Description: Seeking a solution to a particularly small problem, Bulleta comes to an out of the way candy shop in Southtown in search of a particularly cantankerous cat. Compromises over confections are made, because this scene summary's author has an amiable addiction to alliteration.
SOME TIME AGO
'Baby'/Bonnie/'Bulleta' 'Hood' has a little problem. Very little.
For a time, it was a problem that could be solved by leaning on the kindness of endlessly generous and well-heeled friends, or constantly moving apartments. All it cost her besides good-will and rent was time with the few things-- people-- she cares about in the world, lest her little problem's big, swaggering owner come calling.
For a time, this could be accepted. Beared. Swallowed.
For a time.
"I have a little problem," she finally tells a Sector Seven voice mailbox, one day, soft and self-conscious. The number came from a board at the local Hunter's Guild hall; more direct lines of communication might've been an option, but she's going with something a little more deniable, from a secure line, because some little problems are best handled privately.
"See, I have this... bug, this awful tickle in my throat, just. Following me around, /everywhere/. For /months/-- no matter what I do, I can't /shake/ it. This horrible, nasty bug, just... swimming in my blood. And I don't know aaaaany doctors who know how to treat it, but... well. I know /you/... are a whole lot smarter than the avearge doctor, aren't you...? A-and-- and it's not like-- it isn't as if I want something for free! No, no, no, that's-- no. No, I... I think if you're willing to meet me somewhere, we-- we could definitely negotiate /something/, some agreement that works for /both/ of us...!"
"Please..." plaintively follows a beat later. "I'm at the end of my rope..."
It was probably too thick. Bulleta has had some time to consider this possibility; by and large, she has told herself that it's okay if she laid it on a little too thick, because people usually like feeling like they're in control of a situation-- especially, she figures, when those people are willing and able to go as far as to hack the NOL's database to scrub their SS bounty profile from its records. It's a bit of a flex, one that would seem to suggest a need to operate strictly on the terms its owner chooses.
It's /probably/ fine, but Kokonoe is a mystery of her own making, so it's hard to tell. Weakness and vulnerability are just as good at rendering one a target as they are at making others lower their guard.
Fine or not, the tiny Huntress is wearing a scarlet blouse patterned with a field of tiny black stars, blood-hued slacks with a slight flare, an imperial red blazer, and cardinal sandals that let her steal an extra inch or so as she approaches a candy store to meet one of the world's most wanted women. There's a ruby backpack slung over her shoulders, bulky but not bulging.
If there are metal detectors, they'll act as a bell note when she enters the store.
having an agreeable or pleasing personality; affable; amiable; sociable.
synonyms: pleasant, likable, nice, charming, congenial
"Oh, fuck off."
[B E F O R E]
This is the first thing that Kokonoe Mercury has to say when 'Baby'/Bonnie/'Bulleta' 'Hood''s saved message is first beeped into existence on her mailbox.
As in all things, she makes this declaration with an absolute dearth of enthusiasm for whatever might be waiting for her, gives her computer a bland stare for at least two seconds --
-- and then promptly wheels back around to get back to work on her current project that only passingly looks like it is a model reconstruction of the flying city-state of Zepp and is certainly for something very important and not just a way to kill time.
[THREE HOURS LATER]
Her computer's rerouted voice mail has been plaintively beeping for the better part of three hours now and the only attention Kokonoe Mercury has offered it is that initial, passing glance.
That Zepp reconstruction (to scale!) has been finished for the better part of an hour. Now, Kokonoe seems to just be scrolling through old files on a series of holographic screens running simultaneously, sandaled feet lounging laconically on her tabletop as she peruses. A lollipop rolling between her lips, she watches the persistent flash of her message indicator from the corner of her eye with a steadily growing frown. Her gold eyes roll lazily towards a file labeled 'VALENTINES.' The information there looks depressingly barren.
A few seconds pass, before Kokonoe, gracious person that she is, squeezes her eyes closed tight, pinches the bridge of her nose, and exhales a weary sigh.
"Ugh. Fine. Play message."
And so Bulleta's desperate message plays, earnest and stumbling and vulnerable.
And with every increasingly earnest and stumbling and vulnerable word that graces her ears, Kokonoe's expression just screws up a bit more with mounting annoyance.
"Jesus fish fucking Christ," she announces, to no one in particular. But then, it reaches the end.
'I... I think if you're willing to meet me somewhere, we-- we could definitely negotiate /something/, some agreement that works for /both/ of us...!'
Kokonoe pauses for a moment. She looks towards those mostly-empty files. Her head tilts. And then...
... she makes a call.
"Yeah. It's me. Yeah. Set up a meeting. Tell her to come to this location -- actually, no, wait. Make it this one. Huh? No. It's fine, I'll handle it myself. Just make sure the self-defense protocols are operable, alright? Wonderful."
Kokonoe leans back. She eyes the screen of her computer with quiet dispassion. Her lollipop taps against her lower lip.
'I'm at the end of my rope...'
"So what exciting new variety of pain in the ass are -you- going to be...?"
