Wednesday, February 10, 2410, 2119 hrs GST
Green Sector Core Shuttle Station #4 (Garden Central Station)
International Police Station Babylon 6
It wasn't that Mileva Tesla hadn't had a nice time, because she had. Pellucidar was an excellent restaurant, one that did not for a moment rest on its gimmick despite having one of the greatest gimmicks in the galaxy - the fact that it was located inside the hollow world of Babylon 6's O'Neill cylinder. The management knew full well that the diplomatic clientele, to say nothing of the various dignitaries who could be expected to pass through the station from time to time, weren't likely to stand for being fobbed off with just the fancy setting, so the service was impeccable and the food outstanding.
It was just that she was pretty sure there was more to a date than just showing up at the restaurant and having a nice time. Unfortunately, neither she nor her escort, Sosuke Sagara, seemed to have any idea what that "more" might actually be. He was a very polite young man and knew what to do in a fine-dining environment thanks to his training, but he clearly regarded the occasion as a mission, not a recreational activity, and was approaching it with all due seriousness. This was better than at least some alternatives, but it did have the handicap of not being very interesting.
For Mileva's part, she'd never been on a date before. Raised in the always fascinating, but not conventionally socializing, world of Tesladyne Heavy Industries, she was at ease with higher math, lightning guns, and the other traditional hallmarks of action science, but had only the vaguest expectations in this unfamiliar milieu. She sensed on an almost instinctive level that there was something missing from the experience, but couldn't put her finger on what it was.
As such, she was feeling a faint but undeniable sense of disappointment as she and Sosuke stood waiting for the B6 core shuttle - the monorail tram that would take them back to the main spacecraft docking area and their flight back to Jeraddo. She felt like she ought to be saying something, finding a way to make the personal connection that had been lacking beneath the polite and pleasant, but mainly insubstantial, conversation they'd been making all evening.
I knew this would happen, she fretted silently.
Tuesday, February 9, 2410
"... but I don't really know what to do."
"Well... jeez, Eva, I mean, why are you asking me?"
"You're my big brother."
"I'm a robot. I've been out on a grand total of one date and it went... oddly."
"Details! Help me out, I'm dyin' here."
"Well, from what you've told me, it doesn't sound like this guy would notice if you got all dolled up anyway. Just... I don't know, pretend you're going out with Jenkins and hope nobody nearby opens up a portal to the vampire dimension. That was no good."
Now, waiting for the core shuttle, Mileva was riffling through a mental Rolodex she had to admit was mostly empty, searching in vain for something to say that might spark up a real conversation - bring her some sense of connection with this odd but strangely compelling young man. She was smart enough to realize that it wasn't entirely her fault that they didn't seem to be able to engage, but she was determined not to give up.
She hadn't made much headway on the project when something occurred to distract her from it. A group of three more people arrived on the shuttle station platform. Two were men, one middle-aged, the other young and beefy, dressed in the showy and elaborate fashion of Centauri men of means out on the town, and they had the hairstyles to match. The third was a young woman Mileva realized, after a couple of seconds, she recognized - their waitress from Pellucidar, evidently having just gotten off her shift.
The three arrived together inasmuch as they came onto the platform at the same time, but they were clearly not a social unit, or at least not all of them thought so. The elder of the two men was following the young woman closely - too closely - and making remarks to her in an undertone that Mileva didn't have to hear clearly to know were lewd suggestions. He was unsteady on his feet and otherwise gave clear signs of intoxication.
The younger man didn't involve himself, except to stand - loom might have been a better term - just outside arm's reach and at such an angle that he blocked the woman's only obvious route of escape. His body language suggested that he was quite sober, and in a position of some deference to his elder. An employee, perhaps. Judging by the size of him and the way he carried himself, very likely a bodyguard.
Mileva glanced at Sosuke, curious to see how he would react to this. At first he didn't appear to react at all, other than to regard the trio with a calm, not-really-interested look -
- until their waitress - Aniri, that was her name, she'd introduced herself when they arrived - pushed the elder man away and said something that, though Mileva didn't understand Centauri, was obviously a very firm negative. She sensed Sosuke tense slightly beside her then, as if taking the situation somewhat more seriously now that it was escalating.
The elder man wasn't very pleased with that, and even less pleased when he pressed his case and she slapped him, then turned and tried to dart away. She found her path blocked by the younger man, pulled up short to avoid running into him, and turned looking for another way out of the situation, but before she could find one, the elder man had caught up with her, spun her by the shoulder to face him, and struck her a backhanded blow that nearly knocked her to the deck.
That made up Sosuke's mind. Before Mileva could react, he moved, taking two brisk strides across the platform and seizing the elder Centauri's drawn-back arm before it could deliver another blow.
"Leave her alone," said the young mercenary in a sharp, uncompromising voice.
