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"Thank you, have a nice day!" You waved eagerly as another customer left your store. Your cheerful face immediately went slack as soon as they left, an unfortunate side effect of retail work. You wiped your forehead against your arm with a sigh and fanned yourself with your other hand. Even with the air conditioning on full blast to keep the tech you had on display from overheating, you were coated in sweat. You spent way too much time hefting heavy boxes and computers, running around the store helping customers, and other such tasks. Your only coworker, Walter, mostly handled things like the register, budget, supply orders, and all that good stuff. It was equally taxing work, and you were grateful you didn't have to do it, but it did mean you didn't get much help with your own tasks. Both Walter and you worked on repair jobs after sale hours. You two were the "tech folks" of Botopia, as the ruling Scrybe affectionately called the lands around the factory. Everything in Botopia was heavily industrialized and self-sufficient, but there were still a few things flesh folk could do that most robots couldn't. For example, not frying a circuit board with static electricity, or any tasks involving adaptable movement or opposable thumbs. For some reason a majority of robots still had rudimentary reflexes and claw hands. You chalked it up to them being built for combat or assembly line work. Nevertheless, you and Walter were the only fleshy creatures with the know-how to maintain sophisticated machines, and so you provided computers and laptops and all sorts of related tech to everyone else in Botopia. You also served anyone from other territories that somehow made it to your shop. If they walked through that door, the Scrybe of Technology had already cleared their travels through Botopia. No one got as far into the territory as your shop was without permission, as they'd be shot and killed before then. Security was tight. You had joked to the Scrybe about installing a literal firewall around the border and it had seriously considered your proposition for about three minutes before deciding it would be too expensive.

Oh yeah. The Scrybe itself was a piece of work in the best and worst ways. Since Walter handled the negotiation of business deals with it, of which there were a lot considering the constant expansion of the factory and subsequent demand for hardware, he forced you to do any physical repair jobs that required actual factory entry. He probably got the worst of the Scrybe's demeanor, so you didn't blame him. Personally, you found the bot's self-centered confidence incredibly amusing. It would hover around you as you worked, struggling to find anything wrong with your repairs but still refusing to leave you by yourself. It also mocked you relentlessly for being meat and bone. You found it hilarious, especially since the Scrybe's observations were rarely wrong. Walter just didn't share your sense of humor.

Exposition aside, you were exhausted. Today was busy, and you were half hoping another conveyor belt would break just so you'd have an excuse to step outside and take a breather. No such luck, though. You had to wipe down the counter and restock shelves. Walter was sorting the shelves behind the counter with stronger components and would soon leave the front to check on emails and voice messages. A shadow loomed over the counter while you were cleaning. Oh, perfect, the last thing you needed was another customer. You put on an award-winning smile and looked up.

"Hi, how can I help y-" You stopped mid-sentence and mid-motion as you realized who was standing over you. "...P03?" You had seen the Scrybe enough times to not be utterly awe-struck by its appearance unlike other Botopia residents, but you had never seen it outside the factory. Walter was frozen behind you, far less used to its physical presence than you. P03 simply emailed him, and then Walter sent you to respond.

"Hello, (Y/N)." You were on a first name basis. Initially it called you by your last name with no title, but one time it slipped up and never looked back. When it wasn't around, though, you still referred to it by its title out of respect for others' fears. "Are you busy?"

"Oh, always, but never too busy for you." You shrugged and dropped your smile. You didn't need to fake happiness around it. "If you're here to order another shipment, Walter's got you covered." You pointed at your shivering coworker.

"Y-yes, sir, I can certainly dis-"

"That will not be necessary." Walter shrunk when P03 interrupted him. "This is sensitive, and somewhat urgent. Is there somewhere we can speak privately?" You looked at Walter, then back at P03.

"Sure thing. Come with me." You lifted the board that let you behind the counter. You owned the store, so you were allowed to decide things like this. "Walter, uh, keep an eye on the register or whatever."

"Roger." His voice was quiet as he took the rag you had been using to wipe the counter and began vigorously cleaning.

