It's Not a Date

Part 1

by Maureen (mobrien at

This story begins immediately after the end of the episode "Blob, Thy Name Is Envy".

The giant robot Big Guy leapt into the sky, yellow jets flaming from the soles of his titanium boots. Rusty the Boy Robot made to follow him, but Dr. Erika Slate called him back, her voice and bespectacled glance equally sharp. Rusty sighed, but obeyed and returned to the ground.

Inside Big Guy's cockpit, Lieutenant Dwayne Hunter breathed, "Thanks, Doc," to the air. All he wanted to do was get out of this cockpit and back into his interrupted evening, and he couldn't do that if Rusty came along. Well, not without shattering the kid's illusions about his 'robot' idol. He smiled tiredly. He'd go through worse than that if he had to, just to keep the light in that kid's eyes when he looked at the Big Guy. But a different kind of light had been in the Doc's eyes tonight, and none of it had been for his machine. His own eyes kindled as he thought about it. Too bad they'd never gotten through even one dance.

He soared across the city. After dropping off Big Guy at the convention hall, the VTOL had landed on the tiny field on top of the Fort to await events. He followed suit in the Big Guy. The VTOL's ramp door opened and he walked the Big Guy into its cargo bay. As soon as the ramp door closed again, Dwayne popped the cockpit hatch in Big Guy's back and swung himself out. His Pit Crew was waiting.

"Good date?" Jo asked slyly.

"It's not a date."

"Yeah, right. So how'd it go?"

He didn't mean to say anything, but he felt his lips widen into a grin. "Had its moments," he admitted.

Garth looked back from the copilot's seat he'd taken over from Jo while she got the Big Guy in position for Dwayne. "Such as?"

"Slate hosed down Squeeky Mean with a fire extinguisher. And she told off Donovan pretty good."

"Good for her!" said Garth.

Jo chimed in, "You probably coulda sold tickets."

The Pit Crew'd gotten to know Donovan a little too well during his stay in protective custody on the Dark Horse. Dwayne thought their finest touch of hospitality had been persuading the Navy cooks to make bad food just for him. Jenny's monkey chow had tasted better.

"That mook deserves whatever he gets," Mack pronounced sourly. "He's gonna get us all killed someday."

"Lucky it wasn't today," said Dwayne. "Of all the embarrassing ways to go -- suffocated by a giant blob of floor cleaner!"

"Yeah, but you would've been squeaky clean," Garth pointed out as he gave back the copilot seat to Jo. "Just look at that tux. Wouldn't even have to get it drycleaned."

"Not my preferred way to leave a good-looking corpse."

"Are you talking or walking?" asked Mack.

"Walking," Dwayne said. "I've got to make sure Slate gets home all right, remember?" He rummaged around in the cockpit and brought his discarded tie out from hiding. "Just let me tie this garrote back on and then drop me off. I'll catch up with you guys back on the Dark Horse."

"Don't stay out past twelve," Jo said, referring to the length of Dwayne's furlough. "It's a school night."

"Always is."

"Ain't that the truth," Mack groused, while lifting the VTOL off as smooth as silk.

"Yeah," Jo agreed. "They asked me if I wanted to help save the world. Nobody told me most of the time'd be boring."

"Boring's good," said Garth. "Boring means Earth's all right. Tell 'em, Dwayne. What do you think?"

Dwayne smiled. "I think I'm the one going out tonight."

"Aw, quit rubbin' it in!" said Jo, and threw a wad of paper at him.

Dr. Axel Donovan, Quark Industries' CEO, struggled into the cab. He felt shattered by the night's events and was letting the world know. "The Stockholder's Ball -- ruined! Squeeky Gleem's market share -- gone! Quark stocks -- sure to fall! And worst of all, my hair has lost all its body!"

"Be brave, sir," Jenny the Monkey said, scrambling up onto the seat and patting her boss' tuxedoed arm. "We'll be home soon. A little mousse and your hair will pouf just like new!" Sure he wouldn't hear, she turned to Dr. Erika Slate, standing by the door, and grudgingly said, "Thanks for helping me human-wrangle, Four-eyes."

Dr. Erika Slate leaned over, her face serious. "Do you have cabfare?"

Jenny grinned and unpalmed a certain platinum credit card. "Never leave home without it."

