Small Worlds Part 252

I’m really sorry for the delays lately. Caught a nasty sinus infection and have been struggling. Good news is, if you missed it – Strange Cosmology paperback is now available!

“There’s a small army outside the UN Building,” Isabel said in Ryan’s ear right before they stepped back into his nanoverse. They’d taken the doorway directly into the United Nations, bypassing most of the external security and ensuring there would be no interruptions. Isabel had drones, hidden behind illusions provided by some of the Olympians, monitoring. “I’m going to lose connection as soon as you close the doorway. Come pick me up – there’s more I need you to see.”

Ryan waited for Dianmu to enter than closed the door behind them and took a deep breath. “Isabel says they’re gathering for a military engagement out there. No sign of Kali or she would have mentioned it. We need to go get here though, there’s something else she wants to show us”

“That’s a bloody relief,” Crystal said. Ryan gestured, raising chairs from the floor for the rest of them, and headed over to the console. “You know you could have warned me before saying ‘oh, hey, here’s Crystal, she’s the reason I’m here in the first place, I’m going to give her the floor.’ Wanker. You nearly gave me a heart attack.”

“I was kind of grasping at straws there,” Ryan admitted. “You did great, though.”

“You were phenomenal,” Athena said. “Both of you. I just hope it works.”

Ryan flushed at the compliment, and Anansi cleared his throat.

“We’ve done what we can,” Anansi said. “I think it was a good idea to open only a limited number at first. As numbers swell and evidence mounts, we’ll get more people willing to come through.”

“I still think no matter what, we’re going to have a desperate scramble at the end,” Dianmu said. “People at the last minute trying to get through when they realize that things are going as we warned.”

“I wish I could say I thought you were wrong.” Ryan shook his head. “Okay, we’re going to meet up with Isabel. Anansi and Dianmu, can you two rendezvous with Cassandra and Nabu and see how things went there?”

They barely had time to agree before they arrived. It was kind of silly to take a doorway such a short distance, but given the gathering military outside the United Nations building, it had proven to be prudent. “Isabel,” Ryan said as he stepped out of the doorway. The hotel room they’d commandeered for this had an excellent view of the United Nations building, and five doorways along the wall for each of them to have a point of entry and exit. Isabel had set up her monitoring station, and a dozen screens showed news from across the world. “Please tell me the news is good.”

Isabel made a see-saw motion with her hand. “It’s news, that’s for sure. Athena, the Olympians are clearing out through their doorways. Should be a smooth exit before the military moves in. Still no sign of Kali – guess she figured it was too obvious a trap to stumble into it.”

“She’ll attack the portals,” Athena said with absolute certainty. “We’ll be more spread out then, and there will be hundreds of targets for her.”

“More like thousands,” Isabel said. She pointed to one of the monitors, which showed a generically attractive thirty year male old standing outside the white house, and turned up the volume.

“Following Ryan Smith’s announcement of his intent to evacuate the world in the face of an impending solar apocalypse, reactions across the globe are strong. World leaders have yet to issue statements, although we expect those in the next hour, but social media has begun erupting. Trending hashtags include NotMyGod, MyPlanetNeedsMe, EffThisPlace, and more. As of right now over one hundred thousand people have announced their intent on social media to pass through one of these wormholes taking friends and family with them using the hashtag OneSmallStep, and more are coming in every second. If you’re looking for the nearest wormhole and date for your location, the website Ryan Smith mentioned in his broadcast is included at the bottom of the screen – however, we would caution you that thus far his claims of safety have not been verified, nor has the impending apocalypse.”

“Thank you Kevin,” said a similarly generically attractive thirty year old female sitting behind a desk in a newsroom. “We can now add that NASA has confirmed that Ryan Smith’s claims that the sun has been undergoing unusual activity lately. Solar luminosity is up five percent, which is the cause of the unseasonably warm weather we’re feeling across the globe. According to NASA, it was up one percent two days ago and two percent yesterday, which does suggest that Ryan’s claims of an exponential growth have some merit to them. However, they caution that what Ryan suggests is the long term outcome, the sun going supernova, goes so far outside the realm of known physics they can’t give it any credit.”

“Well, Megan, you’re right about that,” said her companion, a somewhat older generically attractive male. A banner under the screen labelled him as Grant Edwards, a Harvard Mythologist, “but we are talking about gods. You’ve spent the past few weeks reporting on supernatural occurrences that have been happening across the globe. The battle with a Hecatoncheires outside a hotel, beings claiming to be gods have battles across the globe, angels fighting reanimated dead in Ohio, two separate attacks by horrific monsters on Grant, Texas, Anansi’s spider followers in Accra, Ghana – which, it is interesting to note, is one of the initial locations to get a wormhole. Given that Anansi initially stated he wanted to keep his people safe, I think that lends some weight to the argument that – if nothing else – Ryan and is allies at least believe what they’re saying.”

“Thank you Grant,” Megan said.

“This is kind of standard,” Isabel said. “Lots of news channels have a mythologist or theologist or something on staff right now. They’re kind of in demand given that it’s all, y ’know, real. Right now it’s pretty mixed, but you’re going to have a much bigger turnout than you were expecting.”

Ryan grimaced. “We’ve got to hope we can handle the load.”

“We should be able to, love,” Crystal said. “I mean, at the end of the day, we’ve spaced out the first batch of wormholes carefully enough that most people will be better served waiting a day for the second batch. Even if they try to make it to the first wave, they’ll have to stop for gas or sleep and won’t overwhelm us completely.”

Ryan nodded.

“You’ll have some problems with the Hong Kong portal,” Isabel added. “China is not too happy with you opening the first one there.”

“I was afraid of that. Dianmu, do you think you could get some of your old pantheon to turn out there?”

“Absolutely. We have little concerns for how mortals are dividing things up. It’s been awhile since I spoke with many of them, but I’ll head straight to the Jade Emperor and inform him of the situation. He’ll be less than pleased with me, but he’ll care more about protecting life than he will about old grievances or that I didn’t clear this with him first.”

“Awesome. I guess…Anansi, could you go and get Cassandra, Nabu, and hopefully Horus alone?”

“Yes. Horus will be important especially. The Egyptian pantheon is likely none too pleased with us for killing Bast.”

“Hopefully you can smooth that over. Or he can. Or will.” Ryan grimaces. “With what Cassandra told us, I really hope Horus is over the whole Bast thing, but still be careful. He helped a ton in Seattle, but I don’t know where his head is at these days.”

“And if he became an Anthropophage?” Anansi asked.

“Grab Nabu and Cassandra. Stuff her in a staging areas, and the two of you take him down,” Ryan said without hesitation. “We’re not playing games with Anthropophages anymore. Not after what happened in Grant.”

Anansi nodded.

“I shouldn’t stay long either,” Athena said. “I need to go to Artemis. She’s going to mobilize the Erinyes, and they’ve always liked me. At least, since the Theogony. We could use their help.”

“All right,” Ryan said, running his hand through his hair. “That leaves Crystal, Isabel, and me. Crystal, would you mind sticking around and talking me through the wormholes? I’m…really worried about that going badly.”

“Would I mind?” Crystal laughed. “Ryan, love, I’ve waited a million years to make sure you don’t bugger this sideways. Of course I’m going to go with you to do that.”

Ryan sagged a bit with relief. He knew what he had to do, but how to do it…if he screwed it up, the world was completely and utterly doomed. “Okay, thanks. Isabel, stay here and monitor. The barriers we have in place will keep you safe, but I’ll keep my doorway open so if anything comes out we’ll be able to respond.”

Isabel gave him a thumbs up. “All of you keep your cellphones on and connected to Bluetooth when you’re on the Core. The last thing we want is for anyone to need information and not be able to be reached.”

“Exactly,” Ryan said. “And remember, if there’s a sighting of Kali, drop what you’re doing if you can and get there. Right now, she’s the biggest threat we have, and if we don’t take her down, we’re going to have to fight her at one of the wormholes. I really, really don’t want it to come to that. There’s no way we get out of that without lives being lost if we do.”

Everyone nodded somberly.

“Alright. Everyone knows what to do. We’ll meet back here tomorrow at six am. Let Isabel know if you burn through enough power you need to sleep, and park your staging area here before you do so you can join in as soon as you get that Hunger taken care of.” Ryan took a deep breath. “It’s going to be crazy. We might not even all get here tomorrow. This…this could easily be the last time the six of us are together. And I just wanted to say…thank you. All of you. We came together oddly and for our own reasons, but there’s no way we could have gotten this far without all of us. If I don’t get to speak to you until after the apocalypse, I just want to say it’s been an honor.”

No one chided him for the unspoken implication – that this might be the last chance he’d have to say that to all of them. That some of them might not make it through what was to come. That he might not make it through what happened next.

Instead, hands were shaken, and gods departed, living him, Crystal, and Isabel. Isabel shook her head with a small smile. “Listen to you, Ryan. Bossing around gods. Never would have thought you’d have it in you.”

