After dinner, Abe and several friends shuffled from the dining room to the lounge and sat down on various items of furniture, whichever was most comfortable for their various species. An attendant picked up the vidscreen remote and turned it on so that the facility's residents might watch their favorite program, which was just about to start. As the opening credits began, however, the power went out, and at the same instant, outside the window there was a flash of lightning and a clap of thunder. A few moments later, there came the sound of a heavy rainfall, and then the back-up generator came on, and the darkness gave way to dim illumination. The vidscreen, however, was considered a luxury, and power would not be allocated to such things.
With a wistful sigh, Abe got up from the couch, walked to the window, and stood staring out at the rain. To be honest, he admitted to himself, he'd always enjoyed both the look and the sound of rain, especially at night. The occasional thunder and lightning also added a nice touch. Still, it was a bit annoying to have to wait to see the latest episode of the show. Whenever full power was restored, it would be a simple enough matter to order the episode at their leisure, but they all preferred to watch it when it actually aired. Meanwhile, he knew the others wouldn't be satsified staring at rain, not for more than a few minutes, anyway. And it would no doubt fall to him to entertain them. Not that he really minded that, either, but still... in this day and age, he saw no reason for any place on the planet- hell, any place in the Alliance- to be subject to the whims of nature. But that's what he got for allowing himself to be committed to such a cheap institution, he supposed....
He hadn't noticed the Lurkrian sidling up to the window, at least not consciously. So he was mildly startled when he heard his friend say, "Hey, Abe, looks like it's time for one of your stories, eh?"
He turned his head to look at the plant-cephalopod hybrid, and smiled. "Ah, Vilius, I suppose you're right." Turning to the attendant, he asked, "Can we have a fire, Jackson?"
"Way ahead of you," said a voice from somewhere other than where Abe was looking. Just then, a blaze sprang up in the old-fashioned fireplace at the opposite end of the lounge. All visual or similar sensory organs/appendages turned toward the light, and they saw Jackson standing beside it. "So, how about that story, Abe?"
Abe crossed the room to sit in the easy chair by the fireplace, and all the residents, as well as Jackson and a few other attendants, gathered around to listen. They all enjoyed his stories, even if most of them (particularly the attendents, whose grasp on reality was better than that of the residents, naturally) didn't believe the stories were true. No matter how much Abe insisted they were. But hey, his belief in these things was a large part of why he was here, after all....
"The year was 3860," he began without preamble, "two short years since I had decided to take a lifetime off. As you will recall, I would usually choose to spend any number of years living with whatever new identity I'd chosen for myself, on whatever world I chose, pursuing whatever career I chose. But just as some people will take vacations from their work, I sometimes take vacations from... well, okay, from work. It's just that my vacations tend to last much longer. Might be a few years, might be a few decades, or even longer. This time I was thinking of taking, oh, say about 70, 75 years off to just do nothing. Putter about the galaxy, you know. Of course I have practically limitless funds, scattered throughout the Alliance. It's not like I really ever need to work, you know. And as it happened at that time, I had just come through a particularly taxing situation, and needed to relax body, mind, and spirit. Just what that situation was is a story for another time...."
The audience "awww"ed their disappointment at not getting a side-story, at which Abe grinned for a few moments before continuing. "Anyway, as I said, it was two years into my vacation. I'd spent some time on Riginiis, soaking up the sun and downing some mojitos and other such libations. Oh yes, swimming, dancing, music, partying, sleeping. Whatever. About the most exhausting type of idle life you can imagine. It was great. But after a couple years of that, I grew tired of the lifestyle, so I returned home to Akkadia, the planet of my birth, and bought a large, seemingly rustic home on a good-sized tract of land, isolated from any towns or cities. Naturally it would be a short skiff flight to the nearest town, if I needed anything... but still, I got no visitors, and that was the way I liked it. Meanwhile, I had all the latest technology at my disposal, as well as good old-fashioned books. So I never wanted for entertainment of any sort.
"Alas, though I planned to spend at least a decade of my vacation whiling away the days in this wise, it was less than a month after I moved into my new home, when suddenly the war came. As I said at the start, this was 3860, so of course you know to which war I am referring. Well, I've always felt a certain sense of obligation to the Universe, so I reluctantly gave up on my vacation, created a new identity for myself, and joined the military. It only took me a few years to work my way up through the ranks to captain. Well, one day my company was under heavy fire from the enemy, and we'd already lost about 90 soldiers, when suddenly a familiar face I'd not seen for a few lifetimes showed up in our trench.
