Bill N. Clusterbuck's

Bill's restaurant was another that would prove rather difficult to miss. While Ken's establishment had been set up as a booth inside the convention, Bill's was a permanent and rather large establishment. A fast food chicken joint with two floors and a wide floor area to boot, there were two notable features: one, a gigantic inflatable burger, loaded with toppings, and an equally huge bucket of chicken drumsticks; and two, the logo artwork that appeared both on the chicken bucket and all over the building in other capacities. The picture a woman popping through a ring-shaped banner, with blonde hair in two long pigtails, a cowboy hat, brown eyes, wearing a brown leather jacket and a rather small red-and-white checkered bikini top beneath. Although she had a huge full-toothed grin on her face in nearly every piece, the artwork typically depicted her wielding two oversized western revolvers. Overall, a very family-friendly image.

As with Ken before him, the man out front could only have been one of three things: the store's manager, the store's mascot, or both. The man, who could easily be presumed to be Bill himself, was a square-built man, and although some of those squares had round edges, it was a bit hard to see him as the lardball Ken had had described. However, it was easy to think of him as an idiot, thanks to a bizarre yellow cowboy ensemble he had chosen to wear, and the way he seemed to feel he had to dart around and personally welcome everyone entering the restaurant. The man wore large, wide-rimmed glasses and had dark brown hair with bushy sideburns. Looking at the man, it was hard not to imagine how much effort it must have taken him to grow them out and how many people had surely tried to talk him out of it. He wore a brown leather jacket open, revealing a tucked in white button-up shirt and loud orange lace tie. His obvious friendly nature made it clear that he was the polar opposite of Ken Broncos: his youthful energy made him look ten years younger than he surely must be, unless he had inherited his fast food empire.

Regardless of whether the building's mascot could be seen as family friendly or not, the man was making a point of rushing up to men and women, boys and girls of any age he could and rushing them inside. Notably, he had already greeted and admitted many boys about Satou's age.

Unless Dharma and Satou for some reason wanted to find a way to sneak in through the back, it would be impossible to avoid this figure as they entered.
Dharma could already tell from a pretty good distance that she wasn't going to enjoy her part in this mission. The inflatable burger and giant, lardy chicken bucket would have been bad enough without the busty bimbo shooting out of the logo... all of those elements together made for some pretty gut-wrenching business operations, by her estimation. The tastes expressed: commoner, commoner, and DEFINITELY commoner. She could smell the stench of pawns and those lower than pawns as she progressed towards her destination with Satou. She thought that they might be walking into a pretty considerably seedy situation with Clusterbuck and began calculating how she would get out of it if it became too nauseating for her to handle, but the first thought she had: "depending on how seedy, should I even be taking Satou in there?" Her worries were alleviated slightly when she realized other children were entering the place of business. So long as it was a pretty typical place for kids, she didn't mind what happened, but she didn't want to end up shouldering any sort of liability if she was bringing Satou somewhere especially unsavory.

It was unsavory, this establishment, but it was unsavory in a publicly acceptable way, like much of the world. The businessman himself, however, actually looked a lot more like what she would expect from a fast food mogul: everything was out in the open, from his stature to his business attitude. She didn't expect a businessman to try to conduct her own brand of treachery, like Ken Broncos had. That was unsettling and unwelcome; if she was going to have to try to run circles around these guys, she'd prefer they look oafish and easily manipulated, like she suspected her new acquaintance would be.

Dharma wasn't going to try entering from any direction but the front. VenusMan might be trying to get a cell clear for infiltration, but all she was doing was serving as a distraction. She'd be more useful getting in the store proprietor's face and holding his attention. "Satou, at this point, I think it's best if we keep our distance from each other until the mission's complete. I'll just distract VenusMan from his play date, after all, and Mr. Clusterbuck and I will be discussing business. I think VenusMan will find his goal easier if you and I are not part of the same picture," the businesswoman explained to her young cohort. "Please wait until I get Mr. Clusterbuck away from his storefront, so that we won't be connected."

With those instructions issued, she walked faster to break away from her companion, whether he wanted to. Her black labcoat swished around her ankles as her high heels clapped against the surface of the concrete floor. "Mr. Clusterbuck, I presume?" she addressed her target, moving as quickly as she could manage without losing breath. "My, pardon my enthusiasm, but the air around here is just so electric. So many children and convention-goers, having such a great time with the festivities," she laughed, extending her hand for a shake. "My name is Dharma Heart-Payne and I'm here to respond to a mission request you put out." She gave her most winning smile and tilted her head slightly, her heart-shaped earrings swaying like pendulums along with the long bangs of her silken black hair. "But, with all of the excitement of the convention and all of those inside enjoying their food, it is a little noisy. Perhaps we could move somewhere more quiet and discuss business privately?" she requested, pressing her hands together as though she was pleading.
"I guess this is the place," Satou muttered to himself and VenusMan, the latter looking around along with his Operator. As with the previous location, Satou simply wasn't used to these types of diners. This one, however, felt a lot more imposing and grand. "Hey," he said as he turned his PET to face him, "You think that woman is Buck?"

With a quick turn of Satou's hands, VenusMan was looking at the billboard woman and shrugged. "She doesn't look very Navi to me, but maybe it's to appeal to humans...?" he pondered, "But if that's her, well... I have no qualms with this scenario." A sly grin spread across his face as he stared at the picture.

"But I think we should head in and figure out a plan for ourselves," he said while glancing at Dharma. From this point onwards they were going to go their seperate ways for their own tasks. As Satou inspected the surroundings of the diner, he took some 'strategies' to mind. "I don't even know what it looks like inside, so I had better not take any risks. Most of all I should make use of the fact I'm young..." He took a moment of peace and quiet, letting Dharma head for the building first, and made sure his PET was strapped to his right arm. Once the distance was big enough, he walked around a bit before turning towards the building and smiling. "Time for boyish charm," he thought to himself and ran towards the door with a smile as excited as he could muster for a place he doesn't frequently enter. At the entrance he made a point to wave at the cowboy mascot, but made his best attempt to just carry on straight away to a place where he could see as much as possible. Also he was totally going to get a burger to taste the 'secret ingredient' himself.
Bill had already hurried up to Dharma, but seeing that she was obviously looking to address him herself, he didn't shake her hand until she offered it. He still seemed a little lost (probably due to all the running around he had been doing), but livened up even further when he found out the news. "Dharma Heart-Payne!" he shouted, clapping his other hand over hers to show his enthusiasm. "My pleasure, ma'am!" While Ken's "ma'am" sounded old-fashioned, Bill's was clearly intended simply as a sign of respect. He finally stopped shaking her hand and was taking an undisguised moment to eye her up and down. He realized some more customers were passing them by (Satou among them) and gave them quick waves and smiles, struggling between this obviously critical task and keeping up a conversation. "I can't tell you how excited I am that you've decided to help out! Tammy was supposed to be the greeting girl for the bar upstairs, but she called in sick. The night before Beecon! The girl's got some tough shoes to fill... well, ah, frankly, it isn't the shoes..." Bill flashed her an apologetic grin, hoping she'd catch the meaning. "Anyway! You're doing me a big favor here, and I'll be happy to pay you for it. But, we'll have to discuss this later. Why don't you run on up and meet Lala? You'll see her easy, she's got the uh, the green..." Bill pointed to the top of his head, apparently forgetting the word he wanted to use. "She volunteered to help show you the ropes, and I need you on the job right away."

Bill was clearly intending to scurry back to his work right away, but stopped upon remembering some crucial points. "Oh, oh! Don't forget my three tenants for the bar girls..." The man took a quick look over his shoulder, grinned to a family of four walking in, and leaned in to talk a bit more quietly. "Always strut, always smile, and remember the customer is always right! I don't think you'll have any trouble." Bill flashed her a wink and a grin, then went back to his greeting business. If Dharma was hoping for further conversation, she'd have to tear him away from it.

