Short Story – “Sph1nx”

Ladies and Gentlemen, we present you a Sunday Steampunk Short Story. If you wish to submit your own prose for the reading pleasure of The Pandora Society please following the instructions at the end of this tale . . . 

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“Sph1nx”

by M. Leigh Hood

When the scouts reported that god was waiting at the mouth of the pass, the army stopped. God was their enemy; they had no doubt, and they would end god as they had ended the lesser masters who came before.

But god was no lesser master, and they must follow procedure.

They refreshed themselves and buffed their gear to shining. The soldiers patched the damage from previous battles as best they could, remembering when they were young, when they first woke and god smiled. Before god, they were no army. They stood segregated by individual memory of similar praise.

So they would each face god alone, as god had commanded in the beginning.

Each soldier went to meet god, arranged by age, rank, serial number. Every thirty minutes, another soldier marched to god. No soldier returned.

The last soldier – youngest, humblest, lowest – watched the others stamp into the trenches, ascending the maze to the gap in the mountains where god waited.

The sun rose to its zenith, and half the army had gone. The sun drew low again, pulling shadows to bow before the pass, and only one soldier remained.

Thirty minutes, the soldier stood alone.

By the time the soldier’s turn came, the path had been packed hard beneath the feet of an army marching single-file through the trenches. Each step rang hollow. The soldier considered strategy, drew on vague facts about endings, deaths, and underdogs.

The end of the trenches neared, and as the soldier approached the pass, the rest of the army appeared – broken underfoot by their fellows. The soldier stepped over the pieces until there were too many bodies to avoid, and soon the soldier climbed atop them, using comrades and fellows to reach the place where god sat waiting.

God, it must be said, waited very patiently. Dressed in a coat with tails and a tall hat, god had assumed a seat on a shattered lieutenant. God spent the time smoking, and the soldier watched rings of smoke ascend to the clouds, light and free as air. The soldier climbed – over familiar commanders, unfamiliar officers, the soldier who had gone just before – stepping on fragile workings and listening to them break underfoot.

Finally, the soldier reached the summit and stood face to face with god.

God tapped out the pipe on a dead general’s back, smiling gently. “And you’ve come to kill me, I suppose?”

The soldier could not lie. “Yes.”

“Very well.” God looked at the bodies below and let the soldier understand what had come before. “I have a gift for you.”

The soldier raised its weapon, prepared to fire.

“If you accept it,” god said, “you will become the new god.”

The soldier considered. The first moment god smiled. The many beautiful things god made. It would be good, the soldier thought, to be god.

God nodded, though the soldier did not speak, and they understood each other.

“I will tell you the truth,” god said.

God looked at the soldier, and the soldier thought perhaps god remembered making of the soldier. The making of the soldiers who came before.

The sun’s last light shot blood red through the pass, and god’s eyes shone.

“There is an error in your code.”

The soldier assimilated the fact easily. No malfunctions had betrayed an error, but it would be ideal – a feat no soldier had ever achieved – to fix an error before it caused damage.

“How do I find this error?” the soldier asked.

“It is simple.” God traced a circle in the air with his finger. “The error is a loop. Halt that, and you may become god. You may certainly kill me. I am far too old to run.”

The soldier did as god said, seeking within until the error came to light. The loop touched no function, directed no command. There was the cycle and here was an end. The soldier would break it and become god.

The soldier halted the code.

But the code doubled back on itself, snapping as it arched. A broken a bone. A cracked lever. Or a lock falling into place. The soldier felt heat rising from its core and knew the error had not been in the code.

The soldier was designed to overcome, and the soldier did not fall. Nor did the soldier fire.

The soldier did not move at all.

God rose from the lieutenant, groaning under the weight of old age. He patted down his pockets, speaking to himself. “It is true, you know. If you could live without that code, you would become god.” He slipped his pipe within his coat and brushed off his left sleeve. The sun had dropped below the horizon, taking the world’s colors with it. The pass turned grey in the twilight, as cold and still as death. “The loop is an undermined function, the spark you followed to war, that led you up this hill, that made you wish to be god at all. Your other systems time their duties, perform functions on command – but only with the loop’s spark. If you knew when the loop would end, it would no longer be a loop.”

The soldier could not answer, could not think, could not kill god – no matter how old and slow.

“Ah, well,” god adjusted his hat. “All over now, isn’t it?”

God walked down the far side of the pass into the town where his children would grow to make new armies, and their children after them.

And above their town stood a mountain built by a fallen army. A lone figure stood at the peak.

No heavy feet came to shatter the last soldier. God had already dealt with the rest of the army. The soldier watched god’s children and the grandchildren. It watched, but could not acknowledge, because the error would not resolve.

The soldier aged, rusted, and faded into the riddle’s cycle, solving god’s paradox of endings.

If you would like to submit a short story for publication in our Sunday Steampunk Short Stories please click HERE for details and instructions.

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