"'Long time no see,' I said. 'What brings you here?' To which he replied, 'First Lieutenant Bascombe, of Foxtrot Company, sir. We were told to join you and provide back-up, however, we were ambushed on the way here. I'm all that's left. I'm sorry, I can see you could've used the help, not sure how much good I'll be able to do you.' Well, I stared at him for a few moments. Kind of surprised he'd be involved in the war, especially on the same side as me. Anyway, he might have the same face as last time I saw him, but he was using a new name. There were things I'd like to have said or asked, but I wasn't at liberty, with my comrades around us. Of course, they couldn't know the truth about who we really were... Well, I shook my head and said, 'No, sorry to hear about your company, Lieutenant. And every man we can get is welcome. Now take up a position and raise your weapon, we've got a battle to win. Or, you know, survive. Hopefully...'
"Anyway, we probably would have lost the battle, if an unexpected spaceship hadn't dropped from the sky and launched a few missiles at the enemy. That night in the barracks, as the men, women, et cetera, of my company celebrated being alive, Bascombe and I met in private. 'So why are you really here?' I asked, now that we were alone. 'And for that matter, why are we on the same side?'
"'But mon capitan,' he said, 'of course we are on the same side! After all, we're both citizens of the Interstellar Alliance, are we not? Besides which, I think we'd both take the same stance vis-à-vis the issues behind the war...'
"'Really? Hmmm, seems to me you've done a great deal to hinder the magickal arts, over the past few millennia...'
"'Yes, well, I'm beginning to think I was a bit rash in that respect...' I stared hard at him, and he broke down. 'Okay, that tack has served its purpose. I might not have felt any particular need to switch gears just yet, maybe never, but at least at this point I would have had no objection to a change. Anyway, the current situation has kind of forced my hand. I have little choice now but to...' he sighed, 'ask if we might join forces. That is, if you're just about finished playing soldier, and would care to work with me in the considerably less stressful field of diplomacy?'
"'And just how do you propose that we approach the enemy? We neither of us currently hold any official standing in either the interstellar nor any local governments, as far as I'm aware. Why would they listen to us? And how would we even explain our involvement to our own people?'
"'Well, as to the former, surely it won't be a problem to convince the enemy to listen. Okay, yes, they have anti-magic barriers, obviously. They couldn't have created their current empire if they didn't have ways of dealing with magic-users. But I suspect you have sorcerers whose power far exceeds any they've ever encountered.' I was about to object, but before I could say anything, he added, 'So do I.' Well, if he was willing to lay his cards on the table, I saw little point in playing my own too close to the vest. So I just nodded. 'As to the latter,' he continued, 'the Corgarians will, once we've reached an understanding, tell our government as much or as little as we instruct them to. There's no need for our people to know that you and I, specifically, were in any way involved. After that... we can go our separate ways once again, back to the game. Whatever. The playing field will have undergone an important change, of course... we could have some real fun with it. Just like the old days...'
"'Of course you realize, your idea of fun and mine usually differ significantly... but okay. I'm in.' He said, 'Good,' and then I got the sense he was kything something to someone, elsewhere.
"Suddenly, a Teraxian appeared in the room with us. He said, 'Hi, I'm Nanu. Pleased to meet you, Lucien. Thanks for agreeing to help us.'
"I blinked a few times, then replied, 'Well, I've been helping for a few years now. But I suppose the variety of help I'm about to lend will be more immediately effective, and cost less lives.' Turning to Bascombe I said, 'So, you've told him my real name. How much does he actually know? And what does he call you?'
"The lieutenant grinned and said, 'Oh, he knows who I am, every bit as well as you do. And he actually calls me what I am.'
"I sighed and said, 'Whatever. I've got to make plans to fake my death now, as well as start thinking what my next identity will be. So you two please take your leave, and... get in touch with me in a couple of days or so.' Still grinning, Bascombe gave a slight bow, and then Nanu touched his arm, and the two of them translocated away.
