“They should have showed by now,” Ryan said in a quiet whisper to Crystal. Well, as quiet as was possible with the bustle of humanity around them. It had been hours, and the crowd had barely begun to diminish. Even with Isabel’s Lotus Eaters keeping them calm, they were hardly being quiet. There was a general sense of subdued panic running through the crowd, as if all of them were holding back from becoming a shrieking mess by sheer collective force of will. It carried in the buzz of their conversations, the tension in their shoulders, the way almost every person that walked through the wormhole would look back over their shoulder one last time. A child was crying somewhere. More than one, but there was one Ryan couldn’t help but hear. He or she – at that age, it was hard to tell – was muffled, their face pressed into their fathers chest. They were repeating a single word between sobs, over and over. It was in German, but Ryan could still understand it.
Ryan took a ragged breath as the sound of their cries faded through the wormhole. He had a feeling that, decades and centuries from now, when he pushed himself to the point he needed to feed the need for sleep, he’d hear that child’s cry in whatever dreams awaited him. “They should have showed by now,” Ryan repeated, a bit louder, trying to drown out the thought. “It’s been six hours.”
“They might be waiting for us to drop our guard,” Crystal said, squinting at the mob. She had been oddly quiet the entire time, and Ryan had left her to her thoughts. Given everything, he couldn’t imagine there was anything good going through her mind at the moment. Was she picturing Leumrians and Atlanteans and the rest of the people she couldn’t save, going through like this? If she wants to talk about it, she can. Instead, Crystal continued her earlier thought. “Kali doesn’t need to rush. If she uses the wormholes to destroy Earth like we fear, where’s that molten rock going to go?”
Ryan staggered like she’d dropped a heavy load on his back. In way, that’s exactly what she had done. “That…hadn’t even occurred to me.” He could see it now. The people they were evacuating, standing near the wormholes, waiting for more people to come through. Instead, molten rock began to pour through, slow at first, but faster and faster as it reached the high pressure points at the Earth’s core. Then, even liquid metal would flow like a geyser, flooding the new world and encasing it in Earth’s remains. The immense heat would cook the atmosphere clean, suffocating any survivors.
“Sorry to be the bearer of bad news,” Crystal said. She smiled, but it was painfully forced. “Cheer up. The more people we get through, the less viable that plan becomes. Worst case scenario we can all fall back through the portals and seal them on that side. She knows that. So she’ll be here. But for the moment, time is still on her side.”
Ryan laughed, a short and harsh sound. “Oh, good, at least there’s that.”
Crystal raised an eyebrow at him. “Want to tell me what you’re really thinking?”
“Sorry, I just…it feels like it never ends. There’s always one thing after another. I just want it to get easier. But every time I turn around theres some new horror waiting for me. It’s…I don’t know how to handle it.”
“We’re almost there, love,” Crystal said, putting a hand on his shoulder and squeezing. “We’re gonna get through this. Just have to hold up a bit longer. You’ve done a bloody good job keeping it up since we started this. Just a little bit more.”
Ryan nodded. “Thanks. I just…no, you’re right. Thanks.”
The two gods lapsed into silence again. Minutes ticked by. People shuffled through the portal, their eyes hollow and fearful. Mostly. Ryan made himself focus on them more. Put aside his own fear and worry. Focus on what was actually happening.
Yes, there was fear. Yes, there was anxiety. But there was also determination. A few even held excitement. The unknown loomed in front of these people, but not all of them saw it as a bad thing.
It was a reminder Ryan desperately needed. No matter how it looked sometimes, humanity was not some monolithic entity that stood for or against anything. It was a collection of people, full of their own individual hopes and dreams. “Humanity” was nothing more than a statistical artifact from looking at a large group. “People” were reality, and the people in front of him were going to be okay. Humanity would change. These people would change. But they would still be here.
As long as he had anything to say about it.
The newfound focus on individuals let Ryan see something. A woman ahead. He would have overlooked her only minutes ago, just another refugee in the crowd. She wore a dark green jacket, military colors. She had a similarly colored cap down low over her eyes, and a dufflebag thrown over her shoulder. Nothing in particular stood out about her…except for that dufflebag.
Everyone was clutching their luggage like it was a lifeline. Knuckles were white around handles. People were holding bags to their chests. Even people wearing backpacks had fingers wrapped around straps for extra support. These people were carrying everything they could safely bring to this new world, the relics of a life they would never have again, and they were protective of them.
Not this woman. The dufflebag was idly draped over her shoulder, just two fingers through the straps. It didn’t look like she was carrying the sum of all her worldly goods, it looked like she was taking out the trash. “Crystal,” Ryan said, already moving towards his target.
Crystal set off after him, scanning the crowd.
“Hey, ma’am?” Ryan asked. “Ma’am! Frauline?”
The woman came to a halt. “Damn. Was almost there, too. You don’t need to attempt german, by the way. I can understand no matter what language you speak, and your accent is atrocious.” She had stopped moving, but she also didn’t turn around.
Crystal held out her hand. With a quick twist, the air around the three of them shot up to a brisk one hundred and fifty degrees. People started to shout and push away. “I know that voice,” Crystal said through gritted teeth.
Ryan nodded, his mouth dry. He held up his hands, adding a high pitched hum to the air, encouraging people to move away even faster, and turned on his divine sight.
He saw exactly what he expected to see. It was wrapped around her chest and back, same as he remembered, coiled like a serpent. The harness that he’d seen so long ago. The equations around it were different, however. There’d been upgrades. That wasn’t what drew his attention though. Nor was it the strange equations that rolled in the center of her harness, equations that seemed familiar but corresponded to no math Ryan had ever seen before.
No, what drew his attention was the contents of her duffle bag. Complex machinery aside, what he couldn’t miss was the atomic numbers of the element at the center of the mess.
Ninety two protons for one, ninety four for the other. Uranium and plutonium.
The ingredients in a nuclear warhead.
Ryan’s blood ran cold as Diane Munoz turned around and raised her head to smile at Crystal and Ryan. She dropped the dufflebag to the ground carelessly. “Heard you used a nuke to wipe out Enki. Let’s see what this one does to you, yeah?”
Ryan didn’t waste time with banter. He was already moving, twisting, desperately trying to disable the nuke before it could go off.
And, in the back of his mind, he couldn’t help but wonder where the rest of the super-soldiers were.