[N O W]
Quicksilver Candies has been in business for the better part of a decade now; a small store nestled in Southtown's business district, it's neither had great success or great tenure in its ten+ year tenure, its prices keeping its clientele relatively modest despite the quality of their confections. It has never enjoyed an intense amount of scrutiny; the business is clean, the property they manage modest. A single storefront and a basement that is, on paper, modestly-sized. Nothing overtly suspicious.
And this is the world that Bulleta enters, a world of bright pastel colors and sugary assaults on the senses. There's rows and rows of sweet delights to be found here, and the door is always open for the right clients. Even when it's closed.
Which is why Bulleta will find nothing in her way despite the store quite clearly being marked 'CLOSED' at its front. And why the metal detector still dings in delightful operation when she passes by them. If they scan for things other than metal, like biometrics and heat signatures and Metaphysical Life Force Values and anything else that might be particularly peculiar, well.
That just means they're very good metal detectors.
But, here, Bulleta is alone. It is silent, save for a saccharine earwormy song that sounds like it's being sung by a dozen shrill cats over the loudspeakers; there is no one manning the counter. No employees. No customers (because, of course, it's closed). No one. No one but Bulleta.
And so it remains, for just long enough for the young woman to wonder whether or not she's been had, before someone brushes right past her.
She's short. Her pink hair an uncaring mess. Her ears, cat-like and white-tipped. Her strange white coat billows behind her, sleeves voluminous and shaped like great cat's paws that hang off her forearms, her red pants secured tight by a lopsidedly wide black belt that dangles a chiming bell between her legs. Perfect musical accompaniment to the song being played, and the clop of sandals, as Kokonoe Mercury brushes -straight- past Bulleta --
-- and then squats comfortably in front of a long row of chocolates, rifling through them in uncaring silence as if they somehow took priority over anything else.
She'll remain like that for a little while until she speaks, her voice deep, rough, and impatient,
"You've got until I'm done here, so I recommend brevity. Oh, and the second you get into all that 'woe is me' crap? I'm out the door."
Kokonoe recommends brevity
A sugar-white crescent stretches into view.
"You're the boss~."
'Personable' is an interesting word. 'Pleasant', 'likable', 'nice', 'charming'... they're /all/ interesting words. Because they /are/ just words, really, aren't they? Just collections of sounds and symbols, their order having been mutually agreed upon. The sounds, the symbols, they form a set of ideas that've been passed down through generations; shifting contexts have altered their meaning over time's long march, but their spirit is indelible. Two people's personal definitions of 'personable', of 'nice', of 'charming' might differ slightly, but both would probably know it when they see it and respond accordingly-- whatever /that/ might mean.
Bulleta has made a career on being 'nice'. 'Personable'. 'Charming'...
It isn't printed on her trading card, exactly, but a sweet demeanor's been her lure of choice for years, and it's a habit that tends to carry into client meetings-- at least, when being 'likable' and 'congenial' and 'almost cloyingly naive' have value in a negotiation, it is. She already smiling before Kokonoe called her out despite being left alone to wander an empty store for a while. There's always - /always/ - the possibility that a private meeting with a stranger set up via voicemail and dead drop is a trap of some kind, but she smiles just the same.
Quicksilver Candies seems /so/ 'nice'. It gave off vaguely 'diverting' vibes when she learned how modest and unambitious a business it's been despite its somewhat lengthy tenure; now that she's in the 'CLOSED' store, surrounded by cruelly pitched music and aggressive pastels, it's positively 'delightful'. A variety of quality products; a cheery aesthetic; the wisdom to know better than to turn away a buck...
It was a curiously pleasant wait.
"I need you to neutralize a nanoscale tracking device, and I can pay you by murdering the shit out of something and/or someone, or tracking 'em down, or catching 'em, spying... any little errands that /you/ don't wanna do? I /can/."
"You're a busy woman," she continues, flaxen ponytail bouncing between her shoulderblades as she approaches the impatient scientist. Her voice isn't as deep - and certainly not as rough - as Kokonoe's, but there's a noticeable drop from the sympathy-seeking pitch of her message. "/Trust/ me, I get that, so I don't wanna waste your time! Now, or in the future, when you could be doing something brilliant instead of... well. What/ever/ stupid shit you'd rather not be."
Once she's beside the pink-haired woman, Bulleta leans in to join her in checking out the-- oh, no, she's just giving Kokonoe a wink while the smile gauge is dialed back to 'knowing'.
"Like listening to some girl whine about herself~. You ARE smart; it's a good thing I called /you/, huh? You can call me Bulleta."
It's like a study in opposites.
Even with a voice pitched lower than when indulging in her sympathetic appeal, Bulleta still has all the look of someone who would fit right in, in a place like this. Another saccharine sweet in a store full of them. In comparison, Kokonoe...
Kokonoe looks like she belongs in an aisle filled with Warheads dunked in Toxic Waste.
Twin tails of pink and white sway in laconic patterns behind the half-beastkin as she rummages through a selection of Godiva chocolates. Her expression is almost completely blank, her searingly gold eyes tempered by utter detachment and the lines of sleep deprivation that etch into comfortable bags beneath them; her lips tug into a thoughtful frown in contrast to the sharp edge of Bulleta's smile as she plucks up a gilded box of truffles and tilts them in her grasp with the soft chime of shifting bangles.
I need you to neutralize a nanoscale tracking device, explains Bulleta.
