I rarely get to the end in many of my written projects. I have a tendency to go back and get bogged down in the nitty-gritty of changes as if I fear writing the ending will prevent me from changing things in my other works. It’s a silly quirk I have, but nevertheless, it’s there.
Still, I do reach the end with some things (artworks, for example) and this years NaNoWriMo has very much been about the act of writing for me, rather than meeting an arbitrary word limit or creating a project to edit through 2019.
It was about blurting forth some words into the world, raw and uncut, on a very casual and unusual project I just wanted to work on.
Half of it is based in my frustration at the world refusing to make sense and needing to be a bit off the wall to feel better. The other half is residual move stress from the drastic changes in location, lifestyle and time zone that has come with the continuation of my husbands’ career.
In all, it left me in a very unusual position at the start of this November, and I feel like I’m coming out the other end of the month feeling lighter and more stable. Writing has always been a kind of therapy for me, after all, even when the topic doesn’t seem such.
As I said yesterday, Fickle will never be my best work. It’s an odd duck, both in terms of its chosen content and tone and in terms of length and purpose. But I’m certainly not upset that I wrote it.
So, on to The End!
Part One: Click here
Part Two: Click here
Part Three: Click here
Part Four: Click here
Part Five: Click here
Part Six: Click here
Part Seven: Click here
Part Eight: Click here
Part Nine: Click here
Part Ten: Click here
Part Eleven: Click here
‘Fickle’ Part 12 (The End)
Mans Last Wish
Recounting matters in Singapore, a mere day after leaving, left a doubly sour taste in my mouth. Various luminaries of Gemma’s efforts clustered around the telescope in the observatory, confirming what we had both already seen and trying not to panic. Being quizzed constantly by all manner of people about my three-day estimate had only made me grumpier, and more devilish looking as time went on, to the point I was now skewering grapes off a platter more for the satisfaction of watching them pop than their taste.
“Not really,” I sighed for the millionth time. “It’s a lump of rock and ice traveling faster than any of us can really imagine. Three days is my best guess, but it’s only a guess like I’ve been telling you all.”
“But you’re a divine being… surely you…” The words came from Gemma, no doubt born of desperation, but even if it was her, even if she wasn’t thinking straight, I couldn’t let the accusation go ignored, or without full disdain in my voice, as I cut her off.
“And let me stop you right there. I am not divine, I’m just here. You know what I am and how I do what I do, so please think before you speak.”
“Explain, please,” Amir asked after watching our back-and-forth. I sat back while Gemma handled the questions. About my birth, lineage and the price of my powers. And I watched the translators face steadily get stonier and stonier as she spoke, bracing myself for an inevitable tirade.
“If this is the case, I do not see why we have so long let a non-human decide the use of human souls.” It wasn’t the litany of complaints I expected, and Amir kept his tone and voice level, but the disgust in his voice spoke far more than his mere words did.
“Leave it, Gemma. He’s having the reaction I expected you to have.”
I hauled myself to my feet and went to the work table by the best of Gemma’s telescopes. Among the pencils, papers, and calipers, there was a pair of shears which I weighed in my hand and smiled at Amir with.
“Come here so I may cut off all your hair.” I watched his face contort. Amir had a beautiful mane of hair, well tended and oiled, pulled back from his skull to drape down the back of his neck. It was clearly a point of pride for him, and my words incensed him instantly.
“You dare, sir!”
“Well, why shouldn’t I? Hair is just a collection of keratin cells, destined to die and fall out without any other purpose. In this climate, less hair seems wiser to me, and I don’t see why you should care so much about something that will grow back anyway.” I offered a shrug, a complicated feat considering I currently had four shoulders and snipped the shears at the dark-skinned man.
“I care because it is my hair, that I have grown and tended and you have no right to dictate what I do with something made of my body!” he snarled back, drawn out of his usual prim attitude to something approaching real emotion. It was kind of nice to see, but I had made my point.
“Funny, I feel about the same about dead human souls.” I set the shears back down and returned to my cushion pile.
“Oh boy.” Gemma sighed. Then she gestured at me from across the room. “Go on, explain.”
