"Hey, Yusei! Let's go shopping!"
Yusei stared down at the phone in his hand as though suspecting it of malfunctioning. "Shopping?"
"Yeah, you know," Carly's voice replied. "That thing where you go out and buy stuff?"
Yusei continued to frown at the phone, wondering just what Carly was up to. He knew her primarily through her attachment to Jack ﾖ he wasn't sure that he'd said more than fifty words to her the entire time he'd known her. He certainly couldn't imagine why she was asking him to go shopping with her. He didn't mind doing the shopping, when it needed to be done, but it wasn't something he did for entertainment. He had ominous visions of being dragged to the mall and forced to renovate his wardrobe. He shook his head. Carly had never seemed any more interested in clothes than he did, which brought him back to wondering just what she did want.
"I know what shopping is," said Yusei. "I just don't see why you're asking me. Wouldn't you rather go with one of your other friends?"
"No, it needs to be you," she insisted. "You're the only one I know who's good with computers."
Ah, he thought, she's going computer shopping.
"Do you need me to help you pick one out?" he asked.
"No," she said, as if she thought he was missing the point on purpose. "I can figure that out myself. I need you to help me troll the salesmen."
Yusei started frowning again. "I'm not going to do anything unethical." Carly, he had noticed, was not always terribly interested in following the rules, particularly if they were getting between her and a story. That was probably one of the reasons why Jack put up with her; he had never been much of a rule-follower either. Yusei, on the other hand, aside from being naturally law-abiding, was now officially a government employee, and felt certain standards of behavior were expected of him.
"Don't worry. It'll be fine," she said. "You'll have fun. Besides, you need to get out more. Ever since the other guys moved out, you barely do anything but work and sleep."
"I go out sometimes," Yusei protested. It sounded weak, even to him.
"The last time you went out," Carly replied, "it was at an all-night waffle house, with a bunch of guys from your lab, because the building was closed for the night and you wanted to keep working on a project."
Yusei didn't ask how she knew that. He had learned from experience that Carly was good at collecting gossip, newsworthy or not. If he had asked, she would have said something like, "Well, I know this guy whose best friend's cousin's sister's hairdresser's niece works at the Waffle Shop, andﾅ" It usually wasn't worth the effort of trying to understand.
"All right, you win," he said. "Should I meet you somewhere?"
"I'll pick you up," she replied. "Your D-wheel is too recognizable."
"I have a bad feeling about this," said Yusei, but she'd already hung up.
A few minutes later, her little yellow car pulled up outside his garage. He slid into the passenger seat, and she immediately dumped a pile of things into his lap.
"Here," she said. "You'll need these."
"What's all this?" he asked. He seemed to be looking at a comb, a pair of dark glasses, a two different kinds of concealing makeup, a hat, and a bottle of hair mousse.
"Your disguise," said Carly. "You're too recognizable. I mean, these guys are pretty dumb, but they're not so dumb they wouldn't notice a national hero if he walked into the store. You should at least cover up your mark.
A disguise? Well, it wouldn't be the first time. He supposed he should have expected as much from one of Carly's bright ideas. He set about daubing makeup over his telltale criminal mark and slicking his hair back so that he could hide his distinctive blond streaks under the slouchy hat she'd provided for him. When they reached their destination, Carly looked him over and gave him a thumbs-up.
"Not bad," she said. "Now you look more like a beatnik poet than a D-Wheel racer."
"Thanks, I think," said Yusei.
He got out of the car and looked around. They were standing outside of a chain electronics store, not one that he had ever frequented. He preferred to set up his computer himself to his own specifications rather than buy one factory-made.
"So what exactly are we doing here?" he asked.
"I'm doing a story," she said, though Yusei had assumed that it went without saying. "This store has been making a big deal out of what great tech support it has for its systems and how highly trained its staff is, but everyone I talk to says they don't know a mouse from a modem. So I figured since I wanted a new laptop anyway, I'd come in and do some investigating at the same time."
"Why would you buy a computer here if you know they have bad service?" Yusei asked.
Carly gave him a smile. "Why do I need their service? I can always bring it to you, and you'll fix it for free."
Yusei had to admit she had a point.
"So here's what we're going to do," said Carly. "We're going to go in and talk to a couple of the techies in here, ask stupid questions and see what kind of answers they give. Here." She handed him a pocket recorder. "Just so we don't miss anything."
Yusei nodded and turned the recorder on before clipping it onto his belt. It was generic enough in shape and size that anyone seeing it would probably assume that it was an MP3 player or possibly a cell phone. He was starting to feel some enthusiasm for this job. Aside from some professional interest in electronics, he disliked the idea of anyone misleading innocent people by making them think they were getting expert help when they weren't.