"Hh," exhales Kokonoe, a soft sound slipped beneath her breath. Whether to Bulleta or the chocolates is unclear, but it's not a second later that she tucks her selection back into its place on the aisle.
But for all the world, she seems focused on finding the most scintillating sweet available in the store than anything else. The observant, however, might note the slight furrow of Kokonoe's brow as Bulleta's pitch drops; the faint way her tails twitch just so as the blond woman approaches. Long fingers drift from chocolate to chocolate; fingernails tap once, twice against a box of dark chocolate ganache hearts. Her nose wrinkles, tails stiffening in disapproval behind her.
"Told those fuckers to get milk," she mutters in a voice more bitter than 100% cacao.
It is then that Bulleta leans in beside her, and it is then that Kokonoe's attention turns towards the hunter. Eyes hidden partially behind the glint of her glasses against the store's halogen lighting, she listens to Bulleta's continuing explanation. And listens. And listens.
She's still staring for a good five to ten seconds after Bulleta has finished and made her introductions with that same unshifting, unblinking, dead-eyed stare.
It's incredibly uncomfortable.
And then, finally, her lips part.
And with that, the ganache is pushed aside so the rifling can begin anew -- only this time, it's accompanied, finally, with conversation.
"Not that I don't appreciate how much effort you're putting into it," begins the Darkstalker hybrid, with a deadpan that would take decades of dealing with Too Much Shit to master, "but you can pull your face out of my ass for the moment. My self-esteem levels are pretty good as is, but if I ever need you to gently whisper sweet nothings about how brilliant I am into it, I'll let you know."
The Sector Seven scientist leans on the heels of her feet as those last words escape her. Seemingly disinterested eyes roll down towards one of those thick bracelets, tapping away at something on it briefly; her gaze turns back toward Bulleta not a second later.
"... And you know what the fuck you're doing, too, or else neither of us would be here."
With that, her attention returns to her candy conundrum. She turns takes hold of an assorted box of chocolates, talking as she skims the back of the box for flavors.
"Hunter, mostly specializes in monsters, Darkstalkers, that sort of thing. Yeah?" If she seems offended or upset by the possibility that Bulleta might hunt down people who are ostensibly her kind, she doesn't show it; she just continues on, blithe as ever.
"What d'you know about Gears?"
"As long as you appreciate it," Bulleta deadpans in turn, still smiling.
Five to ten seconds later, she's still smiling. Bubbling cheer still sparkles in bright, blue eyes while calculations roll behind them.
Still peering into brilliant, lifeless depths while she awaits judgement. Because she's supposed to be 'nice', but more important than that: Kokonoe is smart; Kokonoe seems impatient; Kokonoe doesn't need flattering, implicitly or explicitly. Kokonoe's a grapefruit drop injected with lemon gel and has much better things to do than trade favors while cursing negligent front-managers. It'd be so much /easier/ if none of these things were true, but easy is only worth so much. Easy isn't nearly as much /fun/ as the opposite. Calling a number and trusting Sector Seven to have /some/ problem worth the trouble of solving /hers/, that was easy. Skipping past bullshit so that reputations and skillsets can carry the conversation, also easy.
Figuring out what Kokonoe Mercury wants - how to make a brilliant professional who's mostly here for an errand /like/ her, if only a little - is something else entirely. The other stuff could've been done /without/ spending a few hours on the train from her latest hidey hole, but a chance to observe the NOL's phantom bounty makes the trip worthwhile and then some.
How else would she have learned how /particular/ the half-beastkin is about her confections? Truffles and ganache hearts, out; dark chocolate, probably out (though, maybe the problem's more that those fuckers didn't /also/ get milk? More samples might be needed); almond-rolled, out; cayenne-kissed nonpareils, out; cherry cordials; dipped peppermint discs; fruit creme-filleds... Bulleta is a /very/ observant woman. Just about every tap, tug, and tail-stiffening moment of indecision was tracked and considered before sunlit voids required her attention.
"And as long as you know that we're on the same page; time..." she briskly traces horizontal parallels into the air with a finger as Kokonoe looks up from her wrist, "... money."
/Now/, /finally/, her gaze wavers as she and her smile wander away from Kokonoe. She - maybe? it's hard to tell, despite observational powers - hasn't had as much time as Kokonoe to develop a Too Much Shit shell, but spending the better part of her life around monsters, Darkstalkers, and that sort of thing has done wonders to inure her to uncomfortable and/or creepy stares.
"Shady, UN member-funded bioweapon project," she says over the soft *klak* of kitten heels on tile. Ostensibly, she's exploring the store in depth, absorbing its dizzying sensory buffet while her host is occupied with more important matters.
Exploring the store she already spent time waiting in, enough time to really /think/ about what kind of meeting she might be in for.
"Living weapons, half-human, half-... /whatever/; all chi manipulation."
Enough to make her wandering look good and properly aimless while she surrepitously studies Kokonoe, never quite moving far enough down any aisle or around any corners to risk losing sight of the catwoman.
Enough for distant taps, tugs, and stiffening tails to keep feeding her data. The little gel-filled section might-- oh, nope. Maybe that import display festooned with American flags...? Hm. Maybe not...