The middle-aged Centauri rounded on Sosuke, wrenching his arm free, and snarled something in a slurred-sounding dialect from his homeworld.
"Garibaldi's toy soldiers are getting younger all the time," the bodyguard-type remarked with a sneer, apparently misreading Sosuke's body language and taking him for an off-duty security officer. "This one's not even old enough to understand that his kind aren't to harass their betters."
"Well, tell him," said the elder in blurrily accented Standard, "that I am Vice-Consul Tahaar of the Centauri Republic, and if he interferes with me again I will see that his employment is terminated for violating my diplomatic immunity."
Sosuke ignored them both and addressed Aniri. "Is this man bothering you?" he asked, though Mileva figured the answer to that was pretty self-evident.
"Yes," said Aniri in a small voice; then, drawing some courage from the young human's air of complete self-possession, she glared at the Vice-Consul and added, "What he demands, not even the Emperor is entitled to require of his subjects today."
Inexperienced in the ways of the world he might've been, but Sosuke clearly didn't need a diagram drawn for him here. He nodded to her and turned to address Tahaar.
"Leave this woman alone," he repeated calmly. "Turn around and walk away. I'm not going to tell you again."
"Pah!" the Vice-Consul spat. "I'll do as I like!" He seized Aniri's arm and pulled her roughly to his side, despite her efforts to get away. "What business is it of yours, human?"
"None at all," Sosuke replied agreeably, and then he punched the Vice-Consul in the stomach, folding him up like a cheap beach chair.
The bodyguard let out a yell at that and lunged. Sosuke took a half-second to shove Aniri out of the line of fire, as it were, and then ducked the bodyguard's first wild swing, stepping away from the crumpled Vice-Consul to give himself some more room to maneuver. His first attack having failed, the bodyguard smartened up, recognizing Sosuke's training in the way he moved. He ignored the little girl in the blue dress, concentrating entirely on the scar-faced young man who had just assaulted his boss.
Both men were well-trained in hand-to-hand combat; the Centauri bodyguard was bigger and had longer arms, but Sosuke was quicker on his feet and seemed to possess an almost supernatural sense for what his opponent was going to do. They circled, making feints and probing attacks, blocking and evading, never getting in a solid blow, for several seconds...
... and then the bodyguard suddenly stiffened, his eyes going wide and his hair standing even more on end than was normal. For two or three seconds he stood rigid, popping eyes fixed on Sosuke's with a look of infinite surprise. Then they rolled up and back, and he collapsed in a heap to the deck at Sosuke's feet and lay there twitching.
"Hey, look at that," Mileva remarked brightly from behind where he'd just been standing, a cheerful little crackle of lightning still playing between the two tiny metal discs set in the palm of her right glove. "Turns out diplomatic immunity doesn't extend to Ohm's law. Who knew?"
Just then the shuttle finally arrived, offering Sosuke, Mileva, and Aniri the opportunity to get the hell out of there before either Centauri could come to and call security.
"Thank you," Aniri said to them once the train had started again and they were safely away from the station. "I don't know what I would have done if you hadn't been there."
Sosuke nodded and said only, "Ma'am."
"Will you be OK?" Mileva asked her. "I gather that guy's kind of important."
Aniri sniffed disdainfully. "He's a drunken pig."
"His drinking habits aside, he may seek revenge once he recovers," Sosuke said practically. "If you have no legal recourse, I recommend you procure a weapon and some training in its use."
Aniri smiled. "Tempting... but I think simply reporting him to the embassy will do. Ambassador Mollari is also a drunkard, but he only gets maudlin and tells dull stories when he's in his cups. I doubt he'll tolerate behavior like Tahaar's in his staff."
She rose at the next stop and said, "I should get off here. My quarters are in Red Sector - back the other way."
Sosuke wouldn't hear of her returning home unescorted after all that, and she didn't require a lot of persuading. He and Mileva saw her safely to her door. When they passed back through the Garden station, there was no sign of the two men.
"Thank you," Aniri said again in her doorway. "Will you tell me your names? I won't mention you to Mollari, but... I would like to know."
Sosuke nodded. "It's Sagara, ma'am. Sergeant Sosuke Sagara."
"I'm Mileva Tesla," Mileva said. "And you're welcome," she added with a smile.
Neither spoke until they were facing each other across the aisle of another core shuttle, once more on the way to the docking complex.
"Well," said Mileva. "That was exciting. It's just never dull with you around, is it, Sosuke?"
Sosuke glanced at her, then shrugged slightly. "I don't look for trouble, Miss Tesla," he said. "But I'm not going to back away from it when it finds me."
Mileva laughed. "Yeah, I'm like that too. I get it from my dad. 'I am a peace-loving man, Mileva,' he told me once," she went on, doing a passable imitation of her father's slight accent, "'but that does not mean I am willing to tolerate injustice for the sake of peace.'"
