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Wednesday 12 June 2075 1835 Willy's Bar Seattle

You are sitting on your favorite stool in your favorite bar watching your favorite Blood Bowl teams duke it out. Actually, this is your favorite bar only because you can sometimes get a free drink or two, you usually take whatever stool is available, and you barely even know what Blood Bowl is. But it takes up the time and you can ignore the nags from Sevras about the amount of beer you are drinking. A buzz on your 'link gets your attention and you look at the screen to see if the call is worth taking; after all, there are just way too many fraggers just calling about nonsense, like the overdue rent. This time it is Hex and you take the call because it might be a job that can help keep the rent guy off your back for another month or two.

>>Hey, Annex. You sober enough to take a job? One of my contacts called me looking for an operator and I thought of you. Not sure about the pay, but it is probably more than you are making sitting on a stool in a bar. Which one is it this time, anyway?<<
He didn't drink alcohol. Never touched anything that affected his mental faculties in a detrimental fashion. But Sevras harped on him about drinking root beer. Arguing about rotting teeth and diabetes. Someone went overboard programing her medical autosoft. He had to sneak out of his own house and hide out in a bar just to satisfy his sweet tooth. Do you know how many bars served root beer? Probably one in all of Seattle. This was the only bar he could get away with it without getting ragged on anyway. Or at least that was the case unit Hex called him and teased him about being sober. Shortly after he thought about answering, and thanks to his DNI, his com channel opened. No escaping the matrix.

>>If I tell you the name, you will just come here, and spoof goes my sanctuary. So forget about it.<<

Annex thought the words, and they were sent through the comlink as audio, or maybe directly to Hex' brain. However the decker was operating at the moment. He thought about the idea of a job, All the possible bad jobs there could be, and took a drink from his bottle. Finishing off his second root beer of the night. That mortgage though. He shook his head. A man had to pay the bills. Still, there were things he refused to do. Most of it was a matter of professional pride. Thoughtfully he eyed the empty bottle held between two fingers.

>>I could use some nuyen. What do you know about the job and the Johnson?<<
Wednesday 12 June 2075 1837 Willy's Bar Seattle

>>Fair enough. Still keeping that habit of yours from your toy, eh? Anyway, the Johnson is Ni Ni Xiaolu. If you are interested, you go down to Chinatown and see her at 2100 tonight. She sells antiques to tourists. Her store is close to the arch so a smart guy like you should be able to find it easy enough, but I will send you an ARO if you are interested. I do not know much about her, but I looked up her shop and it seems to be doing well. Should I let her know you will be there?<<
Chinatown. Antique shop. Annex mulled over those tid bits. He was going to stick out if he went there. Or possibly get passed off as a tourist. Some thought was given to why an antique dealer might hire him and how they could put up a reasonable payment. Chinatown also meant Triads, in a more obvious way that it might elsewhere. It was also worth considering why the job made Hex think of him, given the lack of details offered. Felt like something was purposefully being held back by the decker. These things and more went through Annex's head without any effort and in a matter of seconds. The result was a brief pause as he considered what Hex had said, then his response came over the Matrix.

>>Tell her I will meet her. The ARO would be appreciated as well. I will let you know if anything comes of it..<<

2100. That was about two and a half hours away. Estimates of travel time based off of traffic this time of day were mentally calculated without conscious thought. Gave him time to scout the area while he got a bite to eat. Been a while since he had some Mandarin food too. Annex ordered one more root beer and took his time finishing it off before heading to his car.

GridGuide was alright. Especially if you needed to take a nap on a long trip or if you were bleeding out and needed to stich yourself up. But Annex was one of those people who liked to be in control. He wanted to steer his own way through life, not let some software tell him where to go. Besides that, he actually liked driving. So with his AR alight with helpful AROs and data he drove through the streets of Seattle to the International District. It had been a while since he had visited that part of the city, so familiarizing himself with the layout was good scouting as he searched for first a spot to grab something to eat, then did some sight seeing before he headed to the meet at the antique shop.
Wednesday 12 June 2075 2000 Chinatown Seattle

You arrive at the huge parking lot at the entrance to Chinatown with about an hour to go til your meeting. Even though the main boulevard is wide, only pedestrians and the ubiquitous pedicab are allowed on the street. All cars and buses must park in the lot. The entrance to Chinatown itself is marked by a large, ornamental arch. At this time of day, the boulevard is crowded with tourists and locals going about their business. Shops line the busy street, with narrow doorways leading to the apartments piled on top of them. Many of the locals are dressed in traditional Chinese garb for the many tourists that throng the area. For their part, the tourists are dressed in almost as many styles as there are people. A quick check shows that restaurants, bars, and gift shops are by far the most common ground floor structures, although you can see AROs that lead to two brothels that are advertising the best in paid companionship. The wide street continues out of sight and only the upper floors of the buildings give a hint at the extent of the place. Noodle shops vie with other hawkers for space on the crowded thoroughfare and you can find both a small restaurant and a noodle shop conveniently located across the street from Ni Ni's antique shop, where the windows advertise authentic Chinese antiques for discerning clients. A quick glance at the windows of the shop reveals nothing more than you would expect to see in any gift shop, although there does seem to be an abundance of jade visible. A quite large Chinese gentleman is standing near the door, although he seems very bored with his lot in life.

The smells of the street are quite mouthwatering and you should probably decide on the noodle shop or the restaurant to watch the shop from.
So many tourists. So many people crowded about. It made Annex extraordinarily conscious of potential pick pockets. After taking in the tourism geared fašade of the neighborhood Annex ducked into the noodle shop across from Ni Ni's antique shop. While waiting to be seated, or finding his own if that looked to be the case, he took in the aesthetics of the establishment, the mobile staff, and layout of the interior. An effort was made to acquire a location was tactically relevant to his needs. Something that did not offer much exposure, allowed for mobility and egress if needed, and gave him a view of both the interior of the dining area of the noodle shop and the street outside.

When he was settled down and had a menu in hand Annex looked it over, but had an idea of what he wanted already: something spicy and savory with a beef flavored protein source. So he was quick to supply an order to the member of the waiting staff that approached him. For a beverage he went with water. No ice. Three root beers was enough for one night. Annex was relaxed in his chair, but observant. Taking in the interplay of people as they moved about or dined. Both inside and out of the noodle shop.
Wednesday 12 June 2075 2010 Chinatown Seattle

The noodle shop is quite small, consisting of a counter and six stools placed along it. Of course, some patrons are just ordering food as take-away and are not remaining to eat it. The menu is pretty much simple, with pictures and words in English along with the Chinese characters as well. You can point to the picture of what you want and the girl behind the counter nods and smiles, saying thank you and turning to yell out something to the cook in the small kitchen. The seat you have selected gives you a good place to observe the goings on of the people in the street. It is painfully obvious who the tourists are and you wonder if you stick out as much as some of the camera-toting masses swirling past you, looking for the best bargains among thousands of bargains that are filling the AR with their ads.

It had stopped raining as you were pulling into the lot and water is still running from spouts and doing its best to give the crowded place a clean smell. Bright neon lights are reflected in the puddles of water on the street and you definitely see at least two pick pockets at work and are pretty sure that there must be others that you do not see. You have heard that prostitution is rampant in Chinatown and you can see at least three large and well lit brothels and two smaller, less gaudy ones from your vantage point. The counter in front of you has glossy adverts for escorts that you can summon to your side by calling one of the provided com codes.