"Fuji was a nice little windfall," what with Dizzy unleashing her cataclysmic power and shattering the seals that kept certain monsters safely bound from the world, "but the bitch herself's in hiding."
Not enough to map out the entire store and its contents, sure, but enough to drift towards a specialty section while Kokonoe continues to peruse.
"Still a lotta leftovers from that whole mess, but there's a tendency towards shyness, when it comes to slapping bounties on 'em. The obviously dangerous ones, sure, but we don't get a lotta general capture, extract, whatever orders. Probably because they're only so generic, right? You /know/ what a lamia's thyroid is good for, but..."
As she trails, Bulleta risks letting vital intel pass her by for a couple of seconds when she steals a glance at the shelves before her.
"Plus, there's the 'half-person' thing? People - other, contract-writing people - can be reaaaal pussies about this stuff before they get the habit down. Not /so/ bad, though: we're definitely not so hard up that I /mind/ mostly sweating the dangerous ones."
Salmon chews'd read as sarcastic, wouldn't they? And not the good kind, either; the kind you find huffing about the historical norms of the Kusanagi clan, twenty-five comments below an article announcing the 'Twin Flames' film series' first female lead.
"Otherwise? Nothing. D'you need someone bagged, for..." The last word comes with a step and turn away from the shelf, so she's more obviously facing Kokonoe as she mimes sticking the air with a syringe. No more smile, by then; just lips lightly pursed in consideration. "Tailed? Liquidated...?" Gingerly, she leans back against store shelves and folds her arms, taking the opportunity to study the pink and white-haired woman openly while she has it.
"How long did it take you, anyway?" Time is money, so why waste it beating around the bush? It isn't like /Kokonoe's/ worried about formalities; maybe she'll appreciate the efficiency.
"Erasing yourself from the database."
Whether the story of /why/ Kokonoe was on the bounty list is one that'd be known in the shadow world they occupy or not, the outcome is the stuff of legend.
"You /are/ Kokonoe Mercury, right?"
What does Kokonoe Mercury want?
It's a question with no clear answer, not the least of which because there are so many possibilities. In the broader sense, what she wants is very simple, if complicated by a host of issues. If it's in terms of ideals, well... that's more of a question of whether she even has those or not. If it's a matter of her immediate wants --
Well, 'what unhealthy thing Kokonoe wants to glut herself on' seems to be as big a mystery as any other that surround her at the moment.
This seems to be her most pressing desire at the moment, even as she poses what would seem, at a glance, to be a leading question to the hunter in red occupying her same general space. Positioned in a sprightly if lackadaisical crouch, the catwoman thumbs through a selection of candy barks with a bland-eyed stare. The left corner of her lips tugs out into a thinning line, puffing her cheek just slightly to accompany the hood of her burningly gold gaze.
There is a lot to tell about Kokonoe's tastes, at least for this immediate moment, for whatever mood she happens to be in -- and for the observant, her current tastes in sweets might tell much about the woman herself... for whatever mood she happens to be in. And one thing that can be easily discerned is: she's picky. Extremely picky. Or maybe she has high standards. Or maybe she's just feeling like putting forth effort today rather than just shoveling anything into her mouth. It could say quite a bit about how she's approaching this meeting, too.
Keen observation skills like Bulleta's are essential, in situations like these.
"Mm," is just about the only thing Kokonoe voices for the longest time, inserted in an apathetically unobtrusive way at the end of Bulleta's observation on time and money. Her tails swish back and forth in a slightly sharp pattern as she shoves that bark back into place (that it's not where it's actually supposed to be makes no nevermind to her). Her hands flop listlessly between her thighs, limp as dead fish as those tired-looking eyes squeeze shut for an impassive, pensive moment during Bulleta's assessment of Gears.
"Eh," she decides, generously,
Whether she means what Bulleta knows of Gears, or what she herself needs from Bulleta, is another one of those questions that just remains discomfortingly open for the time being.
"That one," she continues on, referring, presumably, to the hiding Dizzy, "is too much of a pain in my ass to bother with. Besides, there's a contingent of idiots we need to make nice with that think she's so pure she farts daffodil-scented rainbows to a chorus of trumpeting angels,"
she pauses here for barely a second, the perfect amount of time to let the visual sink in,
"so she's officially not my problem."
Otherwise, though, the pink-haired young (?????) woman seems content to continue to peruse, scuttling backward a few hopping steps to take a better look at the selection further down and just looking increasingly unimpressed. Maybe she's looking for something specific. Or maybe she's not sure -what- she wants but none of these options are inspiring her. The type that just can't be pleased until they find that one, perfect option that is never, ever the same thing as it was the day before.
Because complacency is death.
A fact that, perhaps, drives home when Bulleta poses that question. -That-, that causes her to pause. That causes her to abandon her work for a moment to look at Bulleta once again, really look at her with squinted, scrutinizing slits of gold. That...
... that makes her smile.
It's a smile that only tugs at one corner of her lip. The kind that comes as involuntarily as a blink and disappears just as fast; one of those uncomfortably enigmatic smiles that is so dry and accompanied by such a poker face it could just as easily mean she's impressed as it could that she's plotting something ~ u n p l e a s a n t ~.
One way or another, though --
Bulleta's left a solid impression.
