Small Worlds Part 200

Ryan walked back into the Council’s chamber with leaden feet. The sensation was similar to what he’d felt in high school, when he’d finally worked up the nerve to try weed, and the next day had been called to the principal’s office. Every step had been torture, and he was certain he’d be expelled or arrested. For a few wild moments, waiting in the office, sweating and shaking with anxiety, he’d been certain that somehow Nabu had rattled him out.

It had turned out someone at the school had found his angsty LiveJournal and wanted to set him up with a counselor. Since he’d still been seeing a psychiatrist at the time, it had been a short visit. He’d never touched any kind of drug again after that. Every time the opportunity had arisen, he’d felt that same sick feeling in the pit of his stomach.

This time, the stakes were infinitely higher, and he didn’t see any chance of a last minute misunderstanding saving him. Jegudiel believed it was humanity’s time to die.

He’d talked about it with Dianmu and Nabu before going back in. Dianmu had grimly agreed it was unlikely the Council would relent after that discussion. “It’s still worth trying. Anything is worth trying. The worst case scenario is we are no better than we were when we came here.”

Ryan had nodded and looked over at Nabu. The curator looked worse than Ryan felt, like he might be sick at any moment. After decades of seeing him placidly observe everything, up to and including Ryan’s near death in a car accident, the idea that he was shaken so badly was the last thing Ryan’s nerves could handle at the moment. Nabu had excused himself and left. Ryan hadn’t resented him for that.

No one wants to watch hope die.

“Esteemed members of the Council,” Ryan asked, his voice clear in spite of the sick pit of worry that was gnawing at his stomach. “What did you find with the discrepancy in documentation?”

The robed figures were silent for a moment. Jegudiel had replaced her hood, and Ryan wanted to scream at her for that, call her a coward for refusing to look him in the eyes as she condemned an entire species to death because of the rules.

“Upon careful review of the documentation,” Jegudiel said, “we find that the six hundred and sixty seventh edition of The Handbook for Handling Requests from Fiends, Devils, Daemons, and other Infernal Entities…contained a misprint that leads to this confusion. Per the Thirty Eighth Edition of Documentation Errors, and the Handling Thereof, misprints are not grounds for policy changes so long as intent is clear. The Handbook for Handling Requests from Fiends, Devils, Daemons, and other Infernal Entities clearly meant to refer to the archangel Lucifer, not the human King of Hell Arthur. Therefore, no discrepancy exists.”

“Objection!” Dianmu shouted from where she stood. “The most recent edition of Documentation Errors, and the Handling Thereof, was the Thirty Seventh edition. I reviewed it extensively during our research process. There was no mention made of misprints!”

“I’m unsurprised you were unable to locate the Thirty Eighth edition,” Jegudiel said smoothly. “It was only recently published. But as I’m sure you are aware, the most recent edition holds precedent, regardless of publication date.”

By the way Dianmu’s face fell, Ryan knew that she was aware. “When was it published?” Ryan asked, a terrible anger forming alongside the dread in the pit of his stomach.

Even though Ryan couldn’t see her face, Ryan was certain the look Jegudiel was giving him was sympathetic. “Seven minutes and eleven seconds ago.”

“That’s absurd!” Ryan shouted. “You made changes to the rules halfway through a hearing to make sure you got the desired outcome.”

“Yes,” Jegudiel said simply. “There are policies outlined for doing exactly that.”

“It’s unfair,” Ryan said, hoping he sounded more righteous than petulant.

“The universe often is, Ryan Smith, Eschaton of Earth.” While there was still a hint of sympathy in Jegudiel’s voice, there was no sign of yielding. “We do not exist to make sure that loopholes can be exploited. We exist to make sure things run smoothly. You are commended for bringing this error to our attention, and your name will receive credit in the next forty editions of the Documentation Errors, and the Handling Thereof.

“You can take that book, turn it sideways, and shove it so far up your ass you choke on it,” Ryan said, spitting the words between clenched teeth. The council members began to murmur at his outburst, but Ryan was unrelenting. “You wasted twelve hours of our time –  more – so you could change the rules at the last minute just to fuck us. You could have at least bought us dinner first.”