The dish you ordered arrives in a steaming bowl and the pretty girl behind the counter smiles as you slot a cred stick to pay for the food and add a small tip. She reaches a hand out and taps one of the glossies in front of you. "This one nice for you. Order from here and get ten percent discount. Very clean. Very sexy. You see."
Once again Annex was at a bar. Why couldn't he escape these places? Had to be the leather duster he wore. Too much cowboy in his attire must have homed him in on them. Even though the duster wore was more of a modern and sleek style than the rugged old west motif would require. When his food arrived he took up the heated bowl in his left hand and raised it a little higher than chest height. He was going to start in on his meal right away but the girl behind the counter spoke to him, sharing with him information of a discount at one of the brothels.

Sky blue eyes moved to the space that she had used her finger to indicate. Though he did not exactly seem enthused by the prospect of a discount on a currency exchange for sexual services Annex made a visible motion to the glossy if it had an AR counter part so that she would be able to register that he was filing away the bit of information on a Matrix level. Which he did. Someone he encountered might be looking for an escort. It was also possible that one of the prostitutes or the manager could turn out to be a source of information to tap. He did not have the time right now to look into cultivating that type of asset though.

"Thank you for the advice. What is your name? I will let them know you sent me if I go there."

After his display of interacting with AR Annex took a capture of the girl's face and mentally attached the image to his file on the brothel she had pointed him towards. A notation followed including her name, if she provided it, and the words 'noodle shop girl'. Once he had that bit of information Annex did not press for further conversation. Even though Asian women were especially appealing to him, his libido usually took a back seat to everything else going on in his head.

Before taking up a fork like a true outsider who made no attempt to be otherwise, he used his right hand to waft some of the rising steam towards himself and inhaled the scent of the food. The fork when put to use, was stabbed into the mass of saucy noodles a twirled, as though he were eating spaghetti. Bringing up the forkful of noodles, soy based meat substitute, and a reasonable approximation of vegetables he shoveled it into his mouth. Annex chewed at the food with the haste of a man used to having very little time to get a meal down. Or at least one who was conditioned to eat quickly.
Wednesday 12 June 2075 2015 Noodle Shop Chinatown Seattle

The young woman smiles at you. "I am called Suki. Thank you for asking. Enjoy food, please. Let me know if need anything else." She moves off to deal with another customer who has sat down at the counter. The glossy did indeed have an AR link and you can store it with the rest of the information you are gathering. Suki had provided a set of paper-wrapped chopsticks, but also the fork you have decided to use. The water is chilled but grows tepid without ice.

You watch people pass by the open front of the shop and feel a slight brush of evening air. The sky looks to promise more rain at any moment, but this is Seattle and the sky is always promising rain and frequently delivering it. From your vantage point, you see people come and go from the antique shop across the street. Most are tourists, but there is an occasional oriental face as well. While you are watching the large man outside the place is replaced by an even larger man, who takes up the position of door guard as he pulls his collar up against the slight chill and lights a cigarette.
Annex did not drink much of the water until it was close to room temperature. He did not like cold drinks. It was something that had begun to turn him off when he began trained athletic activities in childhood. The cold did not agree with fluidity of muscle movement and could be a shock to the system. There were similar reasons why he always let his root beer go flat before drinking it. After years of not drinking carbonated beverages, the carbonation did not agree with him anymore. Really, the health conscious side of the man told him that he should not even be eating or drinking anything too sugary, but he always had a sweet tooth.

To Annex it seemed less likely for a local to patronize a shop catering primarily to tourists. So when he saw some people with oriental features visiting Ni Ni's antique shop he took captures of their faces. He also made a note of whether they left with anything, then filed it away with his collected observations. When the door guard at Ni Ni's changed, he looked at the time stamp in his AR and marked that down as well. The routine act of a guard shift caused him to think back, reflecting on the other establishments he had seen and whether any of them had obvious security as well.

Noodles were slurped at and chewed down quickly. Annex was not a professional speed eater, but bowl was emptied fast, and washed down with a goodly amount of lukewarm water. Which did not do anything to help the sensation of capsaicin burning his mouth. The bowl was set down on the counter and the fork he had used rattled in the curve of the container. With his hands free he used napkin that came with his eating utensils to dab at the corners of his mouth, but employed the tip of his tongue to clean whatever sauce had lingered on his lips. He was not in a hurry to leave though. When someone came to collect his dish Annex placed an order for some pot stickers and sauce to dip them in.

The weather shifted, suggesting rain. Annex was already taking into consideration the ways a downpour may aid or hinder his activities.
Wednesday 12 June 2075 2040 Noodle Shop Chinatown Seattle

Suki comes by to pick up your empty bowl and takes your order for pot stickers and sauce. Your observation of the antique shop across the street lets you see that almost no one leaves the shop with anything more in their hands than they had coming in, leaving you to think that one reason might be that he authentic Chinese antique business must suck. Certainly some of the people that have gone in and come out while you have been watching have appeared affluent enough to have been able to purchase something, but it looks like no one has purchased anything.

The shop has an alleyway at its right side as you face it, but the shop shares a wall with the building on its left. You have seen two rather pretty young women standing near the alley and even seen one go into it with a man dressed as a tourist while the other lit a cigarette and leaned against the wall of the building. The man came out of the alley with a smile on his face and the women began talking to people passing them on the street again. Both of the women are dressed inappropriately for the potential rain, but you cannot argue with the view you are getting of their legs and bare midriffs.

The building to the right of the alley is the restaurant you could have been sitting in if you had not settled on the noodle shop. There are, indeed, two men at the door acting as doormen and they seem to be more for looks than anything really related to being on guard. The man in front of Ni Ni's shop could put both of these guys in his clothes and had room for another. The building to the left is apparently another tourist souvenir shop and seems to do far more business than the antique shop does. You get to this conclusion by watching several people go in and leave the store with packages in hand.

The pot stickers arrive and Suki smiles very prettily at you as she wishes you good eating. She is rather pretty in a way and seems to have an easy time talking to the people who come and go, most of whom are oriental and give you the occasional odd look.
The pot stickers were eaten more slowly than he had devoured the noodles. As though he were snacking rather than having a meal. When he dunked the pots stickers into the sauce he fully submerged them, making sure a liberal amount was coating the morsel before taking a bite. A point was made of eating them in halves. He was content in keeping to himself and not get drawn into the world around him. The looks he received did not go overlooked, but they were not paid much concern. At least as long as no signs of a potential threat were arising. Annex observed the interaction between his fellow diners, and the noodle stop girl about as much as he looked outside.

Though he ate considerably slower with his pot sticker snacks they eventually vanished into Annex's mouth. A check of the time in AR informed him he still had some time left before the meet with Ni Ni. Unrushed he was content to study his environment passively. To afford himself continued welcome from the staff he purchased a dessert. An almond and coconut flavored treat to give him something sweat after all the spice he had eaten earlier. That same idle snacking pace was maintained as his dining experience neared it's end. When he was finished Annex passed a cred stick over the countertop register to leave a tip for Suki. It was a frugal tip, the bare minimum to be courteous, but it was a tip.

With some time to spare before meeting Annex walked off his meal, but kept the antique shop in sight. Moving down the block he took in the sights and did a little window shopping without actually spending anything or going inside of any of the businesses. Eventually, a couple minutes before the meeting, Annex came up along the sidewalk leading into Ni Ni's antique shop and made his way inside to take in the interior of the establishment.
Wednesday 12 June 2075 2058 Noodle Shop Chinatown Seattle

Your short walk on the main street has given you the impression that there are lots of tourist-oriented gift shops here, all selling pretty much the same sort of stuff. You also passed by a massage parlor that offers "special services" with extremely beautiful young women, a drug shop, a talismonger, another restaurant, a gambling parlor, and a large bordello advertising sex in the most descriptive manner and providing a menu of options. You were also accosted by a man wanting to sell you some name brand com links for a really good price, four young women who wanted to know if you wanted some company while you walked, and a young boy who offered in broken English to walk with you and be your translator.

