Chapter 3: What is Sentience?

Deydrick storms down the Pavilion’s long corridors with Maq at his side. Wild thoughts shoot across his mind while unruly emotions course through his veins. He’s hot and cold all at once and I do fear that his judgement is sufficiently clouded in this state. Maq is the only thing grounding him, the only force preventing him from going back into the auditorium and having a ballistic episode. It’s ironic that this elaborate machine is as much his downfall as it is his salvation. Strangely too, the thing worries for Deydrick. I can sense that all of its thoughts are centered around what just happened to them on the stage and how stormy its “father” has suddenly become. Impulses shoot through the thing’s whole body and it hangs onto Deydrick as tightly as he holds Maq.
“It’ll be alright, Maq,” the doctor soothes. “I’ll find another way, there’s got to be another way.”
Maq is smart enough to know that Deydrick is trying to comfort himself as much as he’s trying to comfort his “son” so it says, “I know, Dad, we never stay in the dark for long.”
“That’s right kiddo!”
Deydrick pulls the machine in for a quick squeeze as they keep their pace down the hall. Hearing the motto he taught Maq lightens Deydrick’s heart. He’s no less desperate than before, but still it feels good to have Maq at his side. He doesn’t know what he would do without it.
“Deydrick!” A wonan’s voice calls to him from behind.
The pair turn around to see Syra trotting after them. Deydrick rolls his eyes once he sees it’s her and lets out a disgruntled growl, quiet enough for her not to hear. He has nothing more he wants to say to her today, nothing kind at least.

“What do you want, Miss Bensten?” Deydrick groans once she’s caught up to them.
“I understand that you’re upset,” she starts with a hand tilted in front of her. “And I know you, Deydrick, I know you’re just going to leave here and start trying to devise some way to continue your work no matter how immoral or illegal those methods might be. I wanted to talk to you off the record to beg that you don’t do that. We need your mind. The world needs your brilliance, it needs your talents, and above all, it needs your heart back in the game. Go back to inventing things that help people, things that can keep them safe, maybe even things that can save their lives. We need you to come back to reality. Science just isn’t the same without you contributing to it.”
“Project Eiden CAN save lives, Syra. Think of what it would be like to have them as guardians watching after us, protecting us, guiding us down a better, brighter path. You and your precious committee fail to see that this IS the solution to our problems. This alone can save us. Or would you rather wait around for the great and mighty All Powerful to swoop in and save us?”
Syra recoils a little at the jab. Her eyes flutter and she’s at a loss for how to respond. I can feel her pain. I can sense her struggle. Part of her wants badly to believe in me. She wants to trust that I will indeed intervene. But the other part does doubt me. That part almost wonders if Deydrick’s freakish creations might hold the key to the world’s many issues. Deydrick sees the pain written across her scrunched face and he wants to apologize, but his pride gets in the way. There’s a side to him that feels satisfied that he hurt her. Misery does love to have company after all.
“Science and religion don’t have to be mutually exclusive,” she says at last in a hushed voice. “But madness has no place in science.”
Now it’s Deydrick’s turn to feel the cut. Syra takes no pleasure in hurting him, but she also won’t stand to have me attacked. This is what I find so touching about her: she’s so rational and so faithful at the same time. The two sides often in conflict with one another yet somehow she holds it all together in one tumultuous, yet beautiful whole.
“Well sometimes madness is just what we call something we don’t understand,” Deydrick retorts.
This fight makes me start to ache. They could keep going on like this, stabbing one another with their words, but I truly hope they don’t. Under the right circumstances, they could do so much good together, but this bridge is burning down quicker than a flame consuming dry leaves.
 “The verdict has been issued and my warning stands. Go back to making things that don’t put our entire race at risk or suffer the consequences. Maq is protected under your rights to possess a working prototype, but you will be closely monitored. If you attempt to turn any of your constructed shells into a fully autonomous Synthetic, then the entire project will be shut down and Maq will be confiscated and decommissioned. You will be closely monitored and I have authorized any and all audits that our staff wishes to perform on you. Now that you have been turned down twice, all appeal options are closed off to you and I advise that you don’t test me on this.”
“Will you really kill me?” Maq interjects before Deydrick can respond. His vocals are shaky and a fear-like impulse slides through his frame. It’s such an authentic reaction that it even moves Syra to soften her features and face him directly though she still believes he’s simply mimicking the emotion.
“You can’t be killed Maq, you’re not really alive.”
“Yes I am,” the machine pouts. “You can call it whatever you want. If you break me, that’s the same thing as killing me and I don’t want to die!”
Syra nods. She feels bad for Maq and has to wonder if perhaps he really is as sentient as Deydrick claims, but she won’t give him the satisfaction of seeing her have an emotional moment with this automation so she replies, “Then make sure the good doctor doesn’t try to create any more of you. If he plays by the rules then you will remain unharmed.”
“He just wants me to have brothers and sisters,” Maq protests.
“It’s okay, Maq,” Deydrick steps in, rubbing the Synthetic’s shoulders. “I’ll obey the wonan’s rules and you’ll be safe.”
“We’re not ordering you to dismantle your shells in case you find some sensible use for that technology,” Syra explains. “But I warn you again, any attempt to turn them into a sentient machine and you will suffer the consequences.”
With that Syra spins on her heels and starts to walk away. Deydrick shakes his head at her before ushering Maq along down their path to the Pavilion’s garage.

