The man in the suit, Nabu, Ryan reminded himself, sat in the chair on the other side of the desk. Ryan took a moment to gape around the office.
He wasn’t sure what he expected in the office of the man who had followed him his entire life, but if pressed, he wouldn’t have expected the answer to be “a giant, unholy mess.” But that’s what he had – a desk covered with papers, a haphazard look to the placement of every object, a dead houseplant in the corner – and along one walls, hundreds upon hundreds of notebooks, stacked nearly to the ceiling.
Nabu followed his gaze as Crystal took her chair. “Yes. Every moment of your life is recorded in those.”
Ryan walked over, then glanced back at Nabu, who gave him a wave forward of the hand.
Feeling unaccountably nervous, like a student called to principal’s office that had broken so many rules he couldn’t be sure what he had been caught doing, he pulled off one of the top notebooks.
Subject has become aware of my presence as something abnormal and begun avoiding speaking of me, and for thirty-three days now has ceased all attempts to communicate. The fact that he can see me remains puzzling, and without communication, no further data on the fact can be gained. I do think he is more than just a Finder – his awareness indicates something more. Perhaps he has some divine blood in his ancestry, although I can’t imagine how Home Office would have missed that.
He’s awake and brushing his teeth. He’s glancing towards the shower as he does so, again, and I think the subject has become uncomfortable with the idea of being seen unclothed. This will be the third day he elects not to bathe if he chooses that path, and I think there is a real risk he will gain a reputation for uncleanliness. I should give him space, perhaps, but-*
Ryan closed the notebook, his cheeks burning. He remembered that, and remembered a couple years being the weird smelly kid. It had been humiliating, one of the word periods of Ryan’s childhood, and he’d eventually overcome his aversion to showering with Nabu there, but still…
“Not a pleasant trip down memory lane?” Nabu did sound like he was actually wondering, like he hadn’t been there and caused it.
We need his help, Ryan, he reminded himself. Like the lady says: roll with it. “Eh. It was a lifetime ago,” he said aloud, taking the chair next to Crystal.
She spoke up while he was sitting down. “Nabu, we need to file a request for a mass message to every god or goddess the Curators have locations for.”
He nodded. “Two mass messages in a single day, virtually unheard of these days.”
“What?” said Ryan, hearing his voice spike with panic. “Who else did?”
“Oh dear, I shouldn’t have said that. Terribly sorry.” Nabu’s tone did not match his words – he didn’t sound apologetic, but like he was simply informing Ryan and Crystal of the weather. He glanced at Crystal. “Have you told him it is expressly forbidden for a Curator to interfere in the Eschaton or those who would oppose the End Cycle?”
She shrugged. “I would’ve gotten around to it, yeah? He knows now.” She caught Ryan’s look. “Don’t panic we don’t know who it is, love. It was Enki, it had to be. No one else has reason to right now.”
A moment passed as Ryan waited for Crystal to elaborate. When she didn’t, he asked, “What do you mean? Why isn’t that reason to panic?”
“Oh, it is. It absolutely is. But now there’s no reason to panic over the fact that it might be Enki, yeah? If you’re going to panic, might as well have good reason to.”
Both Nabu and Crystal watched as Ryan took a deep breath. “Okay. So Nabu, can we do our own message?”
“Of course. But…do either of you have the paperwork done?” Ryan looked at Crystal, who shook her head. Nabu sighed. “When the last individual who sent a message came, he had the forms pre-filled out. In triplicate. You’ll need to do so as well.” He motioned. A monstrous stack of paper appeared in front of Ryan. Another one appeared in front of Crystal.
Ryan gulped. “Well…at least we have the triplicate part covered.”
Nabu raised an eyebrow. “Ryan…what do you mean?”
“Well, that stack’s so big, it’s got to have three copies of the forms already in there, right?” Nabu looked at him blankly as Crystal rummaged around for a pen. “I mean…that can’t all be one copy.” Nabu looked at Crystal, who was still looking for something to write with, then back at Ryan. “Nabu? Am I right?”
Nabu shook his head mournfully. “I suggest you get started.”
Ryan had to fight back the urge to scream. “Do you have pens we could borrow?”
Nabu handed them each pens, as well as a “Temporary Pen Reallocation Form – 17B” to fill out.
The good news was, free of mortal Hungers, neither Ryan or Crystal needed to take a break to eat or sleep or even have a drink. That didn’t make the endless paperwork any less mind numbing – “Permission to Speak for Divine Personage 3240-G,” “Request for Messenger 9354-X-84I,” “Nature of Message 8-23-TY,” “Text of Message 666-Sigma-D,” and so on and so forth, every possible layer of what they were going to do.