Dr. Slate nodded and closed the door. She leaned in the front window. careful not to lean on the car and soil her mauve gown or white opera gloves. "Quark Tower," she quietly told the driver, a sixtyish man with gray hair. "Though I don't know what kind of tip you'll get, sir."

He waved his hand magnanimously. "Hey, you tipped me big enough last night to pay for that deadbeat you were with, and this new guy and his talking monkey, too."

"I got ears, too," Jenny informed him dryly as she rolled down the window.

"And chutzpah! I like that. But hold your horses, sweetheart; I'm talking to the lady." He turned back to Dr. Slate. "You know, this is the second loser in a row you've brought to my cab. No offense, 'cause I like your business, but you can do better. Am I right? 'Course I am. So if you'd like to meet a smart young fella, my sister's grandson works over on 8th Street. He's a doctor, and...."

"Um, this isn't my date," Dr. Slate interrupted diffidently. "This is my boss."

"That right?"

"Yep!" said a boy's voice, husky and teasing. "She's dating Lieutenant Dway-ayne." A child-shaped metallic figure dropped down from the sky and landed lightly on the taxicab's hood. "Slate and Dwayne, sittin' in a tree, K-I-S-S-I-N-G. First comes love, then comes marriage...."

Dr. Slate's eyes raised and shoulders dropped in mingled love and exasperation as she turned to him. "Rusty, I don't remember including you in this conversation," she told the Boy Robot.

"Geez, lady, you know Rusty? No wonder the Big Guy called you a cab the other night!"

"Dr. Slate's my creator," Rusty told him proudly. "That means she made me from scratch. She helps Big Guy, too."

"Well!" The cabbie looked at Dr. Slate with new respect. "Any friend of Big Guy's is a friend of mine, I always say. So, kid, who's this Lieutenant Dwayne she's with? Nice guy or loser?"

Slate could feel embarrassment flowing over her like high tide into New Tronic Harbor. "His name is Lieutenant Hunter," she objected, fighting the urge to hide her face in her gloves.

"Oh, he's real nice," Rusty assured him. "He's Big Guy's chief mechanic. He can fix anything! And he lets me come talk to Big Guy any time I want. I like Lieutenant Dwayne. And he likes Dr. Slate. A lot." He flew over to Dr. Slate's side. "Isn't that right, Dr. Slate?"

Slate turned away, hoping the earth would swallow her up.

"So just where is Tall, Dark and Mechanically Inclined?" Jenny inquired sarcastically. "Haven't seen him since that blob showed."

Dr. Slate turned back toward the cab, all embarrassment disappearing in a wave of anger. "He's doing his job," she said, pointing to the Big Guy's VTOL disappearing into the distance.

"Tough break, sweetie," Jenny said. "But hey, it wasn't really a date, right?" She chuckled, then pointedly banged her credit card on the glass partition. "Get a move on, Mac. It's bedtime for bosses."

"Whatever you say, sweetheart." He turned the ignition key. "Nice meeting you, kid. Don't forget to ask for me again whenever you need a cab, Dr. Slate. And if this lieutenant ditches you too often, you remember my sister's grandson, all right?" He pulled into traffic. "He's a doctor, too, you know!"

"I like that cabdriver man," Rusty said. "Can we take a ride with him sometime, so we can talk to him some more?"

Dr. Slate sighed. "Rusty, remind me to talk to you about privacy. And discretion. Not to mention tabloid newspapers."

"Okay. What are they?" Then Rusty gasped. "Dr. Slate! I forgot something!"

She looked down. "What did you forget?"

"Mr. Huckle! He's still down in the sewer!"

Huckle was the 'loser' from last night to which the cabbie had referred. She had only agreed to date him to avoid hurting his feelings, and had then paid for her compassion with the hands-down worst date of her life. Her prayers for the date to end had been answered by a giant jealous glob of Squeeky Gleem floor cleaner -- formulated from a robogel she'd been using for human pheromone experiments before it was confiscated and cloned by Dr. Donovan. She was tempted to say, "So?"

But even Huckle hadn't deserved to be held captive in a sewer for 24 hours by robogels with attitude. He wasn't a bad guy, when he wasn't too busy drooling over her to think straight. Besides, if she hadn't dated Huckle, she might never have realized that Lieutenant Hunter was interested. So all in all, she ought to show a little charity, if only to set Rusty a good example.

