Author's Note: So I was in a video store a couple of weeks ago, asking myself what Huntress would drag her friend to see on the big screen—anything that came out within the last five years or so in real life was fair game, I felt—and it occurred to me that I had never seen the movie WALL-E. I rented the DVD, took it home, popped it into the player, and started making notes on what Huntress and The Question might find particularly interesting, illogical, or otherwise noteworthy as they watched it for the first time. It took me a while to get this whipped into shape, and I'm still not sure how well I did. Anyway, if you haven't seen WALL-E yet, then you need to do one of two things: Either quit reading this right now, or else brace yourself for a ton of spoilers—but don't say I didn't warn you!


Chapter Two: Dissecting the Movie

Looking at the problem carefully, Huntress had decided there were certain types of movies they weren't going to see tonight. The mission statement was to take Q's mind away from his work for awhile. That meant anything relating to superheroics was off the table. Or anything relating to violent crime and the investigation thereof—she didn't really want to hear him complaining about how the detectives on the case should have identified and captured the serial killer at least one murder sooner, for instance. In fact, she'd better play it safe and rule out anything likely to involve lots of people dying—such as war movies based on historical events, or a sci-fi blockbuster with starships hurling destructive energies at one another.

(Sure, she could appreciate an action flick with a high body count as much as the next red-blooded female vigilante, but that just wasn't the tone she wanted now.)

Something funny, fluffy, and relaxing seemed apropos. One of the films currently in the theaters was an animated Disney/Pixar feature called WALL-E. Family-friendly with cute little robots, she gathered. That ought to fit the bill!

(Her normal expectations of what you'd get when you forked over the cash to view "a Disney movie" had been severely damaged by the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise, but she was now inclined to write that off as a special case.)

Q had put his mask back on before they drove to the theater, but he'd also pulled on a pair of shades and wrapped a scarf around the lower part of his face (or where his face ought to be) so that he wouldn't look too peculiar as they entered the building. He'd removed those props after the lights started to fade out just before the trailers began.

Now, almost two hours later, they were out in the parking lot again. Huntress was feeling almost giddy. It had been quite a while—too long, maybe?—since she had sat down to watch anything so relentlessly sweet and optimistic. (Well, if you brushed aside the whole thing about the Earth's biosphere having been completely ruined for several centuries, but hey, that was just colorful backstory!) Who'd have thought that a love story could be so interesting to a grown woman of the twenty-first century when the principals were non-organic and it appeared that their "relationship" could never be more than platonic?

She wondered how Q had felt about it—he hadn't offered any reactions yet. One thing she had discovered tonight was that he obviously didn't believe in doing much talking during the movie. Probably afraid of drowning out key lines of dialogue which might prove vital for the appreciation of later plot twists. She liked that in a man. Empirical evidence also said he didn't even believe in trying to put an arm across his date's shoulders at some point during the movie; not the first time they went to one, anyway. She normally admired that brand of self-restraint in a guy, as well, but in this case she'd have been willing to make an exception. Which you'd think he would have figured out by now, after the way she'd practically had to drag him to this cinema in the first place.

Ah well, give it time . . .

"I think we were over twenty minutes into the film before the 'leading man' (using the term loosely) said anything comprehensible," Q finally observed as they settled back into his car. "That may be some sort of record for anything but a silent picture."

She could have quibbled about whether it was a real record, but preferred to keep the conversation confined to this movie instead. "I did notice that WALL-E and EVE hardly ever said anything except each other's names. Which was kind of sweet, but at first I wondered if they might share lots of data about themselves in high-speed radio transmissions which we couldn't hear. That would make a lot more sense of how quickly they became fascinated with each other. But there was no clear evidence that WALL-E was getting detailed tips from her regarding how things worked aboard that huge ship, the Axiom, after he arrived."

The Question shrugged. "Agreed—it seemed they only learned whatever they could see and hear about one another via the functional equivalents of human senses. But she obviously felt that was enough to let her form a favorable estimate of his character. He was simply a man—or robot—of few words. I can relate to that. I often go days at a time without saying much of anything."

"Believe me, we've all noticed," Huntress muttered half-humorously. Then she added as an afterthought: "Of course WALL-E's excuse was that his designers probably never expected him to need conversational skills in the first place . . ."

If The Question realized that was a good-natured dig at his own social skills (such as they were), he loftily ignored it in favor of staying focused on WALL-E's strengths and weaknesses. "They also neglected his education in areas where they should have known better. Remember when WALL-E was trapped behind a blue force field in a maintenance-and-repair area of the ship?"

"Yes. He was still worried about EVE, so he burned his way out with a laser and went looking for her again."

"Right. Until then, I was working on the theory that he didn't have any built-in firepower. Mainly because he evidently didn't have a clue what a laser-sighting dot looked like. Right before EVE arrived on Earth, WALL-E was trying to chase that glowing red thing on the ground, remember? I knew what it was at first glance, but I was willing to assume WALL-E didn't. Which made sense if he'd never seen a functioning laser in his life. But if he had a powerful one, why didn't he catch on sooner that something was scouting the terrain from overhead?"