"Thanks dude." You waved P03 after you and walked into the office in the back. You heard the robot close the counter and the door behind it as it followed you. When you called this an office, you used the term very loosely. It was more like a workshop. This is where you fixed and assembled computers, as well as whatever else people brought you. Walter's computer was back here as well in a far corner, which he used to handle store affairs. You sat in one of the two chairs in the room, and P03 hovered in front of you. "So... what's up?"

"You're intelligent, I'm sure you've already deduced the problem." The Scrybe's eye twitched to emphasize its annoyance. Though this was the first time P03 complimented you rather than mocking you, it once again wasn't wrong. You couldn't keep yourself from examining the robot in the bright light of your shop since you had only seen it in dim factory conditions previously. Though you already knew about P03's display issue, the bot was more of a mess than you thought: wires were exposed, its screen and casing were both covered in grease, and you began to wonder how much dust had accumulated in its system. "I... Well... Hmph." It twitched when it realized you were still waiting for it to answer you. "The lack of maintenance is starting to affect my function more than I would like. It resulted in a near shutdown this morning."

"You should've told me you were this roughed up earlier, '03." P03 frowned.

"Yes, that would have been more prudent. It also would have been time consuming, and considering I must be shut down during the cleaning process I was not particularly eager to go through it." You nodded in understanding.

"I'll have to fully disassemble and reassemble you. It'll take me a few hours. Can you wait until the shop closes, or is your presence needed back at the factory immediately?"

"I can be patient. I will be in the same condition regardless, and if the process would take hours anyway I don't see the point in interrupting your work." You nodded as you looked P03 over.

"I'll also start scheduling you for regular maintenance after this. It'll take less time and keep you running for longer if I do this more frequently." P03 visibly flinched, causing its eye to twitch again. "Yeah, yeah, I know, it sucks." You gave its shoulder a reassuring pat reflexively, far too used to comforting disappointed customers to register your action. Your palm was lightly coated in grease, and your face immediately flushed as you pulled your hand back. P03 had strict policies against being touched. "Shit, sorry." It raised an eyebrow at you.

"If I had a problem with you touching me, do you think I'd come to you?" Your face reddened even more. You knew it trusted you, but you didn't know it trusted you that much.

"Well, being touched while you're unconscious is different."

"Certainly. It can't be regulated like it can be when I'm conscious." P03's eye twitched again. "It took an immeasurable amount of willpower for me to come here. Do not disappoint me." You nodded and slowly relaxed.

"I never have."

"Indeed. One request." You tilted your head to listen to it. "Don't fix my display issues if you can help it. I have been told they give me 'character,' whatever that is." You chuckled. You had been the one to say that. P03 had complained about the glitch putting people off. You had also called it 'cute', but P03 had tactfully not mentioned that.

"Sure thing, '03." At the time you said it, 'cute' had been a joke. When you slid off your chair and watched P03's eye twitch agitatedly as it sat on a table and prepared for disassembly, though, you could almost say the statement was genuine. "Sit tight, okay? If you need anything, call me."

"I will be fine." Its flat expression corroborated its statement. "I will not be working too hard while waiting, so nothing will overheat."

"Mhm." You patted P03's shoulder again. You'd be able to clean your hand off out of its sight when you got back to cleaning the counter, so you were using your privilege to touch it as much as possible in hopes that you could sufficiently comfort the bot. As you pulled away to leave, you felt a tug on your shirt. "Hm?" You turned towards P03 again, watching it extract its claw from your shirt and wipe it on its chest in the same way someone would wipe grime off their fingers onto an apron.

"Sorry. Must have snagged." The sheepish way it tilted its head away from you gave you mixed signals, so you chose the easy route of believing it. Logically there was no way the robot's hand could just get snagged on your work uniform, but you didn't really care. If it wanted to grab your shirt to get your attention for whatever reason, that was fine.

"No problem. I'll be right back, I promise." P03 settled on the 'operating table', laying on its back and staring blankly at the ceiling. With that, you returned to the front desk.

You worked a bit longer than you meant to, having to help some old lady figure out how to build a basic PC. Gram Moira? You couldn't remember her name. She seemed satisfied with what you gave her, though, so it was whatever. You reminded her to clean it regularly and bring it in for repair every six months. What many people didn't realize was that a computer was almost as demanding as a pet in terms of grooming.