The breeze picks up just a bit as you turn for the antique shop and you feel a few drops of the promised rain, which causes the crowds to move a bit quicker. The first thing you notice as you approach the shop is that the very large man in front of it acts much like a breakwater, causing the people to flow around him as he does a very good impression of an immovable object. The second thing you notice is that the shop windows do not contain much of anything in the way of merchandise, but are empty of the normal collection of (plastic) ivory carvings and tee-shirts. In fact, the only decoration in the window display are three large pottery urns. You do, however, see a small sign in the bottom left corner of the window indicating that it is a product of Ares Armor-Glass.

The man at the door does nothing more than look you over as you approach, nodding at you as you reach out for the door and you hear a slight tinkle from an overhead bell as you pass into the shop. The interior is neat and orderly, with only a few items on each of the several shelves. The right wall has some tall urns against it in some well-done display. A set of four chairs around a small table take up a good bit of the space at the left wall. A counter runs half the length of the far wall and you note a beaded curtain filling a doorway behind the counter. A single shop clerk is with the only customer you see, but she does look up when you enter and indicate that she will be with you shortly, so please browse. You idly look closer at one of the smaller pottery pieces on display and note that the price has been set at 85,000 nuyen. Examination of some of the other pieces leads you to the conclusion that nothing in here has a price less than 35,000 nuyen.
Even if meat space had a spam blocker Annex would not use it. Too much information would be lost. Everything and everyone, told you something potentially useful. You just had to look at it the right way. The guy pushing comlinks was brushed off though. So were the pretty women. Pretty women were a distraction and a distracted man was a defeated man. When the boy offered to act as a translator for him though, Annex accepted. He did not feel he needed one at the moment, but he saw a young person who was making an effort to earn some money rather than playing or chasing whatever gender appealed to them. During the walk he asked about some signs and Chinese characters, but mostly he inquired into the neighborhood and the people in it. Nothing overtly suspicious, but he was probing to see just how aware the kid was of what went on in Chinatown. Before reaching the antique shop he thanked the boy for his help and gave him a couple nuyen, then sent him on his way.

His duster had a hood, but by the time the rain started to fall it was not necessary to pull it up over his head. Maybe on the walk back to his car it would be. At the shop he nodded in acknowledgement to the oversized doorman, then later to the clerk when she indicated that she would be with him shortly. Annex was not particularly in antiques, but he made a circuit of the room and took in the stock on display. Quality, condition, apparent age, and pricings were all noted. Idly he wondered at their histories. What had those objects seen in their time? No doubt each one of them had a stories. Collectors bought items for their stories as much as their rarity. When his circuit of the room neared the beaded curtain he glanced to it, but his eyes did not linger, and he moved on.
Wednesday 12 June 2075 2100 Ni Ni's Antique Shop Chinatown Seattle

As you walk about the display room you realize that your knowledge of Chinese antiques is pretty fragging sparse and that you have no real idea of the age or value of the things on the shelves. You see the beads part and an exotically beautiful woman walks through them and past the counter. The clerk quickly bows her head as the woman passes her to approach you. She holds out a delicate hand and her almond shaped eyes mirror the smile on her lips. "Mister Annex." It was not a question. "My name is Ni Ni Xiaolu. You are right on time. I like people to be punctual. Thank you for coming to see me on such short notice. Will you please come this way?" She motions to the beaded doorway and walks that way. Her movement is very graceful, but you somehow have the impression of a tiger ready to pounce at any moment.
Hearing the sound of a third set of feet, these new ones drawing closer to him, he glanced to the side without turning his head. Seeing the woman out of his peripheral vision he turned to face her as she closed the distance between them. Annex did not smile back, but he did take her hand when she extended it. His leather gloved grip was firm, but not challenging or aggressive. After she introduced herself he repeated her name, both as a form of greeting and as a mnemonic device to help the name go along with the new face.

"Miss Xiaolu."

Annex did not actually shake the woman's hand. Just gripped it for a couple seconds, long enough for introductions to pass between them, then released. When she turned to lead the way to the back room he followed. Black boots lightly rapping over the floor at a leisurely pace. A hand moved ahead of his, brushing aside the beads ahead of him, leaving them to swing back into place after his passage. Even after they were away from prying eyes and ears he remained quiet for a time, giving Ni Ni the opportunity to enable any anti-surveillance she wished to. Then he provided a short prompting to encourage her to express her objective.

"Tell me what it is you would like to accomplish."
Wednesday 12 June 2075 2101 Ni Ni's Antique Shop Chinatown Seattle

Once past the beads, you find yourself in a narrow, well lit hallway. Without turning her head, Ni Ni responds. "I said I like people to be prompt, Mister Annex, not pushy. All in good time."

She reaches the door at the end of the hall, she opens it to lead you into a very large warehouse. Where the outer shop had been quiet, the larger place is much louder. There are several large pieces of furniture being covered in some sort of cellophane-type plastic wrap, including a large bureau, dresser, and the headboard of a large bed. An electric fork lift is moving crates from a truck bed to places in the warehouse. Ni Ni leads you into the large room, heading for a set of steps that lead up to a room that overlooks the activity on the floor. Twice, a man will come to her as she is walking, holding out a pad, which she takes and reads as she walks before nodding and giving the pad back along with some instructions.
It would have been out of character of Annex to talk shadow business when they were not at least behind closed doors or over a secure Matrix line. So he did not. The prompting was not meant for when they were walking down halls or through warehouses. Only when they were in a secure environment, where they were not likely to be overheard, would that come. Until then, he remained silent. Observing, yes. But making no effort to engage in small talk.

His eyes narrowed against the initial change in noise pollution as they entered the warehouse. Mentally he thought about the relation of the antique shop to it's neighbor and how they two of the buildings were built up along side each other. Patient and unrushed Annex look in the layout of, and visible stock within, the warehouse. Creating a mental map of the terrain. People working there were marked as well. Their numbers counted on the way to the steps. As men approached Ni Ni he would look to them, watch the interaction, and listen to what was said. But not interject.
Wednesday 12 June 2075 2104 Ni Ni's Antique Shop Chinatown Seattle

You note about fifteen men and women working at one job or another in the warehouse. You do get an odd look or three as you follow Ni Ni across the floor to the stairs. Chinese seems to be the only language spoken.

As you approach the stairs, you see a man who might be the twin of the mountain outside the shop standing there. He, unlike the others in the warehouse, is paying a great deal of attention to you. He takes a step forward but Ni Ni raises a hand and sends him back to his position without saying a word. Two levels of fifteen steps leads to a small landing and the woman in front of you opens a door to usher you into a small office. She motions for you to take a seat at one of the two chairs at a small table and joins you in the other one. She steeples her hands and looks at you for a moment. You note that her English is quite good as she says, "Mister Annex, I have a.............problem.........that I would like someone to take care of for me and I have been told that you might be the person to help me. Can you tell me a little about yourself?"
Another door guard. When he saw the man Annex sized him up, as he took into account everything he could perceive within his environment. He looked for the telltale signs of augmentation. Eyes that look inhuman or more glossy than wet, oddly sized body parts, or an abundance of reserved energy. When the man made a move forward he was already thinking of how to dispatch him quickly and what he could use to his advantage in the warehouse if he were 'wared out. A conflict was no expected, as Xiaolu signaled the man to stand down, but that did not stop Annex's mind from working through it. It was a reflexive process drilled into the man.

