Golem Project In Progress
It was midafternoon when Wessel exited the building. A small school campus unfolded before him. The sun was blinding, cutting through the surrounding cityscape in just the right direction to blaze against the brick sidewalk. The white-hot glare was cut off by a large, menacing shadow.
“Ain’t much of a surprise, is it?” Jakob said. The hulking golem behind him, a burnished silver hunchback with powerful limbs and empty black eyes, rested its brutish forearms on the ground. Its wide feet were spread on either side of Jakob, and even with the boy being taller than average his head only reached the waist of the bipedal android.
“What?” Wessel asked.
“You failed, like you always do. You ain’t won a fight in months, not since we figgered you out. Now you and your goofy brain are gonna be defenseless against the— the criminals and stuff.”
Wessel pushed up the sleeve of his training outfit, and revealed the three inky-black symbols that ran down his upper arm. Adapt. Change. He couldn’t move his mind the same way most people could, but that was what he lacked. And now he’d attained it.
“You– what? What is that, a sticker? Where’s yer danged golem, then?”
“C-custom order,” Wessel said.
Jakob sneered. “You’ve just gotta be the most specialest snowflake, huh? That teensy pea-brain of yours needed something big to keep up. They took pity on you, is that it?”
Wessel shook his head. “I won.”
“Sure.” Jakob looked him up and down, then bared his own symbol. A single character, standing out strong in thick lines. “Power,” he said. “I got jus’ what I done waited twelve years to get. What are you gonna get? A nanny? A personal planner?”
“Answer me, Weezy.” Jakob moved closer, and the golem followed, completely enveloping the two in its shadow. “You proud of your little custom order golem, one specific-ly made to babysit a nitwit? Ain’t a golem in this world you got the brain power to control, ‘cept the sissy garbage. Maybe you got, what’s them ancient machines called, Roombas?”
Wessel met Jakob’s eyes, then looked up at the ‘Power’ golem. “He can’t hit me,” Wessel said.
Jakob snarled, then slapped Wessel across the face. Wessel stumbled back, and Jakob took the opportunity to push the boy to the ground. The golem made no move to stop him. “Naw, but I can, ya sniveling half-wit. You think you’re better now?”
Wessel shook his head. “You’re just— just mad. Upset.”
Jakob spat to the side, then growled, “Why’s that?”
“Because this is the l-last time you can be mean to me.”
With a scowl, Jakob rose. He kept up the glare as Wessel climbed to his feet. “They ought not to have given you a golem,” he said. “People like you don’t deserve to have one.”
Wessel rubbed at his face. “I don’t know why you hate me,” he said, slowly. “But this is the last time.”
Jakob clenched his fists, then turned around. “Golems don’t protect people from words. This ain’t the end of that.” The ‘Power’ golem reached down and let Jakob climb onto its open palm, then stood and strode out toward the city.
Wessel watched him go. School was over for the day, and had been for about an hour. There was nothing to do but go home. Since Peller hadn’t had a specific Golem for the symbol he’d chosen, it would be a short wait before he could ride like that. For now, all he had was the old way. Digging into his pocket and fishing around, he found his watch. With fumbling movements from his fingers, he pulled it out and laced it around his wrist. It was a small, inexpensive model, with a bronze band that dug into the skin. Two little hands ticked around a spinning nub in the center. Time: 1604.
“Call Dad,” he said. The watch responded with a series of buzzes, static alternating from high to low at irregular intervals. The buzzing never stopped, but after about ten seconds, a fuzzy voice spoke over it.
“Wessel, you okay?” the voice asked.
“I passed,” Wessel said.
“Really? That’s fantastic!” The static increased, with sounds of scraped muffling, and faintly Wessel heard his father say “He passed!”
The boy smiled. “They did not have the golem I bonded to. I need a ride.”
“Of course, Wessel, of course. I’ll be there soon.” The glee in his dad’s voice was evident, and it stretched Wessel’s grin ever wider. “Get to the nearest road and hold tight. I’ll see you soon.”
Immediately all sound from the watch ceased. Wessel exhaled, turned his head away from the sunlight, and made his way toward the school’s drive-by.
The drive-by was a simple set of two platforms, standing by the school. Each platform had several younger students still present, who had stayed for after-school activities and were waiting to be picked up. Some three or four students wearing track uniforms were standing on the escalator, moving up to the upper platform.
The long-distance travelers would be up there. Those who lived on the other side of Birmingham, who took the rails to another drive-by station. Wessel liked taking the rails, but unfortunately, he and his family occupied a low-rate commodity here on the north end. It was within quick driving distance of the school.
Wessel sat on a bench and rubbed the marks on his shoulder. Peller was a greasy, unimpressive man, but he did good work. The markings hardly hurt at all, and the thick curve strokes of the lettering were still present, even though the tattoo was drawn very slowly. He couldn’t wait to show his family.
