Chapter 6: What is Life?

Maq and Gorson’s shuttle scoots along the main road away from the Keenan Pavillion and merges onto the Limrin Freeway. Its automated guiding system makes the process look effortless. Watching this vehicle slide into traffic is like watching a droplet of water fall into a stream. In a way, I do find it beautiful. Such coordination and grace serves as a stark contrast to the chaos that is life on this planet. Glossy shuttles slide along the egg-white roadway. They flow in one harmonious mass, broken only by vehicles slipping out of line into one of the tributary roads that branch off of the freeway. All around, towering buildings stand proud, the light of the evening sun beating down on them with an orange brilliance. Within the shuttle cabin, Maq sits in exhausted silence. As strange as one might find it, this machine is in fact tired. Its processes are running slowly and its mind is a jumbled matrix of thoughts and sensations. The gentle ebb and flow of the ride soothes it a little.
Eventually it tilts its head toward Gorson and asks, “Do you think I’m alive?”
“What do you mean, Maqquew, of course you’re alive.”
“But you didn’t always think so?”
“Why are you asking these things?” Gorson sounds troubled. I can feel worry start to creep up within him.
“Those people back there. I think a lot of them believed I am alive.”
“But not the ones that counted…” Gorson offers.
Maq bows its head and nods. “Not the ones that counted,” it repeats.
“It takes some getting used to is all,” Gorson consoles, placing a hand on Maq’s shoulder. “People don’t understand you yet, but they will.  They just need time, like I needed time.”
“Some of them even want to kill me…” Maq’s voice is whisper-soft. “Did you ever want to kill me?”
Maq’s glowing robot eyes are hard set on his companion. Even though they have no moisture, Gorson can’t help but think they look misty somehow. He thinks perhaps the glow just looks a little hazier inside of the vehcile, but seeing Maq this way still fills him with compassion. He wants to shelter this young thing from all the cruelty the world outside the shuttle has to offer. But he can’t. Such a thing is beyond his power to control. I too feel pity for this machine. It has the mind of a Hyunan and a body that can feel. Even I cannot decide if Deydrick’s creation is an act of indescribable brilliance or inexcusable cruelty. He thought only of his grand vision when he made Maq, never imagining the trauma this thing would face as the only one of its kind in a world that has no need or want for it to exist. And I can see that in mere moments, life is about to get even worse for little Maqquew.
“No, I never wanted to kill you. I simply looked at you as a thing before, a machine, cold and heartless. But I came to understand that you’re no robot or toy. You’re not a simulation of life, you are alive. I never wanted to hurt you, but I was afraid of you.”
“And you’re not now?”
Gorson pauses, contemplating the words he’s about to speak. “I’m not afraid of you, no,” he says, though a little unsteadily.
“Are you afraid of what I am then?” Maq presses. Innocent though it might be, this thing is no fool.
“I do fear the idea of your species and wonder if it is really best for there to be a whole population of Synthetics like you.”
“Why is it okay for me, but not for others?”
“Well you’re different Maq. You’re special because you’ve been able to learn and grow in a safe environment. You get to live with Deydrick who loves you and me who’d do anything to protect you. Some others who come after you may also have those benefits, but it would be impossible for you all to be raised the right way.”
“And you are afraid that without the proper upbringing we’d become like your species.”
“Yes, I do. And believe me, that’s the last thing this world needs. Imagine if we threw you out into the world as you were when you were first made and being greeted by people like the ones you faced today. How do you think that would shape you?”
Maq considers this with care. He tries to imagine his life without Gorson and Deydrick. Who would he be now without their love and guidance to steer him? What would he be like if he didn’t have a safe home to retreat to? “I honestly don’t know…” he admits, all calculations failing to come to any reasonable conclusion.
“Nor do I. That is why Synthetics are not to be taken lightly. Deydrick has designed you to be kind and gentle. You are all the things we’re supposed to be but that makes you vulnerable and sensitive. In a world as cold as this one, I shudder to think of what would become of a species like yours if you were to be thrust into it without a proper guide.”
“I guess I fear that too,” Maq concludes.
“Enough, of this heavy talk, then, what will should we do once we’re home?”
“Can we play Kandorball?” Maq’s face brightens as he asks this.
“We sure can! I think we could both use a few rounds on the court.”
Maq’s usual lightness returns to him. He suddenly gets the feeling that things are normal again. The rejection he and Deydrick suffered still bothers him, but at the end of the day, he gets to go home and be safe.  If only he could make it home without incident…
Maq’s shuttle slips out of the freeway onto one of the branching exit ramps leading down into the city streets. It glides with grace as it slips into a whole new wave of traffic. All seems well to the passengers when suddenly green and orange lights flash all around them. Police shuttles fall upon them from the rear and steer into oncoming traffic in front of them. Maq and Gorson hear Tompton grunt as their shuttle’s collision detection software brings the vehicle to a dead stop. The four police cruisers surround them, cutting off the once smooth flow of traffic. The officers inside, hop out of their vehicle with pistols held high in front of them. The forest green uniforms and silver badges these people wear may be a symbol of order, but today these nen and wonen are here to stir up a little chaos.
“Get out of the vehicle,” They shout while storming towards Maq’s shuttle, the barrels of their guns trained on it.
“Stay in the shuttle,” Gorson orders as he gets up from his seat and makes for the door.
