Pickle Panda Find Love in the Time of Robot Bees: Part 1, Ch. 5.5

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Part 1, Chapter 5 (and a half)

“In 2009, defense contractors at Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency – or, DARPA, for short – publicly revealed that they’d successfully created cyborg insects capable of carrying miniaturized surveillance equipment deep into enemy-” Meghan stopped typing and looked at the screen. She read and re-read the words “cyborg insects”, then deleted the paragraph. “Cyborg insects,” thought Meghan, was not a phrase that would win the hearts and minds of her doctoral review board, regardless of how relevant they were to her work.

“UUUUgh! Why is the first paragraph always so hard!?” she complained, aloud, even though she was alone in the tiny math lab office where she did her research in between tutoring undergrads. “OK, Meghan. There’s nobody here,” she said, more calmly. “Nobody’s here, and you’re talking to yourself. Time for a coffee break.”

Meghan walked out of the office and into the hallway, shocked by the angle of the light. How long had she been sitting in front of that screen? Where had the morning gone? How many hours had she spent trying to start the introduction to the most important paper she’d ever written? How much cash was in her purse, and would it be enough to buy some coffee?

She shielded her eyes from the sun as she walked out into the quad, which was always full of undergrads in various states of study or relaxation. She looked for the least obstructed path past them all when she noticed there the same panda in a bright orange vest from yesterday, sitting just apart from a larger group. of students.

“Oh, that was embarrassing,” Meghan thought to herself, feeling the blush in her cheeks. “I should probably say something.” She walked up to him, still shielding her eyes.

“It’s Pickle, right?”

The panda turned and looked up, but didn’t say anything.

“I’m really sorry about yesterday,” she went on. “I thought those videos- I mean, you! I thought you were a YouTube hoax or something.”

“Meghan!” he said.

“Hi. I’m glad I got to see you again,” she said. A few quiet seconds passed as the panda looked up at her – how was he looking at her? She couldn’t find the right word. “Is Kelsi here? I should probably apologize to her, too.”

“She’s over there with the gorilla,” he said.

“The gorilla?” she asked, confused. “Oh! You mean Ramses! Yeah, he’s a big boy. Gorilla – you’re so funny!”

Pickle turned his head sideways, as if she’d said something confusing. “So – I didn’t think I’d get to see you again. Are you in Ramses’s animal rights club, too?”

“Club?” she asked. Is that what this was? A club meeting? “No,” she explained, “This is the math and science building, behind you. I’m finishing my doctoral thesis this semester, so I’m pretty much always walking between the math building and the library.”

Pickle seemed to be thinking that over.

“Oh, there’s Kelsi,” said Meghan, spotting the young girl over some of the taller students. “I’m just going to go say ‘Hi’.”

Meghan strode away, stepping over a few backpacks and one club member lazily laying on the grass as she made her way over to Kelsi and Ramses. “Hi, Kelsi. Hi, Ramses.”

“Hey, Meghan!” said Kelsi, genuinely happy to see her. “I hope you’re feeling better.”

“Yeah, I’m fine. I’m more embarrassed than anything,” she said.

“It’s fine. I’m glad you’re OK.”

“I just wanted to thank you for being so sweet about everything. I should probably thank you, too, Ramses.”

“No worries,” said the hulking Ramses.

“Are you in Ramses’ club, too?” asked Kelsi.

“No, no. I’m just on my way to get some coffee,” she explained. “It’s funny, your- Pickle, I guess, asked me the same thing.” She looked back and saw Pickle, who was glancing back at them in between exchanges with other club members. “He looks miserable.”

“He always looks like that,” said Kelsi. “He’s a grumpus.”

“He didn’t seem grumpy a second ago,” said Meghan.

“I should go rescue him, I think,” remarked Kelsi.

“Maybe you should ‘rescue’ him, Meghan,” offered Ramses.

“No,” said Kelsi. “I don’t think that’s such a good-”

“He will be fine,” said Ramses, cutting her off. “Like you said, it will be good for Pickle to make friends, and Meghan is as antisocial as he is.”

Antisocial? There’s that word again! Meghan had been called antisocial since she was 12 … but she wasn’t antisocial. She was busy! Meghan had been busy as long as she could remember. She’d worked hard to earn a scholarship to a prestigious private high school in Chicago, where she’d grown up. She’d worked hard to graduate near the top of her high school class, and took on a number of extra-curricular activities to ensure that she’d have her pick of universities. Flagler offered her a full ride, the promise of snow-free winters, and-

“It should not take so long to deny being antisocial,” said Ramses, interrupting her train of thought.

She looked back at Pickle, who was leaning away from an enthusiastic young co-ed who seemed to be performing some kind of awkward, if energetic, kung-fu routine for him.

“Pickle!” shouted Kelsi across the courtyard. “Come get some coffee with me!”

She watched Pickle tilt his head sideways, as if he couldn’t hear her. Pickle looked at Kelsi, then back to her, then seemed to make up his mind to go to the library, and started bounding across towards them.

“The meeting will be over in about an hour,” said Ramses. “Kelsi and I will come collect Pickle soon afterwards.”

Kelsi remained unconvinced. “I still don’t know-”

“It’s fine,” said Meghan. “I’m stuck on a paper, anyway. He’s funny. Maybe he can help me get past my writer’s block.”

“It’s just-”

“It will be good for Pickle, and it will be nice to get to know you. Just you,” offered Ramses, in a quiet tone.

Kelsi complained often about Pickle’s constant presence in her life, but Pickle could be as much a comfort as an annoyance, and she felt a little guilty for teasing him about Meghan the day before. Ramses’ interest in her, however, effectively took the edge off of her guilt. “He always has some money in his vest, in a velcro pocket,” she said to Meghan, “if you want to buy him some food or something, just use that.”

“We’ll be fine,” she said, walking towards the library behind Pickle. “You kids have fun on your date!”

Meghan turned before she could see Kelsi blush.


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