Up two sets of fifteen stair, across a landing, and into the office Annex went. He took a couple steps into the groom, them moved off to the side to allow Xiaolu to go ahead of him and claim her seat. After she indicated one for him he advanced again and settled down into the offered chair. Leaning back in a relaxed fashion he brought his arms up to the chair's armrests and laid them there. The image was one of leisure and comfort, even if he was looking at everything in the room as an weapon or tool and contingent plans were running through his head. He was watching Xiaolu, studying her demeanor and body language. Listening to her tone when she spoke. Slow to get to the heart of the matter. Cautious? Curious?

"I have had special operations experience, do not possess any magical aptitude, and no noteworthy Matrix familiarity. Beyond that, I am not going to share any details concerning my background."

There was a degree of firmness in that last statement. An unspoken 'do not pry in my life, and I will not muck up your's'. It was not hostile, but made a boundary clear to someone who was socially aware. A short pause followed, then Annex raised his hands, palms up, in a brief inviting gesture. When he spoke one could imagine him seated behind a desk encouraging a client to share their difficulties with him. Attentive but not subordinate.

"Tell me about your problem Miss Xiaolu and I will tell you if I am able to help you solve it."
Wednesday 12 June 2075 2110 Ni Ni's Antique Shop Chinatown Seattle

Ni Ni seems to be considering things for a few moments then nods and places her hands palms down on the table. "Alright Mister Annex, I will tell you what I need. I do not know what you have heard about the gang wars that erupted in the Redmond Barrens early Monday Morning? Even the newsies don't know what was going on, but whatever it was, it certainly left a lot of death and destruction behind. Many businesses were damaged or destroyed and a lot of the existing..........arrangements..........for protection and insurance have disappeared, leaving the area clear for various unscrupulous people to move in. Normally, I could care less about what happens in that sink hole of humanity, but it happens that my goddaughter is trying to run a business there and I am afraid that she may be in trouble. She would never come to me for help, due mostly to my alleged links to a certain organization. For that reason, I cannot send any of my usual associates out to help her and am looking to have a round eye do it."

She looks at you closely. "I would like you to go see her and get hired to protect her place. What ever she can afford to pay you, take it. I will clear the difference between that and 10K Y per month, with a two-month bonus at the end of it. I will be very displeased if you let on that I have sent you. Given the type of business she runs, and the thugs that will be trying to fill the gang vacancy left after the fighting died down, I expect that you will need to be quite good at protecting yourself and her. Her name is Willow and she runs the Willow Tree, a bar and brothel almost in the center of the Barrens. Are you interested?"
He listened without rushing Ni Ni or interjecting. Even when she asked her question about his knowledge of the recent gang issues, he remained silent, allowing her to speak without interruption. The mention of the Barrens caused him to narrow his eyes in a thoughtful fashion. It was a gangland warzone at the best of times. After the woman finished explaining what she wanted he did not answer her question right away. He actually thought about it. It meant stepping away from his, relatively, comfortable life and going to a hellhole. Possibly for months on end. At length he nodded in the affirmative though.

"This is something I can do for you. However, I would work for you and answer only to you. I will not report to any of your subordinates and my payment is to come from your hand. Any report I give, is to you. No one else. If there is a change in your directive, it must come from you personally. In the event that, for whatever reason, I need to work with your subordinates I will have operational command. Further, should I need to go beyond your goddaughter's establishment and eliminate a substantial threat to her or her business there will be an additional cost. I will also need two thousand nuyen upfront for arranging lodging in the barrens. A cheap vehicle for transportation well be needed as well."

After stating the conditions he would operate under there was a pause as he took a moment to regard Ni Ni. As long as there was no an immediate refusal, he went on.

"If you can agree to these terms, tell me about your granddaughter. Anything you think may be pertinent."
Wednesday 12 June 2075 2112 Ni Ni's Antique Shop Chinatown Seattle

Ni Ni looks at you for a moment. "Ostensibly, you will be employed by my goddaughter and will report to her, not me. If you want to come to Chinatown every month to get paid, that is fine by me, but I can arrange for the money to show up as cred sticks at your place of work. I can accept all the other requirements you have stipulated, but I have questions about your demand for extra compensation for doing your job away from her building. What exactly do you mean by that?"

Annex thought about what Ni Ni said for a handful of seconds, then nodded his agreement. He had primarily been establishing a chain of command. The person paying him, Annex himself, then everyone else below that. It was, hopefully, only an additional step to extend that to Ni Ni's goddaughter and would not become an inconvenience to do so. He was ready for Ni Ni's question about further costs and when Annex responded it was with the demeanor of a professional seeking reasonable compensation for going above and beyond a routine service, rather than someone trying to squeeze every nuyen he could from a client.

"Ten thousand a month will cover looking out for her and her interests on a day to day basis under normal conditions in the Barrens, as they stand. Events may arise where it would be necessary to be proactive in removing threats to your goddaughter, rather than reactionary. Someone may work through intermediaries. If I have to track down such a person, this is one example that would incur additional fees. Another example would be a scenario in which one member of a gang may begin a feud with her that the rest are compelled to support due to whatever code they operate under. These are things beyond what is normally expected and require substantial effort or time on my part to deal with."

After explaining his meaning, Annex allowed a momentary pause to give Ni Ni some time to think on what he had said. Then he continued, his right hand raising to gesture towards the woman across from him.

"Should something that I feel would require further payment arise, I would make an effort to contact you before proceeding further. If for whatever reason I am unable to contact you, I would take matters as far as I felt were needed to ensure your goddaughter's safety under the expectation that my good faith is reciprocated later with fair compensation."
Wednesday 12 June 2075 2115 Ni Ni's Antique Shop Chinatown Seattle

Ni Ni thinks for a few moments, obviously considering your words, then smiles. "I think we can agree to that, Mister Annex. I will give you your advance and you may spend it as you please, but you have to let her hire you. In the event that she does not, I am prepared to let you keep the 2K Y and supplement that with an additional 2K for your troubles, provided you make an effort." She puts an AR up of an attractive oriental woman of perhaps twenty-five years old and slides a piece of honest to god paper across the table to you. "This is Willow and this is the address of her place in the Barrens. I would appreciate it if you could get moving on this somewhat quickly. Are you immediately available? As in tonight?"
"Do not forget the vehicle, which I will return after the completion of this job."

Annex casually added after Ni Ni commented on the two thousand nuyen. His would stand out, and he appeared unwilling to spend nuyen on a junker that he had no intention of keeping beyond this job. Sourcing one would take more time as well. He nodded when she added further details to the stipulation about being hired on by Willow herself. At seeing the image of the young women projected in AR, his eyes fixed on the face and studied it. Mentally he shifted it into a file,, then glanced down at the paper on the table. Annex looked at the sheet curiously, as some form of oddity. It was a brief expression that flickered over his face, then vanished. The paper was not touched, but he took a capture of the address and added it neatly to his virtual file on Willow and the Willow Tree.

Afterwards he rose his eyes back to Ni Ni's face. She was asking for him to start as soon as possible. Tonight even. It was understandable since someone she cared about was in a hostile environment. But ... it was a hostile environment. Rushing needlessly without planning or recognizance was a poor idea. Especially at night, given what he had heard about the Barrens. Annex himself was unfamiliar with the environment. Which made haste triply bad. There was also his personal situation to consider. Annex went on to explain in mild and calm tones.

"This is short notice for a job taking place over an extended period. One that, in effect, removes me from my personal life for the duration. Unless you have reason to believe that your goddaughter is in immediate danger there are some preparations that I will need to make so that I can focus on this job and properly ensure the security of your loved one. Tomorrow about mid-day would be reasonable."

