And still I make no claim to own either of these fine universes.
Reggie rapped gently on the library door and waited a moment for the call to come in. He found the Count seated by the fire, a decanter of maple mead by his side and a glass in his hand, staring at the flames just as he had that night months before.
"I'm just coming to make my farewell, my Lord. Helen and I will be going back to the capital shortly."
"Hmph. And you will be doing what when you get there?"
"Well, his Imperial Majesty has kindly found me a guest lectureship at the University. Helen will be returning to her undergraduate courses ..."
"And spending her spare time keeping down the vampire population?"
"Yes, my Lord and any of the other creatures that managed to escape from the ruins. You will be glad to know however that the Scythe has finally decided it does not need to stay with your daughter the whole time.”
“That’s good. I suppose.”
“We have a liaison office set up within ImpSec: they will be alerting us to any suspicious activity.”
“You’ve been allocated a case officer? An analyst?”
“Yes, my lord.”
“Bring him to dinner at Vorkosigan House, some day. I’d like to... assess his capabilities.”
Reggie nodded and winced in sympathy for poor Lieutenant Lemaitre who was fated, though he did not know it yet, to be verbally dissected by a master intelligence operative with not only a family interest in what he was doing but all the security clearance in the world.
“Oh, and one last thing my Lord: the Memorial?”
“What about it?”
“Two new names have appeared.”
“Sarah Stone. And Lord Ivan Vorpatril.”
“Ivan. Hmph. With a star?”
“With a star, my lord.”
“Quite right, too. He didn’t just save the world. He saved me. More than once. More than I can count.”
“Yes, my Lord.” Reggie turned to go and was stopped by a softly spoken question.
“I wonder what he saw?”
“What Ivan saw as he fell into the Gate with Ethan Rayne.”
“I don’t suppose we shall ever know, my lord.”
“No indeed. A safe journey, master Watcher. Take care of my daughter.”
Two figures floated in the not quite empty void. Around them floated unimaginable quantities of potentiality, ready distilled from the forces that exist between worlds, just waiting for the signal to be off, to begin making a whole new cosmos. All it would take is the seed of will and choice to start things, to order the Beginning of All Things (for a local definition of All). Which defining instant was, at the moment, being held in abeyance.
No anthropomorphic personifications of Time or History or Fate had yet come into existence in this place, but if they had they would have been tapping their feet, humming and glancing meaningfully at their watches.
“Look,” said one of the figures, “you really aren’t up to this. No, take my word for it! I’ve been preparing for this moment for a long, long time and you haven’t got a clue.”
”So you say,” replied the other. “I’m doing all right keeping you from realising your fiendish schemes.”
”There you go again! Making assumptions! Just because I was a little, let us say, morally flexible in the way I got to this position…”
”You were a murderous, treacherous, amoral swine…”
”…True, all true, I can’t deny a word… That doesn’t mean I won’t be a perfectly good, benevolent Creator and Supreme Deity. I mean, what do you know about Cosmology? Hmm? About Metaphysics? Ontology even?”
”I know that leopards don’t change their spots and that the dog returns to its vomit. I know what’s right and you’re about as far from right as it’s possible to get, Ethan Rayne.”
”You think you could do better? Hmm? Come on, be honest, Ivan…Don’t mind if I call you Ivan, do you? Calling you ‘my lord’ would seem a bit silly. As well as… Well, never mind. As I was saying I really don’t think that your career as the oldest town clown in Vorbar Sultana suits you to building and sustaining universes.”
”I think it will come to me. I’ve got forever to figure it out.”
”Not once we start. Once we start it’s only a matter of time before there are others… People. Things. History.”
”And you can’t keep History waiting forever, Ivan…”
”No… Hmm. People you say?”
”Inevitable once the whole thing reaches a certain level of complexity. What? What is it?”
”You know what we’re going to have to do, don’t you?”
”Oh, no! I’m not going to…. What? Share it? My lovely cosmos? With you?”
”Not forever, Ethan. Only until we can resolve matters.”
”And how do we do that?”
Ivan gestured around him. “If we set it up right, things will resolve themselves.”
”Ah. A wager. A contest.”
”A popularity contest maybe. To be decided by the people and the worlds….”
”Oh what a very subtle Vor Lord it is! You’re not as stupid as standing near your cousin made you look. Yes, yes, that might be acceptable. Provided we can agree on some rules.”
Ivan did his best to pull his cousin’s ImpSec mask over his face and if a potential Omnipotent Being can be said to pray, he prayed that the fierce and cunning spirit of the little devil, Miles, Count Vorkosigan, would be with him, both during the initial negotiations and playing out of this, the Greatest Great Game there ever could be.
“Right then…. Rules….”