The hospital administrator was right to be upset, naturally, but not quite for the reasons he thought.
"So let's go over this list. The most expensive thing stolen was the artificial heart
"Yes, and right after that the filtering component of the dialysis
"And then we have...." I flipped open my notepad, "two sets of cybernetic artificial limbs
-- one of arms, one of legs. Two rebreathers, two artificial corneas
, two hearing aids, one fitted for each ear...." I looked up. "My organization doesn't normally deal in property crimes of this sort. I'm sure the local police will we'll call you if they get any leads, but this seems like a pretty sophisticated operation -- doesn't look like the thieves left any trail."
An hour later I was knocking on Bert's door.
"Oh. Agent Grimes. What brings you around these parts at this late hour?" Bertram's pudgy, middle-aged frame looked at home in several layers of silk robes.
I gave him my best cut-the-crap glare. "It's four in the afternoon. Bertram Magliose, you are a person of interest in the theft of equipment from Sisters of Mercy Hospital."
He looked ready to try a bluff, but then shrugged, and replied, "come in Richard. It's in the basement."
Bert's basement was, in fact, rather swankily laid out. One large room interrupted by the support columns for the house above, but carpeted from wall to wall with what was (on close inspection) a tapestry telling ancient stories of a kingdom rife with intrigue and betrayal, in rich tans and reds and blues. The walls were lined with shelves heavily laden with books. Some were quite old, and the rest were ancient. Some leather easy chairs ringed the room. Two of them were occupied, one by an elderly man -- a rabbi
, he looked to be -- and the other by a girl in thick glasses and a lab coat. She was Asian -- Vietnamese, I'd guess -- and looked like a teenager. But you never could really tell with Asian girls.
"Richard Grimes, this is Mordecai Shevshohn, and his granddaughter Anya. They're helping me with a project."
Granddaughter? Well, anything was possible these days. As for the 'project,' it was a table set out in the middle of the room. The various pieces stolen from the hospital, laid out in anatomically correct order, looking very much like an oversized mechanical man, intertwined with rods of metal and various thick bundles of red and orange wire, coils of clear elastic tubing pulsing with some oily fluid, and what looked to be random computer parts plugged into the whole thing.
"Bert-- Bert, are you trying to create a golem
?" I shook my head in disbelief at the sheer gall of the display.
"Well, Richard, I'll tell you what happened. I got hold of Dr. Pravrahni's diary at an auction. Cost me a pretty penny, too!! I knew he'd figured it out, I just knew it."
"I heard about the diary-- that's why I came here first. Bert, do you know what happens to people who create golems?" I thumbed through my notepad. "James Turvock, strangled
to death five years ago, apparently trying to raise a golem. Reported to the public as an unsolved murder committed during a random burglary. Cardinal William Caraya, found strangled to death later that year, trying to raise a golem from Turvock's notes. That one was tricky. We called it a political crime. Yngwei Haldstrom, bludgeoned
to death four years ago while trying to raise a golem. That one we blamed on a fled ex-lover. Let's see.... strangled, strangled, strangled, bludgeoned, impaled on a fencepost, bludgeoned.... oh, and here it is. Rajneesh Pravrahni." My eyes met Bert's. "Strangled to death three months ago. Trying to raise a golem." I snapped the notepad closed.
"Pagh!! Amateurs, all of them!! Pravrahni didn't even have a translator
for the instructions he was using."
I shot a glance at Mordacai. "Let me guess. They're in Hebrew
"Yes, yes naturally. But here is what I have discovered. All the previous attempts failed because the body to which the golem was bound was all wrong. Think all the way back to Dr. Frankenstein
"Dr. Frankenstein's creation ran away and cause all sorts of havoc," I observed. "The doctor died pursuing it, and the whole thing was covered up as a fanciful story, with the assistance of Ms. Shelley
"Well, yes, because what kind of thinking being would wish to be brought into existence in a body made of sewn together corpse
parts? How would you
feel about that?"
He had a point. Most golems were either flesh or clay; a few carved out of stone. But I'd never seen one made from an assembly of technological bits and pieces. "So that's what all this is, then? Building a better body out of spare parts?"
That's when the girl piped up. "Spare parts? Look, we've got an Intel Core i5-2500 Quad-Core 3.7GHz Turbo processor with a one-sixty gig SSD, and 4 terabytes of Western Digital Caviar Black, 16 gigs of distributed RAM in eight 2 gig Corsair Dominator DDR3s, an XFX 780i Motherboard...."
"Speak English, girl!!" I interrupted.
"It's-- uh-- it's got the best of everything. Top shelf."