“I can second that, love,” Crystal said. “Why don’t you head into your nanoverse and start setting up. Pull up your Globus Mundi and mark out where the first wave of wormholes are going to open. I’ll be along in a second – I want to have a word with Isabel.”

Ryan hesitated, then saw the look Isabel was giving him, and nodded. “All right. See you over there, Crystal.”

And with that, he left them and entered into his staging area. It was hard not suppress a surge of jealousy. Isabel and Crystal would get their moment, but he hadn’t gotten to give Athena a proper goodbye. You’ll see her tomorrow, he reminded himself.

He just hoped there would be time to do something beyond a quick meeting then. For now…it was time to get to work.

Small Worlds Part 251

“Please do not try to go outside your covered region – we’ve planned to allow for enough space and time for everyone that wants to go.” Ryan took a deep breath. “I know this is difficult to believe, and I know it’s difficult to accept. I wish there was more time. Since there isn’t, however, I hope you can find it in yourselves to trust the evidence. Scientists can confirm the stellar expansion. Thank you. I’ll now answer any questions you may have.”

The results were immediate. The entire room erupted into a chorus of shouted questions – or really, demands for information. A few were even calling for security to come in and forcibly remove them, as if there hadn’t been plenty of indications as to exactly how effective that would end up being. What did you expect, Ryan? Hugs and applause? This isn’t some movie. 

One person wasn’t shouting. Lalitha Rajan, the Secretary General. She was sitting with her hands folded on the desk, waiting for the tumult to die down, her gaze firmly on Ryan. He felt a bit like a bug pinned to a board under that gaze. Ryan tried giving her a quick nod of acknowledgement. That only made her stare harden. “Mr. Smith,” she said the moment the clamor died enough for her voice to carry, “you are correct that there has been some…unusual activity from the sun lately. However, your claim that this leads to an imminent solar detonation is hard to countenance.”

Ryan grimaced and nodded. “I know. I can only imagine how crazy I sound right now. But I don’t speak alone – the gods with me can confirm what I’m saying.”

“Confirmation from your allies is not exactly proof,” Lalitha said, her voice firm. “All it proves is that people who believe you will believe you. What do you have that could convince people who are less predisposed to agree with you?”

“Well…there’s the fact that I’ll be able to create these wormholes in the first place,” Ryan said.

Lalitha leaned forward, raising an eyebrow. “And how exactly does that prove anything?”

“I’m the Eschaton,” Ryan said, the word drawing another murmur from the crowd. “Gods normally can only do small, localized changes. We can alter the weather, we can throw fireballs and lightning, we can do pretty impressive things, but…the small nuclear device that killed Enki was only possible because we tricked him into making it with his own, abnormally enhanced powers. Something like that goes beyond my normal powers. But, being the Eschaton, I’m able to do one thing – just one – that goes well above and beyond what we’re normally capable of. I intend on using it to create these wormholes. As soon as I leave here, in fact.”

Lalitha’s face made it very clear that she felt him leaving wasn’t something entirely up to his discretion. “I see. And yet…who can confirm that is true? Again, you see the problem. You make claims based on evidence that no one else can confirm.”

“Other gods can confirm that such a thing is well beyond our normal power,” Ryan said. “Gods who aren’t my allies.”

The Secretary General made a note. “I will, of course, be looking into that. I don’t suppose any of them could provide more proof for your claims?”

“They could confirm if they believe it or not, but there is a lack of proof that it’s true” Ryan admitted. “All I have is the manipulation that exceeds normal divine powers and the expansion of the Sun. I could present you with a Curator, a being that has knowledge of the inner workings of the universe, but it would only be his word. I could ask an angel to appear, a being as old as time itself, but it would only be her word – and she’ll soon be very busy carrying these wormholes. Those are the beings that can prove what I say. Well, and Crystal,” he gestured towards her. “She was the Eschaton the last time this happened.”

“I’d like to hear from her,” Lalitha said.

Ryan stepped back, and Crystal stepped forward. “I was the Eschaton last time. Millions of years before humanity, my people were there. The Lemurians. We shared this world with Atlanteans, Hyperboreans, the Men of Leng – people out of your myths and legends. Those myths exist because I’ve spoken of them, so they would not be forgotten. I failed to figure out then what we know now – that the only option is to evacuate the planet and our civilization along with it.”

“You look human,” Lalitha said.

Crystal took a deep breath, and her body began to change. Feathers replaced hair, a beak grew from her face, and her hands and feet turned to talons. Gasps and mutters began to spread around the room, and even the thus-far-unflappable Secretary General’s eyes widened. “This is what I looked like,” she said. “This is who I was.” Crystal’s form changed back to the one Ryan knew better. “This is who I am now. I don’t think of myself as Lemurian anymore. I have lived among you since your earliest ancestors first figured out speech. I was Ishtar. I was Innan. I was Sauska. I was Astarte. I was Astoreth. I was Ainina. I was Durga. I was even Aphrodite, although someone else has that name now. I’m Crystal now, and I have spent more time than even I know preparing for this to happen.”

This time, there wasn’t an eruption. Crystal was able to command the kind of stunned silence Ryan had half expected after his announcement.

“You have given us a great deal to consider,” Lalitha finally said. “We will investigate your claims. We will speak to others who would speak to us. And then we will act accordingly. The first of these Wormholes opens tomorrow?”

Ryan stepped back to the podium. “Yes.”

“And we have a week?”

Ryan nodded. “The time can be extended. If disasters are unleashed, we can buy more time, but it will put countless lives in danger. I intend on using that only as a last resort.”

Lalitha’s lips narrowed, but she nodded. “Then we will investigate very quickly. Now…I would ask you to leave. We have a great deal still to discuss.”

“Thank you,” Ryan said.

And with no more fanfare than that, the five gods left the United Nations.

Small Worlds Part 250

Sorry for the sporadic updates this week. It’s been a bit crazy. I should be back to my schedule starting next week. Thank you all for your patience!

Ryan stepped up to the podium, trying to control his heartbeat. It was harder than it seemed. Sure, he’d faced down gods and monsters, he’d been in fights for his life, but this was different – he was about to give a speech to the entire world.

He hoped his nerves weren’t as apparent as the felt.

“Esteemed members of the United Nations, my name is Ryan Smith. I am sorry for interrupting this meeting, but I come with a warning that cannot be ignored. I am here to tell you, with no exaggeration, the end of the world is upon us.” He held up his hand for quiet. “I know this is hard to believe. I know that so many times, people have claimed the world is ending. That there is some impending cataclysm – one born of certain readings of one religious text or another, or one that comes from the calendar of some ancient civilization, or even warnings based on hard scientific data that we are inevitably moving towards a future catastrophe.

“This is not like that. We are facing something new and unprecedented – a literal threat to the planet. You know by now that gods are real, that monsters are real. Things modern science couldn’t account for, wasn’t predicted, walk the world. I’m one of them. I’m also thirty years old and from Saint Louis, Missouri. I’m not some strange thing from antiquity – I was born in 1989.

“I say that so you know I’m here to speak with you not as someone who believes he is above you, but as one of you. I have friends and family here. And if we don’t act quickly, the world will end. We have seven days.”

Another round of uproar. It was nearly impossible to make out any individual words, but the general disbelief of the assembly was so apparent it was nearly a physical force. Ryan took a deep breath and snapped his fingers, neutralizing sound waves. The zone of silence spread out over the assembled crowd like a physical force. He let it dissipate.

A burst of silence proved far more effective than shouting for attention would be. “Astronomers have already noticed the recent solar expansion. It’s the reason we’re having such unseasonably high temperatures, higher than could be accounted for by even our most pessimistic models. I know you all must have been briefed on this by now. Let me be clear here – in seven days, the sun is going to explode in a supernova if human civilization still exists on Earth. There is no preventing it. There is no denying it. This stellar expansion will continue to increase exponentially as two hundred billion years of denied entropy catch up with our Sun. Even though our Sun doesn’t have the mass to undergo a normal supernova, the immense energy released by this rapid change will wipe us from the cosmos.”

Jaqueline was getting used to Austria. Enough of the population spoke English that she and Kurt could get by, and their German was improving at an impressive rate. It wasn’t ideal, but…”But that was the choice you made when you let him into our home,” Kurt said. Jaqueline took a deep breath, trying to calm the surge of anger. She didn’t know what was worse – the fact that the argument was so ongoing, or the fact that Kurt was right.

“What do you want me to do, Kurt?” she asked. “I mean at this point, what can I do? I made a judgement call. I had to make it quickly. They were trying to kill him. We’ve been over this. Back and forth. Now, though, I can’t undo it.”

Kurt pursed his lips and shook his head. “What if you were wrong? What if he’s-”

“Wait,” Jaqueline said, pointing towards the television. Kurt turned to look and let out a strangled noise when he saw Ryan’s face. Then he saw the United Nations logo behind him. Kurt was the one to turn up the volume.

