The console pinged and she ran back across her desk, tiny claws clattering on the textured glass. Another response at last, she'd almost given up hope of reading one that wasn't a massive waste of her time.
With keen eyes she scanned the response and smiled. She knew who had sent it, or she could hazard a very well-educated guess. The thought tickled her and she narrated her reply.
[Dinner at 8? Della Rovere's just off campus]
She thought for a moment then added the map details, just in case her dinner guest decided to fly.
Scrolling back through the message she laughed to herself. It had the makings of a very interesting evening.
Ever since she took up tenure at the University, Della Rovere's had always been like a second home to Sybil. It managed the balance between students, supers, and standards very well, serving mid range Italian food for any budget. With everything-proof 90s decor, barely there inoffensive music, and a proprietor who knew 'everyone' - it was the perfect place for any off duty academic.
And Dryden had always been nice to Sybil. Never let her pay, and even helped her pick out the perfect table where she could best hear and be heard.
"Ah, Dr Sybil," he clapped his hands together as she was unfolded onto the host's stand by her mobility robot. "Your usual table?"
"Please," she beamed, before moving closer towards him conspiratorially. "But set up for two please, Dryden. I'm on a date."
"Why Dr Sybil!" He cried, clutching his heart dramatically. "Do you mean to tell me that you have cruelly cast me aside? Do my romantic advances mean nothing?"
She winked and clambered back into her mobility unit.
"What can I say Dryden. I know you'd just break my heart." She covered her mouth with one paw, demurely before rising into the air in a sedate arc.
"It's a blind date," she said, so she doesn't know it's me.
"But how then shall I know it is her?"
"Oh you'll know." Much as she loved being able to sound mysterious, she moved her robot closer to him to whisper the name in his ear as if it were the naughtiest secret imaginable. He gasped and recoiled, while she moved past him towards her quiet table.
“Would you care for some bread, Dottore?” The waiter placed the ramekin of fresh water on her table, bending forward to light the candle.
“Yes please, Ernesto. I’m expecting a guest so perhaps a little more than my usual?”
“Of course, Dottore.”
Sybil settled into her seat bringing up her reading screen, no reason not to catch up on some papers while she waited. She felt a slight thrill of excitement. Her first proper date. She hadn’t been sure about it, the world of internet dating had always felt strangely tawdry, and truly she didn’t want to disappoint anyone who was looking for more than just companionship. But, in all her time at the lab she had started to get a little lonely talking to the same people.
The sense of a mild commotion by the door reached her and she glanced up from her screen.
“I’m so glad you found it ok,” she said brightly.
“You,” her date responded, accusingly.
Even Sybil had to confess that their height difference was comical, more so than with anyone of standard human configuration. She had to be over seven feet tall, her skin shimmering silver in the faint candlelight. She looked nice in a one shoulder white dress allowing the knot of tremendous muscle to flex as she bore down on the tiny scientist.
“Won’t you sit down, Xenostra?” She could see Dryden and his staff hovering nearby concerned by the giant woman’s combative stance.
Sybil was unconcerned, smiling up at her until she dropped herself grumpily into the seat. She seemed incredulous about the scientist’s identity.
“Your message said: Petite lady, seeks companionship.”
“I believe I said petite lady working in a STEM field seeks asexual friendship and companionship. I didn’t want anyone to get the wrong idea. Are you disappointed? If you want to leave I’d understand,” she didn’t sound emotional. Instead taking the opportunity to tear off a tiny chunk of bread.
She nibbled delicately, looking up at Xenostra with curious eyes. The tall woman flexed her fingers while considering her position.
“You have requested a “date” with a stranger for companionship,” it was really a question, but one Sybil knew she didn’t need answering, she was just thinking out loud. “I do not believe I will be sufficiently good company for you, I apologise for wasting your time.”
She moved to stand, a stiffness in her spine. She wasn’t being self effacing, if Sybil didn’t know better she’d say that Xenostra was shy. Leaving rather than getting shot down? She swallowed her bread and sat up, her nose twitching while she formulated the best way to get her to stay.
“I knew it was you.”
“Excuse me?” Xenostra’s hands rested on the table half way through standing.
“I knew it was your message. I figured it out. There are only so many people who it could have been,and I know you. So knowing that, that we already knew one another, I thought we might have a pleasant evening.”
The alien blinked, still half stood looking very firmly at the diminutive scientist.
“You did? And yet this remains a “date”?”
“Yes. Of course. And you don’t have to keep emphasising the word. We are on a date. It’ll be nice,” she hoped her optimism would inspire confidence in her date. “You know Dryden’s lasagna is apparently very nice, if you’re not sure what to have.”
