The introduction processed. Aaron opened his mouth, lifted the edges of his lips and started the vibrations of speech. His greeting muted when the woman spoke first, slicing through his processes and sparking systems paralysis.
The words registered, but Aaron didn’t respond. He looked at the woman, and studied her body language. Her arms were folded, her youthful skin bunched on her forehead and her eyes narrowed. Mr Turner beside her stood wide-eyed, jaw unhinged and lip quivering.
“I’m sorry,” he said with his chin bobbing, “I-Louise, say you’re sorry.”
She shook her head, shifting her weight from one foot to the other. “I’m not, so I’m not gunna say it.”
She wasn’t sorry. Aaron didn’t know why she should be, but Mr Turner apologised again on her behalf. The woman was not the one that should apologise, she had asked him to perform a task and he had been unable to fulfil it.
Aaron placed his hand on his chest, specifically the placement of the human heart. A gesture of sincerity his programming told him, he held the pose and spoke with unwavering eye contact on the woman.
“It is me who is sorry, I cannot do what you asked of me, although at the current time, I see that my demise would have positive outcomes in my primary objective.”
The woman’s mouth opened, but no words followed. Mr Turner ran his hand back and forth along the top of his hairless head.
“Go ahead and introduce yourself.” He said, facing Aaron.
The woman tightened her crossed arms and her jumper wrinkled. Her lips pressed in a firm line, and one of her eyebrows lifted. Aaron didn’t know what the expression meant. Humans usually smiled when they greeted one another, but this woman was different.
“My name is Aaron. I’m an android developed in The Eden sanctuary, Edinburgh. Our aim is to increase the life experience of humans suffering Mental health difficulties. Our work will change the lives of many-
The woman waved her hand and Aaron closed his mouth just as her lips opened.
“Yeah, we don’t need a sales pitch.”
“Louise,” Mr Turner said, staring at her till she turned away, “carry on Aaron.”
“I’m a social android, and my aim is to complete my objectives within the laws of society. I have been created to add value to human existence, and I hope my presence will greatly improve your lives.” He looked directly at the woman and didn’t blink, “particularly yours, you are my primary objective after all.”
Louise relaxed her expression and turned to Mr Turner besides her.
“Primary objective? What? I thought he was just here to infiltrate the university, you said they were testing whether he could fit in, seem human,” she said.
Mr Turner ran his hand down his face with an exhale of air. Such a long breath rendered him speechless. Aaron took it upon himself to respond to the woman instead.
“I have two objectives,” he clarified.
The woman waved her hand towards him and he continued.
“My secondary objective is to fit into society flawlessly, as a twenty-year-old student-
“Right,” the woman said, turning to Mr Turner again, “that’s what you told me he was here for, see if you’re accepted as real or rejected as a robot.”
Mr Turner clutched his lips with his hand, bunching the pink flesh. The woman was looking to him for a verbal response, and yet his body refused the woman’s desire. There must have been a glitch in his programming. Aaron continued to speak where the human failed.
“My primary objective, what I must achieve above all else, is your happiness.”
“My happiness?” the woman repeated quietly.
Aaron’s audio unit pushed harder to register the words, but they processed, and he bowed his head.
“You are a test subject, same as me. I will help cure you of your depression and make you happy.”
The woman took a step back. She scrunched her brow. A dark line appeared at the top of her nose and her top lip curled back. Angry, his programming supplied, or possibly she was about to sneeze. A human process Aaron had yet to witness.
No need to overwork audio, the woman’s words registered faster than seconds ago. A repeated phrase and said with more force.
He was unable to do as the angry woman told him.
“I cannot do that, sorry.”
The softening of his tone of voice and the sag of facial matter did not loosen her expression. The lines of her flesh were more pronounced than before. Definitely Anger, his programming confirmed. He needed to learn how to respond to emotions without heightening them.
“You taking the piss outta me?” She asked, shifting foot to foot.
