Golem Project In Progress
Wessel’s golem didn’t arrive the next day. Or the day after. Two days of school, during which Wessel avoided Jakob as much as possible. It wasn’t abnormal for him to act like this. Wessel always avoided Jakob. He always avoided everyone. His desk hid in the back corner of his classrooms, usually a seat or two away from every other student. The distance was amplified by the golems that stood behind the desks of the older kids. He was alone.
Learning at his own pace.
Wessel had all the schoolbooks he needed, and he read them according to his plan. If the teacher moved too fast or didn’t follow the book, he would do poorly. If they followed the book or kept up a slower pace, Wessel would learn enough to get solid B’s on his tests.
If all went according to plan, the teachers wouldn’t notice him or call him out. The other students wouldn’t notice him either.
On the third day, while walking down the long, wide hallway to the lunchroom, Jakob found him. The larger boy’s hand whipped up, knocking Wessel’s books from his hands. Wessel started, then glared at the other boy’s smug, snaggle-toothed face.
Jakob only gave him a quick smirk and continued on, ‘Power’ golem in tow. The small moment of aggression was over, leaving Wessel alone again to pick up his books.
This had happened before. It would probably happen again.
“Not long, now,” Wessel murmured to himself, kneeling to pick up the books. The golem would arrive soon. He wouldn’t threaten Jakob, but the boy would probably leave him alone once he had a golem. Or at least, leave him alone physically. Stop shoving, hitting, knocking away the books.
Someone’s foot tripped up over one of the books as they walked by, and the book skidded across the fake-tiled floor. Wessel watched it go, thinking too late that maybe he should have grabbed it. The person who’d tripped didn’t slow to help. Wessel didn’t expect them too.
Setting his mind to the task, he picked up the three books that were in reach, one at a time. Two notebooks, a math textbook. Which one was he missing? Rudimentary programming. That wasn’t good, he needed that textbook.
“Here,” a voice said.
Lillian stood beside him. Her golem was holding the book that had escaped his reach, keeping it close. As soon as he turned, it reached out to drop it in his hands. He fumbled with it, but managed to keep it on his stack.
The girl continued looking at him after he got the stack of books together. What was he supposed to say? What was she waiting for?
“Thanks,” he said. In the large hallway, built for golems to walk side by side, it seemed like his voice echoed. There were a lot of other voices, but his seemed unnaturally loud to him.
She raised an eyebrow at him, then looked down at the book. “Programming class?”
“It’s an elective,” he said, shuffling the books into a better position in his arms.
“We’re in, like, seventh grade,” she said. “Isn’t that a higher level class?”
Wessel shrugged and ducked his head. He needed to get to lunch. He had to have time to look over the books. Lunch time was a part of the study time planned. Otherwise he’d fall behind.
“Why?” she asked.
Wessel blinked. Why? Nobody had ever asked him that. His parents were happy that he was taking an interest in harder courses, and excelling in them. They hadn’t asked him why. Nobody had.
But this girl.
He stared at her, looked down the hall toward the lunchroom, then back to her.
“Here,” she said, and her golem took the books from his hand before he could react.
He swallowed and stumbled back.
“I’ll carry them for you. We have the same lunch break. Get your food.”
“Sure,” he said. “That’s what I was going to do.”
She nodded. “I’ll meet you at the table. We’ll talk.”
“But-” Wessel watched her go, her golem holding the books well out of reach of anyone who wanted to spill them in the floor. He could do that, once he got his golem. What was taking it so long?
But more importantly, he couldn’t talk to her. He needed to study. How could he do both?
No time to waste thinking about it. His watch told him he was about three minutes behind schedule, and when lunch break was only twenty minutes long, three minutes could break everything. He briskly walked toward the lunch line, trying to make up time. Once there, he grabbed the quickest option, some kind of ground turkey melt, and carried it to the table Lillian had taken. It was easy to spot her in the crowd, with the rosy radiance of her golem’s shell. Different from every other golem in the room.
He had to sit there, with her. That’s where his books were. Otherwise he couldn’t study.
She was talking before he could get fully seated, poring over his open programming book, “This is a lot different than the stuff they teach us in English, huh? How do you read all of this?”
Wessel took a thoughtful bite of his sandwich. He needed to satiate her curiosity. That would satisfy her, and she would leave him with the book. As she waited for him to answer, she pulled an energy bar out of a small sack her golem was carrying and bit into it. A crumb landed on Wessel’s programming book. He cringed. Lillian looked up at him, and brushed the crumb off the page.
“Well?” she said.
“It’s s-structure,” he said. “Not like sentences. Plans of making things. Like a map with directions.”
“What’s this then?” she asked, pointing to a block in the book.
“It’s like…” Wessel paused, looking at the book. The plans he had at home, in his project, ran through his head. “If-then-else states do different stuff depending on situation.”
“So it doesn’t always do the same thing, then?” Lillian’s eyes sparkled. “How do you know what it does?”
“You have to tell it what to do.”
“Like a golem?” she asked.
Wessel shrugged. “Maybe.”
“And you understand all this stuff?” Lillian spun the book around, then slid it beside his plate. He flipped over a section of pages, moving further in the book.
“Some of it,” he said. “I’m still learning.”
“What for?” she asked. “It looks hard.”
There was that question. Why? What for? He could give her a lot of reasons, reasons he’d encouraged himself with, but he didn’t know what the end goal was. He would learn programming to complete his project. He would complete his project and then… what?
He didn’t like thinking about it.
One step at a time.
“I want to make programs,” he said. “It makes things easier to understand.”
Lillian nodded slowly, but he could tell she didn’t get it. He looked down at his book, reading over the first new paragraph, and hoped she wouldn’t say anything. He took another bite of his sandwich, and another.
The words didn’t stick. Not with her sitting there.
“What made you want a golem so bad?” she asked.
“Huh?” Wessel said.
“You almost broke yourself fighting me. I see the desire, but I don’t get it. You would get one eventually anyway, right?”
Wessel’s skin felt pinpricked, such was the chill that ran through him at the question. He needed an answer. A plan for an answer. A way to get an answer.
Book forgotten, he said, “I need a golem because I like them.”
“If I have one…” Wessel struggled to come up with the answer. Surely there was a better answer.
“I can do things,” he said. “Things I can’t do without one. I can change myself and other stuff. Make everything better.”
Lillian opened her eyes wide. “Everything?”
What had he said? That wasn’t what he’d planned to say. He started to open his mouth to say something else, something unplanned, but nothing came out. Lillian had pushed him into saying something, and it was the truth. The reason he loved golems and wanted to have one, to simulate and modify it, was because they made everything better.
A buzzing tone sounded throughout the room, then the buzz lowered to a static noise.
“Wessel Cote,” it said, echoing throughout the large room. The high ceiling warped the tone of the voice. “Please report to the golem garage. Wessel Cote.”
Wessel blinked, and then he suddenly felt ten pounds lighter. It was here! It was finally here!
When he focused back on what was in front of him, Lillian had already re-stacked his books. She gestured. “You’re going?” she said.
He nodded, then stuffed the rest of the sandwich in his mouth and grabbed his books, then hurried for his locker.
“Wessel Cote,” the voice said again. “Golem garage. Wessel Co- Cote…” Then the static hissed to a stop.
Only a little longer, Wessel told himself as he slammed his books into his oversized locker. Only a little bit longer. He ran the rest of the way.