No intro or wittering today, just going to launch straight into Fickle’s latest installment, and wandering to Singapore!
‘Fickle’ Part 10
“John! John! Wake up! Get up Grumpscales!”
I woke up one spring night to someone ineffectively shaking one of my shoulders. Considering the size of my arm to an average human being, it was like being slapped by a gnat… but I knew the voice, and that was what roused me.
“Gemma?” I asked stupidly.
“About time! Get your butt up, and come quickly!”
Five years. Five whole years since she just disappeared one day and her return to my life heralded no hugs or tears or joyful reunion, just me being cursed out for daring to want a full nights sleep. Once I proved I was in fact awake, she scurried out of my bedroom and disappeared into the kitchen.
“What is going on? Where have you been?”
I shifted to a more human scale and look on automatic as I staggered into the kitchen, rubbing the sleep from my eyes, only to find her feverishly thrusting things into a large bag, without even looking at me.
“No time, here, I’ve made a flask of tea and some breakfast, but we’ll have to take it with us. You need wings. We need to go, now.” Her voice was as fast and desperate as her motions around my kitchen, before she thrust her arms through the pack straps and turned to look at me, expectantly.
“I am not…”
“Do not argue with me Grumpscales, not right now. I need you. Come on.”
It was the ‘I need you’ that got to me but not because of some asinine emotion on my part, no. Gemma is a fiercely independent soul, used to getting her own way because she goes and just does whatever it is that needs doing.
To have her telling me she needed me, and therefore my help was entirely out of character for the woman I had known. Either she had changed a lot in five years, despite looking exactly the same, or something was seriously wrong.
Along the lines of ‘seriously’ wrong, my sluggish brain abruptly informed me I had been clocking injuries all over her arms and legs. Slices covered her limbs in a pattern I was all to familiar with – cultists who climbed up to my lair every day looked just like it.
“You’re bleeding…” I stated, going with the obvious.
“It would have taken too long to find the safer route up the rocks. I’ll heal, but we have to go. Now.” She punctuated the last word with such heavy insistence, my body started changing shape of its own accord. I lumbered out onto the wide ledge at the front of the house before my wings got snarled up in the kitchen fan, and extended a forelimb so she could walk up onto my back.
“Alright, alright. Climb on.”
She did, and I launched into the air, flying directly towards the nearest patch of sea fog.
“Where are we going?” I asked once the first cold wisps enveloped my snout.
“Singapore. Please, please hurry.”
“What’s happened? You need to tell me what’s going on!” I had to shout over the sound of wind moving past my ears, as well as in response to my own confusion. I had no idea why Singapore was important, there hadn’t been any petitions from there in ages.
“Fly fast, and I’ll explain in better detail later. For right now, I need you to work a miracle.”
Well, of course she did. No one ever came to me for anything else.
“Your wish?” I asked, with as much withering tiredness as I could muster.
“…if it has to be, and that’s the only way you’ll do it,” she shouted back. Despite the volume, I could still hear the emotions in her voice, felt her kind of shrink in on herself against my beck scales. “I understand if you’re mad at me for leaving…”
“I’m not mad at you. I just need to know what in the name of me is going on that I need to get up in the middle of the night to go to Singapore…”
“Saving the world, as usual.” I felt her smile, and relax. I’m sure for the most part it was because I was agreeing to help her, again, but I like to think it’s because she was also relieved I wasn’t going to yell at her for leaving. Either way, she finally got on with telling me what I was doing, as we emerged out at sea from another bank of fog.
“There’s something falling out of the sky. Well, there’s been things falling. Lots of shooting stars lately, but nothing too worrying. I read about the satellites orbiting Earth, and I think we’ve just been seeing some of them finally crash. But this time, something bigger is happening.”
“Satellites? How do you know?” I asked. I mean, I totally got her reading about them – we’d spent considerable man-hours building repositories just so that sort of thing wouldn’t be forgotten, but it didn’t explain how she knew what she had seen streaking across the sky in a ball of fire was something man-made, not natural.
“I built a telescope.”
“Later, John. I built a telescope, and I’ve been learning stuff. But there’s something really big falling in Singapore, and I don’t think it’s going to go away before it hits the ground. There are so many people there now… you have to stop it. You… you can stop it, right? I’ve heard how busy you’ve been..”
I could hear the multiple layers of meaning and questions in her voice. She wanted to know what I’d been doing beyond the rumors she had heard, if I was strong enough to stop something falling at speed out of the sky, and worst of all… she was indirectly asking me how many souls were left on my island. How much power and existence I had left.
“If you’re worried about what I have left to spend, I have enough to deal with whatever this is,” I sighed, trying to keep any negative emotion out of my voice. Trying, and failing.