"Then you'd better go down and get him," was all she said out loud.

"Right!" he said excitedly. "Power up! Blast off!" Flame spurted from Rusty's heels as he dove into a hole that had once been a fountain. The crowd of onlookers pointed and waved excitedly.

She sighed and went back to looking for people to help and things that needed organizing. The last hysterical Quark employee had been calmed down, and the mess at the hall had been more or less cleaned up. Why all this had fallen to her to coordinate instead of a member of lower management was fairly clear. Donovan only trusted underlings that couldn't run anything. So during their shining chance to take charge, they were either standing around trying to come up with a way to prove they weren't responsible for the debacle or hadn't yet stopped running.

But when she saw a problem, she had never been able to resist trying to solve it. It kept her from worrying about Rusty's safety, or wishing she and Dwayne could have finished at least one dance.

"Mr. Huuuuckle! Where are you? Um, are you still down here? Hello?"

"Over here, Rusty!" Huckle cried gratefully. He'd tried to find a manhole and get out, but they were hard to find in the darkness of the sewer. At least the angry giant blob of robogel gestalt which had imprisoned him had left the world beneath New Tronic City odor-free and squeaky clean. But he had traveled a long way in the dark, and he had begun to wonder if anyone would find him at all.

Twin lights swept toward him, growing ever larger as the sound of jets grew louder. A small figure in red alighted next to him on the concrete floor. "Sorry 'bout that," said Rusty, his eyebeams illuminating the dark maintenance tunnel. "Me and Big Guy and Dr. Slate took care of the Squeeky blob, so you should be safe now. I'm gonna get you out."

"Oh, thank you, thank you, thank you!"

"Um, you're welcome." Far stronger than a human of his age and size, Rusty flew up behind Huckle, grabbed him under the arms, and hauled him along through the air.

Huckle tried to hang quietly. He didn't want to break Rusty's concentration. But when Rusty nearly dragged his feet into a wall, he couldn't help screaming as he pulled himself up. That startled Rusty and put him off balance. Rusty soared upward too quickly and scraped the top of his metal head against the concrete. Huckle cringed at the shrieking noise it made.

Rusty ducked his head and the scraping ended. "You gotta hold still," Rusty said, shifting his grip.

Huckle opened his mouth to scream, then closed again. "I'm trying," he said quietly.

"Low bridge," said Rusty, swooping downward to avoid the edge of an archway.

"Help," said Huckle.

"And here we are," said Rusty cheerfully. He zoomed upward and put on speed.

Huckle only saw them heading for the ceiling. Now he did scream. But then he saw the walls of a manhole shaft streaming by, and the blessed nimbus of a streetlight. Then they were back on the surface, dodging oncoming traffic for a second before Rusty lowered him gently to the driveway in front of the Quark Tower.

"Thank you!" Huckle said again. "Say, what time is it? Do you think I have time to clean up and still make it to the Stockholder's Ball?"

"Sorry. Gotta go!" said Rusty hastily. He jetted away.

Huckle padded slowly across the plaza and in the front entrance. The building always hummed with the sound of activity, no matter what time of day or night it was. But now it felt empty. Everyone was gone. Huckle sighed. The Stockholders' Ball, of course. He'd missed his chance to dance with Erika for another year.

Now he really did feel tired and hungry. He trudged across the lobby to the security desk, which for some reason was festooned with bows made of yellow ribbon. Who was on duty? Ah, the little redhead with all the computer problems was sitting at the security monitors. Good. She owed him some favors.

"Hello, Sandy," he said, trying to sound cheerful. "Miss me?"

Sandy looked up from her desk, paled, and then turned red as a beet. "Mr. Huckle?" she whispered. "Is it really you?"

"In the flesh -- well, what's left of it. Uh, could you lend me a dollar for the vending machines? I haven't eaten since yesterday."

Sandy got up in a rush, swept out and around her desk, and wound up grabbing Huckle in a bearhug that almost strangled him. "I thought you were dead!" she said, maintaining her death grip. "I put up yellow ribbons for you...I....oh, Mr. Huckle!"

He felt her heart pounding against his chest, and her tears wetting his shoulder. "I'm all right, Sandy," he assured the mass of red hair that hid her face. "Really, I'm fine." He heard her sniff back her tears, but she only clutched him harder.