"Dunno," comes her answer, moments later, as her palms plant into her knees. "About as long as it took me to figure out what you're packing today, I guess. The ribbon is a nice touch." It's an answer that reveals as much as it obfuscates, at least; Kokonoe reveals one hand as much as she keeps the other close to the vest. Resourceful. They both are. Which is why Kokonoe is here, personally, on what would, by her behavior, seem like an errand beneath her time.
And why she lifts off her feet not seconds later, to make her way towards the aisle Bulleta is currently perusing, as she finally gets down to business.
"Okay, here's the deal, and none of this is negotiable," she begins, in that sympathetic way of hers; she pauses briefly to grab some sour hard candies, make a face, and then toss them aside.
"You tell me exactly what it is you're dealing with. The tracker, how you got it, who installed it, why, when, where -- everything. I figure out you've left out any details and we're gonna have problems. If I decide after hearing all that it's not worth my time, you leave, and you don't come back to try and find me, or again, we're gonna have problems."
As she speaks, Kokonoe makes her way to the sales counter, apparently having given up her hunt for the moment having yet to find anything that will satisfy her. She leans back into the countertop behind her, right hand tucking into the back pocket of her pants as she turns that ever-flat, ever-tired stare Bulleta's way. "If it's interesting, though..."
And nanotrackers that she's not responsible for -do- sound interesting, something she's not at all intent on voicing aloud --
"... then we can go over what I'm gonna need from you. You decide it's not your style of shit sandwich, you can leave, again, no questions or complaints from me. Otherwise?" Her head cocks. She watches Bulleta with that ambivalent stare, tinged with just an edge of curiosity. Like a treat for the observant.
"We can talk."
Bulleta can work with picky.
Bulleta can even respect picky.
But picky does mean more time 'exploring', more time 'drifting' and watching what feels an awful lot like a ritual. How often does Kokonoe come to this or one of the other 'nice' candy stores running under the radar for Sector Seven's benefit, pick at stock, and gripe? With or without finding another errand to roll it in with. As questions about Kokonoe go, it's not the most /important/ - it doesn't rate with the one shes she lets slip, not to mention the other, deeper queries about /who/ the woman with cold, brilliant eyes before her is... but alongside 'what does Kokonoe want [to shove into her mouth]', it's one of the few with an array of discernable tells.
Because Bulleta can work with, respect picky... but a poker face like Ms. Mercury's makes it /hard/. The search tells her that the other woman is exacting, that whatever she wants, she /wants/, exactly the way /she/ wants it; that doing things 'right' is less important than /doing/ them, even if a thing or two winds up out of place.
As long as she gets what she wants.
Whatever /that/ is.
Graciously, Kokonoe gives her the gift of another insight after the Gear overview: the woman's mouth and humor are filthy. This tells her next to nothing about what Kokonoe wants, but her smirking, softly snorted, "Ha," after the perfect amount of time is pretty real. That they have /something/ in common besides being able to look each other roughly eye-to-eye is a small relief, because it brings her a step closer to cracking the code to make the demihuman like her-- or, at the least, to make her not 'nothing' her.
The shelf she's leaning against rattles and sheds when Kokonoe gives Bulleta /another/ gift which straightens her spine. It might look strange to even an observant third-party: Bulleta's a tiny thing, yet a brush from that backpack at the wrong angle is enough to send scorpions suspended in loud green candy shells; a selection of vintage look-a-likes; and several colorful boxes of Jawbreakdowns bouncing and spinning across the floor.
Every one of the boxes lets out a muffled cacophony: Jawbreakdowns are dense, hard, and nominally flavorful, but most important of all, the tiny ball of technology built into each ball pumps music into the air around whoever's enjoying it.
Every layer is a different song.
They /might/ have earned a glimpse, but for two things: Kokonoe's /already/ got to spend part of her day listening to someone she may or may not care to hear from;
and one way or another, Bulleta's calculatedly brazen question has made an ~impression~. Whatever kind it is, the Huntress echoes the smile, if not the full weight of its mysterious promise. Unlike Kokonoe, she /wants/ to project /something/, if not necessarily what going on between her ears. Echoes it even after Kokonoe makes an impression of her own, casual as anything-- even as her mind spins up an all-new, all-self-focused set of questions. Her next breath's stiff as she reaches back to graze the silk ribbon dangling from her ponytail; besides its flowing mixture of deep red and black whorls, its payload of smoke and noise micropellets makes it the perfect accessory to today's outfit.
"The ribbon /is/ a nice touch," she agrees through her constructed smile, "but the backpack's my favorite~. They're /both/ rainy day gear, though; you never really know what to expect, walking into a strange candy store."
Bulleta takes a moment to exhale while Kokonoe heads for the counter. Once it passes, she settles the smile into something more subdued. Whichever fucker forgot the milk can worry about cleaning up her mess; she's more interested in strolling after the demihuman and hooking her thumbs in the backpack's straps--
-- and in gripping them /tightly/ once the terms are laid out.
"-- ah," she exhales. Her grip loosens but is not relinquished. "Yeah." Like smoke in a bird cage, the smile's gone almost as soon as it was sealed into place.