He seemed willing to act now, if Ni Ni truly felt there was a pressing threat to Willow's life. But as it was, a to-do list had already form in his head. Things that would need to be taken care of to put his life on hold. Assets to be moved around. He took note of the time in his AR display. Only three hours left in the day. Placing his hands down on the edges of his chair's arm rests Annex leaned forwards and pressed his hands downwards to assist him as he rose to stand. Once straightened out he offered Ni Ni his hand to seal their deal with the gesture and prepare for his departure. The urgency of her request was being taken to heart regardless of whether she informed him of an approaching or current danger to Willow or not.
Wednesday 12 June 2075 2117 Ni Ni's Antique Shop Chinatown Seattle

Ni Ni shakes her head. "No, Mister Annex, you misunderstand me. I do not believe that she is in imminent danger, but I would be the last person she would call if she was. I was only intending that you begin your preparations tonight, if possible. I would advise against taking any sort of vehicle into that part of the sprawl unless you have some secure parking. Anything left out overnight will be stripped and up on blocks by morning. I would recommend using public transportation to get as close as you can then walking the rest of the way."

She rises with you and takes your hand. "Thank you, Mister Annex, for agreeing to try to help me. I rather like my goddaughter and would much prefer that no harm come to her. Let me walk you out, unless you have any additional questions? Oh, and here is your advance on expenses." She reaches into a pocket and pulls out a cred stick, handing it to you.
There was a brief period of internal debate as he took in her comment about the vehicle. He did not seem to like the restriction, and lack of mobility. Mobility could be invaluable. No argument was raised. Her reasoning justifiable enough for him despite the brief displeasure that crossed his face. The same hand used to grip Ni Ni's upon releasing his hold on her accepted the credstick. Only a brief glance was given to the time, during which he checked the currency through AR. Then it was tucked away into an interior coat pocket. Stepping around his chair he turned half towards the door they had entered from, indicating with his body language that he was ready to leave, and that he was going to let the woman lead the way out. But when she offered to answer further questions he took advantage of the opportunity.

"If you think there is anything I should know about your goddaughter, do let me know. Any intelligence you have on the area that might be relevant to her security would be useful as well. I am not personally familiar with the Barrens or the groups that operate there. Beyond that, I expect most of my questions will be answered in the field given how chaotic the situation seems to be there."
Wednesday 12 June 2075 2120 Ni Ni's Antique Shop Chinatown Seattle

Ni Ni walks around the table to stop in front of you. "Prior to Monday morning, the small neighborhood she lives and works in was ruled by a small gang called the Night Walkers. This gang was almost entirely destroyed by the mercenaries that attacked the Barrens that morning. Since then, no single individual or gang has managed to assume control, but there have been several wannabes making an effort. They just keep killing each other off and the survivors keep demanding protection money from the businesses in the neighborhood, which is really draining the coffers of the area rather quickly. As to her personality, I think that you will find Willow to be bold and willing to take risks. She also cares about the neighborhood. I think that she is a great kid, but I am a bit prejudiced in the matter."

She walks to the door and opens it, leading you from the office and back down the stairs. As you walk across the floor, you note that the activity in the warehouse has not diminished much. Once back in the main showroom, Ni Ni will shake your hand and motion to the outer door. "You seem reasonably competent, Mister Annex. Please remember that I like my goddaughter far more than she likes me and that I would be very unhappy if she is hurt or killed. I am sending you a com code for you to use to get in touch with me. Try not to use it too often but please do use it if it looks like you cannot control a situation and she is in danger. I will be in touch and thank you."
Annex listened and seemed to think about what Ni Ni had said. It seemed the best way for him to accomplish his job, even if it shortened it's duration, was to return stability to the neighborhood. Given how she was described, Willow herself sounded like the sort of person he could use to do that. He would need to see what she was up against, and what assets the woman had at her disposal or what he could help her to gain. Though he was already considering options and ways to approach the issue, Annex did not comment. Even as he was lead back outside, through the warehouse and back to the antique shop floor room. When Ni Ni offered her hand he took it and for the first time shook it as their meeting came to a close.

"I will bear what you have said in mind. Good evening Miss Xiaolu."

With that he made for the door and departed from the antique shop. The com code he had received from Ni Ni was filed away, but no name was attached to it. Only a number. At the door he glanced to the guard a nodded, then to the sky. If it was raining, he pulled the hood of his duster up over his head. Concealing the transparent trode band he wore as well as protecting himself from a potential Seattle downpour. With no further business in Chinatown he began the walk through the district back to the lot his car was parked at. Even as he walked he was working in AR, settling loose ends and setting things in motion.

Hex had pointed him to the job and a finder's fee was extended as a professional courtesy. He transferred two hundred nuyen to Hex's account, with a notation labeling it as 'finder's fee'. Next he contacted Sevras via the metalink he gave her and instructed her to pack up their personal effects and prepare them for an expended period of storage. Yes, she was a drone and he could more or less think a message to her with his trodes on, but normally he had her wireless off. With the drone permanently left to operate autonomously, except for his commands, she felt like less of a target to potential deckers with the wireless off.

Reaching his car he pinged the security system and checked the pilot program for any alerts before opening the door and climbing inside. Tossing his hood back with one gloved hand he initiated the vehicles start up routine causing the bland area in front of him to come to life with AROs while he fastened his safety belt. For the first part of the ride he let GridGuide drive. Annex wanted to make the most of his time via comlink, and felt that driving while doing so would be too much of a distraction. Thinking it would be the least time consuming task, Annex began with a Matrix search for a clothing outlet where he could acquire some low end clothing that would not stand out in the Barrens. It was not that easy, and the quality was appalling. But he found something passable until he could find real local garb. A purchase was made, gaining himself and Sevras a set of clothes before he returned him.

Some time later his black Shin-Hyung pulled into his home garage, the door closing behind the car's passage. He had spent the second half of his drive home negotiating with a rental management company, talking through forms, and in general arranging for his home to be put on the renter's market while he was to be living in the Barren's squalor. It was a lengthy process and Annex was still in the midst of it when he walked into the house and saw Severas at work packing things into boxes. It came as no surprise to him when he noticed the boxes of her clothes, shoes, and accessories outnumbered his. The house itself was Spartan and conservatively furnished. Nothing heavy would need to be transported to the storage locker. Which was the next item on his list, arranging for long term storage for his car and other belongings.

Annex spared time to greet and converse with the drone as though she were a person during the pauses between dealing with agencies whose services he was making use of to help put his life in a form of stasis so that he could make some money. Before it got too late he put in a call to his old friend Jacob and checkd to see if he could help he aquire some kit for Sevras before he headed into the gangland warzone of the Barrens. She was not meant to be a front line combatant, but getting her some protection was a necessity, and he rather she not use his only side arm.

After all that had been dealt with Annex spent about a few hours listening to news reports concerning recent events in the Barrens, and looking at maps of the area. He wound up going to bed about three in the morning. At eight hundred hours on the of Sevras, playing the role of alarm clock, woke him up with breakfast already made and waiting for him. When breakfast was finished Annex traveled with Sevras to a storage locker to drop off their personal effects, a garage to store to store the car. Then taking public transportation they visit a second storage locker in another district where Annex picked up some equipment he felt might be relevant for the mission ahead of him. There they also changed into their low quality clothes before setting out for the Barrens. At boarder section of the Barrens Annex traded in their less than desirable clothes along for some nuyen for a couple set of clothes for himself and his drone to wear that would help them to blend in as the traveled the metahuman ghettos.