"Well, he'd probably never seen anything but himself using a laser beam," she argued. "Or not for the last several centuries, anyway, so why expect that to change on the spur of the moment? And we never saw him using it at low power just for 'sighting' purposes, did we?"

The Question actually took several seconds to chew on that before committing himself. Finally he conceded: "Now that you mention it, I suppose WALL-E might have been programmed to only think of his built-in laser as a cutting tool for extreme situations, with no provision for using it as a rangefinder the rest of the time. It wasn't as if he were intended to fly any aerospace vehicles, or direct artillery fire in a war zone, so he might not need a highly accurate rangefinder at all in his assigned duties at ground level."

"Right! So he may not have been consciously aware that a beam of light could make such a bright red dot, so far away from the source, without burning right through any solid object in its path at the same time! But he had a living friend—the cockroach—so he could extrapolate that when some other odd little thing was moving over the ground in a hurry, it was probably organic—a lightning bug, maybe. If their positions had been reversed, EVE would have figured it out in a hurry, but she was 'born' in a high-tech environment with zillions of other robots running around, so she'd be predisposed to think someone else was scanning the area for reasons unknown."

"And if the discovery surprised her, she'd probably 'return fire' to be on the safe side," The Question observed. "When she did land on Earth a few minutes later, her responses to sudden strange noises and the like definitely showed a 'shoot first and ask questions later' philosophy. It all seemed oddly familiar, as if EVE were channeling . . . a certain masked crimefighter I know."

Huntress puzzled over that for a few seconds. "You mean The Vigilante, with his twin six-shooters and the whole attitude of 'I'm living in a John Wayne movie'?"

After a pause, The Question said in an odd tone, "Not my first thought, but I suppose you have a point there."

She decided he must have been talking about Hawk instead. That bruiser didn't carry a gun, but he did have a quick temper and all the subtlety of a bull in a china shop whenever he saw something worth fighting. Well, at least he also had his brother Dove to try to provide a bit of restraint when needed.

The conversation had hit a lull. After it became clear that Q didn't intend to offer any further comments on EVE's trigger-happy temperament, Huntress threw out another leading question to get the ball rolling again. "Did anything else particularly strike you about the plot?"

"The 'suspenseful' airlock scene seemed like a ridiculous waste of time," he complained. "I found it impossible to care if WALL-E and EVE got vented out into space with the day's garbage or not."

Huntress stared at him in horror. "I cannot believe you just said that!"

Q made an annoyed sound before responding coherently. "Huntress, they didn't even have lungs. Their robot bodies had already been exposed to vacuum for extended periods with no harm done, so why worry if it happened once more? The prospect was about as life-threatening as it would be if I pushed you into a swimming pool."

"Oh." Huntress felt deflated. Just when she'd been preparing a scathing lecture regarding bigotry towards artificial intelligences . . . but he had a point. She remembered being a bit surprised, earlier on, when WALL-E successfully hitchhiked by clinging to the exterior of a smaller spaceship all the way from Earth to the mothership. She had fully expected him to sneak inside the vessel just before takeoff; that was what she would have done in his place . . .

"All right," she finally conceded, "I'm seeing your position now. Those two sure didn't look like they were suffering earlier, when they were doing that impromptu flying dance routine outside the ship after EVE was thrilled that both WALL-E and her precious plant had survived an explosion. And they were able to get back inside the mothership P.D.Q. once they felt like it—so going out the airlock probably wouldn't leave them permanently locked out the second time around."

"Yes indeed." The Question added thoughtfully, "I've never watched a pair of lovestruck robots cavorting in zero-gee before. Just when you think you've seen it all . . ."

She had loved that scene, but there wasn't much more to say about it in any cerebral way, so she deftly switched the subject again to keep the discussion alive. "So what did you think of the Captain, once we got to know him? For a man who had spent pretty much his entire life in a floating chair looking at status reports that said 'nothing has changed lately,' I thought he did amazingly well toward the end, after he realized the time had come for serious change! Makes me wonder just how they selected new Captains in the first place. Sheer stubbornness, maybe?"

"He showed true grit," Q conceded, "and I suppose he'll learn soon enough that you can't just plant one little seed and watch it grow up to be an entire pizza, ripe for the plucking. On the other hand, I became perplexed as to why it seemed he had never quite understood why the vessel's five-year mission had lasted seven centuries and counting."

Huntress searched her memory. "Well, he said plainly that it would be an unprecedented event if one of the EVE probes had actually brought back a viable sample of photosynthesis from the latest recon mission. Doesn't that show he knew Earth was in a very bad state?"

"Yes, I thought so at the time. But later on, the Captain was shocked and confused by the sharp discrepancies between old video imagery of terrestrial civilization at its best, on the one hand . . . and the footage of the bleak landscape EVE had witnessed during her recent trip, on the other! As if it had never dawned on him that the reason they were still in space after all these generations was because the homeworld had become uninhabitable shortly after their ancestors left?"

