A little steampunk/fantasy action for you guys…hope you enjoy.
It has been three weeks since the golem came to live at the Friedman house, and Greta Friedman still isn’t sure she likes it. In fact, she’s sure she doesn’t like it. “Him,” her husband Georg had insisted. “His name is Gob and he’s very nice and he’s here to stay, so you don’t want to offend him by using non-gender-specific pronouns, dear.”
Greta wrings her hands and frets as Gob putters, clangs, and clatters about the living room. Georg had brought the golem home one night as a gift to his wife, who complained that the task of maintaining their suburban home was interfering with her part-time work as a cosmetics consultant. Now Gob is the problem – he makes so much noise that she has twice had to postpone her weekly sales meetings until a more suitable venue could be found.
Mrs. Friedman watches Gob knock over an unlit gas lamp in his attempt to rid it of dust. He sets it back upright, turns to dust an upholstered chair, and knocks it over again before grinding to a halt. “Oh, bother,” Greta mutters under her breath as she goes to the kitchen to fetch more coal. When she returns, Gob is still there, slumped over the coffee table, feather duster outstretched. She opens the stove on his back with an oven mitt and drops in two lumps of coal, checks the water level in his boiler, then shuts the stove.
Gob is awfully messy for a cleaning golem, Greta thinks to herself as she wipes coal dust on her apron. She busies herself running around opening windows – she hates that her entire house smells like the ironworks up in Schleiss. She hasn’t seen her cat in weeks, and she’s pretty sure who’s to blame for that. Greta once mentioned to her husband that she wanted rid of Gob, and he wouldn’t have it. “Greta, my dear, just look at him. He’s cutting edge! All-steel construction, the latest in spatial logic routines, and his thaumaturgic crystal gives him the best possible voice recognition capabilities of any golem on the market. Greg Dietz bought one to help his Margaret with her dinner parties, and she simply loves hers.”
“Well,” was Greta’s reply, “Maybe Margaret Dietz would like to have Gob come live at her home instead.”
She has another sales meeting with some ladies from the neighborhood today, and she’ll be damned if she’ll let Gob run them out. She has a plan. Minutes later, Gob’s boiler brings him rattling back to life, and he immediately resumes his cleaning duties.
“Gob,” says Greta. The golem freezes. “Come here, please.” Obediently, Gob wheels himself over her and stands at attention. “I have an errand for you, Gob.” As she speaks, the difference engine in the golem’s head clicks and whirrs to indicate he is processing her request. She’s never sent him out of the house before as she worries that he won’t return, but enough is enough and she’s determined to have peace and quiet for her get-together. Greta pulls a small piece of paper and a pouch out of her apron and hands them to the golem. “Here is a short list of things I need from the market. Can you read it?”
Gob raises the paper to his eye level. The crystal in his chest – right where his heart would be if he were flesh and blood – flashes once for yes, and he lowers it to look once again at Greta.
“Good. I want you to bring me those things from the market. There is more than enough money to cover the expense. Are you familiar with this household’s pantry stores?”
Gob’s crystal flashes again.
“Excellent. With any leftover money, please feel free to purchase anything else you think the household may need. Do you understand?”
The golem’s engine clanks and spins for a few seconds, and his crystal flashes another affirmative.
“Alright, then.” Mrs. Friedman hangs a loose bag of fuel over Gob’s shoulder. “Proceed,” she says. And with that, Gob is out the door. There, Greta thinks to herself. That’ll keep him busy for awhile.
And it does. The ladies come for tea and everything is splendid. No odor of burning coal, no clank-clack-clank, no toppled furniture – no Gob.
About half an hour after the ladies leave, Mrs. Friedman begins to wonder exactly where her Gob might be. He should have returned by now. The house is quiet – too quiet. All the chores are already done thanks to Gob, so she has nothing to do but sit and fret and worry and drink leftover tea.
By and by, another hour passes. It’s getting dark. Georg won’t be back until tomorrow, and Greta is all alone. She slowly realizes that she misses her golem.
Just as Greta is lighting the gaslamps in the living room, the front door swings wide and Gob squeaks and clicks through the door carrying the bags of groceries he was sent to fetch. From behind him scurries Mrs. Friedman’s cat – the stray feline followed the golem home from the market. Gob carries the bags through the hallway into the kitchen and places them in front of the pantry. Then he opens one bag, puts his hand inside, and pulls out a small bundle.
