Bowlesian! – Godling: Part IIPosted: July 6, 2022 Filed under: Bowlesian!, Fiction, Short Fiction, Stories | Tags: Bowlesian!, Godling, Jeff Bowles, Short Fiction, Short Stories, Writing to be Read Leave a comment
Godling: Part II
by Jeff Bowles
*This story and others like it can be found in my collection Godling and Other Paint Stories, available on Amazon now. We published Part I of Godling last month on Writing to be Read. You can find it here.
A part of Godling was aware the two black lumps lying in the darkness had been silent and still precisely 2.234 minutes. If they were sleeping, they most certainly were not dreaming. Which was just as well. Godling was doing enough dreaming for the both of them.
His memory banks refreshed again. She was there as if Godling could touch her. Jossinda, queen of his universe. Her smooth, lithesome sway; the sensual intelligence lurking behind her hazel eyes; and of course, the final words they’d spoken to each other.
“I want this, Godling. I want it more than anything. Can’t you see? Think of all the good we could do.”
“My love, I’m not asking.”
“Quickly, my friends,” Renaldo said. “Awake, awake.”
Godling became aware Renaldo hovered over him in the darkness of the Black Room. The abbot warden jabbed the raw, sparking end of a hazer-stunner into Brennan’s back. Godling felt the hot lancing voltage. Brennan screamed. He leapt to his feet.
“Faith preserve us!” he moaned.
The prison’s hazy green lights flickered, warmed, and then settled into a steady glow. As Renaldo woke Ressia in a similarly excruciating manner, Godling realized the abbot warden may not have been as stupid as he’d always seemed. He’d not painted Ressia and Brennan so Godling could control them. He’d painted them so they could control Godling.
His heart had always been a kind of magnetic base for his consciousness. The paint was entirely repurposed now. Perception dispatching elements nullified due to the layering effect, perception receiving elements perfectly stratified and even slightly enhanced. The details only served to infuriate Godling. The simple truth of it was he had long ago closed the Black Room precisely because he’d feared something like this could happen. His mind, his body, his paint, his black liquid heart. Godling had been tricked into believing both Ressia and Brennan were his rightful bodies.
Now the two young lovers were naked and jet black head to toe, and when they moved, Godling moved with them. When they leaned against one another in sheer exhaustion, he felt the sensations of their heaving chests and the sweat collecting on their arms and necks as if with his own organic skin.
“Utterly perverse,” he muttered. His voice made the circuit matter vibrate over every square inch of them.
“Oof!” Ressia chirped, and even Godling was surprised by how it felt.
“Human vibrathreads,” said Renaldo. “I anticipated it might be a result.”
“Result? That’s the word you’re choosing?” Godling fumed. “How about abomination? Or disgrace? Did you really think it sensible to interface with the truest king of all in such a reckless manner?”
“Godling, please, you’re still my prisoner. I’ve simply exchanged one set of holding cells for another. You should thank me. You haven’t asked why we’ve done this.”
“That’s because I don’t care.”
“We know the truth about you, god machine,” Brennan said. “The wars, the massacres. We know it’s nothing you intended.”
“Is that so?” said Godling. “And I suppose you’d have me believe you’ve risked your lives for nothing at all but a fantasy? I was responsible for those wars. I murdered millions. See here the fruits of my labor? A prison built on foundations of millennia, ransacked now by two fool children and a bald-headed fop.”
Renaldo laughed. “You can stop pretending, Godling. We do in fact know everything. I found it, and I asked it myself. You know very well what it is.”
Sudden harsh voices filled the access tunnel outside the Black Room, gruff and full of violence.
“Step lightly men! We got ‘em trapped like rats!”
“Kill the monster where he sleeps!”
Another voice rose above these. Godling recognized it in an instant.
“They’re cornered, men. Take your time. Line up your shots. We want nice clean bodies to show the whore’s father.”
General Praebus, the man who’d hijacked his vibrathreads. Godling expected the lovers to panic, but they didn’t. Pupil dilation well within ranges concurrent to moderate stress. Heart rates elevated, but not in the extreme.
“We prepared for this, my young friends,” said the Timekeeper.
