“Birdie, see who’s at the door, huh?,” I heard myself murmur.
The knocking continued, and not a peep from Birdie. I groaned and pushed myself up, drowsily extricating myself from the tangle of blankets.
“What time is it?”
The room was mockingly silent.
Right. That’s probably what the knocking was about.
Groaning, I rummaged through a pile of clothes and pulled on a shirt as I padded toward the door. I ran my fingers through my hair – probably didn’t help – and made sure my boxers were untwisted from my thighs, then opened the door.
A man, several inches shorter than me, stood in the hallway. He looked like he had stepped out of an ancient ad – cheap suit, thin tie, and a hat I think they once called a fedora. He had a small mustache and thin eyebrows. His only concession to modern fashion was a light sheen of pink across his lips.
I nodded, still rubbing the sleep from my eyes.
“Shropstead Minor,” he said, holding out something small and rectangular to me. A business card? Where was this guy from?
As if in answer, he continued.
“I am a Formal Artificial Intelligence Liaison from the Office of Robotics.”
I glanced down at the card. Sure enough, it read in thick block letters: FAILOR.
“Fie-lore,” he corrected, then nodded toward the apartment behind me. “May I come in?”
“Uh, sure,” I said, stepping back. He brushed past me and stopped after a few feet. He stood silently, surveying the room. Through his eyes, I saw the strewn clothes, the dirty dishes, the unmade bed. Was I ashamed? Eh.
I cleared my throat and closed the door behind us.
“So, uh, what’s your success rate?”
He turned and gave me a look that made it explicit I was not, unfortunately, the first person to make this joke.
“What is your AI’s designation?,” he asked in reply.
I came forward and stood next to him, folding my arms and rocking back on my heels.
“Birdie,” I said, flashing him a grin. He looked up at me, expressionless.
“You know, like, ‘a little birdie told me?’” I waved my hand vaguely as though summoning the expression, but he didn’t react.
“Well, I thought it was clever,” I mumbled to myself.
Shropstead turned toward the wall where the AI display was embedded. It was stuck on some kind of screensaver that looked like an aquarium. It was standard issue, so substandard, but I kind of liked it.
He leaned forward and made a sound with his throat I could not begin to decipher. Then he straightened and reached into a briefcase (a briefcase) and pulled out a tablet.
He tapped away while I stood behind him awkwardly. Honestly it had been so long since I had anyone over I wasn’t sure what to do with guests. Not that he was a guest, really.
“Uh, can I get you some coffee?”
He glanced up at me with a look I interpreted to mean how dare you suggest I drink such a thing as coffee, so I shrugged and went and got myself a cup. It wasn’t very good, so I guess he dodged a bullet there.
I leaned against the kitchen counter, watching him. He was quite cute, in a buttoned-up kind of way. There was a small crease between his eyebrows as he glowered down at his tablet, and there were handsome wrinkles around his eyes. I briefly considered cleaning up the room while he was working, but he had already seen it as it was so it didn’t seem worth the trouble. Maybe if he had to come back…
“So…can’t you do this kind of thing remotely? Isn’t that kind of the point?”
He paused, breathed out a small exasperated sigh, and looked up at me.
“It’s not functioning,” he said, as if to a child. “Which is why I am here.”
I shifted my stance to shake off my embarrassment. I had no idea what else to do but it seemed weird to just stand here in silence watching him work.
“Can um, can I take your hat?”
Shropstead had already focused his attention back to his work, but at my question he raised an eyebrow. He looked up at me from under the aforementioned article and gave me, to my astonishment, a very slight smile.
“That would be nice,” he said lightly, and pulled it off, holding it out to me. Surprised, as much by the response as by the fact the hat had been hiding a length of hair thickly knotted at his neck, I took it from him. And then immediately felt silly, because where was I going to put his hat? It’s not like people had places to just put hats.
I juggled it awkwardly before just setting it on top of the kitchen counter. At least I thought to wipe off the crumbs first.
“Well, I’m going to have to come back.”
I looked over at Shropstead in surprise.
“But…you just got here,” I said stupidly.
“And it appears I don’t have what I need,” he replied, not unkindly. He still wore that gentle smile. Was he…warming up to me?
“Uhhhmmmmm……you have access to all my personal information, right?”
He nodded, a little shimmy of his head. It would have been adorable if I hadn’t been internally skimming through my considerably private personal information now in his possession.
“But,” I continued slowly, “you don’t have everything you need here?”
He shook his head again, then shrugged.
“Sometimes you just don’t know ‘til you get there.”
I folded my arms and we stood for a moment, just watching each other. What the hell had happened in the last minute?
Finally, our staring contest ended. He lost. He tucked his tablet back into his briefcase and moved toward the door. I moved quicker, and managed to reach around him to pull the door open before he could touch the handle. For a moment his shoulder pressed into my chest, and I felt a warm tingle in my belly.
He glanced up at me for a brief second (was he blushing?) before stepping out into the hallway. He half turned back to say,
“I’ll be in touch.”
I nodded and started to close the door.
I pulled it open again and peered out. He was standing there, briefcase in hand, hand out like he wanted something from me. I stared down at his palm, blinking. Finally, I reached out and shook his hand firmly.
“Be seeing you,” I said with an authoritative nod, then closed the door.
I sighed deeply. Why did interactions with other humans have to be so difficult? It seemed weird, I thought, walking back into my apartment, that he wanted to shake hands. Nobody shakes hands anymore.
I paused when I saw the kitchen counter.
Well, at least he’s coming back, I thought, before throwing myself back into bed and wrapping myself in a blanket.