Perhaps she was not expressing anger in its raw sense, but a by-product of fear. Aaron needed to diffuse the woman’s unease.
“I am not authorised to take the urine out of you.”
She turned back to Mr Turner beside her. “You serious?”
Mr Turner continued to cover his mouth and avert his gaze. Aaron studied him for a few seconds before replying.
“I would say based on his body language he’s being evasive, not serious.”
She turned back to him and the swift movement lifted her brown hair. “No shit, Sherlock.”
“Aaron,” he said, pitching forward.
The woman produced a rumbling of noise, not fine-tuned in her mouth but raw from her throat. Aaron played back the sound to himself, realising she was intimidating a wolf, or a bear. Not familiar with the human ritual of animal calls, Aaron searched for a replying sound in his programming.
He opened his mouth and released an imitated screech of a Macaque. Both woman and man sprung back. The woman no longer narrowed her eyes, instead, they were wide open along with her mouth. Shock, Aaron decided. He had shocked her.
“I think he’ll fail both objectives.” The woman said.
“Not an option.” Aaron replied, forcing the edges of his lips up into what humans called a smile.
Statistically, a smile produced a returning smile, but the woman didn’t, she narrowed her eyes again and pressed her lips together in a line.
“Shut up,” she said, and that was something Aaron could do.
Mr Turner stopped covering his mouth and turned to the woman. “He’ll look after you.”
“I’m not crazy dad, I don’t need some—something to look after me, I’ll be fine. I’m sorry about before okay, but he-it, I don’t need it.”
Mr Turner stooped forward, the flesh of his face hung, and his eyes shut longer than necessary before reopening. Sadness, Aaron reasoned, he had only been programmed to recognise six emotional states in humans, and Mr Turner’s features matched those presented in sadness.
“I can’t lose you, you haven’t even told me why you did it-
The woman’s hand shot up in the air and Mr Turner’s functioning stopped.
“You haven’t told it about me have you, you haven’t told it-
“No.” Mr Turner said, and the woman bent forward with a shaky exhale.
“I haven’t told him anything about you yet, I want you to.”
The woman straightened, shaking her head minutely while staring at the floor. “But he’s not real dad, it’s a machine. I don’t want it following me around, drawing attention to me. I don’t like it.”
Mr Turner reached forward, gripping both her shoulders until she looked up at him.
“He’s designed to learn, he might draw attention to himself at first, but he’ll fit in. It’s what he’s supposed to do-
“That and spy on me.”
“He’s not spying, that’s not what he’s for…. if you need to talk to someone, need someone to sit with you, spend time with you, he will fill that role, so you don’t feel that lonely again. So you don’t…make any drastic decisions.”
“I said I’m sorry.”
Aaron’s focus stayed on the woman’s eyes. Her blue irises became more vibrant until the liquid magnifying them hit her cheek and ran off. Mr Turner responded by wiping the pad of his thumb against the trail of moisture and bunching his lips together. He breathed in rushes through his lips, and the moisture in the woman’s eyes lessened.
“I know you are, but I can’t lose you, Aaron will be there to make sure you’re never alone…it’s that or I follow you around uni.”
The woman made another noise, top of her throat exhale through slightly upturned mouth. A sound of amusement?
The woman pulled away from Mr Turner’s grip. “Don’t you dare.”
“Well then, just try with Aaron.”
She nodded. “So it’s like a slave, will do whatever I want?”
Mr Turner shook his head. “No, and he isn’t designed to be a slave, don’t treat him like one.”
The woman shrugged. “It’s here to make me happy right, so if I want it to make me breakfast every morning, serenade me, dance at my command.”
“They are all short-term forms; long-term happiness is his primary objective.” Mr Turner shifted back on his feet averting his gaze. “And there are things he won’t do.”
Mr Turner’s throat bobbed with a swallow. His body malfunction again in its need to speak. Thankfully, his body released him from his muteness after a few seconds.
“He will not damage himself, he will not damage others…and-and he will not damage you.”
