“You seem nervous,” Jegudiel said, giving Ryan a warm smile. “Would you care for some tea? I find it’s very relaxing.”
“Uh…do I have to do paperwork for it?” Ryan asked, trying to discreetly run the palms of his hands on the side of his jeans to rid them of sweat. He’d seen what an archangel could do now. If Uriel’s fight with Moloch was anything to go by, the short woman in front of him could kill him before he could bat an eyelash. Been awhile since you felt like this, hasn’t it? Even against Enki, even against the Super Soldiers, even against Moloch…Ryan hadn’t felt powerless. Overwhelmed, under prepared, or not quite strong enough, sure. But powerless? That was new.
He didn’t particularly like it.
Jegudiel laughed lightly. “Yes, but they’re very simple. Just a Waiver for any Injuries Sustained from Hot Beverage 19-C and Consent to Imbibe Caffeinated Beverage 30-J. Just need your signature.”
“Appreciate it,” Ryan said, “but if I have to sign one more form I’m probably going to tear out my eyeballs and try to use them as pens.”
“Not without an Authorization to Use Bodily Fluids or Substances for Ink or other Writing Implement Special Request – Non-Blood 11-J.”
Ryan stared at her. “You’re serious. You actually have a form for that.”
“Of course we do,” Jegudiel said, her tone full of sympathy. “It may seem odd you, but there are rules and processes for everything. And there a reasons for them.”
“If you don’t mind my asking…what possible use is there to a form specifically for requesting bodily fluids to be used as ink?” Ryan kept his tone as polite as possible. Do not piss off the lady that can break time in half.
“If you were to do so, you’d be leaving behind your DNA and a bit of your essence. Such things could be used against you. The form ensures that you fully understand the possible repercussions for doing so, to make sure you don’t accidentally expose yourself to risks you couldn’t have predicted.”
“Okay,” Ryan said after a moment, “I guess I can see the logic of that. And a form to Consent to Imbibe Caffeinated Beverages?”
“Caffeine is a diuretic. Even the law enforcement on your world gives people caffeinated beverages to increase the need to urinate, which is an effective – if debatably legal – interrogation technique. Again, it’s about making sure you understand the consequences of your actions.”
“Uh-huh.” Ryan frowned. “And the temporary pen Allocation forms?”
Jegudiel’s face darkened. “People kept stealing my pens. I hate it when people steal my pens.”
Ryan couldn’t stop himself from barking out a laugh. Jegudiel gave him a raised eyebrow. “Sorry,” Ryan said. “I just…that’s the first thing you’ve said I can relate to.”
Jegudiel’s smile returned. “As I said, a purpose for everything. But for most of them, it’s about informed consent. Understanding that actions have consequences. Such as, for example, trying to circumvent the natural Eschaton process.”
“Ah,” Ryan said, settling back into his chair. “I see where you’re going with this.”
“I doubt it,” Jegudiel said, although politely. “I think it’s very likely that, if you did understand, you would be apologizing and leaving my office.”
“Maybe,” Ryan said. “On the other hand, I’m pretty attached to my species.”
“You and every other Eschaton, Ryan. Do you know how many Eschatons have come to Officium Mundi, this year alone, requesting some way to circumvent the process. ‘Please, make this one exception. Tell me how I can save only my species.’ It’s understandable, but it’s also painfully selfish.”
“Selfish?” Ryan asked with a start. “How could it be selfish? I’m trying to save the human race!”
“And only the human race,” Jegudiel said. “Other races can burn as far as you’re concerned, yes?”
Ryan blanched. “No, I don’t mean…I just can’t do anything for them. I have to focus on what I can control.”
“Mmm,” Jegudiel said. She motioned and out of the air, formed a perfect cup of tea to take a thoughtful sip out of. “Tell me, then, Ryan. What makes the human race worth saving, out of all other races. What makes your species special?”
“I mean…” Ryan stared at her. “I don’t know. I don’t know what other races are like, so I can’t make a case for humans being exceptional without a comparison.”
“Fair.” Jegudiel tapped her lip. “Would you like to know? Would you like to know what makes humans exceptional?”
“Absolutely nothing.” Jegudiel’s smile took on a wicked bend, although Ryan had to wonder if it was his own mind adding that at the way his stomach dropped. “You’re more violent than fifty-five point three percent of species. You’re more artistic than forty-six point eight percent. You’re lifespan is within median ranges for sentient species. You’ve destroyed your home planet quicker than sixty one point four five percent of species. You’ve engaged in genocide more frequently than forty nine point two. You commit acts of kindness more frequently than fifty five point seven. You achieved space travel quicker than sixty two point seven percent of species. There is nothing about humanity that stands out, nothing that makes them exemplary for good or ill.” This time there was a gleam in Jegudiel’s eyes that Ryan was sure was, if not malicious, a least smug. “That’s also true for sixty five point seven percent of species, so you’re not even exceptionally mediocre.”
“Well, maybe that’s because species keep dying before they can accomplish anything!” Ryan said, anger replacing fear in a burning rush. “Maybe this whole Eschaton cycle just prevents any species from reaching its full potential.”
“Maybe.” Jegudiel said, her voice firm. “But there’s no reason to believe humanity will manage to achieve any degree of exceptionalism. There’s nothing about your species that suggests you are anything other than an average species, from an average world, around an average star. You had an average civilization. Take some pride in that you avoided destroying yourselves before now, which is true of forty point five percent of species. At least you weren’t in the upper percent of that range.”
“It’s not just about math,” Ryan growled. “It’s about individuals. Anything becomes average when you look at a large enough groups, but individual people have lives and hopes and dreams and potential. We could still do so much.”
“Yes, you potentially could have done so much,” Jegudiel softly. “But it’s time for the world to end, Eschaton. It’s time for humanity to die. I’m sorry. Leave aside this debate, go back to your world. If you want, take a few humans into your nanoverse to live their lives out in the space of a cosmic blink, if it eases your guilt.. But let go.”
Ryan stood up sharply. “No. I’m going to keep pushing. I’m going to keep fighting. Right up until the last second, as long as I draw breath, I’m not giving up.”
Jegudiel sighed. “You are going to regret that, Ryan Smith. It’s best to accept that there are some things that cannot be fought. Give up.”
“Never,” Ryan said firmly. “Never, ever give up.”
“As you wish,” Jegudiel said. “You do understand that, in this debate, I make the final decision, correct?”
“And you still wish to argue, knowing my stance?”
“Sure,” Ryan said. “Because there’s still hope I can change your mind.”
“You won’t.” Jegudiel said simply.
“Maybe,” Ryan said. “But I know one thing for a fact.”
Jegudiel arched an eyebrow. “And what, pray tell, is that?”
Ryan smiled at her. He knew how bitter the expression was, but was past caring. “That I’ll never convince you if I don’t try.”
Jegudiel sighed. “Very well, Ryan. I’ll see you back in the meeting chamber.” She motioned to dismiss him.
Ryan gave her a stiff bow and walked out.