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System Error

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Glitching.

 

That's the text Emily receives from Serena while she's fielding emails. She glances at Andy, who's dressed in a frumpy sweater and a hideous, clashing skirt. Emily doesn't trust her to man the desks, and she knows that if something goes wrong, it'll be her head on the chopping block...

 

"I have to take care of something," she says, standing up, "Do not go anywhere."

 

She hears Andy ask her where she's going, but she ignores her. She replies to the text as she walks.

 

Where are you?

 

Closet.

 

She makes her way there as quickly as she can, dodging clackers and other staff along the way. She hears Serena before she finds her; a loud whirring sound that reminds her of old computers. When she finds her, Serena's sitting on the floor between a rack of coats and a rack of skirts, her knees drawn up to her chest and her head lowered.

 

"I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I'm sorry." The words are garbled.

 

"Serena?" she whispers.

 

Serena doesn't respond, she just keeps repeating the same phrase over and over again, each repetition becoming more garbled than the last. Emily sits down beside her, not caring about messing her clothes up. She still doesn't quite understand how Serena works, but she's familiar with panic attacks, which is the closest "human" equivalent she can think of.

 

"It's okay, it's okay," she whispers, grabbing Serena's hand and stroking it.

 

Her skin doesn't feel like a human's, not quite, and it feels almost uncomfortably warm, but it doesn't feel bad. It feels kind of nice. Emily blushes at her thoughts but quickly brushes them aside. She moves to hug her, and Serena flinches, her hands flying to cover the back of her neck. 

 

Emily knows that Serena had been designed to be a model long before they met, the buzz around the S3R-EN4 android was everywhere; "a fashion model for the AI revolution" the press had said. She also knows that trends are ever-changing, and what happens to androids who are considered "obsolete". If it wasn't for Miranda, Serena would almost definitely have been decommissioned. Emily doesn't like to think about that. She's noticed that Serena doesn't like it when people talk about shutting her down, even jokingly. She knows that a lot of people don't treat androids well, and some are worse than others. It's not hard for her to put two and two together.

 

"Serena," she says firmly, but not harshly.

 

Serena looks up at her, and Emily starts to say something, but then Serena suddenly grabs onto the neck of her blouse. Maybe Emily should be worried about Serena damaging it, but she's not, and she embraces her.

 

"Hey, it's okay. It's okay," she says softly, running her fingers through Serena's hair.

 

"I'm going to reboot you," she says after a while.

 

Serena's grip tightens.

 

"I'm s-sorry," her voice is so garbled and crackling that Emily can barely make it out.

 

"It's okay. I won't hurt you."

 

She reaches behind Serena's neck, and the android flinches again.

 

"I'm not going to hurt you."

 

Serena relaxes, and Emily gently runs her fingers over the back of her neck until she finds that spot where the texture differs. She gently presses it, and Serena's eyes go dim, and she slumps forward, still in Emily's embrace. The next few seconds feel like an eternity, and Emily sighs in relief when she hears Serena's systems whir back to life before all she can hear is a low, barely audible hum.

 

"Better?" she asks.

 

"Yeah."

 

Serena sounds like herself again, and Emily thinks she's never heard something so beautiful. 

 

Serena's the first to stand, and she helps Emily up off the floor. Their eyes meet, and Emily swallows nervously. Her heart pounds against her ribcage as Serena's face inches closer and closer to her and then-

 

Her phone rings.

 

They quickly pull away from each other, Emily's face now as red as her hair.

 

"Yes, Miranda," she says after a while, with much less enthusiasm than she usually manages.

 

"I should get back to my desk," she says after the call has ended, "God knows the new girl can't manage alone."

 

"Thank you," Serena says.

 

"No trouble."

 

And as they exit the Closet, Serena intertwines her fingers with her own.