"One Gusto!" Akira thumped the glass down on the table. "Don't spend too much time here, we're busy today and need your table."
"Ah, thank you." The guy she was serving adjusted his glasses and leaned forward to examine the drink. "I have been looking forward to this."
"Eh?" The customers in Akane-chin didn't really look forward to Akira's drink but that was okay. Health drinks weren't supposed to taste good if they were good for you. Everyone knew that.
"I'd heard rumors about your creation. It has gained a certain amount of notoriety for its unusual taste." He grinned suddenly. "I have an interest in unusual tastes."
"Whatever." Akira rolled her eyes. "It's a drink. Drink it already."
The guy raised the glass and nodded at her. "Cheers." He drank half of it in one smooth swallow. Instead of yelling or twitching and convulsing like the others, he simply lowered the glass contemplatively.
"You have some interesting ideas in this." The guy licked his lips. "But it's far from perfect. For instance, I can tell just by the taste that it has far too many calories for a health drink."
"It does not! It has a lot of protein, very healthy for a drink, lots of natto."
"Hm." He put down his glass and began to scribble something down in his open notebook. "Well, yes, protein is an important component of any health drink. But unless I'm mistaken, you also added a protein supplement along with the natto, which needlessly increases the number of calories by 28%."
Akira looked down at the open notebook. Most of what was written seemed incomprehensible, with equations and graphs and percentages. But at the top of one of the pages was written, "Akihabara -> Juice -> Possible Rival?" Beside it, the guy had just written, "Less than 5% chance."
Glaring, Akira slammed her fist on the table. "The protein supplement adds body and texture. Anyone can tell that." Her drink had just been insulted!
"Those can easily be added by other more healthy ingredients. It's a common beginner mistake, adding a heavy supplement."
Akira grabbed the guy's collar. "You think you can do better? Look at everyone!" Her other hand gestured to the Otaku choking her drink down. "It sells really well, better than anything you could do. I bet you're so into ero figurines that you've never created a drink in your life!"
He grinned at her again. "Oh really?"
Box and Taiko returned to the office from playing at one of the local video arcades to see Akira and Page standing together over a blender.
"Page!" Box shouted. "You cut your hair! And lost your scarf and got taller and got some muscles and you're not Page, are you?"
"No, I'm not," the guy who was definitely not Page said.
"This is Inui," Akira said, clapping the stranger on the shoulder.
"I'm here to help Akira-chan further develop her health drink," Inui added.
"You mean, you're here to get ideas for your own health drinks," she corrected. "We were going to have a Juice Battle but decided it would take too long and be too expensive."
"Oh, good," Taiko said, grinning. "Her drink needs a lot of improvement."
"Anything that will make it taste better is A-OK!" Box added, flashing Inui a thumbs up.
"Hm?" Inui looked up from the blender. "Oh. Yes. Improve the taste. Of course."
"Soon, the Gusto Health Juice @DEEP will be even better for you," Akira said, crossing her arms in triumph.
"You really should consider changing the name," Inui commented, his attention back on the blender. "It's not nearly dynamic enough."
Akira swatted him. "The name's fine, I told you. @DEEP's Super Otaku Power Enhancement Juice is too long to say."
"Where did you meet him, Akira? What does he do?" Inui did not strike Taiko as your typical Otaku. Most Otakus were small and shrimpy and Taiko still remembered the Akiba Hunts. He wore glasses, though, so he was probably all right.
"We met at Akane-chin," Inui said, answering before Akira. "And I am a middle school student."
"EH?" both Box and Taiko chorused. "You're a KID?"
Inui nodded. "I'm fifteen."
"No way," Taiko said, walking over and staring up at Inui. "You've got to be thirty, at least."
"Akira-likes-shota," Box coughed and he jumped back as Akira lunged at him.
"Your voice is too deep for fifteen. The Hz should be around 150 but you sound somewhere around 100." Taiko fished out his cellphone and hit the record function. "Say something, I want to analyze your voice frequency."
Akira grabbed both Box and then Taiko by the arms. "Get out of here if you're going to be annoying!"
"Remember, Akira! Dating kids is only okay in ero games! Don't get arrested!" Box shouted as they were thrown out of the office.
"And then I add some gouya and blueberries..."
"How much of each?"
"I don't know. Whatever looks like enough."
"So unscientific, Akira-chan. You must know the exact amounts or else you can't calculate the nutritional benefit accurately."
"It's called cooking by intuition, Inui-kun. I just know by instinct how much is needed to make it good."
"Instinct. Of course. Well then, what next?"
"Natto! Then an o-den can and umaibou but we can leave those out. I thought if I only included healthy things, an Otaku's body would go into shock. They need time to gradually adjust."
"That is a variable that I had never before thought to consider. Indeed, the sudden shock to the system would be a significant drawback." Inui dumped the natto into the blender. "Akira, do you play tennis?"
Frowning, Akira shook her head. "No. That's a strange question to ask suddenly."
Inui looked up from the health drink ingredients. "I asked because I play tennis. I think you would be good at it, considering your boxing experience." Inui's eyes were hidden by his glasses but Akira had the sudden feeling that he was eying her up and down in her Akane-chin uniform like a lot of the Otaku did. "You're in very good physical condition."
"Are you trying to flirt with me?" Akira demanded. "Because I'll kick your ass if you are."
"How surly." Inui smiled. "Good thing I have experience with surly people. Would you be pacified if I made you a boxing training menu?"
The members of [email protected] stared at the glasses in front of them. The main difference that could be seen in Akira's updated health drink was that it was now yellow. It still bubbled ominously though, and looked to be the same consistency of sewer sludge.
"Hey, yellow has got to taste better than gray, right?" Box hissed at Taiko.
"I'm not drinking this!" Taiko hissed back. "I might die!"
"It'll only feel like you're dying," Daruma moaned, flashing back to when Akira had poured a whole glass into his mouth. "Instead you live and live and the taste never goes away!"
"Okay, okay! Everyone, drink up!" Akira was beaming.
"A-a-kira," Page said, hoping to distract her. "W-w-w-where did t-th-that g-guy go? T-the one who h-h-helped y-you?"
"Inui? Oh, he has school tomorrow and had to leave. He has a lot of good ideas for a kid." Akira leaned both elbows on the table and smiled. "Why aren't you drinking? I worked so hard on this and so did Inui."
"Did you try this yourself?" Izumu asked, peering distrustfully into her glass.
"No, but Inui did. He said it's really improved."
"Really? You mean he didn't scream or foam at the mouth?" Box picked up his glass and raised it. "It must be better then!"
Everyone else raised their glasses. "T-t-t-to In-nu-nui! Ita-itadakimasu!" Page shouted.
As everyone tipped their drinks back, Akira added, "He thought the original was all right too. Good for a beginner, he said. He's so cocky but he didn't think of switching the protein for mustard and cauliflower did he?"
Izumu spit the drink across the table. Box clutched at his throat. Taiko lunged for a wastebasket. Daruma fell over backwards in his chair. Page's face went a pasty-gray color and he fainted.
Akira fingered the piece of paper where Inui had written his cell phone number to call if she ever wanted to collaborate again. He had drawn a little picture of a chibi with spiky hair and glasses beside it. "It's good right? I thought of asking him to come back this weekend to make another health drink."
Unfortunately, in the sudden violent scuffle, the paper with Inui's number was accidentally crumpled up and swallowed by Daruma. Also unfortunately, Inui knew where she worked and wasn't planning on waiting for Akira to call him first.