No one spoke on the walk out of Officium Mundi. Ryan couldn’t say what was going through Nabu and Dianmu’s heads, but for his part, it was a mixture of lingering rage at the Curators and shock at Nabu’s about-face. He didn’t know what to say to the man – if that was even the right word.
Thankfully, once they were back in his nanoverse, Dianmu took over the silence. “What was that glowing orb you were given?” she asked.
Nabu gave her a small smile. “It’s all the power I had before, condensed. I can access it to a point, but I’m far more limited now – and it’s a finite resource. Once it’s gone, so am I.”
“Thank you,” Ryan said, finally finding the words. “I…I didn’t expect that. Or anything like that.” Ryan motioned to raise some chairs from the staging area floor for the three of them. “Thank you,” Ryan repeated, knowing how weak it sounded.
“I’ve been considering it for a few hundred thousand years,” Nabu said. “We – or I supposed when talking about the curators I should say ‘they’, now – lost our way at some point. I knew that protocol allowed for rules to change when the Council was in recess. When I realized that’s exactly what they were doing, it was the final straw.”
“And you didn’t warn us?” Ryan asked, careful to keep any accusation out of his voice. Nabu had just given up true immortality, beyond what even gods had, for their sake. The last thing he wanted to do was act like an asshole. Am I even still angry at him anymore? Ryan wondered.
Nabu shook his head. “I still had hope that I was wrong. I filled out the form to make sure I was ready, but I still held hope.” Nabu’s lips curled for a moment into a bitter grimace. “It was a foolish hope.”
No, I’m not, Ryan realized. Thirty years of being followed by Nabu had done damage to Ryan’s life, sure. It had cost him any chance at anything close to normality, and now Ryan had a terrible burden looming over him. But…but the later part hadn’t been Nabu’s fault. Nabu did nothing to guide Ryan to the nanoverse. And having a normal life wouldn’t have left Ryan any better prepared for what he was dealing with now.
“Well,” Ryan said, “foolish hope is pretty much our entire stock and trade, so you’ll fit right in.” He gave Nabu a lopsided grin.
Dianmu nodded and smiled. “I don’t think, since I’ve started working with Ryan, I’ve experienced any hope that wasn’t foolish. It’s worked out in the end each time in the end, though.”
“Thank you,” Nabu said, settling into one of the chairs. It was still weird for Ryan to see Nabu doing anything even remotely normal, like sit in a chair, or have his tie loose, or look tired. “Tell me. Is hunger a sharp pain in your stomach, followed by a rumbling sensation?”
Ryan couldn’t help but laugh. “Yeah, that sounds like it. I’ve got some emergency food for if my Hungers flare up – what sounds good to you.”
“I have no idea,” Nabu admitted. “I’ve never eaten anything before.”
“Never?” Ryan asked, freezing and looking at Nabu with incredulous eyes. “I mean…you have a cafeteria in Officium Mundi, right?”
“For visiting gods,” Nabu said, raising one hand to rub at his stomach. “The last thing we want is hungry gods running around Officium Mundi. You all can cause all sort of problems when you get up in your needs.”
“He’s not wrong,” Dianmu said.
Ryan nodded. “How about an Italian sub, then?”
“I literally have nothing to compare it to, so whatever you suggest,” Nabu said. “I do remember you enjoying those though.”
Ryan got up and went over to the console. Moments later, a refrigerator was rising out of the floor. “Go ahead.”
Nabu grabbed the sandwich and took a bite. His eyes widened. “Hmm. It seems there are unexpected benefits to mortality. Also, my tongue seems to be reporting pain.”
Ryan chuckled. “Peppers.”
“It’s an interesting sensation,” Nabu said. Dianmu motioned Ryan over while Nabu finished his sandwich.
“As amusing as it might be to watch Nabu learn about mortal life, we do have an objective here,” she said, her voice low.
“I haven’t forgotten,” Ryan said, shaking his head. “Was thinking about dropping into my nanoverse fully to give us plenty of time.”
“I don’t think that would be a good idea,” Dianmu said. “He’s not human, and his power source isn’t a nanoverse itself. We don’t know what it would do to him. He might not be able to exist in there – and even if he is, he just lost countless eons of power. Then you want him to give up what little he has left?”
Ryan pursed his lips. “Damn. Didn’t even think about that. But yeah, good catch. Although we probably should figure that out – otherwise we’ll have to know at the worst possible time.”
Dianmu laughed, a light and unamused sound. “I do wish I could tell you that was inaccurate.”
Ryan glanced back at Nabu, who had finished the sandwich in a horrifyingly short amount of time. “Hey Nabu, if we needed to drop into my nanoverse, would that…do anything to you?”
Nabu considered for a moment. “It probably wouldn’t be immediately harmful. Probably. I’d rather not experiment right now.”
Ryan glanced at Dianmu, who gave him the politest ‘I-told-you-so” look Ryan had ever received. “Fair enough. In that case, I hate to rush things, but…”
“But time is running short. You need to know the rules, and you need to know before the sun explodes next week.”
Ryan froze at Nabu’s words. “Next week? Next week?” Ryan shouted, his voice cracking. The old anxiety, so long absent, rose up in his throat like an unwelcome house-guest and threatened to strangle him.
Nabu nodded slowly. “Take a deep breath, Ryan. There’s things we can do to postpone, and I’m hoping that – once you know the rules – you’ll be able to figure out a loophole I’ve overlooked.”
Ryan walked over to one of the chairs and slowly slid into it, taking the deep breath that Nabu recommended. “Alright. Tell me everything.”
Nabu leaned forward and prepared to exactly that.