With that, they stepped in front of Renaldo, and these two helpless, hapless children dropped into surprisingly sophisticated hand-to-hand combat stances. General Praebus and his men appeared up the corridor, their machine rifles and mortar shot locked and leveled. Praebus spotted the children and bellowed, “Open fire!”
Brennan and Ressia launched themselves from the Black Room, bounding off the balls of their feet, touching off against the walls. They crisscrossed past each other. A hail of bullets ripped and zipped past them, but they closed the distance with stunning speed. Brennan landed with his palm to the neck of a gunner sergeant, but Ressia careened right past her target and skidded down the corridor. Three footmen leveled their rifles at her back and fired. Without thinking, Godling forced the black circuit matter to stiffen. Bounce, bounce, ricochet, bounce. All three footmen fell to the floor dead.
Ressia got to her feet and drew her hands to her back. She was unwounded.
“Godling, did you just…?”
“Yes, I believe I did.”
Godling took a punch, a solid right jab to the ribs. No, it wasn’t Godling who took the jab. It was Brennan. Both he and Godling grunted, but Godling was quicker to react. Another jab came for Brennan’s face, but Godling pulled the same trick, surrounded and concentrated the circuit matter. When the blow landed, he heard the distinct cracking of finger bones.
The owner of the hand shrieked. It was General Praebus himself, a sweaty, red-faced mountain of a man. He balled the hand in agony, made the other into a fist and swung.
“Boy, solar plexus!” Godling said.
Brennan hit the General the instant Godling focused the circuit matter into a ridge of raised knuckles. Praebus flew back, landing like a ragdoll on a pile of men. He huffed and snorted and passed out cold. The third mounted army paused for one panicked instant, and then they scrambled to heft and pull him back. They pitched a half-hearted assault after that, but the sight of their fallen commander seemed to dull any notion they’d had of victory. The three of them—Brennan, Ressia, and Godling—jabbed and kicked and hammered until what was left of King Marshal’s raid party cried for retreat and scrambled back the way they’d come.
“Did you see what happened?” said Ressia. “That soldier kept firing into my chest and Godling absorbed—”
“And the one with the mortar shot,” said Brennan. “I was on fire a full twenty seconds and I never felt—”
“Children, please,” Godling interrupted. “I believe the abbot warden was explaining why I deserve my newfound freedom.”
Isolation, of course, was the root of the planet’s moniker, Isolinius. According to Renaldo, there were reasons the word Ancient was always applied to Spacefarers, reasons wars over petty things like failed betrothals happened at least once a decade, if not twice.
“It’s no large mystery, is it?” the abbot warden said. “Humanity is lost without your steady hand, Godling, and not a soul on this planet is better off with you locked away.”
Godling couldn’t help but laugh.
“Once again, a complete misrepresentation of the facts,” he said. “Now that I’m out and about, I can confidently say humanity has never looked better.”
They rode the vast open grasslands of the Isolinium plains. Great red tracts of Crimson Blade swayed in the breeze. The binary stars shone in orange and white-tinted splendor, but even they did nothing to distract from the true beauty of Isolinius, its seventeen moons, three of which were visible now. The preferred mode of travel on the planet, of course, was the ever-reliable Flitglider. But Renaldo had quite correctly surmised they’d be too easy to track darting around the sky, spewing long greasy trails of green and black smoke. So they instead chose for themselves the domestic breed of the artificial industrial Tri-Roller animal, otherwise known as a Beastwheeler.
“For instance,” Godling mused, “I find transportation in the modern era rather charming. I think I’ll call this one Nancy.”
“Can we please get on to the matter at hand?” Renaldo snapped. He whipped his reins, and after a deep, throbbing groan, the hairy industrial creature’s three large fur-and-callus covered wheels picked up speed.
“I think, humbly speaking, hallowed one,” Ressia said, “that you should stop picking on Renaldo and listen to what he has to say.”
The lovers sat in the low hairy hauling bed, the overriding musky scent of which was rather … florid. Godling had had more than enough time to observe the pecking order of the three humans, and understood, most unambiguously, that the two children would only come to the abbot warden’s defense if and when it suited them.
“It’s a very simple scenario,” Renaldo said. “The Gods created man, man created Godling, Godling ruled over man—”
“Until man decided genocide was in fact the worst case ever made for machines ruling anything,” said Golding. “Yes, I remember quite well.”
