Maxwell’s goal was the very back of his laboratory, next to the drafting table. Uriel’s hibernation put him standing against the wall. For extra safety, Maxwell had had him strap himself into a set of electro-magnetic cuffs at the wrists, the waist, the neck. “This is Uriel.”
Samin looked the man up and down, more than a little disturbed.
Uriel looked human.
He was a big man, just about the same age as Samin if looks were to be any judge. His skin was tan, and because Uriel wore a worker’s undershirt Samin could see that Uriel was heavily muscled. His hair was black, pulled back into a knot behind him, his nose and jaw very strong. He looked like a beast of a fellow, someone Samin would want his axe nearby should he prove unfriendly. Samin turned back to Maxwell. “What is this?”
“He’s… we’ll call him my servant.” Maxwell reached around the back of Uriel’s head and tapped a button he’d installed there– a ‘kill’ switch, should Uriel ever become dangerous. Now Maxwell mostly used it as a way to shock him out of hibernation.
Uriel’s eyes opened. They were red, and they glowed slightly.
“So… is he human?” Samin asked. “I can’t tell.”
“He used to be,” Maxwell said. “I needed a prototype to resurrect after Leo died. I couldn’t try blind on my son.”
“He’s a dead man?”
“I didn’t kill him, if that’s what you’re asking. Filched him out of a hospital morgue. There were some problems, of course, with doing it that way. He’d been dead for at least an hour, and he’s never remembered anything about his life.” Maxwell gestured with his cane brandishing it up and down Uriel’s chest. “This man can carry over a literal ton, and yet delicate enough to reassemble eggshells. Mind like a calculator, memory like a written book. A few extra toys built in here and there. I think this is the pinnacle of my life’s work.”
Maxwell walked to a control booth well away from Uriel and flipped a lever. Uriel’s cuffs were released.
“Why do you keep him locked up?” Samin asked.
“Because he’s dangerous,” Maxwell replied. “Most great artificers are killed by their own creations, you know. I mean to see that that does not become me. Uriel…” Maxwell handed him the list he had written. “I need these things. Load up the crab and ready the hatch doors.” Uriel nodded and left to start collecting things. Maxwell frowned and turned back. “Except for Leo’s personal effects on the bottom… I’ll get those.”
Maxwell seemed to have forgotten about Samin– he left him in his laboratory alone with Uriel.
Samin was fascinated and horrified at the same time. “But…” he finally said, “What is the difference, then, between what Maxwell has done to you, and what Gennyson has done to Leo?”
He hadn’t expected an answer.
“I’ll need a detailed description of what Gennyson did to the younger Gallows before I can answer that,” Uriel said without breaking his work. “But given context and the evidence of grave robbery combined with Gennyson’s history with Maxwell Gallows, I suspect Gennyson had stolen the boy’s body?”
Samin blinked. “Stole, stored, deconstructed, cobbled together badly.”
“Then the difference is that Maxwell is better at his art than Gennyson. In matters of freedom, I have more– the difference between slavery and prison, retrospectively. In situation, his was the better, as Leo continues to have allies after his remaking.” Uriel mounted the ladder at the far side and began to pull it back and forth, taking parts and pieces from selected shelves, packing them into bags for transportation.
“You’re a slave?”
“Yes and no.” Uriel hopped down from the ladder, slammed the stone floor with both feet on landing. “The technical definition of slavery is, ‘a person that is owned by another’. Now, if that definition was expanded, all machines and devices of civilization are the slaves of men, as are all beasts, pets, livestock. The question you must ask is, ‘am I human, or not?’. What is a person? Is it a mind, or a will? Can a dead man yet retain a soul? What is the elusive quality that defines humanity?”
Samin’s mouth was dry. “Do you want out?”
For a brief moment, Uriel stopped working. His voice had such intensity that Samin stepped back. “Yes.”
Samin did not interrupt Uriel again.
I love my villains.