Curious, Greta watches as Gob painstakingly fidgets with the mess in his arms and then turns around to present it to her.
Greta’s jaw drops in confusion, then she cries out in surprise. “Flowers! Why, thank you!” She takes the beautifully arranged bouquet and hurries off to find a vase with water to put them in. She can’t remember the last time Mr. Friedman brought her flowers. She finds the perfect place for them on the dining table and, to her amazement, she realizes that the flowers which Gob selected match those embroidered on the tablecloth. She smiles and inhales deeply, smelling their perfume.
Mrs. Friedman finds that she is suddenly just a bit too warm for comfort. Maybe it’s the hustling about to put away groceries, or perhaps the gas lamps in the living room are raising the temperature inside, or maybe she’s had too much tea to drink. And then a thought occurs to her. During her get-together earlier, Greta had meant to ask Margaret Dietz exactly why she loved her golem so well, but she had forgotten to pose the question. No matter, she thinks as she unbuttons her blouse and leads Gob away with her to the bedroom. She can probably find out for herself.
* * *
With a clang and a clatter, Greg Burkolz dumps the sad, broken golem onto the workshop floor and smiles proudly at his apprentices. His moustache twitches underneath his eager nose, his teeth gleaming whitely beneath it. The youngsters don’t notice him. Greg frowns, discouraged. Then, mustering his enthusiasm, he grins a wide grin and stamps a foot expectantly.
Ah, now they’re paying attention – as much as they ever pay attention to their mentor, anyway. The mechanic stares at him with her bright eyes, fingers twitching to get back to work. The thaumaturge slowly removes his monocle and fidgets with its cord around his neck. At least they’ve stopped what they were doing and are now looking in his general direction, and that’s good enough for Greg.
Trudi and Schuyler. What a pair.
Schuyler is the first to speak. “What’s that?”
“What it is,” Greg says slowly, “is broken. Frau Friedman just brought him by. His name is Gob. I thought you two might be up for a little challenge!” He smiles again, not quite as broadly as the last time as he is wising up to the fact that his zeal does not appear to be contagious. “Because,” he adds, “it sure beats working on clocks all day.” He waits for a response. “Doesn’t it?” He quickly notes the looks on his apprentices faces. “Er, don’t answer that. Rhetorical question.”
“He looks new,” Trudi whines. “Shouldn’t his manufacturer be taking care of him?”
“Ah!” says Greg, pointing skyward, vigor restored. “Apparently Herr Friedman didn’t care to shell out the Geld for a full-coverage warranty.”
“Hmm. Wow, look at those valves. There must be a thousand of them. So tiny, too. What task did she have him on when he malfunctioned?” Trudi’s interest is piqued. Schuyler’s will follow suit soon enough.
“Huh. That’s odd,” muses Greg. “I could almost swear I asked, but…but she didn’t say.” The three pause and stare in thoughtful silence at the decrepit heap of machine. “Anyway, she wants to have him repaired by the time her husband gets back from Wenig, sooner if possible, and the old man’s due the day after tomorrow.”
Schuyler makes a face. “We don’t have any experience with this type of machinery. Sure, the basics are the same, I guess—”
“Tsk tsk tsk!” Greg scolds the young man. “I made sure that our Frau Friedman is very aware that we can make no guarantee that her Gob will be as good as new. She’s willing to pay well for even partial functionality.”
“So what we have…” begins Schuyler.
“What we have,” says Trudi, “is a rush job on a brand new golem for a rich customer with low expectations.”
Greg, Trudi, and Schuyler grin stupidly at one another for at least a solid minute.
“So you’ll do it?” asks Greg.
“Oh yeah,” says Trudi.
“We’ll do it,” giggles Schuyler.
“Alright, then!” Greg claps his hands enthusiastically. “Hop to! I’ll be in the front finishing the detailing on the exoskeleton for that outrider’s mount. Let me know if you two need anything, okay?”
Greg leaves the workshop without another word, his apprentices already thoroughly engrossed in their new task.
