Duston had been greeted in the parking lot by a few Valentinos who recognized the ride, they usually hung around the bar. El Coyote Cojo was a dump to many, to Dusty it felt like the little town bar he stopped at traveling across the country. Of course it wasn't the same but he liked it, Pepe was behind the bar as usual when he came in.
However with a shout Mama Welles emerged from the back, hugging him as he brought two clay jugs of firmwares and a cooler in. "I brought you and Jackie that treat we talked about... Wish he could have shared it with us." He spoke quietly, hugging the woman back like some aunt hadn't seen in years. "You said you had an old recipe for them? Well I'd like to try it."
The Nomad let her take the cooler as the older woman smiled sadly at it. "Jackie's memorial... Is over in the corner if you wish to say goodbye." Dusty nodded quietly, he never knew what to say when people lost like this. He remembered how she had been when Jackie's brother had passed. So he patted her shoulder letting her move to open the cooler on the bar counter. As Pepe too the bottles of fire water he shook his head.
"You picked a bad time too..." A moment later trailing the arrival of the merc the figure of the woman he'd brought with him hung in the doorway. "Yeah, it seems like everything has trouble these days. Me included." Duston turned, looking at Sora the bar itself seemed to suit the cowboy Nomad as he hovered next to a mass muscle who looked as exhausted as he could be. Next to him the thin grief wracked frame of Mama Welles who had just looked at the pair she was just putting away Dusty's gifts to them.
"Sora, come on over, let's make some introductions." Duston spoke, flicking his lighter really wanting to smoke right now.
Sora stopped just inside the door. Her mind went into gear; the structure and set-up of the establishment was noted and projections began on where the most likely weapon was, where the best exit was should things go south, the sight lines of the second level down to the first level, every person was noticed and analyzed as to what walk of life they were from and what faction of Night City they likely belonged to, who could potentially be bought, who could potentially be bullied, and who would be more difficult to deal with.
By the time she heard Dusty's voice pierce the veil of her mental analysis, her eyes were already stuck in place: the ofrenda. It wasn't Sora's first time seeing one; she had been in Mexico for Día de Muertos before. Dusty's call towards her had led other eyes to her; most notably, Mama Welles. Sora's gaze snapped away from the family altar to the proprietress of the El Coyote. Something was said to her under the breath of the old woman, something that Sora thought
she heard, but wasn't entirely sure...
When she was at the bar, she said, flatly, "Hello."
"Soda?" Pepe asked, drawing Sora's eyes from Mama Welles.
"...what? No, thank you."
Pepe scratched the back of his neck, a touch of nervous energy, "Oh, no, I meant...your name? Soda?"
Sora's flat stare moved to Dusty, "I have to retrieve something from your car. I'll be right ba--"
"--haha, she's funny," Dusty touched her. TOUCHED her, taking her by the shoulder and keeping her right there for the moment.
Sora didn't feel funny, but the little look she gave the Merc in the moment didn't exactly disagree with the idea that she was joking. Mostly, anyway. "Sora," she corrected Pepe, her head following her eyes as she turned to Mama Welles once more. "What is it you said?" It was potentially rude, and possibly an assumption, but Sora's hearing was that good, and she was all but certain in what she had heard the woman mutter under her breath.
True to everything she had heard about the woman, Mama Welles didn't budge an inch in her stare down of the Japanese woman. She didn't look surprised to be called out, she didn't even bother hesitating or trying to lie, her tone was blunt and her head held high, unafraid, "Santa Muerte. I looked at you, and I saw Death walk into my bar, so I called you Santa Muerte...Saint Death."
"Pepe, why don't you get us a couple of whiskeys neat?" Dusty spoke, trying to help the guy avoid dying his wife would break down if she lost him. Deciding to try and defuse tension a little he spoke up.
"Mama Welles, this is Sora, my boss. She's contracted me as her driver... She wanted to see the place and I figured you wouldn't mind the business." He smiled trying to be sweet and show he cared as he looked between the two women. Really helping Sora didn't head for his car again. He wasn't sure the reinforced doors could stop her for long.
"Oh? And who do you work for, Sora?"
The hard-edge and tension of Mama Welles eyes and voiced never changed, but Sora accepted the whiskey when presented to her and made sure to adjust her internal settings so the alcohol could take some purchase of her body; adjust her internal system settings to allow the drink to slightly poison her, as alcohol was supposed to. "I'm..." It wasn't the easiest thing to explain, her position within the company, "I'm the operative in charge of security evaluation for the Night City situation for Arasaka Corp."
Welles' eyes widened, even if just a touch, at the ready admission of the woman, "Arasaka? Your people killed my boy."
"It was a drone that shot him, although technically the fall killed him, according to the initial forensic investigation of the scene," casually said, as Sora took a sip of the drink, "if he hadn't we would have hunted him down just the same. I would have, matter of fact."
Welles seemed halfway between angered by it, and amused by it, "And V?"
"V we believe is off-world, others are after them."
"You won't catch V," spoken with absolute, unwavering, belief.
