Ari Enna-Branse is at work, or possibly at play, teaching a dozen children experimental design in the school chemistry lab, and her husband is out of town at a conference.
Her apartment, however, is not empty. Her parrot, Plasma, flies around between the perches in various rooms, playing with dangling rattles and colorful hoops and alphabet blocks and a wooden Towers of Hanoi puzzle.
There's a soft thump from underneath a table, probably not loud enough to be of interest to a parrot in the next room; and a quiet minute or two, where no one is close enough by to see the small brown egg rocking back and forth; and then a creature emerges. Her round fluffy body is about the size of a tennis ball, and her adorable yet majestic antlers are only a little wider than that. She trots across the floor on her small pointed feet, and then, seeing that her environment is so much taller than her on average, levitates for a better view. It's much easier to survey this strange land from the midpoint between floor and ceiling.
This strange land is a large apartment!
There's a big kitchen, with shiny appliances and sparkling-clean countertops and a neatly stacked fruit bowl and a window over the sink with the curtains pulled aside.
There's a breakfast nook with the table she emerged from, with four chairs and four placemats with diagrams of the stellar main sequence on them and two water glasses.
There's a living room, with another large window and the rest of the walls covered in bookcases, shelves, bookcases, filing cabinets, and bookcases. All the bookcases are piled with books; some of them have shelves sagging in the middle under the weight, while others have their intended-feet at the top and their shelves curved up, the books slowly crushing them back the other way. The shelves are covered in dried plants, shed snakeskin, interesting rocks, framed photographs of a lot of different people, and little metal trophies. In the middle of the room is another, larger table surrounded by armchairs and couches, covered in: yet more books; two wooden bowls, one full of black plastic oblate spheroids and the other full of white, a tray full of colorful wooden blocks, some sort of electronic gizmo with a screen and a button on top, a stack of little notebooks, and a bunch of wooden pencils.
There are also two doors to other rooms, both open but hard to see through from here.
Out the windows is a balcony overlooking a great city, buildings of steel and glass and brick and stone under a warm but overcast afternoon sky. The trees in the great park in the distance proclaim it to be autumn.
There is also a large parrot, who has just noticed the new arrival and croaks, in accented but clear Convergentlanguage, "What's that?"
The new arrival bobs slightly in place and emits a soft, curious trill.
The parrot mimics the trill and says, "Are you friend? Have food? Play game?" Then he flies past Petal to another perch, banking around to get a good look at her. When he gets to the new perch he pecks at a rattle, which makes a cascade of little clicking noises.
"Friend?" she mimics hesitantly; then she flies up to the rattle and pokes it. It makes the sounds. What an interesting object! She pokes it again.
"Friend!" Plasma baps the rattle again and then leans over and tries to preen Petal's fur with his beak.
Petal's fur is very soft. She makes a quiet noise not unlike a giggle and tips her head to gently bonk an antler against Plasma's beak.
Then she looks around at the room again. Those dried plants are interesting. She floats over to one for a closer look.
She noses gently at a flower and, by unclear means, extracts a soft fresh petal from it without disturbing any of the dried petals that are actually attached. Then she carries the petal across the room to the spot under the table where her eggshell lies in pieces, sets it down next to the scattered fragments, and curls up in the biggest piece of eggshell to nap. Left undisturbed, she will sleep for about twenty minutes.
After about fifteen of those minutes, Ari comes into the apartment, starts making a cup of tea, and smiles as Plasma flies over to the nearest perch. "Hello," she says. "How was your day today?"
"A new friend!"
"And where is this new friend?" asks Ari, still thinking the friend is a sunbeam or a dust bunny.
Instead, Plasma lands on the back of one of the breakfast nook chairs and extends a foot downward. "Friend is here!"
Ari goes to look under the table and says, "Oh! Oh my."
A small sleepy eye blinks at her. "Ohmy?" says a small sleepy voice, as different from a human's as a parrot's but in a very different way.
Ari goes gracefully to one knee and peers at Petal. "Hello! Can you understand me?"
Soft sleepy trill. "Hello can?"
"Endless stars, you're cute." She points at herself and says "Ari", then points at Petal and makes a questioning headtilt.
Petal attempts to mirror the gesture, is foiled by the shortness of her limbs, and instead hops out of her eggshell and onto the petal on the floor.
"Where did you get that?" asks Ari, still in the same tone of voice she talks to Plasma in.
She yawns a teeny tiny yawn, trots out from under the table, and gently bonks an antler against Ari's knee.
Ari takes her handcomp out of her shirt pocket and snaps several photographs, then sets it to reverse-camera and shows Petal her own realtime image.
Tiny green eyes widen in astonishment. A tiny brown limb points excitedly at the not-exactly-mirror. Emphatic curious trilling.
Ari hits the video button and gets a recording of the last little bit of trilling. "That's you!" Then she tries holding up fingers and counting: "One, two, three, four, five." Then she holds up three fingers again.
"One two three?" she echoes hesitantly, hopping in place once per count. Her tiny hooves meet the floor in unison with neat little taps.
"Yes, three! Good!" Big smile no wait her teeth are the size of the dear little critter's head big smile without teeth. Five fingers?
"One two three..." she trails off uncertainly but finishes counting five hops without the words.
She goes over all five numbers again in her most encouraging teacherly voice and then tries four fingers.