Satou, meanwhile, had gotten inside. The entrance gate itself was pretty spacious. It had a wooden interior with hardwood floors and some benches to sit. Inside, it had two standups of the woman Satou had presumed to be Buck. Both were full-body cartoon characters, posed facing forward with solid colors. The full view revealed denim short-shorts and tall spurred brown cowboy boots that completed her outfit. One of the standups was pointing to the center door in front of Satou. A comic-book word bubble over this stand-up's head declared: "UP AHEAD: THE FAMILY RESTAURANT" The other, on the left, was pointing up a staircase to Satou's left (there was another to the right that no one pointed to). The left Buck declared: "FEELIN' THIRSTY, COWPOKE? VISIT THE BAR" Notably, the staircase to the right was roped off, which seemed to have backed up traffic for the left entrance: a number of men were waiting in line to get up. It was impossible to see what the bar at the top looked like without going up the staircase.

The double doors directly ahead were made of glass, allowing Satou to see into the family restaurant inside. The hardwood carpeting appeared to be covered by a dark green carpet that didn't exactly match the motif of the rest of the restaurant. In fact, the overall theme seemed to be haphazardly staggered between "old west ranch" and "family fun park." Fortunately, there was plenty of the latter. There were people lined up to the left inside, suggesting that was probably where one would get food. There were plenty of tables in the middle, as well as booths. They were about half-empty, although that would probably change quickly if all the people to the left were indeed in line for food. Also, along the back wall, glimpses of various arcade machines such as pinball and free-throw basketball could be seen.

Old-timey western music was playing mercifully low from the speakers in the restaurant, so quiet that it was impossible to hear what the artist was singing about over the throng of people to Satou's right.
After leaving Satou, Dharma managed to meet up with Bill and get briefed on what she considered to be her secondary mission. She smiled along with every grin of Bill, keeping her eyebrows turned up in an expression of sympathy that was more like pity. It was an expression that could most easily be compared to a relative nodding along with the baseless ramblings of a beloved older relative descending into the throes of Alzheimer's. "This man really believes that he can bring in the CEO of Heart Payne Pharmaceuticals to take on the role of a bar girl? I suppose it's best for us both if he continues to believe that," she thought to herself, finding the situation awash with incredulity. All she really needed to do, she figured, was continue nodding and smiling until he finished, and she imagined that was all he expected of her as well. "Strut, smile, customer is always right. Of course. These are tenants that carry me well throughout my own undertakings, you know?" she laughed, mentally punching herself in the gut as she compared her own highly complex and taxing business to the life of a busty bargirl working for a stooge dressed like a cowboy. "I'll go meet Lala. Oh, but wait!" she called out, realizing that he didn't seem overly concerned with managing her on his own. That was unfortunate, as it meant he'd be harder to keep away from Satou... although she hardly wanted his company herself. Still, she pretended like she did. "Won't you come upstairs to check on me, from time to time? Just to make sure I'm performing in a satisfactory manner. We at Heart Payne Pharmaceuticals aim to offer the highest standard of service, after all."

After disengaging Bill, she gently nudged past the group of men waiting at the staircase. She figured that a woman trying to get upstairs, one as important looking as she was, would be allowed up regardless of the line. Dharma was already practicing her walk; she always had a kind of a strut, even when she wasn't trying to. As she ascended, she took the time in the relatively private space to go ahead with two other adjustments as well: she tied her hair up into a ponytail quickly (she carried around a black, elastic band for such an occasion, although it was usually a messy experiment that mandated it rather than the need to be incognito), then removed her coat and folded it as tightly as she could manage. She didn't want to be any more recognizable than she had to be, as the CEO of Heart Payne Pharmaceuticals, Inc., walking upstairs in a glorified burger shack with a skanky bar in the second floor.

Assuming the men in line let her through (she assumed they'd be gentlemanly/horny enough to want to appease her), she would reach the top of the staircase, scan the upper area, and find someone with a green... something on their head, presumably near the bar area.
"I guess we got through there with ease..." Satou muttered to himself as he was standing in the entrance hall. It wasn't like he expected any issues, considering he was just an innocent kid, but it was good the mascot cowboy owner guy was pre-occupied. He stared at the cardboard ladies and questioned himself where to go. "I suppose family restaurant sounds good enough to check out. And at least I can blend in there easily. I'm not as ehm... Noteworthy as Dharma after all." he thought to himself and walked over to the sliding doors of the restaurant. He, however, took a moment to check out the standsups from a side before entering. "...Flat..." While not expecting them to be as stacked as the image showed they were, with her image flaunted so frequently he wouldn't have been surprised.

"Hey," VenusMan chimed in after Satou walked onto the restaurant floor, "That is some nice music."

Satou took his PET in front of his face to look at VenusMan. "But I only hear a melody... Slightly. Can you hear his singing?" he asked while carefully walking around not to bump into people.

"If you close your eyes you can imagine he's singing whatever you want," VenusMan replied, although it wasn't obvious from his visor that his eyes were actually closed.

Satou looked around to find a quiet spot and walked over towards it. He closed his eyes once he stood still and tried to imagine lyrics to the music. Hamburgers, hamburgers, fat and greasy, oooooh so greasy was all he could imagine with the smells of the restaurant. "I suppose you don't smell anything..."

VenusMan simply shrugged once Satou opened his eyes again. "Didn't say everyone heard the same lyrics. It's a Western mystery," VenusMan joked with a smirk, "So what do we do first? Look around or get yourself some food?"

"I think..." he started as he took a glance at the waiting line for food, "Looking around takes less time." But the moment he decided on the plan of 'looking around', he discovered the arcade machines in the back. "Oh wow! Let's check those out, Venus!" With a quick, but careful, dash Satou made his way to the arcade machines and looked around at the various titles. "Maybe one of these can be played with a Navi! Two players, Venus!"

"Yeaaah, of course." VenusMan replied. "And maybe one of these is a secret door that opens when we win," he said, waving around his hands mysteriously. "But I suppose it can't hurt to play a bit." He glanced around for a moment to make sure nobody important was around Satou before whispering, "If one of these is capable of being jacked in, I can at least look for Buck in advance. Who knows, maybe the door is digital."

Satou nodded to VenusMan, but his eyes were completely captivated by the arcade machines. "But which do we play?" he asked VenusMan, looking at the choices.
Bill gave Dharma a quick look back, grinning and shaking his head. "I know you will, Ms. Payne, but I have to stay here and attend to all these hungry con-goers! Lala will take good care of you. She'll be on hand to help you with all the ins and outs, so be sure to ask her any questions." With that, Bill turned back to what must have been an especially hungry family of con-goers. While it might not be possible to keep him occupied upstairs, it also looked like he wouldn't be going anywhere any time soon. The man seemed intent on staying and greeting all patrons at the door.


Satou would undoubtedly be pleased to find a pretty sweet spread of options. There were games of all shapes and sizes, old ones and new ones, games with plain-old manual control and air-hockey that could be played against your Navi controlling the other puck. For VenusMan, however, the jury was out: there were some "STAFF ONLY" doors at the back of the restaurant, if that was of interest to him, but nothing flashy and nothing guarded by anyone who looked like a Buck.

If looking for a digital door was VenusMan's plan B, however, there were plenty of options. This being the age that it was, there was a jack-in plug readily visible on nearly all of the machines. Many kids had cashed in their zenny for arcade tokens already, but despite the large volume of kids there were plenty of free machines. Perhaps a lot of parents who had already blown their paychecks on Beerider merch were hesitant to hand over more to their kids... Regardless, that meant Satou had his choice of Style Change: DANCE!, NetBattle Tournament IX, Net Surfer Turbo, Net Racer Turbo, Electopia Zombie Division 5, GutPunch, classics such as Mr. Met Man, Fishy Flyer, air hockey, or even plain old skee ball.

Assuming he had pocket change, of course. If not, Satou would probably be seriously regretting not bumming some off of the Heart-Payne exec.


The men in line didn't seem happy to let Dharma through, since, as they were all looking forward, few were even registering she was a woman until she was already past. Still, in spite of all the grumpy, thirsty older men and grating college dudes in line, Dharma managed to make her way to the top.

Dharma seemed to be having a lot of luck finding people she wanted to find today. It wouldn't take much work to guess that the slightly short woman with the trendy short-cut watermelon-green hair at the front was Lala. Dharma might note she seemed to already be in violation of several of Bill's tenants, as she was standing pretty straight and had a slightly bored frown on her face. She had dark eyes and a fair complexion, and although she was wearing a costume similar to the ones on the first floor's cardboard cutouts, she certainly wasn't filling it out. Further connecting the obvious dots, she had a "LALA" name tag pinned to the front of her blouse.