Trudi wastes no time in removing Gob’s chestplate. She’s worked on golems before: nothing so advanced, really, but all the major manufacturers keep the main parts in roughly the same places, right down to the the screwholes in the outer shell. Schuyler makes himself useful by rearranging the mirrors that serve as the workshop’s lighting system during daytime hours. Soldering and metalworking can get awfully hot, so they only use the gaslights at night and during the cloudy cold season. Once satisfied that their latest patient is sufficiently lit, he squats at the foot of Gob’s treads and waits for Trudi to finish her cursory examination.
“Well,” says the mechanic at length, “I don’t see anything major at a glance.” She thumps the golem’s braincase with her screwdriver. “I hope the problem’s not upstairs, ‘cause I really don’t want to have to mess around in this guy’s noggin.”
“Yep,” the thaumaturge agrees. “Looks complicated in there. Here, let me have a look.” Trudi steps aside and Schuyler sets his monocle into one eye, squinting at the exposed chest cavity. “They sure set the intelligence core in an easy-to-reach spot. Good design. Remember the one Duke Ecke brought in that one time?”
“Mmhmm,” nods Trudi.
Schuyler removes his opal ring, kisses it (despite his coworker’s attitude towards such superstitious behavior), and with its gem begins his scan of the large cut crystal that houses Gob’s memories. The difference engine in the golem’s head is mostly for on-the-spot calculations and only contains enough memory for a few mundane tasks. His intelligence core, on the other hand, grants him much of his pattern recognition capabilities. It lets him understand human speech, allows him to learn new things, and reminds him of how to interact with what and whom. In short, it is his personality, and it takes a skilled mage to interact with it on a base level.
“Yeah,” Schuyler continues. “It took even you almost a half hour just to get me close enough to…woah!” His eyes open so wide in his surprise that his monocle falls off of his head.
Trudi backs up, startled. Magick makes her a little nervous sometimes. “What? What is it?”
Schuyler fumbles for his monocle, resets it, leans towards the crystal at the golem’s heart, and clenches his jaw. “I don’t know.”
“What do you mean you don’t know?”
The thaumaturge hushes the mechanic and peers at his work for a long minute. “I think we found the problem. Here, right here, the thaumaturgic forces are moving far more erratically than anywhere else in the core.”
Trudi tries not to sound too optimistic. “Can you fix it?”
“I wouldn’t want to try, not without knowing more about what happened. It’s like his heart is about to burst. If I go messing around with it, I could do more harm than good.” He pauses thoughtfully for a moment. “Can you replace it?”
“Probably! But it’ll be a pricey order. You don’t even want to try?” She grins and deals her companion an encouraging thump on the arm.
“Trudi, there’s a lot of power backed up in there, a lot of energy. This shop isn’t properly equipped to ensure that I don’t kill everyone in it.”
“Oh,” Trudi says, clearly disappointed.
“Yeah,” Schuyler continues in his condescending know-it-all tone. “This isn’t exactly a precise science, and—”
“You mean,” Trudi jokes, “it isn’t precisely an exact science.”
“Exactly.” Schuyler doesn’t get it. “And—”
“Precisely!” Trudi points a finger at the ceiling in mock revelation.
“Yes, precisely. Er.” Now he gets the joke. “Please stop making fun of me.”
Trudi sits down on the floor in front of Gob and laughs heartily.
“Oh, come on!” Schuyler says, his feelings clearly hurt. “I know I have a tendency to speak redundantly, but it’s really not funny when you interrupt me just to—”
“Hey, woah,” Trudi points into the golem’s open torso. “Speaking of redundancy, check out this guy’s mainline capacitors.”
Schuyler is back to business. “What? Show me.”
Trudi points at a pair of blackened spots along the interior of Gob’s spine. “See? Two of ‘em are burned out. Poor fellow’s only got one left.”
“What would have happened if the third one failed?”
Trudi looks at Schuyler, a pained expression on her face. “Remember how you were talking about blowing us all up?”
The workshop door bursts open and Greg enters to toss an oily rag into a pile of similarly soiled cloth. “So!” he claps his hands together. “Can you two fix it or what?”
The thaumaturge and the mechanic glance at one another and shrug. “We think so,” Schuyler says. “But it’ll be expensive.”
Greg Burkolz smiles a gleaming white smile.
“And whatever Frau Friedman was doing with this little man when he went dead on her,” Trudi adds thoughtfully, “well, you’ll want to tell her to cut it out.”