"Ah, Mr. Gadson, do come in! I can't tell you how pleased I am that you took time from your busy schedule of videogame development to pay me this little visit. Congratulations, by the way, on the phenomenal sales of your latest... what is it called? Shiftemon?"
"Yes. Thank you. The animated series has certainly helped bolster its popularity... But I hardly think I've been invited to the office of the President of Lucitania in my capacity as a game developer... unless your grandfather was hoping to invite me to join his company? I do hear he's interested in the video game market..."
"My... grandfather? You mean Theodore Smith? I beg your pardon, but it was actually my father, George Sr., who-"
"I meant, Lucien."
"Luci- do you mean my great grandfather, or my..." the President frowned and counted on his fingers, "Um, my great... great... great grandfather. I think I got that right." He looked up again at his guest and said, "Anyway, they're both long dead, I'm afraid. Why do you mention Lucien? Either one?"
Clifton Gadson rolled his eyes and said, "Your great grandfather might be dead, but hardly so your elder ancestor. I know well that he has guided every generation of the company he founded back in the Civil War days. It's certainly evolved a great deal over the past couple of centuries..."
"Sir, I'll thank you to stop talking like some kind of madman. No one lives that long!"
Gadson remained silent for a few moments, and focused very closely on his host's face. Finally, he said, "You know, Mr. President, you bear a striking resemblance to your father. As did he to his great, great grandfather. I almost wonder..." He again fell momentarily silent and thought back a few years... "I find myself suddenly recalling a terrorist attack in the early days of your presidency. Alot of people in the news wondered if you'd survive..." and then the man broke into a wide smile. "Lucien..." and again made his expression more serious. "My condolences on the loss of your great great great grandson. And, you know, on having to bear the name 'George, Jr.' for the past few years."
The President sighed, looked down, then back up. "Well, Shifty, it beats being called 'long dead.' In any event, no, I didn't ask you here in your capacity as a game developer, even if that is the only capacity in which the world currently knows you... Mr. Gadson. But, it's not your only role, whether anyone else knows it or not. The Masks still follow you, don't they? Do you ever walk amongst them, at all?"
"Who, me? Make a personal appearance? In this day and age? Are you mad? Because they'd certainly think I was mad, if I showed up proclaiming to be the One True God. Don't you think?"
"Oh, I'm sure you'd find a way to prove it."
"You grossly underestimate people's capacity for skepticism. Even among the devout. These days anything that looks like magic is just explained away as computers and holograms, that sort of thing. Hell, even a hundred years ago they would have called it smoke and mirrors.... No, I'm content to make myself obscenely wealthy by catering to the idle lifestyles of the young and young at heart. For now. But you're right, the Following does go on.... And by the way, don't call them 'Masks.' And just to remind you, don't call me 'Shifty,' either."
Lucien was silent, and his smile slowly changed to a frown. "Very well. But I hope you'll extend me the courtesy of not pretending that the Verilies had no connection to the terrorists responsible for the real George, Jr.'s death."
God looked away. "I'm truly sorry about that, Lucien." Looking back, he added, "But you must admit, it did make it possible for you to seamlessly assume his position as President. Which surely must be a better use of your time than sitting alone in a darkened secret room just off Tad's office at Smithcorp."
"It's not like I ever spent a lifetime there. I got out, you know. Not so often in my own body, it's true..." he trailed off, then shook his head. "But you're right, it's been convenient. Though less so to have to pretend to be Margaret's husband, especially early on when she was newly a widow and had to pretend to be happy her husband survived. And George's brother Tad, since you mention him, is under greater pressure than ever to produce an heir, lest the company should fall into outsider hands. Because Margaret and I sure as hell won't be producing one..."
"Enough with the family drama already! I'm not that interested. What I want to know is why exactly you've called me here today. So please come to the point."
"You're right, of course. Well. Your little Following may go on, as do any number of terrorist groups around the world, both associated with the Verilies, and not. But we both know there are bigger concerns than them. In case you haven't noticed, the world is on the brink of nuclear war. Luckily the terrorists don't have nukes, nor, as far as I know, do your Followers, who these days- for the most part- seem content to remain a humble, minor religion, rather than any kind of political power. Same goes for the Seers, though-" and here Lucien allowed a small smile- "they do seem rather more firmly entrenched as a religious power than do the Verilies."
Getting no reaction from God, Lucien continued. "Anyway, Lucitania has come a long way since its Civil War, generations ago. But then, alot of countries have grown more powerful as technology has progressed, and not all of them share our great nation's ideals."