"Well, barely a week later, on the Corgarian homeworld, a group of us suddenly appeared in their government's military command center. I led my magic-users, Bascombe, or rather I should say 'God,' led his, and Nanu led his own Teraxian sorcerers. The Corgarians were shocked that we managed to penetrate their magickal barriers. Though I must say, if it seemed effortless, it wasn't. Oh yes, it took a great deal of effort from our combined forces. But no reason to let the Corgarians know that...
"Ahem. No need to go into too much detail just now about the conversation that transpired. But we managed to hammer out a compromise. And the Teraxians themselves were somewhat surprised when God and I told them that much of what they considered magic was in fact a form of science, just as we told the Corgarians that much of their science was inextricably linked to magic. Both sides were reluctant to accept what we had to say, but after all, we had a great deal of experience on our side. True, God's and my sorcerers had their origins on the order of several thousand years ago, just as did the Teraxians on their own homeworld. However, ours had the benefit of having been instructed by the two of us- or at least by sorcerers who had had knowledge passed down through the generations, from sorcerers who had originally been instructed by us. Even if we each had little or no direct contact with our respective groups, over the millennia. God, you know, had done this sort of thing across several universes, so he had more experience than I. But I myself came from a universe in which magic was considered on a par with science, after all. So it's not like I brought nothing to the table when I was founding my magickal society, early in Akkadia's pre-history.
"Anyway, after an agreement had been reached by all parties, the Corgarians and Teraxians each sent representatives to the Interstellar Alliance to discuss the possibility of an armistice. They had by that point effectively ended their war with each other, but we didn't want the IA to know that, so they allowed the Alliance to believe that it brokered the peace treaty between them. After all, it was only fair. Corgar starts a centuries-long campaign to stamp out magic-use on any world it found that practiced such things, and after much conquest, finds its first major rival in the Teraxians. Though after decades of holding their own, the Teraxians find they're in imminent danger of losing the war and their way of life, and becoming just another of the Corgarians' many annexes. So they reach out to the Alliance, beg for our help. And even though we didn't believe in magic in those days, or at least didn't officially recognize its practice, we nevertheless were more opposed to anyone forcing others to abandon their ways. In some ways, the Alliance held the same or similar views to the Corgarians, but that wasn't what mattered. It was the principle that people should be free to live as they wished and maintain their cultural heritage, that mattered. Besides which, we were against the idea of empires of conquest, in general. So of course we allowed Terax to join the Alliance, and then their war became our war. Even as we tried to discourage the use of magicks, we supported their right to dissent from our official wishes on that matter. And so, we lost a great many lives and resources. Given that, yes... it was only right that the Alliance be allowed to believe its sacrifices had actually helped lead to the resolution of the conflict."
"That's certainly an interesting story," said Jackson, "though I'm a bit disturbed by the idea that our history books could contain lies, however well-intentioned."
"Well," said Abe, "you know what they say: history is written by the winners." With a grin, he added, "The only difference here is that, well... sometimes the winners don't want you to know that they are the winners. Or that they even exist. And anyway, we're all winners, in the end. The war is over. The IA established its Council of Magicks. We have diplomatic relations with the Corgarian Empire, whose subject worlds have been granted full equality within the empire, and their conquest has also ended. Everyone's happy!"
"Of course, your story hinges on people accepting the idea that an ancient religion, all but dead now, living on primarily as a mythology, is all true. Who would believe that?"
"Hmmm. Only crazy people, I suppose. So I guess I came to the right place to tell my stories." At this, the residents laughed, as did a few of the attendants. "Anyway, I've been telling my stories here for thirty years, and no one seems to care whether they're true or not. They just enjoy them as entertainment. I might believe these stories, but I wouldn't really want anyone outside these walls to hear or believe them..."
"I seriously doubt you've been here for 30 years," said Jackson. "That... would put it right about the end of the war, wouldn't it?"
"Mmm, well, maybe a year or so later. I did have a hand in setting up the new Council of Magicks, before getting back to my vacation."
"Your- wait, are you saying your so-called 30-year stay at this asylum is just your way of resuming the lifetime vacation you claim was interrupted by the outbreak of the war? Why didn't you just go back to that house you mentioned?"
"Because... my mental state had changed. I was in the mood to go mad, which I held off on just long enough to make sure my people got equal footing in the Council, along with God's people. And Teraxian, and any others... Don't worry, it's not like I've never been insane before. This time 'round has been much better off than some of my previous experiences, though. Except for a few traumatic flashbacks to the war...."
