Monday, March 22, 2021

Brother Wolf

Ben Fife did an incredible job with the Thunder Girl audiobook! But as I was listening to it, I felt like there were some things I didn't quite wrap up well in the novel. And since Ben was already recording, it wasn't like I could publish a revised edition.

So instead, I decided to write my ideas in this short story epilogue!

I also figured since I was teasing so much at Salt Lake City throughout the book, I might as well actually write about it a bit.

Please note that this story is a direct continuation of the end of the book, so please don't read it if you don't want spoilers!

The setting sun, low on the horizon over the Great Salt Lake, dyed the peaks of the Wasatch Range a deep and vivid orange. It was summer, and the mountains were free of snow, covered instead with an abstract patchwork of trees and brush.

Iapetus lifted his cowboy hat to get a better view of the sight above the rooftops of Salt Lake City. From this side of the Rockies, he could see no trace of the massive thunderstorm that had enveloped the mountain range’s eastern slopes just a few days before—when he and his friends had put an end to the Native States’ fighting.

Well, to be more specific, Cat had really done all of the work, with her magic thunder stone. Iapetus had only retrieved the stone and kept it safe, and he still hated how useless he had been in the fight with Kronus, despite his best attempts. But Cat was nice enough to insist that he had been plenty helpful.

The seven-foot-tall Promethean sighed and leaned against the corner of the tall brick building, obscured in shadow. He liked Salt Lake. It was a large city, sure, but something about it felt peaceful and comforting and welcoming. It wasn’t like any city he’d been to back east.

A steambuggy passed by on the wide streets, and a few of its passengers regarded him strangely. Iapetus looked away. He was used to people finding him different. He appreciated that at least now he had friends who liked him despite his appearance and nature, but it was still difficult to be reminded sometimes that he was not human.

“Ah, Iapetus, there you are,” said a man with a French accent. Walking toward Iapetus was a sharply-dressed gentleman in his late thirties, clean-shaven with his top hat tilted just right. And slightly pointed ears. Something that no one else in this city would likely notice, but Iapetus did.

Iapetus turned and smiled at the shorter man, and said, “Well, don’t you look sharp, Valéry. Salt Lake’s got some good clothiers, it seems like.”

Valéry nodded and adjusted his waistcoat. “Just what I needed after that altercation,” he said. “Hopefully I won’t have any more… surprise transformations. Not that I regret that last one.”

“What do you mean, ‘surprise’?” Iapetus asked, lowering his voice. They were the only two on this section of the street right now, but some conversations should not be overheard. “I thought you said werewolves could control their transformation.”

“… Usually,” Valéry said. “Well, if you practice enough self-control. And I consider myself a very disciplined man. But to tell the truth, during times of strong emotion, I do feel my wolf form fighting to get out. It seems to especially happen when I am feeling a strong instinct to survive or protect.” He inspected his thin-fingered hand. “To have the need to do things I can only do in that form. When I saw Cat in trouble, my wolf form pushed hard to get out, and despite our large audience, her safety was foremost on my mind, not the trauma of transforming in front of others. Or my wardrobe.” He glanced down at his new set of clothes.

“Hm,” Iapetus said. “I guess that makes sense.”

“You are looking more comfortable in your ensemble every day,” Valéry said. “Mademoiselle Clauson has a good eye for fashion. Your outfit suits you.”

Iapetus grinned sheepishly. “You think so?” he asked, putting a hand on his duster. “I still don’t feel like one of those frontier gunslingers. Especially because I don’t have a gun.”

“Yes, but now you really look like a man to be reckoned with,” Valéry said. “And with your kind nature, that is exactly what you need. Despite your size and strength, I don’t want anyone getting the idea that you’re a pushover, because some people will take that advantage as soon as they get a foot in the door.”

Iapetus’s expression grew somber. “Like Mr. Fitzwilliam,” he said quietly, remembering how his old boss used to push him around and give him grief. “Well, I just—I just hope I’m not too scary.” He looked out at the humans walking down the city streets, hating the idea of frightening any of them. Unfortunately, because of his appearance, he did not need intimidating clothing to do that.

“It is noble of you to not want to scare others,” Valéry said. “But it is also important to protect yourself. You look quite professional, but there is also a gleam in your eye that tells the discerning individual that you are someone who would come to their aid at a moment’s notice.”

Iapetus grunted, not quite sure how to reply to that. He knew there wasn’t much he could do about his size or his strange appearance. But he didn’t think anything could obscure the sincerity in his eyes.

A mother and her gaggle of children crossed the street with their silvery, rounded nanny mechanoid, heading toward them, and the two men fell silent, waiting for them to pass before resuming their discussion of more secretive matters. Iapetus turned and looked up at the beautiful granite temple built by this city’s people and finished just a short year ago. “That golden angel on top,” he said. “He’s looking eastward. It makes me feel like… he was watching over us back there at the red rocks.”