“I need to?” I raised an eyebrow, but seeing as Amir still looked angry and confused, I shrugged again. “Fine. I didn’t ask to be born any more than you did, or your hair asks to grow. It just happens. You have billions of bacteria living inside you to let you digest food, and they are controlled on the whim of what you decide to put into your stomach. You are a creature made up of moving parts, ruled by the ‘you’ generated in your brain. I am made up of the belief of a lot of dead people, as much a part of me as your hair is of you. I do not dictate what soul is used to do what, I simply act based on what is asked of me, and I don’t appreciate being judged for it.”
“I…” The translator opened his mouth to argue my logic, but Gemma cut him off.
“Really don’t, Amir. Fickle has acted always in the best interests of as many people as possible, and I trust him.”
“Trust?” Amir and I both said the word together, both as surprised as each other.
“Yes,” Gemma said, throwing me a slightly hurt look. “And we have bigger things to worry about. And bigger consequences. You really can’t pin the time or location down any better, John?”
We had a crowd by now. A very concerned, muttery crowd, with a look on their faces I dreaded – hope. Hope I could somehow fix things, despite how many times I had already answered this question. Prayers made my brain itch, but the weight of expectation in the observatory just made all of me ache with tiredness.
“I wish I could. I only know what all the dead people knew when I was called into existence, and space is a complicated and mind-boggling place. I’m sorry – I’m not entirely omnipotent.”
“Don’t apologize. Your ‘parents’ won’t stop it?”
“Why should they? They’ve been banished and gone back to being dormant in terms of sentience. Besides, it would go against what the God of Dark is supposed to be doing these days. Entropy, time, gravity… he kind of has to let this happen. Even two billion simultaneous prayers to wake him up wouldn’t change that.”
“So… our only hope is to track it, and have you try to stop it,” Gemma spoke the words in such a way I felt like she was trying not to let her tongue or lips touch the words, which presented a very interesting set of facial contortions I’d have found hilarious in other circumstances. As it was, I knew why she was trying to distance herself from the sentence.
“I had a horrible feeling you were going to say that,” I groaned.
“You do not wish to help?” Amir said, his accent dripping with scathing sarcasm and disapproval.
“Frankly? No.” Honesty is supposedly the best policy, and I enjoyed biting back at the entitled jerk. “Attitudes like yours make me want to be left alone with no human contact for the rest of my life. But I will help, if it is wished of me, despite the consequences.”
“Your feelings are true martyrs,” he drawled with a roll of his eyes. The look vanished swiftly when Gemma outright hit him.
“Amir, stop it. Besides… that isn’t the consequence you mean, is it John?”
“…no. No it is not.” I held Gemma’s gaze as I said it, but she looked away.
“Are there enough souls left to even stop it?” she asked, voice so soft I could only barely hear her over the other people gathered around.
“Possibly. I don’t know for sure. Even if I can’t entirely prevent it though, there’s enough power left to reduce the impact and prevent unnecessary loss of life.”
“But I will likely disappear too, yes,” I said when her voice petered out. “I don’t know for sure, after all, but the belief and desire of the dead tore me into the world, so I assume I will fade away as they do. A mere memory.”
“We could…” she started, and I could feel the shape of her thoughts, what she was going to say next. It involved words like ‘temple’, ‘belief’ and ‘prayer’.
“No. I never asked to be worshiped. I never asked to be more than human, I just am. I do not want a cult, or a priesthood, or any of that nonsense. No more gods. We all agreed on that. No more gods.”
“But you are a god,” Amir frowned, stuck in the usual human rhetoric of expecting me to simply accept what I was, despite my years of trying to stop that sort of nonsense.
“A temporary one. A band-aid until… well. Until now, I suppose.” Another four armed shrug did little to communicate how shielded I felt from the impact of my own impending, and unexpected, mortality.
“There must be another way. Something else we can do, or a sacrifice we can agree to ma…” One thing Gemma shared with the old tropes about girls, pre-Fall, seemed to be a certain inability to sit still or stay objective when her emotions were running the show. Go figure.
“No.” This time, Amir interrupted her, though his eyes were locked on me. A little more effort and his gaze may have made me feel the tiniest pang of guilt… but it didn’t. “The god should do his job, and release the souls of our ancestors. Did you not yourself tell us Fickle would be an influence on the world until we could stand on our own? It is time we stood, Prophet.”