“Technically, you declined our offer for food by not filling out the required forms,” Jegudiel said.

“Seriously?” Ryan shouted, his voice full of sarcastic fury. “That’s your defense? Damn you all to hell. I know the guy in charge, I’ll ask him to make it especially nasty for you.”

“Your outbursts are out of line,” one of the other Councilmembers said, his voice firm.

“This council is out of line! This whole damn situation is out of line! You know what?” Ryan pointed an accusatory finger at Jegudiel. “Humans may be average. We may be unexceptional. We may be just another species in your eyes. But we are better than you in one important way. We would never sentence an entire species to death because of paperwork.

“Perhaps you would not,” Jegudiel did. “But we are not doing that either. We do not issue the death sentence. Time and the Creator do. We simply ensure the rules are followed.”

Ryan sunk back, fury fading to be replaced by despair. It was over. The Curators would tell them nothing. They had only managed to lose time. I still have no idea how I’m going to pull it off…oh god, I can’t kill humanity!

The door burst open behind Ryan. Nabu stood there, his tie undone, his hair wild, and a piece of paper in his hand. “Esteemed council!” he shouted. “I have one more form to submit.”

Nabu strode forward and slapped the paperwork in front of Jegudiel. Ryan saw the title on it, and he felt a sudden surge of hope he had been certain was dead.

“Statement of Intent by a Class 3 Curator to Go Renegade, 23-P”

 

Small Worlds Part 181

“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.

Small Worlds part 180

Weird Theology is now available as an audiobook! Click here to check it out! Or here for Amazon! (It just got approved for whisper sync) And if you could leave it an honest rating or review, I’d really appreciate it.

Officium Mundi was exactly the sort of organized chaos Ryan remembered from his last visit. As he and Dianmu left his nanoverse, they had to step quickly to avoid being struck by a filing cabinet that ambled along on its own, chased by a curator in the brown suit they seemed to favor. Another curator, almost the mirror twin of the one that had just dashed by, stepped up to them. “Paperwork?”

Ryan and Dianmu shared a glance. Last time Ryan had been here, they had not asked for paperwork as soon as he arrived. From Dianmu’s expression, this was an entirely new concept to her as well. “We don’t have any?” Ryan said, his voice rising up on the last word, turning it into a question.

The curator nodded briskly and pulled a stack of papers out of the air. “Temporary regulations. Initial paperwork must be filled out before any mortal, immortal, demon, non-Euclidean entity, post-mortal being, or quasi-divine being can petition for questions, knowledge, or investigation. Do you need a pen?”

Ryan patted his pockets and realized, to his chagrin, he had forgotten it. Just as he was about to ask for one of those damn Temporary Pen Allocation forms, Dianmu reached into her pocket and pulled out two black pens with a small smile. The Curator nodded in approval. “You can use room 235x, instance 67 to fill out the requisite forms.” He pointed to indicate a bank of rooms. Ryan peered at them, and on instinct, activated his divine sight.

It hurt his brain to look at. The rooms were a hallway that stretched on for seventeen miles, stacked three deep, like a bank of motel rooms. However, each room was also, at the same time, two hundred rooms. Each one was slightly out of phase with the others, allowing them to occupy the same physical space while also permitting multiple people to enter without ever seeing each other.

Ryan felt warm liquid on his upper lip, and the tangy, coppery taste of blood on his lips. He turned off his divine sight and brought two fingers up to his nose. Blood. He’d given himself a damn bloody nose looking at that. The Curator gave him a sympathetic look and pulled out a tissue from his pocket. “Should have warned you. You’re still Nascent, right? Divine sight and things like that don’t mix well until after Apotheosis.”

Ryan reached for the tissue and dabbed at his lip, then twisted the tissue into a small sphere he could put in his nostril to stem the flow. As a child, Ryan had dealt with almost daily nosebleeds until getting a humidifier. They’d last for hours at times, and this trick had been his favorite to allow him to do school work or play with friend. It made him look absurd, a tail of white tissue sticking out from one nostril, but it at least would leave his hands free to fill out the damn forms. Like the one the Curator was now adding to the top of the stack. “Acceptance of Celluloid Based Self-Cleaning Product used to clean Blood, Mucus, or Other Bodily Fluid, 20-G (For Nasal Bleeding if Product Offered Prior to Form.)”