He began to get the feeling that Sandy was fond of him.

Dwayne walked back to the cargo bay door with Garth. "My tie straight?"

"Looks fine to me. Listen, about the Doc." Garth looked uncomfortable but struggled on. "She's not the most...she seems kind of, um, young...uh, maybe you should take it kinda slow."

Dwayne laughed as the VTOL settled onto the street and the cargo ramp descended. "Maybe you should tell _her_ that," he said, pointing to where she stood.

Garth's jaw dropped. He blinked. "That dress should be classified as a lethal weapon," he finally managed.

Mack and Jo, curious, joined them at the ramp. "Huh. Cleans up nice," said Mack.

Jo just grinned. "Don't get carried away, Mack. Dwayne might think he's got competition."

She heard engines and looked up. There went Lieutenant Hunter and the Pit Crew. She sighed. It would have been nice to see that he was all right and be able to say goodbye, but the lieutenant was probably more tired than she was. It wasn't as if it had really been a date, after all.

Rusty flew to her side. "Huckle's out safe," he said. "And I'm sure as shootin' glad that's done. Can I go see Big Guy now?"

She patted his shoulder. "Big Guy'll be in shutdown mode by now, Rusty. He needs his maintenance time, you know."

Rusty sighed. "Guess that means Lieutenant Dwayne's gone back, too."

"Not yet, sport."

Erika looked up. "Lieutenant Hunter!" She felt a smile pull at her lips as she saw him, and her hands reached for his of their own accord. His hands in hers were long, bony, muscular, and warm. She saw only his eyes and his smile.

Rusty rushed over. "Hey, Lieutenant Dwayne, you came back! Did you see me and Big Guy? We saved Dr. Donovan!"

Erika and Hunter traded glances, then looked down at Rusty. Neither let go.

Hunter smiled. "I sure did. You did good, champ."

"And Dr. Slate saved Big Guy and made the Squeekies play nice again!"

The lieutenant smiled a little wider. "So I hear." Dwayne looked around at the wreckage and the news cameras. "Huh. Guess this ball's kind of a bust."

"Slightly." She glanced over at him and their eyes met in shared amusement.

"Night's still young," he offered.

She smiled. "And you still owe me a dance."

Rusty scuffed his foot on the pavement. "Why do you guys get to have all the fun? I want to go out, too!"

She knelt in front of him, a precarious task in high heels and a slit-sided dress. "Rusty, we're not trying to leave you out. We just... I just wanted to spend some time with Lieutenant Hunter."

Rusty nodded, "I know," but he still looked unhappy. Her heart sunk.

Dwayne walked up beside her and laid one hand on her right shoulder. She looked up at him. "It's a nice night. If you want," he said, "we could all go over to Seaside. My treat."

"That sounds perfect," she said gratefully. "What about it, Rusty?"

"Sure! Um, what's Seaside?"

She blinked, then realized that, since Seaside didn't need to run commercials and she'd never taken Rusty there, he had no way of knowing about it.

"Amusement park," Dwayne replied.

"With coasters and waterslides and big poles that drop you and rides that go a zillion miles an hour?" Rusty asked excitedly. Then he looked skeptically at Dwayne and her. "I don't think you're dressed for it."

"Seaside's what amusement parks used to be like in the old days," she explained. "It didn't have room for all that modern stuff, but people still liked going there. So the city bought it. There's a swimming pool and some small rides, but grownups mostly go there for dancing or concerts. I think you'll like it." She started to get up.

Dwayne offered her his hand. She took it; he pulled her gently to her feet. Their eyes met and held.

"Hello-o!" Rusty reminded them. "Amusement park?"

Dwayne backed away from her with a nervous laugh. "I'll get the car," he said. "Hope the parking attendant didn't run away."

Dwayne's car sparkled like the sun. So did all the others in the deserted lot. There was no sign of the attendant. He sighed. Big Guy might be able to break into buildings in the pursuit of monsters and aliens, but if he did the same in pursuit of Doc, he'd be chatting with JAG officers in no time flat. So he hotwired his own car.

"Mechanic on duty," he commented dryly. "Trained professional. Do not try this at home."

The car purred to life, no worse for wear for being Squeekified. With any luck, he might just get to finish that dance.

On to Part 2!

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