Rain. It’s an environmental condition that sits beautifully in a narrative. Perhaps it hammers against a pane. Perhaps, softly, it patters. Perhaps it drizzles, a view obscured by its soft wetness against glass. Today, Mamma Universe thought, would’ve been an awesome day for rain. As it was, it was cheerfully sunny, with the kind of clear sky that makes fine crystal jealous. This annoyed her a little. Not because the farmers could really do with some rain right now, nor because it would send insects in panicked-scurry to places other than her skin, but because she was fairly sure that rain would’ve had the right sense of occasion. She couldn’t guess exactly, but if she had to, it seemed likely that on this rainless day, she was about to die.
Clearly, the weather had no sense of how momentous her death would be. Not just for her, but for the entire Universe. Although she couldn’t say she had been overly diligent in her job as administrator to the Cosmos – it was really tedious work, after all – she did do it sometimes. Indeed, the fact that she was about to die at the hands of an outraged, photoluminescent hermaphrodite was evidence that she occasionally worked. It was, in fact, the pursuit of her duties that had brought her to this impending end. Was there an irony hidden in this? Possibly. But then, true irony is a very slippery beast, and can be hard to pin down. Maybe – as had happened to her – if one chained irony to wall, and pointed a gun at it, it would reveal how it applied to this situation.
“You don’t suppose it’s likely to rain soon, do you?”
“What?” Quinzel was taken aback by this question. It wasn’t very usual for life forms chained to a wall to worry about the weather. Well, unless they happened to be chained in a dungeon that was prone to flood in bad weather, but that wasn’t the case here.
“Rain,” Mamma Universe enunciated slowly, “do you think we’ll see some soon?“
Quinzel thought about this. “No. There is zero chance of rain today.”
“Why ever not?”
“The whole planet is climate controlled. We aren’t due for any rain until next week.”
“Oh.” That was quite the disappointment. “I don’t suppose you’d consider putting this whole execution thing off until next week, then? Sort of, you know, wait for the scheduled inclement weather?”
“I don’t think so.”
Quinzel was starting to lose its temper. “Look, I don’t think you fully appreciate the gravity of your situation. Perhaps you didn’t pay attention to the story I just told you?”
“I understand gravity very well,” Mamma Universe huffed, “I’ll wager I understand it better than you do. As for your story, I gave it my full attention.”
“Oh yeah? What did I just say, then?”
Mamma Universe gave of an account of all she had just heard. How Quinzel’s race had mysteriously become immortal, how their population had gone out of control, and how they had been on a bloody, centuries long quest to the develop a weapon that would end their curse of immortality. “And after all that,” Mamma Universe finished, “you lured me here to test your final prototype. Does that about capture the sense of it?”
Quinzel looked for anything Mamma Universe might have missed. Nope, she had managed to get pretty much all of it. “Yes.”
“Told you I was listening. You did forget to tell me something, though.”
“I did not.” The cheek of this Mamma Universe. Quinzel the wise forgetting to include important plot points, not likely. A seed of doubt sprouted. “I did?”
“Oh yes. Two things, actually.”
“Two things.” This was troubling news, Quinzel was normally so attentive to details. “What are these two things you speak of?”
“First, you failed to tell me why you think your species’ problem is my fault. I get why, as the only other quasi-immortal being in the Universe, you needed me to test the last iteration of your weapon, but why you think I am also responsible for the rampant immorality of your people is beyond me.”
Quinzel’s skin luminesced turquoise with embarrassment. “Oh, yes. I am sorry, it had slipped my mind. Well, it’s quite simple, really. In the search for a being that fit the test parameters – the one the turned you up as the most likely candidate – I discovered that your job is to run the Universe. Seems to me that a whole species becoming immortal is the kind of thing you’re supposed to make sure doesn’t happen. Ergo, this is all your fault.”
Mamma Universe chewed on this. “Fair enough,” she said. “Although, to be honest, I’m not sure how I could have fixed this.”
“Just as well that I found a way to solve my race’s problems without you, then. You said there were two things.”
Mamma Universe developed a look that made her eyes twinkle. “Yes. You forgot to tell me what I look like to you.”
“I did no such thing. I fail to see how that’s even relevant.”
“It’s not, really. I’m just curious. It’s only that I always look different to different beings, and I’ve often found it useful to know just what it is they think they are dealing with when they are talking to me.”
Quinzel could see the logic in this. “You look exactly like me.”
“How delightfully novel,” Mamma Universe said. “I can’t think of a single time that I’ve appeared to someone as they appear to their own self.”
“Well. Now you have. So, if that’s all you have say, I think we’ll just push on with this weapon test.” Quinzel took aim at the ‘self’ chained to a wall, but stopped short of pulling the trigger. Something Mamma Universe had said was setting off mental alarms. “I’m sorry. Did you say that you were ‘quasi-immortal’?”
“I did, as it happens.”
Oh dear, thought Quinzel. This a bit of a complication. “Are you sure?”
“Very sure. I’ll only live for as long as the Universe exists. When it ends, I end.”
“What happens if you are killed before the Universe ends?”
“I don’t know. Nothing good, I expect.”
Quinzel’s skin luminesced a harlequin patchwork of colors. It was thinking. “Do you think that your death would bring about the end of the Universe?”
“As I said, I have no idea.”
“Hmmmm?” Interesting, thought Quinzel. “Let’s find out.” A long, luminescent finger pulled the trigger on the most effective weapon ever made.
“Are you sure we really need to do this, Stag? He looks kind of dodgy.” Daisy Wheelwright gave the scruffy man in front of her a distasteful glare. At least, she assumed that was the sort of glare she was giving. Being a skeleton, it was hard to be sure that her skull transmitted expressions properly. “Couldn’t we just go back to the pub?”