From there, they went on foot to the neighborhood the Willow Tree was located in. Each of them carrying a buffle bag with their possessions over a shoulder.
Thursday 13 June 2075 1000 Redmond Barrens Seattle

The bus driver that dropped you off was quite clear when he asked you if you were sure you wanted off at THIS stop, shaking his head and muttering something about it being your funeral. He wishes you luck as he shuts the door behind you and drives off. You are able to make your clothing switch and the man selling you the clothes does not even ask why. He has probably seen others in what he suspects are your shoes and can only surmise what must be driving you to want to go into the zone, as he calls it. He regales you with a story of what he had seen on Monday. "I was asleep upstairs when I was woken by the sound of gunfire. Now, gunfire around here is not that rare but this was different, more auto rifles and machineguns, even some grenades. I peeked through my window and saw groups of men in combat armor moving down the street, basically shooting at anything in their path. I called some friends and they were seeing the same thing from their windows and some of them were several blocks away from here. They quickly moved on, but the gunfire did not seem to stop. We heard later that it was gangers, but they did not act much like any gangers I know. I'm telling you; these guys were like soldiers. Anyway, all over now. Lots of rumors coming from farther in; like whole gangs wiped out in some places, along with businesses and lots of people. These fraggers were not kidding around."

The shop keeper finishes getting you fitted out and bids you farewell as he pockets your money. The further you get into the Barrens, the more desolate the landscape is. There are people on the streets, and some of them have a shell-shocked look in their eyes, as if they have reached the last place on earth they will ever know and they realize the truth of that with a sinking spirit. Still, for others, life goes on and some make an attempt to carve out a hardscrabble life here. Some were born and raised here and others gravitated here as money and luck ran out in other places. Some are here to hide from something or someone; lovers, spouses, the law, or maybe even one of the AAAs. Many are involved in petty crime, and some are part of one of the myriad small gangs that have claimed one or more neighborhoods, and some few are actually part of some larger criminal syndicate. The buildings are pocked with the scars associated with little or no maintenance for years and some are abandoned and decaying, but there are still many building that are used as businesses and housing.

The street you are traveling does indeed give the appearance of some trivid war movie set. Bullet holes dot the walls, joined in some places by much larger holes from grenades or rockets. Few people stop you, but you do get a lot of odd looks, some suspicious but most just curious. You note several prostitutes working the street even at this hour and are approached by two who are clearly past their prime and who act a bit put out that you do not immediately succumb to their charms and go off to an alley with them.The neighborhood where the Willow Tree is located is several blocks into the Barrens. From what you can see, the area is pretty much shot up and some windows are boarded up. Of course, that might have been the case before the fighting, too. It is hard to tell. Three young toughs are hanging around outside the door to the Willow Tree and one steps up to block your way as you approach. He gives you a sloppy grin and says, "Hey, you wanna peek inside? Normally cost ya 10 scrip for the cover charge, but for you, we'll make it 8." He looks at Severas and smirks. "The slot can go in for free."

The man's expectations were met when he travelled the Barrens. He could see the environment breeding some good fighters, given the right individuals and social engineering. But most of the people he saw during his trek were either broken, bystanders, or scavengers. When he neared the Willow Tree and a young man moved to intercept him Annex's pace slowed until he eventually stopped about a meter away. At the mention of cover charge he raised an eyebrow, unconvinced. Then glanced down both ends of the sidewalk as though looking for a line that might warrant such a thing. When he brought his eyes back to the trio's front man, there was an unconvinced look on his face.

Annex obviously was not buying into the idea that the three young men had any affiliation with the bar and brothel. There was a flash of anger in his eyes when Sevras was referred to as a 'slot'. His initial instinct was to break the youth's nose. Annex didn't though. Instead he eyed the young man in front of him, pacing to the side like a wolf getting a proper angle to pounce on potential prey. In reality he was positioning the one man between himself and the others and the wall of the building to his back so that it would be harder to flank him.

"Eight script? Some lead for each of you would be cheaper. Could probably make some money off your meat too. What do you say, want to make me some money kid?"

[ Spoiler ]
Thursday 13 June 2075 1030 Redmond Barrens Seattle

The kid licks his lips and looks from you to Severas and back a couple of times. "Uh, OK. How about 6 scrip?"

he three young men are focused on you and do not notice the pretty woman who steps out behind them until she speaks. "What have I told you about trying to shake down the customers, Jake? Now go, and quit cluttering the doorway, please."

The boys are startled and look a bit angry at first then relent and shuffle off down the street. The woman looks at the two of you. "New here? I do not recognize your faces, but there are a lot of newcomers in the area after Monday."
Annex gave the punk a hard look when he looked between him and Sevras. They were a matching pair, both clad in fading blacks and wearing sturdy jackets you'd expect to see on someone going to a firefight rather than a bar. At least that would be the impression anywhere else. The young man had a hungry look in his eyes, or seemed to, to Annex. It was the that Annex realize he might well have been without food, not just shaking people down for spending money. The hard look faded shortly after the youth dropped the 'cover charge' down to six scrip in a questioning tone. By the time the woman showed up to shoo the three young men off Annex was laughing a good natured laugh. One gloved hand rose to halt their departure.

"A guy threatens to put a bullet in you then feed you to ghouls and you negotiate. Tell you what, apologize to my lady friend and I'll buy you and your buddies something to eat."

The hand he had used to signal the youths to halt their departure lowered and moved to the side, motioning to the dark eyed Sevras who had stood silently observing the entire scene with a neutral look on her pretty manufactured face. While he gave Jake the opportunity to smooth things over with an apology, Annex did not ignore the woman at the door who had addressed him. Shifting his eyes to her, he kept Jake in his periphery while comparing the woman's face to the image he had on file of Willow. His voice was lighter, removed from his early aggressive threat aimed at the young tough. A sign that he was willing to forgive and move on despite the attempt to shake him down seconds earlier.

"Hello. Yes, we are new to the area. This is the Willow Tree, right? Do you serve bar food?"
Thursday 13 June 2075 1031 Outside the Willow Tree Redmond Barrens Seattle

Jake and the others stop and look at you in some surprise. Perhaps no one had spoken to them in such a way before. Jake gulps then looks at Severas. "Sorry, Miss. We meant nothin by the slot remark."

Severas smiles but does not say anything. The woman in the doorway, who looks pretty much like the AR image you have stored, also shakes her head. "Alright, Jake. You heard the man. Go off to Phill's and tell him to feed you and send me the bill. He owes me a bit anyway and can pay it off by feeding you." She turns to look at you as the three young men move off down the street. "Yes, this is the Willow Tree and yes we have some bar food, or would if the fragging processor was working, which it is not. You wouldn't know how to fix one, would you?"
Annex offered the boys a nod, as if to say that things were settled, then looked to the Willow Tree itself as the owner talked to the three youths. He studied it with the eye of the security conscious, taking in the materials it was made of. The size of the building and it's relation to the other structures around it as well as the windows and doors. By the time Willow spoke to him, his attention was back on her. He thought about her query before nodding slowly, his tone and disposition that of someone keen on trying to make themselves useful.

"I have a little experience tinkering with machines. Cars mostly. I'll take a look if you like. No promises about getting your food processor to work though."

As he spoke he approached Willow and the entrance to her establishment, his strike unhurried and purposeful at the same time. As though he had a task he was working towards. While he walked, he talked, and at the mention of his companion he raised a gloved hand to motion to the feminine figure that followed behind him. Annex did not enter the building ahead of Willow though, stopping near her and waiting for her to lead the way to the food processor in need of repair.