”- the immense energy released by this rapid change will wipe us from the cosmos,” Ryan said, “But it can be stopped. It can be stopped without the worst-case scenario happening. But only if humanity isn’t here anymore.” Ryan had to raise his voice to speak over the tumult. “I don’t mean an end to humanity! I don’t want anyone to die. We just can’t stay on Earth anymore.

“My allies and I, over the course of the next week, are going to start creating traversable wormholes. They will be carried by the Archangel Uriel to another world, a new home for humanity. We’ve checked this world – its breathable for us, the water is drinkable, and the local flora and fauna have compatible enough biochemistry that we can plant our own crops in the soil, and survive off what’s there. We haven’t found any diseases that will be a risk to you. The world is smaller than Earth – it will have four-fifths the gravity we’re used to – but has a greater land to ocean ratio. We’ll actually have more land available than we do on Earth. The days are a bit longer, the years significantly shorter, but it will be safe.

“I don’t think it will be easy. I know it won’t be easy. We’re going to need to relocate over a billion people every day to save everyone. But it is doable. Once we’re there, we’ll be using our power to start creating shelter for everyone. We’ll need every skilled laborer we can find to help pitch in, and it will be a construction project greater than anything undertaken in human history – rebuilding as much as our civilization as possible from scratch. But it must be done, and one thing humans have proven time and time again – if something must be done, we will find the will to accomplish it.”

Jaqueline looked at Kurt, who had turned white and was gripping the back of the chair. “He’s insane,” Kurt whispered.

“Kurt…I believe him. We have to go.”

“How can you…do you realize how insane this sounds?”

“As insane as gods running around Manhattan? As insane as angels fighting skeletons in Ohio? As insane as anything that’s been going on lately? Kurt, insane means something completely different now. I think denying the impossible is the only insane choice left.”

Kurt just shook his head. Not in negation, just sheer disbelief. “It’s going to be chaos,” he said.

That, Jaqueline couldn’t argue.

“-one thing humans have proven time and time again – if something must be done, we will find the will to accomplish it.”

Dr. Blankenship stared at the TV screen, his eyes wide with shock. The caption under the broadcast read “Ryan Smith, Alleged “God,” Warns of coming Apocalypse, Speaks of Human relocation.”

It’s said you never forget a patient, but over his forty years as a psychologist, Dr. Blankenship had learned that was a lie. Some people just didn’t stick in your memory. It had been almost twenty years since he’d last treated the young man with persistent delusions he was being followed by a man in a suit, and Dr. Blankenship had forgotten about Ryan Smith. Until the news had started running. Until he’d seen the fight against the Hecatoncheires on television.

Then he’d remembered. And now that young man was speaking to the United Nations, spouting off a paranoid delusion.

At least, Dr. Blankenship should have been able to write that off as just paranoia. But he’d seen the man throw lightning from his fingertips, and it was hard not to take what he was saying seriously with that kind of evidence.

The fact that his wife, Maria, was hearing Ryan speak Portuguese at the same time the Doctor heard English was also pretty compelling.

“We will operate these wormholes for anyone. Everyone who wants to go through can go through. I understand some of you might be afraid to traverse them. I know I would be. As a show of good faith, my own sister is going to walk through the first one and return to show that it can be done. She’s the only family I have left – I wouldn’t risk her life unless I was certain it will be safe. However, if you choose not to go…we will not force you.” The words seemed strained there, like he had to force himself to speak them. “If enough people don’t go through, Earth will die, and those that remain will die with them, but there is only a week. I want to save as many people as I can – but there won’t be time to take anyone who doesn’t want to go.

“I beg you not to be in that group. I know it will be hard – I know it’s unthinkable – but it is the only way we can survive. There won’t be any kind of registry forced, there won’t be any census, we don’t care who you are or where you are from – you will be allowed to leave with us. However, there are certain skills that, if you have, we need to know about.”

Dr. Blankenship didn’t think psychology was going to be on that list. Taking a deep breath, he stood up. “Dear…” he said, choosing his words carefully, “I think it might be best if we start packing.”

Maria considered him for a long moment, then nodded slowly. “Not that we’re committing to going through,” she said. “Just…making sure we’re ready.”

“Exactly my thought,” Dr. Blankenship said, feeling immense relief. Of course they weren’t going through a portal to another world. Of course not. That would just be silly. But…making sure that they were ready? There’s nothing wrong with that.

“We won’t be able to bring any books, any art, any of the trappings of civilization. Clothes and food are the extent of what we can bring safely. Those of who you do have knowledge to start recreating those works, we’ll need you to start immediately – especially in scientific literature and engineering. Civics engineers, we’ll need you to plan the new cities we have to erect. Anyone with knowledge of agriculture will be critical to making sure we can be ready to feed people within a couple seasons. Anyone with knowledge of ancient aqueducts and pre-modern technology irrigation methods or waste removal methods will be needed as well.

“Essentially, if you have any knowledge that will be needed to rebuild civilization, we need to know if you feel comfortable disclosing. We will be starting from scratch, but we’ll be able to rebuild. More than just rebuild – we’ll be starting with everything we now have and now know, and can build something better. All of us, working together. The first truly global project.

“There will be those that try to stop us. Governments that fear losing their power over people. Corporations that see profit in opposing us. Well-meaning people who think this is the fevered ramblings of a madman, even as scientific evidence mounts to disprove that. And, of course, other gods. To those individuals, I have a single message – we will do anything to protect the people of this world as they move to their new home. We will not be stopped. Speak against us all you want – but the moment you try to prevent people from reaching safety, you will have made enemies of us. And believe me – we have faced far worse than you.”

“Coward,” Kali said, spitting the word. Evans gave her a confused look, and Kali gestured at the screen. “He’s so afraid of his duty, he’s going to cause infinitely more suffering this way. He could have ended the world painlessly, humanely. No one would have even realized it was coming. Now? There is going to be riots. Panic. Murder. Humanity is going to devolve into packs of brutes fighting for survival. So much suffering…and for nothing.”

“You don’t think it will work?” Evans said.

Kali shook her head. “He thinks to put himself above the cycles that govern the universe. All he’s going to accomplish is rendering the Earth a scorched hellscape bathed in solar flame. It’s monstrous, what he’s doing – all in the name of soothing his feelings.”

“Are we going, then?” he asked.

“Not yet. They’ll be ready for us there.”

“A schedule of wormholes is being made available online,” Ryan said on the television. “The first ones will open tonight at midnight. We will make sure to come to the one nearest to you. Please do not try to go outside your covered region – we’ve planned to allow for enough space and time for everyone that wants to go.”

Kali leaned forward. “Get that schedule,” she said. “Find out where they’re going to be having these portals. That is where we will find them isolated.”

Evans pulled out his phone to do exactly that.

The world is going to end, Kali reminded herself. And damn him for making me force his hand. 

Small Worlds Part 249

The seventy-fourth assembly of the United Nations was in session, and exactly one thing was dominating all topics of discussion: the presence of gods. Lalitha Rajan, Secretary General, had known it would be dominant, but she hadn’t expected the discussion to so quickly turn acerbic.

Then again, she also hadn’t expected for the United Nations Extranormal Entity Taskforce to be annihilated before it would even be deployed.

“Something must be done,” Grigori Kovalenko, the Ukrainian representative, said. “This Kali attacked a United Nations Taskforce. These gods have declared war on us, and we must respond in kind.”

“With all due respect,” the Turkish representative, Ezgi Akdeniz, began, and Lalitha Rajan had to consider that venomous phrase. Nothing in it ever said any respect was due, and yet it still seemed to imply that at least some should be given. It all came down to tone. The interpreter was doing an excellent job keeping their tone neutral, but Ezgi sounded like he was explaining things to a small child It strong implied there was very little respect due, “This is only one goddess. Kali. We do not even know if these gods are working together, or who they are working with.”

“Svetovid has raised a palace for himself on the banks of the Kalmius,” Grigori said. “Moloch established a temple in El Ávila. Bast has decimated Grant. There are more. These gods mean to take their old places, their old roles, again. We must act.”

“And act we will,” Lalitha said, regaining control of the conversation. “But calling for action without a plan is just blowing air. Our last attempt was catastrophic.” Although at least we didn’t fail as badly as the United States when it tried to act alone, she added to herself. It would be undiplomatic to point it out. It would also be undiplomatic to point out that so far, any nation that had attempted to act alone had been met with failure.

The truth of the matter was the United Nations was not meant for this kind of situation. It was intended to keep the peace. At the moment, there was precious little peace to keep.

The representative from Kenya, Rashid Otieno, stood up. “Madam secretary, with all due respect,” – and there’s that phrase again, Lalitha thought, trying to contain a surge of frustration – “What single plan could possibly be made? We are dealing with threats across the entire globe. Not just gods, but monsters. How could we come up with a unified plan for threats as diverse as demons and gods and umkovu?”

