Golem Project In Progress
Crippling Aizi was the hardest thing Wessel had ever done. It hurt him to take away her ability to speak into his head. He deliberated for minutes over keeping her ability to change shape, versus the three hours of time Aizi estimated they would gain.
In the end, most functions had to go. Aizi’s eyes dimmed, her movements became choppy. She was mute, lame, half-blinded compared to her normal insight, and only retained enough cognition to follow Wessel’s will and keep him safe.
When Wessel had created that program, he’d wanted to add, to improve. Now he’d used it to decimate his own companion, and every halting step she took made him wince.
His work finished, Wessel stepped out of his front door. The rain had stopped. A mostly-empty parking deck stretched out ahead of him, looking larger than ever. Voices drifted up from the sidewalks and streets, some panicked, some grumpy, some dazed. One or two people trudged up to a higher floor of the parking deck, without a golem by their side. The thick, moist air whistled past, a goodbye kiss from the parting storm.
Wessel was terrified.
“I can’t do this,” he whispered to himself. Aizi didn’t respond to correct him. She couldn’t. Her silence drew the thoughts out of him, and he started to sweat.
I can’t do this.
It wasn’t in my schedule.
I can’t go away from home without letting Mom and Dad know where I’m going.
I can’t go alone.
Do I really think I can catch a thief?
If a thief is willing to break the law…
If they are, then they would be dangerous. And with the program that I made, their golem could be dangerous too.
I’m weak. My stomach is twisted in knots, I’m hungry but can’t eat. I can’t even take care of myself.
I can’t tell Peller what I’ve done. How I’ve failed. It’s impossible. Everything is.
I can’t do this.
Wessel turned around to go inside and nearly mashed his face against Aizi’s gleaming armor. She blocked most of the doorway, just by standing there. Wessel stepped to the side, but Aizi didn’t budge from the entrance.
“Hey. Hey, move,” he said.
Aizi’s head turned, and dull blue eyes swept past him.
“I want to get inside,” Wessel said. His golem made no sign that she’d heard focusing her gaze beyond him. “Aizi, move.”
“You named your golem?” a female voice asked.
Wessel gasped and jumped, stumbling as he whirled around and backed into Aizi’s legs. His breath quickened even as he recognized the girl. It was Ethany, the scruffy-looking neighbor he’d seen over a week ago in the parking deck elevator. She leaned against the concrete wall of his home, alone. Her panther-golem was missing.
“Though it was weird you makin’ your golem be a ‘she,’ but you also gone and named her. Aizi, huh?” Ethany pursed her lips. “That’s like an African name, or something?”
“I didn’t—” Wessel started, but his need to breathe interrupted him. He was on edge enough that this girl’s greeting threw him off balance. His breathing was too hard, his heartbeat too fast. “She came with the name.”
“Weird.” Ethany looked up at the golem. “Is she out of battery too?”
Battery? “She still has power.”
“Then why ain’t she doing you right?” Ethany frowned. “She ain’t human. She only does what you want her too, y’know.”
“She’s…” Wessel looked up at Aizi, who seemed content to just stand stock-still. Right, low power mode. He’d taken away unnecessary movements. “What are you doing here anyway?” he asked. “Don’t you live on a lower floor?”
“Golem’s dead,” Ethany said. “Was checking to see if anyone had a houseplant my family could use, or a backup generator from outside the zap zone.”
“I don’t.” Wessel said. “We don’t, or we would use it.”
“Figures.” Ethany said. “Hope you get your golem-doorway problem figured out.” She turned to leave.
Aizi gently shoved Wessel’s arm, pushing him forward.
What was with her? She was supposed to do what he wanted, and to help him adapt. Had something gone wrong with the modifications? Wessel thought about what he’d removed.
Voice, subtle movement, mannerisms, sensors…
He looked up at Aizi. “Are you trying to speak?” he asked.
Once again she nudged him, and he stumbled. “Wait!” he said.
Ethany, halfway to the stairs that would lead her down a level, stopped. The wind blew her matted hair into her face as she turned around. “Me?” she called.
“Y-yes,” Wessel said. Stick to the plan. You had a plan, Wessel. He had to raise his voice to make sure she heard from this distance, and having to almost yell was horribly uncomfortable. “Yes! I was going out to ask neighbors, before you surprised me. If they… if you had seen anyone suspicious around my floor or place. Someone broke in my window and stole my computer after the power went out.”
As he was talking, Ethany had taken a couple steps back toward him. Her eyes lit up. “A thief?” she asked.
“Can I see?” she asked.
“Um, yes. Sure.” Wessel turned around and found Aizi had moved out of the doorway. He shot a look at her as he stepped past. Ethany jogged to follow him.
“Where’s the window at?” she asked, and Wessel pointed for her. Without any comment on the mess or the stolen goods, she made a beeline for the window and stuck her head outside. After craning her head to look around, she ran a finger across the windowsill, brushing some broken glass to the floor. Her gaze followed the glass down, and she patted at the carpet.
“So, did you see anyone suspicious earlier?”