Valéry chuckled. “I do not doubt that many angels were with us then. Human and saurian alike.” The passing children gave him strange looks and he returned them with a kind, but enigmatic smile, as though they had best be getting along.

Iapetus smiled a little nervously at the children as well. They looked up at him with amazement, but no fear. Children usually did not know enough to fear, and Iapetus appreciated that about them. Adults often came with too much emotional baggage.

“I am glad the Natives prevented the Army from marching on Deseret back in the 1850’s,” Valéry said, looking around at the well-landscaped city streets. “Amazing how the state has grown since then. It’s a fine place to do business now. I think I should like to make Salt Lake a principal stop on an air route across the Native States, once we get the technology figured out.”

“It’s also been a great place to relax and resupply after our journey,” Iapetus said. “Those mountain passes gave Guiscard a terrible lot of trouble.”

“And yet he never complained once, the dear fellow,” Valéry said. He smiled. “Of course he complains quite a bit about things like a dirty interior and Hermes’s prattling. But when I give him an order, it makes him happy to carry it out. He is a wonderful friend.”

After the family was out of earshot, Valéry shifted his weight and cleared his throat. “Iapetus. There’s something that’s been on my mind for the past week now. That morning after you saved my life. You were trying to be friendly, and I was so—so utterly rude to you. I hope you know that I am furious at myself for how I spoke to you back there at the campfire.”

He made a pained face. “I hope you do not think I was really reflecting accurately on you. I was angry, and confused, and I did not trust you. So I said some very cross things that I shouldn’t have. And I’m sorry.”

Iapetus looked at him for a moment, and then smiled. “Thanks,” the Promethean said. “That’s mighty big of you to apologize. I appreciate it. Don’t worry about it. The past is a closed book. I’m just glad you’re doing better now.”

“Ah, I wish I could forgive myself so easily,” Valéry said, running a hand down his face. “You are too kind, mon ami.” He sighed. “I can’t get it out of my head. My reply to you when you said you knew how it felt to be treated like a monster.”

Now it was Iapetus’s turn to look pensive. “When you told me not to place you on my level,” he said quietly. “And that you had plenty of power and prestige.”

Oui,” Valéry said. “I… wish you hadn’t remembered that so well.”

“I’ve got a good memory,” Iapetus said. “Sorry. You’re probably really regretting the stuff you said that morning, aren’t you.”

“Of course I am,” Valéry said. “But you’ve got nothing to be sorry about. I don’t know how I can apologize enough to you. How I wish I could go back and do things differently.” He clenched his jaw. “I was lying, Iapetus. Of course I’ve been persecuted. How could I not be? People used to hate me even when they didn’t know what I was. I built my railroad empire on fear and manipulation. I was the man everyone invited to parties but no one wanted to talk to.” He inspected his hand again and his lip turned upward in disgust. “I’m much more of a monster than you’ll ever be. Even when I am not a wolf.”

Iapetus put a large hand on his friend’s shoulder and said, “You’re talking as though you’re still the old you. I’m sorry you’re stuck on our conversation from that morning. But we’re not there anymore—we’re here.” He gestured to the city around them. “Look at you. Look at how you’ve changed. And when you debilitated Kronus, it was like destroying your old self. You emerged victorious.”

Valéry smiled faintly. “Merci, my friend. No, you are not on my level at all. You are in a much higher place. I don’t know if I could ever reach where you are. No amount of power or prestige could ever buy me a great soul like yours.” He ducked his head and his voice broke. “I don’t deserve your friendship. I’m so sorry for all the times I hurt you. The look on your face after I said those things—I don’t ever want to see it again.”

Iapetus blinked in surprise. Part of him felt a little embarrassed that Valéry was being so emotional, but it also drove home just how strongly Valéry felt about all of this. Iapetus had to think for a moment about how to best reply. “Honestly… I really appreciate that,” he said. “Thank you. A sincere apology is nothing to sneeze at.” He smiled. “I think that plenty makes up for the stuff you said to me when you were angry and scared.”

“You are far too generous to me,” Valéry said, and he dabbed at his eyes with his handkerchief. “I feel bad for everyone who judges you based on your size and your unusual appearance. They are missing out on an extraordinary person.”

Iapetus chuckled. “Cat said much the same thing when she met me. I know I can’t change how the whole world sees me. But just knowing I’ve got some friends who see me right… that sure means the whole world to me.”

“And you deserve it,” Valéry said, patting the Promethean’s arm.

“You know,” Iapetus said, “I think in a manner of speaking, we really are on the same level. We’re both… unusual. I find kinship in folks who are different like me. You’ve been sort of like a brother to me.”

“I could say the same for you,” Valéry said. “I’m an only child. It’s nice having a friend who feels like a brother.”

“I’m an only child, too!” Iapetus said, and the two men grinned at each other like schoolchildren discovering a common hobby. “I think in some ways, we’re pretty alike.”

“If I emulate you in any way,” Valéry said, “then that would only serve as a great boon to my character.”