"So." Being called out twice brought her down to a natural timber with just a few hints of subdued emotion as she tried to find the other woman's level, to compliment it. She seems to have sprung a leak now that she's been called /on/, however: rage briefly creases her brow, and as it smooths-- as she /speaks/, any trace of even subdued feeling pours right out of her:
"There's a bitch named Kira Volkov. You've probably heard of her; she horned her way into the Hunter's Guild out of fucking nowhere, and... ... anyway." A sharp, brisk gesture before Bulleta draws her arms in close to her chest and halts a few feet in front of Kokonoe. "I had a job. My employer - that's the one detail I /can't/ give you, because it's /my/ rep, /my/ ass if I do - wanted me to sneak into her brand new casino." The one down by the beach, right here in Southtown. "The one with the fucking Darkstalker staff everywhere... I was supposed to case it. And I was gonna call her stupid ass out for dropping a fucking. /Building/, full of /those/, /here/, like Metro City /didn't/ happen..."
"But my partners and I got caught, way sooner than I expected. Next thing I know, I'm in a cage, there's feral werewolves in the cages next to me. No weapons..."
A breath is slowly drawn into her nostrils as her jaw clenches-- unclenches-- clenches...
"... and there's the bitch, pissy and full of herself. Posturing. Snarling. Making the kinds of threats you make to break someone like me in a place like that."
She's doing everything in her power to keep emotion out of her voice, but fire trickles into the /look/ she gives Kokonoe, to wordlessly ask whether she /must/ give more details.
"The next day," a beat later, "she told me I was working for her, because I gave her the sniffly sad-eye act, and she let me go. With a shitload of bugs in my clothes, and one in my blood."
Bulleta's chin dips and her eyes lid for a moment. At least Kokonoe left her a treat before the spotlight fell fully upon her; she's searching for it when she eventually looks up and wonders,
"Is that interesting enough?" in a stoic, almost distant voice; a world away from indulging in appeal, sympathetic or otherwise. "She's an arrogant tryhard, but her /tech/ is solid."
Candy shop owners around the world fear the coming of Kokonoe Mercury and the ruin (mess (emotional trauma)) she invariably leaves behind.
In the end, though, they can only blame themselves or God.
For allowing Kokonoe to develop a working teleporter.
Candy rattles, and falls, to the dissonant sound of what may or may not be music. Kokonoe doesn't really bother to take a look until after she's moving counterwards, gold eyes flitting briefly down to the fallen assemblage of candies and the sad jumble of music being played by those Jawbreakdowns via the wonders of science.
"Eh, nah," decides Kokonoe Mercury, who apparently does not need candy music in her life.
(At this very moment.)
Maybe she just doesn't like the music selection.
Either way, Kokonoe's path is still a straight shot that ultimately leads to her facing Bulleta, one hand ambivalently tucked into her back pocket, the other -- the other slipping inside of her strange white coat. The oversized paw-like sleeve dangling off her forearm jangles to and fro with buoyant bounces that belie Kokonoe's cantankerous charm as she fishes around -- and produces a single lollipop with blue and silver wrapping labeled 'SILVERVINE'; given the methodical, almost clinical way she goes about unwrapping and plopping the thing in her mouth, though, and the fact that she's still skimming shop aisles instead of abandoning Bulleta to her fate, odds are good this is not what she's looking for.
Though whether she'll actually -find- what she wants, that's another question entirely, one that seems increasingly unlikely the more subtly ('subtly') irritated her expression grows.
"Smart," is all she says at first, as Bulleta explains her armament. Did she compliment her? Even if it should be straightforward, it's hard to say; a voice naturally attuned to the Sarcasm Force will do that. "More space inside than outside, huh? Looking like you're straight out of a Pippi Longstocking's Best Of, I bet most people don't even think twice about what you've got in there." Her lollipop rolls to the right corner of her mouth. "'Course, use any of that in here, you'll be fucked six ways from Sunday."
It's not even a threat, really, with the ambivalent way she says it -- like it's said out of obligation. Rote. They're at the point in this conversation now that, apparently, Kokonoe seems fine discussing business without worrying about threat of violence, or really feeling the need to brandish it herself.
Maybe Bulleta can consider it headway.
Either way, the demihuman falls silent again once her ultimatum is delivered. She's patient enough, at least, to wait and see whether Bulleta will tell her tale or just leave; that she is rifling through the selections of candies at the counter while she does means that she is a very good multitasker. It's only when Bulleta actually speaks, though, that Kokonoe pauses -- and those gold eyes slide back her way.
Anger. Resentment. Kokonoe's head cants to the right as the red riding hunter stops just in front of her. Kira Volkov, she mentions. "Mm," is Kokonoe's lone reply. Her hands slide behind her, palms planted to the countertop. It's a raw display.
And Kokonoe watches with an expression that might be considered dispassionate by some, thoughtful by others. Her brows furrow mildly, briefly.
Kokonoe is a cold, crude woman, by reputation and by the measure of (most) who work with her. Lazy and indifferent about personal interactions or the needs of others, they'd say. So this might be when someone might expect her to press for more, or simply dismiss Bulleta outright.
Maybe she doesn't care.
Maybe she's not interested.
Maybe she's seen what she wants to see.
... maybe she's just sparing Bulleta in her own, subtle way.