The kind that just made Sora grin, and raise her glass in the air a foot, "To V and Jackie Welles, then."
“To Jackie, best friend I ever made in Night City... Even if he found more trouble than a fat cow in a Coyote pen.” The Nomad adde raising a toast to Jackie. “Mama Welles, I didn’t come here to start trouble but how about a couple of those steaks... A bit of fire water too, I’ll regale Sora here with some tales about Welles.” He offered to try to distract from their problems at the moment and get the topic somewhere else. He was nervous someone would take offense if he didn’t get things moving in the right direction.
Gesturing towards an empty booth he sighed. “How about a little heart to heart Sora since we’ve both clearly got some knowledge about something else the other is interested in.”
The Arasaka ninja chuckled. "I just like you assume I still have a heart. Lead the way."
“Even if they put in a chrome one you still feel. So I know it’s there even if you hide it.” He spoke leading her into the booth and taking a seat as Pepe dropped off a bottle of the fire water he’d brought in. Powerful moonshine the Nomads could use to run vehicles, generators, or get wasted also damn good stuff.
“So let’s start with me. I’m a part time merc, I’m only here a few months out of the year, mostly till harvest. I leave my problems outside at the border and pick up the ones I left here when I come in. But how is it you just happened to be going after all the little circles of the mid tier mercs like myself are in on?” He reached into his jacket for a smoke as he offered the pack to her as well.
“You’re pissed but clearly you don’t catch much for Saka. You are here for something personal in the Merc world, now normally I’d be against turning on other mercs for a corpo but... I know revenge when I see it, and I chase that path myself from time to time. So, here’s what I’ll offer. My intel and connections into the Merc world and helping you dig around for whoever it is you're looking for. Cause it’s not anymore connected to V that has you pissed, you got a name that needs crossing.”
Saint Death returned to Sora's face as Dusty spoke. He had trespassed on ground equal parts cursed and sacred. Gone was the chuckle, gone was any light or life in her features. The obsession was back, the focus that kept her awake every night, the memories and the thoughts that were hoarded and cherished every hour of every day, without fail. Sora leaned back in the worn cushion of the El Coyote booth seat, her long black hair unmoving as she was all but perfectly still, staring into the Merc's eyes. "Have you ever been in love?"
“Yes. I won’t go into details but she’s gone now and my brother was at fault.” He spoke, hardening his face, flicking open a lighting up his cigarette as he leaned back into the cushion. He drew a deep breath taking in the smoke as he exhaled hard as he shut his eyes a moment. “Like I said. I understand revenge.” He spoke, pouring them both a round of fire water.
"You misunderstand." Sora's eyes flicked to the bar, above to the second level, there, back again to the Merc. "I've loved two people. Two people have loved me. My mother, and a woman named Etta Autry. My mother was crushed under the dishonor and cowardice of my father, until I could help her be free. Etta Autry..." Sora trailed to silence. How to explain? Was there a way to truly convey it all? "I was working in Europe. She had managed to arrange a clerk, assistant job for a member of Arasaka Counter-Intel in the same office I was based in. She wasn't there for me. She wasn't spying on me. She was there to gather information for a job, a long term con, and the only way to get the kind of background, detailed, information for their heist. European Mercs...are a higher class of Merc than you and yours, Dusty. They're truly professional, part corpo in their own right. Most are former military or corporate. I believe she was both. One night I have a particularly nasty armed conflict with a group of mercs. Talented group, to leave me that bloody. She heard me come into the office. She noticed the blood. She patched me, she spent the night watching over me. It was...the start of something beautiful, the only time I've ever experienced that kind of thing."
Her voice wavered in the pain of the memory. The sigh was deep, her near black eyes trailing the surface of the table, her vision going past the table, into the past. "When I found out, I found out because I caught up to her merc group. I chased them across Europe. It had nothing to do with her, it had nothing to do with the fact she was married to one of the other mercs in that group. They were hitting Arasaka, I wanted to catch them. It's what I am, it's what I do. They were good...they were the best I've ever seen." Her eyes came up to his, her head giving the barest of nods to reaffirm just how much she meant that. "On the moon I caught up to them, during their big heist. I killed three of them that day. It took a heavy toll, I was near death when I collapsed. I don't remember...all of it. Chasing them allowed them to set a trap for me. I didn't see it coming. When I woke up...she was kneeling beside me, once again, caring for me. She said she loved me, she said she was sorry. She gave me a hypo so I didn't die...later that day I caught up to them again."
Sora's eyes hadn't moved from his eyes, but somehow, now, they weren't on him...they just stared through him, a thousand yard stare into the infinity of past and pain. "They escaped using a stolen craft. I followed. I hit them before reentry. Her husband died. By the time I woke up I was floating in the ocean, lucky Arasaka found me. She was gone. What they stole went with her. We recovered her husband's body."
