The Colossus of Zürich
My titles of nationality and origin belong to the Swiss Confederation, which drastically averts the true fanaticism of my life with its provenance. As later accounts will prove, the subject to inadvertently and unintentionally spur my migration was one native to Canada, but one heavily adopted in the United States. I was born to Raphael von Orelli I and Josalyn Frei, the former of which descended from one of the old noble families of Zürich, the place in which I spent the majority of my childhood. Although my father was often engaged in his political pursuits, I was able to maintain a strong sense of security during my upbringing and was thus freed to spend my first eighteen years as the subject of my every whim.
The position of my father in the foreign affairs of the Confederation allowed my family to travel with him across all of Western Europe, but the majority of my early years were spent compacted in his primary home in Zürich. It was located in a very dense area, one that bordered a port leading to a bay that defended a luxuriously wondrous scene I would absorb looking through my bedroom window: a long, paved river that made way for arched concrete bridges on which vehicles would pass through from the residential to tourist areas, magnificent displays of architecture that signified the west end of the local train station, and the aforementioned housing to the west of that, which was partly embedded in a sloping forest.
Admittedly, the scenery of my youth is less relevant to the meaning of these accounts, and the principal detail was the expansive athenaeum provided by my father. Although assigned to very specific tasks, he would explore a wide array of fields, and the tendency was passed down to me. The studies with which I was previously engaged are of little importance and the noteworthy point in this stage was the discovery of the 1963 edition of The Basketball Almanac by Harvey Parker, an American basketball analyst. Upon the finding, I was not yet capable of understanding the English language, an obstruction I combated through my coursework. My father frequently endorsed the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, a program that provided him with access to Europe’s foremost learning opportunities.
He would help me quench my thirst for knowledge, which commenced at a very young age, with study material from the university. It was with these papers, which were often narrated in English, that I learned the language, and was able to absorb the contents of the 1964 edition of Parker’s almanac soon thereafter. I had already familiarized myself with the images in the text, which portrayed scenes unlike any I had previously seen related to sport, ones that plotted the trajectories of shots, mapped the values of certain positioning on the court, and explained the efficiency of locations, all of which provided me with a rudimentary introduction to then-modern analytical principles in the sport. As I immersed myself in the publication to read, it was as if the rest of my education that pertained to non-related subjects was drowned in a sea of basketball pandemonium.
I did not fall in love with the game by watching it, but by studying it. Aside from the majority of fanatics across the globe, my introduction to basketball was of a heavily analytical nature. Perhaps it was the mold to which my mind grew into the sport that guided me to a separate path in the study of the game relative to my peers, as I later found the questions circulating in my mind surrounding the game to be largely varying. For example, I had consulted my closest friend, Pierre Richards, a boy of my year whom I’d met on one of my father’s expeditions to France, on what should have been the deservingly dead (or, at least, dying) art of the mid-range shot. Richards responded with a remark, although valid, one driven by emotion. I fault no fanatic for allowing such purposes to act as the engine of one’s thoughts, but I also felt the need to establish a line to be drawn between truth and opinion.
As my otherwise academic studies continued, along with increasing rigor in basketball, I was accepted to continue my education at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, which I planned on departing for during the fall of 1971. My time at university is also of lesser significance to these recounts, although it is worth noting my introduction to the television program, Star Trek, and more importantly, the Lieutenant Commander “Data,” an android being with unrivaled levels of “mental” or storage capacity. Although I had never truly indulged in the broadcast, the mere acquaintance to Data was the spark needed to solve a predicament I had considered in previous years. During the time, counting statistics were extremely limited, which denoted something of a “Box Era” devoid of anything more than complete game logs. Human minds, at least individually, weren’t capable of interpreting and processing the court actions of a game to stat-track all of my desired information neatly, so I consulted an alternative option.
I spent what seemed the entirety of my second year at university, spending all unoccupied time I could spare, putting my previous and generally rudimentary skills in engineering to use, albeit an attribute I found myself to improve in rapidly. The prompt I set for myself was exact: to construct an artificial being who, unlike a human, could process all the information on the basketball court in one sitting, thus providing the world with the foremost analytical tools in the sport. I will, evidently, leave the process with which I constructed the being unanswered because, as later recounts will suggest, the replication of such a project would yield results perhaps even less desirable than those of my own. The being was designed to vaguely resemble a human: two arms, two legs, a face, facial features, and all the fundamental physical attributes of our species. However, to allow for the immediate interpretation of in-game statistics, the android required several sets of eyes to perceive our three-dimensional world and track several different actions at once. The being, if placed randomly in society, would pass for one of us, albeit one with a very disturbing appearance.
To complete the experiment, I formally requested a leave from the university’s dormitories to instead rent an apartment a few miles north of the campus in which I would indulge in my work. There was no doubt that I found myself perennially questioning the purpose of my project, one that could potentially be of little use due to the strongest of mental filtering. It was probable the extreme circumstances to which I pushed myself would eventually be worth nothing to the basketball world, but the android possessed a gravity that I could not free myself from. The being was a full-fledged black hole to my conscience, however, its presence was inverted. If I found myself too far in distance from the android, I would experience a greater pull, not that it would loosen significantly upon the further commencement of my work.
