The bell rang, and the students slowly filed out of the classroom, talking and laughing with their friends. One, however, remained seated until the others had gone. She then stood, and approached the teacher's desk. "Excuse me," she said, "Mr. Vokoba?"
Looking up from his papers, he replied, "Yes? What can I do for you, Miss Naws?"
"I, um... had a question about the lesson."
"Well, I was just wondering... if Arlen's Law states that the speed of photons in the sixth dimension is not a constant, but only determined by interaction with particles from other dimensions, then... well, what I mean is, before anyone found a way to actually travel through that dimension, how would they, I mean the photons, have behaved? If there was nothing there to determine their behavior?"
Mr. Vokoba looked at her for a few moments, then narrowed his eyes. "Miss Naws, my memory fails me. Were you absent the day we covered the trans-dimensional uncertainty principle and its relation to temporally unstable particles?"
She blushed, barely noticeably, and stuttered, "I, uh, no. I, I was here."
He nodded and said, "Yes. Now that I think about it, I believe you scored rather well on that section's exam. So how is it you fail to extrapolate that lesson's impact upon the section we are currently studying?"
As her blush became more obvious, she turned her head away from him, and smiled nervously. After a moment, she turned back to look at him. "I'm sorry. I didn't really want to talk to you about the lesson, I just... wanted to talk to you."
She shook her head. "Nothing. I mean, nothing in particular." She laughed. "Well, that is..." Her blush now was unmistakable. "It's just, you're so... oh, I don't know how to say it! I like you, that's all. Alot. And I was just sort of wondering if maybe... you'd be interested in, you know... going out, or something. For a drink. Maybe a pubvid, or whatever, I don't know." She looked at him expectantly, hopefully.
He sighed, closed his eyes for a moment, then fixed his gaze on her and replied, "I'm sorry, Miss Naws, but I don't feel that would be appropriate. I'm flattered, don't get me wrong, and it's not that I don't like you, but... I have a personal rule against getting involved with my students. Romantically. It might... conflict with our academic relationship. You understand."
He internally cursed himself for adding that last bit, because it was clear that she didn't understand, not really. And he had of course known that she wouldn't. But she just looked at him with an expression that was a mixture of confusion and disappointment.
"Oh, okay," she said. "Sorry to have bothered you..."
As she turned to leave, Mr. Vokoba hastened to say, "Not at all, and again, I'm the one who's sorry." He wished he could think of more to say, but he simply couldn't.
As he sat alone at his desk, he looked down at his papers, and tried to return his attention to his work, but he couldn't concentrate. He wasn't even specifically thinking about the encounter with his student just now, not entirely. He'd learned to avoid thinking about things when he didn't want to do, but the trick had a side-effect of making it practically impossible to think about anything.
And so, his mind a virtual blank, he scarcely noticed when there was a gentle knock at his classroom door. A few moments later, the door opened and quietly shut again, and a fellow teacher walked over to and sat in one of the recently vacated chairs, leaned back, and put his feet up on a student's desk. "You know," he said, "I was just thinking our current situation would make for a pretty good sitcom. Two ancient, rival immortals locked in a never-ending war of wills take a break from their epic struggle and both become teachers at a high school on a random planet where no one even knows they're aliens, let alone practically gods. ...Notice how I said 'practically,' eh? That was a personal favor from me to you. I know how much you hate it when I call myself 'God,' so..." Getting no response, he said, "Lucien, are you even listening to me?"
The first teacher shook his head to clear away his absent-minded reverie, looked at the newcomer, and said, "Don't call me Lucien. My name is Vicar, this decade or so."
The second teacher smiled and said, "Very well, but I'm surprised you chose a name which in another tongue would have religious implications. ...And speaking of alien tongues, did I just overhear that lovely young girl ask you out on a date?" His smile turned into a wicked grin. "Because I'm sure you could find good use to which to put her alien tongue...."
Vicar Vokoba shot the other a scornful glance. "Don't be so crass, Josash. Anyway, you know as well as I that wherever we go in the universe, if we're pretending to be from a particular place, we both of us assume names that wouldn't arouse suspicion of our being from elsewhere."
"Speaking of arouse..." He laughed, waved his hands, and said, "Sorry. But still, there are countless names you could have chosen that would fit in on this planet, you needn't have chosen one that sounded like an Akkadian word."
"It's not Akkadian."
