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The Template
Volume 4, Part 3b

He wasn't really sure where to go first. It didn't take him long to acquire a skiff he'd stashed nearby, and he looked up the Parks & Recreation site on its onboard computer. It didn't have much information at this point, which hardly surprised him. Seeing as it had just been reported on the news tonight, it's not like they could have had much time to prepare the netpage. Getting sidetracked, he thought maybe he should just go check out the new Curassian water buffalo exhibit at the local interstellar zoo/aquarium. He'd never seen one before, but had to grin at the pictures on the P&R site. Buffalo... made of water. In the previous universe, he remembered once meeting a diplomat from a world where the people were made of water, so it wasn't completely novel... his attempt to shake hands had been awkward, to say the least, and now, laughing, he imagined trying to pet a water buffalo...

He shook his head. The net could be distracting, indeed, but he had important business to attend to. The water buffalo, he thought, would be there later. The one thing he had managed to glean from the sketchy information on the netsite was that it would be virtually impossible for him to get into Sotu undetected. And he hadn't had nearly enough time to work up any kind of identity that would allow him official access to the underground city. He'd get working on that, but there must be something else he could do in the meantime. Finally, he looked up the correctional facility where the archaeologists were being kept, and decided to pay Dr. Jonas Tallas a little visit. Luckily, he happened to have just the identity he'd need, already established. He found it was always a good idea to keep a few identities going, at least on paper (or online), to be stepped into as the need or whim arose....

"Ah..." said the warden, greeting the visitor who had just entered his office, having phoned just a few hours ago. "Dr. Lincoln. Uh... welcome. As I said on the phone, I don't really understand your interest in this matter, but I see no reason not to allow you to speak with Dr. Tallas, since he himself raised no objections. You do understand he's not... I mean, there's no reason to suspect he's... you know...."

"Crazy? Ahem. Not that we use such terms, in my field. But no, it's actually more a matter of personal curiosity, on my part. To be honest, I'm a bit embarrassed about using my position as an excuse to- No, 'excuse' isn't even the right word. A means, is more like it. There's nothing official about my request, but since I've a bit of a standing relationship with several facilities in the area, such as yours, even if I rarely get a chance to make official visits, consultations or what have you... well, I just thought I'd avail myself of that connection. Really, it's no more significant than my happening to have your phone number at my disposal, you might say."

The warden nodded. "Mmm-hmmm. Well, that's quite alright. If we're being completely honest, I suppose I've used my own position, on occasion, to help myself in small, unofficial ways." A sudden look of concern crossed his face, and he hurried to add, "Not in any... illegal or unethical sense, you understand..."

"Of course not, Warden, no, I completely understand. I imagine everyone does it, to one degree or another. A matter of convenience, no harm in that. Now..." he trailed off.

The warden stood up from behind his desk, and walked to the door. "Of course, right this way..." and led Dr. Lincoln to the cell where Dr. Tallas was staying for the month. 'Cell,' of course, was too harsh a word for the room, but Lincoln could think of nothing more accurate, except just... 'room.' Albeit a room the occupant couldn't leave unsupervised....

The warden unlocked the door and returned to his office, leaving a guard standing outside the room. Lincoln nodded to the guard and closed the door after he entered. A tall, bearded man stood up from the bunk where he'd been reading something on an electronic pad, and asked, "May I help you?"

Lincoln grinned and said, "Dr. Tallas, I presume?" The man nodded, and Lincoln introduced himself. "I am Dr. Jerald Lincoln."

"What can I do for you, Dr. Lincoln? ...And, by the way, might I ask what you're a doctor of?"

"First of all, please call me 'Sam' -uh, it's my middle name, Samuel." He shrugged. "Can't remember why, but that's what my friends have always called me, since I was a kid. Maybe my parents started it... Anyway, I'm a doctor of psychology, as well as psychiatry. However, I'm not here in an official capacity. The fact is, I used an in with this facility for a chance to meet you. Thank you, by the way, for agreeing to meet with me."

"Not a problem. Though the warden didn't make it clear to me what your interest in me is."

"Yes, I'm afraid I haven't managed to express myself very clearly to the warden. But... basically, let's just say I've always had an interest in the legend of Sotu en Goas Callus. Even wrote a few stories about it when I was a kid. I'm looking forward to taking a tour of the place, once that gets all sorted. I'm just thrilled that it's actually been discovered, after all these centuries! But I'm afraid I'm rather impatient, and just hoped you could tell me a bit about it yourself, maybe you even have some pictures?" Lincoln glanced down at the pad Tallas was holding, expectantly.