If she were so inclined, Dharma could look through the open doorway ahead of the doorkeeper and spot several women in similar costumes moving across a red-carpeted hardwood floor. The lighting was low, and the ranch-furniture seemed to be more emphasized here, with varnished wood stalls, tables, and bars. TVs were all around, displaying various types of sports. People seemed to be having a good (and loud) time. Lala looked to have the smallest bust in the joint, and it took a second look at her to confirm that Bill wasn't hiring underage.

Seeing Dharma, Lala's face brightened. "You must be Dharma!~" she spoke in a strangely sing-song voice. "I'm Lala, and I'll be showing you around. You arrived just in time..."

A scruffy-looking guy in a popped collar pantomimed showing her his watch. "Hey! Speakin' of 'just-in-time,' we've been waitin' a while, okay? How about-"

The man's joking nagging turned to an actual sigh of frustration as Lala violated another tenant, roping off the staircase right in front of him. "Hold on one sec, all righty? Lala has to help Dharmy get ready.~"

The guy was clearly about to protest, but turned and finally noticed Dharma. Seeing her seemed to change his mind, and after a moment's consideration he threw his hands in the air and then crossed his arms, venting his frustration to the guy next to him.

"All right, Dharmy! Let's get you into your uniform, okay?~" Lala grabbed Dharma's hand and began leading her through the restaurant towards a staff door. "After I get you all set up, we can open up the second staircase and keep those stuffy guys movin'. I'm sure you've got a lot of questions, so just go ahead and ask them right now! After all, I gotta get back to my stairs as soon as I show you the ropes. So now is the only time for questions! I'll give you three, Dharmy, and only three... girls who don't get it after that won't get it, ever!" Lala said, punctuating her comment with a skip and a wide grin.
Dharma supposed it was a shame that she wouldn't have the undoubted pleasure of Bill's company for the whole evening, but at least he seemed pretty focused on what he was doing at the front. With that in mind, there might be no reason for her to worry about him keeping an eye on Satou while the kid and VenusMan took care of their business. That would allow her to focus on her own task.

The CEO of Heart-Payne Pharmaceuticals began to regret her decision to muscle past all of the guys on the staircase as she realized that they were more impatient and irritable than they were eager to please. Usually, when she assumed chivalry would be the norm, it was, but these guys probably didn't care about that sort of thing much in the first place if they were going to a men's bar above a kid's restaurant. In fact, she decided that the fact that they were going to a men's bar above a kid's restaurant was enough justification for any further negative thoughts she might have about them over the course of the evening (and there were sure to be many such thoughts).

It was easy enough for Dharma to find Lala, both by way of hair and nametag. She sighed as she noticed the giant name-tag; of course, it stood to reason that because she wanted to keep her name as hidden as possible, the staff was already informed of it and she would most likely also be wearing it in print, pinned onto her shirt. That still wasn't enough, so the girl also shouted out the name upon spotting her coming up the steps. Dharma managed a smile and wave, because it wouldn't do anyone any good for her trainer for the night to have a bad impression of her right off. Her initial impression was that Lala was a girl that would easily be appeased if she was made to feel important... She got that impression from a lot of people, including one Agnis Agnu, a talented but insufferable girl who had the unfortunate, unshakeable impression that she and Dharma were best friends.

The president-turned-bargirl was pleased to see that the guys were being kept from bothering her by being roped off, then had that pleasure immediately drained as her name was transformed into "Dharmy." Not even Agnis had gone as far as to make a pet-name for her. Most people would probably be charmed by this initial meeting, thinking "what a loveable slacker" or "it's cute that the underclassman wants to be treated like a senpai," but Dharma found herself instead wishing that Lala worked at a low but visible position in her company so that she could make Lala's life difficult and teach her some work ethic. After all, even expendable drones need work ethic. Her contempt only grew as Lala embraced her role as the seasoned instructor. Dharma believed she hadn't been taught anything useful by anyone in a long time and suspected that would continue to be the case even following this conversation, but still, she had to ask some questions, just to avoid looking disinterested if nothing else.

"It's a pleasure to meet you, Lala! We're sure to get along splendidly," she double-lied. "Questions, hm...?"

"How long have you been stuck working here, why haven't you left... I guess those are the only questions I'd really like answered.

"Well, if I only get three, I'd prefer to save them until after you've caught me up to speed yourself," the president laughed, although there was nothing funny about it to her. Her negative impression meant that she wasn't about to assume the girl was just joking, and if the girl wasn't, then Dharma wasn't going to blow her few questions on something stupid without getting a little education first.
"Hrm..." VenusMan hummed in thought. His eyes had been on the 'STAFF ONLY' door in the distance, but none of it looked like it was electronic. Considering Buck was a Navi, he was sure there was no way she was guarding a door without electronic locks. "Not here, I guess," he stated and looked up at his Operator, who was enthralled by the wide choice of videogames. VenusMan simply sighed and looked around for other hints.

"Oh man, oh man, oh man!" Satou ran around the arcade machines excitedly, looking for one to play. "This one!" he exclaimed, stopping at one of the games, but quickly realized they weren't going to work with actual money. "Hey Venus," Satou started and took his PET in front of him, "You think Dharma will get mad if I play a little bit?"

The Navi shrugged. "What she doesn't know won't hurt us, I suppose..." he answered, "But don't forget why we're here. Hrm, maybe..." VenusMan glanced upwards in thought, tilting his head from left to right. If these were genuine arcade machines there was no way they wouldn't have records of high scores. "Hey, let's take a walk past all of them and look for the high scores. Maybe Buck is listed on one of these," he said, pointing at the machines, "And if she's on multiples, we'll just try whichever she's on the most."

"Oh, that sounds clever," Satou said and held his PET near his chest with the screen facing away from him. He made a quick dash to the first one in the line and slowly went through the machines, waiting for them to show the high scores while VenusMan made digital snapshots of them. Satou looked around once they hit the end of the line in case he missed any games. "I don't think we can check the scores of this one..." Satou said as he looked at, and held the PET towards, the air-hockey machine. "I mean... Maybe she'd like a puck."

"Hahahaha." VenusMan's voice was completely void of humor and sounded entirely monotone. "Yeah. No. But you have a point," he replied, "I suppose we'll check that out if we can't get a different clue."

Satou nodded, pocketed his PET and walked over to the register to get himself some tokens to play with. "Hello, I'd like ehm... Actually, I don't know how many tokens I need!" he started as he talked to the person behind the counter, "I'd like to play 5 games at least. How many tokens will I need for that?" Instead of bringing up his PET for paying, he brought out a small Bee Rider-themed wallet and took out some money. With VenusMan's PET still pocketed, there was no way the Navi could know of this mystery money. "I got it from my aunty," Satou said to the person happily, "She's very nice."

Back in the PET, VenusMan was checking the snapshots one by one to find out if there was a pattern. "I thought I was supposed to hit on a girl, not play detective..." he grumbled to himself.
"No questions?" Lala responded, putting a finger to her lower lip as she continued skip-walking ahead of Dharma. "Well, then, I'll give you three beginner tips! Hand selected for usefulness, free of charge! One two three, let me see...~ Oop!" Lala stopped, finding herself in front of the Staff Only door.

Lala opened the door and led her underling-for-the-day inside, flicking on the lights. "First lesson: the changing room!" The lights revealed the changing room to be a small rectangular room, lined on all sides by lockers and with backless, armless wood benches in the center. "Between normal shifts, this place is super duper packed, but you're in luck! Since I don't know how pffhee c-comfortable you are with other girls seeing you in your undies, and because your change will be a bit more, teehee, involved, than the other girls, and Bill clearly didn't prepare you early... aaanyway, I've made sure to get you in at a time no other girls are changing. So you can feel free to get as naked as you want! Before you ask, there aren't any cameras in here, so no worry about... pfffeehee, well, don't worry about it, okay?~" Managing to get through her mix of explanation and inexplicable giggling, Lala had a short prance to the middle back locker, bearing a namecard labeled TAMMY.

"Second lesson: your super-duper special costume for tonight! Normally we bar girls just wear this outfit, but for our special cross-business promotional, Bill wanted you to wear something special. Taaaaaaa-dah!" Lala had been unlocking the locker while talking, and threw it open in time with her explanation.