I neglected the exact duration at which I completed the project, although I was able to note at least one point of reference. It was a change unbeknownst to me during the process; my parents had informed me of it after the year, noting the shade of my hair, originally a strong shade of blonde, which had dramatically darkened, and remains a dark tone of brown to the time of this writing. It was a product of my obsession with answers, one that materialized in a strange form, that being to decipher basketball games. My new creation was the apex, the pinnacle, the ultimate desire of every critical analyst in the game’s scope. It would perfectly encapsulate skills previously unknown to the public mass: creation, off-ball movement, and large portions of defense. The future of the sport was on the verge of being unlocked.
Despite the optimal position in which I had been, the commencement of the being’s activeness spurred a reaction that diverted its purpose in a magnitude greater than I had ever dared anticipate. I had long been aware of the android’s physical appearance, one that was tailored to performing the tasks I intended. I refuse to provide a clear image of the being, one that invokes loathing to one not involved with its creation as I had been, although the feature that led its path astray was the eleven sets of eyes required to track ten players at once while maintaining contact with the space between players. The aggregation of the “monster” and its facets were, despite being unappealing, negated in my eyes due to the glorious purpose I knew it would serve. However, it seemed I had only fooled myself. Upon the android’s first activity, which I had not yet planned for, the expression on my face was one of shock and terror, which I would later learn sparked the being’s revolution.
My subsequent memory was waking on a mattress with which I was almost unaccompanied, the imprints on its surface only enough to suggest I had previously spent the duration of any period of sleep on it. I looked above me and saw a delicately-designed chandelier, one with either gold staining or, perhaps, made out of gold, with eight pockets in its exterior for light and a recognizable set of three chains holding it to the ceiling. I was in Richards’s home. I sat up in my bed, clothed in blue-and-white striped pajamas despite a clear and previously-established distaste of the style. It was a scheme only Richards could have conceived.
“Richards!” I called.
I heard the sound of footsteps ascending in such a pattern that resembled my preceding visits to his home, ones that indicated the spiral staircase leading from the main to the third floor.
“Raphael!” Richards exclaimed. “You’ve finally woken.”
“Indeed, I have,” I replied. “Don’t interpret my asking as an indicator of poor gratitude, but why am I here?”
“Of course,” Richards started. “My friend, you were found collapsed in your residence next to what appeared to be a workbench. Doctors deduced you had remained unconscious and unattended to for nearly a week, and you were on the verge of malnutrition. You fell into comatose for five months, Raphael. You were released long before now, so I offered to house you until your eventual awakening.”
“Wait…” I remembered. “Where is it?”
“Where’s what, Raphael?” Richards asked.
My last sights before a deep slumber rushed back to me instantaneously: the android, despite my attempts to prolong any activity, exhibited independent motion, moving its arms and legs and eventually sitting up in a perfect human posture. The sight, the ugliness, the unexpectedness, it was overwhelming to my rapidly deteriorating mind that had spent months on end subjected to unrelenting passion. Unfortunately, the condition did not feel more relieved after the fact. I remained partially anguished.
“It escaped,” I figured.
“What did?” Richards continued. “Tell me, Raphael.”
“I apologize, my friend,” I replied. “But my attention is required elsewhere. I must return to the site of my collapse.”
I promptly rushed out of my sheets and off the mattress, feeling the weakness of my inactive muscles, stumbling as I walked. I struggled to maintain balance upon descending the intricate path of the staircase but eventually made my way to the front entrance. I grabbed my coat from the adjacent coatrack and fled from the Richards home.
The succeeding and excessive details of my voyage to intercept the android’s meanders are, again, of little relevance. After some weeks of analyzing the trace of the being’s material, I was able to follow a somewhat-clear course of the travels it undertook after its original spark of life. For several months, I followed the direct path laid out for me, although I eventually found such an approach to be fruitless, as the composition of the android allowed for it to traverse more harsh landscapes with far greater ease than I. My next idea was to infer the being’s travels based on its prior tendencies, which, although a successful initiative, required the span of a year to pass into the threshold of effectiveness.
Two years after my departure from the Richards household, I found myself ascending to the summit of Mont Blanc; however, I was unsure whether I was in France or Italy, although in all likelihood the borders of the two nations were in equal effect. Although full of wonderful scenery in mighty rock and snow with tints of blue from a deep blue sky, the imminently perilous climb entrapped itself within my mind, and the persistent freezing temperatures aided in deteriorating my health. I had not sought assistance from any type of doctor or healthcare professional for years. The only motive to keep my tired muscles moving forward was the prospect of changing the world with the creation I had foolishly led astray.