"Enjoy your evening, ma'am!"

"Of course, dear." The lady offered you a kind smile as she left. You hadn't noticed that the shop temperature dropped in her presence until she left and took the cold with her. You fanned yourself tiredly.

"Still hot, (Y/N)?" Walter was in the process of moving a shipment to the proper area and other such closing operations. "The temp's low as we can afford. Personally, I'm freezing my ass off." You laughed.

"Really? You work just as hard as I do, I'm surprised you aren't sweating just as much." Walter rolled his eyes.

"You should see a doctor."

"Nah." There weren't any doctors in Botopia that you knew of anyway. You helped Walter close shop, then followed him to the office to start the late-night portion of your job. Walter hesitated before opening the door. "What's up?" Your coworker turned to face you.

"I don't feel comfortable going in there." Walter shook his head. "Not with that thing. It's sentient. It almost feels like a privacy violation or something." He took a step back and gestured with his head to the door. "Plus, it didn't want me even hearing about what it wanted you to do to it. I'm not sure I want to know, either." You laughed.

"The Scrybe's a robot. What are you imagining?" Walter glanced around furtively before making a lewd gesture, and you punched his shoulder lightly. "Shut up! In the shop?? It's better than that." Walter shrugged with a frown.

"It was a joke, but I don't know what goes through that thing's head. I wouldn't be surprised if I was right. Somewhat upset, but not surprised." Such jokes were in character for Walter, but you hadn't anticipated being the subject of any. He rolled his eyes. "Whatever it wants, I don't care. Call me when you're done and I'll come back. I'll even make up the hours." You waved a hand.

"Nah, no need. You work hard, just take tonight off. I'll see you tomorrow." Walter jokingly tilted his work visor before leaving. It wasn't unusual for you to dismiss Walter at night so he could recover from the work he did during the day, and it just felt right to let him leave if he was going to be worried about P03 the whole time. You still weren't sure what to make of his joke about the Scrybe, though. You pushed the thought out of your mind as you entered the office. P03 was still lying on its back on the table, though the place seemed far cleaner than when you had left. There had been tools left on tables even without actual computers to work on, but now they were in their assigned spots on walls or in bags. P03 sensed your confusion and offered a pretty simple explanation.

"I was bored."

"Oh. Well, it's certainly neater than I've ever had it." There was never a speck of dust in here by the end of the night, but you didn't always have the energy to put away things you would just be getting out again the next evening. You grabbed a wristband, strapping it on as you brought the disassembly kit over.

"What's that?" You could swear you heard anxiety in P03's voice as you attached the clamp and wire piece to the wristband. You stifled a small laugh.

"Anti static wristband. I attach it to something else to keep static from building up in my hands. If I don't have this, I could accidentally fry your circuits." You also brought over a bowl of water and watched P03 visibly flinch. "Relax." You put a drop of dish soap into the water and stirred carefully to avoid frothing as much as you could. "This is for your screen and outer body. I'll be using compressed air and isopropyl on your insides." You patted the top of P03's screen encouragingly. "No water near the wires, I promise. Are you ready, or do you want more explanation for the process?" You put on your dust mask and started looking for a spot to clip your wristband. You've worked with surprisingly few sentient robots, and the ones you had were always sent in deactivated. The comforting way you spoke to P03 came to you naturally, though. If there was a doctor programmed into Botopia, it must've been you, and only for the machines. It made sense in your mind, so you didn't question the thought.

"I trust you'll perform fine regardless of my knowledge." P03's concerned expression didn't fade as it tried to submit itself to your hands. You sat on your knees in the chair to give yourself extra height without having to stand up. P03 was larger than anything else you had worked on, so you needed the extra boost to reach around it.

"I'm explaining the process to make you more comfortable. Answer based on your emotional needs rather than whether or not you think I'll do better after explaining."

"Emotional?" It seemed taken aback by the statement and gave you a skeptical glare. Its eye twitched. You were leaning over P03 at this point, carefully examining its form to get a mental image as to how it would come apart.