They went in. Yusei let Carly go a little ahead of him, partly so it wouldn't be so obvious that they were together, and partly so that he could watch her and see what she wanted him to do. While he pretended to browse over a rack of new-release movies at the front of the store, Carly ambled over to the aisle where the computer peripherals were displayed. After a while, a salesman caught sight of her and pounced on her with a bright smile.
"Well, hello, little lady," he said. "What can I help you with today?"
"How fast are these keyboards?" she asked. "I think my old keyboard is too slow. I want a faster keyboard."
"Well, now, that model you're looking at is one of our mid-range keyboards," said the salesman. "If you're a fast typist, you'll want a faster keyboard. As you know, if your keyboard's processing speed is too slow, it will jam up if you type too fastﾅ"
Yusei, listening in, was forced to cough a few times to cover up a burst of incredulous laughter. He moved closer to get a better view of the proceedings.
The salesman shepherded Carly over to the most expensive keyboard on the rack. "Now, this is our fastest keyboard, so if you're a fast typist, you'll definitely want this one."
"I don't know. It's pretty pricey," said Carly. She pointed at one of the less expensive models. "How about this one? Is it internet compatible?"
"No, that one is only for word processing. It isn't optimized for the internet," said the salesman. He pointed at a row of function keys across the top of the expensive model he'd been showing off. Judging by the images on the buttons, they were meant to facilitate web browsing; there was a "homepage" key and a "page forward" and "page back" button. "You see these keys? All the keyboards that are internet compatible have buttons like this. If you want to make blog posts or type in chatrooms or anything like that, you'll need one of these."
"Oh, I see, that makes sense," said Carly. "I guess I'll have to get this one, then. Thanks for your help!"
She picked up a box and bounced off with it, clutching it to her chest like a favorite stuffed animal. As soon as the salesman's back was turned, however, she dumped it behind a stack of video game consoles. Yusei drifted over to join her.
"See, wasn't that fun?" she asked.
Yusei smiled. "You're a born actress."
"Now it's your turn," she said. "Try that guy over there guarding the monitors."
Yusei nodded. He took a breath and gathered his thoughts, and then strolled over to the display Carly had pointed at. He looked at the monitors and "hmm"ed to himself until the salesman noticed him and sidled over.
"Looking for something in particular?" he asked.
"I'm not sure," said Yusei. "How much memory do these monitors come with?"
"Well, I'll show you how to tell," said the salesman. "You see these numbers here?" He pointed at the tag that showed the screen's measurements. "This one says sixteen, so it's got sixteen units of memory. Now, this big one over here has room for a lot more memory, so it has twenty-seven units."
"I see. That's easy to remember," said Yusei. "Do they come with sound, too?"
"Sound is an available option," the salesman assured him. "None of them come preloaded, but they're all compatible with sound capability."
"You don't say," said Yusei, forcing himself to keep a straight face. "I notice some of them have different pictures on them." He waved at a display that was showing assorted generic wallpapers. "Do they come with the pictures preloaded, or are those extra too?"
"Oh, yes, they come with a few dozen backgrounds already preloaded," said the salesman enthusiastically. "Here, I'll show you."
Yusei watched as the salesman walked over to one of the computer displays and showed him how to change the wallpaper.
"Thank you," said Yusei. "That's good to know."
"If you need any more help, just ask," said the salesman. "Computers can be confusing if you're not used to them, so don't be afraid to ask questions!"
If that wasn't a perfect closing line, Yusei didn't know what was. He murmured a polite response and went to find Carly. She had apparently given up salesman-baiting for the time being and was browsing through the laptop offerings.
"What do you think of this one?" she said.
Yusei studied the specs. "Not bad, but if you're planning on doing anything graphics-intensive, I'd look for one with better processing power."
"No good, then. I want one for editing 3D video," she said. "Maybe if I got this one over here and added some extra memory... or I could buy an external hard drive."
"I'd be happy to install another memory card for you, if you want," Yusei offered.
"Nah, that's okay. Memory cards are easy. I've done that before."
Yusei felt his respect for her increasing. "When did you learn to do that?"
"The first time I filled my hard drive with video I'd taken and didn't want to delete everything," she replied. "I looked up how to do it on the internet. I mean, I'm not in your league, but I can usually figure out how to get tech stuff to work."
Yusei smiled. "Maybe you should ask them to give you a job here."
"Nah," she said, shaking her head, "I clearly don't know enough about computers. I mean, I don't even know how to figure out what a keyboard's speed is."
"Having problems?" A new salesman had just appeared, and apparently caught the last bit of their conversation.
Carly gave him an I-have-no-clue smile and said, "Oh, you'd better talk to him. He's the one who understands all this technical stuff."
Yusei took this to mean, "Hey, Yusei, deal with this idiot so I can figure out which laptop I want in peace."