She busied herself with a pawful of water, while Xenostra sedately took her seat. Sybil beamed at her as she did.
They had known each other for so long, through the Old Guard, and their mutual comfort in space. Yet this was a new sphere for them both. She adjusted her glasses and peered up at Xenostra. If this was her first foray into the dating game, they she would be honour bound to help as much as possible.
“So, uh, hows TRIP?” she ventured a safe subject. It was a tactical mistake, Xenostra took a sip of water, her arched eyebrow raised. “Really? On a date with a potential romantic partner you would talk of our mutual robotic acquaintance?”
“No, good point. I was just trying to find some common ground. It is better than asking if your journey here was pleasant.” There was laughter in Sybil’s voice that she hoped would translate.
Xenostra clasped her hands together on the table, her long fingers drumming on the wooden frame.
“Was yours?” she said after a long silence, and Sybil wanted to laugh. Xenostra was truly terrible at small talk. It was endearing.
“Yes. Actually…” Sybil settled into her seat, obviously excited. “I don’t often get to cross campus in my new mobility apparatus. It draws a lot of looks, but it’s nice to be able to see the university from a different point of view. And the time of the evening was so lovely, it makes you glad to be alive.”
She looked up at the taller woman, with a soft laugh as Ernesto returned to take their orders. A look of mild panic crossed Xenostra’s face. On a usual date, Sybil figured it would be because she hadn’t looked at the menu, but with this one she didn’t know if the alien had been to all that many restaurants in her life.
Moving to stand so he could hear her better she bought Xenostra time.
“Ernesto, do you have any of those little baby corns?”
“Sì, of course, Dottore. And we have some of the freshest chantenay carrots, just arrived today.”
“Ooh, they sound lovely,” she smiled over at Xenostra who was frowning at the heavy menu. “Ernesto,” Sybil continued, adjusting her glasses. “My guest has never eaten here before. Can you recommend something?”
If the waiter was faltering at the idea of making suggestions to a seven-foot tall, silver superhero he didn’t show it, and Sybil grinned busying herself with more bread. Specials were rattled off, and the sections of the menu that were favourites of the house. Xenostra looked at her date with a moderate degree of helplessness. Sybil covered her smile with a tiny pause, giggling as Ernesto made off with their order.
“Well I couldn’t rightly recommend what I was having could I? Or you’d be having a very hungry evening.”
“I wasn’t planning on simply ordering tiny corns and bread.” Despite the distinct tone that Xenostra had adopted, there was a looseness too, perhaps this would go better than initial evidence had suggested.
“...so I walk back, with scorched whiskers, in trailing an entire length of copper wire, and no memory of where the rest of the team ended up.” Sybil laughed, as Xenostra choked on a mouthful of her dessert.
“The whole team?” she was shocked, scraping at the bottom of the bowl for the last of the ice cream.
“To this day. I have no idea where those robots have gone. Completely vanished.” Sybil pushed her bowl away.
“Are you done already?”
“I am a 25g mouse, how much food do you think I can put away,” she adjusted her glasses. “I’d like to see you eat your own bodyweight in fruit.”
“A challenge for another day?” Xenostra’s eyes glinted in the guttering candlelight.
Sybil settled back into her seat, cleaning off her paws in her water.
“Come down to the lab, I am sure I can set that up.”
“A fine use of University resources.”
“Superhero experiments always get a healthy dose of media attention, ‘how much fruit can Xenostra consume’ would surely garner us some interesting commentary.”
The alien snorted and finished her drink with a flourish.
“I am quite certain that would paint the Old Guard in a ridiculous light.”
“Give me long enough, I can come up with an academic enough reason for it. Who would question it, I’m a famous mouse scientist.”
Ernesto moved away their dishes with an apologetic smile.
“Scusa, Dottore but we will be clearing up soon.”
“Oh that’s quite alright Ernesto, we should be heading off soon. It is getting rather late.”
“Do you wish me to escort you home?”
Sybil tapped the table and summoned her mobility apparatus together smoothly, before settling back into her seat.
“Thank you, that would be very nice.” It was the reassuring thing about spending so much time with supers, it made one feel very safe.
Once again Dryden waved away the bill and shook Xenostra’s hand warmly as if they were old friends. It made Sybil feel warm inside, there were only so many places she visited so it was reassuring when introducing new people to those places was easy.
“Do you know, Doctor…?” Xenostra said as they both stepped out into the crisp night air, staring up at the stars with unblinking eyes. “For as much as I thought this ‘Valentine’s Day’ would be an awkward and difficult transition into dating, this evening has been very pleasant.”
“I can assure you…” Sybil beamed at her companion, her skin wreathed in a glow from the street lamps, looking so peaceful, a faint smile on her face. “That the pleasure was all mine”