"Mhm. Sentience comes with a will to survive, which comes with anxieties as survival is threatened. My explanation is simply a reassurance that you'll come out of this process alive and in better condition." You smiled. It paused, then averted its digital gaze. You knew it could still see you.

"What do you do when outdated parts are broken?" You should've expected that question. P03 was certainly an old bot. You even assumed it was the first, as someone had to build the rest of the robots and the factory. There was no grand inventor figure in Botopia that you knew of, and you had never heard of the Scrybe of Technology being replaced, so it made sense that P03 would be the original.

"I'll find the next closest thing or figure out a configuration that lets a new piece fit in fine. I've been doing this sort of stuff for years, I can handle small bumps in the road." You offered an encouraging grin to mask your concern about your ability to do that. P03 was old, but also undoubtedly complex. You had no idea how many functions its body had that were hidden beneath the surface, and whether certain pieces could even be replaced. "Don't worry, '03, you'll be right as rain. That said, have you felt any significant break that prompted this question?" You subconsciously ran your hands across P03's casing, seeking out obvious cracks that would need to be patched and hoping you wouldn't have to replace its outer shell. If it came down to it, though, you figured you could try 3D-printing a new one. You'd have to borrow a printer from someone, but it would be possible. It would be easy to remake the entire outer body rather than any intricate electrical pieces. P03 got flustered as soon as your fingers started wandering and prodding at its chest, producing a series of blips in between words that could be interpreted as stuttering.

"N-no, I just, uh, figured, it could be, uhm, a, uh, p-possible situation- GAH!!" It flinched when you found a particular crack in its side under its arm, the arm jerking in response and pinning your hand to its side.

"Sorry! Did that hurt? I should've been more careful." You didn't move to extract your hand and instead waited for P03 to recover. You didn't know the bot could feel pain. Maybe a 3D printed case wasn't an option after all.

"A bit. It's fine. Please be more careful with your... digits." P03 released your hand and turned its screen away from you. The table limited its head movement, though, so you could plainly see its embarrassed expression.

"Hey, hey, it's fine." You smoothed out the wires on the back of its head as comfortingly as you could. You were definitely glad the soapy mixture would clean your hands as well as P03's body. You could swear you saw streaks where your search cut through grime, and your fingerprints were painted on your fingers in black. "How long have you been in disrepair?"

"I was programmed in mild disrepair for effect." It rolled its eyes.

"God is cruel."

"I will admit my neglect has made it worse."

"Ç'est la vie. Be honest, are your outer shell and screen the only broken pieces that you're aware of?"

"Hmph... I think a few fans snapped a few years ago, and there may be burnt out circuits, but I lost track of all the malfunctions."

"I see." You tapped your fingers lightly on its chest, causing the embarrassed expression P03 had earlier to return. "This will take a while." You were glad you dismissed Walter. Clearly, you'd be here all night. Considering the welfare of Botopia rested on P03's malfunctioned shoulders, though, you didn't mind. This was what you were meant for, after all. You continued to comfortingly smooth down its connective wiring. It stayed quiet for a bit longer, eventually waving your hand away and laying its head flat on the table.

"Don't let me down, (Y/N)."