Either way, it leads to a simple result: a moment of murky uncertainty, followed by the pink-haired demihuman leaning back, and flipping a switch at the register. No questions. No demands. She doesn't dwell on it at all. Just that affirmation, and then --
-- light blooms between them as the register sing-songs out the store's quirky, saccharine jingle and reveals itself to be a hologram projector, because of course it is. Holographic arrays spew and assemble themselves into a series of screens displaying several files worth of data on something labeled 'VALENTINE.'
"I need data on a certain Gear class. They call 'em Valentines. There's only two confirmed to be developed." And here, holographic projections of Elphelt and Ramlethal Valentine arrange themselves together for Bulleta's viewing pleasure.
"Technically they're Command Gears but otherwise they're one big question mark," and she frowns, just a bit, at having to admit that, "... and frankly trying to find them has been about as much of a delight as going through a pap smear, so I'm outsourcing."
Cue: Kokonoe looking at Bulleta.
"It's not a bag and tag. If you tried to go direct at either of them, they'd probably turn you into the world's most adorable bucket of chum. Maybe they will anyway. Who the fuck knows?" Shoulders lift, in an expression of sublime ambivalence. She considers Bulleta, and everything up until now.
"But you look resourceful, so maybe you won't get atomized."
It's almost a ringing endorsement, so that has to be some kind of achievement. Right?
"Anyway, the deal here is, I'm gonna outfit you with a scanner. It'll pick up what I need, and it'll be discrete. I'm gonna need data on their biometrics, combat specifications, emotional spectrum analysis, and I'm gonna need a DNA sample. That one you're gonna have to find a way to get the old fashioned way. I have a list of optionals for more brownie points you can cash in for whatever little favors you want depending on how much I care about the data you're giving me, but all I need is those four to handle your little tracker problem for you."
She pulls that Silvervine lollipop from her lips, half-finished. Gestures toward Bulleta, mildly.
No lollipops, Bulleta notes while watching the stick roll for an idle moment.
Kokonoe appreciates surprises-- to an extent, Bulleta considers while touching her ribbon.
And she was right about the Jawbreakdowns, Bulleta reminds herself while gripping her favorite accessory's straps.
(that last one, it's important. it's good to remember when she's right about things; it makes the things she's deeply wrong about sting a little less when she has to lay them out for inspection.)
The small-statured scientist keeps the littlest huntress searching for quite some time after her story. Bulleta's face is a stony mask throughout, lightly warmed by the fire stoked within: tiny nostrils flare and her bottom lip remains tucked and taut against her teeth. Just-- just a hint, that's all she needs. Just a taste, a /clue/ that dragging her brush with Volkov out of the depths was worth the trouble.
That /she/ is worth the trouble.
Fingertips dig in against her biceps and heels scrape over tile. Sharply, she begins to inhale--
Exhale. Okay. Bulleta pivots away while Kokonoe leans and switch-flips. She tries to steal a few seconds to briskly comb through her ponytail and rub the ribbon between her fingers while the magitechnologist is (hopefully) occupied. Being seen in the middle of a composing gesture isn't any more appealing - professionally, personally, on /any/ level - than letting the other woman hear anger boil her voice. Her fingers fall to graze over a row of chocolate/graham cracker-based treats in half a dozen flavors, either way.
The holograms and accompanying description don't stop her exploration one bit, but she gives them at /least/ as much attention as she gives her earnest effort to bury herself in problem-solving.
"Face in your ass or a pap smear," she shoots back, right on cue. There are weighing gestures and everything. "Lucky you, you got /options/."
Then it's back to-- well, weighing, only with little mystery barrels of gumdrops. These are discarded in short order, of course: too /much/ surprise, not enough to appeal to discerning taste.
The rest of the explanation is sobering-- and a touch surprising, though given the 'Command Gear' designation, it isn't the /warning/ that gets her, there.
Still, despite that little surprise-- despite the things in her blood she knows she can't feel, but is all the more aware of now-- Bulleta has to think when Kokonoe finally lays the deal out in full. She wouldn't be here if she didn't want, /need/ what's on the table; if she wasn't willing to risk her life to get it.
And she wouldn't be here if she hadn't wanted, /needed/ to impress the Scarlet Dahlia by undermining her casino-running rival; if she hadn't been willing to risk her life to do it.
She wouldn't have had to think about it a few minutes ago, but here we are.
Back to the specialty aisle. What does Kokonoe Mercury want? What does she like?
Who is she, this digital phantom dangling freedom near her grasp?
She wants what she wants and she's willing to go to great lengths to get it. She keeps an open mind and a hand tight to her vest. She's confident-- /confident/, not cocky; not overtly, anyway.
She could have /anything/ in the store, but being able to have anything is a curse, isn't it? Because what good is having 'anything' - 'everything' - except as a pretense to having the single thing she truly wants-- /needs/?
Three foil-lined bags leave the shelves.
They aren't large bags, especially for the price. The tops are folded over and sealed tight; there are no convenience tabs or perforation. This does make opening a bit of a pain, but there's a reason for the trouble beyond simple oversight:
succulent aroma cut with apple, a hint of coffee, and thirty percent cocoa.