Sosuke smiled slightly. "I like that," he said.
"Will you call me Mileva, please?" she asked. "It seems weird being called by my last name on a date."
He looked as though that hadn't occurred to him, then nodded. "If that's what you want," he said. "Mileva."
Mileva beamed, proud of herself for having forged an actual connection, however small. Then, emboldened, she asked, "So what's Her Dread Majesty got you working on in the holo lab? I heard a rumor that you were going to bankrupt the Student Council."
Sosuke looked puzzled for a moment, then realized what she was talking about and said, "My campus security plan? That was a separate project. My actual tasking from Miss Chidori involves developing and planning a recreational activity to occupy the space between lunchtime and the Winterfest Dance on Sunday afternoon." He sat back in the tram seat facing her, arms folded, and went on, "I confess this has proven a more difficult task than I was anticipating when I told Miss Chidori I would take care of it. It should have occurred to me at the time that my experience and expertise in recreational matters is very limited... but she has a way of making me... " He searched for a phrase, then settled on, "... pay insufficient attention to my limits."
Mileva nodded, her face thoughtful. "Hmm," she said. "Something fun to fill up Sunday afternoon... that you would actually know something about." Then she blinked as a thought began to germinate in the back of her mind. She sat forward and asked, "Do you have your campus security plan on you?"
Sosuke gave her another quizzical look. "Yes," he said. "Why?"
"It's based on the standard holomap of the school we use in Surveying and Landform Design?"
"Yes," Sosuke repeated, and Mileva grinned.
"What time is it?" she asked.
Sosuke glanced at his black plastic milspec watch. "2145 hours."
"So we've got a little more than an hour. That'll do!" She jumped up and grabbed his arm, pulling him upright. "Come on, we're getting off at the next stop."
"The next station is the Blue Sector hub," Sosuke said. "That puts us nearly half a mile from Docking Area C."
Mileva's grin got wider. "I know," she said. "Trust me."
At exactly 10:57 PM and 46 seconds, a shuttlecraft bearing the distinctive logo of Tesladyne Heavy Industries landed about 10 feet from the front door of Hannibal Hamlin Hall.
"Thanks, Ada!" Mileva said, springing down from the side hatch before the ramp had time to fully reach the ground. "You're the best."
The redheaded woman in the Tesladyne jumpsuit at the shuttle's controls leaned back in her seat to look out the hatchway and grinned. "I'll tell Robo you said so!" she said. Mileva laughed.
Disembarking behind Mileva, Sosuke paused just outside the hatch and said, "Are you sure you don't need my help to begin site preparations, Dr. Byron? The security and student tracking system in my residence hall is trivially easy to - "
"Get to bed, young man," said Ada mock-sternly. "Don't worry about a thing. My team and I have it all under control." Indeed, Sosuke could see other Tesladyne shuttles vectoring to land at strategic points all around the Common now. The nearest one, as soon as it was down, disembarked a team of engineers with a briskness and dispatch he'd rarely seen in civilians, or even soldiers not under fire.
"By the time you're up and about in the morning," Ada went on, "we should be just starting Phase III. Then we're going to want your help. For now, rack out, Sergeant! That's an order!"
Sosuke drew up and saluted her. "Yes, ma'am," he said with a hint of a smile; then he stepped back as Ada returned his salute, then powered up the shuttle's repulsors and lifted off again.
"Sosuke," said Mileva. He broke off watching the shuttle's departure path - bound back to B6 to collect another group of action engineers - and turned to her. "I have to run, but... " She hesitated, color rising slightly in her cheeks, then stood on tiptoe, her arms going around his neck, and stretched up to give him a quick kiss on the cheek. "Thanks for tonight," she said quietly. "I had a great time. It was my first ever date."
Sosuke looked utterly taken aback for a moment, then recovered himself and smiled - only a small smile, the only kind she could really imagine his face ever making, but a genuine one for all that. "You're welcome, Mileva," he said. "I had a good time as well. And thank you for helping me with my project. I think everyone will be very pleased with it."
"Oh, you're welcome. I hope so." She took his arm and looked at his watch. "Oh, jeez, I gotta go. Lockout in 20 seconds." She broke away, ran to Hamlin Hall's front door, pulled it open, paused for one last wave, and then vanished inside.
Sosuke turned and ran toward Blair Hall, which he reached with a full four seconds to spare, and wondered belatedly whether he should have mentioned that it was his first date as well.
Ah, well. That probably wasn't important.
"DSM Panic! Mission 5.33: A Date with Density"
(a Symphony of the Sword Mini-Story) by Benjamin D. Hutchins
DSMP! chief plotter: Philip J. Moyer
Special to the Eyrie Productions Discussion Forum
© 2013 Eyrie Productions, Unlimited