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Volume 3, Part 1b

Lucien sat alone, at a booth in a saloon, staring down into a tumbler of whiskey. Suddenly, someone slid into the seat across his table, and said, "Congratulations, old friend. I hear you've just made quite the profitable deal. Or should I say deals? I wonder if-"

Without looking up from his glass, he said, "Go away, Shifty. I want to be alone."

"My my my, but you look depressed for someone who's just become the world's first bona fide multi-millionaire; well, in modern times, I mean. Oh but wait! I'm sorry, second multi-millionaire. How silly of me. I forgot to include myself!"

"I said go away."

"Yes, and you also called me 'Shifty.' Kind of ironic, actually. I was about to say you're getting more and more like me with each passing century. Maybe you're the one who should be called Shifty." He waited for a response, and getting none, continued. "Actually, what I was going to say first was, I wonder what the Verilies and the Antevies would think if they knew you'd provided arms to both sides."

"Hmmm." Lucien looked up, locked eyes with the other man. "And I wonder what they'd think if they knew you started this whole war, and didn't have the slightest care as to which side won. Or in fact, that you'd probably be happiest if it never ended."

"Oh, Lucien, you know what they say. All good things must come to an end. And I wouldn't have it any other way. True, I don't much care who wins, although of course I'm slightly partial to the Verilies, at least in general principle. But honestly, to say I started the war, well that's rather myopic of you, isn't it? You know you're every bit as responsible as I."

Lucien said nothing for a minute, just sat there staring icily into his rival's eyes. Finally he said, "You give me little choice. If I didn't play your infernal game, who knows what would become of the world? I'm not about to give you carte blanche to direct the course of history single-handedly. I don't want to direct anything, any influence I have is designed ultimately to give them more control of their destiny than they'd have if I left them alone, left them to your devices. And anyway, you know as well as I that this war isn't just about these two stupid religions we've created for ourselves. The larger issue, the real issue, is about peace versus war. You want everyone to want war, and while it's been relatively easy to nudge your damn 'Verilies' into such a mode, you've had more than a little direct influence on the Ante... *sigh* on the Seers of Truth Unmasked. It's not all me."

A mildly sour expression momentarily crossed God's face. "You know, that really is a terrible name. I like Antevies better, and while those who came up with the name may have just done so as an attempt to mock their enemies, I actually think it's rather clever. 'Verilies' starts with V, and your group is against the V's, so 'anti,' but also the initials 'STU' come just before 'V,' so 'ante'..." He stopped, seeing the vaguely annoyed disinterest on Lucien's face. "Well, I can see you aren't interested. Nothing you don't already know, anyway..."

"And besides, it's not like your guys are officially called 'Verilies,' either. 'Followers of the One True God' may have a nicer ring to it than my followers' proper name, but it's just as unwieldy."

After a brief silence, God replied, "That's as may be, but entirely beside the point. Anyway, you know this war is to your benefit. The money will prove most useful, in ages to come. If managed wisely. And hey, maybe your guys will win the war, wouldn't that be nice? You maybe giving the Antevies a better deal? Or better weapons? Heh, no matter. You're playing into the war just as much as I. More, actually, at least in a direct way. You-"

"Dammit, you eternal ass! There wouldn't be a war if you hadn't worked so long and hard, over so many generations, to make everyone want it! Nothing I could have done would have prevented this! And if there's one thing the history of my world taught us, it's that innovation almost always happens quickest in wartime. I may not like it, but damned if I ain't gonna take full advantage to move things forward! I hate this bloody war, but it's high time we had a damn industrial revolution, okay?! Now just get the hell out of here and let me drink in relative peace, before I forget to kythe with you and actually say some of this rather suspicious-sounding... crap... out loud, for all to hear and wonder at!"

God grinned. "Ah, but Lucien-"

Lucien drew a knife, subtly enough that no one else noticed, but plain enough for God to see. "Doctor could reattach your hand no problem, in spite of limited skill and primitive equipment. Your body would take care of most of it, just need some simple sutures to get the process started. 'Course, that's assuming I don't keep the bloody thing as a souvenir."

Still grinning, God said "I could always get an entirely new body, there are plenty of shells in the sea. ...But hey, don't lose your head! I see your point. And while I'm sure you wouldn't want this poor fellow to wake up sans hand, sans regenerative powers, and sans any idea what's happened to him the past few years, your recent actions have clearly demonstrated a willingness to put such concerns out of mind. Well, with a little help from the bottle, that is... Anyway, since my business here is complete, and being as I'd prefer to hold on to all my extremities, I'll be going." He extricated himself from the booth, and waved with both hands before leaving. Once his enemy had exited the saloon, Lucien went back to his drink.

part 1c
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