“But I don’t want…”
“It’s alright, Gemma. This was always going to happen. Well then, Amir the Translator… is this your wish? That I save the world from certain doom, again?” I have literally lost count at this point how many times I had technically saved the world, at least so far as humans see it. Considering I never even wanted to save it the first time, I feel I have failed utterly in all I sought to do as a creator god.
“Yes,” he said in his native Arabic.
“I should warn you, I rarely carry out wishes in a way the wishee likes…”
“Use what is left of your ill-gotten power, Fickle the Changeling, and turn aside the rock. This is my wish.”
“Then in return, look after Gemma for me. She was worth it, at least.”
Gemma had no way of understanding Amir’s Arabic, but she understood everything I said well enough. Enough to suddenly start leaking from the eyes again in a way I really wish humanity couldn’t do.
“John, no! Don’t…”
“Sorry Gemma. A wish is a wish.” I was already shape-changing again to something with wings as I stood, so my shrug was still more complicated than the last as my flesh flowed around itself. At least two of the crowd we had drawn lost their lunch from the display, but Gemma was so used to it she grabbed me by an arm before I could leave the building.
“What about my wish?”
“…I’m sorry. I would have loved to have heard it.”
Nothing she ever asked me hurt more than that plaintive final attempt to stop me leaving. It might have hurt more than anything else thrown and levied at me so far, but even that pain couldn’t stop my feet responding to the greater call inside whatever I had instead of my own soul. The dead wished to act, and I was the conduit.
For once, I welcomed the roar of wind my ears as it drowned out Gemma’s cries as I left the ground.
Besides… maybe I’d always wanted to see space first hand.
Space is everything I told Gemma it was. A complicated expanse of pure physics and scale that the human mind can barely comprehend for its sheer scope. Logic understands much of it, but for all people once hung out up there, above their planet, and populated another one with robots… space cannot fit inside the enclosure of the human brain.
It’s big, and we are small. Even I was small, next to the expanding roll of black, punctuated by stars and nebulas.
At least I didn’t need to breathe.
Getting up through the atmosphere took a lot of my energy. I could feel minds slipping away from my form as I burnt them up just to power through the thinning air until blue curve I thought of as ‘sky’ became a band below a twilight horizon, and then, despite the glare of the perpetually burning sun that kept my world heated… it was night, in the middle of the day.
Space seemed blacker than the void it was built over, and the silver strands of the milky way were but a distant memory against both my change in perspective and the threat I was there to divert.
It was cold.
I was lonely.
Form ceased to matter within seconds of passing out of the final strands of the atmosphere around Earth. Wings couldn’t power me without something to push against, and the lack of orienting gravitational forces caused me to want to tumble end over end, rather than progress as I needed to. And it was so cold.
There was the same feeling of an invisible energy to soak up – radiation, of course, just like at Chernobyl, but I hardly needed to be any particular shape to benefit from that. Thought was enough, and at least conserved what little strength I had left while I tried to deal with our celestial invader.
The asteroid itself, when I reached it, wasn’t quite as big as I had feared. From the ground, I had only been able to see it as a shadow blotting out the stars behind it, but now I could touch it and experience it in person, so to speak, it was merely a wandering piece of rock, older than I, older maybe than even my parents. A lone traveler passing through space, alone and unremarked.
Maybe I had a moment to wonder if my desire for reclusion was entirely well-founded… but the vacuum of space is no place to feel sorry for yourself. There are always more pressing concerns.
I had no way to destroy the problem, of course. The rock was huge and dense, and I was small without anything to push against or cut through. Wherever this thing had come from, whatever event had formed it during the unknowable scope of all of space-time, it was far more solid and believable than I was, even without a scant few million souls holding it together.
Perhaps this is another one of those moments where I should add to the ‘gospel of Fickle’, such as it is. In this case, we’ll go with ‘Gods can be as unknowable and powerful as you want, or at least believe them to be, but nothing is big compared to literally the entirety of the universe.’
