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Ida knew the signs of trouble. She'd seen a lot of Middlemen on the make during her time on Earth, and she knew when the current Middleman fell victim to an overgrown Lolita. He arrived back at HQ with a stupid grin and walked up to her desk. He put his hands on his hips and bobbed his chin. “Mission accomplished.”

“You stayed too long at that last job, Boss,” she told him. “The lump of flesh was down a good minute and a half before the fire trucks arrived, and you were still there when they entered the building.”

He shrugged, a gesture she rarely saw from him pre-chippy, but sadly saw much of it afterward. Sometimes there was synchronized shrugging.

“There was a young woman there, Ida,” he told her, eyes warm and happy. “I ran in expecting a panicking receptionist, and I got a sassy temp who was trying to cut off the tentacle that grabbed her, with a letter opener! I think she's the one.”

She slapped a psych profile down loudly. “What about this Tyler kid? He's a really good prospect. We should give him another call. He probably has a flaky roommate too obsessed with moody 80s pop culture to give him messages. That's hardly his fault.”

And The Middleman didn't like boys, which would make life so much easier. There would be no significant looks or longing glances. There would be work, training and productivity. No one would cry in the bathroom for any reason at any time of the month.

“I want you to do a background check on Wendy Watson. The local PD will be investigating her for arson and I think she'll be interested in an offer,” he said.

“Then ask her to dinner and a show, and take any sharp objects away before you grab her tush. I hope she's a real bobcat. I'll get Tyler Ford on the line!”

His hands came down from his hips, rose to cross over his chest. “Ida, Dubbie is my choice of apprentice. Please accept my decision.”

The android followed orders and two years later she realized Wendy was not going to take off. Artistic temperament aside, she was decent at the job. She kept The Middleman alive in some sticky spots, and his morale seemed to be the better for her company. Maybe it was time to recognize the second anniversary of Dubbie Day by trying to be nice.

“Good morning, Wendy,” Ida greeted her. “Would you like some coffee? It's fresh.”

Wide-eyed, the young woman hit the alert button on her watch and pouted suspiciously. “But you're not fresh. What are you up to?!”

The Middleman ran into the room with his jacket on one arm, his gun pointed to the ceiling and his hair mussed. “Dubbie!?” He slowed down, lowered the gun and scanned the room. “Dubbie . . . Ida?”

Holding up both hands innocently, the receptionist pointed to Wendy. “I think the rookie here was just excited to start another day of important service to the world.”

The humans gaped at her congenial answer, and inched together. The Middleman reached out and pushed her behind him. She whispered to him, and Ida's audio sensors wound up to listen in.

“Boss, normally I wouldn't ask, cause you're a good guy who'd do it anyway, but if Ida goes HAL on us I'm totally expecting you to die defending me.”

He nodded crisply and took a step forward, his free hand curled around Wendy's. Ida rolled her eyes dramatically.

“Gah! Stand down, Junior,” she sneered. “If I was going to squish her I'd have done it before now. This is why I don't even try to be nice. Go spoon or something.”

Middleman and apprentice backed out of the room, probably on their way to the bathroom to cry. Fluffing her hair, Ida sighed and swiveled her chair to watch The Price is Right. She didn't want a tragedy, but she was looking forward to a hardass Middleman who wanted to make it a boy's club again.