The woman’s throat did the same spasm. She hugged her arms to her body again, dropping her gaze to the floor.
Mr Turner continued, voice slower and quieter as he spoke.
“You have nothing to fear from him, there’s no malice or aggression in him, he will protect you if need be and he won’t ever hurt you—"
“That’s not how you meant it though is it.”
Again, Mr Turner’s speech cut out, the woman’s words punctured a hole in Mr Turner’s processes, just like she had done to him. Mr Turner didn’t recover, and the woman went on.
“You meant I can’t ask him to hurt me.”
There was an extended pause, both Mr Turner and woman glared at the floor until finally, Mr Turner spoke.
“I meant both. He will not hurt you, he isn’t aggressive in any form, in fact, he has no emotions whatsoever, and he will not assist you if you hurt yourself either. He will stop you.”
“Even if stopping me causes me pain?”
Mr Turner exhaled slowly. “His goal is your long-term happiness and he accepts that in this pursuit, at certain times, his decisions might be counter-reactive to his goal…you-you said you stopped self-ha—”
“I have.” The woman replied, rubbing her arms.
“If you feel like hurting yourself, talk to him, tell him how you’re feeling.”
“You’ve replaced my shrink with a robot.”
Mr Turner shook his head. “You hated her, you hated talking things through. Your third therapist was your last.”
“She was judging me.”
“Aaron won’t, in fact, he can’t. I don’t want to say you can’t go back to uni, I don’t want to lock you away. My parental side is yelling at me to do so, keep you safe, but I won’t. You need a life, and you want one too. You want to go back, you want to complete your final year. I know having Aaron there will be strange, but his presence might help when you feel overwhelmed. You might feel you can tell him what you couldn’t tell me. Please Lou, just try, I’m all out of options.”
The woman bowed her head and curled her spine forward. “Okay.”
Mr Turner dropped his head back and raised his pressed hands to the ceiling. A gesture of thanks or prayer Aaron’s programming told him.
“I’ll go make us some lunch. You—you spend some time with Aaron.”
Mr Turner left with his back straighter and chin higher than when he first walked into the room.
Aaron turned his focus back to the woman. She stared at him, and he stared back.
Humans were supposed to blink between 15-20 times a minute, but the woman didn’t fit that statistic, she blinked fewer times, and narrowed her eyes slightly each time she did. Her hair was brown, down to her shoulders. Her eyes were blue, and her lips were pink. She had the same eye shape as Mr Turner, but her nose was different, narrower than his. Brown marks dotted her cheeks. Freckles, his programming recognised, rare on a woman with brown hair, rather than red. Mr Turner didn’t have any, Aaron suspected they were from the woman’s mother.
“He said you wouldn’t judge me, but you’re doing it now.”
Aaron shook his head in a no gesture, but the woman continued.
“I can see it, you’re scanning me, dissecting my face.”
“I will not hurt you.”
She widened her eyes and looked at him for thirty seconds without blinking. “Judging me hurts.”
The woman didn’t make sense. Aaron couldn’t judge and he couldn’t hurt, yet she claimed he did both. He tried again.
“I scanned you, to learn your face, but I will not dissect you. I’m not allowed to hurt anyone.”
She banged her fist on her forehead and Aaron stepped forward ready to stop her from beating herself.
“I didn’t mean physically dissect me, I meant you were making assumptions about me.”
“I cannot make assumptions.”
She waved her hand in the space between them. “Then…what did you see when you scanned me, tell me.”
“You have brown shoulder length hair, pink lips and blue eyes. You share characteristics with your dad, iris colour and shape. Your nose is narrower, and your cheeks are freckled. I suspect from your mother. Freckles and brown hair are rare, they are more common on red-headed women. That is what I learned when I catalogued your appearance.”
“Humans can recall hundreds of faces, I cannot. I am programmed to record and save faces of those important to my function. You are my primary objective, in the hierarchy of recognised importance you are the top, followed by my creator Professor Takahashi, and your father Mr Turner. I have three faces saved to my memory, each time I see the person the image is reinforced.”
