eyed Athena.”
Athena stared at the world, a tropical paradise she’d created over and over again in a variety of forms to ease her guilt. “I don’t think I get to say what I did was okay. I think only Arachne can decide that.”
“I think there is wisdom there,” Anansi said with a kind smile. “However, you have every right to decide that you will not be haunted by what you did, so long as you improve.”
Athena nodded and took another deep breath. “Let’s go planetside.”
“Don’t you need to correct how she’s woven into your Nanoverse?” Anansi asked, then nodded in sudden understanding. “No, of course. You just wanted to make sure you had time if you weren’t ready.”
“Yes,” Athena said. “I fixed that the moment we entered. Are you ready?”
“As long as you are.” Anansi said.
“I’m not. I don’t know if I’ll ever be. But I’ve made her wait for aeons for this. I’m not willing to wait any longer.”
Anansi nodded in approval, and they headed into the atmosphere to find the lair of a spider who had been a goddess.