"Oh, right. Forgot. Same planet, different universe, and so a different name for the planet. Never had vicars there this time around, did we? Oh well. But speaking, no, wait for it, speaking of arousing suspicion of being from elsewhere, do you really think it was wise of you to turn the eager little hottie down like that? How many Onalian teachers, or men, or women, of any position, do you think would turn an offer like that down cold?"
Vicar sighed, and shook his head. Removing the glasses he didn't need but had grown accustomed to wearing for show (they did nothing to enhance his own vision, but would affect that of anyone else who might happen to try them on), he closed his eyes and cleared his head, trying to think of a response. After all, Josash had a point. There was no taboo about such relationships on this world, certainly no laws against it.... Finally he said, "Still, she's too young for me."
"I should say so, by several million years. But that didn't stop you with... what was her name? Cheri?"
Vicar re-donned his glasses, and cast a withering glance over their rims. "Charlotte. And that's not what I meant."
Josash nodded. "I know. But really, Onalians haven't the same concept of childhood versus adulthood that you have. I myself gave that up... well, sometime in my second universe, anyway. Long, long time ago. It really is so arbitrary, you know? Anyway, they're pretty much the same as Akkadians. Same basic planetary years, same rate of aging. She's what, about 17? On Akkadia she'd be legal in a year or so, and you can't tell me one year makes much difference, even in a species so short-lived as... well, anyone who's not us."
"That's as may be. I'm not going to argue that point. Nevertheless, I can't help feeling as I do. Besides, age isn't really the important issue. I'm in a position of power over her. A relationship could complicate that position in any number of ways, and vice versa."
"But my dear Lu- uh, Vicar, there's a reason they don't have laws against that here. Or rather, you know, there are laws against doing anything improper in your job because of your personal relationships, but there aren't laws restricting you from having such relationships. And the reason for that is because it wouldn't even occur to anyone on Onal, anyone except the most egregious degenerates, to engage in such improper conduct. No one would accuse you of showing her favoritism in class, or giving her better grades than she earned. Nor would she expect you to. On the contrary, she'd be appalled at the very thought of it, so she's hardly blame you if you gave her poor grades, if that's what she deserved."
Yet again, Vicar sighed. "I know all that. Which is why she couldn't understand my reason for turning her down. I'm sure I hurt her feelings, she must have taken it personally. There's really no other way for her to take it. But still, it's not like Onalians are required to accept any offer they get. No one's going to be suspicious just because I'm not interested in her romantically. So there's no more reason to accept than to decline."
"And vice versa," said Josash. "So why did you decline? Come to think of it, how long has it been since you've been with a woman? You can't tell me you haven't been with anyone since Charlotte, that was like, three millennia or so ago, wasn't it?"
"And before her, I waited 42 million years, didn't I?"
Josash swung his feet off the desk, leaned forward in his chair and propped up his head on his hands, on the desk. Incredulously, he asked, "Did you? Oh, my, Lucien... Yes, after hearing something like that, I simply must use your real name. Lucien, are you serious? I mean, I don't know, it's not like I've watched you every moment of your life, or anything, but I kind of figured..."
"Most of that time there was no one around, you know. I certainly wasn't going to be with a monkey or something."
"Oh, right. I suppose. But even so, there was a great deal of time after the evolution of the Akkadian race before she came around. What were you waiting for then?"
"Someone... someone I could tell the truth without worrying about being worshipped. Because unlike you, I don't think of myself as a god, and in my personal relationships, at least, I don't want anyone else to think of me as such. Especially not in a romantic relationship."
Josash grinned again. "Don't knock it til you've tried it, mon ami. Lovers who consider you a god tend to be very.... Well. I'll try not to say anything crass. And there's really no classy way to complete that statement."
"You'd think they'd get a clue from the fact that your godlike powers don't extend to any special skills in that department, though."
The elder immortal laughed and said, "Oh, you'd be surprised, Lucien, dear boy. Skills come not from immortality directly, but immortality does allow for lots of practice. With lots of different partners. From lots of different sentient races. And inhabiting the bodies of lots of different genders also helps give one a sense of what each one wants, or needs. Which comes in handy... Having been a gender really helps when you're with that gender. Ah, but I'm rambling semi-incoherently, now. Point is, practice makes perfect, no matter what sort of skill you're talking about. And we all know only gods are perfect, don't we? But damn, if Charlotte is the only woman you've been with in this universe, I guess you're not nearly there yet. Not nearly enough practice to remotely approach my level of-"
"Enough! I really don't want to hear any more of this."