To wit, my only hope was to change the course of the damn thing, a feat which would take every last drop of what I had left to do. Because it meant bending physics.
Now, it wasn’t the first time I’d played with the laws of reality. Popping in and out of mist banks certainly qualifies, as does disobeying the laws of nature to make things grow faster than normal, or lift way more than I should be able to according to gravity and my muscle mass. ‘Mom and Dad’ had let me get away with it a lot, mostly because they weren’t aware enough to stop me.
But messing with physics in space was a bit more difficult. Nothing to push against, like I said. Still, that was the wish that had landed me up here, so I was damn well going to manage it somehow.
It was just a shame at the time that there wouldn’t be a single soul left after to let me go home and grant one last wish for Gemma.
If I were a good storyteller, or a proud man, I would spend some time here recording just how I made the asteroid obey my whim. And for anyone only just remembering this story is a reminiscence and I clearly survived the experience somehow… welcome back to critical thinking 101. We missed you.
Instead, I shall keep matters simple. I am, as Amir states, a shape changer by habit, but what I doubt anyone else knew was that I didn’t have to stick to just my own matter. I mean, on that logic, where did my extra mass go anytime I decided to be human sized? No, I don’t have to follow those kind of rules if I don’t want to. Instead, I just poured myself into the mass that was the asteroid. Now I was the huge rock spinning slowly through space, and yes, it was still cold and lonely. In fact, from the perspective of the rock, Earth was just an upcoming beacon of light I could only hope to smash into to finally warm up.
Naturally that wasn’t an option though, and so I started burning through souls to tear into space itself, just enough to turn the asteroid’s path so Earth’s gravity wouldn’t give it a nice big hug. Mars would do instead, I figure, though the robots living there may not have agreed, were they able to make such a choice.
It’s funny – I could feel the streams of code they were still spitting out towards Earth, those that were still working, in the blissful ignorance that no one was listening right now. Ignorance certainly is bliss, sometimes. I just hope Gemma is right, and one day people will get back there again. Bring the metal hunks home.
It was thoughts of home that kept me together as I began to turn. I could almost feel wisps of myself peeling away, stardust on the solar wind. I felt smaller by the second, despite still being the size of a mountain, but ‘self’ really doesn’t have much to do with mass, as most people eventually come to realize.
I sloughed the asteroid off once I knew I had done all I could. Even if I wanted to, now, I couldn’t have changed my shape. Pure thought seemed to be mostly what I had left, the last soul I burned giving me just enough impetus to dive away from the asteroid in the direction of Earth, coasting on the last few flickers of self-awareness.
And then I fell asleep.
Of course, the story can’t end there, otherwise, you wouldn’t be reading this. That’s the kind of logic even I can’t break, nor would I want to. Time is a bit of a bitch if you foul it up, and people end up not having existed at all. Very messy.
Truthfully, though, I did think I had died. A more romantic man might say I found my way home on the wings of kinship, homing in on my memories and feelings for Gemma. But that would imply I have truly human feelings, and that such things have some kind of tangible resonance I could have even followed. No. I made it home simply because I pointed myself at the planet, and hoped.
I woke up because of all that mushy nonsense though.
The closer I got to home, the more ‘me’ I began to feel. I didn’t know it then, but days had passed since I left, and on the ground, people were tracking the asteroid. When it went by, like a dark flash in the sky, everyone looking up knew, and Gemma had done her best to make sure people understood what it was. The last act of Fickle, the God who wasn’t. That was how it got written down, or something. Who cares.
I left a crater when I hit the dirt, in what was once Skudai. Apparently, it took ten men to dig me out and carry me back to the city on a palanquin, only Gemma’s insistence I was still alive preventing me from being summarily buried.
When I woke up fully, it was to the cheering and carnival sounds of a populace gone mad with relief. And with Gemma at my bedside. Despite all the crying and emotion before I left, she just smiled in the most serene way when I opened my eyes and immediately complained about all the noise.
“Let them be,” she laughed, showing off the smile I like so much. “I knew you’d come home.”
“They’re giving my headache a headache,” I grumbled, trying to roll over only to have every muscle in my body line up a series of complaints.
“Be glad for it, you could have died. Still, I knew you’d be back. You were a God after all.”