Hanging on the inside of the door was a cow-print slingshot swimsuit. On one hand, one might say it was sized specifically to Dharma's proportions... on the other, one might say it was sized incorrectly right from the start, seeing as the straps that composed the outfit seemed indecent for public exposure. They seemed to be designed with the intention of leaving only the absolute essentials to the imagination. In a futile gesture to preserve dignity, the outfit also appeared to include a very short, tight dark-blue denim skirt and an unreasonably short t-shirt, white in color and with a small logo depicting a silver sheriff's badge with the bold letters SS printed on the front right breast. Those two items were folded in a pile on a shelf in the locker. Again, the shirt was too short and the skirt, which zipped up the side, was altogether too small, so it seemed there would be little the wearer could do to hide the contents beneath. A black flat-brimmed cowboy hat hanging in the back, as well as tall black leather boots with (fake) spurs, completed the ensemble.

Lala stood with her arms outstretched towards the locker, one up and one down, in a letter-K shape. She had a huge, excited grin on her face and glanced back and forth between Dharma's face and the outfits, eyeing the hat and boots in particular as if to say "yes, those too!"

"Oh! Let's see, what was my last piece of advice... I got so excited for a second there, I almost forgot~... Oh yeah! Lesson three: door keeping! Your job is super duper easy! All you have to do is stand in front of the door, say 'Hi,' and keep everyone happy and in order! Maybe pose for a couple of pics, or whatevs. Easy peasy! But remember. The job is super important! You're the first impression everyone's going to have of Bill N. Clusterbuck's famous bar! They won't let just any joe or jane off the street come in and fill that role..."

"... So have at it!" At some point in her explanation, Lala had skipped back over to the front of the dressing room and was already one foot out of the door. She apparently really didn't intend to answer any more questions. "Meet me up front when you're ready. Toodaloo, Dharmy!" With that, her greenness disappeared through the doorway, leaving Dharma to her thoughts and her costume.


VenusMan didn't have any trouble an interesting trend in the video game screens: nearly every video game screen displayed either "TED C." or "LIGHTGUNMAN" in every score slot. Whether or not that was anything that would help him find Buck was another story... since those were the only names that appeared at all, Buck's name obviously did not.

A rather plain young woman with shoulder-length brown hair, brown eyes, a fair complexion, and a wide smile stood behind the counter and started to answer Satou's question. Before she could, however, another boy slid up next to Satou.

While Satou could easily be offended that he was being cut in line, it quickly became clear that the boy wasn't there to cash in tickets for prizes. The kid, about Satou's size but wearing a faded blue hoodie covered in pins of various video game characters, blue jeans, ratty old red sneakers, and a relatively new orange backpack, was now sitting on top of the glass display case that separated Satou from the vendor. The unnamed boy raised a finger to the girl's lips. "Hush, doll," came a young boy's voice. "Let Teddie do the talkin'."

The boy turned to Satou and pulled down his hood, revealing a freckled face with thin glasses and a swept blonde haircut that didn't suit him at all. "The name's Ted Canty, short stuff," said the boy, who might have been a single inch taller than Satou. I know everything there is to know about this arcade, and I'll tell you anything you need to know."

The girl behind the counter, still smiling, rolled her eyes and let Teddie do the talking while she addressed another patron.

"I can tell you're here for something other than good ol' fashioned skee ball... Yeah, you've got a different smell. A smell that tells me you might be the one to help me in the one game this joint has I haven't been able to conquer. You interested? You scratch my back, and I'll scratch yours! Sound good?" Satou noticed (at least) two interesting things about the boy while he talked: one, that he appeared to mean "scent" quite literally, as he was sniffing in Satou's vicinity as he talked, and two, that the boy still hadn't answered his question about tokens and was actively impeding his progress in getting tokens to pay for the games he wanted to play.

The boy seemed to suddenly realize this last point. "Oh, and uh... I'll spot you some tokens! Mom gave me some extra- I mean, I saved up some extra dough. I don't need any more than one token to beat any game here, after all. Anyway, yeah, free games! If you hear me out and help me out first, that is."

Incidentally, whatever Ted was smelling on Satou seemed to be entirely masked by the smell of chicken from the nearby food counter.
As Lala's lessons began, Dharma found herself mentally nitpicking over the fact that these were neither tips, lessons, nor the answers to questions, but really just directions. Such small concerns quickly faded from the Heart Payne pharmaceuticals CEO's mind as she got a look at her wardrobe for the night; it was the kind of outfit that made the demeaning cowgirl costumes all the regularly employed bimbos were wearing look downright decent. In reality, it wasn't as bad as the swimsuit she'd worn at her party... but that was amidst (relatively) esteemed colleagues, treading on eggshells while interacting with their boss. Just the way she liked it, in other words. The bar goers here wouldn't know the proper respect for her. She was already pretty uncomfortable with how her swimsuit experiment had gone with a predictable crowd, but this was essentially recreating that awkward scenario in a den of degenerates. On closer inspection, she realized the swimsuit was pretty skimpy even compared to her own...

Furthermore, she wasn't even as well endowed as most of the women hear, so yeah. She was going to look ill-chosen and outclassed in addition to skanky.

"What a darling(repulsive) little (minuscule) costume (stripper getup)!" she managed to laugh in spite of herself. She hasn't gotten where she was today by failing to keep up her persona when thoroughly disgusted. "I will be more than happy to welcome our patrons. That explanation was quite helpful, thank you." At least she wasn't going to have to wear a name tag. Although, she almost wished she could have one, so that she could instill the appropriate amount of awe into the customers. Still, in this case, she'd value never being associated with this fiasco over being respected throughout it.

Dharma couldn't leave her new companion without some negative feeling, so she spoke aloud as the door was closing. "I can't imagine why Bill didn't pick Lala for this role instead. She must be popular with all of the patrons," she timidly wondered out loud with as much fake sincerity as she could slather on. The CEO allowed her smile to drop while she was alone. This was going to be a damned travesty and one which she dearly intended to repay by covertly burying Mr. Clusterbuck's name as far down in the earth as its fat, unfortunate ass would go. If she wasn't confident of her ability to do that, she would probably be pulling out right now. She checked the door to see if it could be locked, locked it if possible, then got to business.

As Dharma undressed, stripping off layers of all black clothing and laying then inside the locker, she came to just her earrings (in the shape of a single bisected heart), her long black stockings, and her underwear. She removed the earrings... As they were another of her trademarks, she wanted them gone for the sake of preserving her identity. Next came the stockings, which wouldn't work with boots. Finally, the acknowledgement that she was indeed putting on a swimsuit or really a fetish outfit sank in, as she realized her bra and panties had to come off too. There was no way to wear them under the sling bikini without looking nonsensical. She spent very little time naked and quickly faded herself again, securing each strap at her shoulder and wincing as she felt the necessary bite of the garment between her legs... It was a good feeling in that it secured her in the fact that, against all odds, her suit wouldn't slip out of place down there, but bad in that it was physically aggravating. She noted that there was really no support for the breasts, meaning she'd have to be careful not to have a wardrobe malfunction.

Putting on the skirt, shirt, hat, and boots actually did make her feel better, in spite of herself. Some of it was black, which she liked, and having all of it on at least felt like being clothed, versus parading around in a rubber band. Also, although she wouldn't admit this to herself, she liked the way she looked in a cowboy hat. Maybe there was something to this "business mogul dressed as a cartoon cowboy" look that Ken and Bill were going for after all?

"Wow, Dharma... You look..." Phero started, alarming Dharma with her voice such that she visibly jumped. "... Fun! That's the word." Naive as she was, Phero could at least put together one thing: if Dharma looked fun, she was probably acting.

"I should hope so. Mr. Clusterbuck, curse his ridiculous name, had brought me in to serve as his own personal door stop. A door stop with a public worth valued at several billion dollars. The man is going to learn, in due time, that he has entered a deal with the devil herself," Dharma explained, adjusting her top to have it cover as much as she could. The skirt was beyond salvage, she just had to resign herself to walking with either the crack or the cheeks on display. "Pear continue to pay your part as a secret prototype and stay secret." Realizing she had no pockets for Phero, she sighed and clipped the PET to the hem of her skirt.