Lalitha’s interpreter quickly explained a umkovu was a type of reanimated and mutilated corpse that poisons people’s food. All of them had, for this meeting, given their interpreters earpieces that would allow them to get information from a team of mythologists for any unfamiliar terms mentioned. A good interpreter was a difficult find and finding one who was also an expert in multiple culture’s mythology was nigh impossible.

“I spoke with Lakshmi yesterday,” Lalitha said. The apparent non-sequitur had the desired effect of drawing everyone’s attention even closer. “She had several things to say, including wanting to disavow Kali’s actions.”

That meeting had been nearly overwhelming. Lalitha practiced Panchayatana puja, and had years ago chosen Lakshmi as her Ishta Devata, her cherished deity and primary focus of devotion. Lalitha had never, in her wildest imaginings, believed she’d be taking a meeting with Lakshmi herself. Let alone that Lakshmi would contact her to apologize for the actions of another goddess.

“She also helped me understand how divine beings work. They do operate by organizing themselves into pantheons, and rarely work outside of their pantheon. As such, I propose a resolution to consider pantheons to be sovereign entities. They would be responsible for policing their own members, and could be treated with in all matters – including war,” she nodded to the Ukrainian representative with those last two words, “as if they were a state, followed by immediate invitations to all pantheons we can contact to join as a member state. ”

She had expected the immediate uproar. Aids were already scurrying about, handing off documents that detailed the full proposal.  It wasn’t standard procedure to propose new resolutions in the middle of a session. Nothing was standard about what was happening out there, however. There couldn’t be the usual delay in action, not when everything was so close to the end.

“Lakshmi lied to you!” a voice shouted, cutting through the tumult. Silence slowly returned to the room, and all eyes turned to the speaker. Grigori had risen to his feet and was pointing an accusing finger at Lalitha. “She said that they rarely act outside their own pantheons, yes? Yet this Ryan Smith, this Eschaton, he works with members of a half dozen pantheons. How does that fit into your theory?”

How did you know the term Eschaton, Grigori? Lalitha thought. She only knew what it meant in this case because of Lakshmi. Who had told him? To hear him talk, he wanted nothing to do with the gods. She opened her mouth, ready to explain what she had been told, but her words were cut off by the sound of doors slamming open. “I  know a good entrance line when I hear one!” a voice said. She was surprised to hear her native Hindi, but looking around the room no interpreters were speaking.

All eyes were focused on the individuals who had just entered the General Assembly hall. At the lead was a man they’d seen on television – Ryan Smith. A newborn god and the figure who had kickstarted so much of the chaos. With him were other gods. Lalitha recognized Athena, Crystal, and Anansi – the first two from the conflict with Enki, and the second from the situation in Ghana. The final woman had avoided the news so far, but reports had stated Dainmu was working with the other four. “I’m really sorry we couldn’t schedule this, but there’s a pretty big time crunch going on right now,” Ryan said.

Guards around the room raised their weapons. Each of the five gods gestured, and guns were sent flying across the room, plummeting to the ground, shooting to the ceiling, being encased in ice, or turning too hot to be held. Reporters turned their cameras on the approaching gods, but those were allowed to shoot where guns did not.

Lalitha stared in openmouthed shock. Even though that display was less impressive than some she had seen – the sunbeams at the battle in front of a hotel had certainly been flashy – it was something else to see it in person. Men and women gesturing and suddenly things beyond possibility happened. Steeling herself, she stood up. “What do you want?” she said through clenched teeth.

She didn’t like admitting she was holding her breath. As easily as they had disarmed the guards, they could have killed everyone in the room with the same amount of effort. If they took umbrage with her tone, Lalitha knew she would be dead before she even realized she was under attack.

Thankfully, no attack came. “Well, Madam Secretary General?” Ryan said, looking hesitant. It was almost like now that he had the eyes of the world on him, the bravado that had caused him to shove open the doors was evaporating. “We needed to talk to this council. There wasn’t any way to get an appointment in time.”

“In time for what?”

“The world is going to end. Not in some distant future, not even in the near future. In fact, the sun is going to end next Tuesday unless we start acting right now.”

The room again erupted in shouts and general chaos, all sense of decorum vanishing in an instant. Anansi held up his hands, and suddenly all sound ceased. People were still trying to shout, but no sound was passing their lips.

Ryan turned his eyes on Lalitha. He’d re-found his confidence, it seemed.

“Well, Madam Secretary General? May I have the podium?”

There was nothing to do but nod.

Small Worlds Part 248

From there, the discussion was relatively straightforward. Everyone agreed that letting the world know was the best next course of action, and interrupting the United Nations was the likely best way to at least get everyone’s attention. “We’re also going to get shot at,” Athena said, her lips curled in a frown.

“Well, if we know they’re shooting, we can cover it, right?” Ryan asked. “Even from ichor rounds? I know they’ll wreck our shit if they hit us-” Ryan reflexively rubbed his jaw before continuing “-but if we can keep barriers up, we’ll be covered.”

“We’ll burn through a chunk of power,” Anansi said, scratching his beard. “Perhaps we should neutralize the weapons first? Then just be ready for if they attack?”

“We should absolutely do that,” Crystal said. “Otherwise, if Kali decides to show up, we’ll be bloody exhausted for the fight.”

That possibility drew the conversation for a pause. “I…honestly hadn’t considered Kali showing up,” Ryan said.

“Wasn’t it your idea to use the media to draw out Enki?” Dianmu asked.

Ryan flushed instead of speaking his response.

“I think we’ll be alright in that regard at least,” Athena said. “Kali’s stated goal is for you to trigger the end of the world in a more traditional manner, yes? We’ll just need to be careful about how long we stay after we announce the plan.”

“Still, maybe Cassandra and I should wait to retrieve Horus,” Arachne said, frowning.

“No,” Ryan and Dianmu said in unison. Ryan let Dianmu continue. “After my last encounter with one, I’m very certain the last thing we need would be a newborn anthropophage on the loose.”

“Agreed,’ Ryan said. “Athena, do you think you could get us security for this event?”

“You mean the Olympians?” Athena said. “I’m sure I could. Artemis is fully committed to our cause. For that matter, Crystal, could you bring in Resheph and the Canaanite pantheon? Those that Moloch didn’t kill do owe their lives to us.”

“I’ll try, loves, although I can’t promise I’ll be able to pull it off. They’re somewhat leery of taking any risks.” Crystal shrugged. “Can’t say I fully blame them, although it would be nice of them to remember that if they don’t take risks and we fail, they’re going to end up without a world to call home. It’d get boring quickly to spend all their time in Shadu.”

“Which reminds me,” Isabel said. “We should probably be ready for other pantheons. Now that Olympus is on our side, they won’t be able to ignore there’s going to be a…Theo-mecha-”

“Theomachy, love.” Crystal corrected absently.

“Right, that. Now that there’s no ignoring a full on Theomachy is brewing, they are going to have to step in, right?”

“You’re not wrong,” Anansi said after a pregnant pause. “We should be on guard. I cannot say where the others will fall.”

“We can’t plan for everything,” Ryan said. “We’ll have the Olympians and possibly the Caananites providing security. Even with the staff of Ra, that should be enough to cover us if things go belly up. Unless she brings a larger force…but if we assume she could do that, I might as well just end the world the way she wants because we’ve already lost.”

That statement certainly had a sobering effect on the room. Not that the atmosphere was particularly bright and happy to begin with, Ryan thought. “Look, I know we had a setback. But I really think we can pull this off. We’ve faced worse than this before, right?”

“Kind of,” Crystal said. “Ryan, love, it’s Kali we’re dealing with this time.”

“Pretend I’ve been a god for a couple months and tell me what that means?” Ryan asked.

“Kali is a destroyer goddess.” Crystal said. “You know how some gods work a bit differently? Proteans are master shapeshifters, Tricksters have a gift for illusions, storm goddesses can command storms much more easily, war gods are a bit stronger and faster, that sort of thing, death gods have the power from their underworlds, that sort of thing? Well, guess what a Destroyer is better at than pretty much anyone else?”

“I’m going to go out on a limb here and assume it’s not hugging,” Ryan said, sinking into his seat. He’d only been vaguely aware that was true – he’d assumed things had worked the other way. But when he thought about it, it did fit what he’d seen so far. No one he’d seen fought quite like Crystal or Athena, Dianmu was in a league of her own when it came to lightning…and he’d heard about proteans

“No. No, it is not. Her destructive potential is far beyond what most gods are capable of. She can hit harder than anyone with twists, and that was before she had the staff of Ra. I wouldn’t have looked forward to fighting her at her normal strength.”

“Wait,” Isabel said. “When we fought, she was mostly shapeshifting.”

“She was toying with you,” Dianmu said, not unkindly. “She could have ended that fight at any moment, but she wanted to test your strength – and I suspect also wanted to make sure she didn’t kill you by accident.”

“Well, damn.” Isabel rubbed her nose. “Do I…do I even have a snowballs chance in hell of killing a god one on one?”