"Stolen from the top shelf?"
She darted her eyes from side to side with a blush. Bert simply shrugged. "The computer equipment is all paid for. In cash. As for the hospital -- well some things are harder to get a hold of without leaving a paper trail." He waived off my glower. "Oh, I'll pay for everything. I promise. I'll cut them a nice big check -- an anonymous donation to their prosthetics program, we'll call it. They'll be getting a double payout, since all these parts are doubtlessly insured against theft."
But to be honest, I was at this point frankly more interested in the whole golem angle. "Okay, so you've got these artificial body parts, and hyped up computer gizmos...." I noticed that everywhere where muscles would go, the form had bundles of wiring wrapped around hydraulic pumps. I turned back to the girl, "and shouldn't you be in school?"
Her jaw dropped a bit, and she huffed ever so slightly. "I'm twenty-three
. And I'm a doctoral candidate in computer engineering." Now it was my turn to shrug. Looked like a teenager to me. The girl returned her attention to the golem under construction and started talking again, this time almost to herself, as if checking off a list. "Logitech HD orbital webcam eyes. Artificial corneas. Infrared sensors.... microphones.... electronic sniffer and molecular scent decoder.... speaker system.... GPS
...." At last she was satisfied that the thing was in order. "He's all set, Doctor Magliose."
Bert turned to me. "Are you going to detain us? Or...." he waved his fingers, faux-manically, "are you going to watch us make some magic
The girl was fastening steel plates over various portions of exposed wiring, slowly, methodically concealing those inner workings within an almost-medieval shell. I couldn't help but burn with curiosity for how this would turn out. I'd seen something quite like a golem a time or two, and I'd seen some robots gone awry, but a golem raised up into a robot body? Just crazy enough to work. I stuck a hand into my right pants pocket and felt the lead of a string of beads -- a charm which could, in a pinch, address an immediate threat.
I leaned against a column. Bert made an excessively dramatic gesture of pressing a button to turn on a power converter hooked into a bank of nine volt car batteries on the floor. Electricity
crackled and hummed throughout the form on the table; Bert nodded. Mordecai stood, opened a grimoire
set on a pedestal behind the head of the thing. He traced some words with his forefinger, and solemnly began to read its lines of Hebrew text....
Minutes passed. Mordecai turned a page-- to what would be the previous page had it been a book in English. He read another line. Its eyes opened.
To be more precise, wedges of plastic shaped into eyelids opened over the lenses of high-powered cameras with artificial corneas attached to them. Technically I guess those would be called compound eyes, each containing the business end of several different kinds of cameras, all bundled together to deliver a single picture of the world to what counted as its brain.
The thing sat up. It was awash in a faint, eerie glow, a very subtle blue. The glow was sharper at the seams where the steel plates covering it met, but before our very eyes the seams seemed to disappear, the steel becoming a solid piece covering its chunky, broad-shouldered frame. It took on a character somewhere between metal and stone. And yet its body became plastic -- not the material, but the characteristic. Flexible, bendable. It swung a leg over the side of the table and planted a heavy foot on the floor. The thing was easily seven feet tall. Probably weighed half a ton, what with those steel plates adorning it and all the junk-- state of the art tech, I'm sure the girl would correct me-- inside it.
It looked around. I half expected it to start trundling towards Bert, but instead it turned and began walking towards the stairs. Even fat Bertram's girth had assuredly never tested them like this thing, each step cracking most of the way through as it walked up. When Bertram tried to chase it, with a rather feeble, "hey, wait, you," the fourth step gave way completely, and he crashed backwards through the rest.
"Great," I muttered. "Now I've got to climb out of here. And get you
out too, somehow." I doubted Bertram was much good for climbing. Upstairs, we could hear clumsy crashes, the last one undoubtedly being Bertram's new creation making its way through the glass and wood of the front door.
"Never mind that," Bertram waved impatiently, "there's another way out." At the back of the basement, behind a bookcase (naturally, how cliche) was.... an elevator.
Displaying this alternate egress, Bert did a victorious little wiggle, and asked, "who's house?" No one answered. He shrugged and answered himself, with two thumbs up. "My house."
The elevator exited to a tool shed. I briefly mused whether Bertram was actually capable of using actual tools, but quickly reset my thoughts to the matter at hand. The golem would be moving slowly, but it was moving, and it was only a matter of time before it ran into people. It hadn't seemed to give our group a second thought, but I doubted it would be so casual with somebody who actually got in its way.
We ran to the front of the house, Bertram huffing up from behind. I turned to the girl. "It has a GPS -- can you track it?"