"Be careful not to lose me if you have to take this off," Phero urged her.

Dharma's face went slightly red. "I'm not taking off my skirt tonight! What are you thinking?!" she spat.

"I meant later, when you change back!" Phero collected herself. "Though, are you still doing live experiments on the-?"she managed, before Dharma silenced the PET.


The president-turned-desperado made her way to the pave where she'd been ordered to stand as discretely as she could, although that was a losing effort. She walked a little differently than the other girls, looked a lot different, between the relatively fair skin and outfit, but most importantly, still projected an air of self importance despite both her acting and her costume. The jingling spurs didn't help either. She took a deep breath, raising her chest and closing her eyes, then exhaled and smiled, in that pitying altruist fashion that was her best attempt to appear good-natured. She kept that same face as she stepped to the top of the stairs, crossing her arms and staring down at the men beneath her, almost unblinking. The light from the room behind her was blocked by her figure and the curtain of her long, straight black hair. Her unfeeling blue eyes were shadowed ominously by the brim of her hat. "Howdy," Dharma managed in spite of her breeding, with the unfitting voice of a woman who'd grown up taking all speaking classes one could take, tutored by men who speak for a living and further nurtured by a lifetime of masking intent with words. "Who's next?"
"Veeeenuuuus," Satou whined quietly to his PET from the corner of his mouth, making sure the new kid on the block didn't hear him, "Stranger danger?" He brushed through his hair while covertly plugging one of the PET's wireless earplugs into his ear.

"OK, so here's what I know," VenusMan started talking to Satou through their personal audio channel, "He obviously knows something. His name matches the high scores and Buck was nowhere to be seen. But if this guy has trouble in a game, despite his track record... It's possible Buck is somewhere there. This is turning out a lot more cumbersome than just 'batting my eyelashes at a pretty girl'. I hope Dharma and Phero have less trouble with their side of this. Let's stay on Ted's good side. He's really our only lead in this situation."

Satou nodded silently, glancing into the direction of the earplug. He looked back at Ted, his eyes falling on the boy's nose for a moment before turning to his eyes. "Yeah... I suppose..." he muttered, still a bit taken back by the situation. But before they'd continue, he just had to know. "Is your nose really that strong that you can smell I'm not from here...?"

"Or he sees you're not filled to the brim with fat. Just be glad he's just smelling you and not licking your cheek," VenusMan joked into the earplug.

Satou chuckled to himself, but then continued speaking to Teddie. "You really think I can help you with this game?" he asked while looking at the arcade cabinets. VenusMan had taken note of the high scores and verified Teddie was quite the gamer in this place. Did luck find its way to them by placing a 'veteran' before them? Satou grinned at the boy. "Then I'll gladly assist you in conquering this place in your name," he replied, "My name is Satou. Cool to meet you, Ted." He extended his hand towards Ted, hoping the boy would simply shake his hand without awkwardly smelling it. "Lead us to the game," Satou said, "I can get more tokens if we fail in our quest."
Lala gave Dharma a quick smile and slammed the door on her way out, leaving Dharma to herself. The coast was clear, and Dharma found the door in possession of a lock. Thus, Dharma and Phero were undisturbed while the president squeezed herself into her new outfit.

Being (more or less dressed), Dharma had made her way back through the bar, finding herself accosted with the stares of curious guys and even more curious co-workers. Lala was nowhere to be found, a trend which continued even as Dharma made her way back to the staircase. Indeed, there was quite an irate bustling of barred customers behind the rope barricade. Dharma could see a busty, blonde-headed waitress paused around a corner, looking nervous and obviously debating whether she was supposed to be doing anything. She straightened up and skipped off, seeming to believe Dharma had come to deal with it.

The guys on the stairs looked pretty shocked when Dharma appeared at the top of the stairs. Quite a number stared for a while... Thankfully, the staircase was designed to wind upward, so a wall blocked the view of the ones that would have an "elevation advantage" when observing Dharma's duds. After a while, the waiting customers on the stairs seemed split invariably into one of two actions: those still focused on Dharma, who seemed excited and patting themselves on the backs for their patience, and those who seemed talkative, turning to the ones beside them and whispering about something under their breath. Dharma could see confusion registered on their faces.

Regardless, the same dude who was first in line when Dharma had left was still there, and he seemed visibly in the more excited camp. In a much better mood, and evidently not turned off by Dharma's unintentional domineering aura, he stepped forward immediately. "Holy cow! Where have they been hiding you? Why do the other girls get the lame honky-tonk getup when you get this, huh?"

A guy in glasses behind him stepped forward a bit. "Can't you see, dude? It's a cross-promotion!" The man, with dark, long hair and a very casual white-tee and jeans ensemble, seemed eager to voice his recognition. "You know, that from that famous place..."

The popped-collar guy in front nodded, but clearly wasn't really paying attention to what the guy behind him was saying. "Yeah... well, anyway, I'm holdin' up traffic, so I'll get out of your way. Come see me if you're thirsty when you get off!" The guy had offered a drink, but he was clearly willing to settle, as he'd started hitting on the blonde waitress as soon as he made it past the gate.

"Hey, get a picture with me!" the dark-haired guy shouted. "I'm gonna send it to my buddies and show 'em what suckers they were for not coming with me to Clusterbucks. You just know he's gonna have some crazy promotion going on when Beecon's around..." The guy was handing his PET to the one behind him, who accepted it begrudgingly. He then moved in next to Dharma, intending to have the other guy shoot them.


Ted's smile faltered a bit as he couldn't tell why Satou was taking his time answering. He was apparently registering it as hesitation. He brightened up, however, as Satou addressed him again. "Hmm hmm, it has nothing to do with my sense of smell alone. For a gamer king like myself, all senses are sharpened way past their natural cap! There's no way I could smell you with all the fast food smell in here, but I caught you on the way in."

The girl from earlier walked up and gave Ted a shove, causing him to fall forward a bit on the glass case. "Scuse me, kids, you mind moving this conversation somewhere else?"

"Ah, yes ma'am. Till we meet again!" Ted said, grinning cheesily and getting to his feet. As he did, he put his hood back on, and then took Satou's hand in that order. He began walking Satou over to a table while he continued talking. "Now, I don't want you to think I'm some weirdo that just sits by the door sniffing people all day. However, the scent you have on you is the one I'm interested in now. It's..." Ted paused, now leaning in closer towards Satou to whisper, "... the scent of a beautiful woman!"

Ted grinned and backed off. "I wonder if you know what I'm talking about? If you do, it'll make this a lot easier." Ted pulled out a seat for Satou at a table before taking one himself. There was a portable jack spot for up to four PETs in the center of the table, although he didn't show any obvious interest in it. He sat down and leaned forward. His voice volume had lowered considerably, indicating he was intending to keep their conversation private (but making him hard to hear with the noise of the restaurant and earbuds in Satou's ears, besides). "Me and LightgunMan have already conquered every game in this arcade. Frankly, I find the idea that you think there's one we couldn't and would need a noob's help with a little insulting." Ted was being a bit contradictory and insulting, but it was evident arcade gaming was a point he took a lot of pride in.

"No, the game I'm interested in isn't in this arcade..." He looked both ways before pointing up, as if security were going to throw him out if they caught that gesture. "You know what I'm talking about? I smelled a unique scent on you... the same one as a beautiful woman I saw head up those stairs. I didn't get to see her long, but after standing back and observing you a bit I got the idea you two might be relatives." Ted seemed to pause on this idea, smiling and looking as though he was hoping to be corrected. "Anyway, either you two have been around each other a lot, you two have been intimately close recently, or you have the same taste in perfume. I'm going to use process of elimination and narrow that to two guesses. I figure a girl like that's gotta be one of the workers here, right? So, maybe you can figure out some way to pull some strings... and get me upstairs. I gotta conquer whatever's up there, but guys here are real jerks. If they see a kid trying to sneak upstairs, they'll report them right away, and there's normally a bouncer at the top of the stairs. I need some way to sneak in..."