By now, we were over the land and the firelight glow of a city, but I could also see the second glow above us, a wide swathe of brightness as whatever the object hurtling down through the very top of the atmosphere was began to break up and head down. For now, the light was on the horizon… but it wouldn’t stay there. I dived for the ground, aware of exactly why Gemma had come to find me. She patted my neck scales as we passed a rise on the edge of town.
“Thank you. Set me down here, I’ll calm the people down.”
“How?” I asked, wondering just how one tiny woman was going to calm an already panicking populace that didn’t speak English.
“I have a translator, and they’ll listen to me. Please hurry. We’ll catch up after. Thank you John.”
She gave me no time to ask questions, but I didn’t have time anyway. My target was falling at thousands of miles an hour, and while friction would brake it to about one hundred and eighty miles by the time I caught up to it, my job would be far from easy. I took off, hard and fast, leaving the men on the ground to scream and pray, a niggling scratch in the back of my brain the whole way up into the thin air above me.
Anything that hits the complicated morass that is Earth’s atmosphere is subject to the colossal forces tearing at it on its way down, whether it’s rock or metal. Bits shear off, flying off in a million directions thanks to fluid dynamics and a ton of other forces acting on each bit individually.
Most, thankfully, were small enough to burn up as they continued their downward plunge, but there were three major lumps of glass fiber tanks, steel, and scaffolding that were going to hit populated areas with enough force to level buildings and kill anyone near the impact sites.
It took a lot of very high-temperature dragonfire to break two of them up into smaller pieces as if I were some kind of welder’s torch, but there simply wasn’t time with the third. I strained all six of my wings redirecting the bloody thing out to sea, not to mention the scorch marks on my scales and claws. It was an effort, a godly effort, and I was tired just the same despite how relatively quick this ‘wish’ had been to carry out.
I landed with a complete lack of grace back where I had dropped Gemma off, and swiftly reduced my mass as she led a wave of people out to greet me, half of them cheering and making ridiculous gestures. Gemma said something to a tall, dark-skinned man next to her while they were still out of earshot, and he, in turn, said something to the gathering… and the people parted like a wave, leaving a nice path for me to walk along towards the large building further along the hill. Gemma winked at me but was good enough to wait until we were inside away from the crowds and I could lay down before she asked any questions.
“It wasn’t a satellite, you were right about that,” I said, grabbing some cushions from the nicely carved wooden benches inside. I made a nest on the floor out of them, and flopped down, tired to the bone.
“What was it?”
“Part of the International Space Station. Crying shame… that place truly was one of humanities greatest achievements.”
“We’ll rebuild it, one day,” she said with the kind of optimism only the truly bonkers can manage.
“Maybe, probably,” I shrugged. “Who’re these guys? And why are they calling you… prophet?” Now I was settled, I began to take things in a bit more. The building we were in reminded me of old opulent tents from Arabian fiction, but the walls were solid enough. And it was inhabited, by both books and local people, all of whom seemed rather deferential toward Gemma. Once I started listening in to their conversations with each other and the tall man who remained at Gemma’s side, it became very quickly obvious that she was who they meant every time they said ‘prophet’. It turned my stomach, honestly.
“…it’s a long story,” she sighed. “Would you like some tea? It’s the least I can offer you, considering.”
“Heh…” Her words threw me back to the first day I had met her on my beach, years ago. I gave a complicated shrug – it had been five long years on my own, even if she had gone even more nuts in that time, I wanted to hear about it. “Sure, that sounds nice.”
I got a back rub.
It wasn’t from Gemma, but instead a gentleman she called in with a sweet smelling oil. He certainly knew his way around muscles and even coped with my unusual frame most adeptly. I would like to think it was simply Gemma caring about my well being after so many years away, but I strongly suspect she knew I’d be more pliable and less grumpy with her revelations if I had someone being so good to my poor aching bones I was having to fight not to fall asleep. While I was pampered, she talked.
“I decided I needed to go traveling and do some really real thinking. It’s hard to see the world as it is for us normal people when you’re spending all your time seeing it with a God, so… that was why I left. I needed to go and see and to know. To have my own thoughts, you know?
I started with the libraries and seeing how that had changed anything in the areas we built them. Some were hardly being used, but others… others became focal points the entire local society built around. Thanks to you, I was welcome at all of them, and I had plenty of time to read anything I needed to as I moved around.
I can see you want to know how I got anywhere, but you know the answer to that, John. I know about the mists, so I admit, I used your island regularly as a sort of station between places. I’m sorry… I know I should have asked, or come to see you but…”
“I knew I smelled you, some mornings.” I kept my tone very neutral, not least of which because I’m not sure how I felt about it. Was I some poor sap abandoned by a woman and used? Or was I the god I’m supposed to be, facilitating humanities recovery? Was I something else? Why did sentience have to come with an added side of ambivalence? I still don’t know.