Dreading the answer, Ryan asked, “Can I borrow a few more in case I need them?”

The Curator smiled and pulled a few more out of his pocket in a clear plastic wrapper. He offered them to Ryan, along with a new form, “Acceptance of Celluloid Based Self-Cleaning Product used to clean Blood, Mucus, or Other Bodily Fluid, 20-B (For Nasal Bleeding after Initial Blood Flow Staunched.)”

Ryan did his best to accept the aid and paperwork graciously, the he and Dianmu were off to their room. They had to weave in and out of ambulatory cabinets and rushing Curators. “Can’t they do anything without a form?”

Dianmu laughed as they stopped to let a filing cabinet zip past their heads. “Not here. They have a bit more freedom to act outside of their home plane, but here everything is done with forms. Can you imagine the chaos if they didn’t have paperwork?”

“We do it just fine without that much paperwork,” Ryan protested.

“We don’t have an office the size of a planet,” Dianmu countered. “Ryan. Look at them. Really look at them.”

Ryan stopped and watched, trying to see what Dianmu was pointing out. Two curators crossed each others paths, one handing a file to the other without even looking. Another walked directly under one of the floating cabinets without ducking as it passed millimeters over his hair. Ryan compared that to Dianmu and his own path, stopping for curators that bustled by, stepping quickly to avoid being struck by a filing cabinet… “They know where everything is going to be. At all times,” he whispered in awe.

“Exactly,” Dianmu said, resuming her walk with a satisfied smile. “The forms make sure that’s possible. It’s almost beautiful in its efficiency, isn’t it?”

“I was going to say creepy,” Ryan said as he followed.

“If humans were doing it, I’d agree with you,” Dianmu said. “Or gods, for that matter. But Curators don’t operate on the same logic that we do. Free will…it’s a concept they understand, and it’s a thing that they have, but they view it the way most humans view having an anus. Something that they’d rather not think about.”

Ryan let out a shocked laugh at the analogy. They reached their room, and Dianmu pushed a button labeled I-67.

The room itself was what Ryan should have expected from a private office in Officium Mundi. Two desks, facing each other, each adorned with a single lamp and no other decorations. The desks were made of some kind of metal – Ryan considered looking at it with his divine sight to figure out what kind, but decided that opening it up inside one of the impossibly ‘stacked’ rooms would be even worse than looking at them from a distance – and the lamps were utilitarian shades of white canvas. At the back of the room was a small metal door that looked like it belonged to a dumbwaiter with a simple sign proclaiming “Insert Paperwork Here When Completed.”

Dianmu headed over to one of the desks, taking a stack of paperwork from Ryan. “Hey, question for you,” Ryan asked as he sat down. “Crystal said, back when this all started, that she couldn’t explain some things to be because it would fry my brain unless I’d undergone Apotheosis. Later on, Athena said that Crystal was probably just deflecting questions with that. But now…I mean, just looking at this gave me a bloody nose. Do you have any idea which one it is?”

The small smile that spread across Dianmu’s lips told Ryan he’d just revealed his ignorance. It had been awhile since a goddess had to explain something to him that she found to be a basic concept, however, so it didn’t sting the way it used to. “There’s nothing that can’t be explained to you that would hurt your brain, Ryan. However, until you undergo Apotheosis, some concepts – like how this room is made – are difficult to understand, let alone perceive. So in a way, they were both telling part of the truth.”

Ryan thought about it and nodded in acceptance. “Why couldn’t Crystal have just said that, then?” he groused.

“Because she was probably just deflecting questions,” Dianmu said.

Ryan chuckled in agreement and sat down at the other desk. Paperwork, Ryan thought as he looked at form “Request to Petition Curator for Information 119-C.” Why did it have to be paperwork?

With a sigh, he began to write.

Weird Theology is now available as an audiobook! Click here to check it out! Or here for Amazon! (It just got approved for whisper sync) And if you could leave it an honest rating or review, I’d really appreciate it.