By Thomas Michael Edwards and Michael Surbrook
(Late 2033)

/** Unless otherwise noted, all dialogs are in Japanese **/

Having called ahead to make sure that there were vacancies, the trio decided that they would walk to the Mandarin Towers. Since they were going to be toting their luggage as well, although Kei was doing most of that, they also decided to wear more casual clothing, although less formal would be a better description in the case of Rika and Yuuzo.

[Hong Kong :: Mandarin Towers (the next day)]

"Ok, this looks like the place," noted Yuuzo.

"Finally. My feet are killing me," complained Rika, rubbing one of her ankles. "It's a good thing you called ahead this morning and made sure there were apartments available, I don't think I could take walking someplace else."

"Complaints, complaints. I don't see you carrying most of the luggage, now do I," remarked Kei.

"It's not my fault that you're a natural porter."

"Humph. I'll porter you," Kei muttered.

"What was that?"

"Nothing, nothing at all. C'mon, let's get inside," said Kei, glancing at the sky, "it looks like it's getting ready to rain."

The trio walked into the Mandarin Towers building and, after a short bit of searching, found the manager's office.

"Hmm, the office is closed," said Yuuzo, before noticing a message plaque next to the door, "Ah wait, there's a message. It seems that Ms. Ferrari is out on a call and will be back shortly. Oh well, I guess we wait then."

Taking seats in the small waiting area next to the office, the trio settled in to wait for the managers arrival.

"It looks like a nice enough place," noted Yuuzo. "It's also convenient that they have stores on the lower levels as well."

"You're right, and that will make it easier to keep out of sight too," said Rika.

"I just hope they have some exercise rooms, a weight room would be nice too," commented Kei.

Rika chuckled, shaking her head.

"What? What's wrong with that?"

"Did I say anything?"

"No, but you were thinking something."

Trying to look as innocent as possible, Rika said, "I don't know what you mean."

"Uh huh. Sure you don't."

"Well, there's something you don't see every day," interjected Yuuzo, looking down the hallway.

Looking to see what Yuuzo was referring to, Kei and Rika saw what appeared to be a fairly attractive woman dressed in a business suit headed their way. This fact, in and of itself, would likely be unremarkable if not for the woman's unusual skin tone. Most humans don't come in pale blue.

/** Dialogs change to English, with a bit of Nihongo flavoring **/

The blue woman stopped as she entered the waiting area and gave the trio an appraising once over. "Can I help you?" she asked in Australian-accented English.

Yuuzo looked surprised. He opened his mouth to say something, but closed it again after floundering for a second. He tried again, "Uh... Ms. Ferrari? Ms. Sarah Ferrari, the building manager?"

There was a moment of silence in which Sarah seemed to digest Yuuzo's attempted greeting. Then she stood up straight and almost visibly switched into "dealing with tenants mode." "Yes, I'm Sarah J Ferrari, manager of Mandarin Towers. Are you Yuuzo Tongou?"

"Uh, yes." Regaining a bit of his equilibrium, Yuuzo continued more surely, "Yes, I am."

Rika, having noticed Yuuzo's slip and Sarah's reaction, pleaded to whatever gods were listening, (Oh gods, please don't let Kei have noticed that. And, please, please don't let Ms. Ferrari be too offended, we certainly don't need a vengeful landlord, on top of everything else.) Unfortunately, at least on the first plea, the gods were obviously not listening. When she glanced out the corner of her eye at Kei, she noticed that her sister was giving Yuuzo a glare that made her glad that looks couldn't actually kill, or even maim severely.

Kei was not a happy camper. (Obviously, Yuuzo and I need to have another little 'talk' about this.)

Sarah opened to the door to her office. "Please come in and have a seat. I'm sorry I wasn't here when you arrived, but I was getting an apartment ready to show you."

Business instincts overriding his initial surprise and lingering doubts, he regained the last of his equilibrium. "Oh. Not at all. We certainly understand that your time must be limited, no need for apologies," he smoothed, while gesturing for Rika and Kei to proceed him.

As she passed, him Kei 'accidentally' kicked Yuuzo in the shin. "Oh! I'm so sorry, Yuuzo-dono. I am such a klutz sometimes. Please, forgive me," Kei said, brushing past him into the office.

Settling herself down behind a desk, Sarah flipped up a panel, revealing a recessed keyboard, and started typing. Raising one hand, she turned the flatscreen monitor around to face Kei and her family. "We have several floorplans here at the Towers," she explained. "As requested I have prepared a three-bedroom layout for your inspection." Diagrams flashed across the screen as Sarah brought up different apartment plans for the trio to look over. "We can go up at any time, if you wish."

After considering for a moment, Yuuzo replied, "Yes, before making a final decision that would be wise. For right now, however, I think we should talk about the particulars of the contractual agreements, such as pricing, included amenities, regulations, and the like."

(Bah! Why bother,) Kei thought. (It's lot like we have much of a choice or anything. Just ask her how much and pay the woman already.)

Turning back to her computer, Sarah typed in some commands. "A three-bedroom starts at two thousand Hong Kong dollars a month. That includes a full-size kitchen, full-size washer and dryer, two baths, and all basic utilities." She glanced up. "Digitial connections are extra."