“There will be a lot more than three people at university, how many can you remember?”
“Ten, but they can be displaced depending on importance.”
The woman nodded. “Okay…so you have my appearance saved, what else do you want?”
“I don’t want for anything.”
She exhaled loudly, and then gripped the top of her nose with her thumb and forefinger. “You want to achieve your primary objective?”
Aaron opened his mouth, searching for a suitable reply. Want was a human motivation, not robots. Securing his primary objective was of vital importance, key to his creation.
A non-conforming vibration started in his throat, a meaningless sound, that had no function. He pressed his lips together, searching for a reason for the unintended output. He had malfunctioned for a second and didn’t know why.
The woman made a sound, a rush of breath with her lips upturned. A sound of amusement. Aaron stared at her.
“That’s the first human thing you’ve said.” She said.
“I didn’t say anything, I couldn’t find a suitable reply and a sound left my mouth that shouldn’t have.”
The woman pressed her lips together and created another noise. One Aaron remembered from walking through the house, a sound that escaped the refrigerator even with the door firmly shut. He didn’t understand what she referred to and when he made an appropriate noise back, a mimic of an alarm clock, she bolted back with her eyes wide open.
“Why do you do that?” she asked.
“You make a sound, I make one back. That is how verbal communications works.”
She shook her head. “I’m not trying to communicate when I make sounds…well not really, there more for my benefit than yours.”
“Is there anything I could tell you that would assist your primary objective?” she asked.
She waved her hand in a coaxing manner and Aaron continued.
“What is your name?”
She tensed her face until deep lines sliced her brow and around her eyes. “You know my name, you’ve heard it.”
“But you didn’t give it to me.”
Her top teeth pressed into her bottom lip distorting their shape and her eyebrows drew closer.
“Your name.” Aaron said.
He bowed his head. “Hello Louise, my name is Aaron, nice to-
“Yeah, I know your name, is there anything else?”
Aaron’s mouth twitched. He abandoned his introductory greeting for the second time and asked instead, “How old are you?”
“I am two years old, the final working prototype of the android model AK-32-
“Whatever,” she said, “any other questions?”
He quickly composed himself, changing his line of conversation.
“What are you studying?”
“History. My final year is starting in September, you it seems, will come with me.”
Aaron nodded. “Yes. Can I ask one more question?”
“Yeah, knock yourself out.”
He opened his mouth and tried to understand her words but failed. How could he knock himself out, he didn’t understand what the words were even asking him to do?
“I meant go ahead.” Louise said.
“Ahead of what?”
The wolf/bear sound escaped her mouth but he didn’t respond with another animal. He waited.
“I meant, ask your final question.” Louise said, back to pinching the top of her nose.
Aaron bobbed his head. “What makes you happy?”
Louise rocked back on her heels, pulling her arms tight to her chest.
“I don’t know anymore,” she said quietly, “th-that’s enough questions for now.”
She turned and walked out of the room. Spine curled forward, and chin tucked. The same way she had walked in.
Aaron ran the reply through his head.
I don’t know anymore.
The anymore held significance, it implied that once Louise had been happy, but had now lost the ability to find it, or understand it. A more useful question would’ve been asking why she was unhappy. The key to unlocking happiness was to diminish the less pleasurable emotions and work from there. Sadness, anger, fear, Aaron had to learn their appearance on Louise’s face and find a suitable solution to disrupt the power of those negativities.
He was programmed for his primary objective, and there was no option but to achieve it.
Two weeks after activation, Aaron had made very little process in his primary objective. Louise avoided contact, would leave the room he entered and when he tried to follow, she raised her voice and told him to ‘get lost’. Another demand he couldn’t fulfil, he was designed to monitor where he was, signals beaming from satellites helped map his position for his benefit and for Professor Takahashi’s.
Mr Turner watched proceedings, offering small smiles Aaron couldn’t assign. They didn’t appear long enough, or stretch and lift wide enough to be smiles of happiness. Aaron didn’t understand the origin of the small smile, but Louise never presented him with one, nor smiles of elation.
Mr Turner produced the unknown smile for the thirty-fourth time.
“Why does she hate me?” Aaron asked.
Mr Turner stopped tilting his lips up and glanced down at the floor. “She’ll come around.”
“She’ll come around to the idea of you being there. She will change her mind about you.”
Aaron walked to the room Mr Turner allocated him.
Mr Turner called it a bedroom, a room with a human bed, the name suited the function but was of no use to him. He didn’t need to sleep. His artificial skin contained minute photovoltaic cells that converted sunlight into electricity. As long as he had enough exposure to the sun, he could run continuous, banking energy in his moments of inactivity. His reserves were at their full capacity, able to run for three days in the dark if needed.
Aaron stepped forward, turning to the reflective glass nailed to the wall. A mirror, Mr Turner had told him. The artificial flesh over his metal skeleton was paler than Louise’s. His nose was longer, wider at the tip. His eyebrows were lower, less arched. The implanted hair was dark brown, as were his eyebrows and irises. His lips were pale pink, and his teeth were white. His physical appearance and body shape implied to the human eye that he was a Caucasian male of the species. Aaron was neither male, nor one of their species.
Staring at his reflection, he knew his facial aesthetic was that of a young man, but he had no idea how one acted. He stood as a blank slate with the artificial face of a man he knew nothing about and felt no affiliation to. He couldn’t feel anything on an emotional level at all.
He rubbed his fingers and thumb together, sparking physical feeling. He sensed pressure and movement but had no opinion on its implication. The wind could brush his flesh, the rain could beat down on his head, and the cold could pale the cells in his skin. He felt all sensations, but they didn’t equate to anything. He knew from his programming he had to ensure he wasn’t knocked over in case he damaged his systems. Too much water creeping into his body could compromise his delicate wiring and he had to ensure his skin stayed in good conditions to keep up the pretence, but it didn’t mean anything to him.
All that mattered was his primary objective, and he couldn’t get close to Louise without her making snake sounds or wolf ones. Happiness, he seemed to be the cause of her unhappy feelings, which compromised his ability to find a solution.
On the rare occasions, he had observed without being seen, he had noted Louise spent considerable amounts of the day staring and picking at her clothing. He had chosen to describe her facial features as absent in those moments, even though they were clearly present from a visual point of view. The expression didn't fit any of the six basic emotions he had been programmed to identify, it didn’t even hint towards them.
The electronic device in front of Louise beamed sound and light, and yet she didn’t react to any of the stimuli. Mr Turner had to call her name repeatedly to gain her attention, and after a fleeting smile in his direction, her face sagged back to its default blank setting. In these moments, her body was still apart from the fidgeting of her fingers at the sleeve of her jumper. They picked at the material, sometimes creating a clicking sound, the only sound coming from her direction.
Only when he appeared in the room did the facial cues change, a roll of eyes, and a muttering of words too quiet for even his hearing to decipher. Angry at his presence, but she hadn’t been smiling before, her eyes weren’t wide, and her cheeks weren’t rounded the way they were supposed to when expressing joy.
The blank state was not positive and had to be prevented from robbing Louise of hours of possible elation, but how could he fulfil his objective when his presence emphasised Louise’s negative mood. He thought about the problem, before deciding Mr Turner might be able to give him valuable information, or at the very least, an explanation.
Aaron approached Mr Turner the next day when Louise was still in bed. He sat in his armchair, holding a glass in his palms.
“You had me programmed to make your daughter happy, and yet my being irritates and angers her. Why did you choose me to improve her happiness?”
Mr Turner blinked in quick succession and returned the glass he was holding to the table. His head tipped forward and he spoke to his hands.
“I thought she’d speak to you how she doesn’t to me. Confide in you as a friend. Loneliness, I was worried she was alone and thought you could help.”