'Quackao' says the bag in old-fashioned orange lettering. The white 'plaque' beneath it is roughly bill-shaped; alternating hues of green striping the rest of the bag. Cursive lettering offers a brisk rundown of the ingredients:
Enough smoked duck fat worked into sweet chocolate for the two to marry without overpowering. Infused chocolate cooled around tiny pearls of gelled apple; apple-cored chocolate rolled in a coffee and cocoa dust for just a little bitterness, for further contrast. Rolled chocolate balls dropped in foil-lined bags.
"Thank you for not pushing it," she adds, lowly. Sincerely. "I'll get you your data, but if I need combat scans /and/ I can't fight 'em... how worried are we about eggs getting broken, here?"
Blue lollipop finds its way back to its home between Kokonoe's lips as the dour catwoman watches her guest with quiet, muted curiosity that scarcely crackles beneath that carefully maintained veil of apathy. A pink brow lifts, just barely threatening a crease at her forehead. White-tipped ears twitch once, twice.
Lucky you, says Bulleta, and Kokonoe snorts.
"Yeah," she agrees with natural blasť flair, hands spreading generously out to her sides palms-up,
"I feel blessed with possibility."
It's only after that, that Kokonoe plants palms firmly into the countertop once more to lift herself up and park herself in a lazy sit on the surface. Sandaled feet tucked in against her thighs, knees raised, hands resting between them, the demihuman's tails come to a comfortable, draping rest on the edge of the counter as the Sector Seven scientist / varying degrees of terrorist watches the hunter work. As if quietly making her own assessments, every time Bulleta passes by an aisle. What does Kokonoe want?
What does /Bulleta/ want?
It's years of experience that allow Kokonoe to feign indifference to this question save for the minute subtleties of body language. It, too, is a question with an obvious and immediate answer -- but working with someone requires a bit more than that.
Kokonoe has learned that the hard way, many times. Never again.
So she watches. And waits. Klak, klak, klak. Her brows knit inward mildly as the hunter of monsters returns --
Offering up a trio of foil-wrapped bags.
'Quackao' says the bag. Kokonoe's lips purse around her dosage of hard candy stimulant.
It probably feels longer than it is, the way Kokonoe just sort of squints at that unusual offering, paused like a statue on her laconic candy store throne. Her eyes little slits of gold that seem to glow with the intensity of their scrutiny, the moment of inaction really only lasts barely a handful of intense seconds --
-- before one hand reaches out to brusquely snap one of those bags away with a crackle of foil.
With a pinch of fingers and a pull of seals, eventually that back is open, and with methodical intensity does Kokonoe pry it open wide --
--and then just kind of stuff her face inside to take in the scent strongly enough that the bag crinkles inward than expands outward like someone huffing paint.
It's pretty crude. But at least Kokonoe's never really pretended to have manners??
Slowly, the petite half-human withdraws, pink brows hefted. She looks somehow incredulous. Surprised, maybe?
The look she gives Bulleta afterwards is one that borders on suspicious, as if quietly reassessing the tiny hunter.
And she's still looking as she snatches the other two bags, one after the other. One of Those Smiles crawling across her lips.
"....... Not bad."
Winner: B U L L E T A
The other two bags disappear into the openings of those voluminous sleeves; that they seem to just /literally/ disappear without any sign whether by sight or sound that they're actually in there is probably a mystery let for another time. Mad science is a lot like magic that way (don't tell her that). The pink-haired international criminal makes a half-assed roll across the countertop to land on her feet on the other side of it, discarding the finished remnants of her lollipop stick (she just kind of throws it where she assumes the trash bin is; it's not there, as the harrowing pile of sticks in that exact location can already attest to), and starts fiddling with the register again as Bulleta speaks.
Kokonoe pauses. Head lowered, her gold eyes raise to peer at the other woman quietly. Kokonoe does not have the best social graces in the world, something that Bulleta will probably become increasingly, unfortunately aware of in the future. But...
"... Don't need to hear about a shitlord to know a shitlord. Don't mention it."
... she has her moments. Rarely.
The holograms fade away, one by one, it stuttering lines of dissolving data and streaming light as Kokonoe pulls away from the register, stuffing her hand inside of her newfound bag of gifted spoils. She is fishing -- for the best one, of course -- while the entire store seems to shift and move as if it had a life of its own.
Her tone, of course, remains conversational throughout, even as it feels like the building is literally displacing itself.
"Don't involve civilians. Try to keep the obvious public collateral to a minimum. Neither of us want to piss in the wrong people's Cheerios."
There is a hiss, a click, the faint sound of hydraulics and shifting metal.
"Other than that, whatever. Anyone else ought to know what they signed up for anyway."
And that is when the back display literally peels apart like a flower blooming, revealing a large freight elevator on the other side. Kokonoe casually steps inside, one hand tucked into her back pocket, gold eyes cast back toward Bulleta.
"C'mon. We're gonna get you analyzed. It's gonna be really tedious and you're gonna hate it and I don't wanna hear about it. And after that..."
She plucks out a piece of Quackao. Considers it. Tosses it in her mouth to chew thoughtfully.
"... you'll be one step closer to not having to worry about some chucklefuck's mouthbreathing creepertech anymore."
"... shit. That's pretty good."
Log created on 20:32:25 01/01/2019 by Kokonoe, and last modified on 16:21:17 01/08/2019.