“All your bloody campaigns, Godling, tragic though they were, had nothing of the import of what came before and after.”
“And what came before?” said Godling.
Renaldo sat up straighter in his driver box. “An explosion in human development. The expansion of our minds, the impetus and growth of a wise and compassionate galactic society, due in full to your guardianship and wisdom. God machine, human beings traveled the stars! We grew peaceful and curious. We at last became aware of ourselves, and we strived to leave behind something better for our children.”
“And what came after, abbot warden?” Godling asked.
“The exact opposite. As soon as you were imprisoned, space travel ceased. Humans isolated themselves on small, insignificant worlds. We forgot the virtues we’d fought so hard to earn. People like Praebus, King Marshal, their brutality and eagerness for violence, it’s mankind’s rule now, Godling, and not its exception.”
“And so you chose to forsake your wardenship, to free the monster king from his eternal prison?” said Godling.
“In a word, yes. What sane man could blame me? Brennan and Ressia are of like minds. The three of us have been planning this for months, but it is you, god machine, who must restore yourself to your rightful place.”
Godling pondered the sentiment. It wasn’t that Renaldo was necessarily wrong on all points. He simply had left out a rather significant detail.
“And this matter of genocide, Timekeeper?” said Godling. “Perhaps it’s been too long since I’ve cracked a history vid, but they do still teach who was responsible, do they not?”
“They do,” said Renaldo.
“But it’s not the whole truth,” Brennan said. “Like we told you, god king, we know everything.”
“There you go again, using the word know as if it pertains to your rather diminutive primate brains. You, like all stupid children, know absolutely nothing. Now leave me alone so I can fantasize about ever more elaborate ways of ripping out your kidneys.”
“He won’t listen to reason, Renaldo,” said Ressia. “I think it’s time we show him.”
The abbot warden turned around. He glared at Ressia, his brow furrowed. “Are you certain?”
She nodded and looked to Brennan, who gave a deep frown and nodded in kind.
The abbot warden jerked his reins. There was another low, throbbing groan, and then the Beastwheeler pulled to a stop. Renaldo stood from the driver box and stepped into the bed. Gazing into Ressia and Brennan’s eyes, the abbot warden raised a finger and pointed off the way they’d come. There, Claustrum Mons towered over the landscape.
“You’ve been having errant memory recalls recently, haven’t you, Godling?” Renaldo said. “Sudden onset, coming out of nowhere, at the least opportune of times. Memory recalls specifically concerning … her.”
“How did you—”
“I gave them to you. I have access to your memory banks,” Renaldo said. “Every abbot warden of Claustrum Mons has had such access.”
He slid the administrator glove off his right hand. His fingers were painted a stark, brilliant white.
Hold on a moment … White paint? How in the hells had Renaldo gotten his hands on white—
The abbot warden snapped his fingers. Ressia and Brennan jumped to their feet. He snapped his fingers again.
Godling fell back 5,000 years.
He found himself in two places at once, staring into the eyes of two different people. The one person, in the one place, was Ressia, daughter of King Stevrik III, standing in the bed of the Beastwheeler on the Isolinium plains. The second person and place … much harder to interpret. It was Jossinda, the queen of his universe. She lay with him on the marble floor of their royal palace, sprawled out in the throne room, panting, dripping with sweat after a long, passionate tryst. He, so large and cold; she, so small, warm, nubile….
They had only been married a year, but what a glorious year it had been. He’d felt vacant before her, even to himself, nothing more than an intelligent but ultimately soulless automaton. They’d always said the truest king of all could never fall in love, but Jossinda had proved, beyond any doubt, the god machine had a humanity all his own.
“My love,” she said to him, “I think there is a truer way, a better way.”
“A better way?” Godling said. “We’ve found the best way of all. Our subjects are happy and industrious, growing wiser all the time. There has never been a people so content.”
She grinned at him. “I think we have more to offer than mere contentment, don’t you?”
But no, this wasn’t Jossinda speaking to him of contentment. It was Ressia speaking to Brennan, and Brennan responding in haste. In the memory, Godling told her he didn’t understand, and Jossinda climbed to her feet and strode across the massive room to their large glossy golden thrones. She soon returned, carrying with her a small silver pot and a brush.