Just then, the regular lights snapped back on, as did the vidscreen. The program which the residents had been looking forward to was over by now, and the news was on. The reporter was saying, "...power has been restored to 90% of the effected communities. And now our top story, it seems the legendary lost city of Sotu en Goas Calus has been found by archaeologists. Interestingly enough, the team that discovered the crystal cavern were deliberately disobeying a local law prohibiting anyone from trespassing on the land which turned out to contain the underground city. No one seems to know why the law existed, when it was established, or who might have been responsible. The law was simply on the books, and has been enforced for many centuries, though until now, there have been few instances of anyone trying to break the mysterious law.
"The land itself was unremarkable, and of no known historical significance. Nevertheless, it was surrounded by a barrier which would have been difficult to penetrate. The archaeologists, however, circumvented both the barrier and the authorities by tunneling from a separate cavern several miles removed from the area. Even so, there appears to have been a magickal barrier extending well below the ground, which the lead archaeologist, Dr. Jonas Tallas, says would have been impenetrable without the inclusion on his team of several sorcerers.
"Dr. Tallas added that he'd come across this law many years ago, while in high school, and the curiosity it aroused was part of what made him want to become an archaeologist. Still, in the intervening decades he'd all but forgotten his youthful fantasies and theories about the place, only recently deciding to look into it seriously, after years of prominent discoveries both here on Akkadia and on other planets both in and outside of the Alliance of Free Worlds. It was more a hobby than anything else, he says, and was surprised to discover the magickal barrier. Back when he first theorized about the place as a youngster, there would have been no way to break the barrier, but since the re-emergence of magic-use into mainstream society three decades ago, it wasn't hard to find sorcerers to join his team, now.
"Dr. Tallas and the other members of his archaeological team have been sentenced to one month in a white-collar correctional facility. This is considerably less time than the law required, but the courts have ruled the law should be superseded by the importance of this monumental historical discovery. Plans are already underway to set aside Sotu en Goas Calus as a historical landmark, and the Parks & Recreation Department is planning to set up tours of the city, as soon as it has been properly explored.
"Meanwhile, protests have arisen from a group of Antevies, practictioners of an ancient religion which, though now considered mythology, was nearly 3800 years ago one of the causes of the first Lucitanian Civil War. They claim Sotu en Goas Calus should be given to them, saying it belonged to their religion 1600 years prior to the founding of Lucitania." Turning to her co-anchor, she said, "So, Bob, given that the Antevies also claim to be Akkadia's original practitioners of magic, would you say it seems likely that there may be some truth to their claim? After all, the city was guarded by magic..."
"I don't know, Susan, but apparently they prefer to call themselves 'Seers of Truth Unmasked.' Personally, I think it sounds more like a maquerade ball than a religious cult of ancient sorcerers."
"Ha ha ha. Well, we hope to have further information on this story as it develops. Meanwhile, anyone interested in information about potential tours of the city should visit the Department of P&R's netsite. In other news-"
Jackson turned away from the screen to look at Abe and inquire as to how this news might fit in with all those stories of his in which he claimed to be the Antevies' god Lucien... but Abe wasn't in the chair by the fireplace. Scanning the room, the attendant saw Abe was not on the couch, not by the window... nowhere. "Hey, did anyone see where Abe went?" The other attendants and the residents all looked around, and were all surprised to find him missing; no one had noticed him leaving. Jackson went to the office and made an announcement over the PA. "Would Abe Millifool please return to the lounge. If any attendants see Mr. Millifool, please escort him to the lounge...."
These were the last words Lucien would ever hear from anyone at this particular asylum, at least for this lifetime, as he slipped into a raincoat he'd had stashed away, and entered a secret underground tunnel he'd had built several years prior to the facility's construction 200 years ago. "Shame to have to leave without saying goodbye, or anything. I'll miss them all. Well, most of them. And I'm sorry not to have been able to tell a few more stories, but they do say a good entertainer should always leave them wanting more... Meanwhile, personal business to attend to. Too late to save this particular cache. Of course I've plenty of money elsewhere, but Sotu has always been my favorite hideaway.... Sigh. I just hope that bloody Shifter isn't behind this, that'd be the second time he's taken my city from me...."
Emerging from the tunnel's far end, he headed out into the dark and stormy night, to seek the truth....
vol. 4, part 3b
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