"Wouldn't dream of it, '03." You tapped P03's screen lightly as a joke. Though it blinked in response like anyone would, its face didn't feel like a touchscreen. You wondered if it could still feel your prodding. "Go ahead and shut down, alright?" P03 gave a thumbs up on its monitor, which promptly blinked out of existence as the screen went black. P03's body was now lifeless on the operating table, the facsimile of a corpse in mechanical form. You sighed and began to carefully disassemble the robot. You laid its inner components on a separate table with an anti-static sheet to give yourself room and make doubly sure that nothing got water on it. Normally you'd start with the dry cloth and then use a wet one, but considering the robot's state you figured it would be better to start strong. Besides, you didn't want to get the dry rag too dirty. You wrung out your wet cloth thoroughly before scrubbing the decades of grime off of P03's body and screen. You had to replace both the water and the rag several times before you were finished, but as you held a cleaned piece up to the light you decided it was worth it. When fully cleaned, the outer body was a futuristic and sparkling chrome color. It was somewhat dazzling. You dried off everything with the dry rag to prevent any potential streaks, then carefully dried your hands and moved to the other table. You could repair cracks later. You picked through the broken components, putting aside unsalvagable ones that you'd scrounge replacements for later. You knocked out as much dust as you could before you used compressed air, marveling at the fact P03 had survived this long. What you found when you pulled it open was the robot equivalent of arteries so clogged that they were essentially sausages and several failing organs. You swore that some of the dust was actually mushroom spores. You concluded that the program simply refused to let P03 shut down fully. The incident that caused P03 to nearly black out must have been intense. Since the Scrybe could feel pain, you had no idea how much it had been suffering. Cooling tubes were cracked and leaking, fan blades had snapped, processors were hanging on by a thread, and everything was visibly worn down. You set up the beefiest computer you had to transfer data from P03's old storage drives to a new one, then set about blasting other parts with compressed air and sparingly applying alcohol when needed. By the time you were finished cleaning all the parts that were still usable, you could see the sun rising outside. You leaned back in your chair with a tired huff, wiping your forehead and blinking tiredly. You glanced at the computer, which was about 70% done with the file transfer. You got up, stumbled due to your legs being asleep, and snapped a picture of the broken parts to bring with you into the shop on your quest for replacements. You spent a while wandering around in there and had picked out the last piece you needed when Walter walked in, putting on his branded visor as he did.

"Wow, (Y/N), you look like hell."

"I'm almost done." You sounded like hell. You hadn't eaten dinner or drank anything all night, and your voice was almost as cracked as the components you were replacing. It just occurred to you how absolutely wrecked you were. You would probably collapse at any minute. No time for that, though. You had a basketful of components and had managed to find a replacement for everything. They weren't all the exact pieces in the photo, but you figured P03 could benefit from upgrades anyway.

"All night, huh...?" Walter rubbed the back of his neck and glanced at the antistatic bracelets on your wrist. You had decided to put on a second one so you could work more efficiently, and P03 had turned out to be a two-hand disassembly job anyway. The mask made it pretty obvious you were cleaning the bot out. Walter didn't comment further as he set about opening the shop. You scurried into the back. Returning to the workshop gave you whiplash, considering the fact the Scrybe's organs were scattered across your workspace. It looked haphazard, but everything was placed in a strategic manner for you to remember what it was and where it went. An evil part of your brain wondered how P03 would feel about a clear body and LED lights. The part of you that was sane knew that it wasn't a gaming computer and that you weren't motivated to make its insides look pretty enough for that.

All the data had successfully transferred, so you started the reassembly process. Everything was pristine, polished, hooked up to new wires, and repaired to the best of your ability. If you didn't look too closely at where you had to patch its outer body, P03 almost looked like it rolled fresh off the factory line. You had missed breakfast while working, but Walter had made it a point to bang on the workshop door and loudly inform you that he had bought you "a massive sandwich" and that you had to eat it or "suffer [his] wrath." You were grateful for Walter. Eventually you finished the reassembly process and rebooted P03 with bated breath. You had done everything you could and stretched your knowledge as far as it would go, but you still hadn't worked with something as complex as the Scrybe before. You were worried that something went wrong and it wouldn't wake up despite your promises. Everything had looked right to you as you assembled it, so you could only hope your judgement was correct. You gasped sharply as P03's loading screen kicked on, then the startup sequence, and eventually its face. Its face remained neutral for a bit, its eye twitching as it scanned its surroundings. Eventually it opened its eyes and gave you a sharp look.

"You done gawking?" You cheered internally, going insane over the fact you just successfully disassembled and reassembled the most powerful being in Inscryption. Outwardly, you probably looked like a corpse.

"Sure. How do you feel?" P03 sat up, visibly surprised when the servos moved silently. It slid off the table, adjusted to the improved hover, browsed through its files to marvel at the increased hard drive space, and tilted its head to hear the new hardware at work. It ran perfectly smoothly, a fact which equally delighted both of you and was equally unexpressed by your neutral faces. It rolled its arm.

