“Huh,” Nelson made the first sound in his lab in over an hour. He sat in his narrow white lab studying logs on his computer screen. The late 30s researcher preferred silence over music while working. “Hey, T.A.I.?” He called. An animated mannequin appeared on his screen.
“What’s this invitation you sent out yesterday? There’s no logs of the receiver; who did you send it to?”
“Dana Sharp.” T.A.I. replied.
“Uhuh. Who’s that?” Nelson asked as he manually appended the log.
“A researcher from an alternate universe.”
“What?” Nelson stopped typing. He knew T.A.I. was incapable of joking or lying, which meant he was telling the truth. “Alternate universes are real, and you didn’t tell us?”
“You didn’t ask,” the mannequin shrugged on screen. “I am programmed to report and respond to questions.” Nelson sighed.
“Fine. So, when was the invitation for? Did Dana respond?”
“Yes. Dana Sharp is scheduled to arrive in one minute.”
“What!?” Nelson looked down at the bottom corner of his screen; 11:59 a.m. “Where? Get security there now!”
“Security is not necessary, she will arrive in this office.”
“Here?” Nelson glanced around. His office was long, narrow, and well organized. The only furniture he ever needed in his office was his marble-topped desk, his computer, and the high-backed chair he sat in. “Why don’t we need security?”
“Dana Sharp is not a threat. She is bringing me a gift.”
“Gift? What kind of gift? Does she know you’re an A.I.?”
“I do,” Nelson jumped at the sudden voice in front of him. He had been staring at the computer while talking to T.A.I. and did not notice Dana Sharp’s arrival. He looked up and saw a short, lean, pale woman in a white suit. A black cat with a red patch of fur atop its head sat at her feet. “Hello, T.A.I.,” Ms. Sharp said.
“Welcome, Ms. Sharp!”
“You’re real!” Nelson hopped off his seat and dashed around the desk. “Are you really from another universe? How did you get here so quietly? Where’s your craft?” The dark-haired woman glanced at Nelson, then walked around him to his desk.
“Janet, show him around,” she said, then focused her attention on the computer.
“Yes, Ms. Sharp,” Nelson heard another voice; it was the black cat. Now that he was closer, he noticed the red fur on her head resembled a skull. He watched the cat swish its tail, then the ground disappeared from beneath him. He plummeted into a black hole and vanished; then, the hole closed leaving the clean white floor. Dana Sharp placed a card-sized pane of glass atop the computer.
“Here you go, T.A.I.” The animated mannequin left the screen; it appeared on the glassy surface.
“Thank you, Ms. Sharp!” the mannequin jumped up and down on the display as if cheering.
“You can do better than that,” Dana encouraged the A.I.. The glass disintegrated and left a square of white powder on the case. “Go ahead,” she added. White dust floated up from the square bit by bit until it all floated in a small cloud. The cloud tightened and took the shape of a 3-inch high white mannequin. “There you go. Let’s get you to the AlterNet and give you a proper body.” Dana held her hand out and the tiny mannequin hopped into her palm.