Golem Project In Progress
The sun had sunk halfway below the horizon by the time Wessel and his father finished celebrating his achievement and arrived home. They pulled up to the top of the multi-story parking garage, front wheel of the car scraping against the black asphalt as the ‘Phoenix’ golem wheeled them into a parking place.
“Your mother should have dinner close to ready,” Wessel’s father said, climbing out of his pod. Wessel unlatched his seat belt and followed suit. They walked together out into the dying rays of the sun, across the second-story metal catwalk that separated the garage from the stack of low-rate commodities.
Compared to the sleek, beautiful golem walking behind his father, Wessel found the homes that they lived in to be so mundane.
Home stacked upon home, each one a large rectangular block of ‘printed’ concrete and insulating material. The windows were a blurry, thick plastic, only translucent enough to let in the light of day. The doors to each house were huge, made of particle board covered with a smooth paneling, and on the concrete wall beside them was a number. The address number for the family that lived there.
Like it or not, this was home.
Wessel’s father knocked, and the door rattled with each blow.
“Come in!” a voice called, a voice that Wessel figured was the most wonderful voice in the world.
They pushed the door open, and were greeted by the most wonderful woman in the world.
Wessel’s mother was a woman of medium height, with skin a shade lighter than his own and raven-black hair that curled down on her shoulders. She was fit, but soft rather than muscular, and she had crinkles at the corners of her eyes and mouth.
The golem standing behind her was only a bit too tall to be human, grainy in texture with a color similar to sandstone. It moved in a very human way, stepping back to give the woman room in her kitchenette. A cloth toga hung from its shoulder and around its waist. Seams in the golems arms marked hideaway places for various tools or protective assets.
“George! Wessel!” the woman said, with a smile that Wessel knew was meant for him. She was proud of him, too. “Welcome home, and congratulations!”
“Lacy,” Wessel’s father said. That was what he sometimes called Wessel’s mom. Just like she called his dad George. But they were really Mom and Dad, and that’s what Wessel called them.
“Come here,” Wessel’s mom said, and as he approached she kneeled down and hugged him fiercely. “I knew you could do it,” she murmured into his ear. “Happy birthday, little man.”
When she stood again, Wessel’s dad approached. Wessel looked away. They usually greeted with a kiss, and he was okay with not seeing that. Instead he looked around.
The inside of the dull concrete home was anything but dull. Leather furniture, crinkled with patches where the smooth exterior had worn away, sat against the walls. A table stood nearby in the combined kitchen and dining room, covered with an off-white lace tablecloth. Patterned wallpaper gave the rooms each a different color, and low flickering light from old spiral-y bulbs lit the rooms where the light from the hazy windows failed. The layout was open, and Wessel could see from where he stood all of the house except for the bedrooms and bathrooms.
The air was dry, the sound of nearby traffic hummed, and Wessel’s two favorite people were here.
This was home, and he could finally relax.
“Dinner will be ready in a bit,” Wessel’s mom said, “Eggs, bread, beans, and blueberry tarts.”
“Yum,” Wessel said, ducking out and heading for his room.
“Wes?” his mom said. “Did you want to show me your tattoo?”
Wessel stopped mid-stride, almost falling onto the laminated floor. Should he show her? He hadn’t planned to, but just because he hadn’t thought of it. Was there a reason not to?
His mother waited patiently.
“Sure,” he said, pushing up the sleeve again. He held it there for a moment, then said, “It means ‘adapt’. I’m going to go look it up, okay?”
“Listen for me to call,” his father said. “I’ll let you know when it’s time to eat.”
Wessel nodded and retreated into his bedroom, then shut the thin door. It took a little extra effort to get the door shut all the way.
His room was plain. The wallpaper was a deep red decorated with orange leaves and other designs, giving the room an ‘autumn’ look even though it was late spring. His bed was a deep and burnished red to match, with pale yellow pillows and a couple of stuffed animals near the foot of the bed. Birds. Wessel liked birds.
In the corner there was a table with a few older toys, an ancient black and white handheld with a couple of cartridge-based games to push into it. He had to blow on them and shake them to get them to work.