"Never better, (Y/N)." It hesitated a moment. "Thank you."

"Mhm. You gotta come back in six months from now, okay?" P03 nodded and dropped its arm to its side. You started putting away tools that you wouldn't need for your other repair work with a tired sigh. "Anyway! You're free to go whenever you wish."

"Certainly." It looked at the door, then back at you and your tired state. You stopped moving when you noticed its gaze, and you both stared at each other for a few moments. It eventually reached out its clawed hand and gently smoothed down your hair in the same way you had smoothed down exposed wiring earlier. You could've fallen asleep on the spot. Your eyes narrowed slightly in appreciation at the gesture before you snapped back to attention. P03's hand lingered by your ear before it spoke again. "You should come with me, actually. I have further use for you." Walter's joke inconveniently flashed through your mind, and you nodded vigorously as though you could physically dislodge the memory.

"Certainly. Lemme check in with Walter real quick."

"Of course. I'll... see you." You weren't sure what the hesitation was about, but it left as quickly as it could afterward. You heard a customer exclaim in surprise at P03's sudden appearance, though whether it was because it looked shiny and new or because it was in the store in the first place was uncertain. You walked out of the workshop shortly afterward with a yawn and a dramatic stretch. You organized shelves while waiting for Walter's customer to leave, speaking up at the first opportunity.

"I gotta go to the factory, Walter."

"For real? That guy's gonna work you to the bone." Walter furrowed his eyebrows. You shrugged in response.

"Yeah, but hey, for the good of Botopia right?" You chuckled, but Walter didn't share your sentiment.

"I guess. Can't you, like, take a nap first?"

"Ehh, I'll be fine." You waved a hand and frowned. "Will you be, though? I know I've been leaving you alone a lot." Walter smirked faintly.

"Definitely. Beats having to be in that factory." You laughed at his insistence that the factory was Hell.

"It's really not that bad."

"I don't know how you work in such conditions (Y/N), even with how much it pays us." Walter shuddered. "What if you're working on something and a chunk of-" You shushed him abruptly. "Sorry, sorry. I can't stop thinking about it. It's so... horrifying."

"Yeah, I guess that's fair." You didn't tell him that what he was thinking of had happened before, and had absolutely fucked you up for a few nights. Instead, you went back to the office and grabbed your tools, then left to set out for the factory. You tuned out the sci-fi landscape as you made your way to the factory doors, getting there before sunset. The guards let you in without question as they typically did. You strode into the scanning room as usual to get your orders. It was an easy routine. Unlike usual, though, a chair was set across from P03 as well as a simple pasta dish. P03 itself was catching up on old work and sorting through the cards the scanner spit out while it was gone.

"You're here. Good. Eat." P03 gestured to the chair across from it without looking up. You sat down with an awkward laugh. It admittedly wasn't much, but you were unused to any sort of hospitality from the Scrybe and felt oddly overwhelmed.

"What's all this?"

"You're a hypocrite, (Y/N)." You blinked in confusion, and it set aside its work to focus on you. "You lecture me about taking care of myself while driving your own health into the ground. I will be taking care of you for the next two days. You are not to leave the factory during that time period."

"I... what?" You chuckled awkwardly on the outside but screamed internally. Its powers of observation were as honed as ever even with your tampering, which was a good sign, but you weren't sure what to make of the fact it was basically kidnapping you. You figured it wasn't illegal considering the fact P03 made the laws, though, so you didn't have much of a choice except to go along with it. You scooped pasta into your mouth carefully to avoid making a mess of P03's holotable, and the first bite brought your gnawing hunger to the forefront of your mind. Even though you had eaten lunch, that was ages ago. P03 had stopped paying attention to you as you ate, too busy punching in new data into the scanner. Its newly polished body sparkled every time the scanner flashed, making the already blinding light even more difficult to look at. You shifted awkwardly on your chair. "I, uhm, have a shop to take care of '03."