Ted leaned back, seeming to have abandoned his fearful discretion now that that was all out in the open. "So, whaddya say? Am I on the mark? You have any kind of plan? Let me know if you need anything else from me, cause I know all about this place and even secret routes upstairs..." Ted sniffed and looked to the side. "Although even the secret routes are guarded..."
Dharma mentally cringed at the "holy cow," as it was annoying both for the sake of the unwanted interest and the perhaps even more unwanted pun. "Do you really think I've been hiding?" she asked the overexcited first man, leaning her hip and shoulder against the wall and smirking, challengingly. "It's not my fault if you weren't paying attention. As for this outfit, perhaps I'm just the type who prefers black?" The CEO wouldn't lower herself to say that she enjoyed wearing the dairy-cow print, because she certainly didn't. She felt more comfortable than she expected to, partially because this was the first time in a while where she'd gotten to be condescending in public, which always lifted her spirits a little. That sense of pleasure was instantly squashed, however, as the next guy in line seemed to instantly see through her disguise. She figured that was only natural, given that she was the Dharma Heart-Payne, after all, but it still was an unwelcome celebrity moment. She tried to ignore him and instead mouthed off to the guy who was leaving. "Go water your horse," she scoffed, then turned aside. Would he even know what that meant? She was reaching a little deeper into the bag of cowboy metaphors than she meant to.

Unfortunately, the dark-haired guy wouldn't be ignored; he had very distinct plans in mind, which involved taking a picture. That wasn't something she was looking forward to, for a variety of reasons. First off, it meant doing what somebody else, undoubtedly a bottom-feeder, wanted. Secondly, it meant acting chummy with said bottom-feeder. Thirdly, and most importantly... she could easily deny dressing up in this get-up and attending a door at a Clusterbucket restaraunt during the nerdiest convention in existence if it was her word alone, but photographic proof would make that harder to do if the need arose. "You're not giving me a choice," she shrugged, acting aloof and heavily implying that, if she'd had the choice, she'd have chosen otherwise. Before she got posed, however, she took a moment to tip her hat down so that the shadow was heavier into her eyes... Anyone seeing the photograph would see less of her face, which would make it harder for her to be recognized. "What kind of photo do you want? One that you can show to your friends or also to your mother?" she joked, laughing slightly before trailing off into a (seemingly) pleased sigh. The sigh wasn't actually pleased at all. Why had she said that? Because it sounded like something a flirty bar-girl would say, she supposed, but she didn't really need to be that into the character. "Whatever we're doing, make it snappy," she requested, crossing her arms and frowning. That wouldn't make for an especially good photo, though, so she tried to at least peak her smirk again.
So in the end it was about Dharma. There wasn't a special game and there was still no clue to where Buck or the 'secret door' was. Satou simply sat down together with Ted and listened to his story of conquering the mysterious upstairs. As Ted continued talking, Satou taking the earbud out to properly hear him, the Operator started to ponder the situation. "The goal here is to find Buck and Ted probably knows where she is... I could use Dharma to get to Buck", he thought, "Well, it's for the benefit for the two of us." Eventually Satou nodded at Ted. "She's my older cousin," he replied to Ted, "And to be honest..." Satou leaned forwards as well, clearly showing he wanted this part of the conversation to be private as well. "My Navi actually has a massive crush on the poster girl of this place," he said with a big smile.

Back in his PET, VenusMan had already raised a finger and opened his mouth but figured this wasn't too far from the situation he was going to be into. He sighed and figured it was better to go with the charades of his Operator. After all, he had already gotten experience with deceiving allies in a fashion contest.

Satou took his PET into view for the two and turned the screen on. "We believe she's a Navi, so we were looking around to find her," he continued, looking at Ted before looking down at VenusMan as a sign to continue.

VenusMan glanced at Ted for a moment before crossing his arms and turning his head away. "It's not like I'm that into her. I just appreciate a woman who's into eating meat that much. A woman like that has to be amazing," he said, not looking back for the duration of his short speech. VenusMan had been around plenty of women, but he hadn't expressed any actual interest in any of them so far so this situation was completely new to him.

"So that's the tale," Satou continued and looked at Ted, "I think I have a plan to get you up there. But we also need your help for my Navi partner." Satou smiled and extended his hand out towards the boy before leaning back again. "If you help us out, we can help you out with my cousin. And tell me of any secret passage ways that may help us out. I have a plan, but if you give me ideas I can complete it."
The dark-haired guy seemed caught-off guard and also keyed up. It was evident the dialogue he was getting from Dharma was more exciting to him than he'd expected. "Ah, you know! Just something simple, uh, chummy, you know? Like you don't want to stomp on my d- er, my foot," the guy added.

Trying to avoid holding the line up any longer, the guy threw one arm around Dharma's shoulder and gave a cheesy grin and thumbs up to his PET. The screen flashed, capturing the man's awkward pose and whatever expression Dharma happened to be wearing at the time.

The man gave a quick thanks, grabbed his PET, and moved on. The one who'd taken the pic for him also moved on quickly, either very interested in the drinks or not very interested in their door lady.

The next guy in line, however, seemed much more interested. The guy had messy brown hair, jeans, and a grey tank top with a rock band advertisement. He looked like he might have hit some bars before finally arriving at this one, since he already appeared to be hammered. He was hanging out with three buddies in similar casual dress, one with dark, long hair that covered his eyes, and another shorter guy with a shaved head. "Hey, hey, I'm interested in one of those pics I can show my friends, okay?! It isn't often we get chances this good! I've got a great one, all right?" He shoved his PET (which was dark purple and covered in markings) to one of his buddies, intending for him to take a picture. Immediately after, he got on all fours, then looked back to Dharma expectantly. "C'mon! I'm gonna show 'em how I got ridden by the kinky dominatrix cowgirl at Clusterbuck's!"

"Dude! That's messed up!" the short one commented, garnering a scratchy laugh from the one that seemed to be their leader. It was clearly the reaction he'd been going for.

"Yeah, seriously," the shaggy one said, scratching his chin. "This is like, way over the top from what you usually see around here, right? Who knew he was breaking out the big guns for freakin' Bee Con, of all things?"

"Well, I ain't lookin' a gift horse in the mouth. And speakin' of gift horses, howsabout a ride, ma'am?!" the guy asked Dharma, guffawing at his own "clever" idea once again.

A lot of people were staring at his antics, some looking annoyed, disgusted, or impatient, but many already getting ideas of their own, Dharma could sense. Standing out, though, was one person in the back. The person was a woman with long, curly brown hair and a slender figure with impressive proportions in the right places. She wore a plain pink jacket over a white t-shirt and blue jeans. She would normally be pretty attractive, if not eye-catching, but she appeared to be slightly pale and looked out of it. That aside, what was most notable was her blue eyes, which were focused on Dharma's body, and the strange smile on her face, which looked curious and uncertain. She looked like she had something to say, but she was waiting in line, and there were still many thirsty con-goers and sniggering young adults between her and Dharma.


Ted nodded and broke into another smile as Satou confirmed the relation with his mysterious beauty he'd suspected. "And yeah, it's nothing strange to have a crush on the girl if you've just seen the ads around here, but uh..." Ted went into a whisper again. "Between you and me? I guess you haven't seen her, seeing as you seem new here, but Buck is something else to see in person. I don't know what meat has to do with it, but if you're into... y'know," Ted said, reaching to his chest and making a subtle outward cupping motion, as if trying to whisper this obvious gesture. "She's pretty up there."

"So, if I'm understanding you right, you want my Navi's help getting your Navi, VenusMan, hooked up with Buck?" Ted seemed to be considering it a while, pressing a finger to his lip. It was easy to imagine that, being near Satou's age, he wouldn't have a lot of experience with women. "Well, I'll tell you what I know, since you're helping me out. She mostly just stands in front of a door all the time. I, uh... well, basically, I don't know what's back there," Ted admitted, frowning. "I know almost everything else about this arcade, but, uh... that's not the kind of thing you want to get involved in." In temporary whisper mode, Ted leaned in again. "I mean, if you get caught upstairs, the worst they'd do is throw you out or something, right? But I was in here one time, and saw some big horse Navi get brought back there. You could tell from the way she was leading him in that she had something bad in mind. LightgunMan and I were in the arcade all day, like usual, and we never saw him come out. Lightgun got really curious, so we got closer to the door... I swear, that dude was screaming and neighing, you know, like a horse. True story. We didn't check it out any further than that." Ted's eyes had gone wide, as though he was telling a ghost story, but he returned to his contemplative frown when he finished.

