So, missed a post yesterday, but I feel entirely justified as my laptop decided to delete all my My Documents files.
This, it seems, is a lingering effect of the Windows 10 October update, and while it caused me no end of frustration and restorative work to do, I thankfully don’t seem to have lost much due to my back-ups regime.
On top of this, I am quite sick at the moment and had some proofreading to do for a friend. That all took my priorities yesterday, but I have been able to get a bit done today.
Admittedly, I’m not overly happy with today’s offering compared to the other days, but that’s alright. NaNo this year is about just getting a story out, not getting it out pre-polished, edited and tweaked.
Essentially, I’m letting myself write badly and not seeing it as a negative thing.
So, with that all said, time for more Fickle!
‘Fickle’ Part 6
It took a long time. More than a month, in the end.
First, there was the little matter of Cartagena’s rivers to sort out. The town is close to the Sinu and the Magdalena, but both were in poor shape. Floods from rampant storms in the area had smashed through old agricultural and chemical plants until the contents within started dribbling into the water even at normal levels.
Every time it rained, more poison found its way into the local water table. Demolishing the sources of the problem didn’t take me long at all, but that wasn’t going to clean the already tainted water.
Instead, I brought in the first of several loads of powdered rock and sand from Mexico, fiddled about a bit with land levels and waterfalls until I had the water straining through a variety of rocks and sediments before it hit populated areas. By the time the filler all washed away, the area should have cleaned itself up anyway so it can’t be said I skimped on a long-term solution.
After that, Gemma got a grand tour of the Pacific/Atlantic gap from my back while we figured out just where to put a temporary home. I finally settled on staying in an area once known as Tenosique, though it was just sand and rock now.
“It’s a bit barren,” Gemma sniffed after we landed in a hollow for the night.
“There’s a town, far beneath our feet. This used to be the state of Tabasco, associated with a certain pepper plant. All gone now. See the sea over there? That shouldn’t be there. That should be the country of Guatemala.”
“Should?” she asked, and I knew she meant more than just the fact there had once been a land bridge. The question was about where I got the name for the place from.
“Based on how things looked before the end of the world, yes. If it’s misty one morning, I’ll go home and bring you a few books to read while I work so you can see what everything used to look like.”
“That’d be nice.” Once we landed, she kicked off her shoes and spent the rest of the evening enjoying the sand.
She worked her way through a good portion of my library while I was busy, and I would be lying if I said I didn’t find her excitement endearing when I finally stopped each evening. It was nice to have enthusiasm to fall asleep to at the end of every day, even if every joint in my body was aching.
See, it’s not easy to just ‘put land back’. The pressure and ‘magic’ needed to turn a complex mix of debris back into bedrock so it didn’t just wash away as I tried to refill old holes took a lot out of me.
There was also the matter of being careful as I repaired the damage, because new life was trying to exist in the rents and gouges under the water. It almost took more time to shoo away schools of deep-sea fish and gently relocate sea-pens and tube worms than it did to drag the rock back into place. In some areas, I cheated a little by poking through the thin areas of crust to let a bit of rock and warmth out, but even I can’t fully control such forces, so I tried to be sparing.
In the fourth week, with the air stinking from washed up debris on the new land I had so far created, we had visitors. We’d moved house almost daily as I continued to make more ground and dug away at the vast deposits over Mexico to do it, so it was probably inevitable that someone would investigate eventually. The fact they approached with a kind of awed reverence did nothing to make me pleased to see them, however, which in itself caused Gemma to frown.
“Why don’t you let me talk to them? You carry on working.”
“You probably won’t understand them.”
“I might. A lot of Mexicans spoke English, after all, and there are some older members of their group. Maybe some still do.”
“Fine, but whatever they’re selling, I don’t want any, and whatever they’re wishing for, I’m on vacation.”
“Understood, Lord Grumpscales. Go on, I’ve got this.”
I picked up two mini-mountains of compressed matter in each of my hind claws, and flew out to sea, grumbling under my breath. Possibly one of the biggest mistakes I ever made.
When evening rolled around and I brought a deer back to our makeshift camp for dinner, Gemma was unusually quiet. Most nights, she couldn’t wait to regale me with whatever she had managed to glean from the books she’d been pouring through of the day, while also refusing any indication on my part that a back-rub might be nice.
“So, what happened?” I finally asked after we got the meat roasting over the nights’ fire.
“With what?” Her tone was far too neutral, and I was no happier with the fact she wouldn’t look at me while flavoring the meat, either.
“The visitors. I notice they are no longer here and went back the way the came… what’d you do, just scream at them for five minutes?”
“I am quite eloquent when I want to be, thank you.”
“So, what, they just didn’t speak English?”
“No, they did.”
“Aaand?” It took all my self-control not to grab her and turn her toward me.
“I told them you were busy right now.”
“You’re a horrible liar.”
When active questioning doesn’t work, sometimes uncomfortable silence does. I laid back on the sand to leech up the last of the day’s warmth before it dissipated, and waited. Without my wing keeping the breeze off her, Gemma was eventually forced to move closer to the fire. Eventually, the silence got to her.
“… I gave them one of your books.”
“You did what?!”