“I didn’t want to make things harder than they were. For you… or for me. I really have missed you, you know. I wanted to come and see you, every time, especially in the first year. But then I got so busy…”
“With what?” I didn’t try to keep my tone from being clipped or surly this time, but Gemma just laughed, in a tired and cold sort of a way.
“People! I… I have always agreed we should stand on our own feet. I started showing people how to do things we had forgotten, roaming about all over the place. Trying to help, and solve problems, before people came to you.” She cast her eyes down, after saying what I still consider to be one of the kindest things anyone ever tried to do for me. She fidgetted with her fingers as she carried on, doing everything she always had done to be as endearing as possible.
“I know how to do so many things now – glass working, leather skills, metallurgy… the only thing I just can’t seem to handle is languages. But that’s why Amir has been so useful. He speaks six different languages, so I’ve been able to go to so many more places, and tell people so many things.”
“Boyfriend?” I asked, with a quirk of a brow. It was nice to see her go instantly red and irate – it was much more like the Gemma I knew.
“No! Amir is… Amir has other concerns, and so do I.” The amount of unspoken meaning Gemma put into ‘other concerns’ should have won her some kind of medal. Instead, I just gave her a smirk.
“I see. So… prophet?”
“You aren’t the only one humanity likes to misconstrue, grumpscales. The more I knew and shared, the more people thought I had some kind of blessing. Which of course meant I had to explain how I know all I know, which meant explaining about you… and now, everyone thinks I’m a prophet or the voice of Fickle or something.” I watched her flinch, waiting for me to explode. I did not disappoint, rolling my shoulders in a degree of annoyance vastly inferior to the disgust in my voice.
“Oh for the love of…”
“Actually… it’s been kind of useful,” she said, cutting me off before I could scare the locals. “I have been trying to get people to stand on their own feet and solve their own problems. In places where plain old common sense wasn’t working, being your ‘prophet’ meant I could at least tell them you were some awful being who would linger in the world so long as they refused to make the changes they needed to. And you can stop pulling that face – I didn’t say anything to anyone about morality. It was more things like ‘always boil river water before drinking it’, or ‘bathe periodically’ or ‘keep birthing spaces clean’. I never said it was a holy thing to do or killed little demons or whatever, just that your power will never be gone from this world so long as people keep being willfully stupid.”
“Well, if that were true, I’d at least know I’m truly immortal, then,” I snorted.
“Yes, well. It’s been a very busy couple of years. When I found out about the shooting stars here and then saw what was going to happen… I can’t believe it’s been so long since… since…” she trailed off again. I reached out, letting my arm lengthen and bulk up along with the rest of me, sending my masseur flying into a wall. I used the tip of my claw to raise her chin, in time to see her blinking back a tear she was trying to hide. Snouts aren’t made for smiling, but I tried anyway.
“Time waits for no man. A famous human saying.”
“Have you been doing ok since I’ve been gone?” she asked, after wiping her eyes.
“Same as always. Busy with idiots cluttering up my island, painting when I get the chance. I did go back to Mexico, you know. I can only imagine how much nicer it is now, too.”
“We should go and see sometime.” Hope colored her tone and her face. I quirked an eyebrow at her.
“I didn’t leave because I wanted to leave, John. Actually… I was hoping I might be able to. Well.”
“Come home?” Maybe it was mean of me to drag this out, having already decided when I first saw her that I forgave her for leaving – something I had never truly had an issue with anyway – and knowing that I would like to have her cluttering up my home again. She was my friend, after all, but I maintain being ‘nice’ has never been something I sought to achieve.
“Yes,” she said, all relief and emotion.
“Well, if Amir doesn’t need you anymore, I don’t mind,” I yawned, feigning a general lack of care either way. “Having someone I can share my annoyances with is always pleasant, and Bertha will be pleased to see you. Damn fish has been sulking since you left.”
I pushed myself up off the floor and trotted out of the building, enjoying the ringing noise my hooves made on the stone floors. Singapore had a very nice cool breeze about it by night, enough to tug at my wings and pull me off the ground without any effort once I unfurled them.
“I’m leaving tomorrow,” I called down to Gemma as I ascended. “I’ll see you here, then, if you definitely want to come.”
“Goodnight, Fickle,” she smiled back, waving against a sea of people who were now taking notice of me and cheering again.
“You still owe me a back rub, and some peeled grapes,” I reminded her.
“And you still owe me a wish!”
Something about how she said it made me feel even lighter than air. I turned a somersault in the sky, and went to find some unsuspecting herd animal to eat, and a hilltop to sleep on. Maybe, after all, it had been a good day.
Word Count: 29,121/50,000