"Yes, I'm looking for a laptop," he said. He decided that he might as well give the staff a chance to prove themselves. Maybe they could give real answers if the questions they were getting weren't complete nonsense. "Can you tell me which one would be best for someone who does a lot of work with graphics and video?"
"Oh, are you an artist?" asked the salesman. "Well, let me show you what I've got. Now, if you're going to be storing a lot of video on your hard drive, you're going to want one with a lot of memory."
Yusei wondered if they had finally found someone on the staff who knew what he was talking about.
"Now, memory comes in three sizes. You've got your megabytes, your gigabytes, and your terabytes," the man continued. "The megabytes are biggest ﾖ you can tell because they're mega."
Or maybe not.
"The other thing to pay attention to is RAM," the man went on. "They call it RAM because it rams into the drive and makes it go slower. This one here has the least amount of RAM and the most megabytes, so it's a good laptop."
"Then why does it cost less than this one here?" Yusei asked, indicating a top-of-the-line model.
"Oh, well, that one there is for specialists. We don't sell a lot of them, so we have to charge more," said the salesman. "But this one here is so popular that we can charge less for it and make it up in volume. It's a great deal!"
"Mm-hm," said Yusei. "Well, I'll certainly consider it."
"Okay!" said Carly. "I've made up my mind! We can go now."
She carried her new laptop and a few peripherals she'd decided she needed up to the front, where she was met by a smiling cashier.
"Did you find everything you needed today, ma'am?" she asked.
"Oh, sure," she said. "And the staff was so helpful, too! They told me everything I needed to know."
"Well, that's just great! I'm glad to hear it," the cashier gushed. "And you're buying such a great machine, too. It's one of our best sellers ﾖ everyone really loves it. It's so fast and reliable. You won't be sorry you picked it out."
She continued to babble in this vein while ringing everything up. Just as Carly was fishing out her credit card, the cashier paused and glanced at her.
"Did you want to pay for a two-year warranty?" she asked.
"Do you think I need one?" Carly asked innocently.
"It would be a very good idea," said the cashier seriously. "Sometimes those laptops can fail without warning. Sometimes they're even dead right out of the box. You really should get a warranty, just to be safe. It's only a little bit extra, see?"
She pointed at a bright yellow sign on the wall, advertising their two-year warranty. The cost did not look like "a little bit" to Yusei.
"Didn't you just get done telling me," said Carly, "that this was a great buy, and it was really fast and reliable, and I wouldn't be sorry I bought it? And now you're telling me it's going to die and I need a warranty?"
The cashier flushed and hurriedly finished ringing up the sale. "Have a nice day, ma'am."
Carly bounded out of the building, cheerfully swinging her bag of goodies and with the laptop box tucked under one arm.
"Hee, that was fun!" she enthused, as she collected his recorder from him.
"It was sort of fun," Yusei agreed, smiling. "Thanks for inviting me."
"Any time!" she said. "And hey, I'll call you if it turns out this laptop is as bad as the sales staff."
"Be glad to help," Yusei told her.
She dropped him off at his garage, and he waved goodbye as she rocketed off again, no doubt to set up her new toys and type up her story in whatever order seemed most urgent. He went upstairs to wash the makeup off his face and try to put his hair back the way it belonged. Carly had forgotten to take back the hat and sunglasses; he thought he might keep them as souvenirs.
He was still drying himself off when the phone rang again. Assuming it was Carly with a report on the status of her laptop, he answered with, "Is everything working?"
"Hello to you too," said a sarcastic voice.
"Oh, it's you," said Yusei. "Hello, Jack. I thought you were someone else."
"Hmph. As if I could be mistaken for anyone else," said Jack. "Listen, one of my pit crew has a question about one of the modifications you made to the Wheel of Fortune. He wants to know if you'd send him the specs for it."
"No problem," said Yusei. "Just give me his email address and I'll send it today."
Jack gave him the address, and he dutifully noted it down.
"So what else have you been up to?" Jack asked, and Yusei smiled. Clearly the question about D-Wheel modifications had been an excuse; why else had he not just given his crew member Yusei's email himself?
"Not much," said Yusei. "I went out with Carly today."
"You went out with Carly?" asked Jack, a note of danger in his voice.
"Not like that," said Yusei hastily. "We went shopping. For a laptop. She wanted a new laptop and asked me to help her pick one out."
"Uh-huh," said Jack, not entirely mollified.
"You don't need to be jealous," said Yusei.
"I'm not jealous," said Jack.
"Good," said Yusei, "because I promised I'd go over and help her later if she needs help setting up the laptop."
"You will not," Jack grumbled. "If she needs any help, she can call the damned tech support!"
Jack had no idea why Yusei burst out laughing.