As Ferrous calls the official end to the meeting, the team begins to break up into smaller groups to continue other conversations, or heading back out into the night. Burlesque, back in her standard form, manages to catch Koyotie's eye.
"Can I talk with you for a minute?" Burlesque asks, indicating a booth away from the others. "I have an idea—something I wanted to get your opinion about... ."
“I’m pretty sure a tux wouldn’t look right at the arena, and if you want to catch Sidewinder’s eyes, wear less and carry bigger guns.” She pauses and cocks an eyebrow at Burlesque, “Unless you had something else to ask me?” Burlesque was pretty sure the other woman was laughing inside. No wonder she went by the code name of ‘Koyotie.’
"Right," Burlesque casts a sidelong glance at Sidewinder. "I'll keep that in mind, in case I'm ever feeling too lazy to commit suicide. No, what I wanted to talk about was about making some... preparations, before this group of you and Ferrous put together goes public."
Burlesque invites Koyotie to join her at another booth, then orders a fresh round of drinks.
"I've been thinking," Burlesque begins, "that you and I would work pretty well together. Similar talents—speed and stealth, brains over brawn, that sort of thing. I can go in on the prowl as well as under cover, and Ferrous said you can be pretty sneaky, yourself—like the time he says you all broke into that ICoMP lab to steal the notes from that scientist guy... 'Professor Q'?"
Koyotie shakes her head, "Doc Quantum, actually."
"Well, I was also thinking that my being a shape-shifter will only get us so far in terms of infiltrating ICoMP or the Syndicate, once word gets out that someone like me is in town. They'll start coming up with security measures—blood tests, secret passwords, retina scans—and sooner or later, they might stumble onto something I can't beat. I figure the best way to avoid that is if they never know I'm here."
"So, what I was thinking," she continues, "was to come up with an alternate identity... a 'fake' hero who doesn't look like a shape-shifter, or is more limited—like a werewolf or something. And if we're both the 'go-to' gals for the stealth missions anyway, then maybe the best way to go would be to play the part of your protege... sidekick—y'know? Someone who's got your back. I figure the sidekick tends to get ignored anyway—y'know, when did the Joker or the Riddler ever try to find out who Robin is?—and people won't do so much digging to try to figure out who I really am. And like I say—if we're partners, then you know somebody's got your back when the rest of the team is stuck sitting on the sidelines."
"So... what do you think?"
"Ahhh...” Koyotie taps her fingers on the table top. "You want to be the Boy Hostage to my Batman? I'm... I'm not sure about that." She pauses and looks contemplative, "I usually work alone for these sort of things."
"Is that why you're here at this meeting, with five other supers?" Burlesque asks. "If you're worried about me not keeping up, or cramping your style... just name a time and place, and I'll show you just what I can do. And anyhow," she adds, "it's mostly just for show—for the press. Often as not, I'll probably be 'in character', working the front room while you slip in the back way, anyway...”
"Are you always this quick to jump the gun?" Koyotie replies. "By 'these sort of things' I meant infiltration, not working with others to oppose the Second Syndicate." She pauses, and shifts the sling supporting her injured arm, scowling at the pain. "Look, I'm not trying to be like Mr. ‘I'm Sidewinder and you're not,’ but I'm not sure about a... a... 'sidekick’."
There's a moment's pause then, "What were you planning, anyway?"
Burlesque smiles. "Well, since the point is to draw attention away from me as an individual by linking myself to you, I was thinking something in keeping with a 'Native American' theme. Maybe," as she talks, Burlesque form begins shifting. Soon she's taken the form of a burly, fur-covered male, wearing a costume evocative of Koyotie's, in red and black. Her voice is now a low growl. "Some sort of a 'skin-walker'... call myself 'Kodiak', maybe? My power would let me do super-strength and claws. Or," she shifts again, and suddenly Koyotie is sitting across from a Native American male in his early 20's... ”go strictly with martial arts—maybe call myself 'Raven'? That's another 'trickster', right?"
Dead silence follows. Then Koyotie holds up her hand and counts off on her fingers starting with her thumb. "One, I'm a Dakota Sioux. Two, 'skin-walkers' are Navajo—and don't ask me to pronounce the name. Three, 'Kodiak' is in Alaska. And four, 'Raven' is mostly confined to the Pacific northwest." She pauses, "I still have two more fingers, there anyone else you want to insult, Chief Nock-A-Homa?"
"Oh yeah?" Burlesque sputters. "Well... since when did Dakota Sioux do karate? Or swing a plastic sword?"
"It's carbon fiber, not 'plastic.' Just thought you'd want to know." Koyotie gives a sly smile, "Oh, and they were all out of tomahawks when I went to pick it up."
Burlesque pauses for a second. She's been in Koyotie's presence long enough that she thinks she's got a "vibe" on her, and that's she's mostly just busting the "newbie's" chops. But she decides not to press her luck.
She starts again. "Look—I'm not trying to insult anybody. You've got pride in your heritage? Great. Sensational. You're lucky you have a people to call your own. Me? I'm just trying to come up with a way to do what I do without getting compromised. And maybe, just maybe, I can help you out too, while I'm at it."
"Now, nothing says our two personas have to be from the same tribe... nation, whatever. And if you've got a better idea? I'm all ears. Enlighten me. Or if you think it's a bad idea all around, just say so. You're not gonna hurt my feelings. But don't go busting my hump just because I'm not some expert anthropologist."
Resting her chin in her free hand, Koyotie stares across the Third Rail. "Oh hell, I don't know. I'm just tired of everyone thinking feathers, fringe, and buckskins when they hear the words 'American Indian.'”
