0034 – Leftenant Faulkner: A Good Man, Part 2

It had taken several commands to get the golem to do anything like what he’d actually intended. “PUT YOUR ARMS BY YOUR SIDES,” “TURN AROUND AND FACE THE OPPOSITE DIRECTION,” “WALK AHEAD UNTIL YOU SEE A DOORWAY ON YOUR RIGHT,” “GO THROUGH THE DOORWAY,” and finally, “SIT IN THE CHAIR FACING THE DESK.”

Upon reflection, Faulkner thought, he could probably have combined a few of these, or relied on more abstract instructions like “ENTER THE ROOM BEHIND YOU,” though failure to append an explanatory suffix like “THROUGH THE DOORWAY, NOT THE WALL” would probably have resulted in even more damage to the house.

He’d never quite gotten the hang of the golem. That’s why it spent almost all of the time in which it was seconded to him carrying out the simple instruction: “GUARD.”

Now that he thought about it, though, this command left a worrying amount of room for interpretation. The golem’s abilities as a guardsman had never actually been tested, owing to the Regulan army’s thorough security protocols, and this only gave him more cause for concern. “GUARD” what, for example? And from whom? It had never attacked him, but that was only because it understood that he was, for extended “temporary” periods of time, its owner.

Faulkner mentally filed these thoughts under the broad heading of “vague worries to be addressed at some point in the indeterminate future.” For someone who had attained a decent rank in the complicated Regulan hierarchy, he did not have an especially well ordered mind.

He swung the golem’s face plate open again. At last, it was seated in the chair in front of the desk. He made absolutely sure that the stained, pockmarked papers were situated directly to the golem’s left, at roughly the same distance as its clumsy hand had shot out to when it punched through the wall. He placed a stack of clean paper, and a pen, to its right.

Faulkner read the crumpled instruction in his pocket. He had torn it out of the golem’s head as soon as practicable.

“COPY ALL PAGES TO YOUR LEFT ONTO CLEAN PAPER.”

He thought of amending the slip slightly, but now that the golem was at least seated in the right spot, perhaps this would serve as a test of its ability to follow slightly more complicated directions.

Faulkner smoothed the paper out as best he could, and swapped it with the prior instruction. It was a tiny thing, rattling around in the huge empty space of the golem’s head. Maybe they CAN handle more complicated ideas, Faulkner thought. There’s room for a whole book in there.

This line of reasoning was unceremoniously dashed a few moments later when the golem took the pen in hand, and began copying out the words “ALL PAGES TO YOUR LEFT” repeatedly on the uppermost sheet of blank paper, like a schoolboy writing lines.

“No, here!” Faulkner lost his temper, picking up a fistful of the dirty reports and jamming them in front of the golem. “Here, HERE!

The golem stared unblinkingly at the lines. It seemed to be looking right through him.

He let out a cry of disgust, throwing the sodden papers all over his office.

A few minutes – and a hurried and abused cigarette – later, Faulkner started picking up the pieces. The golem was still uselessly scribbling away. He was starting to calm down now, his mind already working through possibilities for the extremely literal wording that would be required to delegate his thankless task.

It was only by chance that his eyes rested for more than a second on the uppermost page in his hand. It read:

FORM 2747/B:iii – TRANSFER OF PRISONER CUSTODY FROM OCCUPIED TERRITORY TO REGULAN OCCUPYING FORCES

NAME: K’PALE

AGE: UNKNOWN (APPARENT CHILD)

STATED CRIME: UNKNOWN

REMAINING DURATION OF SENTENCE: UNKNOWN

PRISONER UNABLE TO COMMUNICATE IN ENGLISH. COMPLETION OF CUSTODY TRANSFER REQUEST IS CONDITIONAL ON SUBMISSION OF VALID FORM 873/C/A/iv (REQUEST FOR SECONDMENT OF AGARTHAN/ENGLISH INTERPRETER) AND RESULTANT FORM 91/B/V/vii (PRISONER INTERVIEW TRANSCRIPT) SIGNED IN TRIPLICATE BY INTERVIEWING OFFICER, INTERPRETER, AND OCCUPATION FORCE C.O. (ADDITIONAL SIGNATURE BY TESTIFYING OFFICER IS REQUIRED IF INTERPRETING PARTY HAS NOT ATTAINED AT LEAST THE RANK OF OPTIO.)

After Faulkner had taken a good five minutes to decipher what the hell any of that actually meant, he came to an alarming realisation. He recalled, vaguely, that somewhere in King’s Regs, it stated that prisoners could not be supplied with Regulan provisions until they had been formally transferred to the custody of the Regulan Army.

He also remembered another regulation that prohibited prisoners being provisioned by any external organisation or occupied governmental body.

Which – when you put the pieces together – meant that somewhere in Dark Hollow, a child prisoner was being denied food because this stupid piece of paper had mud and spore stains on it.

“Not on my watch.” Faulkner said aloud.

This was the reason he had climbed, painstakingly, to the rank of Leftenant, despite having no head for bureaucracy. Because when he identified jams in the system, he was one of the few people in the whole bally army who would actually get things done.

It was time to shine. Faulkner extinguished his cigarette and assembled the various components of his full dress uniform. He debated trying to get the golem to shine his shoes for him, but realised it would definitely be more trouble than it was worth, and buffed them up himself. Button after gleaming gold button was fastened on his smart black jacket, and his peaked cap perfected the look.

One of the advantages of a black uniform, he reflected as he fitted and adjusted his respiratory mask, was that the pesky indigo stains didn’t show up at all.

Paperwork in hand, Faulkner was off. He closed the study door on the golem, which was still scribbling intently. He was in his element. This was what it was all about. It was time to be the good guy.

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: