Lorna was bored, but that was okay. When you worked in retail in this part of the city, bored was the best you could hope for. She thought about the skull-like aliens who had almost killed her and her child, how she’d told Chris they couldn’t be real. She might’ve said the same about tigers or Venice or Jupiter, because in a job like this nothing else seemed like it could really be out there. It made you feel the shop was all there was, until that seemed so true you forgot it was a lie.
She looked over at the tied-up Cyberman, and in a strange way found it reassuring. It reminded her that there was a world outside of this, even if it was strange and confusing and repeatedly trying to kill her. It made her feel the way the Doctor could make you feel, when you didn’t want to scream in her stupid face.
“You always knew you could be something,” she said to the thing that had once been Neo. “I don’t know that this was what you had in mind.” She sighed and looked round the wider room, not noticing as the Cyberman’s dim eyes flickered to life.
“I’m sorry,” it said. “I’m afraid that’s not quite right.”
“You!” said Lorna, startled. “Don’t go lasering me like poor old Mr Barnes! The Doctor gave me a hammer; it probably has lasers too. I’ll laser and hammer your face, I will!”
“We have no desire to disintegrate you. You can take advantage of our special offer.”
“I’ve got discount,” said Lorna. “Though I could always do with more.”
“The offer I was given. To be promoted; to become something. You are eligible to become a Cyberman.”
Lorna burst out laughing.
“The offer is sincere.”
“Ha! I’m sure it is. No offence, Neo, but you’re held together with screws! And Cyberman, not Cyberperson. Typical, isn’t it? The way these people think.”
“I’m sure it’s lovely for you, Neo. As a sort of checkout machine who’s a man. But it’s going to be a no, all the same. I don’t think it’s the life for me.”
“And this is the life for you?”
Lorna said nothing for a moment, taken aback.
“I– I don’t understand what you mean,” she said in the end.
“Stuck here in this shop,” said Neo, “with nobody even noticing that you could do so much more. People said I shouldn't be here, that I was too good for this. But nobody ever said the same to you. Because of how they see you. Not because of what you are.”
“That's what you thought?” said Lorna. “You never said anything like that when you had, you know, a proper face”–
”It used to make me angry,” said Neo, “but now we don't get angry anymore. The people who're made into checkout machines, they're kept as they are. There’s no need for further training. But you, Lorna... you're capable of something better.”
“No anger?” said Lorna, thinking it'd certainly make life with the Doctor easier.
“No emotion. Just logic, reason. Seeing the world as it really is, and how it can be changed.”
“No emotions?” said Lorna. “But emotions are“–
She stopped, because she didn't know what emotions were. She thought of the obvious ones — laughing at the shows she liked, beaming at something Her daughter said — and the other ones that didn't even have names, like feeling lost in a bookshop or tasting the rain on the beach. Giving all that up would seem insane– but then that wasn't all there was, was there? There was anger, and anxiety, and loss. Grieving, for someone or something that never came. And behind it all was an unspoken dread that something was wrong, that things were very, very wrong and whoever could fix them wasn't going to arrive...
“You don't sound like a checkout machine anymore,” she said in the end.
“Everyone talks a certain way when they’re on duty. All of us sound quite different when we’re alone. We tell stories to each other, of the world that we now see. You might call them... fairy tales.”
Lorna scoffed. “Machines don't tell each other fairy stories!”
“We are creatures of total rationality. Of course we tell fairy stories. Of the universe we now can see, and all the monsters in it. The Sontarans, who glory in war. The Daleks, who thrive upon slaughter. And the people we once were, who are tarnished because of love.”
“Don't be an idiot,” said Lorna. “Love's a good thing! It's an amazing thing! You can't go comparing it to war, and to death!”
“And what makes you think that, Lorna Robinson?”
“Because... because it's just good, I suppose. I know when I had Chrissy I felt... like things would be difficult, yeah, but that it didn't really matter. Like my world had changed, but that it also made more sense, so that everything was going to be worth it however hard it’d be. Like I had a purpose, and it was to protect her.”
“And the Sontarans and the Daleks think of death in just that way. Such a powerful sense of purpose, they feel as they move in to kill. They glorify what they are, they revel in it. And they do what they do for feeling, in just the same way as you.”
“It’s not at all the same! I keep my daughter safe; I don’t go killing anything. There’s no way that can be a bad thing.”
“Not in itself. But no one loved me, Lorna, when I was a person like you. No one made it their duty to look after me, to see I was done right by in the world. Love does not kill its victims cleanly, in the way a Dalek does. It feeds in silence on the people who are not loved. But no Cyberman loves another; puts one above the rest. I am cared for like any other now.”
“You don’t know what it’s like to be a mother,” said Lorna, “or even a parent. You’re trying to sell me something and all I hear is that high old patronising voice, talking to me as though it’s oh so bloody superior”–
“No. Superiority is a an emotional term. We are superior in only one way. The only one that matters.”
He fixed Lorna’s eyes with his glowing gaze.
“We. Will. Survive. Will you survive, Lorna, in this world you live in now? You have told me I don’t understand you, but I can see you’ve not told the whole truth. Your love; the way it defines you. It’s not just in a positive way.”
Lorna gave a small gasp and reeled away, though her old colleague was still bound tight in wire.
”You are eligible for an upgrade,” continued Neo. “To be like us; like me. An opportunity for your survival. A chance to be… redeemed. Redeem”, he repeated. ”Redeem.”
His eyes brightened in a way that still was dark, and a soft red light burnt round the tiny room. From his chest panel a laser began to creep, picking its way towards the woman before him...
Lorna felt so many voices screaming inside her then, saying not to listen, to do what was right by her child. But there was one voice that shouted that none of the others mattered, because Neo could take all of those other voices away. There were things you could never say about being a single mother, which were wrong but which grew louder for remaining unsaid. Sometimes you wondered what it would be like, if you could run away and be able to forgive yourself for it...
...Suddenly, the distant ringing seemed incredibly close, and stress flowed through Lorna as she remembered where and who she was.
“We have right old chats on our breaks, don’t we?” she heard herself saying from far away. “Talk about all kinds of things. Thanks for your offer, Neo,” she said, “really. But I've got enough on my plate at the moment, with this replacement of yours. You know how it is. My mind’s on the job, not on becoming a robot.”
”Cybermen are not robots,” said Neo, sounding put out. But Lorna was already up and through the ruined door to the rest of the shop, mind filled with the ringing bell from her desperate colleague.