"I don't really care, if I'm being honest." It rolled its eyes. "It's my favorite. It won't go out of business because of a two-day absence. Your coworker could also take both days off if he wanted and it'd be fine." P03's sponsorship definitely helped keep the shop running, you acknowledged. Sure, it could manage without the robot's endorsement, but the shop wouldn't be nearly as functional without it. You could afford to take the time to provide the best services and get the highest quality components because of P03's support. You pushed pasta around on your plate awkwardly. You had wolfed down a majority of the dish already due to a combination of your hunger and the surprising quality. Admittedly, the quality was probably also a side effect of your starvation. You were still fretting about Walter and the shop, though.

"...Still. Kinda rude to the customers, I think."

"They'll live." It set a few more cards aside and waited for you to finish eating before speaking again. "...Was the food acceptable?' You nodded.

"Yeah, it's great. Did you make this?" It scoffed.

"Hell no. You wouldn't find me dead near a kitchen. I had the Inspector order something." P03 frowned faintly. "I wasn't sure what you liked. If he ordered it instead of me I'd have an easy scapegoat, but now I'm somewhat upset I can't take credit for the idea." You laughed. It was out of character for P03 to be honest about its workers contributions, but it had already established that it trusted you more than most. That came with the candor that was natural to robots, rather than it using its admin privileges to lie and make itself look better.

"I'm not picky. Free food's free food."

"It's not free. You're paying me with your time." You smiled faintly at the phrasing. "...Do you know how to play?" P03 was most certainly referring to Inscryption. Even if the conversation shift was abrupt, you knew this due to its obsession with the game it was made for. It wasn't uncommon for P03 to ramble to you about strategies and explain new cards it made to you as you worked. It already knew you could play, it just used the question as a conversation starter.

"Sure, but not as well as you can. Any challenger would wipe the floor with me." You laughed. "I don't bother with it too much since one wouldn't have a reason to challenge me anyway."

"Fancy a game?" P03 held out a deck to you, perhaps because it was keenly aware that your own deck would be awful even if you had thought to bring it. Your face flushed for various reasons as you took the cards. The primary one was embarrassment.

"Me? Um, if you want, but I'll hardly pose a challenge."

"Of course not. No one does. I'm just bored." You shuffled the deck P03 handed you as you considered its words. The scanner needed little supervision considering the fact P03 mass produced cards for sale in packs, unlike the other Scrybes who had to carefully handcraft every card they circulated. Watching the scanner must be a boring endeavor. Even the game itself must not have much joy in it for a robot that could account for all possible moves and respond perfectly. P03 had turned on the holotable to display the four-lane gameboard, kicking on the conveyer belt mechanic as well. You were going to get your ass handed to you and you knew it. You didn't bother looking at the cards P03 handed you. You would play by ear. That was an awful idea, but it was better than hoping you'd get specific cards while playing. Despite P03 using its boss mechanics, it didn't taunt you for your bad plays and seemed infinitely patient as you slowly thought out your moves. Judging by the cards it played, it was going easy on you.

"Sorry, this must not be fun for you."

"I don't play for the game anymore, (Y/N). I play because every opponent plays differently and looks different while playing. I am observing the person across the table from me. Evaluating them. Learning about them." It tilted its head. "There are an infinite number of ways to play the same basic deck, even if all the cards are given to each player in the same order. I have given all of my workers that exact deck at least once, and none of them have played the same way yet. You in particular are intriguing because you are capable of different facial expressions." P03 straightened its head, its expression replaced with thoughtful ellipses. "There's a distracted look in your eyes every time it's your turn, as though you're trying to envision the next move in your mind or play three moves ahead of where you need to. You would do well with a circuit deck. You bite the inside of your lip, as though desperately trying to focus rather than drift off on a train of thought about other cards that would be useful to your deck that you don't have, or trying not to fall asleep on the spot. You rearrange cards in your hand to establish an order of play. Your hand hovers over the hammer and bell for several seconds, double checking the board before committing to any action. You would make a wonderful challenger." You felt heat rise to your face and fanned yourself with the cards. Was it staring at you that intently? You supposed it didn't need to look at the cards that hard, but watching you that closely seemed excessive. "...It's still your turn."