“Were?” I asked reflexively, but as she said it and I considered myself, I already knew what she meant.
Something about me was different. I still felt thinner and smaller than before I left for space, and something I could no longer name or put a finger on was missing from inside myself. The space behind my eyes seemed smaller, and I realized that of the many things different, I could no longer feel how to change my form.
“Well, we have a word for creatures that survive only on the power of their own belief,” Gemma said, over my confusion. “Their own sense of self.”
“And what is that?” I asked, flexing my fingers in front of my eyes while they steadfastly refused to turn into claws.
“Human. Though… most of us don’t have hooves and scales.”
“…I do.” My form was that I had most often taken with Gemma. Not human in the classical sense, but humanoid. Scales, hooves, quills and all.
“Yes. Yes, you do.”
She kissed me. And that’s all I have to say about that.
“I never granted your wish.”
An hour later, I found myself reminiscing on those few regrets I had lingering. I already missed my wings, but that was a hurt that I knew would fade, unlike the hurt of having let down the person I knew best in the world.
“You still can,” she reassured me, fingers linked with my own, despite the fact my hands were a bit larger than hers.
“No… the power is all gone now. Can’t you feel it? Even the mists don’t work anymore. We’re stuck here.”
Which was true. With my own godhead gone and lack of ability to change shape on a whim, I knew for absolute certain that the belief that had once sustained the mists as a transport system had collapsed and gone away too. People might still believe such a thing would work, but without the souls of the dead to facilitate it, a deep mist was just that – water vapor and nothing more. My island would be peaceful at last, but I was cut off from it, at least for now.
“We can make a boat to solve that easily enough. After all, I do want to go home still.”
“I suppose we can. In time. I’m very tired, and the island won’t be the same. The Pillar will be gone now, and all the floating rocks must have come crashing down.”
“It’s still home, and that’s worth fighting for. We have time, John, for everything. For now, I think you need a bath and maybe I can find some oil to rub into your shoulders.”
She stood up and patted me on the head, wearing a very strange kind of smile I still can’t interpret, even on mornings I wake up to find her watching me. Still, I was more bowled over that she was actually offering me, after all these years, an actual backrub!
“Wait, seriously? You’ll do it?”
“And after that… I wish you’d write all this down. The world has as much right to your experience and interpretation of it as anyone elses.”
“…that’s your wish?!” I knew I’d raised my voice, but I no longer had the power to make her cower with such, and instead, she just laughed at me.
“Well, I was originally going to wish you’d just be human, but I realized you’d eventually manage that on your own. So yes. This is my wish. One more book for the library before we go home.”
“…fine. I suppose I have no choice,” I scowled.
“Of course you have a choice. People always do.”
“I promised, didn’t I? Go and get me some paper, and tell the locals to shut up already.”
Laughter, once again.
“As you wish, Grumpscales!” I’m just glad I find her amusement pleasant to listen to, as it seems she has found a lot to enjoy at my expense since I woke up human.
Still. It’s evening now, and the people haven’t shut up or stopped chanting outside the window. It’s not in worship of me though. It’s relief, and hope for the future, and that sort of thing. I can’t feel anything scratching in the back of my head. Well, save for two things. Two voices have stayed. My own, grumpily determined not to let go of this stupid planet until I’m damn well ready, and… well, it’s a woman’s voice, and it’s infuriating. I suspect it’ll be there till I grow old and gray, as I know I will.
They’ve started letting off fireworks, so I doubt I’ll get to sleep for hours yet, but at the same time, Gemma is waiting for me by the bathroom and I can smell citrus and coconut even over the tincture of gunpowder on the air, so I guess that’s it.
A happy ending.
My name is John Fickle, and I saved the world, but only because I was nagged to. I like to paint, and fish, and eat sweet fruits.
This was my story, in part because it was wished of me by someone I wish to make happy, but also because I suppose all that is human in me hopes I will be remembered, long after I am dead and gone, for my own merits, and my own flaws.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I have another long overdue back rub to pursue. And some peeled grapes.
Word Count: 34,775/50,000
Coming in short this year on a single project, but better that than enforced length! I hope you enjoyed!