As Wessel was daydreaming, staring at nothing in particular, a sudden presence sat on the bench beside him. Should he look? What was the plan, here? Looking might start a conversation, did he want that? What else was he doing?
He turned a moment later, just enough to see that Lillian sat by him. She had perfect posture, the only lopsided part of her being the ponytail that listed to the side. Her very form was a sharp contrast to his crouch.
Wessel swallowed, his nerves catching his tongue. He had nothing planned to say. Hadn’t he made her fail, anyway? What could he say to that? But the girl only flashed him a smile.
“I can’t believe you,” she said, without any hint of malice in her voice. “You just about broke yourself trying to beat me.”
“I did,” he said, unsure whether he was giving her a question or an statement.
She shrugged. “I didn’t think you’d do that. Maybe if I had, I could have held on.”
Wessel shrugged as well, exaggerating the motion to make sure it got across. “I w-wanted to win.”
“Me too, but I didn’t mess up my arm.”
“Sorry,” he said. His eyes dropped back down to the criss-crossed bricks of the platform. “Sorry I made you fail.”
“Fail?” she asked. With that same smile, she pushed up her sleeve, showing him a symbol. An ‘L’ shape, with a few other little slashes around it.
“You passed?” he said.
“Of course. It’s not like I did anything wrong when we battled.” Lillian shoved her sleeve back down. “The administrator just brought in another guy for me to fight, that’s all.”
“Oh. Right. Then where’s…?” Wessel’s words failed him.
“My golem is right over there,” he said, pointing. Wessel followed her gaze.
Her golem was smaller than Jakob’s ‘Power’ golem. It was sleeker, too, with smaller limbs and a more robust middle. The rose-gold sheen on it made it seem less threatening, and it looked as if the material itself were more flexible and soft than most, but for the center of the torso, which was unmistakably constructed of hard metal.
“Heart,” she said. “The symbol on my arm, the name of my golem. I chose heart.” When Wessel looked back at her, she was flushed pink. “I just thought you should know that I picked it because of you.”
Heart? Had she picked that because she… liked him? Wessel’s eyes grew, and he watched as she stood and dusted off the heavy training outfit she was still wearing. She looked back down at him, tilting her head.
“Y’know. Because you showed heart in our fight. I thought I needed more of that. Thought you should know.”
“Oh,” he said. “Thanks.” It seemed like the right thing to say, to him.
“Bye,” she said, and ran back toward her golem. As she reached it, it bent down and grabbed her, setting her on its shoulders. She laughed in delight, then grabbed onto the golem’s head as it stepped away, heading to whatever place Lillian called home.
Wessel would have a golem like that soon. Protection. Transportation. Companionship. Something to complete him.
“Wessel!” a man’s voice cried.
Wessel whirled around, and saw a man that looked much like him waving from the end of the platform. Messy brown hair, skin of much the same tone, taller than most with a gleaming smile and dark eyes. Wessel’s father.
The car sat just by the platform, already running. It was a bargain number, a sleek double-seater design with a lead driver pod, spots of rust and wear on it as well as a soft economy engine. Without a word, Wessel jumped up and ran to the car. His father reached around him and hugged him as he arrived, squeezing him until the boy had trouble breathing.
“I’m so proud of you,” his father said, before releasing him.
Wessel was grinning from year to year. “But Dad, I won’t be riding with you anymore.”
“Then this will have to be a fun ride.” Wessel’s father ruffled the boy’s mop of messy hair, then lifted him up and put him in the right-side pod of the car. Wessel climbed over to the left side pod, and his father climbed in behind him.
“Let’s get some ice cream,” he said, and Wessel agreed.
His father’s golem, a shining white knight that normally stood at twice the size of a man, shields buckled on its arms, and fire in its eyes, sat in the main console pod at the front of the car. There were two pods behind the console, each with one seat. As usual, the front pod was meant for the golem to pilot the car, following the owner’s will. The two seats behind had room for the owner and one passenger. The sleek design was modeled after the chariots of old, but had the golem do all the driving work instead of a horse. This one was a very cheap model, but it was safe thanks to the inerrant rules golems operated by.
Wessel buckled his seat belt anyway as the car moved forward into traffic, reaching into the pod next to him to hold his father’s hand. His chest was nearly bursting with pride, and every time he looked around him his anticipation built.
People riding golems.
Golems driving pod cars.
Golems carrying groceries, or standing guard, or logging away information.
Golems as protectors, partners.
He could see them everywhere, in stores and buildings they passed, on the sides of the road, in cars, some few in the skies above. He’d seen those golems all his life.
“Happy birthday, Wessel,” his father said, squeezing his hand. He smiled and squeezed back. He would have his own special golem so very soon. He’d passed the test. All he had to do was wait.
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