A perfectly reasonable reaction, if you ask me. I had given her the book in good faith after all, and no one likes finding out something they loaned has been given away. Despite this, she had the sheer audacity to be furious with me.
“I knew you’d get upset!”
“Of course I’m upset! Do you have any idea how long it took me to rescue my library from the ruins of the world?”
“Well, that’s the point, isn’t it! You looted it all from my people when we were at our worst!” Had I been human, or not crouching on the sand to warm my belly, I’m certain she would have poked me in the chest.
“Looted?! I rescued that knowledge!”
“For what?” she spat.
I paused, mostly because of how upset she sounded. Not in terms of fury, but something… deeper. A soul emotion, I suppose. The sort of thing that had started the very wars that had torn everything in two. If nothing else, it was enough to make me really consider my answer, and the tone I gave it in.
“Enjoyment, mostly. I used to get left in peace to read, once.”
“Then how are you going to enjoy more, years from now, if people don’t carry on making books?”
She cast her eyes down and pulled a stick out of the fire. Using the tip, she started messing about with patterns in the sand while she talked, choosing not to answer my confusion directly.
“None of the children in the group knew how to read. The Saxons I was with, and the group that visited… both of them said the same thing. ‘Reading is less important than scavenging and growing food.’ And that’s so stupid.”
“And why is that?” I sighed.
“Because if they could read, and could access the knowledge you have… they’d remember how to farm better. How to manage the animals that are left, so we don’t run out.”
“So you gave them…”
“The first book you gave me to help me read better, and a book on agriculture, yes. If they teach their kids, they’ll transpose that knowledge into their own language, and use it. Pass it on to other groups.”
“Because we all know how well passing on ideas worked out for the world the first time around,” I growled, choosing to gloss over the fact she had given away two of my books, not just one as she implied.
“Those might have been popular books, but they were far from the majority of what humanity wrought, Fi… John. We wrote stuff down. Real stuff. Helpful stuff. We used to help each other.”
I looked down at the picture she had drawn in the sand, a circle with stick figures stood around it. She barely flinched when I reached over her with an arm bigger than her entire body and scratched a claw tip through two of the figures. “You used to murder each other, and still do.”
“And you think hoarding the information to know better and do better is going to somehow change that?”
“I didn’t take the books to keep them from people, Gemma. I took them so they’d be read, and last.”
“They weren’t written to be read only by you,” she sighed, tossing her stick back into the fire.
“I let you read them, didn’t I? And now you’ve gone and tossed two of them away!”
“I shared them. And I want to share the rest. The knowledge books, and the stories. The book on how to do things, and how to have hope.”
We both sat in silence for a minute, thinking. I know I was contemplating about how aggravating it would be to give away everything I had spent so long gathering together. Still, I had multiple copies of quite a few books, and there were still other repositories out there I hadn’t fully dug through. Nothing saying I couldn’t keep hold of a collection of my own. That didn’t allay my worry though of who would get to decide what books returned to human circulation, or how such a decision could be made, so I put it to her.
“So, what, you’re going to be the Dictator of Knowledge? How do you know what you think is good knowledge or a positive story won’t incite someone else?”
“…I don’t know. But I’m not going to sit by and let all that good, all the effort my species went to, just molder away in your cave like it didn’t matter.”
“…Is this your wish? A grand library?”
“No,” she shook her head, with the usual tone. “It’s just the right thing to do. Those things don’t belong to you, John. They belong to everyone.”
“It would also mean more space in your lair to hang your paintings.”
“I was going to hang them in your room after you left.” If she was going to try to wheedle me into her point of view, I had my own ways of pushing right back.
“I haven’t decided on my wish yet,” she said primly, more her usual self. “This would be quicker. After you finish here, of course.”
That just made me groan. While most of the heavy lifting was over, and I had only to widen the land and stabilize it along the restored coastlines, that wouldn’t be a quick job. Nor did it account for the bone-achingly long trips I would need to make to replant the right species into the ecosystem to get it jumpstarted again. I rolled onto my back, careful not to squash my irritating companion and snorted dragon-smoke at the sky. Another period of silence fell over us both, but Gemma was clearly the one doing the heavy thinking this time, as she broke the quiet first.
“The stars look so lovely reflecting off the water. I can’t believe how clear it’s turned.”
“…Yes, well. Once plants start growing here again, now we’re back down to fertile layers, it’ll get better still. Plants keep the dirt from blowing away.”
“The locals will help with that. They’d been forced out of their old home over some argument, and think you answered their prayers for a new land to live in.”
“Great, more cultists.”
“They think you’re incredible. They aren’t wrong… it’s so hard to believe this was ocean just a week ago. Even I can’t really believe it, despite the fact I got to see you moving the world around like a toy set.
“Not without effort,” I grumped, rolling back over in hope. “My back is killing me.”
“Then what you need is a good nights sleep, after you eat,” Gemma stated, moving away from me to grab a slab of meat off a skewer. “I’ve taken all I wanted, the rest is yours.”
“Thanks.” I assure you, she is the absolute worst concubine ever. I am never ever going to get a back-rub and peeled fruit out of her.
“Sleep well Grumpscales.”
Eventually, after consuming the rest of the meat whole, I did.