“Shouldn’t being a god means my wrist doesn’t cramp up from writing?” Ryan said, breaking the silence after what felt like hours. He was getting to the bottom of his form, currently working on the “Urgent Request to Petition Specific Curator 834-G” which was different through forms A-F because of some arcane reason Ryan couldn’t divine. He’d still had to fill out forms A-F even though they didn’t apply to Nabu.
Dianmu grimaced. “If only. Repetitive motions are one thing we aren’t protect against, since it’s about our own strength. At least you’ll never develop a permanent injury from it.”
“Small favors,” Ryan grumbled, signing his name on the bottom of the form. “I think I’m done with my stack.”
“Same,” Dianmu said. She got up and walked over to Ryan’s desk, grabbing his papers off it and adding them to her own. “Now we just have to wait to be processed,” she said, sliding them in the “Insert Paperwork Here When Completed” doorway.
“At least it should be quicker since we’re not standing in line, right?” Ryan asked hopefully.
Dianmu gave him a flat look.
“At least it…won’t add any time since we’re not standing in line?” Ryan tried.
Dianmu’s expression didn’t waiver.
“Goddamnit,” Ryan muttered. “Why have us do extra paperwork if it doesn’t speed anything up in the long term?”
“Paperwork does not exist to make things quicker, Ryan, and certainly doesn’t exist to make it more efficient for the end user. Paperwork exists to do two things – to make things easier for the people at the top, and to make more paperwork. Haven’t you ever had an office job?”
Ryan sighed. “I did, but…I kinda hoped the Curators would be better?”
Dianmu shrugged. “So we’ve got some time to kill. Any Hungers bothering you?”
Ryan shook his head. “You?”
“Not at the moment. Which is probably for the best. You do not want to try to order food on Officium Mundi.”
“Sounds like you speak from experience.”
Dianmu sat back dwn, and wheeled her chair over so they didn’t have to talk across the room. “I do. I was here one time, not long ago, after a fight. I needed information, but I was Hungry. I decided to go to the food court.”
“They have a food court?”
Dianmu nodded. “A few levels down. I decided to get something simple, or so I thought. A hamburger. It required filling out Requisition forms. For the Hamburger as a collective unit. And the cheese. And the bun. And the ketchup. And the mustard. And the oil the burger was cooked in. And for the heat that was being put into the burger. Then I had to fill out a form to authorize assembling the ingredients into the burger.”
Ryan gaped at her. “You’re joking.”
“I wish I was.”
“But…if you already filled out the collective unit form, why the bloody hell was there a form to assemble the ingredients?”
“So they could make sure that what constituted a hamburger also was the same thing I was assembling. So that I couldn’t do anything unsavory with the ingredients and cause mischief. I ended up getting a lukewarm hamburger that I was too Hungry to heat up myself, and there was no way I was even trying to do paperwork for the microwave.”
Ryan shuddered at the thought. “I thought you admired their efficiency?” he asked.
“Oh, no. I just understand the purpose. But I’m still a human, deep under the divinity. You honestly thought I didn’t find it maddening?”
Ryan chuckled in agreement. “So what do you think? An hour? Or two?”
“If we’re luc-” Dianmu started to say, but was cut off by a knock on the door. Ryan and Dianmu shared a glance. “Who is it?” she asked.
“Nabu,” came the voice from the other side. “Mind if I come in?”
Ryan tried not to think too hard about how they were talking through the door when the same door lead to two hundred instances of the same room. “Please, if I don’t have to fill out a form giving you permission,” Ryan said.
Nabu chuckled and opened the door. “I wouldn’t make you do that, Ryan. I think I’ve put you through enough.”
Ryan’s returning laughter wasn’t nearly as warm as Nabu’s. “Thank you for seeing us,” he said, forcing himself to untense. You came here to see him, Ryan, he reminded himself. Why would you flip out the moment he arrived?
Of course, that question had a very obvious answer, at least to Ryan. He’d finally gotten used to Nabu not being there all the time. Not just gotten used to it, he’d started to love it. Some part of his brain was convinced now that, since Ryan was seeing Nabu again, he’d end up stuck with him. That Nabu would never, ever leave, and resume following Ryan silently for the rest of his life – only since Ryan was immortal now, it would be for hundreds or thousands or millions of years. He saw himself in the distant future, the last survivor, as old as Crystal, trying to explain to some new creature what being the Eschaton meant…and Nabu standing there, taking notes in one of those damn notebooks.
Dianmu must have noted his distress, and she took the lead. “Thank you for expediting our forms, Nabu.”
“Like I said, it’s the least I can do. What can we help you with?”
“We’re lost, Nabu,” Ryan said, finally finding his voice. “We don’t…we don’t know how we could possibly end the world without killing everyone on it. I was hoping you could tell us.”
Nabu went stiff. “Ryan,” he said gently. “You know we are expressly forbidden from interfering with that.”
“Yeah, I do. I just think it’s bullshit,” Ryan said, more bluntly than he intended to.
“What Ryan means,” Dianmu said, stepping in diplomatically, “is that while it may be against your regulations, you already did act by sending messages for Enki and Crystal at the beginning of Ryan’s tenure. It’s hard to believe you couldn’t make another exception.”
“Like I said,” Ryan repeated, settling back into his chair, “I think it’s bullshit.”
Dianmu shot him a glare before turning back to Nabu.
“I know it seems that way, Ryan, but that was to discharge a debt. One that you gave to Crystal.”
“She gave it back to me,” Ryan said smoothly. He actually couldn’t remember if she had, but he figured she’d be fine with the lie if she hadn’t. Crystal might have had more time to get used to the Curators than Ryan, but she didn’t seem to tolerate their particular brand of bureaucracy much better.
Nabu pursed his lips in thought. “Nonetheless, there are still limits. Even for that debt.”
“Bullshit,” Dianmu said, drawing startled looks from Ryan and Nabu. “You set precedent, Nabu. Not only that, but you started observing him far earlier than most of us ever had to deal with your kind, and it took him longer to find his nanoverse. That’s different.”
“Not always for the Eschaton. We usually identify candidates for that right at birth. It’s easier since there’s only one nanoverse left to find.”
“You were a lot more helpful last time I was here,” Ryan groused. Nabu regarded him impassively. Ryan frowned in thought. “I…somethings different from last time. What is it?”
Nabu smiled. “And that, Ryan, is the right question. I want to help you. I’m willing to stretch, maybe even break the regulations to help you. But…but I don’t have the answers you need. I don’t know how it’s possible. No sentient species has accomplished it in my sector.”
Ryan sighed. “Great. So we’ve come all this way for nothing.”
Nabu shook his head. “No, not for nothing. You have twelve hours.”
“Twelve hours for what?” Ryan asked, cocking his head in confusion.
Nabu reached into his jacket pocket. “I pulled every string I have left. Here’s all the relevant regulations. All of them. You two need to study them, try to find a loophole.”
“And then?” Dianmu asked, cocking her head in confusion.
“Then you get to argue your place with the High Council. If anyone can assist you, they can. But they won’t listen to pleas from the heart. Before you go and speak with them…we need to find a loophole.”
The stack of papers Nabu pulled of his jacket was impossibly large. Thousand upon thousands of pages. Ryan took a deep breath, and nodded. “It’s a good thing we don’t need to sleep. Let’s get to work.”
The three of them settled in to do exactly that.