“I do apologize for my skeletal colleague, Simon,” said Stag Hartford, prehistoric deer and Spirit Animal. “It’s possible that her job as the current Death has eroded her manners.”
Simon, the dodgy-scruff-man Daisy had tried her hardest to glare at, looked confused. Not because he was being addressed by a large extinct species of deer – he and Stag were well acquainted by now – but because he saw no skeletons at all. What he saw was one large deer, two ghosts, and one extremely beautiful young woman. Daisy’s professional attire – an assemblage of nicotine-stained bones – was not something he could pick up on. Not yet, anyway. “Sure, Stag… ummm… no problem.”
“These are very tasty. I mean, I had no idea that vegetarian meat was so delicious.” Haldrick, the ghost of a long dead man whose bones now lay underneath a urinal in a far away pub, crunched away happily. In truth, the veggie burger he was eating was not as tasty as he thought. It just seemed that way because he hadn’t eaten anything in centuries, and had only recently become aware that it was possible for ghosts to imbibe and ingest substances.
“I agree,” said Finley, the other ghost present, “I am very delicious.”
Simon looked at Finley blankly. Not because he was confused about ghosts ingesting veggie burgers and drinking his homebrew. He’d had many barbeques in his backyard for the ‘not-properly-departed’, so this was not a new experience. It was more that Finley hardly ever made any sense. If Simon had to guess, he’d guess that Finley Jansen Guildersand thought that everything was about him. Simon’s guess would have been correct.
“And that’s another thing,” Daisy wasn’t prepared to let her objections go just yet. “How is it that he can see those two specters,” she thrust a bony chin towards the two ghosts, “but he can’t see me in my true, professional, form? As I said, dodgy.”
Stag had to admit, Daisy had a point. But he also had to admit that they weren’t really spoiled for choice in the matter. They needed Simon if they were going to have any chance of locating Mamma Universe again. Of course, Daisy wasn’t sold on the idea of finding out what happened to Mamma Universe, either. She wanted to continue their extended pub-crawl/lost-soul reap. It was her opinion that Mamma Universe would show up again eventually. Until then, they might as well have some fun.
“Anyway,” Daisy continued, after a large swig of homebrew and a good belch, “what kind of Shaman calls himself Simon? Hardly inspires confidence.”
“The kind of Shaman,” Simon jabbed in Daisy’s direction with a barbeque fork, “that was given that name by his mother.”
“Oh yeah! Well, if I was that Sha–“
“I think that’s enough of that you two.” Seriously, thought Stag, Daisy can be a really nasty drunk. “Daisy, could you go get us some more drinks please?”
“I guess,” said Daisy, sulkily.
“Is that okay with you, Simon?”
“I suppose.” Simon prodded a soy-sausage with no small amount of aggression.
“I agree,” said Finley, “I’d look fantastic with a fresh drink.”
“Me too,” Haldrick added. But only because he thought it would be funny, and help diffuse some tension.
“Well, then. That’s settled.” Stag waited for Daisy to move out of earshot before he picked up the conversation again. “You understand I really need you to do this for me, Simon?”
“I don’t know Stag, Mamma Universe can be very difficult to find. Also, I’m not sure it’s a good idea. You remember what she tricked me into doing last time I successfully performed the ceremony?”
“Yes,” Stag did his best to suppress a shudder at the memory. “She can be a bit of a bitch that way. But this time will be different. I am absolutely certain that she wants to be found this time. I can feel it in my antlers.”
“Still… it’s a big risk for me. I’m not sure I’d like to go through that again.”
“Look. I’ve been your Spirit Animal for a long time. I’ve done lots for you, even when I thought it was a really bad idea. I don’t want to sound like I’m using our history as leverage,” Stag lied, “but I really need you to do me this favor.”
Simon stared into the heat haze and sparse smoke that rose from the grill. “I hate to admit this, but I’m not the best Shaman in the medicine bundle. I’m not even sure how I managed to perform the ceremony last time. If I fail, I’ll just get teased by all the other Shamen and Shawomen even worse than before. Especially that Kimmelweed Johnston. He’d never let me live that sort of failure down.”
“Yeah, you know? Tall bloke, with the goatee? Has Coyote as his Spirit Animal?”
“Oh yes, I remember him. Always talking about the size of his genitals.” Much like that young upstart Coyote is want to do, thought Stag. Fucking Coyote, Stag really had a strong dislike for that one. Makes sense that he would align himself with a goateed arsehole. “But what if I could promise that you would be successful this time? What if I could guarantee that you would complete the ceremony with such elegance that all the Shawomen you know would be giving you bedroom eyes for the rest of your life?”
“Even Willowfeet Softpaws?”
“Especially Willowfeet Softpaws.”
“It’s like this. This time you would have access to something so powerful, you couldn’t possibly get it wrong. What’s more, you would create an excess of power. Power, I might add, that I can make sure you keep.”
“Bullshit.” Simon grew incredulous. “Everyone knows you can’t keep excess power from any kind of ritual. That’s Shamanics rule one.”
“Is it, or is that just what they want you to think?”
“Are you serious?” Simon’s eyes sparkled lustful, greedy hope.
“What is this ‘powerful something’, then. Some sort of talisman? Special herb? The weapon of some lost hero, perhaps?”
“Oh, even better than those things. This time, you would have her.”
Simon followed Stag’s gaze. It fell on Daisy as she returned with a several fresh bottles of homebrew. “I’m in.”
Daisy stopped short, having noticed the odd expressions on the faces of Stag and Simon. “What are you two bastards looking at?”
END OF PART SEVEN