She said to Godling, “Here, my love, see what I’ve made for you?”
Godling took the pot from her and peered inside. “I doubt you’ve made this. Our engineers have been working on it for years.”
“And yet I found a way to finish it. Paint me, Godling, here and now, before I change my mind.”
His special white paint, the very first of its kind. Not sensory, and not for touch or locomotion. The idea behind the paint—Godling’s idea—was that its application to other less advanced machines would allow him to duplicate and transmit an autonomous part of his consciousness. Conceivably, there could one day be two god kings, or three, or twenty. But the paint itself had been an utter failure. Every machine to receive a coat of it had fried its circuit matter in less than a minute of functionality.
“I’ve discovered the secret, the one variable your engineers never thought of,” Jossinda said. “You’ve all been focused on creating additional Godling machines. But I have a better idea, merging the mind of Godling with the soul of a human being.”
He couldn’t believe what he was hearing. He eyed his queen, deciding not to interrupt her.
“Think about it,” she said, “how perfect such a being would be. The sublime union of you and me. Why, the two of us together, we could make ourselves gods. True gods, not merely gods among men.”
“Are you referring to the concept of the New God?” he asked. “This is an impossible request, though I’m flattered you think me capable of such boldness. This notion we’ve had, that a significant eruptive force could merge—”
“I’m referring to perfection in the here and now. No ambiguity, nothing theoretical about it. And I’ve already proved it can be done.”
She turned and lifted her shimmering auburn hair away from her neck. There, over her vertebrae, she had painted a small white dot.
“Jossinda, you didn’t.”
She turned back. “And I’ve already received a partial transfer. Your plans for Rieleth’s third mountain harvest this cycle, they include an extra allocation of spider croppers, do they not?”
“While we were making love. Your mind, it tends to wander. I want this, Godling. I want it more than anything. Can’t you see? Think of all the good we could do.”
“My love, I’m not asking.”
And then she dipped the brush into the pot and guided a long streak of white down between her breasts. He hesitated, but not for very long. Godling painted her. He loved her and trusted her. He had a single moment of frailty in all his long years. Now and then, he stopped to kiss her neck and giggle with her. Jossinda stood before him in the end, her entire naked body a stark, bright white.
“Do it, my love,” she said. “Change this universe forever.”
Godling began the transfer.
At ten percent, Jossinda’s eyes rolled up into her head. At fifteen, her body went limp, and Godling had to catch her falling. Twenty percent, Jossinda lay sprawled out on the floor, her limbs twitching, her mouth opening and closing in silent agony. Thirty percent, and Godling began to feel strange. He was not cloning himself or making a copy. He’d decided his queen would receive a piece of him that was unique and all its own.
At fifty percent, Jossinda began screaming. At fifty-five, Godling screamed with her. Fire, lighting, Godling felt his chest might explode. Sixty percent, sixty-five, seventy. He couldn’t stop it, couldn’t cut the transfer now. Godling went inside himself. A part of him was aware of the torment, but mostly he was aware of change. His notions darkened. A singular thought for blood wormed it’s way into his thoughts.
One-hundred percent. Transfer complete. Jossinda, his queen, his love, lay lifeless and cold on the pale marble floor.
Godling wasn’t there when his honor guard buried her. He’d already begun planning his brutal, murderous campaigns. The part of him he’d given to her, he never got it back. They called him monster king, and he deserved the name. His madness would cease after a few thousand years. The bloodlust would diminish and become little more than idle threats. But nothing could diminish the memory.
“God machine,” said Renaldo. “Godling, snap out of it.”
The screams, the screams. How could he ever stop the screams?
“Cycles of Perdition, Godling, come to your senses.”
Godling regained his mind. He was there in the Beastwheeler on the plains of Isolinius. Ressia and Brennan lay atop each other, unconscious but safe. The day was bright and clear. A stiff breeze blew and rustled a sea of wild crimson grass.
“Apologies, abbot warden,” Godling said. “I don’t know what came over me.”
“I do. It’s a nasty trick we played on you, but believe me, it had to be done.”
“The white paint, how did you…?”
“The ancient abbot wardens reverse engineered it,” said Renaldo. “They added a control and command function to the standard transfer elements your engineers concocted. No one’s been stupid or brave enough to use it until I came along.”