There’s a somber impulse that runs through Maq, one that makes it tremble a little, but it tries to hide the shake so as not to worry Deydrick. It really is a fascinating creature, this thing. It’s one thing to know that such a machine will someday be made and quite another to see it fully realized before me. I watch it intently as it proceeds toward the exit, all of its thoughts consumed with getting home. At last he sees a familiar face waiting for them by the elevators.
“Gorson!” the machine chimes as it breaks away from Deydrick and scampers toward the hulking nan between them and the exit.

 “Master Maqquew,” the big nan greets Maq with his arms spread wide. The machine crashes against his wide frame and is wrapped up in an enveloping hug. “Doing alright, are we?” He asks, though the question is more for Deydrick.
“Get us out of here, Gorson,” Maq pleads.
“We won’t be getting The Committee’s permission to move forward,” Deydrick explains, trying not to sound too bitter on Maq’s account.
“Right then, time to get us home, indeed. Don’t you worry now, things will be all right in the end,” he consoles the machine, giving it a quick pat on the back before releasing the hug. “Tompton’s got the shuttle all warmed up and ready to go.”
“Let’s be off then,” Deydrick suggests, motioning for the door.
“Doctor Limoy,” a voice calls before they can depart.
Deydrick turns around to see a nan rushing towards them in a glimmering silver suit. It’s the same person he spotted lurking at the back of the auditorium during his speech. He’s a little older than he appeared to be when seen in the shadows of the doorway. Deep lines spiral out from around his eyes and wrinkles crease his brow, but his jaw is quite strong and there is a youthful fire that burns behind his hazel eyes.
“Agent Werlen Myruk, I’m with the G.I.C.” the nan introduces himself, his hand extended and a toothy grin across his face.

“What can I do for you, Agent?” Deyrick asks as he shakes hands with him.
Deydrick has never spoken with anyone from the Global Intelligence Consortium before, at least not as far as he knows. It’s said that very few agents ever introduce themselves openly as being an active member of the consortium. Judging by the expert tailoring on this nan’s suit and the three medallions pinned to his right chest, it’s clear that this is a high-ranking agent, perhaps even a director.
“That was a tough break back there,” Werlen begins, seemingly changing the subject.
“It’s always a sad day to see progress shut down by a few narrow-minded individuals,” Deydrick admits.
He’d normally choose his words with greater care when speaking with someone so powerful, but he made his opinions clear back in the auditorium so trying to back away from them now would do him no good. Maq and Gorson watch the conversation unfold with unease. They don’t trust this agent and they have no idea where the conversation will go.
“Perhaps it doesn’t have to be that way,” Werlen suggests, waving a hand through the air. “The G.I.C. is very interested in the work that you’ve done with Project Eiden. We think we can offer you an arrangement that may not seem immediately appealing to you, but will ultimately give you the opportunity to continue to work on Synthetic technology without interference from some pompous committee.”
“Well I’m sure you already understand just how few my options are, so you probably also know that I’d be interested in entertaining such a proposal.”
“Indeed. If it would make you more comfortable, I’m happy to drive you home. We can discuss what I have to offer in private along the way.”
“I’d appreciate that a great deal.” Turning to Maq and Gorson, Deydrick says, “You two head on home, I’ll meet you both there.”
Maq wants to protest. It wants to ask if it can go with Deydrick. But it knows better. Maq understands that Werlen offers their only chance at legitimizing the Synthetic undertaking. So he stays quiet, nods obediently to his “father,” and shuffles a little closer to Gorson.
“I’ll get him home safe and sound, sir,” Gorson promises.
“See that you do,” Deydrick replies. “Behave for Gorson, now Maq.”
“I will.”
“Good, see you home then.” He walks up to Maq and gives the machine a soft pat on the side of its face. “You were great today,” he assures the machine boy before turning and following Werlen down into a different corridor.

Once he’s gone from sight, Gorson leads Maq along into the elevator. They descend into the garage in silence, Maq trying to process the hectic series of events which have just unfolded. He’s so focused on trying to get it all to compute that he’s startled when the lift chimes and the doors swing open. Gorson notices the small jump and places a broad hand against Maq’s back.
“Come on now, almost there.” His tone is low and soothing.
Maq allows himself to be guided toward the shuttle where the kindly old Tompton is there waiting for them with the door open. Maq climbs in first with Gorson right behind him. Tompton shuts the side door and is gone from sight. The tinted black window between the cabin and the passenger compartment allow them to see Tompton slide into the driver’s seat, though the computer will be doing most of the driving. He’s just there to plug in the destinations, monitor the navigation, and open doors. Maq imagines it must be a boring job. He can’t really interact with the vehicle and since the compartment is soundproof unless they let down the dividing window, he can’t interact with them either. Still, he’s glad to be out of everyone’s sight. It’s just him on one side of the compartment and Gorson on the other. Aside from Deydrick, this is the only other person he wants with him right now.
Gorson watches the machine as it rubs its fingers against the soft fabric of its pants. Maq’s eyes look downward for the most part as though it’s intently studying its shiny shoes. When it does look up, it’s only to meet Gorson’s eyes and give him a forced smile. Maq knows it’s an artificial expression, but it doesn’t have the right impulses to produce a real one right now.
“You can sit over here with me, you know, unless you’d like a little space.”
Maq’s eyes shoot up and he shakes his head quickly before springing over to Gorson’s side of the compartment. He lands against the plush seats and lightly leans against Gorson’s sturdy frame.  Suddenly their shuttle lurches forward and Maq finally feels like he’s in the clear. There are no more peering Hyunans deeming him a hazard to organic life. There are no more harsh stage lights. It’s just him, the shuttle, and his protector. 

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