“You could get very lucky,” Anansi said.

Isabel made a strangled sound.

“So…what do we do?” Ryan asked.

“We need to be on guard. We need to be extra careful. If she gets the drop on any one of us, we’re in serious trouble. If we can make it a group fight, we can even the scales. And we try to get the bloody staff from her hands.” Crystal shrugged. “That’s really all I can think of. Just…sorry, this isn’t a ‘we’re all doomed’ scenario. Just that we can’t get flippant. Kali’s smart, too, so we can’t count on her making stupid mistakes like Enki did. She’s not arrogant, so she wouldn’t make a mistake as big as Moloch did. We need to be careful, we need to be smart.”

Ryan nodded. “Isabel, you should probably stay back. Run the drones for surveillance.”

“Yeah, you’re right,” Isabel said.

“No, I mean it,” Ryan went on. “The risk is too high. You turn into animals, you don’t have a way to…” his ears finally caught up with his brain. “Wait, what?”

“You’re right, Ryan.” Isabel didn’t even look bitter or angry. She looked, if anything, relieved. “I nearly died fighting Kali. There’s not much I can add, not unless there’s monsters you need squishing. I can turn into a sauropod and rumble over a big army, but against gods…I’m out of my weight class. And that’s okay.”

Ryan didn’t try to hide his own relief. “So…is there anything else we need to do?”

No one suggested anything.

“Alright. Arachne and Cassandra are going to free Horus. I’ll go with Athena to talk to the Olympians. Dianmu, would you mind going with Crystal to speak with the Caaninites?” Dianmu gave him a thumbs-up. “Awesome. Anansi and Isabel, can you get us somewhere near the UN building for us to operate out of and set up the drones again? I’d like to be ready for if anything pops up.” They both nodded. “Perfect. Nabu, I’d like you to scout out some locations for us to open the first set of wormholes. The better prepared we are, the less likely this is to go badly. And do what you can to stay off Kali’s radar, everyone.”

And with that, there was nothing more to do.

After all this, it was time to begin the apocalypse.

Small Worlds Part 247

Ryan came back into the room to find the final member of their little pseudo-pantheon had joined them. Cassandra was seated on some kind of counter in the Reliquary of Lost Souls, not quite comfortable being in the midst of the entire group. She nodded towards Ryan in acknowledgement of his presence.

How quickly we’ve grown, Ryan thought. Weeks ago, it had just been him, Crystal, and Athena. Now their number included Anansi, Dianmu, Isabel, Cassandra, Nabu, Arachne, and people Ryan considered honorary members – primarily among them Artemis and Resheph. And one more. “Arthur took the terms, and Uriel can transport the wormholes. I think that’s the best case scenario here. A few things I wanted to clear up. Has anyone heard from Horus since we got back?”

Cassandra grimaced. “Not since you all returned, but I know what happened to him.”

All eyes turned towards her.

“He came to Bast. He was working with her, Dracula, and me.”

“Wait, hold on just one second,” Isabel said, her eyes wide. “Dracula? He’s real?”

“Oh yes,” Athena said. “Artemis was involved in the hunt when he first underwent anthropophagogenesis. They never did find him – part of why vampires have been so successful. No one’s managed to catch him since.”

“Bast got him,” Cassandra said, pulling up her knees and resting her chin. “He was trying to use her to assemble some kind of new group, a pantheon of monsters. He mentioned a few names he was reaching out – Baba Yaga was the one that stuck. Bast didn’t want to be used by him – or anyone, for that matter – so when she was done with him, she killed him and destroyed his nanoverse.”

Ryan wasn’t the only once to wince. Destruction of a nanoverse was a nightmarish thing, snuffing out trillions of lives for the crimes of a single being. It was not to be done lightly.

“I’ve heard,” Dainmu said carefully, “that the nanoverses of anthropophages are terrible realms of constant suffering.”

“They are,” Cassandra said. “Or at least, Dracula’s was. He showed us what it was like. It was an infinite plain dominated by citadels the size of worlds. Those buildings would crawl around, subjugating everyone they passed over and left alive. Trust me. The people who lived there are better off dead.”

No one quite knew what to make of that, and Ryan broke the silence with a cough. “And Horus?”

“Right,” Cassandra said, collecting herself. “He was doing a complete ‘Nice Guy’ thing on Bast. Basically expected her to finally return his affection. She killed him and ate his heart. Didn’t destroy his nanoverse though. Left his body chained up so she could eat again. Apparently, god heart is delicious.”

“Apparently?” Arachne asked. “So you didn’t try it yourself?”

Cassandra ignored the question. “It’s what I wanted to talk to you about. How long does it take for a god to turn into an anthropophage from Hunger denial? Because Horus has been chained up there for a few days now, and if it’s been too long..” she let the rest of the question trail off.

“Nabu, love, any idea?” Crystal asked.

Nabu didn’t even need to pause to consider the question. The words were out faster than Ryan had time to process the realization that no one else even knew what Nabu was about to share. “It depends on how serious the reconstruction was. The fastest it’s ever happened took a week after resurrection. The longest is thirty-two days.

“How long ago did Horus die?” Ryan asked.

“About a week ago, I think.” Cassandra said.

“Okay.” Ryan frowned. “So…we might not be too late.”

“Almost certainly aren’t,” Crystal said. “We resurrect much more slowly outside our staging areas than inside them. Minimum it took him four days.”

Ryan let out a sigh of relief. “As soon as we’re done here, some of you need to go and help him out of those chains. Make sure he’s not an anthropophage first.”

“I’ll go,” Anansi said.

“I’ll join him,” said Arachne. When she saw everyone’s surprised expressions, she shrugged. “If we’re going ahead with your plan to announce ourselves to the entire world, I’d rather be doing literally anything else while you do.”

“Thank you,” Ryan said, meaning it. “Anansi, it might be best if you stay here. We don’t need two of you to break someone’s chains, and as…frustrating as Horus was, he was an ally and I imagine he’s not going to throw a fit that Bast is dead now.”

“He also was all but demanding Bast point out for him,” Cassandra said sharply. “I understand that she became a monster. But that doesn’t mean he should get away free with being such a massive jerk.”

Ryan sighed. “You have a point there, Cassandra. Really. But we can’t leave him chained up to become a monster, he didn’t do anything awful enough to warrant nanoverse destruction, and he…” Ryan trailed off on the thought. The logic of someone being a monster but at least on their side was how they’d ended up working with Moloch before. Saying that had had gone poorly was like saying an active volcano caldera was a bit hot. Horus was no Moloch but working with someone who would act the way Horus did was stomach churning. “Arachne take Cassandra let him out and find out what happened. Get his perspective. I’ll trust your judgement. If he’s going to be a problem to work with, or if he crossed too many lines, then tell him he can help by going to the new world and start triple checking that this place isn’t going to kill humanity. If we can stomach him, then we need him with us. All hands on deck.”

“Why on Earth would you trust my judgement? You barely know me.” Arachne asked.

“Because you’re a suspicious misanthrope. If Horus can convince you he’s tolerable, he’ll convince the rest of us.”

Arachne laughed. It was the first time Ryan had heard her genuinely laugh, and it was an odd sound. Like she was re-learning after millennia of having little reason to do so. “You have me there. Okay.”

“I’m not sure why I’m going,” Cassandra said.

“Because Arachne can double check his story with you. We need to know if he’s outright lying about what happened, and you’re the only surviving witness.”

Cassandra considered the answer and nodded.

“Should we go now?” Arachne asked.

“Not yet,” Ryan said. “There’s still the plan to discuss. Interrupting the United Nations meeting to announce we’re going to evacuate the Earth.”

And hope to God that it’s not a terrible idea if we do it.

Small Worlds Part 246

“Thank you, so very much, for that mental image,” Ryan said, pinching the bridge of his nose. Arachne moved forward to speak again, and Dianmu intercepted her. Ryan couldn’t hear what was said in those hushed whispers, but it seemed like it at least got through to her. “Arthur, I’m sorry if I was rude initially. But I thought this matter was settled. I restored Uriel after what Moloch did to her.”

Uriel stepped forward smoothly. “And I said I was in your debt. That is a debt that will be repaid, but it remains between you and me. Your debt with Arthur is a different matter.”

“You said you’d convince him,” Ryan said, growling the words.

“Yes. I was in error.”

Ryan wanted to ground his teeth together and turned towards Arthur. “I don’t know what you heard, but we have a week left before the sun explodes. I can possibly extend that deadline some, but not by much.”

Now on to the part. And if you get a chance, I’d appreciate a review for Strange Cosmology!

 

Arachne sat back down in her chair and sighed. “Well…he’s a prick.”

“He’s not though,” Athena said with a sigh, settling into her chair. “He’s been as helpful as the constraints of his position allow. Being the King of Hell carries…limitations.”

“I’m surprised he didn’t honor the earlier favor,” Dianmu said, her forehead creased with thought.