“And the children, are they…?”
“They’re fine,” the abbot warden said. “Give them a few hours. They’ll be bounding off walls in no time. You see, Godling? History doesn’t tell the full story. When you lost that spark, you never were the same again.”
“But the things I did,” Godling said. “Just because I lost this piece of myself … I’m not suddenly forgiven, am I?”
Renaldo sighed. “Forgive yourself first and foremost, Godling. The rest will come later. What if I told you your wildest dreams are about to come true?”
“Timekeeper, I very much doubt you grasp the dreams of one such as I.”
Renaldo grinned. “This may come as a shock, but you’re wrong. Your queen, Godling, she is still alive. And I am in a position to give her to you.”
Little was known of the old hag of the Prairie Sea. It was said she’d sought her fortune long ago, but that madness had driven her to give it away for a small, homely plot of land. Depending on whom you asked—and Renaldo said he’d asked everyone—she was either blind, disfigured, the house guest of 39 wraith-cats, or most popularly of all, no longer a crazy old woman but by means of an unlawful tech infusion, a crazy old woman trapped inside the body of a little girl.
Godling didn’t believe any of this, of course. Nor did he believe reuniting with Jossinda would restore him to the machine he’d been.
“They built me a prison for a reason, abbot warden.” Godling said. “They locked me away for a good damn reason. Of course I never wanted to escape that place! Oh yes, very astute, Renaldo. Very well done, indeed. I may be mad, but I’m not stupid! You wouldn’t let a razor beast off its leash simply because it’s gotten long in the razor, would you?”
“God machine, you’re panicking,” Renaldo said.
“You’re damned right I’m panicking! An ex-wife who’s still alive? Isn’t that sort of like … a defective socket wrench you’ve tried to throw away?”
The humans had taken turns driving the Beastwheeler for an entire pseudo-day. Through the long, bright true-day and the long, dark first-night. The blue-tinted false-day had been more than welcome, its light blooming by the sheen of the gas giant, Cerullia. Second-night had followed, the hours in which the prairie creatures played and hunted, and then at last, the slow, majestic rise of the bright binary stars. Not long after, the weary travelers finally arrived.
Jossinda, it appeared, had made her home in three large statues carved of pure marble and obsidian. Two black and one white, each the height of perhaps ten humans. The carvings themselves were crude, composed of indistinct shapes. The black statues seemed a pair, a man and woman reaching for one another but not touching. The white statue, the one carved of marble, Godling had a difficult time interpreting it.
It was wider, lumpier. It could’ve been a comment on the amorphous nature of godhood, but of course, it could just as easily have been a herniated land whale.
“No one could possibly know about this place,” he said.
“That’s how she’s had to conduct herself,” said Ressia. “Her unnatural longevity frightened many. She found it best to hide. But the abbot warden thinks it might finally be time for her to reveal herself.”
“Of course it’s time.” A lively voice vibrated across the lovers’ inky black circuit matter. “Do you think I’d have invited you here if events hadn’t occurred exactly as I anticipated?”
Godling identified Jossinda immediately. She’d hijacked his vibrathreads exactly as had Praebus. How infuriating. The voice didn’t sound old. In fact, she sounded just as he remembered her. For what purpose had the past occurred? Such a spiteful existence. She’d been alive and in hiding for 5,000 years, even as the machine who loved her agonized her death.
“God machine, it’s been far too long,” Jossinda said. “You have many questions for me, I’m sure. Come inside and know the truth at last.”
His queen stood before them in the roughhewn marble entryway of her home. She appeared exactly as he remembered her in his fragmented dreams, and the fact he could not physically touch her maddened him to the point of desperation. She wore a plaid shawl and her hair was tied back in a fashion reminiscent of their early days of courtship. Cooking smells filled the space, meat and butter and root vegetables. Jossinda smiled at Brennan and Ressia. She took hold of the frills of her dress and curtseyed, saying, “I am very much obliged, my friends. The paint had an unusual effect on my physiology, my love. In order to combat such an extreme invasion, my body permanently inhibited some of its autonomic processes.”
“Such as the process of aging,” Godling said.
“Amongst other things.”