She pondered that. To prove a point, AUTO had eventually shown the Captain a clip of that global CEO of a bygone era, whatever-his-name-was, ordering the good ship Axiom not to come back because of the cascading disasters taking place on the Earth's surface—the implication being that the Captain, in all his life up until that moment, had never known that such disasters were precisely why the Axiom's voyage had dragged on indefinitely? No, that sure didn't jibe well with the earlier idea that the Captain knew darn well the EVE probes had consistently tried and failed to find any plant life whatsoever back on Earth (until the time of the movie) . . .

"I'm starting to see your point. It's as if the writers simply couldn't make up their minds about 'what did the Captain know and when did he know it?'"

"Yes indeed."

"So . . . what does all this add up to? You didn't like the overall experience?"

"What are you talking about?" he demanded. "I loved it! I just felt it could have been even better if someone had given the script a bit more polish. You didn't think I was so fussy that I demanded absolute perfection in every little thing in this life, did you? "

"Well," she said, just oozing mock humility, "as far I know, you never showed the slightest personal interest in any of the other women you met on the Watchtower . . ."

Q either took that at face value or else had enough sense to play along. "Hrrrm. There is that . . . all right, I can see how you might have assumed I had extremely high standards in many other areas as well . . ."

That was as close as he'd ever yet come to paying her a compliment on her good looks, et cetera. It felt like a victory—even if she'd shamelessly fished for it in a way she might well have derided in some other woman. Now the $64,000 question was: Would he decide he was on a roll and continue along the same general lines to investigate how susceptible she was to flattery?

Not wanting to disrupt his chain of thought if he was in fact thinking along those lines, Huntress kept her lip zipped and waited. She thought she could just feel the unspoken tension building and building inside the car . . .

"Well, this has all been fun," he finally said as he twisted the key in the ignition and the engine rumbled itself awake. "Now, if I can just drop you off at your apartment building, I can rush home and get cracking on that encrypted data. After you return it," he added, in case she had somehow missed the point and forgotten that the module he wanted was still stashed in her utility belt.

You just had to ruin the moment, didn't you? Defense mechanism? Ah well, you've been a pretty good sport about this . . . once you knew I had you over a barrel.

Huntress forced a smile and fished the confiscated item out of the appropriate compartment. "It's all yours. Y'know, we really ought to do this again sometime."

The Question delicately removed the data storage module from between her fingers and then asked in a suspicious tone, "You mean you're planning to hold my evidence for ransom every time we work together from now on? Is that supposed to be reassuring?"

He was joking, right?

She was pretty sure he was joking.

At least a fifty-fifty chance, anyway?

Finally she said, in the same tone she would use to explain a rule of basic etiquette to a child whose education was lacking in that area, "Let me offer you a friendly tip, Q. In the normal course of events, at this point in the proceedings, I'd expect the guy to express some real interest in the idea of seeing me again—and maybe even his regret that this date had to end—as opposed to being in a hurry to drop me off, and even expressing doubts about whether he really wanted me to tag along on his next field investigation."

"That's very interesting," he said politely, "but if 'normal' is what you truly crave in your social life, then why you are wasting time with me?"

Ouch! Walked right into that one, didn't I? Good grief, isn't it the girl who's supposed to play hard-to-get? It's looking more and more as if I'll have to continue to take the initiative if I want a second date to happen at all. Heck, given how hard it evidently was, a while back, for him to even admit he "liked" me, it's not ridiculous to assume he's still very shy about this sort of thing. Which at least means he isn't likely to start flirting with half a dozen other women when my back is turned. Let's raise the stakes a little.

"Q, do you really want me to start listing what I see as your strengths and weaknesses, with emphasis on the weaknesses which I hope you'll work to improve?"

"Not right this minute, no," he said promptly.

"Then we'll just have to get together some other time so I can give that last question of yours a complete answer regarding why I haven't given up on you yet, won't we?"

He hesitated before making a show of surrendering. "That's odd reasoning, but it has a certain logic. The main problem is that I can't offer an exact date and time for such a rendezvous when I have no idea how long it will take me to read this data or to follow up on any urgent matters arising. I can call you after I'm all done, but who knows when that will be?"

"That's all right," Huntress said comfortably. "If you fail to call me up within a reasonable interval, I'll just have to come looking for you."

He didn't reply as he pulled the car out of the parking lot; he probably thought she was joking a little. But he didn't vehemently object to her proposed measures either, so she decided she could interpret that as tacit permission to break into his apartment and interrupt his work when the time came.


Author's Note: Well, that's the end of this little two-parter about their first conventional date. I have at least one or two other ideas for stories about this odd couple, set later on, but I have no idea when I will get around to writing them. I want to make some serious headway on a few of my longer and unfinished fanfic serials first!