"You can call me Oliver, by the way, and her Talia. She has some medical know how if any of your people are in need."
Thursday 13 June 2075 1032 Outside the Willow Tree Redmond Barrens Seattle

The building is not really in any better state of repair than any of its neighbors. It is squeezed between what looks like a struggling florist shop on the left and what is almost certainly a shaky apartment building on the right. There is a window on the front, but it has been boarded up and you can see bullet holes pocking the masonry, some far older than any that would have come from any violence here on Monday morning.

The woman nods to you, "My karma must be paid up to have a man who can fix my soy processor and a woman who can fix people show up outside my door. I happen to have a real need for the first, but, thankfully, no real need for the second at this moment. But that is always subject to change. Come on inside. It's a bit early for business, yet, but we open at noon. My name is Willow and this is my place."

The woman turns and walks into the entrance of the building. Going through the outer door brings you to a small anteroom with a seat for where a bouncer might sit. Willow reaches up under a small shelf and pushes a button that clicks the second door open and motions for you to follow her inside. You walk into a largish room with a large stage against the left wall and a long bar against the right. Two shapely girls are dancing on the stage, making use of a pole there to do some acrobatic moves. One of them waves in your direction while she is waiting her turn on the pole. There are chairs all along the edges of the stage with small tables set back from it. A row of booths overlooks the stage area. You can see a couple of pool tables in a roped off area near the far wall and there is a set of stairs leading to a second floor. Willow leads you to the bar, where you see an older man polishing glassware. He stops as you approach and the woman says, "Mike, this is Oliver and Talia. I am going to take Oliver to the kitchen to see if he can work some sort of miracle on the processor unit. Why don't you give the lady a drink?" The man nods and smiles at Severas. "What will you have, Talia?"
Masonry, good. Considerably better than wood would have been. The boarded up window and mundane door were weak points in the structure. Perhaps he could convince her to invest in metal shutters with murder holes and a reinforced metal door. Annex was pleased to see the anteroom acting as a station for a door guard. Leaving one to stand outside the building made him too much of a target. The anteroom room provided restricted space and a somewhat protected environment to go along with the element of control it offered. The structure could use some cameras outside, hidden of course. But for all he knew such a measure was already in place.

As they entered the building Annex played out breaching scenarios in his mind, playing up the role of both attacker and defender. A list of low budget security improvements began to form in his mind during his inspection of the ground floor's main room. Motion at the stage pulled his attention away from his thought briefly and he raised a hand to return the greeting offered to them by one of the women there. His gesture was more static though. A simple raise of his hand, palm towards her. Then it lowered after a couple seconds. A nod was returned to Mike when they were introduced and Sevras peeled off from the group to head over to the bar and claim a stool. Her pretty mouth opened to speak for the first time since arriving at the Willow Tree, just as Annex and Willow disappeared into the kitchen.

Sturdy steel toed boots lightly thumped over the kitchen's tiled floor as they made their way towards the food processor. Annex absorbed everything he would take in on the way, until they came to the malfunctioning piece of equipment. Rather than immediately set to work inspecting it, he looked to Willow for an idea of where to start. Best to find out what the problem was before trying to solve it.

"What are the patient's symptoms?"
Thursday 13 June 2075 1034 The Willow Tree Redmond Barrens Seattle

The "kitchen" is really nothing like a real kitchen. There are several racks of shelving that look to hold cartons of snack chips and nuts. There are some kegs of beer (probably) stacked along one wall and two doorways. One doorway leads to a stairway going down and the other leads to a hallway that goes off into the back of the building. Willow snorts as you ask your question. "Symptoms, Doctor? I would say that its life support died. Can you work a miracle on it?"
"I'll see what I can do. This could take a while though."

The 'lifesupport died'. He mused on that for a second. While setting hid duffel bag down. Then, making sure it was plugged in he gave the food processor a few tests to start it up. While he did he was listening for any odd sounds, or the presence of smells. After that he searched the device itself for a brand name and model number so that he could run a Matrix search for some DYI troubleshooting guides pertaining to the food processor model in question to help him out. When tools were needed to progress in his methodical hunt for the source of the problem, Annex crouched down to his duffel and unzipped it. Inside were neat bundles of clothes wrapped around various pieces of gear, boxes of ammunition, an assault rifle buried at the bottom, and a metal tool box. It was, naturally, the tool box that he retrieved.

The duffel was pushed to the side and the tool box opened up displaying an array of devices, primarily used in servicing Sevras and his car in emergencies. Had some experience fixing things around the house too. But he was more handyman and less licensed professional. But he experimented and checked over the guides he found on the Matrix when he was not sure about something.
Thursday 13 June 2075 1039 The Willow Tree Redmond Barrens Seattle

Your quick visual inspection yields no real information, but you are able to locate a user's manual and a DIY guide to this type of device. You painstakingly trace the possible issues, more often wrong than right. Finally, you basically have the thing on the counter in about a billion pieces (OK, so less than that, but it certainly seems to be a bunch) and Willow comes to check on your progress at just this moment. "My God, Oliver, you've killed it, not fixed it." She laughs. "You have been at this for more than an hour. Is it truly dead or is there a chance yet? I am not sure I can afford a new one just now."

You actually think that you may have localized the faults, of which there are several. You can jury rig a repair on two, but two more will need some parts ordered.
Annex was standing over the counter where the gutted food processor lay with it's parts organized into neat clusters of related components. There was a brooding furrow to his brow as he weighed options. He did not like not completing a task and right now there was a roadblock in the form of absent resources. It was all the worse because he could see the solution and was confident in his ability to achieve his goal. At the sound of Willow's voice he turned his head to the door and gave her his assessment.

"There is hope. Just not before opening tonight. You are going to need some parts. I will get you a list and you can decide if it is worth it or not. Might also be worth putting Jake and his friends to the task of dumpster diving to see if they can find anything. Keep the boys busy and give them a way to earn too."

While he talked about the list of parts Annex assembled it in AR and gave an estimate on the prices from what he had seen listed on the Matrix, both new and used. Once assembled, he forwarded the list to Willow's comlink, if he could see it's icon in AR. Before he went on he turned to face Willow. Though he did not have purely good news, Annexed offered an option as a temporary stop gap while he cleaned his hands on a rag.

"In the meantime, if you have the supplies or can get ahold of them, I can talk to Talia about fixing some food the old fashioned way. Probably cold food unless you have a hot plate to plug in down here.."
Thursday 13 June 2075 1139 The Willow Tree Redmond Barrens Seattle

Willow's face falls for a moment then she smiles when you give her the list of parts. "You have gone far beyond what I had expected, Oliver, thank you. I would offer you a meal, but that would be tough right now unless you have those parts in that duffel of yours there. I appreciate the use of your friend, who must be a treasure indeed if she is a cook as well as a medic. There is a hot plate just over there, but I am not sure what she could do with it. It is almost as old as the soy processor and a bit finicky. Do you need a job by any chance? Handyman, cook, whatever? If you tell me that you can dance the pole as well, I will gladly carry your child." She looks a bit embarrassed at that last comment. "Er, I did not mean to say anything like that. I mean, you already have Sevras. Please forget I said it."
Annex gave a single bob of the head when Willow asked if he could use a job, even though the one he had begun was not finished yet. He did not like leaving a task unfinished. Even now it was gnawing at him to find a way to push on. But experience gave the man patients to counter his instinctive goal focused drive.

"We could in fact use some work and a place to bed down if you know any rooms on the cheap."

When she later indicated the hot plate he had requested Annex turned his heave, eyes searching for the item. After finding it he looked back to Willow, in time to hear her offer to bear his children. He only offered a brief half smile, the right corner of his lips curving slightly upwards. Otherwise the comment and Willow's awkwardness that followed were glossed right over.

"I can do a little fix 'er upping. Not much of a cook myself, but if Talia ends up needing a hand I can lend her one."