Thinking for a second, Yuuzo brightened. "That sounds very reasonable. Are the digital connections provided by the building, and, if so, how much are they?"

Sarah did some more typing. "All apartments are pre-wired, activation depends on the individual resident." Glancing up from the screen she looked at Yuuzo. "Rates depend on the exact service, so you need to contact the provider. The number is in your new resident brochure. Typically, a digital connection is forty to sixty Hong Kong dollars a month."

"Alright." Turning to Rika and Kei, "Do either of you have any questions?"

"Not really, everything I could think of has been covered. I would like to see the unit before we complete the deal, however," Rika said. Turning to Sarah and giving her a small nod, "Especially since Ms. Ferrari went to all the trouble of preparing it for our inspection." Turning to her sister, "Kei?"

Smiling at Sarah, "Alright, I just have a few questions. What kind of security does this place have? And, does the building have exercise rooms of any sort?"

"Security?" Sarah seemed to be slightly surprised by the question. "We have the standard hotel setup. Entry into the residential section is by passcard. Entry into individual apartments is by passcard. There are four domestic-class replicated humans on the staff, as well as two dozen domestic-class cybernetic workers. All are capable of basic security operations if needed." She paused and raised on eyebrow as she looked at Kei. "We do not usually need such measures, this isn't a UNA Zero Zone."

Chuckling slightly at Sarah's response, Kei raised her hands in mock- surrender. "Please, I meant no offense. Crime does happen outside of the UNA's infamous Zones after all. We're new to the area and don't know what the local crime rates are like, so I was just wondering. Your answer has been most helpful." Leaning forward slightly, "Now, about my other question. Does the building sport any exercise facilities?"

"Yes," Sarah pointed to a simple schematic on the monitor screen. "There is a gym on the sixth floor, specifically for use of tenants."

"That does it for me. Unless you two come up with something after we look at the apartment, I see no reason not to take it."

"Alright." Yuuzo turned to look at Sarah, "Well then, shall we have a look at the unit you've prepared for us, Ms. Ferrari?"

"Of course." Pushing back from her desk, Sarah stood up and gestured to the door. "If you will follow me."

[Hong Kong :: Mandarin Towers (a few hours later)]

After viewing the apartment and closing the deal with Sarah back in her office, the trio gathered their luggage and made their way to their new apartment. As they entered their new apartment, Kei, who was still carrying most of their luggage, set her load down in the living room.

"Alright, we're here. I think you two can handle your stuff from here on," said Kei, as she unburdened herself of their luggage before plopping down on the floor. "We really need to go get some furniture today, before it gets too late. At least some futons or something, I hate sleeping on the floor."

"True, we do need bedding." After considering for a moment, Rika continued, "We're also going to need some chairs, tables, perhaps a sofa or two, lamps, and basic appliances at a minimum."

"Well, time's wasting then. Let's go," said Yuuzo as he turned and headed for the door.

"Wait, Yuuzo-dono. I'd like to have a word with you before we go," intoned Kei.

(Damn, I was hoping to avoid this for now,) thought Yuuzo.

"Kei, please," begged Rika. "Ms. Ferrari's... status was unexpected. I was surprised by it at first too."

"What 'status' would that be?" Rei asked testily.

"You know perfectly well what I mean." Rika shot back.

"Yes. Yes I do, and you know damn well why I'm just a bit unhappy at the moment."

Rika started to say something more, but stopped and looked at Yuuzo.

Walking back into the living room, Yuuzo tried to placate his sister-in-law, "Kei, I'm sorry. The manager being a synth just took me by surprise. I wasn't trying to insult her. You saw that."

After glaring at Yuuzo for a few moments, Kei replied, "I know, and that's the only reason I'm not kicking your ass right now. Oh, and 'the manager' has a name you know."

Yuuzo sighed. "Yes, I know Ms. Ferrari has a name, but she is the building manager as well. It's perfectly reasonable to call her 'the manager', quit being so paranoid."

"Ok, maybe I am a bit sensitive at the moment, but you know why I am. Do you know how embarrassed that made me, how it made me feel?"

"Yes, and I'm sorry. I don't know what else to say. You know I didn't insult her on purpose, I was just surprised. She's the manager for an entire apartment complex, that's not exactly a common thing for synths to be doing you know."

"Alright, alright. I get the point." Kei said wearily. "Just, watch it."

"I try to, I really do. It's just hard to change years of thinking."

"Yeah, I know." Unable to remain angry at Yuuzo, Kei sighed dramatically. "Alright, you're forgiven."

Deciding to steer the conversation towards anything else, Rika said, "Well, why don't we go look for some furnishings. We can grab some groceries while we're at it too."

Sensing that her sister was trying to lighten the mood, Kei took the hint. Flipping to her feet, she walked to the door and looked back at her family with a grin on her face. "Ok. We're here because we needed a brand new start, right? So let's get cracking," she said, finishing with a flourish.

Rika and Yuuzo could only shake their heads and smile at Kei's mercurial tour de force. With that, the trio left their new apartment to begin their brand new start.

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