She nodded hastily, pulling a cellphone out of her pocket and tapping on an app. "That way." The direction of the bay. And big crowds of people.
"Ok, we'll take my car."
We didn't have to go far. Somebody had seen this giant metal man wandering about, making thunderous steps, and it had made it about four blocks before the police had swooped in to cordon off its path. Two cop cars sat at the end of the road making a sort of 'V' to prevent it from going further. The golem was looking at them, giving them some serious thought. Before we could get to it, it crouched to the point of having a hand on the ground-- and then it leaped, right over the cars.
Anya gasped. "Oh no, the hardware can't take those kinds of shocks."
"There is no hardware," I replied. "Not anymore."
"What do you mean? What does he mean, grandfather?"
Bertram was the one to answer. "This creature is a creation of symbolic magic. Everything that it was before the ceremony is now transformed within it. Serving the same purpose, but not in the same form. It's...." Bertram shrugged, and smiled, "magic."
As Bertram spoke, I drove. One of the stunned officers had emptied his pistol into the golem's slowly retreating back. The golem had taken no notice. The other officer was fumbling for his keys, probably preparing to pursue the golem. I slammed on the gas, pulling up behind the next to the cops, and belted on my horn. The fumbler stopped for a minute. I pulled up next to them, showed the insignia
of my organization, and signaled for one of them to move their damn car out of the way. The one with his keys out nodded. We pursued.
The golem was continuing down the street. I deliberately shot past it and then pulled off to the side of the road. If this turned into a fight, it would be an ugly mess. We had to try to reason with it. So far it hadn't actually done any violence to any person, but it seemed to be heading somewhere, with purpose.
The four of us poured out of the car and ran towards the golem. Anya's younger legs got her there first. "Golem!" she cried, "Golem, listen to me, you must stop!! People will get hurt!!"
The golem stopped indeed. Its eyes glowed. It took a rather menacing step towards Anya, and then it saw Mordecai behind her. It stopped again.
At last, the golem spoke. It's voice was deep, as ancient as the breaking of stones, and yet digital, electric. "You are of the Jewish people."
"Yes." Mordecai gestured, "I and my granddaughter, both of us are."
The golem regarded Anya again. "She does not wear the vestments of a maiden of the tribe."
Mordecai shrugged. "Times have changed
. Our customs
The golem was silent for a moment more, and then ground out a thought. "My spirit was brought into being thousands of years ago, from the very aether of our Universe itself. Brought into existence by powerful incantations, to serve as a guardian for the Jewish people, to protect them from danger."
"Well then," Mordecai piped, "I'm glad you're here."
"The Jewish people-- they are in danger?"
"Eh," Mordecai shrugged. "When aren't
The others thought about it for a moment and then nodded, conceding their general agreement.
"What about the others who summoned you," I asked, "Pravrahni. Haldstrom. Turvock. The ones you killed."
The golem's head dropped just slightly. "Many times I have been summoned into forms which have been improper to contain this spirit, and so which have defied my control. The form then draws of the energy of my spirit, but acts of its own dark being, until I am able to destroy it and free myself from it. This form," it looked at its large, steel-grey hands, "is the first in centuries into which I have moved with no fault of control."
"Well, listen," I began, "the Jewish people, they're not in the shtetls
and black hats anymore, for the most part. They're just sort of mixed in with regular people. And we've got bigger threats these days than the next tribe over, or the oppressive gentiles. From time to time we get alien invaders from other planets. Some pretty horrible things from other dimensions, other planes of existence even. That's what I do, I deal with things like that. So if you want to protect the Jewish people, help us protect the Earth, from all these threats."
The golem seemed to ponder this idea for a moment. Mordecai interjected his agreement with this notion, "speaking for the Jewish people."
"Wait a second," Bertram interrupted, "what do I
get out of this? I created
you, I gave you--" he gesticulated broadly at the golem's body, "this
"And what," I asked, "were you expecting
to get out of this?"
Bertram folded his arms. "A caddie
"You-- but you don't even golf
"I was going to take it up."
The golem suddenly rejoined the conversation. Putting a fingertip to Bertram's chest, it intoned with gravelly graveness. "You gave me this body. I resisted the desire to beat the life out of you." Then, after a moment of stunned silence. "You're welcome."
There being no room for a golem in my car, I gave Anya the keys and instructed her to drive Bertram home. I'd pick the car up later. So there I sat, as the sun set on this long, strange day -- making idle conversation with a state-of-the-art golem, while waiting for my organization to send around a van with reinforced shock absorbers
For THE IRON NODER CHALLENGE 5: THE FERROUS FRONTIER