“Was she alone at university?”
He shook his head. “She had friends, a group of them. I saw photos of them out and she looked happy, but photographs can be misleading.”
“How can they be misleading, they’re snapshots of a moment, surely they’re the most real representation, other than physically seeing the situation.”
Mr Turner made a sound from his nose, a rush of air that rocked his head back.
“We’re conditioned from an early age to smile in photos. Those smiles, those poses, they are not true of how we are. They are what we want the world to see, who we want the world to see. A smile and an open expression doesn’t always mean the same is felt on the inside…it’s important you understand that.”
“Why not ask her if she’s happy?”
“Language can also be used to hide emotions. She may say she is fine when she isn’t.”
Aaron dropped his head and studied his hands. “How can I possibly know what she truly feels if she masks it and lies with her voice, how can I make her happy, will I even know when she is?”
Mr Turner curled forward in his chair and reached for his glass. The amber liquid sloshed as he pulled it closer. “That’s the problem I’ve faced, and I failed. I’m her father and I couldn’t see her torment. I’m hoping you will.”
“There is no other option, not hope, or want, but certainty. I will make Louise happy, but I need to find a way to get to my goal. Perhaps more information about where her sadness stems from would be valuable—
“Don’t you dare tell that thing about me!”
Louise stood in the doorway with her hands scrunched into balls. The red pigment increased in her cheeks as she stared with narrowed eyes. She didn’t blink, and her eyes became obscured by moisture. Several emotions were displaying, anger with the narrowing of eyes and red cheeks, sadness with the forming of tears, and the tremble of her chin.
Mr Turner tipped the glass up and swallowed the contents. His whole body shuddered, and he smacked his lips together before addressing his daughter.
“I haven’t, but it might be useful for him if you did. Tell him how you’re feeling.”
“I don’t want to talk to it, I don’t want to talk to anyone or thing.”
The glass clunked back on the table, not a drop of amber left.
“The bottling of emotions is never a good thing.” Mr Turner said.
“Neither is using the bottle to numb them.”
Aaron didn’t understand her words, but Mr Turner rocked back in his seat, and the shock showing on his face became more prominent as the seconds went by.
“I’ve only had one drink,” he said.
The human was yet again malfunctioning, Aaron interrupted to spare him. “Actually, that’s your third. I was watching from the doorway.”
Mr Turner dropped his head into his hands. No doubt sad by his miscounting.
“Three? It’s not even lunchtime yet!” Louise yelled.
Mr Turner rubbed at his face before moving both hands over his hairless head and clutching the back of his neck. “I know it’s bad—”
“Too right its bad, you’re drinking far too much.”
“I drink when I’m worried. You go back tomorrow and I hoped you’d make progress with Aaron before you went.”
“Progress? He’s a robot, what do you want me to do—”
“I want you to talk to him!”
It was the first time Mr Turner had raised his voice significantly. He turned to his daughter with his face reddening and his eyes magnified by moisture. “You don’t talk to me, you don’t talk to your friends, lecturers, therapists-
“Of course I do—”
“Not about what’s going on in here,” Mr Turner tapped his head and continued, “you keep stuff locked away and it poisons you. Aaron will listen, he will be there for you. He doesn’t have human flaws of selfishness or disloyalty. He is here for you and only you.”
“What about his secondary objective?”
“It’s part of the primary. He can’t successfully make you happy if he can’t integrate into university.”
Louise turned away drawing her arms towards her body. “What if I don’t feel like talking about what happened months ago.”
“Then don’t…but talk to him about something else, tell him things that make you happy.”
“What if I don’t feel like doing that either?”
Mr Turner twisted in his chair with the front of his body exposed to Louise as they stared at each other. “Then don’t, but just talk, say anything, recite lyrics, movie quotes, teach him, it doesn’t have to be deep and meaningful, and it might not help you, but that’s what he’s there for...It will give me peace of mind knowing you have him.”
