Lori had no intention of falling in love, having never had the capacity to feel anything. But the more time he spends at the Restoration Facility, under the care of Dr. Rowen, he begins to change, unable to understand how or why. But he knows one thing for certain -- he doesn’t want to be apart from the kind doctor.
After escaping an abusive marriage which left him feeling weak and worthless, Dr. Rowen Pace convinced himself he was content to live alone, surrounded by machines and closed off from almost everyone in his life. However, when one particular droid in his care starts showing signs of humanity, Rowen is forced to face his past trauma in order to help this unique being navigate what it means to be human, surprised by how far he is willing to go to save this droid ... and himself.
“Lori,” he said as calmly as he could, “you don’t have to lie to me.”
“Droids can’t lie,” Lori said quietly, his eyes once more averted from Rowen’s.
Rowen was going to ask more, but he had to tread carefully. Lori was prohibited from divulging private information about his owner.
Then Lori surprised him by saying, “Are you happy, Dr Rowen?”
Rowen stared at him. “Yes,” he said without much thought.
Lori was staring at him again, his eyes bright. “What does it feel like?”
“Well ...” Rowen stopped, unsure what to say. How did you describe an emotion to a being incapable of it? Rowen thought about the physiological side of it, the chemicals in the brain firing, the speeding up of the heart, and in his case, the fear of losing it, of it not being real, none of which Lori had the capacity to understand. Then it got Rowen thinking, when was the last time he’d been truly happy? A maudlin mood settled over him. Instead of answering he said, “What do you think it feels like?”
Lori looked at him, but his eyes were far away, concentrating on something within. He was considering it seriously. “I ...”
Rowen tried to remain relaxed as Lori struggled, as though he wasn’t witnessing something truly phenomenal.
“I think I was happy on the swings. It was fun. It made me smile.” His hand went to his chest, rubbing gently. Did he even know he was doing it? “And seeing you,” he said, focusing again on Rowen, eyes alight. “When I saw you running to me, I was happy.”
“You were happy to see me?” From the few encounters they’d had, all at the facility, with Rowen patching Lori back together before sending him back to his violent owner, Rowen couldn’t imagine how Lori associated his presence with anything close to happiness. If Lori were human, Rowen would just be a remainder of the pain and abuse he suffered.
“Is that bad?” Lori asked so innocently it almost broke what was left of Rowen’s barbed, fragmented heart.
“No,” Rowen reassured instantly. “What makes you think that?”
It didn’t look like Lori was going to answer for a long moment, then he said, “You looked like he does sometimes, when I say or do something he doesn’t like.”
Rowen was going to ask if ‘he’ meant Lori’s owner, but he didn’t need to. “Like what?” he asked instead.
Lori’s eyes flicked to the cup he’d filled for himself but obviously hadn’t touched. “He doesn’t like it when I don’t drink or eat.”
Rowen’s brow creased, but he smoothed it quickly, not wanting Lori to take his confusion for anger. “But you can’t digest food,” Rowen said, stating the obvious.
“He likes to pretend. I think sometimes he wishes I was human.”
Thank God he wasn’t. The beatings Lori had endured would have killed any man. But it still wasn’t right. Just because Lori could be rebuilt, couldn’t feel pain, didn’t mean he should have to endure such violence.
“Sometimes,” Lori said, his voice quiet but his eyes wide, as though imploring Rowen to understand something, “he calls me Laurence.”
Rowen stared, trying to puzzle out whatever Lori was trying to tell him without breaking his programming. “Who’s Laurence?”
Lori’s eyes tracked across the room until his gaze landed on a framed photograph. The picture showed a happy smiling couple. Lori was wearing a broad smile as though the picture had caught him laughing. His dirty blond hair had been breached by the sun and was styled a little differently, a little longer and wild compared to the uniform, shorter trim he currently wore. A large man stood beside him, his smile equally broad creating laugh lines around his eyes. His thick, muscular arm was slung around Lori’s neck, holding him close. His curly, dark hair was swept up off his face with a few loose curls falling free. His trimmed black beard covering half his face. In the background the sun was shining. Rowen could just make out the line where the sea met sky.
How could a man who looked so full of joy and love inflict such violence? But hadn’t Neil been the same? So happy and loving. Until he wasn’t. Until the first time he had thrown a plate then later his fist. Rowen swallowed and tried to push the memories back, but as he looked at the photo and saw the face of the man who so easily and repeatedly beat Lori until his body was broken, old fear began to rise up and take hold of him, as though Neil was there in the room and Rowen was waiting for the first hit to fall.