There is fog all around, thick and white, swirling. The ground is dark, hard stone, rough and uneven, with a gradual but perceptible slope; the fog is thinnest upslope, and in that direction a faint shadow is visible in the distance, the only landmark available in an otherwise featureless world.
"...are your family also invisible?"
"You're ... a stone engraving?"
"What do you mean by 'goddess'?"
(He gets himself to his feet, somehow, and stares past the ring at her.
She hasn't noticed yet.)
"A good question. I suppose, degenerately, a female god, but then there's the question of the meaning of 'god.' The ancients seem to mean a being which is mostly humanlike except for magical powers, without any particular moral character. The Christians mean an all-good, all-knowing, all-powerful being in human form. I mean the-Holy-One-blessed-be-He, the singular and incorporeal Creator of the universe, all-knowing, all-present, all-powerful, eternal and perfect. So. What do you mean?"
"Well, for one thing, there's more than one universe," Embers explains. "I don't know who made yours, but this one is us. If it's a universe. I'm not really sure. Tika! Are we in a universe?"
A yellow section flickers; a different, slightly older voice responds. "That depends how you define 'universe', doesn't it? The gateway lacks a lot of the traditional features of universes, but it's a place and it's not in any other universes so you could certainly argue that it counts. Also, hello, I'm Tikiri. Morning, to be specific."
"...hi! Um. When I say universe, I mean all the things there are, so by definition there's only one -- it's kind of in the name --
She has just spotted Jean.
"Well, if you mean all the things that there are then your definition of 'god' is incoherent, because different people made different—worlds, if you like," says Morning. "And some of them weren't made at all, they just happened. As for us, we don't really have a beginning in the traditional sense—"
"I'm not sure she's listening," says Embers, giggling.
"Jean, talk to me, love..."
"I don't know if I like this dream..."
She closes her eyes.
"The stillness of the rose
in time of war
reminds me of
the long sleep just begun
of that sparrow
his head pillowed unroughed
and unalarmed upon
the polished pavement or
of voluptuous hours
breathless book when
stillness was an eternity
long since begun"
"Williams Carlos Williams," he whispers, on some remaining fraction of a breath.
"...multiply two three-digit primes give me the result..."
".....one three two zero seven nine?"
"Okay give me the primes."
"Four nine one, two six nine."
"...l'amour n'a plus de goût, non plus que la dispute..."
"Et qui refait le lit des gens pauvres et nus..."
-- flinch --
"-- sorry, I'm sorry --"
She turns to the wheel again.
"What the hell is going on here."