Louise ran a hand through her hair and gripped the strands together. She breathed out slowly before moving her focus from her dad to Aaron.
“Fine, we’re going for a walk.”
“A walk?” he asked moving towards her.
“Yeah, just to the park and back.”
She moved to the front door, grabbed the keys in the bowl on the window ledge and strolled out. Aaron turned towards Mr Turner. Another unidentifiable smile stretched his lips, given more time, Aaron might have been able to characterize the lift, but a shout of his name from the front door had him moving.
The sun blared down on them as they walked. The blue sky stretched above them with not a cloud in sight. The leaves of the trees rustled in the slight wind, and the flowers in the gardens fanned out their colour. They walked side by side, Aaron wearing his white t-shirt and dark jeans, and Louise wearing her blue jeans and black hoodie.
Aaron frowned at the clothing she wore. Oversized, the hem hung over her hips and the sleeves concealed her hands. She walked with her head bowed, scanning the floor as she went.
The muteness between them lengthened, and Aaron thought of a way to break it and spark conversation.
“It’s a lovely day,” he said.
“Is it?” she replied.
Aaron turned away. He didn’t know how to respond, it appeared the perfect weather for a human, yet Louise didn’t respond to it with any cheeriness. Aaron had no opinion of the day, had spoken the words to ease and comfort in a familiar human way.
They continued in silence. Aaron studied Louise intently, looking for any hint that her mood lifted with the walk. She shot him narrow-eyed looks, and exhaled more than necessary.
He was about to look away, but then he saw an interesting reaction.
Louise’s nostrils expanded, her pace slowed, her chin tilted up and her eyes closed for a second, then she continued her stooped walk as if the nothing had happened.
Aaron widened his eyes to take in more visual information. Something on the walk had lifted her mood for a second. He paused, spinning to access the scene behind them.
Louise stopped too. She scrunched her brow, and waved her hand. “What is it?”
“Something we passed made you react positively. I want to know what it was.”
“Nothing, I haven’t reacted to anything, it’s the same dull walk I’ve done a hundred times.”
Aaron shook his head. “No, something changed.”
He played the moment back in his head, mapping the exact area that caused the reaction.
“There,” he said, pointing at a slab of concrete, “you felt better there for a second.”
Louise moved closer, directing her squinted gaze at the path. “What the hell are you talking about?”
“We stepped over that slab and your mood lifted. What’s special about the rectangle, or was it the car parked on the road, or the brown fence to your right.”
No…Louise’s gaze had been fixed on the ground her stepping feet occupied. Her face had been blank, she hadn’t registered the car nor the fence.
“A memory? Did you think of something positive, remember something significant? What were you thinking of?”
Louise rocked back on her feet. “I can’t remember. I wasn’t thinking of anything.”
Aaron moved to stand on the rectangle. “Come here.”
She shook her head with a hissed, “What? Why?”
“Please,” he said, coaxing with his hand.
Louise bounced her foot on the path cocking her jaw, then moved and stood obediently on the paving slab. Aaron stared, and Louise stared back. It was impossible to create the exact same situation again, and her angry expression didn’t change. He had missed a vital moment.
Aaron was about to step off and ask to continue the walk, but the wind registered on his skin, and then the moment of change occurred.
The reaction was smaller than before. A twitch of nostrils, a flutter of eyelashes and a small rise of her chin.
“That?” Aaron said quietly.
“The wind, when the wind blew.” He said, eyes tracking her face.
“The smell,” she replied quietly, “when the wind blew, it brought a smell.”
Aaron opened his nostril passages wider. There was no need to breathe, his chest moved with a rhythm to deceive but there was no purpose. He could detect scent, but Professor Takahashi had told him not to the extent of a human.
“Can you not smell it?” Louise asked.
“I can,” he said slowly, “but there’s no meaning. I don’t understand it.”
“What’s to understand? The slight hint of petrol and cut grass. I-I like it.”