A small bag of building blocks. A cheap adjustable circuit board he’d found at a thrift store. A few buildable golem action figures, alongside some older superhero ones.
Model cars, just a few of them, reflecting the design changes that had taken place since golems became the drivers. He only had one car from the previous century, an ancient model, with more of a lumpy box-like shape to it. No pods, no large seat for the golem. Four wheels, for some reason Wessel couldn’t figure out. Why would anyone make a car with four wheels instead of three? They would have to be perfectly aligned to work right.
But then, there were a lot of things that didn’t make sense to Wessel. This was just one of those things. Maybe he’d figure it out in history class this year.
For now, he left the toys alone and sat on the side of his bed.
“Computer,” he said.
A projector hanging above his head clicked and whirred as it came on, shining a fuzzy white screen on his wall. Wessel frowned. “Focus,” he said, and the picture focused. It was still grainy, spotty, and it flickered every ten seconds or so, but the text on the screen was readable. The harsh hum of static remained.
“Net search,” he said. “Adapt. Tattoo. Golem.”
A dotted line popped into place on the screen, filtering brightness left and right. Wessel fiddled with his fingers while waiting for the search to come up.
Wessel bent down under his bed, and pulled out an old mechanical keyboard. It had a knob on it meant to adjust things in different directions, and then a basic key set. The printed letters and symbols had all worn off, but it worked well enough. He started using the knob to look through results.
Nothing popped out at him. He saw no images that matched the symbols on his shoulder, no news stories, no preview images of the golem he would be receiving. Just stories about people using their golems in unconventional ways. News bytes about how humanity had evolved to the new partnership between man and machine. People repeating the same talking points they always did, celebrating the rise of golems and the new economy they created while bemoaning the scarce funding given to ‘normal’ technology these days.
It wasn’t like he’d expected to find anything. There were a lot of words and symbols out there, and besides, he’d never seen another golem tattoo that put together three characters into one word.
Wessel sighed and tapped the button that would take the results away. Not long to wait. He’d just have to wait and see. The tattoo artist, Peller, seemed oddly interested in the choice he’d made, but maybe that was how they paid him to act.
Nothing to do but wait.
As soon as that thought entered his mind, Wessel sat back up and grabbed the old keyboard.
“Project Atum,” he said, and the computer screen flickered, then turned black. A moment later, lime green text popped up on the screen, in line after line. Wessel waited patiently until it was all loaded, then clicked a few more keys until he found what he was looking for.
An unfinished sentence.
Without looking down at the keys, Wessel began tapping with a simple, unvaried rhythm. Words appeared, one after another, interposed with symbols and segmented sections. Programming code. He wrote in simple terms, placing X value in Y variable plus the same twice over, never stopping to think or reason out how the piece would work.
After all, he hadn’t stopped to think for the past twenty thousand lines of code. Why stop now?
He was only executing the plan. A plan for a project he’d come up with on his own seven months ago. He had developed the plan until it was perfect, and now he took it line by line, executing code in the most painfully simple way.
One variable, one math function at a time. It was all he had learned to do, the simple brute-force method of programming. From the ground up, he approached his vision line by line.
The goal? An accurate simulation of the way golems worked, privatized and modified for his own study and use.
Why? Because he wanted to create. Because he could use that research to change the way things work, put other plans into motion, experiment with ideas. Because he loved golems, and everything about them.
Really, Wessel didn’t dwell too long on why. He did this, most importantly, because it made him happy, and it was something that he could actually do.
The program would work when he finished it. Wessel was confident of that. He had decided that he was a planner. He could make all sorts of plans, and he could figure out every detail of them before putting them in motion. The only times his plans messed up was if someone else got in the way. He couldn’t handle people like Jakob, and like Lillian, with their ever-changing plans and thoughts. His plans didn’t change.
And his code wasn’t changing either.
Tongue tucked firmly in cheek, Wessel continued tapping at the keyboard until he heard his father call out, “Wes! Dinner!” Stopping in the middle of a word, he slid the keyboard back under the bed.
“Save. Display off,” he said.
One step closer to finishing his project. Every day was a step forward. He went to join his parents for dinner.