Captain Stone tried to think of something to say. So far the date had been… well, he wouldn’t say it had been a disaster, so much as it hadn’t really been anything. Carla seemed nice enough, but they couldn’t find anything to talk about. They’d hit most of the basic small talk topics – jobs (she was a reporter for a tech news site), sports (she supported the new Martian Football League), weather (76 degrees and sunny, as scheduled). The conversation never seemed to click, and awkward silence crept back in after a few minutes while they poked at their food.

“So,” he said, scraping the bottom of his small talk barrel. “have you been on Mars long?”

“A few months. I’m still getting used to the gravity,” she said with a weak laugh.

Silence returned.

Stone wondered if he was just too military to date. He wasn’t used to be out on his own, and he didn’t like it. He usually had twelve trained soldiers to support him, not to mention thirteen robotic cats. When presented with something outside his proficiency, he could delegate it to subordinates better suited for the task, or send it up the chain of command until they found the right man for the job.

He was about to apologize to Carla for wasting her time, when she spoke.

“I’m sorry,” she said, looking down at her plate. “I’m not a very good date. I’m more used to interviews than conversations.”

He tried not laugh, but he couldn’t stop himself, earning him a dark look from his date.

“No, I’m sorry,” he said, quickly. “It’s just that I was about to say the same thing, more or less. The whole dating situation is just too unstructured for me, I’m afraid.”

“Well, at least we’ve got something in common, then,” she said.

“To be perfectly honest, I only signed up on that website to appease certain family members. I hadn’t given it much thought until you pinged me.”

“Friends, in my case,” Carla said. “Lots of engagements and marriages and babies going around, and heaven forbid you’re single. It’s not like I don’t want to find someone, mind you. I like the idea of dating and everything, but in practice, it never seems to live up to the hype. But every couple of months I go on a date, if only to confirm that I still suck at it.”

She took a deep breath, then added, “And if we’re being completely honest, I was hoping that if this date went well, I might get a chance to see one of those experimental TIGER units.”

Stone nearly choked on the piece of steak he was eating. “How did you…” he spluttered, “You’re not supposed to… That’s classified!”

“Relax,” she said.

“How did you find out?” he asked. “If I’ve compromised myself…”

“You haven’t,” she told him. “Your SpaceDate profile makes it clear that you’re in a robotics division if you know how to read between the lines, but nothing beyond that. I used some of my contacts to get a list of the Captains in those divisions – which I have clearance to have – and cross-checked the dates you showed up in the news. Even with all that, I was only about seventy percent sure you were part of one of the TIGER squads.”

“Do you always investigate SpaceDaters before pinging them?”

“Not always, no. Just the ones I think might have access to interesting new tech.”

“So you’re one of those ‘always-on-the-clock’ types?”

She shrugged. “I guess so. Might explain my lousy dating life.” She paused for a moment, then asked, “So, since we’ve both established the date is going nowhere, I’ve pretty much lost any shot at seeing a TIGER, haven’t I?”

Stone chuckled. “You didn’t have a chance from the beginning. Regulations, you see.”

“Ah, a traditionalist. No showing girls your robot until the third date?”

“Something like that,” he said. His sister could have come up with some entendre-laden comeback, but Stone had never been much at wordplay.

“How about a human interest piece?” she asked. “No tech questions, just a look at how having a robotic companion affects the life of a soldier.”

“I’ll have to run it by some of the higher-ups.”

“They’ll love it. Showing that soldiers are people is always good press. And… this might sound silly, but… I think if we saw each other while we’re both just working, it might be a better ‘date’ than this one turned out to be.”

It didn’t sound silly at all to Stone.

“I’ll see what I can do.”

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