Ethany looked up. “Nope. But if we head to my place real quick, maybe we can catch your window smasher.”
“Really?” Wessel felt like a weight had been lifted from his shoulders. It had been a long shot, and he hadn’t really thought asking his neighbors would work. It took a moment for him to switch gears, to grasp onto that hope, and put the plan into full throttle.
“Really,” Ethany drawled. “Maybe. We’ll see.”
“Then let’s hurry,” Wessel said.
Ethany led the way outside and down to the next floor, Wessel and Aizi in tow. For Aizi’s sake, they took the long route, down the inclined levels of the parking garage. Even then, Wessel thought she might fall at any time. If she were human, she would look sick; hunched over a bit, with faltering movements that only just kept her upright and moving.
When Ethany reached the door to her concrete condo, she flung it open without checking the lock or knocking, then strode inside. Wessel followed, and was struck dumb by what he found.
The place was a complete wreck.
Though the layout of the home was similar to his, he could barely tell under all the furniture that cluttered the room. Above him and around him, electrical cables hung in the air. They were pinned to the walls, couches, stools, ceiling, and taped down to the floor in some places as well. It was a jungle that Ethany was navigating with no trouble, vaulting over a chair and ducking under a low-hanging hookup wire.
Wessel had trouble taking it all in. The room just didn’t make sense. Couches were pushed against chairs in a way that no person could even get to the seat, much less have room for their legs. Dust, dirt, and oil stains were left in the oddest places, some covered up by soft blankets and old quilts. The kitchen counter drew his eye. Aside from the dirty dishes near the sink, there were also magazines strewn about, and a few small piles of paper money. How could she leave that all out in the open?
“Watch the wires,” Ethany called back. “’Less you want to pay for them.”
Wessel squeezed past a couch so bright that it hurt his eyes, trying to follow the stretched wires. Where were they all going? Not to lights, that was for sure. The power was out, yes, but he didn’t see a single bulb or tube that would shed light. Squinting into the dark corners, he saw…
Cameras. Projectors. Lenses, some small, some large, some opaque and some translucent, attached to all sorts of boxes. There was a small one by the door, one in each corner, some facing out windows. Some of the wires snuck out the windows themselves, or into the walls.
Ethany was clearly some kind of crazy person. Wessel stopped, unwilling to move any further. The dirty-haired girl didn’t seem to notice.
“Okay,” she said to herself upon reaching the doorway to another room. “In case you didn’t notice, I have a few cameras around. The zone hasn’t been down long. Maybe the camera’s still got some charge in there.”
Wessel nodded, uncomfortable with the room. He squeezed back toward the door. It wasn’t good for him to have a couple of couches between himself and a speedy exit. He had to think, come up with some plans. If she tried anything weird, he could bolt. That was plan B. Plan A was to stay and see what the cameras had.
But if even the girl’s golem was down, what chance did the cameras have of still being charged?
“Garn-doshed zone dependence,” he heard her say, confirming his suspicions. “Ain’t nothin’ works in this stupid city without that sky-pokin’ tower.”
“The cameras are down?”
“Ya gathered that, neh?” Ethany’s head popped out of the other room, and the door opened wider. He could see the black gleam of her four-legged golem behind her. “The cameras might have your robber friend’s face all recorded, if they came on in soon after the power zone dropped.”
“You have cameras looking at my home?” Wessel asked.
“I got cameras lookin’ all around the place,” she said. “Anyhow, we won’t know until we charged the camera system. Can I borrow some charge from your golem, there? Might be enough.”
Wessel stepped back. “No, no I need to keep her going if I’m going to do anything. She doesn’t have much charge left.”
“Mm.” Ethany chewed on her lip, thinking on that. Then she disappeared back into her room. “Well, I got nothin’ better to do before the city starts limpin’ on,” she said. “Let’s go catch us a burg-u-lar.”
Ethany emerged again and hopped over the couch, carrying what looked like a metal shoebox with a dirty lens. “We’re going hunting for a power source, and I got some idea of where to find one.” She sucked on her lip for a moment, making fierce eye contact with Wessel until he looked away. “You know, I don’t even have your name.”
“Wessel,” he whispered.
“Wessel,” she repeated. “Do people call you Wes?”
“Not… most people.”
“They do now.” Ethany slapped him on the back, and he almost jumped out of his skin, pressing himself against Aizi again. “Or, at least I do,” she said. “Follow me if you want your stuff back, Wes.”
And with that, she walked out the door.
Wessel didn’t give himself time to think it over. He was shaking, uncomfortable with being in the wrong place at the wrong time. It rankled him. But the only way forward was to follow the plan, just like always. Right now, the plan called for him to get information from someone who had seen the thief.
That person was Ethany.
No matter what happened along the way, it couldn’t be worse than dropping everything and giving up on his plan.
“C’mon, Aizi,” he said. She followed him at a stilted gate as he exited the dirty home. Her time was measured in hours. If he didn’t act fast, the secrets she had entrusted him with, as well as all his dangerous research, could spill out into the public. If that happened, there would be no going back.