"To answer your question, Mr. President- if I can really call you that, considering no one elected you- I do, in fact, watch the news. You're not telling me anything I, or for that matter any 5th grader, don't already know. But what I wonder is just what you think it has to do with me. As you said, my Followers have lately become quite the peaceful lot, a few radical malcontents aside. And I am a humble programmer of video games. So I repeat, why am I here?"
"You are here, Clifton, because I know full well that the Followers of the One True God have never been your only pawns in this little game of ours. You're always working a great many angles. And I don't believe for a second that the Jagarans would have developed nuclear weapons without your help. Even if it was indirect."
"Hmmm. Sounds like rather hypocritical talk, considering your own actions in the Civil War. Besides, I hardly think Lucitania would have nukes without your help, even if good old Smithcorp has been out of the arms business for quite a few decades now."
Lucien looked down momentarily, suppressing a humorless grin, before looking up and responding, "I had little choice. As always. I have no intention of losing the game, or at least not of making it easier for you than it has to be. Besides which, I care about this country-"
"It does bear your name, after all."
"That is not how it got its name! ...Or at least, not as far as anyone knows..." He shook his head. "In any event, I care about the people of this country. And whether or not they elected me, I intend to serve them as best I can. That includes not allowing their enemies to get the upper hand."
God sighed. "Understood completely. But if you think I have any influence upon the government of Jagara, you're sorely mistaken. Hell, the only direct connection I have to that country is the fact that my game's tie-in cartoon is produced by a Jagaran animation studio, and I'm pretty sure they have no political pull, either. So, short of possessing the Emperor, there ain't alot I can do, directly or indirectly. So... I'll leave it to politicians and diplomats such as yourself to try to defuse the current situation. And if you fail... well, there are other countries in the world. And even if they all got nuked, we'd just have to wait a few million years for a new race to evolve, and then we could start over fresh." He smiled. "Every game must have a reset button, you know."
Lucien smiled back at him. "Aptly put. And yet... I'm not really all that afraid of the wost actually coming to pass. They'll never allow it, you know. No matter how much you might try to push things in that direction... is it because you don't like seeing my side winning? You may have more points in the game, but that's... eh, kind of abstract. In a very tangible sense, I'm winning. And in the business world, appearance is often pretty much everything. Or... do you simply want to score a point for causing me emotional distress? Surely you know how much it would hurt me to have to wait millions of years to start over, after I've only enjoyed a few thousand years of civilization. That motivation would seem even pettier, you know. And yes, as much as you protest that you have no control over foreign governments, and as much as it may be true, I'm pretty sure you'd really like this war to happen. In fact I think your current occupation would easily score you a point on its own, both for the aptness of a game designer who is actually the ultimate gamer, and for your little 'reset' metaphor. ...But as I say, they'll never allow it. It's simply not going to happen."
God had been smiling throughout Lucien's entire speech. "And just who isn't going to allow it? -By the way, I will claim a point for the game designer metaphor & joke, even without the war. -But seriously, do you think the people of this world, be they Lucitanians, Jagarans, or any other nationality, are just so good, so sensible, that they won't let the war happen? We've both seen enough wars over the millennia to know that's rubbish. The concept of nuclear weapons as a deterrent is just as ludicrous. People on just about any world in any universe crave battle. They may hate it, too, because, you know... people are paradoxical like that. But hey, the critters in my video games may be cute and lovable... they're also fierce. And the kids eat it up. The young, and the young at heart alike." He leaned forward and said in a serious tone, "They... are... monsters." Leaning back in his chair, "Every single one of them, and don't you deny it. They have the capacity for lasting peace in them, but they're not quite that evolved yet. And I think, perhaps, they never will be."
Lucien smiled. "Oh, you're right. But I wasn't talking about the people of this world. They're not the ones who won't allow it."
God frowned. "Who, then?"
Lucien's gazed drifted slowly upward, and he pointed toward the ceiling. "Them."
Just then, the President's heretofore dormant computer screen activated, showing an image of space above the planet. A fleet of ships decloaked, and the image was quickly replaced by a face that wasn't quite human. "People of the planet Akkadia, we hereby invite you to join the Interstellar Alliance of Free Worlds. We bring you peace and prosperity... new technologies, new horizons, and of course full and equal membership in the Alliance. That is, if you are capable of setting aside your internal squabbles and come together as one people. If not... I'm afraid you will become subjects until you have learned not to act like savages, at which point the issue of full membership would be reexamined...."
As the envoy continued his speech, God turned to Lucien and said, "You know, I really hate you sometimes. Very well- point for you. But don't forget, I also scored a point today, so don't think you're getting any closer to catching up..."
vol. 4, part one
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