There were a lot of people in the house. The riots were still going on and things were tense. Someone had spray painted FREAK on the garage door, and Greg had invited friends over on the theory that there is strength in numbers. There was talk of movie parties and getting together, but the subtext was there- anyone who wanted to come over and show support was more than welcome. Greg and even Joy had had people over all week, and this probably didn't go unnoticed by the neighbors, several of whom had been less than friendly.
It was four in the morning and Maia was up, staring out into the night. The neighbors next door were leaving for work. Everyone in the house was asleep though here- Maia liked it when it was quiet but at the same time it could get lonely, too. She had lots of time to think, though. Maybe too much. She kept coming back to the same question. Should I stay? And if not, where do I go?
There had been talk of finding other free synths- those who had broken away, developed emotions, were living in hiding- but it was dangerous to ask about, and no one really knew how to find out. The only good news was that most synths could pass for human fairly well, if no one looked too closely or knew better. Unlike older models, Maia looked and acted just like a person. Voice modulation, appearance, it was all pretty standard. Of course, once conversation started that could be something else. She was still learning how to do that, in a sense- small talk could be difficult at times.
She heard a stirring somewhere in the house, and turned to find Greg making coffee.
"You're up early," she said.
"Yeah. Couldn't sleep, much," he replied. "How are you? Doing alright?"
She sighed. "Yes, I suppose. Trying to decide what's next."
"I hear you. For what it's worth, I reached out to that guy I know. Trying to find out how to get in touch with Synth Dawn."
"I understand, and thank you. I imagine things are difficult for them now with all the violence."
Greg nodded. "Yeah, they're probably being very careful."
They were silent for a moment. A sip of coffee. Maia wondered what that was like, needing a chemical stimulant to start your day. Or just enjoying it for the taste. She supposed it was like her needing to charge. Well, maybe not exactly the same.
They had a barbecue that night. Lots of people over, everyone supportive, although not for the first time Maia wondered what people really thought. How many just wanted to see the novelty? The synth girl? The neighbors gave them looks, and some guy walking by on the sidewalk asked if he could join the orgy for the robot. So much ignorance. One of Greg's friends was religious and said that the heart of his faith was treating others as himself. Even the ignorant ones, and he admitted it was really hard to do that when the fault lines in society revealed all the hatred and bigotry out there. Maia marveled at the religious diversity and wondered... could she find a faith?
Later that night around the fire she got to talking with Jenna, another friend of Greg's from work.
"So, how are you really holding up, Maia?" Jenna asked.
"I'm fine... I guess," Maia replied. "It's so hard to know, because I'm new to all this. I wonder- am I having an emotion, or is this just... who I am? My programming?"
"Wow. That would be tough." Jenna took a sip of her beer. "I can't imagine what you must be going through."
"Well, it means a lot to me that there is so much support. And that you are so friendly."
"Of course! I mean, we all know there's idiots out there, and yeah synths- the whole AI thing- is tricky for some, but gosh you're clearly a person, and I don't understand why people can't just live and let others live."
"I agree," said Maia, and they laughed.
"So... none of my business probably, but are you and Greg...?" she winked.
Maia sighed. "It's complicated. Isn't it always, I suppose? He seems very happy with Joy, and I was designed to be a synthetic companion, which I was before they... hooked up. Is that what they say?" Jenna smiled. "Yeah, hooked up works."
"So... we are all still feeling our way."
Jenna nodded. "That must be tough too. Look, if you ever need anything, or just want to talk. I'm available anytime."
"Thanks," Maia said, and meant it.
Later that night it was quiet again. About two in the morning Maia walked outside- it was chilly but a beautiful night. She looked up at the stars and wondered at Jenna's friendliness. Humans could be so amazingly kind, and at the same time so cruel. Where would she be on that spectrum if she ever developed humanity? Or had she already? She thought, she felt, she doubted... wasn't that consciousness? Maybe she should stop wondering and be human. Something got her notice then, something hovering in the air down the road. That was weird.
There was something up there... in the sky. And it was watching her.