“I’m not,” Anansi said. Ryan looked at him in confusion, and Anansi leaned forward. “Ryan. You have a fallen angel in your debt now. Arthur and Uriel just handed you a very powerful weapon and gave you almost free reign to point it however you want. Thus far, everything they’ve done – as obnoxious as it has been – has been for a reason. Do you honestly think they didn’t do that intentionally?”

Ryan chewed his cheek. “I see your point,” he said after he had considered for a few seconds. “I could just ask her to take out Kali and we’d be clear, right?”

“I wouldn’t do that,” Crystal interjected. “You, at best, are going to get a life for a life. Kali goes down that leaves the psycho princesses and their super soldier puppets running around without her influence. Kali is incredibly dangerous, but she’s sane and reasonable. We want influence to gather around her. And before you say it, I wouldn’t have her get the bloody staff of Ra back. As much as I would love to have that out of Kali’s hands, there’s a better use for Uriel – something that no other being could match.”

“I’m listening,” Ryan said.

“Wormhole transportation, love. We’ve been talking about sticking them in various gods’ staging areas and sending them all to take them to another world, but no one has a clear plan how to get enough gods to do that. Each staging area could handle maybe, what, five wormholes? We need hundreds to pull this off. Maybe thousands if we want to avoid people trampling each other trying to get to them. Uriel can just bloody tow all of them through space and distributed them across the world – and probably do it quicker than even a staging area travels.” Crystal’s eyes were alight with the possibilities. “The biggest flaw to this whole plan was getting them into place. With Uriel, that problem gets solved.”

Ryan sat there in silence. “Did he think of that?” he asked, mostly to himself.

“Probably not,” Dianmu said, “although he’ll likely pretend he did. He likely figured out that you could use her power for something. Or perhaps Uriel did, and deliberately made that deal knowing that something like this would happen.”

“Okay,” Ryan said, feeling a bit relieved. Then he really thought through what Crystal had said, and started to smile. “That’s great, then. We’ve got one huge hole plugged. But…tell me what I’m overlooking with giving Arthur’s followers their own wormholes. It sounds like there’s nothing wrong with it, especially since Uriel will mean we don’t have less portals for everyone else.”

“The moment it’s leaked that you’re giving preferential treatment to them, you’ll have riots on your hands,” Athena said promptly.

Arachne nodded, although the sour turn to her lip made it clear she was less than pleased about agreeing with her former mentor. “It will be pandemonium. You’ll have people thinking you’re leading them into a trap, or that you’re sending his followers somewhere else.”

“You already have been accused of being the Antichrist,” Crystal added. “It’s going to make trusting you hard enough, love. People will start claiming that going through the wormholes is basically the same as getting the mark of the bloody Beast. I mean, they’re probably going to do that anyway, but it’ll be even stronger.”

Ryan stood up and began to pace. “So, what do I do? What happens if I refuse the bargain?”

“If you refuse it,” Athena said, obviously picking her words with great care, “Arthur will undo the bargain. He’ll have to.”

“So Isabel loses her soulstone?”

“That’s not all,” Athena said. “He’ll be required to undo everything that happened because of the soulstone that he can. He can’t change the past, but when he takes away Isabel’s soulstone…she’ll suffer all the injuries that she already healed.”

Ryan froze on the spot. “Crystal…could she survive that?”

“I’m sorry,” Crystal said. It wasn’t a direct answer, but it wasn’t hard for Ryan to divine its meaning.

“Then I have to. I can’t…I’m not sacrificing my sister.”

“I don’t think you get to make that call for me,” said a voice from the doorway. Isabel had walked over and was leaning against the frame.

“Isabel…” Ryan started to say.

“Nope. I don’t know what we’re even talking about, but you don’t get to decide for me, jerk. Now, tell me why we might need to sacrifice me.”

Ryan pursed his lips and broke it down in simple, curt terms.

Isabel shook her head. “If it’s me or millions of people, that’s an easy call. I’m just one person.”

“You’re my sister,” Ryan said.

“Yeah, but that doesn’t mean I should get to survive over all those-”

“Wait,” Arachne interjected, cutting in the argument. “Let’s not look at this as a simple ‘one or the other’ situation. Think for a moment. If you all say Arthur’s reasonable, then he might be willing to flex the terms of the bargain some.”

Everyone went silent to think. Finally, Anansi’s face broke into a grin. “I think I know exactly how we can do it.”

He explained. They debated.

And, after some discussion, Ryan walked out to where Arthur and Uriel were waiting. Arthur was leaning back, smoking a cigarette. Uriel was next to him, one wing extended behind him, wrapped around his shoulders and half his body. It was a surprisingly intimate stance – Ryan felt like he’d walked in on them curled up on a couch. At his approach, Arthur flicked out the cigarette and Uriel withdrew her wing. “So, decided?” Arthur asked.

“I did. I’ll do it – but there’s a condition.”

“Oh, this should be good,” Arthur said.

Ryan grimaced at his tone but forged ahead. “Amy Preston. She goes through one of the public portals. No preferential treatment.”

Arthur’s eyebrows furrowed. “You want me to put my first convert, most loyal church member, and Heresiarch of my faith in with the masses?”

“Yes,” Ryan said. “Publicly. On camera. If word gets out that we’re giving you your own portals, I’d like some defense against the claims this is some kind of weird Satanic trap.”

“I’m not putting her in danger,” Arthur said. Ryan was surprised at the heat in his voice. As far as he’d ever seen, Arthur only cared about two people – himself and Uriel. Only he was negotiating to save his followers. Is it something other than his ego?

“I’ll make sure she isn’t. I’ll personally see her safely through.”

Arthur glared at Ryan for a second, and finally gave him a curt nod. “I’ll hold you to that. We done here?”

“Not yet,” Ryan said, turning towards Uriel, “there’s the small matter of the unsettled debt between us.”

Uriel nodded and, after Ryan explained, agreed.

And with that, the nobility of Hell was gone.

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Small Worlds Part 245

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Ryan had heard the phrase “it was so quiet you could hear a pin drop” before, but he’d always thought it was hyperbole. And yet, right after Arthur’s statement, the room was so quiet that Ryan could have believed it. None of the immortals were even breathing right now. The other gods were looking at Ryan, waiting for a response. He tried to get his brain around what was happening – one week to the apocalypse, and Arthur was pulling this now? He felt his hands ball into fists under the table. It wasn’t a conscious decision. It was a reflex born of an overwhelming desire to punch the smug off of Arthur’s face.

Before Ryan could do something he’d probably regret, no matter how good it felt in the moment, the silence was shattered by someone biting into an apple. In the silence, the sound was so loud it was like trying to open one of those damn plastic cake containers at midnight at your parents’ house. Everyone, Arthur and Uriel included, turned to look at the source of the sound.

Arachne stood in the entranceway, taking a moment to finish chewing her bite. She raised an eyebrow and gestured at Arthur. “Okay, who the fuck is this?”

“I…thought everyone knew by now.” Arthur seemed nonplussed, and right then, Ryan wasn’t sure if he wanted to scream at Arachne or hug her. Either way, the tension being broken was appreciation. Arthur walked towards Arachne and extended his hand. “Hi, I’m Arthur. Current King of Hell, after Old Scratch resigned and then had to be executed. And you are?”

Arachne looked him up and down. “Unimpressed.” She regarded the hand with the same excitement she’d use to look at a dead fish.

Arthur’s eyes flashed, and his friendly smile began to turn brittle. “I don’t think I was clear. I’m the man who put Satan in the dirt.”

“Yes, so you could kill me if you wanted to.” Arachne shrugged. “So could half the people in this room. The other half would be difficult. I’m not particularly intimidated – the worst you could do is kill me.”

Arthur withdrew the hand and his expression went from brittle to outright glacial. “I promise you, I can do far worse than-”

“Arthur, I don’t know if – once you know the full details of what’s going on – that this meets the terms of your agreement with Ryan,” Athena interjected smoothly. “You specifically said that you ‘deal in good faith.’ You provided your oath that you will ask ‘nothing that betrays your deepest ideals.’”

Arthur turned towards Athena now, Arachne already forgotten. “Well done. Verbatim in fact. And I intend on upholding my end of the bargain – as I already did. How’s your sister, by the way?”

“She’s doing well,” Ryan said tightly.

“Ryan, I thought we were past this?” Arthur took a step towards the table and sat down in a chair. “I’ve dealt in good faith for you so far, as Athena so deftly pointed out. Do you really think I would come in one week before the apocalypse and bugger you cross-eyed?”

“Thank you, so very much, for that mental image,” Ryan said, pinching the bridge of his nose. Arachne moved forward to speak again, and Dianmu intercepted her. Ryan couldn’t hear what was said in those hushed whispers, but it seemed like it at least got through to her. “Arthur, I’m sorry if I was rude initially. But I thought this matter was settled. I restored Uriel after what Moloch did to her.”

Uriel stepped forward smoothly. “And I said I was in your debt. That is a debt that will be repaid, but it remains between you and me. Your debt with Arthur is a different matter.”