He suddenly grinned and waved his hands, perhaps realizing he was making a tactical misstep. "But, y'know, that's no reason VenusMan shouldn't go for her! I mean, she's hot, you know? And for all I know, that horse dude was a bad guy trying to mess with the restaurant's security. She's like the cop here, right? So you know... uh, what was I saying, how can I help, right... Well, I can't tell you what she likes, although I will say LightgunMan has heard a bunch of guys try to hit on her. I say 'try' because according to him, she looks tougher than all the guys who try and she just tells 'em to get lost. Like you'd expect. Except the bull guy, I guess cause he looked like a tough guy. Anyway, if you're interested, I'll even have my Navi act as your wingman. That's how chicks are picked up, right?" Ted grinned and laughed nervously again, scratching the back of his head. "I mean, that's how I've always done it, with my buddies... when we pick up chicks."

"But first, if you don't mind," Ted said, leaning back in his chair, "I'd like to get back to my business. About the ways to get upstairs... there are three that I know of. The first are the front two staircases. I hear that at the top, there's some girl who lets you in, but if you're two young she'll turn you back down. Everybody has to wait in line, so the chance we'd get in without being caught seems low..."

"The second is around the back of the building," Ted told Satou, pointing a finger towards the back of the restaurant. "There's an elevator that actually acts as a second 'main entrance' so people with wheelchairs can get up, I guess. That said, there's normally someone who stands out there and manages a line as well, since ordinary people can use it, too. I don't think we'll have any better luck."

"The third way... well, the kitchen is here on the first floor, right? I hear there's some kind of restaurant upstairs, and I never see people taking food through the lobby. I haven't heard anything about a second kitchen, so my thinking is there has to be some kind of elevator or staircase or something in the kitchen that they use to take food up. There might be some way we can use that to get up without directly passing a guard. That said... the whole kitchen staff would know we're not supposed to be there. We'd probably have to sneak around somehow. Maybe it'd just be easier to find a way to sneak up the stairs or in the elevator..."

"So you can see," Ted said, leaning back again and crossing his arms, "this isn't going to be an easy puzzle for me to crack. I can't afford to get caught in the act before I'm done, or I could even get barred from the arcade before conquering my 'final game'. I'd kind of figured you might be able to have your cousin pull some strings and get us access. If not that, maybe you could try and get up yourself? I can't afford to risk it, but if you're willing to gamble on getting kicked out of the arcade and won't spill that I was involved, that may be the easiest approach."
The expression Dharma happened to be wearing at any point in time was generally one of several smiles: a bemused smile, a patronizing smile, a plotting smile, and various other sorts. This time it was just a begrudging smile for the sake of appearances; she didn't want any guy's arm anywhere on her, especially not while she was dressed like she was, and certainly not in a familiar way like he and she were just a couple of pals. Whatever else the smile was, it was definitely fake, as she was certainly harboring an urge to stomp the guy's 'd-er foot', or whatever other parts she could manage. She let the two pass with no further comments.

The pharmaceutical company president found herself wishing she was still posing with the other guy once she got a load of the next bozo in line. Then again, 99% of humanity was pitiful and stupid, just not as pitiful and stupid as the man asking to be ridden like a horse in front of his friends. If she had some idea he might get the embarrassment or humiliation he deserved from being ridden, she might actually have gone through with it, even at the cost of her own pride; the sadist inside of her would have liked that a lot and it would have tipped the scales of punishment for idiocy back to where she figured they ought to be. She had a feeling that he'd enjoy it more than anything, though, and his friends might even want to get in on it... That would be a hassle, a disgrace, and worst of all, set a precedent that she was willing to do ludicrously stupid things. Her expression remained pitying and smiling as she slowly tipped up her hat, revealing her cold, blue eyes. "Oh? You're going to show them how you got ridden by a kinky dominatrix cowgirl At Clusterbucks? Where is she?" the president asked, raising her eyebrows and looking momentarily aloof. She lowered them back slowly and bent over, bringing her head so that her chin was roughly level with his forehead. "Because this cowgirl has discerning taste and she isn't going to be seen riding a smelly ass," she spoke quietly.

The president ran her hand between his undoubtedly vulgar, unshaven chin and whispered to him again. "What I can do for an ass, however... is take it to water," she finished anticlimactically, pointing him over towards the bar. "You and your friends can enjoy yourself over there. Perhaps there you'll find a rider with lower standards," she demeaned them further, lifting her hat momentarily in a mocking salute to the men waiting. Was that the best customer service? Probably not. But she'd never really gotten a chance to flex this side of herself in public before and, if she was being wholly honest with herself, it was not only refreshing, but a little exciting. "Next please."

The woman at the back of the line hadn't escaped Dharma's attention either. In fact, she was probably the most worrying element in play at the moment, since she brought with her a range of difficult to answer questions. First off, why was a woman coming up here, to hang out with smelly, drunken pervs whose bad taste was evident in their mutually chosen eatery? She might have been another worker or performer, Dharma thought, but intuition told her otherwise. The second question: why was she looking at Dharma the way she was? For all Dharma knew, the woman was like that damnable cat who had messed with Phero earlier: promiscuous, high on life, and over-eager to enjoy the company of other women. Third: was she trying to reach Dharma specifically? It sort of looked like the woman was, and if that was the case, Dharma really hoped it was either that she was a fellow worker or was aroused by her body/costume after all. While ordinarily being recognized was a privilege that the HP Pharmaceuticals president expected and enjoyed, she really didn't want anyone knowing her name or face while she was thus dressed and behaving.

Phero remained quiet at Dharma's belt. She had a lot of questions about what had just transpired, but she didn't see the timing as right to ask them. Why, if she'd been in Dharma's situation, she definitely would have ridden the man like a horse if he'd asked. It would be easy, he'd be happy, and best of all, it might be kind of fun for her. The navi made a mental note to ask VenusMan if she could try it with him some time.
"You're forgetting something," VenusMan started after the two had listened to Teddie's three options to get upstairs, "We have an inside girl." He sat down by the screen of his PET and brought up an e-mail window. "Satou, I think we should move to a better point."

Satou nodded and gestured at Teddie to follow him. "Do you still have those arcade tokens?" Satou asked his new friend (?) when he guided him towards the door leading to the main hall. A sly smile spread across Satou's face as he checked out the main hall, checking if the burly owner of the place was still around. "Give me half of them," he said while handing his hand back towards Teddie, "If we get in trouble, just throw them and shout about them. Hopefully others will try to get them and the chaos will let us escape to reform a plan."


Mail to Phero.EXE

Hey beautiful,
We've got a kid here who claims to have knowledge towards our goal, but he won't help us out until we get him upstairs. Apparently kids like Satou and he aren't allowed up there, so we need Dharma's help to open a path for us by distracting the woman letting men in. Or better yet, exchange position with her. They'll be waiting at the bottom of the staircase, so send me a signal when they should start running. Oh, and if someone asks... Dharma is Satou's cousin.


"Sent a signal out towards your cousin," VenusMan stated as he showed the confirmation window of having sent a message. But as he looked over the message, he realized that there was someone else he could ask things in this situation. "I told her you'd wait near the bottom of the staircase," he said, his voice trailing off as he started writing another e-mail message, "Phero will give us a sign when it's safe."

"Alright," Satou confirmed and nudged with his head over towards the door. Despite this being a situation requiring stealth, he just kept his normal posture to make sure he wouldn't attract unneeded attention. He stopped near the bottom of the staircase while looking around curiously, making sure he knew where the important players were and especially the owner of the place.


Mail to BroncoMan.EXE

Hey horse,
You weren't entirely honest with us, were you? Your last e-mail was informative, but you missed out a part. You have been with her. You have witnessed what is behind that door she supposedly guards. Don't try to crawl out of this one, we have an eye witness. So you're going to tell me where that door's location is and what happened behind that door. And another thing... If you've been there, does that mean Ken entered this building too? I find it hard to believe he got around unnoticed.


"Let's see your answer," VenusMan whispered to the confirmation screen, his finger still on 'send' with a smile on his face. From his screen he glanced over to the open area. "It's up to you now, Phero," he muttered.
The brown-haired guy had the kind of hurt, defensive look in his eyes that Dharma was probably hoping for, and was beginning to protest when one of his friends suddenly piped up. "Holy sh*t, dude! You got your butt chewed out by that sadist cowgirl! That is too classic. I'm puttin' it on the BBS, the guys are going laugh their guts out."

