{EAX023}

{<<< From Science Labs: Navi Shop: In the shop <<<}

=== CHAPTER 5 - A Different Perspective ===

The sidewalk was heavily trafficked as the going-home rush was setting in on the downtown streets of Kotobuki. One life was ending as another was reborn; the rush of businessmen and businesswomen heading home mixed in with those of the entertainment and hospitality sectors moving quickly through the crowds to avoid being late for the start of the nightlife. A bizarre sight; the suits and uniforms moving one direction, casual wear, bright vests and the occasional costume moving the other.

It was in this environment that a bus of no particular interest stopped in front of Osanajimi Plaza, one of the smaller shopping malls in downtown Kotobuki, and ejected one nervous Eric Bauersox with a group of brightly dressed ladies. Eric was already on edge from the swarms of people pressing in on him, but his feet led him across the sidewalk and through the main door of the plaza, its neon signs a little less bright than the surrounding shops. His nerves calmed considerably once he was away from the bustling crowd; this mall was familiar to him.

"Why did you agree to meet here?" Amy pondered. "Seems to me that this place doesn't exactly fit your description of him." She'd been advised the person they were meeting was responsible for the management of a number of high-profile shopping malls, but upon seeing storefronts with aging fixtures and dim or gently flickering lights, this centre didn't seem to match the profile of 'successful property owner'.

"That's why it's perfect. The people who run businesses here aren't as interested in earning his favour as the storeowners in malls like Yutaka Plaza. It's a safer place for him to meet clients, apparently."

"I'm getting a little nervous about meeting this man."

"I have to admit, so am I."

Eric brushed off their concerns as he walked past multiple storefronts and used the escalator in the centre of the mall's thoroughfare to rise to the higher level. Upstairs and only a few steps away from the top of the escalator was a restaurant he'd frequented a few times in order to catch up with his old friend, and as it so happened, it had a network connection to Kotobuki Net that was somewhat close to the sector that Meep had last been seen.

The store owner appeared to recognise Eric as he walked in, an older gentleman wearing a white shirt with a green waiter's apron. The man gestured towards a table at the back of the shop without a word, but Eric knew the table in question. He bowed in response to the waiter's gesture and slid into the table booth at the end of the dining area. The olive-tone seats were aged, but didn't show any signs of tearing around the foam edges, and the rectangular table was neatly polished, with only a napkin dispenser and menu holder pushed up against the wall.

"I think we're a bit early," Lily commented as Eric looked at the wall on the clock.

"We're very early. He won't be here for at least another hour, I guess." Eric had planned for the worst (as usual) in making plans to travel from ACDC to Kotobuki via Science Labs, but in doing so they had certainly arrived ahead of the agreed time.

"Perfect. Let's do it now," Amy suggested, eagerness filling her words. "Eric? What do you think?"

Eric was thinking about ordering a drink, possibly a slice of cake; their planned rescue hadn't been his priority yet. Meditating on the possibility, it didn't seem like any harm could come from their rescue mission going first. "You're right, we have time. He's often late anyway."

Eric's eyes looked up to the network sensor on the wall a few paces in front of them. Eric had never had a need to use it before as his navi adventures had never resulted in a long-term partner, but a part of him had watched other patrons use it for various purposes, and perhaps he had been a little jealous to be the odd one out.

Not anymore. Virus busting was slowly becoming a normal thing to Eric. "Here we go," he advised as he lined up the PET with the network relay and tapped 'Transmit'.

{>>> To Kotobuki Net: A Meep of Faith >>>}