Flash Fiction: The Clockwork Dog

This was written from a prompt by Mary Lowd for a story to include a king, a robot dog swimming downward, and a whale. It’s just under 350 words and I haven’t really edited it but it was fun enough to post.

“Is that all it does?”

The slight white-haired man adjusted his glasses and put a hand to his mouth to hide a nervous cough. “Er, yes, Your Majesty, for the moment. It is a prototype, but…did you not request a swimming contrivance?”

He followed the King’s gaze to the clear blue water, where the brass gears of the mechanical dog turned and clunked, attempting to push the dog’s nose into the stone at the bottom of the pool. “If it can swim down, why not up?” the king asked.

“Oh, well.” The inventor straightened. “Buoyancy, you see, and power conveyed from the refractory engine…er, the guidance mechanism could be altered, I suppose, but…surely down is the important direction? Er, in this mission?”

“And once it has borne our surgeons to the fin and they have made the repair,” the king said, “will this artificial dog bear them to the bottom of the ocean?”

“Oh,” the inventor said. “Ah. Yes. Yes, I see.”

The King spoke across the pool to a liveried guard standing at attention. “Remove the failure,” he said.

“Now, er.” Here the white-haired man straightened and attempted to puff his chest out. “Now, Your Majesty only commissioned a contrivance to bear a person down, which this dog will do. It is unfair to characterize it as a failure. It has—oh—oh, I see.” He took a step back as the guard, who had ignored the still-swimming dog entirely, came over and grasped him by the arm.

As they left the gardens, the inventor summoned the courage to call back, “So, Your Majesty, I will commence work immediately on this new mission? Yes?”

The King made no answer. Once the guard and his charge had passed through the gate, the King shook his head at the futilely thrashing machine, its gears clanking together. Then he walked to the edge of the garden and looked down the tower, down to the edge of his kingdom, down across the broad back of the whale bearing them through the ocean around and around in a large circle.

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