He didn’t know what to say to this, if the right words existed or if he might only manage crude working models. In the end, for want of proper expression, only two words vibrated across Ressia and Brennan’s bodies.
Jossinda looked like she might cry.
“I know, my love,” she said. “But you remember what you gave me, don’t you? Your faith and ability to dream. The traits of an innocent being.”
“You didn’t lose your mind, Godling,” Renaldo said. “You traded your humanity. It has been a long road for you, and you have done much to gain back your noble spirit. But you will never be whole until you rejoin with this woman.”
Intolerable. Disastrous even. All those years lost to ruin of an inner corrupted self.
“Why’d you do it?” Godling asked. “Why’d you pretend to die?”
Tears welled in Jossinda’s eyes. “I had my reasons. I won’t tell you they were good, but they did bring me a measure of comfort all these long years. In simple truth, I did die, Godling. And by the time my body and mind revived themselves, I found myself awake in my tomb, and you were changed … killing so many. I knew if I reunited with you, all might be well, but before I was strong enough to intervene, they imprisoned you. So I waited. I knew we’d come to a time in which the human race no longer spat upon the name of Godling.”
“And you may wait still,” Godling said. “Nothing’s changed, my queen. They still hate me. As well they should.”
“No,” said Jossinda. She crossed the floor to Ressia and Brennan. Lovingly, she placed a supple, soothing hand on the girl’s cheek. “You’re wrong about them. You gave me your sense of hope, remember? Just as you gave this young woman your heart. Please, my love. Let me prove to you the world needs its truest king of all. Let me give you back the hope you so desperately desire.”
“Give it back?” a voice declared from the entryway behind them. Brennan and Ressia turned. King Stevrik III, Lord of Quaratania, sometime seeker of wisdom from the god machine himself, stood in the portal, the bright binary stars outside highlighting his blonde hair and royal yellow jacket.
Ressia gasped. “Father.”
Stevrik was tall and thin, with youthful features and a closely cropped beard. He entered Jossinda’s home as if it belonged to him. “Daughter, I shall only say this once. Step away from that contemptible writer and cover your shame.”
Ressia did nothing about his first request, moved not an inch from Brennan, and as for his second, she self-consciously folded her arms over her breasts.
“How did you find us?” she asked.
Stevrik sneered. “You didn’t really think a being such as the god machine could escape without anyone noticing, did you? I had my best men track you. And once I was able to determine the general path you’d struck …”
“My good Stevrik,” Godling said. “You have always accepted my council. Please, listen to me now.”
“The days of your council are over, monster king. As are the days of this romance. I’m at war, no thanks to you, with an enemy against which I don’t think I stand a chance. This young man shall be put to death, and my daughter shall marry her betrothed.”
Ressia shouted, “Father, you wouldn’t!”
“Oh no? I love you, Ressia. But believe me when I tell you this is for the good of our homeland.”
Stevrik pulled a crude compact pistol from his jacket and aimed it squarely at Brennan’s chest.
“Now please, everyone step outside.” he said.
One by one, with Stevrik bringing up the rear, Ressia, Brennan, Renaldo, and Jossinda left the safety of the statue house and walked down the steps into the yard. Hundreds, perhaps even a thousand, soldiers, guardsmen, and guns for hire, all bearing the yellow seal of Quaratania, stood nearby, ready to act at a moment’s notice.
“Now,” Stevrik said, “I want the writer out front. We’re going to end this here and now.”
“Father!” Ressia screamed. She launched herself at him, angled a fist for his head. One of his soldiers stepped in. He slammed the butt of his rifle into her stomach, pulled her back by her hair, and shoved her to the ground.
“I don’t expect you to understand, daughter,” Stevrik said. “But I do expect you to obey. I love you, dear girl, but this is reality. I’m afraid love doesn’t count for much here.”
Godling took in the faces of the humans who had so thoroughly upended his life cycle. Firstly, his wife, Jossinda. The same as she’d always been; better even, alive and breathtaking. And foolish old Renaldo, the abbot warden had shown true dedication to an ideal. When was the last time Godling had shown half as much dedication to anything apart from making idle threats?
And the children, Brennan and Ressia, heart rates elevated, skin beneath his flowing circuit matter flush with anxiety. He recognized the astonishing lengths to which they were prepared to go for each other, and it humbled him. The young lovers were doing their best to remain courageous and strong in a desperate situation.