“You give me too much credit,” Iapetus said.

“I cannot give you enough credit,” Valéry said, “no matter how hard I try. I hope someday you’ll see in yourself what Cat and Hermes and I see in you. Ceres and Guiscard, too.” He smiled. “Guiscard has grown quite fond of you lot, you know, even if he’s too reserved to mention it to your faces. When I am alone in my quarters, he speaks excitedly to me about how nice it is to see such lively and kind people enjoying his accommodations. And he cannot get enough of your stories.”

Iapetus flushed and a boyish grin worked its way up his face. “Wow. I guess my writing must not be half bad, then.”

“Just you wait until you get a manuscript published,” Valéry said. “Then you’ll see how great you really are.”

“I’m nearly done picking through my latest draft,” Iapetus said. “Cat said she’ll give it a thorough edit once I finish.” Valéry’s kind words had boosted the Promethean’s spirit, and now he couldn’t stop smiling. He finally felt as though what he wanted out of life really mattered. His existence wasn’t just about trying to stay safe and make a living anymore. He’d found a purpose.

“Maybe I’m being too sentimental,” he said, “but when I look up at that angel… I feel like everything’s going to be okay. Even for—for people like us. After all, we’re God’s children too, even if we look different.” He glanced down at his own sallow-skinned hand. “Or… our forebears were made different. He’s looking out for us.”

“I don’t think you’re being too sentimental,” Valéry said quietly. “I had much the same thought. I want to believe there’s a place for us in this world.”

“Cat helped us find it,” Iapetus said. “For our first order of business as official supernatural-helpers, I hope we can find a way to aid all the Prometheans back in Germany. They need us.”

“I agree,” Valéry said. “We’ll have to make plans.”

“There you two are!” said a young woman as she strode down the sidewalk. Cat marched toward them in high spirits, Hermes scuttling by her side. “I’ve just made reservations at a splendid restaurant for supper!”

“And she promised I could tell you all about the Morrison Formation as you dine!” Hermes said. “We passed right through it while we scaled the Rockies! Cope and Marsh made such wonderful discoveries of Jurassic fauna there on their joint expeditions!”

“I’d be delighted to hear it,” Valéry said.

“Me too,” Iapetus said.

“It’s good to see you so chipper, Mademoiselle,” Valéry said to Cat. “After what happened on the other side of the mountains, I was worried you’d be quite spooked.”

“You ought to know by now,” Cat said, “that I don’t spook easily.” She paused. “But all right, I was terribly worried the whole time.”

“And yet you pressed onward, without the slightest hint of fear,” Valéry said. “Truly you have earned your title, Thunder Girl.”

Cat shrugged. “What else was I to do? If we didn’t stop Kronus, no one would. Panicking and cowering wouldn’t have helped anything. I saw that the fossils gave me the ability to carry out my mission, and I didn’t doubt them. They’re much more powerful than a silly old administrative mechanoid, anyhow.”

Iapetus laughed. “You make a good point. It’s interesting how, when we turn and face our challenges, they often don’t seem so scary after all. You’re an inspiration to all of us, you know. You gave me the courage to keep pursuing writing.”

“And you gave me the courage to want to change,” Valéry said. “To try to trust someone again.”

“And you gave me a most excellent adventure!” Hermes said, raising and lowering himself on his eight legs in excitement. “Do you think there are any paleontologists here in Salt Lake who might lend me their ear as to a deposit of brontosaur fossils near Tavakiev? An, erm, very hypothetical deposit, I mean.”

The three organics looked at each other and chuckled. “You never let yourself stray far from your priorities, do you, Hermes,” Cat said, leaning an elbow casually on his piezo dome.

“Well, I do like dinosaurs,” Hermes said.

“I’ll see if I can find some contacts for you, Hermes,” Valéry said. “Your commitment to the advancement of science is admirable. Between you and the thunder stone, I wouldn’t be surprised if in ten years, all of the fossils in the ground are in museums.”

“I dare say that would require an awful lot of storage space,” Hermes said. “The planet is simply thick with fossils!” His piezos sparked in excitement at the idea.

Cat smiled at him. “I think the most difficult part of it all for me,” she said, “was accepting my role. Accepting that it was all right to—to believe in magic, to go on adventures. To have friends. Once I embraced those sides of myself… everything else fell into place.”

“You are most certainly allowed to be extraordinary,” Valéry said. “After all, you’ve given us the same courtesy.”

“And you’re definitely allowed to have friends,” Iapetus said. “Because your friends need you as much as you need them.”

“I’ll do my best,” Cat said. “Now come on, I want you to see the place I picked out for supper!”

As they followed Cat and Hermes down the street to the restaurant, Valéry turned to Iapetus and said, “You’re a great brother, mon ami.”

Iapetus grinned. “So are you. Never mind the rough start. You’re one of the best friends I could ask for.”

“The feeling is mutual,” Valéry said.

1 comment:

  1. What a great little way to wrap everything up! Great job!


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