“You said you’d convince him,” Ryan said, growling the words.

“Yes. I was in error.”

Ryan wanted to ground his teeth together and turned towards Arthur. “I don’t know what you heard, but we have a week left before the sun explodes. I can possibly extend that deadline some, but not by much.”

Arthur blinked. It was barely there, and Ryan wouldn’t have noticed if he hadn’t been looking for it, but the facade cracked for an instant. I knew something you didn’t! Ryan thought. Then, sadly, he had to amend that statement. I knew exactly one thing you didn’t. Still, I’ll take it.

“And do you have a solution for the whole impending apocalypse thing?” Arthur asked. “I just came in with you saying you were going to announce your plan to the United Nations, which implies you have a plan, so…”

“We do,” Ryan said.

Arthur gave him a raised eyebrow. “You going to make me drag it out of you? Because you’re going to tell the world fairly soon, so there doesn’t seem to be a reason to keep it a secret.”

Ryan sighed and glanced over at Crystal and Nabu. They both gave him slight nods. If the woman who had dedicated a million years’ worth of living and the being that was as old as time didn’t object… “I’m creating dedicated wormholes. We’re taking the human race to another planet. No writing, no music, no art – nothing of the civilization we created – just the people. It should fill the criteria of preventing the end of the world.”

“Should?” Arthur asked.

“It’s a solid plan,” Nabu interjected. “It meets the letter of the law.”

“And worst case scenario,” Arthur said, stroking his chin, “humanity’s still safe. Sucks for Earth’s biosphere, but we’ve already screwed that up.”

Uriel was frowning, and before Ryan could respond, she’d fixed her eyes on the former Curator. “Nabu?” she said.

Nabu nodded. “Uriel. I haven’t seen you since that mess with the Egyptians.”

“I’m…shocked to see you. You abandoned your duties as a Curator?”

“Some might say that. I personally see it as discovering a new angle to my duties that I could not uphold while staying in my current role.” He smiled. “I imagine you can relate.”

Uriel’s face was completely enigmatic. “Quite,” she said.

“We’re pretty sure Earth will be fine,” Ryan said. “Almost positive, in fact. But…yes, this does have the upside that no matter what, Humanity is safe.”

“Then I don’t think you’ll find my favor disagreeable at all,” Arthur said.

“What is it?” Ryan asked, bracing himself for the worst.

“Well, now that I know the plan, I can make it even simpler. When you start opening these wormholes, you call Amy. You give her some locations that you’re not disclosing to the rest of the planet. Ones that are a bit remote.”

“You…want me to have some reserve portals?” Ryan asked.

“Oh, absolutely. I intend on ensuring my people, my followers, get off this rock safely. They are not going to risk ending up stranded here because there aren’t enough wormholes, or because of riots, or crowds. Make sure my people get some exclusive ones…and our deal is done.”

Ryan licked his lips. “I can’t guarantee safe passage to those wormholes,” he said, hedging.

“You won’t need to,” Arthur said. “I’m the King of Hell. I can make passage happen. You just need to give us some gates we can use.”

It could be worse, Ryan thought. The Church of Adversity had swelled to nearly a hundred million people, and its numbers were growing every day. That was a pretty nice chunk of humanity that wouldn’t be shoving for the main gates, millions of people that the gods didn’t need to worry about. “Can I consult with my peers?”

“Oh, absolutely.” Arthur stood up. “Just…don’t reject it, Ryan. I’d hate to have to get ugly and tell you the consequences for breaking a deal with Hell. Trust me, it’s better for everyone if you go with this.”

He motioned to Uriel, and they walked away far enough to give the gods time to talk.

Small Worlds Part 244

Based on feedback I’ve received on the last Dragon’s Scion part, going forward I intend on sticking with a particular sequence until there is some resolution, unless I need to cut to another to provide context or if I just get stuck so need to hop threads to keep things moving. It’ll mean when POV changes, it’ll be longer before we get a new POV, so I’ll probably be spending a bit of time recapping whenever the POV changes, but based on what people have been saying you all are fine with it. Thank you so much for letting me know! 

And don’t forget that Strange Cosmology comes out on Tuesday! Which for many of you means it will be out when you read this! There might be a slight delay on the print copy. Pick it up at the link provided! There will be a post tomorrow covering what’s new.

Crystal groaned as she pulled herself out of bed. The injuries left by Kali and her trio of…minions, if that was the right term…had barely had time to heal, and every single muscle in her body felt stiff. Well, the world’s ending in a week, love. You kind of need to get the lead out, yeah? She forced herself to her feet, casting a longing look at the pillow. Her Hungers had been satiated. She didn’t need to sleep at this point. But by all that was and all that would come after the end of the world, she wanted to sleep until the aches had fully faded.

Instead, she got to her feet and stretched her back, hearing it pop. Satisfied that she was awake for the moment, she turned to look at the other bed in her staging area.

Isabel was still soundly asleep. The regenerative properties of her shapeshifting had spared her from death after the fight with Kali, but Isabel wasn’t a goddess. She was still mortal. Crystal could only imagine what being that close to death in that many forms had done to her. She took a moment to brush Isabel’s hair out of her mouth. “You awake?” she asked.

Isabel made a murmuring sound and pulled her blanket up to her chin before rolling over. She muttered something that sounded like “Five more minutes.” Well, that wasn’t entirely accurate. What it sounded like was “fvvv murrrr minuh,” but Crystal could understand the subtext to the groggy utterance. She smiled and let Isabel sleep, leaving her Nanoverse and walking into Cypher Nullity.

The obsidian sand crunched beneath her feet as she stepped onto the blasted plane that had once been an afterlife. The broken sky shone above her. All the times Crystal had taken her companions here, and no one had yet asked where the light came from. Planets crossed through the fractured web of cracks that crossed the air, but none of them were suns, and yet the entire plane was lite by perpetual daylight.

It was a side effect of Lemurian biology, oddly enough. Crystal’s people had been nocturnal when they still existed and considered light to be oppressive and harsh. Their Heaven had been comfortably dark, illuminated by a single light that was no brighter than Earth’s moon, so their hell was constantly as bright as the noon sun with no discernable source. After living among humans for thousands upon thousands of years, Crystal had come to see the daylight they way they did, but it was nice to be able to remember why hell was brightly lit.

Crystal took a deep breath. She could hear the others talking in the distance. Anansi, Dianmu, Athena, and Ryan. Presumably. Soon she’d go over and check on them, but for the moment, she simply stood there, grinding the soles of her feet into the sand.

How many cycles has it been? Not cycles of Earth, of course. There had only been one of those. Cycle of her nanoverse. A hundred? Two hundred? She’d stopped keeping count at some point long before humanity had risen from the humble apes that had spawned them. She remembered the last time she’d counted, she’d been on Earth. Out of a desperate need to talk to someone, she’d explained to a passing glyptodon what she was doing.

The creature had been unimpressed.

And now it’s almost over. 

She’d never set a timeline to things. Her entire existence, millions of years, had been devoted to stopping the Eschaton Cycle and saving whatever intelligence arose on Earth after her failure. Now it was only a week away, and Crystal knew it was almost over. The reason for being that had kept her going for longer than any other god that Crystal had ever heard of, the purpose that made her the longest-lived being in the universe that wasn’t born eternal…was almost fulfilled.

I think this is my last time around. The thought should have bothered her, but it was comforting to think. Her nanoverse, in this cycle, would endure for thousands of years. Perhaps even longer, with her creating gods within her own nanoverse that followed different rules than the power-stone gods that she’d relied upon in every other cycle. She’d just reset it only a little while ago. Right after the fight with Enki, which felt like a lifetime. Ten, maybe twenty thousand years this time. And when it reached the end, long after it had exhausted its ability to support life…she’d let it fall to heat death.

Then she’d finally get to rest.

Although…the moment she thought that, a competing thought rose up to counter it. Most gods would succumb to their age after a dozen millennia or so. She’d endured for at least ten times longer than that. The thought of dying had been comforting moment, but immediately afterwards it had become terrifying. Perhaps after so many times resetting her nanoverse, life had become a habit that she wasn’t ready to break. One she couldn’t break, even if she wanted to.

Crystal shook her head, shaking away the thoughts. You have thousands of years to figure that out. You have seven days to figure out the end of the world. Resolved to put aside the question for now, she walked towards where her companions were talking.

There was a member at the table she hadn’t expected. Nabu was sitting stiffly in his seat, observing the conversation with wary eyes. Unlike the others, Crystal hadn’t really gotten a chance to get used to the idea of a Curator that abandoned his purpose and was now working with them. Still, Ryan smiled when he saw her and motioned for her to join them. “Oh good, you’re awake. How are you feeling?”

“Like I spent the night in a blender,” Crystal said, sliding into the seat.

“Don’t you mean cement mixer?” Ryan asked. “That’s usually how the idiom goes.”