"Jealous? Or just feeling a wee bit inferior, are we?"
"I said enough. I really don't give a damn about your experience or your skill." Vicar allowed himself a small smile. "I've derived all the pleasure I need, and I've given all the pleasure a partner needs. I've no doubts about that. It may not be 'perfection,' but as I said... I don't have any desire to be worshipped by my sexual partners. All I want is love. Which is something I doubt you've experienced, ever. At least not since before your first jump on the Template. So perhaps you're the one who should be jealous."
Josash dropped his grin and his features turned uncharacteristically serious. Sitting back in his chair, he said somberly, "You have no idea how many times I've been in love. Love is... it's grand. It can be simple or it can be epic. It comes in many forms. But not every relationship has to be about that. That's too limiting. It would get boring, lose its meaning, if I demanded that of every relationship I ever had. Casual flings are what make the deeper relationships... well, deep. Hell, it's what makes them bearable. You know as well as I that any relationship either of us has is... doomed to become a footnote in our personal histories. Knowing that could drive you mad. It could stop you from ever allowing yourself to fall in love at all. Because losing such a love is painful enough, but having it happen every eternal time, oh, so many times, and not only that but knowing the entire time you're with the one you love that the whole thing is but the blink of an eye, for you... it taints every moment that you're together." He allowed himself a wan smile. "So... casual relationships... they give you a sense of perspective on the ones that really matter. They make them seem bigger by comparison, help you understand how important they are, but at the same time, help you accept how fleeting they are. It just..." he sighed. "Whatever, I don't know." He shook his head. "Lucien, or Vicar, whatever... I don't know what to tell you, but... if you hold out for true love every time, with nothing in between... damn. It's not just that you'll be lonely for centuries, or millennia, or eons. It's not even that you'll go mad. It's something on an infinitely higher magnitude, something for which I simply haven't the words. I know you must feel like you've got a handle on what immortality means, by now, but believe me... you've only just scratched the surface."
"So you keep telling me," Vicar said, before falling into silent thought. He sat and stared at Josash for a minute before finally cotinuing, "Still, it's awfully rare for you to... be so serious. Disconcerting, actually. I almost feel..." He shook his head. "But no. Listen, there isn't a word for our relationship." With a slight, wry grin, and half-glancing off to the side, at nothing in particular, he said, "Some might call us 'frenemies.' But even that really seems insufficient. We're..."
"Unique," suggested Josash.
"Well, we're not, because there are two of us. But perhaps our relationship is. In any event... I... don't really feel comfortable continuing in this vein, any more than I did when you were being a wise-ass. Actually, I think I feel more comfortable when you're making me hate you, than when you're doling out sage advice garnered over countless... eons. Or whatever. It doesn't matter, anyway. You may be right in what you say, but in this particular case, I don't feel like getting involved. I still feel it's wrong, both because of my position and because of her age. It doesn't matter that she, and her whole planet, feel differently. And by the way, I never said I haven't been with anyone since Charlotte. Maybe I have, and maybe I haven't. It's really none of your business. But if it makes you feel any better, I'm fairly certain I will have other relationships. Whether I hold out for true love every time, or not. And hell, maybe in another time and place, I could even allow myself to be with someone this girl's age, but not now. As you say, one year doesn't make that much difference...."
Josash nodded, then once again grinned wickedly, and said mischievously, "Cause I was gonna say, if you hadn't been afraid I was possessing her, you totally would've slept with Dolores, even if she was fifteen."
At that, Lucien (for the moment he forgot to think of himself as 'Vicar') jumped up from his chair and shouted, "Don't you ever talk about her like that! You have no right to talk about her at all, let alone so disrespectfully. And while we're on the subject, kindly refrain from talking to me about Charlotte ever again, either. Or anyone I care about. Friends, family, lovers, anyone. Just... get out. Get the hell out of my classroom." He pointed to the door. "Feh. 'Sitcom,' indeed."
Still grinning, Josash got up and left without another word, closing the door behind him. Once he'd left, Vicar sat back down at his desk, went back to his work, upon which he could once again concentrate, sparing only a moment's attention to think the word "Wise-ass."
vol. 4, part three
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