He found her sitting on the sofa, a drink in hand. The bottle on the end table was more than half empty, and there was a filled glass sitting next to it. When he came and sat on the sofa beside her, she picked up the second glass and handed it to him.
After a moment she said, "So I was wondering. Does 'Sotu en Goas Calus' mean anything? Or is it just a random name. Doesn't sound like any language I've ever heard of..."
"Sotu was the name of the capital city of the Universal Coalition, an alliance of planets, well, of all the inhabited planets in the Universe. Though of course it had the name long before all the planets had been discovered, let alone joined. Rather optimistic, I suppose. Sotu was on the planet, called Roku, that first founded the UC. In the native tongue of Roku, 'en' meant 'of,' 'goas' meant 'coalition' and 'calus' meant 'universal.' The capital was never actually called 'Sotu en Goas Calus,' I just sort of put that together myself for my city here, not so much named for the city itself, as to mean 'the seat of the universal coalition.' Not that I had any delusions about this becoming something so vast. It was just a phase...
"Anyway, 'Sotu' wasn't just the name of a city, it also meant 'seat.' Funny story, it had that name well before the UC (or in the native tongue, the GC) was begun, before Roku's inhabitants even developed space travel. Why the city had that name, I don't even know, but when they were trying to choose a capital, a seat, for the UC, they chose that city just because of its name."
"Mm-hmmm. And did you have anything to do with that choice? Sounds like something you'd suggest."
"My dear, the UC was founded many thousands of years before I was born. And what's more, I wasn't even born on Roku. I was born on this planet. Well, sort of. See there's this thing called the Template-"
"Uh-huh. So you were, like, born, and everything, were you?"
"But of course. I had a mother and a father. I had a sister. A whole slew of relatives. ...I'll tell you this, though, and it's something God doesn't seem to know. He does think I named my city after that old city in the previous Universe, and he's not entirely wrong about that. But what he doesn't know is that my followers chose their name as an acronym of the city. It's pretty easy to ignore the 'o' in 'Seers of Truth Unmasked,' after all. Everyone does."
"Okay. So anyway, you were saying about the Template...?"
"Right. It's a device whose origin I can't even guess at. Well, okay I could guess, but I'd have no way of knowing. It was discovered long before my time, but it happened to be on my planet. It was kept secret, though, and I didn't learn of it till a month before the end of the Universe. It's what allowed me, and the other, to survive the death and rebirth of the Universe. Anyway, it contains the blueprint of everything that has ever existed or happened in any Universe. So I guess things start over pretty much the same physically each time... but aside from that, there's no telling how differently history may develop. Essentially I consider this to be the same planet on which I was originally born, though. It didn't join the UC until the coalition had been around quite a long time, and it was a fairly obscure little world. Although who knows, maybe this time round we'll end up founding the UC. If we get a chance..."
"That'd be nice. I guess. Although of course I won't be around to see it. Dammit, Lucien! How can we contemplate a life together? Life for you is the blink of an eye. How could someone as extraordinary as you even love someone like me?"
He sighed. "I'm not an extraordinary man, I'm just a man to whom extraordinary things have happened."
"Mm-hmmm, yeah, okay. Clichéd much?"
Lucien grinned. "Maybe I'm a little extraordinary. But I don't really have much of a choice."
"Okay. By the way, what did you do before your universe ended?"
"Oh, um, I..." he fidgeted a little. "Well, I was kind of, you know, President of the UC."
"Ah. I see, not extraordinary at all. So, that would kind of explain why you had such an affinity for the name of its capital, you must've spent alot of time there. And why you speak its native tongue, even though you weren't born there. And why you got to use the Template."
"Hey, that wasn't because I was President! It was because... um... well, never mind, it's not important."
"Let me guess. Because people thought you were extraordinary."
"Shut up," he said, stifling an unwanted grin.
"Anyway, you haven't answered my question. How could you love me?"
"Dammit, Charlotte, no matter what's happened to me, ultimately I'm just a man. A human friggin' being, y'know? Yes, I have all that other crap to deal with, but the vast majority of the time, I'm just doing my best to live my life, same as anyone else. I try to have a job, have friends, a bit of entertainment. I wasn't looking to fall in love, but, you know, it happens. And yeah, it sucks that you'll die soon, compared to me, but for all my talk about how time seems to go by quickly... believe me, it doesn't. It's excruciatingly slow. It's been more fun since civilization started and all, but still. A person gets lonely. And believe it or not, I think you are an extraordinary woman."
She blushed and said, "Well, thanks. And you know, I thought you were an extraordinary man even before I knew any of this."
"Thanks. It's important to me, anyway... if we're to be together, you need to know the truth, I can't stand to keep secrets. But I also need to know you can think of me as just a man, because for all my occasional games of godhood, I still always think of myself as a man. I couldn't bear to have you think of me as a god, or as a devil. Which is why I haven't been with anyone yet in this universe, I've never met anyone I really thought could look beyond all that stuff and just see me as me. Until I met you."
"So... you weren't kidding about the 42 million years thing?"
"God. I mean, man. That's like... seriously, I don't care what you did in the last universe, this seriously has to count as getting your virginity back. Which is, alas, not something I can claim of myself."