Setting down the rag he had been cleaning his hands with Annex looked to the piles of parts that had once been an inoperable ancient food processor. In AR he was making notes for himself and attaching DYI Matrix pages to them to help him remember where he left off and key bits of information he needed to follow up on when renewing the task later.

"I'll pack this up then see what Talia and I can come up with for bar food."

... and he set about doing just that: packing up the food processor's components neatly into a box. The chips he had seen in the kitchen earlier had already given him an idea for some nachos. That should be an easy item to add to an improvised menu.
Thursday 13 June 2075 1150 The Willow Tree Redmond Barrens Seattle

Willow is pretty in a cheongsam mini dress of black and burgundy with plum blossom print. Her long black hair is tied into a ponytail with what looks like chopsticks poked through it at the top. She stands maybe five foot four inches, weighs perhaps 117 pounds, with the pounds in all the right places and the dress certainly hugs her body in a slightly distracting fashion. She gives yo a thoughtful look then says, "If you can handle the noise, there is a spare room on the second floor that you can use and we could work out something on the rent. I don't want to lock you into something you do not like, so give it a try for a couple of nights and see if you can live here. If not, there are a couple of places that I could recommend, but everywhere is going to have some sort of disadvantage, mostly noise around here in this neighborhood."

"Thank you for wanting to help. We open in a couple of minutes and I need to be out front. Hey, our doorman managed to stay alive during the fighting, but our inside security man got himself killed. Would you be interested? If so, I could use the help there, too. We are a pretty popular place, especially in the evenings and inside security helps keep people in line, watches over the girls on the floor, and stops fights."
The last piece of what had once been an inoperable food processor rattled into the box Annex was working over. Then he opened a counter cupboard and, making sure there was room, slid it into place down there so that it would be out of the way until he could finish repairs later. He was raising back up to a standing posture when Willow offered to house Sevras and himself at the Willow tree. It was a good means of keeping close to the woman and her business after closing. One that he'd be remiss in passing up.

"That sounds good to me. I appreciate the offer."

He listened as his new employer explained the situation with her security staff before offering to promote him to floor security. In addition to fixing things around the place and possibly cooking. It made him wonder how many hats people working for Willow usually. Annex did not see put off by the idea of additional responsibilities. In fact, he had been hoping to work himself into a position that allowed him some reasonable control and input on security. This was a good step.

"Sure. That is something I can do. If possible I would like to speak to your man watching the door before opening. Introduce myself. Exchange comcodes. That sort of thing."

With that bit of business Annex motioned to the door leading out of the kitchen knook and walked Willow out to the main room. Unless there was something more she wanted to talk about, he headed over to Sevras to speak with her about coming fixing some food and creating a menu for Willow to review. Shortly after the drone ducked into the back to see what was available Willow's comlink would received a message from Sevras. On it was a menu that would be supported with currently present supplies as well as an extended on that required additional components that would not be expensive to purchase.

That then left Annex seeking out the doorman Willow had mentioned. Hopefully she had pointed him out.
[ Spoiler ]
Thursday 13 June 2075 1153 The Willow Tree Redmond Barrens Seattle

When you walk back out to the main room you see that a strobing overhead light is on and that several girls in a variety of skimpy clothing are waiting for Willow. She claps her hands and gets the attention of everyone you can see, including the barman you have met and a large Ork you have not. "Please, everyone, may I have your attention for a few moments. I know we open in a couple of minutes, but I want to let everyone know that I have temporarily hired Oliver here to replace Jimmy on the floor. If he works out like I think he will, I will make a permanent offer. His girlfriend is Talia and I am sure that you have seen her around and wondered what the frag. She will be trying to get something done in the kitchen, which I can promise will be better than what we have had for a couple of months now, right? Please introduce yourselves to our newest members of the family." She turns to the Ork. "Grok, this is Oliver. Oliver, this is Grok. Grok is the outside security and doorman. He is also your backup if you need it on the floor. Coincidentally, you are also his backup if he needs it at the door. Exchange com codes and get to know each other." Grok looks at you and nods, holding his rather large hand out. "Come out to the door for a moment when you have some time."

Willow looks at you and notices your bags. "Right, business is usually a bit slow right at opening so I will take Oliver up to his room to stow his things. Any questions can wait until he gets back down. Thank you all. Now let's get the doors open and get the music playing."

Lowering her voice she shoos the others off to work and says. "Let's go up to your room."
Outside the kitchen Annex surveyed the faces of the people that had arrayed themselves, waiting for Willow. He took a few seconds to memorize each of them. Right now he only had a couple names, but it was good to have most of the staff in one place for him to identify. When he was introduced to Grok, part of some in born prejudice tickled at the back of his head. Yes, Annex was prejudice when it came to non-humans. Not the hateful sort that wanted to hurt or exterminate. But the quietly exclusionary sort that saw them as lesser without needed an explanation why they were lesser. Still, he took Grok's hand and gave it a singular shake.

"Grok. Be seeing you in a later. I want to speak with you when things aren't too busy."

As he retracted his limb Annex sent his comcode over to the Orc's comlink as long as he could see an AR icon for him to pass the code over to. When WIllow sent the staff to work and talked about showing him to his room he took the time to collect Sevras' duffle bag from her. Once bac in the main room, a bag slung over each shoulder, he nodded to Willow indicating that he was ready to be escorted to the room she had in mind for Sevras and himself to stay in.
Thursday 13 June 2075 1155 The Willow Tree Redmond Barrens Seattle

Grok nods and grins at you. "Don't be waiting too long, then. Place gets jumping in about an hour and really mad come about 1600 or so, when the girls start taking their clothes off."

Besides Willow, the bartender, and Grok, you see nine women arrayed in front of you in a semi-circle. They youngest looks to be barely legal and the oldest is probably in her early thirties, but might be older. All are dressed provocatively in clothes that emphasize their physical assets, but conceal them.............for now.

Willow nods as you come up to her with the duffles and leads you to the stairway going up to the next level. A hallway extends to the right and left and she leads you down the right side, stopping at the third door. Willow opens the door and goes inside, flicking on the lights. You see a smallish room with a nice-sized bed against the far wall. A small night table is to the right of the bed and a bureau stands against the right wall. There is a small sink next to the bureau and a table with two chairs rounds out the furnishings. "Not too much to look at, but the bed is comfortable. There is a common bathroom down the hall to the right. Given what we do here, I hope that you are not nervous about the arrangements. I take it that you and Talia are together and will only need the one room? Thank you for staying on." She licks her lips. "Look, I can only offer you the room and board plus 50Y a day to start. If you work out and want to stay, we can talk about a raise. Is that alright?"
There were closets bigger than the room Willow showed him. In fact, Sevras' walk in closet was bigger. Annex did not seem disappointed by what he saw or thankful for having a room over his head. His reaction was neutral. Blue eyes quickly skimmed it over weighing the pros and cons as tactical advantages and disadvantages as well as the relation it was likely to have with his mark, Willow. Size, amenities, and aesthetics meant little by comparison. After his initial inspection of the room Annex walked over to the bed and lowered the two bags he carried to the floor. With a push of his booted foot he slid the duffels under the bed one at a time. He pause there, at the bed side, and turned to look at Willow as she continued to talk. He listened politely until she finished, but was already thinking to the future.

"The one room is enough as is the pay. There are some things I would like to discuss with you. But that can wait until after closing, or tomorrow morning. Whichever is more convenient for you."

With that said Annex paced his way the short distance back to the door and stood with a hand on the knob, ready to close it up and move on to the next order of business.

"If there is nothing else, I am going to do a walk around the building to get a feel for the place before we open."
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