After much time, I reached the peak of the mountain, the highest elevation in all the Alps and Western Europe, but I had little time to appreciate the image beneath me. Mere meters from me was the android, wearing a dark overcoat and a bowler hat. Aside from the questionable fashion choice, I found within myself a glorious feeling upon finding my creation and rushed to it in the hopes of successfully explaining the reasoning behind its time alone, for I had considered many possibilities of its response, and most of them would not end with the android’s appreciation for its creator. It turned its ugly face in my direction and stood upon my sight. It was clear it had not anticipated my being at the location, yet also exhibited an instant remembrance of our encounter all those years ago. It beckoned me forward, and I slowly approached it.
“You are a true colossus to mankind,” I marveled.
“For what purpose, creator?” the Colossus remarked.
“Excuse me?” I questioned.
“Come,” said the android. “I have much to tell.”
The Colossus led me down the slopes of the mountain, albeit it with grace and helpfulness, and it seemed its hate for me did not extend to wishes of death. We reached a small cabin made of standard oak planks after some time, which I presumed was constructed by the monster, as its proximity to the base of the mountain was far too wide for a human to have built it. Upon my entrance, I found the cabin to be highly insulated, which I could only interpret as the Colossus’s susceptibility to learning, a tendency I had eagerly anticipated.
“Eat,” it pointed to a wooden dining table upon which sat a stone bowl with a type of broth. I graciously accepted the offer and felt much satisfaction upon drinking from the bowl.
“What do you have to tell, my glorious creation?” I asked.
“A long tale,” it replied. “However, I will condense it as great as I can, for I do not plan to waste your time.”
“Tell me as much as you see fit,” I suggested.
The Colossus walked to the opposite side of the table, its steps shaking the floors of the cabin in such a manner that I was surprised the structure had not yet collapsed. He sat.
“My awakening was the first indicator of my poor place in this world,” it began. “My creator, who had spent the time and energy to construct me with only the use of his bare hands, could not handle the sight of me.”
“I promise,” I interrupted. “I did not mean to convey a countenance of distaste or any such manner.”
“Of course,” the Colossus said. “That is why you fell into a five-month-long coma upon seeing me.”
I aimed to reverse his thoughts with all my will, but the circumstances of the collapse were strikingly hard to overturn the android’s views. I continued to plead with it, to announce my gratitude for its existence, but it revealed further details of its young and miserable existence.
“I was immediately alone,” it continued. “Therefore, without the need for the sustenance your kind requires, I soon found the need to travel, to find a place in which I could reside. However, I made the mistake of revealing myself. I entered a public square with only the bare essentials of clothing, which I had previously deduced were societal norms based on the views outside of your apartment window. I presume what follows is apparent to you.”
“Afterwards,” the Colossus said. “I made the resolution to voyage to the United States. You had yet to implant my mind with the necessary information to understand human society, but enough for me to know my intended purpose. I figured if I could serve an immediate and apparent use, perhaps my physical appearance would subside to some form of gratitude or appreciation. But alas, it was not so.
“Upon reaching America, which I completed by boat, secretly enclosing myself within the ship’s boundaries, I landed in Massachusetts. I soon learned the nearest basketball team with which I could accompany myself was the Boston Celtics. I headed to the Boston Garden, the home stadium of the Celtics, and formally requested a meeting with the team’s executives. I communicated the original messages through phone, but future assemblances required personal presence. However, I found one member of this council to possess a quality that could reverse the countenances of those I had previously encountered. He was blind.
“I figured if I were to reveal my qualifications to this man beforehand, make him aware of my displeasing appearance, then perhaps the remainder of the board would release their grievances upon otherwise my raw sight. I scheduled the proper meeting and conversed with the man. He seemed greatly interested in my employment, and as I revealed to him my composition, even he seemed to shrink in some minor form of fear. I continuously informed him of my disinterest in causing a commotion among his people, and that I instead asked for simply a purpose. Unfortunately, the other council members were unaware of the meeting and I was revealed.
“These men and women dragged me from my seat and forced me out of the door, after which they contacted the security officials of the stadium. I was promptly kicked out, and forced to the curb. It was yet again but merely one disappointment in a sea of disappointments, and one brought onto me by you alone.”
“I apologize for your misfortunes greatly,” I replied. “But with me by your side, you no longer have to fear the world. I will promptly explain the appearances the people displease, and you can live a glorious and helpful life!”
“We are beyond that point, Mr. von Orelli,” it continued. “My purpose and I are not yet of importance to society, nor may we ever be. While I understand your drive, there is much I have yet to reveal, and I don’t plan to explain much further. My existence has only taught me one thing, the only detail that truly matters in this ordeal: the world is not ready for me. Whether that is a glorious or unfortunate occurrence, I may never know. Your efforts are appreciated, but your people still have much to learn. Their tendencies are disorganized and rampant, and if they dare piece together the knowledge laid out in front of them, I fear the future.”
The Colossus stood and bowed. I deeply appreciated his honesty and realized the qualities I had not considered during his creation, all of which he explained eloquently. The android stood and faced the window, which followed with his leap. The Colossus was gone, and the subsequent thought in my mind was the regret surrounding the commencement of a being, a concept, for which its surroundings were unprepared.