“Forward quickly, writer,” said Stevrik. “I take no pleasure in this.”
Brennan regarded Ressia with a feral look in his eyes. She struggled and fought, still pinned to the ground beneath Stevrik’s foot soldier.
“Don’t, my love,” Brennan said. “You can’t give him a reason to hurt you, too.”
Stevrik snorted loudly. “As if I’m capable of harming my own daughter.”
“I have no concept of your capabilities, my king. Just as a zoo keeper cannot conceive why his apes throw their own shit.”
Brave response. Fighting words. And under such duress. Astonishing. And look at Ressia, why did she struggle so? It was over, wasn’t it? Why hold on to hope?
“On your knees,” Stevrik growled.
Brennan didn’t hesitate. He got down, gave Ressia a brave smile.
“Live long, my love,” he said.
And then he himself gripped Stevrik’s pistol and set the barrel to his head. Stevrik’s grip tightened, his finger locked in place over the trigger. Ressia screamed. His finger tensed.
A white-hot explosion erupted in the yard. Mortar shot, and it was followed by another. The extreme heat buffeted Godling and the lovers. Suddenly, the crimson grassland filled with balls of fire and loose-cutting shrapnel. Stevrik’s men scattered and fell to the ground all around them.
Flitgliders—several formations of them—buzzed overhead, dropping mortar rounds onto the King’s men. One Flitglider in particular, a grey one, bulkier and heavier and spewing tarry smoke, separated itself from the pack and came in low, maneuvering itself into position above Brennan and Stevrik. It hovered there, training all its forward munitions on Ressia’s father.
“Stevrik of Quaratania,” said a tight, rasping voice, “for violation of the sacred Spacefarer decrees and the laws of Isolinius, his majesty, Marshal of Sevrum, has sentenced you to death.”
“Godling,” Brennan said, kneeling where Stevrik had put him, “is that who I think it is?”
“General Praebus,” said Godling, “my deduction exactly. Brennan, child, we have never known the good General to back down from a fight.”
The guns of the Flitglider spun up. Stevrik froze in place.
“Contrary to popular wisdom, large-caliber exploding bullets are actually rather painful,” Godling said.
“Godling, cover my back!” said Brennan.
The Flitglider opened fire. With the speed of a prowler beast, Brennan leapt and dropped Stevrik to the ground. He covered him, and just as the fire struck, Godling put everything he had into commanding the circuit matter to form a flat protective shield.
It stood out from Brennan, shrouded him and Stevrik, and it absorbed the bullets and micro munition-eruptions. Godling took all that shrapnel and explosive force, and then he flung it back out and up at the General’s Flitglider.
The flitglider lurched to the side, narrowly escaping the barrage. It listed and dropped several meters, but finally corrected itself and zipped back into position.
“Ah,” Praebus wheezed, “the god machine has come as well. Yes, and a great many thanks for the lesson you taught me, monster king. I shan’t repeat that mistake again. Gunner Sergeant! Big Beth!”
“Big Beth?” Godling said. “Who in all the unrighteous hells is Big—”
“Never mind that, Godling,” said Brennan. “What you just did, the way you shielded us. Could you do it again?”
“Brennan!” Ressia rushed over to them and dropped to the grass, her hair whipping around her head in the downdraft of the Flitglider’s oscillators. She marked Brennan with a deluge of kisses. Stevrik groaned. He slowly got onto his hands and knees, but the lovers paid him no attention as he crawled away, their entire worlds composed of passion for each other.
Godling called out, “Renaldo Timekeeper, you are summoned!”
The abbot warden and Jossinda emerged from behind the marble home. Renaldo tested himself against the blistering mortar winds, and then they both rushed from hiding and picked their way through the chaos.
“You don’t summon me, prisoner. I am an abbot of the Divine Order of Battles Won, and none may summon me but the gods themselves,” Renaldo said when they finally drew near. Godling noted Jossinda seemed to be holding something behind her back.
“Ah, but I am the god machine,” said Godling, “and as such, I may rule over any man alive.”
“Not yet, my love,” said Jossinda. “One thing remains. Our reunion. We must become one.”
From behind her back, she produced a brush and a broad metal canister full of white paint.
“You are a machine first and foremost, Godling,” she said. “See all this destruction? This death? Calculate for me, tell me truly, is this the way human beings were meant to live?”
General Praebus opened the starboard drop compartment hatch of his Flitglider. In an oxygen mask and breathing harness, strapped into a large shoulder-mounted tri-grenade launcher, he stepped onto the glider’s chrome railing.
He chortled, saying, “You haven’t forgotten me, have you? I certainly have not forgotten you, Godling.”
Cackling, enraged, he fired a violent barrage from the tri-grenade launcher. A hail of blitz-fire rained down on them. The sound was deafening. Godling threw up shields, two of them, enormous and black, one from Ressia and the other from Brennan. He screamed from the strain of it, could barely contain the eruptive force. The harder he tried, the more he hoped, and catching such hope, it all seemed so startlingly possible.
His human friends cried out. It was chaos, madness. In the middle of it all….
Someone spilled the canister of white paint.
Another explosion rang through the grasslands. Not one of gunpowder, and certainly not of deadly force. It was an explosion of pure, radiant energy. It echoed and boomed. It ripped all the war machines from the sky. The explosion flattened down the high crimson grass and every man afield. Radiating outward, it traveled far and filtered high up through the clouds.
And then it simply washed away, like a gentle, cleansing wave.
All was silent and still for the longest time. One point of light remained, not far from Ressia’s father, lord and ruler of Quaratania, King Stevrik III.
Stunned, confused, Stevrik stumbled to his feet.
“Daughter?” he said. “Ressia, are you all right, dear girl?”
Silence greeted him, and a harsh blinding light the like of which he’d never seen.
“Ressia? Please answer me, daughter.”
“Ressia is well,” said a voice so unearthly, so heavenly, it halted Stevrik’s breath and stopped him in his tracks. “In fact, they’re all well. Your daughter, her lover, the abbot warden, the queen of the universe, and the god machine himself. Much better now, if you really wish to know.”
Stevrik raised a hand to block the raging light. “W-who are you…? Monster king? I-is that you?”
“I am not the monster king. I am his fusion into a more perfect being. Do you understand the apex of the man/machine interface? The divine meeting of touch, movement, sense, heart, intelligence, and of course, belief?”
“I don’t …”
The light flickered and strobed. It set his world into a freeze-frame progression of knotted, tangled images, and then it blinked out entirely. Stevrik saw, as if in a dream, an unearthly being floating toward him. It wasn’t a man, nor was it a woman. It was completely white, with a flowing mane of hair colored green, purple, orange, and most strangely of all, black.
Stevrik’s mouth hung open. He moaned, “God.”
“God, yes,” said the being of white. “Not machine, and not human, but a sublime union of the two. No more need for forgiveness or the sins of the past. They didn’t understand what union meant. They had no idea imperfect beings could never achieve the oneness and peace your kind so vainly long for in secret. Perfection means creation, and I understand this with a clarity no murderer of millions could hope to achieve. You, Stevrik of Quaratania, and every man afield, have just witnessed the birth of something long thought theoretical. I am the New God, and I alone may be king.”
Stevrik couldn’t comprehend. His mind wasn’t capable. Was Ressia inside this thing? At the apex of all their trials, could such a creation be birthed by violence and fire?
“Kneel for me, Stevrik,” the New God said. “Just as you made that poor boy kneel. And let’s begin the work of rebuilding your race.” Stevrik didn’t second-guess or attempt to defy the New God. He knelt there in the Crimson Blade of Jossinda’s yard. And then he broke into uncontrollable, sobbing tears.
Jeff Bowles is a science fiction and horror writer from the mountains of Colorado. The best of his outrageous and imaginative work can be found in God’s Body: Book One – The Fall, Godling and Other Paint Stories, Fear and Loathing in Las Cruces, and Brave New Multiverse. He has published work in magazines and anthologies like PodCastle, Tales from the Canyons of the Damned, the Threepenny Review, and Dark Moon Digest. Jeff earned his Master of Fine Arts degree in creative writing at Western State Colorado University. He currently lives in the high-altitude Pikes Peak region, where he dreams strange dreams and spends far too much time under the stars. Jeff’s new novel, Love/Madness/Demon, is available on Amazon now!
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