They did get a break when they paused to discuss the message. They kept it short, which would end up sparing them much of the paperwork – “Eschaton found. End times beginning. Contact Crystal if wanting to cont. cycle. Stay out of way if oppose.” About as subtle as a boot to the nose, but it got the essential points across.
The whole process took them about six hours. Six long, tedious hours. By the end, Ryan was almost wishing mortal hungers had interrupted them a few times to make the process less boring. It was like watching paint dry during Chinese water torture while elevator music played.
Ryan nodded, looking despondent. “I guess we’ll need to do that two more times?”
Nabu looked at them, and then without saying a word, the stacks jumped in height. Ryan leapt back slightly as they did as if the stacks of paperwork were a beast that would bore him to death if he wasn’t careful.
“As far as I can tell, you did.” Nabu smiled.
“Wait, what?” Crystal was actually the one to object, and Ryan took a great thrill in seeing her baffled for once. “Not that I mind, I bloody well don’t, but isn’t this a neutrality violation?”
Nabu faintly shook his head. “I spent thirty years ruining a young man’s life, Ms. Crystal. The Eschaton is, no offense, a semi-neurotic wreck because of me.”
“None taken,” Ryan muttered.
“That, as far as I interpret it, is a violation of my neutrality.” He kept his focus on Crystal. “Doing this is a small way to redress the balance, wouldn’t you agree?”
Ryan could practically hear the gears turning. “I would…” said Crystal, glancing at Ryan, “But I think it would be best for the Eschaton to decide, as the wronged party.”
Nabu made a show of widening his eyes, and Ryan realized once again, Crystal knew what was going on and he was the baffled one again. “That is an excellent point, Ms. Crystal. Ryan, would you consider my debt to you discharged?”
“Um, I mean-“ he saw Crystal out of the corner of her eyes, frantically drawing a sideways hand across her throat and shaking her head. “No?”
“Oh dear.” Nabu smiled slightly. “Then please, when you think of something that could be done to eliminate that debt – or wish to transfer the debt to another,” and those words were said with exaggerated weight, glancing at Crystal as he did so, “then please, let me know.”
“Welllll…” Ryan drew it out, thinking carefully to make sure he was following the dance. He glanced at Crystal, who was nodding and pointing at herself. “I suppose I can let you know…that I wish,” another encouraging nod from Crystal. “To transfer the debt to Crystal?”
“Ah.” The both relaxed some. “Very well. Then, Ms. Crystal, how may I pay this debt?”
Crystal grinned, leaning forward. “I need the exact message Enki sent out, and to know which gods if any responded in the affirmative.”
Nabu went over to one of the piles and pulled out a paper, like he knew where it was in the chaos. He handed it over, and Ryan leaned over her shoulder to read.
*Fellow Beings of Higher Power, *
*An Eschaton has awoken. The cycle will continue. This Eschaton is being guided by the one known as Crystal – and she, when she was Eschaton, slaughtered every single other deity as part of the cycle. If you wish to save yourselves, we must put aside old grudges and make common cause. *
Crystal swore in several languages, and Ryan gave her a sympathetic pat on the shoulder. “C’mon, Crystal. No need to panic.”
She glared at him. “I swear, if you turn back my earlier bloody comment on me, love, I’ll find some way to get you.”
“I wouldn’t dream of it,” said Ryan, thinking only because I don’t have a good way to do so, “but…I mean, cmon, right? That’s the most obvious manipulation ever attempted, even I caught it. So any god who falls for it we probably didn’t want on our side anyway, right?”
She looked at him for a long moment, then started laughing. “Too bloody right. I’m rubbing off on you. Alright. Any response yet, Nabu.”
He shook his head. “But to satisfy my debt, I will inform you if there are any.”
“You’re a peach. We should be going.” She motioned for Ryan to get up, and he followed. “Been lovely Nabu, really has been. Ciao!”
With that, they left. Ryan had so many questions to ask Nabu, but right now, he was legitimately glad to be on his way. “So we wait for responses. What do we do until we start hearing from people?”
Crystal smiled. “Well, we stay away from Earth, that’s for bloody sure. Unless you want round two with Enki?”
Ryan groaned at the thought. “No, I’m good.”
“Thought so.” She grinned. “Well, then, how about we do some more training, but let’s try somewhere different.” She headed to the door they had opened earlier, and motioned for him to come through. “I hear Mars is lovely this time of year, yeah?”
Ryan nearly barreled into the ship after her. “Oh, yes please.”
She smiled and went over to the control panel. “Then setting a course for the red planet. Let’s see how you do with that.”
Throwing a lightning bolt for the first time had been the most incredible feeling for Ryan of this whole thing. But Cipher Nullity had been almost too alien, and Officium Mundi had been too dull. To set foot on Mars…that was real, that might make it all worth it.
“Yeah, let’s…let’s go.”
And once again the ship that was a planetarium moved without momentum through reality.