Her gaze fell to the fire water, her hand reaching out, a thirst upon her as she winced at the burn of the shot she downed. "I will find her. I will tear this city apart to find her. I will do Arasaka's business, but nothing will get in my way this time. I will catch her. She's a ghost, usually, hidden behind rival corporate firewalls and governments that I believe just erased her records. But I know she's here. I know I will find her. If you hear anything, if you see anything...yes, Dusty, tell me. I will ensure you never have to work another merc job for the rest of your life if you don't want to."
”Money’s nice and all... But Sora, what I’d what? A promise that no goon will come knocking on my door to shoot me cause I helped you. Maybe some cash or favors for the family... But shit... I mean it’s heavy I...” He knocked back his drink pausing before putting a hand on her shoulder leaning forward. “I can kinda get where you’re coming from.”
“I’ve got a big family... Half are adopted but it doesn't make a difference we all grew up together. Seven of us. Two boys, five girls, my pop, and my ma. My brother... He’s younger and always wanted to get famous... We're related to Malachi, the man who set up our Nation. He's my grandpapi, of course we ain’t the only ones. But my brother... Jorge was always set on running the clan, then the whole nation one day. Course to do that he needed to get famous...” He took another long drag watching the smoke curl past his hat for a bit then sighed.
“We were working with the Meta’s. I fancied a girl from Meta Corp, sky jockey herself who had wanted to learn how a real racer handled the roads. We were young and having a blast tearing up dirt and tumbles in hay where no one would catch us.” He sighed, pressing the cigarette out on the ashtray before looking into her eyes. “Last time I saw her we were talking about requesting permission from both our families to marry and discuss where we’d move too. A little while later I’m doing a scouting run, when I hear her AV under fire... Her cursing and yelling for help.” He spoke, shutting his eyes as took off his hat to run a hand through his auburn hair.
“My car was miles back and I was just on a bike... I turned on the distress beacon and I tore ass towards her signal. It was the biggest horde of Shiv I ever saw with stolen Militech gear, this fat AV loaded with food, medicine, tech, and more from heading over to the Metacorp as part of a trade deal. It slams into the ground with the most cursed thud I’ve ever heard... So I do the most damn fool thing I can think of, put the bike in gear and charge down.” He spoke staring back into Sora’s eyes.
“I made it to the AV’s only to find the cockpit on fire. I managed to break the glass, thinking I’d saved her... She’d been dead from smoke inhalation for minutes before.” He shook his head. “So I took cover, her body next to me and I kept shooting and shooting, eventually all the others turned up and the Shiv ran not worth dying for steak.” He added pouring a shot then knocking it back.
“After all that, my family is saying they are so impressed. There is talk about how brave I was or how I really take after Malachi.” He looked at that bottle. “My brother must have felt something real dark... Cause that night as I was out in the barn unable to sleep looking at a couple of old photos and drinking. He comes in, Mom’s pistol in his right hand pointing it at me.” He took a deep breath before finishing.
“He tells me that was his moment, that he had orchestrated the damn thing. That the Shiv were bribed into hitting that AV with salvage sites he’d found we could have used. That AV had to go down because half the food was missing since he’d given it to them in exchange for helping him stage a big fight he could be the hero of, win his fame and get the title he deserves. I ruined his life, I wasn’t fit to be his brother... A lot of things were said... But when he uttered her name and told how he made sure she’d die so I’d hurt. I lost it.” He turned his head looking around the bar a moment finishing the tale.
“I threw my bottle in his face and yanked my iron and put one in his leg... Dragged him out... And told them all what he did... I wanted to hang’em. I wanted to blow his limbs off.” He spoke slowly, thinking back on that anger. “Then... I saw my mother crying... I couldn't because he was still her baby I... I said we should exile him. He’s Shiv now... It’s why I hate Shiv, because they are all like him or worse. But I stopped. I don't chase him, I don’t let it consume me... Shouldn’t love me like she did if I became that man so I stay better for her love.”
Her eyes never flinched during the tale, and in the end, her voice remained it’s usual detached voice of death self: “Should have killed him. I would have killed him.” Then again, she wanted to say, I let my father beat me for years. “No one’s coming after your people because you help me; even if I find her, even if I kill her, she has no one left to avenge her. She’s completely alone in the world, now…like me.”
“If you are that alone... If you did love her... Try and find a way to forgive... Because you might be happier finding and being with her than alone.” He spoke as he paused for a moment. “If you can’t and you just wanna go... I can get you set up with the Technomancers if you just wanna leave Saka and everything behind. They can get your chrome and software cleaned up if you wanna vanish when it’s over.” He added looking out at the upper level of the bar a moment, Mama Welles bringing out two of the steaks seasoned and finished just right.
“Whatever happens Sora, you broke bread with me. You listened to me. You trusted me. Nomads pay back kindness with kindness, always us Jodes? Well we have also fancied ourselves the first Nomads, I can’t set a bad example.” He chuckled as started to cut into his steak.
Sora regarded his ideas with dead eyes. “Eat, Nomad,” never once pondering the prospect of forgiveness, or escape, in that moment, “we have a busy evening ahead of us.”