Crystal winced as a new ache rose from her shoulder. “Nope. Blender. Cement mixers aren’t pointy enough for how I’m feeling.”

Dianmu gave her a sympathetic smile, and Anansi chuckled and shook his head.

“You at least look better,” Athena said. “I was worried we’d need to wait for you to resurrect.”

“You wouldn’t have time to wait,” Crystal said, frowning at the thought. “In fact…none of us do at this point.”

That killed the mood like Crystal had driven a dagger into its heart, but it was true. Resurrection took a few days unless one was very lucky. Crystal had been back when Bast had killed her during the fight with Enki. A hole in the head was quick to repair. A more complete destruction, like what Resheph had needed to recover from…anyone who suffered a death like that would be out for the end of the party.

“Well, at least we have a plan,” Ryan said.

Crystal’s eyes shot wide. “You do?”

“Oh, right.” Ryan had the decency to look embarrassed, at least. “You were fairly out of it when Isabel and you got back. How’s she doing, by the way?”

“Sleeping. Should be fine. Now, what’s this about you having a solution?”

Ryan nodded. “So there’s a loophole in the rules for the end of the world. It has to be the end of civilization on that planet, including all written records. In short, I mean,” he said as Nabu started to open his mouth, cutting off the Curator’s clarification. “Which gives us an option. I use my one big twist to create stable exotic matter wormholes across the planet. We’ll need gods in their nanoverses to take the other end of these wormholes to a habitable world. Then it’s just a matter of evacuating the planet.”

“I feel like ‘evacuating a planet’ is a bit too large a process to put down as ‘just a matter,’” Anansi said, although his eyes sparkled.

Crystal didn’t listen to him. She was looking at Ryan, her mouth hanging open. “Bloody hell,” she finally said. “That just might work. Although…are we certain it does satisfy the requirements?”

Dianmu stepped in here. “That’s the best part of this plan, as far as I can see. Even if it fails…humanity won’t be here if the sun goes supernova. Earth might be lost, but humanity will endure.”

Crystal leaned back into her chair. Millions of years, and now here was the solution. Nice, simple, and clean. She thought it would give her a rush of excitement, a reason to stand up and celebrate…but mostly what she felt was relief. A tension she’d carried for countless eons, fading away.

“There’s still details to hammer out,” Crystal said, half expecting some horrible, overlooked detail to rise up and replace the tension she’d just let go of.

Ryan nodded. “And that’s what we’re doing here. Trying to get those details hammered out. I was going to wait for Isabel, but let’s start with the big one.” He took a deep breath. “The first day of the 74th United Nation’s general assembly happens tomorrow. I want us to go to it. I want us to announce our plan to the world and let them know what’s at stake. We need the leaders of the world on our side, or at least we need the world to know what we’re trying to do.”

“You absolutely can do that,” a voice said from the doorway. Everyone turned to look at the speaker. Arthur stood there, Uriel at his side. He was smiling broadly and walked up to the table and took a chair. “But first, Ryan, there’s a little matter of a debt you have to settle. And right now, I’m collecting.”

Small Worlds Part 243

Realized today I put the wrong dates on the last post – Small Worlds is Monday/Thursday, Dragon’s Scion is Tuesday/Friday. Apologies for the confusion!

Kali strode into the UN base. A group of soldiers opened fire at her. She flicked her hand and stopped their hearts. “Be at peace,” she said to their lifeless bodies. “I’m sparing you the end that awaits this world.”

A series of explosions told her Evans had accomplished his task. There were screams coming in that direction. People were suffering, hit by shrapnel or burned by the flames. Kali sighed. Damn you, Eschaton, for making me do this. She shouldn’t have to. There wasn’t a need for her. The world was going to end, the Eschaton would oversee it, and the sun would be restored.

However.

Ryan Smith had ideas above his station. Ryan believed he had the right to stop the cycle, to spare humanity from the destruction. He believed that, not only that he could save humanity, but that he would save humanity. It’s a problem with the Eschaton happening so soon after the last Nanoverse is found, Kali thought. He was still young enough to believe that he knew best.

Kali knew better. Age had taught her that destruction was an inevitable part of creation. Humanity had run its course. It had its chance. It was time to allow the cycle to continue and for humanity to go the way of the Dinosaurs and the Lemurians. A new species deserved a chance to arise…and then they would follow the same cycle. Kali shouldn’t have had to do anything with it.

But Ryan was trying to save humanity. He was risking the universe marching closer to the grave for one single species. If he had hope that the world could be saved, he would continue to fight for it, right up until the very end. The sun would consume the Earth, humanity would still die, and nothing would ever live on this rock again.

So, it falls to me to strip him of that hope. 

Another group of soldiers rushed her. It was beyond the power of the gods to directly influence the biology of both gods and monsters. But mortal beings? Humans?

Kali twisted and shut off the electrical activity in their brains. They collapsed to the floor like they were puppets with cut strings. I’ll remember you, she silently promised them. “You two,” she said, pointing to Munoz and Palmer. They’d infiltrated the base along with Evans and had been awaiting her command. “Grant peace to those who still suffer. No need to prolong their torment.”

They nodded. Munoz was the shortest of the three former Myrmidons and possessed a fiery temperament that she shared with her partner born out of Crystal’s nanoverse – Inedia. She was running the quickest towards the screaming of the dying. Palmer followed a bit behind, jogging at an easy pace. He was taller than Kali, and didn’t have the classic good looks of Evans, instead possessing a sullen countenance. He’d been a perfect pair with Liturga.

So many things I didn’t anticipate. When she’d been Doctor Pivarti, she’d been looking for a way for gods to share the power of their nanoverses. It would have been possible, if there had been more time, to grant the harnesses to most of humanity. Give them immortality in their last days, so humankind could have created wonders that would have endured for the next species to inhabit this world. Now? Her notes were safely in a capsule that would return to Earth the moment it detected radio waves from the planet again. She couldn’t give the gift of immortality to humanity, but she could ensure their successors had that kindness.

But now she questioned that decision. With the power she was granting…could humanity stop the cycle? Could the species that followed them? And there’s other problems, she acknowledged to herself. She hadn’t anticipated the three pseudo-nanoverse generated from Crystal destroying Enki’s corrupt nanoverse – yet they had come into existence, at the same time that one member of project Myrmidon had died. Giving the three remaining survivors three nanoverses to find.

Kali didn’t believe in coincidence. There was still, clearly, a great deal more research needed.

I’ll have plenty of time once the cycle is complete. She reminded herself that these things were important but weren’t immediate. They could be dealt with later.

For right now, she had to make sure humanity’s latest attempt to fight against them was destroyed.

“Evans, status report,” she said.

“Ma’am,” Roger Evans saluted. “The Harbinger program is destroyed. They’ll need at least a month to get the program back online. Two of the Harbingers were already deployed, however. We’ll need to hunt them down if we want to ensure complete destruction.”

Kali shook her head. “No need. Those drones can be dealt with in smaller numbers. They’ll probably end up being deployed against a dragon or another god and be annihilated. We have larger plans.”

“Ma’am,” Evans said, a note of reproach in his voice. “Leaving something that big out there…they could turn the tide of battle at the exact wrong moment. I’d recommend that we don’t leave them in the wind. The drones are harder to wipe out than mortal soldiers. Ma’am.”

Kali studied his face carefully. Was it Evans she was speaking to? Or was this Potentia, using his voice? Where did the line between one begin and the other end? “Once we have our army, I’ll dispatch some to hunt them down.”

Evans relaxed. “Thank you, ma’am.”

Kali nodded and turned to walk further into the base, when something caught her attention. A living mortal, under a shield Evans had created, covering the back of her head and shaking in fear. “Evans?” Kali asked, pointing at the woman.

“Ma’am. Gail Pittman, ANC. She’s a reporter of some renown.”

“I know that name…” Kali scratched her chin. “She’s the one that told the world about us, isn’t she?”

“Yes Ma’am.”

Kali bent down. “Remove the barrier.”

Evans obeyed. Gail immediately tried to rise to her feet, and Kali’s hands snapped out and grabbed her by the shoulders. “You,” Kali said.

Gail made a sound somewhere between a cry and a whimper.

“Do not be afraid,” Kali said, her voice calm. “I have no intention of hurting anyone who isn’t in my way.”

“That…that’s not very reassuring,” Gail stammered.

“I know.” Kali helped Gail to her feet. “And I am sorry.”

“For?” Gail asked.

“For doing the job of another. For ensuring the world ends.” She dusted Gail off. “Evans, take Ms. Pittman to the nearest city and drop her off. No interviews, no showboating. Take her somewhere safe though. I don’t want her harmed.” Kali noted the fire in Gail’s eyes and sighed. “Unless she does something idiotic.”

Evans nodded and stepped forward. “Ms. Pittman. This way, please.”

Gail, for once in her life, didn’t ask questions. She let herself be escorted from the base.

The last thing she saw as Kali, standing amid the flames.