"Well, hell, you're only human," Lucien said with a grin. "I couldn't expect you to wait forever."
She smiled, too. "Anyway... speaking of jobs. Which, by the way, you were a bit ago. With all that, just downstairs... why even bother working? Why... why especially would you sell guns? To both sides, no less, risking jail? More importantly, what would happen if you'd been found guilty of high treason, and they tried to execute you?"
"That would have been awkward, yes. What with my not dying, and all. I don't think it was ever much of an option, though. But if it had come to that, I could have faked my own death in any of various ways. If absolutely necessary, I could have abandoned my body, and taken on a new one. So this one really would have died. But I don't want that to happen anytime soon, it's my last real tie to my home universe, aside from my memories. And while my more recent memories may be vivid, my older ones, not so much.
"As for using the riches of Sotu, well the most practical reason is I wouldn't want to devaluate our currency by adding a bunch of extra gold or anything. Nor would I like to have to try to explain where I got it from. But also, it's kind of sacred ground to me. Not because I was worshipped there, but because... alot of good friends died there. I don't want to, you know, desecrate their resting place. Besides that, there are some bad memories, so I don't like to go down there often. Today was the first time in many years... I wouldn't mind giving you a proper tour, but... no, I don't want to go there often.
"As for the arms dealing specifically, as a means to raise money, well, I do have plans for quite some time down the road that will require massive investments in the present, and this was a very convenient way to acquire the necessary capital. Believe me, I agonized over it, but I just couldn't see any other way to do it in the time frame required. Besides which, it was useful in more short-term plans, as you are of course aware. It allowed me to do things that helped end the war sooner rather than later. Ultimately helped further my goals of peace."
"Yes, everyone knows the story, but only in the simplest of terms. No one really knows everything. So maybe one of these days you can provide a bit more information, help me with that book I'm thinking of writing. Of course, I'll leave out anything that makes you sound like a religious nut..."
"Gee, thanks. Anyway, yeah, we'll see. Should maybe wait and see how your other books sell, first. If you become a big-time famous author, sure. But I don't know that I want to give the story of the great war hero slash fraud artist to just any writer, you know..."
She grabbed a pillow and hit him with it. He laughed and said "Hey, I'm holding a glass of wine here! It's expensive! And so is anything it spills on!"
"I really think you can afford it. If not, send me the bill..." After a bit they stopped laughing, and just stared at each other in silence. Then Charlotte took his glass, and put it down next to hers on the table, and leaned in to kiss him.
And suddenly, she drew back. "I just thought of something. If you can both shift... you can't really know that I'm not him, can you? And I can't know you're not him."
"Well, you can know I'm me, though I guess you kind of have to take my word for that. I mean, he and I can't possess one another's bodies, but I suppose you have no idea that this is really my original body."
"I believe you. But can you know I'm not him?"
"Not really. And that's another big reason I've never been with anyone, in this universe. But I can say this: at the moment, I'm only behind in the game by 20 points, 940 to 920. And if one of us tricked the other into doing something we really didn't want to do, like this, he'd have to sacrifice 1000 points. I actually made up that rule, one drunken night a few million years ago. Just as a random precautionary sort of thing. Anyway, not only would that put me way in the lead, it would drop him below zero. And whenever one of us drops below zero, the other gets a 50 point bonus. That's not part of the 1000 point rule, it's an old rule from before my time. The two rules just happen to coincide in this instance."
"Points? So that's all you get? You get ahead in your stupid game? And that would make up for..." she shuddered in revulsion.
"Of course it wouldn't really make up for it. And even if it did, I wouldn't put it past him to sacrifice the lead as part of some grand scheme that would pay off later. Hell, I wouldn't put it past him to make that sacrifice just to disgust me, for the pure enjoyment of it."
"Which I suppose would explain how you'd even find out it had been him."
"Oh, he'd have to tell me. After. That's one of the rules, after a trick has been perpetrated, the tricker has to reveal the truth to the trickee. Actually, the very second rule in the entire game is that players must always be scrupulously honest when it comes to calculating points. But in regards to the 1000 point trick rule- which isn't just about this kind of relationship, mind you, but this is the specific kind of exapmle of a trick that we had in mind when the rule was made up- well, the second rule is specifically reinforced in this instance. The revelation doesn't necessarily always have to be made immediately after the trick, if the deception is still part of a particular plan, but eventually the truth would out, and the score would be updated retroactively. That's important, because, as noted, point status can affect the game in various ways, so it might seem, if I didn't know the truth for awhile, that... well, it's complicated. Let's just say my own calculations could be off in more complex ways than are obvious, and not just points but entire plans could be completely skewed by it. So, really-"
"Enough! I'm sick of this, I don't want to hear anymore. And, by the way, I'm definitely no longer in the mood. I... I'm afraid I can't even be around you right now."
She got up and started walking toward the door. But suddenly she stopped, slowly turned, and said, "But..." and she declined her head with a coy smile, "I still look forward to our next rendezvous. When next we meet, Lucien, let's not speak of these things. I suspect, at that time, speaking will not be the activity at the forefront of my mind." She turned again, continued walking, and as she opened the door, she said "Au revoir, my cheri..."
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