“What’s happening?” Maq demands. He takes hold of Gorson’s wrists while the big nan tries to slide past him. His impulses are firing faster.
“It’ll be okay Maqquew, just stay inside, I’ll take care of this.”
   Maq watches with something akin to fear as both Gorson and Tompton exit the shuttle with their hands in the air. The officers approaching from the front shove Tompton out of their way and train their weapons on Gorson who remains outwardly calm.
“What’s the matter officers?” he asks, sounding innocent enough.
“Where are they?” a lady officer named Leina demands?
“Who?” Gorson stalls.
“The doctor and his monster,” the male officer beside Leina, a nan by the name of Mylen snarls.
“The doctor isn’t with us, Gorson,” responds. “I told Maq to wait in the vehicle. Is there a reason you’re stopping us?”
“Did you think we’d let you just parade your freaky robot through the streets?” an officer named Rensten yells from behind Gorson.
“We had this trip cleared with your office,” Gorson protests, trying to retain his professional demeanor.
“No, you paid off some bureaucrat to sign a pretty little paper for you. I’ll be damned if you can just drive that thing around like some kind of pet,” Leina sneers.
“Bring it out!” Mylen orders, thrusting his gun at Gorson’s face.
“Please, you’re startling people,” Gorson pleads.
Mylen peers around to see the citizens who’ve stepped out of their shuttles to watch the spectacle. Many have half their bodies still inside their vehicles and some cling to their doors. Maq can hear everything happening outside the shuttle. Its impulses tell it to get out as the officers have demanded, but its obedience to Gorson convinces Maq to remain where it is. Gorson remains steady, looking past Mylen’s gun and right into his eyes. Mylen’s middle-aged face contorts at the display of defiance. Without warning, he pulls his arm back and slams the bottom of his pistol’s handle into the side of Gorson’s face. He grunts as he twists downward, placing a hand against the gash that now defiles his left temple.
“Stop!” Maq squeaks as it shuffles out of his seat.
“Hands up!” Kyten, the fourth officer demands. He and Rensten aim their pistols at Maq while Mylen repoints his at Gorson.
Leina saunters over and shoves her blaster in front of Maq’s face. “Let’s get this thing off the streets!” she snarls.
“Please!” Maq’s metallic voice rings out. “I don’t want to die…”
“Shut up!” Leina screams. She shoves the barrel of her gun against its forehead.
“Maq, defend yourself,” Gorson commands.
Without hesitation, Maq grabs Leina by the wrist. Its reflexes are so fast that she doesn’t have time to blow his head to smithereens. By the time she can pull the trigger, Maq has her gun arm pointed toward Kyten’s leg. The beam shoots straight through his thigh, eliciting a pain-filled shriek as he falls to the ground. Maq twists Leina’s arm up and behind her back, cranking it so viciously that she releases a girlish scream and even tears up at the pain. He holds her in front of him as a living shield. Rensten keeps his gun on them, but isn’t sure what to do now that his captain is held hostage. Gorson takes the opportunity to slap Mylen’s gun arm to the side and then deliver a crippling shot to the nan’s gut. Mylen keels over, but Gorson shows no mercy. He grabs Mylen by the scruff of his collared shirt and drives him head first into the hood of the shuttle.  Rensten turns his aim to Gorson as Mylen crashes limply against the pavement. Seeing the threat to Gorson’s safety, Maq places its free hand on the back of Leina’s neck and leaps forward, shoving her face onto the street. He rolls over her stunned body and leaps into the air, spin-kicking the pistol from Rensten’s hand. Upon landing, Maq delivers a downward kick to Rensten’s knee, a diagonal chop to his neck, and a leaping elbow to the side of his skull. The nan drops down defenseless. Leina curls up to her knees, blood streaming from her nose and brow, but Gorson scoops her up and hurls her into the side of the shuttle. After smashing against it, she crashes to the ground and stays there. In one last-ditch effort, Kyten points his gun up toward Maq, but the machine rolls sideways away from the shot as Gorson takes up Leina’s gun and sends a beam into Kyen’s shooting arm. The nan howls, now sustaining two gunshot wounds. Maq walks over and kicks away his gun to be safe, but he refrains from causing the officer any further injury.
People gasp and gawk at the battle that just unfolded before them. They see the stunning precision of Maq’s design and feel a sense of awe at how effectively he dismantled his opponents, but when it’s all done, Maq races into Gorson’s arm like a young boy. Tompton stands nearby, shivering from the excitement. Gorson scans the area, weary of new threats, but for now the people around them are too stunned to do more than stare at them. A shuttle behind the scene of the struggle honks its horn violently as it pushes its way through the crowd and stationary traffic lane. The sleek, black shuttle slides past the police cruisers and parks beside where Gorson and Maq stand. Maq observes that the shuttle driver actually has his hands on the steering wheel, indicating that it is being piloted manually, which would explain its break from traffic. The tinted window rolls down to reveal Deydrick and Werlen sitting in the passenger cabin.

“Get in, all of you,” the agent orders.
The door swings upward, permitting the trio to enter into the government vehicle.
“Driver, get us to the Sundance Tower,” Werlen barks through the open window between the cabin and the cockpit. He looks at Maq as he takes a seat between Gorson and Tompton. “Don’t worry,” he says, “we’ll get you home safe and sound. Not even idiots like them will stop a G.I.C. shuttle.”
“It’ll be okay Maq,” Deydrick consoles. He leans across the cabin and places a hand on Maq’s knee. “It’s not your fault, it’ll all be fine.”
Maq forces a smile, but its hands are shaking and its body is wracked with impulses that it can’t process all at once. If Synthetics can experience trauma, then that is certainly what Maq is feeling right now. All it can think about is how badly it wants to go home.

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