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We Apologize for the Interruption

Emma Miller is a writer and editor in New York City. Her journalism and tech writing have appeared in Time, Money, USA Today, Forbes, CB Insights, and more. She studied English at Columbia University, where she won the Williams Traveling Fellowship and Karen Osney Brownstein Writing Prize. You can see more of her writing at emmamillerportfolio.wordpress.com or on Twitter at @preemmanence.

The girl in the red catsuit slammed the phone down hard. "Unavailable!" she spat, gesticulating with the gun. Leonard wished she wouldn't do that--spit. There was something so forcefully biological about it. It reminded him of finding a fingernail in his food, or of other people's toddlers.
"Can you believe that?" the girl demanded, turning back to face him. The gunless hand rubbed at the fabric covering her chest, which pilled in unattractive little balls. "I'm trying to be the voice of a goddamn generation, and they won't even patch me through to corporate."
Leonard shrugged, pulling slightly at the zip ties around his wrists.
The girl took a step forward, and then her face--at least, the part not obscured by the mask--twisted into a sour expression, as her stiletto punched through the hand of the unmoving man on the floor.
Leonard squirmed in the swivel chair and pushed his feet, angling to get closer to the Purell dispenser by the doorway. "So sorry," he said softly, "but does this mean we're finished here, or--?"
"I mean, what do they not understand?" the girl continued, wiping her heel on the rough gray carpet. It made a noise like children scratching the walls of a deep well. "My manifesto's crystal clear."
"You have come on an installation day," Leonard pointed out, "which is inopportune." And frankly, he thought, a little short-sighted on your part, and more than a little bit rude.
Before the girl could reply the door clicked open. The mousy head of a woman with a thick, unstrangleable neck popped through. "So sorry," she said, "we have this booked for the roundtable at four-thirty." She looked unblinkingly at the three figures in the room, from Leonard to the body to the girl, gunmetal eyes shiny and calm.
There was an awkward beat of silence. The girl rubbed her chest.
"We're having a situation," Leonard said at last. "So sorry."
"Oh," said the woman. "I see. Right. So sorry." There was a gloss of irritation in her eyes, suggesting she was decidedly not so sorry, but she wasn't going to admit it. She straightened to step fully inside, closing the door behind her.
"Do you need me to lie down on the ground with my hands on the back of my head?" she asked, sounding bored.
The girl blinked. "What?"
"Or kneel pleadingly," the woman suggested blandly, "or watch as you shoot Leonard's face off, or call my children in tears and--"
"Just sit down," the girl interrupted, waving the gun halfheartedly. The woman took a seat next to Leonard.
By now the girl had moved to sit cross-legged on the conference room table. Leonard could see a hole in the inseam of her suit, near her crotch. "Why would you do that?" he asked, meaning the outfit.
"The insurgency," the girl lamented. "These institutions--" she gestured vaguely around them "--they say they're trying to make our lives better, but they're just making them less and less. They tried to 'borg my nine-year-old sister. Nine years old. Don't tell me that's necessary."
"And did they?" Leonard asked.
The girl blinked. "Well, yeah." Her voice trembled, soft and sad. "I guess they did."
"You mean you don't have any hardware?" the woman interrupted, her nose crinkling in disapproval.
The girl shifted. "Pacemaker," she muttered. "I was born with a hole in my heart."
"What happened to it?"
"The pacemaker?"
"The hole."
The girl's brow furrowed. She rubbed her chest. "Aren't you scared?" she asked. There was a little wheeze at the end of the question, small and kazoo-like.
The woman shrugged. "We haven't re-downloaded anticipation," she explained. "We sent out for it, but the upgrade is temporarily unavailable. So sorry."
"You understand the dangers of forward-looking technology," Leonard added helpfully.
The girl was no longer listening. The girl had slumped to her side on the table and was now shaking grotesquely. Through the fabric of the mask, Leonard could see the outline of her mouth, opening and shutting like a hooked fish. Her eyes bugged.
"That's what happens when you don't update regularly," the woman tsked. "Malware."
The door opened again. "Four-thirty roundtable?" asked the smartly groomed man on the other side.
The girl twitched. By now a sheen of sweat had formed across the clammy band of her forehand. It glittered.
Somewhere in the back of his brain circuitry, Leonard could almost feel the old mechanics clicking back towards life. A whirr of worry. He'd have felt sorry for her, once. And afraid of her. He might have asked her sister's name. He might even have put his hands one over the other and pressed down on the girl's chest, again and again, 70 depressions per minute. Empathy, like electricity, crackled in his head.
The woman coughed, and the current quietly dispersed.
"Yes," Leonard said. He scooted the swivel chair backwards to allow the newcomers to enter. "So sorry."
The End
This story was first published on Tuesday, November 20th, 2018

Author Comments

I recently received an "update unavailable" notification on my smartphone. It made me think of the other ways that technology is unavailable--or makes us unavailable--and this story is the result of playing with that idea.

- Emma Miller
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