"Right! I, uh, forgot." You set down your next play, feeling the pressure of your Scrybe's praise. If you lost, you'd feel like a disappointment even if it was basically your destiny to lose. Every time you scored a few points of damage, though, your hopes rose a little higher. Eventually you did win, and you even managed to deal two extra points of damage. An annoyed look flickered across P03's face.

"...Bravo. You're certainly lucky." You were still stunned at your own victory as its face returned to normal. "You can keep the cards. I don't need them."

"Wh-what?" It gave you a look.

"Don't act like it's a surprise I'd give them to you. I always give out cards after someone wins."

"I've... never heard of anyone winning."

"It happens more often than you think." Its eye twitched slightly. "I've never been replaced, of course, because I always win the final battle in one way or another, but the initial faceoff with the conveyor belts and all that is never too difficult." P03 smirked. "Even your friend could do it, I imagine."


"Mhm. I've watched him play. I can see all of Botopia from here, you know, and the rest of Inscryption's world too. All the Scrybes can. He's worse than you, which is saying a lot." P03's smirk vanished. "Of course, your primary problem is that you've never built a deck that works for you. Try something with circuits like I suggested. You prefer to strategize several turns ahead and have good luck, so a deck with synergy is far better for you than one that relies on brute force." You nodded quietly. "Take what you want from the pile. My treat. Now then, you should rest." You awkwardly tucked your new deck of cards into your tool bag, overwhelmed by P03's odd kindness.

"Um, thank you. Don't you have anything you want me to fix...?" You shifted in your chair again.

"I already established that I want you to fix your own health. That is your task for these two days." It put down the cards it was holding. "Your body is far more fragile than a machine. I will not have it fall apart." You chuckled. A flesh body was self-repairing, but you didn't tell it that.

"You're funny."

"Funny...?" It tilted its head.

"Mhm. Why are you so concerned? You don't owe me anything other than the typical service fee, you know." It harrumphed mechanically.

"You may not think I do, but you essentially remade me. Besides, I need you intact. You're the only one that can perform such a task as well as you have, thus making you an important asset. It's a strategic move on my part. Now rest. I set up a place in the dredging room for you to sleep, since it's the quietest spot in the factory." You nodded and stood up. You hesitated a few moments before walking around the table to stand in front of P03. It looked up at you from its spot on the floor. "What is it? You aren't lost, are you?" You shook your head and knelt on the floor, wrapping your arms around its waist and resting your chin on its shoulder. It started its odd stuttering beeps again, lifting its arm slightly as it tried to process the situation and respond properly. "Wh-what's the big idea? A t-trap? Wh-gAH, careful!!" You hadn't pressed against any mended cracks, but you had started comfortingly rubbing its back and felt a shiver travel through the robot's body. Its capabilities impressed you even more the longer you worked with it.

"Sorry, did I jostle something?" Your voice was softer than you intended, but since your head was right next to P03's it heard you just fine. It seemed thrown off by your tone and lagged a bit before responding.

"No, I just...!!" It blipped as you squeezed it gently, which probably hurt your arms more than its waist. It slowly wrapped its arm around your shoulders. "...Is... this fine?"

"Mhm." You shifted your head to lean it against P03's chest, looking up at it out of the corner of your eye. The bot was visibly flustered and didn't bother trying to hide it from you at this point.

"...Good! I wasn't intending on moving it, anyway." It muttered the last part in an angry tone, refusing to make eye contact with its digital expressions. You closed your eyes. You weren't sure what impulse drove you to cuddle with a computer, since no matter how cute or sweet it was its form was still uncomfortable. Somehow you managed to settle into the specific curves and edges of its body and found a good position. Between the soft hum of P03's processors in its chest, the cool metal, and your physical exhaustion, you eventually fell asleep in P03's arm. It wasn't entirely sure how to handle this, but it held onto you a little tighter after it realized your breathing patterns changed. Your arms hung limply around its waist, and your head was twisted in a way that would certainly give you a crick in the neck when you woke up, but it didn't feel like letting you go or carrying you to the dredging room yet. Though both of you knew it was an uncomfortable position, you didn't find yourself wanting anything different as you lost consciousness.