Tallas followed his gaze, then looked back up. "Oh, sorry, Doc... uh, Sam. Call me Jonas, by the way. I do have some pictures, but not with me. They're at home. Once I get out of here I plan to upload them to my personal netsite, but I'm afraid I haven't had a chance, as yet. No access in here, you know. But it'll still probably be before the city gets opened up to the public, if I know the efficiency of governmental departments. To be fair, there's alot that needs to be explored, catalogued, and so forth, before they can even begin setting up... you know, all the facilities that would need to be set up in there." After a few moments, he added, "But I could talk with you about what I saw, if you like. Not quite sure where to begin, so maybe you could ask some questions..."

"Of course, of course. I really appreciate it. First of all... well, I wonder how much you know about the Antevie religion, or rather, the 'Seers of Truth Unmasked.' And their history with the Verilies, or 'Followers of the One True God,' as the ancients called themselves...."

Dr. Tallas smiled for just a moment, before narrowing his eyes and staring at Dr. Lincoln for about half a minute, before once again smiling. "Ah, yes, the Seers and the Followers. Read about them as a boy, myself. I'm sure after all these centuries, the historical texts get alot of stuff wrong, but it's an interesting conflict, to be sure. Of course, in one sense, the Seers eventually won... but in another sense, both sides lost. Our world even now feels the influence of both sides, without really being aware of it, but we wouldn't be what we are without our early history having been shaped by these ancient religions, evne if now they've both faded into obscure mythology. You know, aside from a few cultists who still worship Lucien. At least such nuts are slightly more public than those who still worship God, but I'm sure there are people who think themselves Verilies, even if they're quiet about it."

"It's interesting," observed Lincoln, "that many alien worlds have in their own distant histories- not as distant as on this world, mind you, but still- religions and mythologies that could conceivably fit with the stories of Lucien and the One True God."

"Do they?" asked Tallas. "I'm afraid I haven't really studied xenomythology, so I'll have to take your word for it."

"Well, a side issue, at best. Just something I've noticed. I'm sure it means nothing. Anyway, according to the myths, Sotu en Goas Calus belonged to the Seers, before being violently invaded by the Followers. I wonder, and this is perhaps a grisly question, but did you find evidence of any... human remains, after all this time? Any signs of some great battle?"

"Actually, no. I would have supposed that even after, as you say, all this time, there would be some signs... but no. Actually, it looked more like... to draw an analogy... like a home whose owners had moved out, making sure to leave the place looking... un-lived in, yet appealing, in a way, for potential buyers." He shrugged. "A strange analogy, but the most accurate I can think of."

"Hmmm. I wonder who would've been left to clean up after all that carnage."

"I'm sure I don't know. But after all, it was thousands of years ago, and they are just stories. No telling how much truth there is to any of it."

"True, but... I would think the city's very existence is proof of something. I mean... it did look like more than just a natural cavern, am I correct?"

"No, you're right. Definitely a city, and remarkably well-crafted, for the era. That far back in Akkadia's history, practically pre-history, civilization was... largely undeveloped. But Sotu's construction showed a level of sophistication which, frankly... and I hesitate to say this... almost lends credence to the sorts of alien conspiracy theories that were prevalent in the popular culture of the century or so prior to our world joining the Interstellar Alliance."

Dr. Lincoln laughed at this. "Why, Jonas, if you go around saying things like that, perhaps I'll have to visit you again in an official capacity!"

Tallas chuckled at that, and said, "Still, we know now that aliens do exist, and they were visiting other worlds for some time before they made themselves known to us, so it's not so far-fetched, after all. But of course, I'm sure all those stories back then were purely science fiction."

"Hmmm, perhaps so, perhaps not. I suppose we'll never know. Anyway... do tell me more about the architecture, and so forth, as well as the natural formations. Is it true the walls are encrusted with jewels?"

The conversation went on for a while, and Lincoln continued to try to ascertain whether Tallas might be God, or someone working with God. But try as he might, he couldn't be sure. In fact, he guessed that Jonas probably had no connection with God whatsoever, but... you could just never be sure. He did enjoy the conversation a great deal, however, as it brought back many happy memories....

On the day the archaeological team was released from the correctional facility, there was a media contingent on hand to interview them, as well as a crowd of interested onlookers. Dr. Lincoln was standing near the back of the crowd, but as the scientists finally dispersed, passing through the crowd to head to their respective homes, he and Tallas nodded at each other. But after Tallas had passed by, a voice spoke up behind Lincoln.