"Heh, yeah! That's what I'm talking about!" the guy said, quick to rebound. "That's what I was goin' for, totally!" While he seemed satisfied, he was also quick to begin steering his friends away from Dharma and towards someone who might tolerate his nonsense.

Being true to her nature may have served Dharma's purposes well. Having seen a two-for-two record of dudes approaching Dharma and being sent off nursing their pride, a number of people were happy to be let through without stopping to chat. This quick thinning of the line, however, sped the operator's encounter with the out-of-place woman with the curious eyes.

She stepped forward in a slightly unsteady way. Now that she was closer, Dharma could see the woman's eyes scanning her body. She seemed to have something to say, and was blushing a bit, but was taking a long time getting to the point. "Um, that outfit..." she finally spoke up. Her manner sounded friendly enough, but from an off weakness in her voice, the impression that she was under the weather was reinforced. "Why are you-" she began, before suddenly pausing to peek around Dharma's shoulder. "Oh, it's Lala! I wonder what she wants."

Sure enough, if Dharma were to turn around, she would see Lala rushing towards the two of them looking speedier and livelier than ever. Dharma had seen her doing her ear-to-ear grin enough by now to notice that her current grin looked a bit strained. She clearly had something to say, but the urgency in her movement might lead one to believe it wasn't good news...

To add to all of that, in the midst of all the action, Dharma and Phero were receiving a message from Satou.


Ted grinned, rubbing his chin thoughtfully. "Well, no, VenusMan, that's what I was counting on. If you have a way for your cousin to help us up, that'd be the best choice. A-and maybe you could introduce me," he added, pulling his hood back to mess with his hair before pulling it back up.

On his way out to the front, Satou could see the line was till backed up down the one staircase from before. He would recognize the owner outside speaking with a pair who were leaving the restaurant. The man wasn't his usual self, and while the two he was talking with seemed to be in good spirits, Bill was sweating, flushed, and looking antsy. He was still grinning, but pulling on the collar of his cowboy suit as though he was standing in the heat (and not the shade of his front awning).

Hearing Satou's request, Ted reached into his pockets and very quickly sorted his tokens into two even piles. As might be expected of a guy like Ted, there was a huge pile of tokens for each of them. "Thinking on your feet! I like that," he whispered. "After all, who doesn't want free tokens?"

The boy licked his lips, clearly excited and ready to get their plan in motion. "Say, uh, I don't know how we're planning to get up, but I wonder if it's best to try and pass through this way? That stair case is so crowded. Even if she shows up to let us up, there's no way we'll get through without some people seeing and maybe asking questions. That said... what about the other staircase?" Ted gestured to the one in question, which was still roped off. "Maybe if she shows up from that direction, we can sneak by? I guess at the beginning, someone might be disturbed at a lady letting a bunch of kids up through the other entrance, but there won't be anyone to actually approach us and ask questions."

At about this time, Satou's PET beeped with a new message.

((The message has been copied to Dharma.))

RE: Mail to BroncoMan.EXE


Howdy cowpoke,

This is Ken. I was shocked to learn BroncoMan would withhold anything about his experiences that might be critical to our venture! After receiving your e-mail and hearing about his behavior, I got curious. I reviewed his previous correspondence and noticed that funny little word gimmick. He and I will have a good laugh about it at his performance review.

I thank you for your vigilance, and encourage you to read the information below. It is quite a story, and I could see why one would want to hide it, but I think it will be very helpful for your mission. Additionally, to clarify, his story checks out. I did indeed hire a temporary employee for the first operation.

-Ken Broncos


It was not my intention to keep information hidden. I thought I made it clear in our first meeting and my e-mail that I had not only seen her, but also seen behind her door. I apologize for any miscommunication. If I did mention that and you forgot, know that I don't hold it against you.

I will give you full disclosure at the cost of my dignity. The door will be clearly visible when you jack into any port in the second floor of the restaurant. If you jack into the first, you will need to use a teleporter to access the second. The directions should be clear, although if you are a Navi registered with an operator under 18, they may attempt to stop you.

Again, at the cost of my own pride: when you find Buck in the Net and manage to get behind her door, you will clearly see the only two things in the room: the databank she guards and many assorted 'tools'. These 'tools' are used by her in 'sadistic play.' When I encountered her, I attempted to romance her. My intention was to scout and gather information. When she beckoned me into the back, I then engaged her in 'sadistic play,' believing it to be the most direct route to earning her trust. At that time she immediately forced me into an Emergency Jack Out. I believe that this was unintentional.

I was forced to return to Ken's PET. Ken was not with me during the operation. I did not know the person he had operate me, but I assume they were a temporary hire solely for that operation so they could not be tied back to Ken. I made up the cover story that I had been beaten and escaped.

Let me know if you need further assistance from me in the mission. I wish you luck.

Dharma was pleased that she'd made the guy uncomfortable, then instantly thrown back into irritation as he and his friends decided that somehow having their inadequacies targeted by a superior intellect was something to be proud of. The CEO couldn't understand it, but she supposed she was happy as long as she got out of riding atop one of them like a horse, which would undoubtedly give them even greater foolish pleasure. She smiled as they left; she was probably about as happy to be rid of them as the guy was to get away from her. The only bad part about her exchange was that it hastened the steps of the mysterious girl at the back of the line, whom she'd been hoping to have more time to learn how to deal with. With no more information to go by than she had, she would just have to stay in character and keep acting in the way that was most natural to her (plus the addition of occasional old west flavor terms). "My outfit?" she repeated; thankfully, she'd already gone through the five stages of regret, so being reminded of her outfit only made her feel irritable rather than embarrassed. Before the two could get much further on that subject, the tiny caretaker from earlier returned. It looked like some agitating twist was coming up and like the woman in front of her probably wasn't supposed to have shown up today. She looked ill; it could be as simple as her being told to leave work and her, for some bizarre reason, being so dedicated to this job that she tried to show up despite being sick. "Let's see what Lala has to say," Dharma suggested, smiling in a way that managed to hide her impatience.

Speaking of people who tested Dharma's patience, her PET began buzzing, indicating that Phero had a message for her. Her eyes squinted with agitation and she couldn't avoid letting out a small groan. That impressionable kid she'd met earlier was going to come up here and get a look at her in her sadist cowgirl getup... well, she didn't really care, but the only thing she needed less than a reputation for hanging out with unknown grade school kids was to have a reputation for hanging out with them while dressed like a stripper. She didn't really know if she could trust Satou to keep his mouth shut yet. Still, it sounded like for the sake of their mission, she was going to have to bite the bullet. "Respond in the affirmative, Phero. Let them know I'll be distracting the door-girls," she spoke briefly and quietly, then clipped her PET back onto her skirt's upper hem.

Unfortunately, she didn't get the second message, but then, that was mostly for Satou regardless. Phero did read it, however, and covered her mouth in shock. She didn't really know what sadistic play was, but from the sound of tools and forced ejections, she was now worried for her ally's safety.

While Phero worried about her ally and Satou made his plans, Dharma busied herself with trying to draw the attention of the two girls. "Alright, alright," she interrupted, apparently no longer interested in letting Lala have the first word. "I can see something screwy is going on, neither one of you is very good at hiding that. How about we all get out of the way of the customers while we work this out?" she suggested. If Lala was watching the door, it would be hard for Satou to get up. Unfortunately, although she wasn't currently on her shift, the girl who'd been replaced might notice he wasn't supposed to be up their either. For her purposes, it would be best if neither one was really watching the door. "The best thing to do when you have something to discuss is to do it quickly, professionally, and out of the sight of customers," she spoke to both girls quietly, attempting to herd them away from the door, under the guise of not wanting to let the customers see. "And I certainly hope both of you are planning on talking to me about whatever is the matter. I don't like being left in the dark," she finished with a smile, although her last words were more threatening than eager to help.

Phero sent VenusMan the go-ahead to go on, with Dharma now in place:

Quote ()

Hello beautiful!

Dharma has the girls near the top of the front staircase occupied if you want to come up. Dharma has some weird clothes on, which you might want to see, since she doesn't wear this sort of thing very often.

Your friend,