"You picked the wrong one, mon capitan."

He turned and stared at the speaker. "Ah, Lieutenant Bascombe. I'm sorry, surely you must have attained a higher rank by now. But I must say, you look good for your age."

The man laughed and said, "You must be thinking of my father. I'm Walter Bascombe, Jr."

"When you say, 'junior,' do you mean-? No, nevermind." Lucien had wondered for just a moment if God had added the 'Junior' to cover his lack of aging, or if he had actually possessed the son of the person he had previously inhabited. But he quickly remembered he'd met God in that host body long before the war. He doubted the body's rightful owner could have any living descendants of this age. "Anyway, what are you talking about?"

As the last of the archaeologists were passing by, Bascombe, Jr., whistled, and the final man in the procession stepped out of line to join the two of them. "Take us somewhere, will you?" God suggested. At that, the man placed one hand on God and one on Lucien, and translocated.

Lucien now found himself in the home he'd bought before the war. It was just as he'd left it, all those decades ago. Turning to God, he said, "So, one of the sorcerers on Tallas' team was working for you. I should have guessed. How did you find this place?"

"Oh, took some doing, but it was, you know, doable. Unlike finding you more recently. It's a shame a couple of old war buddies like us should lose touch, you know? Haven't seen you since we set up the Council of Magicks together, with old Nanu, me rest his soul. You've gotten good at hiding, Lucien. Still, even with a whole galaxy to hide in, odds are usually good that you can be found here on Akkadia. I had little attempts set up to bring you out of seclusion on various worlds, but I'm not surprised to have found you on this one."

"Little attempts... is that what this was? The discovery of Sotu en Goas Callus? Just a way to get in touch with me?"

"Well, to be honest, that was mostly Dr. Tallas' doing. I heard about it, and thought it'd be a useful situation. I don't know if I would've resorted to it of my own accord. I mean, I know what the place means to you..."

Lucien shot him a withering glare.

"Yes, well, ancient history aside, bygones and all that... ahem. There was a reason I wanted to get in touch, old boy. In fact, my friend here is that reason. I met him some time before your city was discovered, so it was incredibly convenient that I had a way to use him as part of this attempt to find you."

The sorcerer turned to look at God with a look of bewilderment. "Because of me? What are you talking about?"

"Tell him your name."

The sorcerer turned back to Lucien and said, with a puzzled expression, "Slar-eth."

A look of mild surprise crossed Lucien's face. "Seriously?"

"Why? What does my name have to do with anything."

"You know, Lucien, I've felt bad over the years about taking your drink before we even met. That whole 'finders keepers, losers weepers' comment was rather childish, I admit now. But after all, I was in the body of a child at the time, almost as if I'd been reborn, after millennia without a body. Not that that's a good defense of my actions. So I always wanted to replace it. But then, when I eventually got to the planet that in your universe was known as Telronakt... they didn't have the drink. Didn't even have the ingredients necessary to make it. No, they couldn't be found anywhere in the universe, at least nowhere that's been discovered yet by the Alliance. So I despaired of ever having a chance to replace it." He sighed.

"So... now you want to give me a person who happens to have the same name as the drink? Um, dunno if you've noticed, but slavery is illegal..."

"My dear boy," said God, and a wicked grin spread across his face, "a great many things are illegal. But you should well know that God is not constricted by the laws of Man. In any event, it was not simply slar-eth that I took from you, it was a bottle of slar-eth...."

Lucien looked at him quizzically for a moment, before suddenly a look of horror crept over his face. Slar-eth glanced back and forth between the two, comprehending none of this. "Uh, if one of you wants to explain-" but he was cut off mid-sentence. One moment he was standing there speaking, the next he was gone.

Lucien looked down to God's hand, which was suddenly holding a bottle filled with an odd liquid. Looking further down, Lucien saw Slar-eth's clothes lying on the floor. He looked back up at God, his face still with a look of horror, mixed with shock and revulsion, now.

God was about to toss the bottle to him, but it was clear Lucien would not have moved to catch it. So instead he set it on a nearby table. "There you go, debt repaid, old friend. You may have noticed I've boned up on my own magic, rather than relying on others to do everything for me. We'll have to get together sometime and talk about it. And, you know, things in general. Be seeing you." And with a salute, he translocated away.

Lucien went to the bathroom and threw up.

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