Burlesque regards Koyotie's costume for a moment—the fringe, the feathers, the headband—then back to her face. She doesn't say a word.
“How about something that's not out of a Hollywood back lot? Like... ."
"Like?" Burlesque encouraged?
"I have no idea." She sighs. "What do you want to be?"
"Well," Burlesque begins, "there's no sense in me pretending to be something I'm not." She stops, realizes how ridiculous that just sounded, then starts over, "I mean, whatever the persona is, it's gotta match with what I can actually do. Claws and fangs, strength, agility, armored hide—changes I can make to my body. I can't quite fly, but almost...you got anything like that in the tribal legends?"
Koyotie shrugs and then winces. "There's Maca the Coyote, the over- sexed trickster, and there's Inktomi the Spider, another trickster...” She pauses and starts laughing.
"What?" Burlesque is pretty sure the other woman isn't laughing at her, but otherwise has no idea what set her off.
Wiping at her eyes, Koyotie manages, "It also comes out as 'Spider- Man.'"
Burlesque scowls across the table. "You're not helping."
Sipping at her tea, Koyotie takes a breath. "If you could breathe water you could be an unktegila—a big lake monster with one eye, red hair, horns, and spines. Or you could throw lighting and call yourself Wakinyan, the Thunderbeing." There's another pause and then Koyotie's eye's narrow; "You don't do that, do you?"
Burlesque frowns. " I don't think any ancestor of humans has ever been like an electric eel, so probably no zapping powers. Water breathing might work—I can control my blood flow to some extent, to maintain my temperature in any weather; but I've never tried shifting my insides on purpose like that. I'd be nervous about trying to increase the surface area inside my lungs, in case I can't change it back right and I'm stuck as a mermaid or something." She fishes her Blackberry out of her pocket and starts pecking at it one-handed, trying a web search for ideas. "Wait a minute," she says. "What about 'Tatanka'—that's Sioux for 'buffalo', right? That's strong, tough, something I could imitate... and your average Joe might even recognize the word. Or are you gonna lecture me about Dances With Wolves now?"
“No, that was one Hollywood got mostly right...” She pauses again and gets a distant look on her face. “Tatanka... tatanka....” The sly smile returns, “There might be a problem calling yourself that.”
"Oh? How so?"
There’s a ‘Tatanka’ in the pro-wrestling circuit.”
"Well, 'Koyotie' isn't exactly groundbreaking, either," Burlesque replies. "Let's see," she says, thumbing the 'scroll' button on her Blackberry, "there's... a Mexican singer, a Zorro-style vigilante, and the guys who smuggle illegals across the border. Oh, and the one that's always getting blown up by flying dynamite in the cartoons. Plus, it comes from Spanish, not Sioux...."
“Yeah, but I spell it with a ‘k’ not a ‘c’, so I don’t run into copyright issues. Nut ‘tatanka’? I’ll bet you he’s had that trademarked somehow. They’re really picky about things like that, since it’s all about their visual image, and that means it’s all about the money.” Koyotie gives a slight shrug. “What can I say? Koyotie’s meant to be generic for the most part, while still providing a slight connection to the trickster of legend. ‘Tatanka’ was a good idea, especially since most wrestling names are too absurd to use as an independent post-human. At least it’s better than ‘Chief Jay Strongbow’.”
There’s another moment of silence, then: “Haokah.”
Now it’s Koyotie’s turn to scowl. “Real funny, Burlesque. Haokah’s the god of thunder and lighting. He also lives his life backwards...” She pauses and cocks her head, “You ever see Little Big Man? No? Okay, there’s a warrior in that film who lives his life like Haokah—he cries when he’s happy, laughs when he’s sad, rolls in the dust to bathe, and jumps in a river to dry off. He shivers if it’s hot, sweats if it’s cold. He has horns as well, and is one of the gods of the hunt. Oh, and as a thunder god, he has power over the wykea.”
“That’s Lakota for ‘thunder’.”
Burlesque tosses the Blackberry aside. "You know what?" she says. "I've been going about this all wrong. I came out here to St. Louis to get a fresh start—to live life on my own terms, not... be someone else's version of me...." She looks lost in thought for a moment, then shakes it off. "I've got the ultimate disguise, I can be whatever I want, whenever I want—I don't need to pattern myself as some cheap knockoff of someone else... no offense. And thanks for thinking about it, though.”
“It was your idea to be my sidekick,” Koyotie points out in a helpful tone of voice.
"Well, you took your roots, and turned them around and made them new. Maybe I should do the same." Burlesque's appearance begins to shift again. Her tank top and shorts shrink down to a black string bikini, and a fine layer of fur sprouts over her entire body. Her ears lengthen and develop noticeable points, and when she smiles at Koyotie across the table, her yellow eyes and a mouthful of pointed teeth gleam in the dim light. Though still beautiful, her features have taken on a decidedly canine appearance.
Waving her hand in a slight flourish, Burlesque says, "Koyotie, say hello to 'Feral Grrrl'! Check it—I've even got a tail!" She shifts slightly in the booth to give Koyotie a better view, then swishes it experimentally. "I bet the 'furry' enthusiasts will go nuts over this, once we hit the papers..." She picks the napkin dispenser off the table with one taloned hand, then regards her reflection on its metal surface for a moment.
The overwhelming silence from Koyotie’s side of the table finally forces Burlesque to sneak a peek. She finds the tall Amerind’s expression a mix of disbelief and an attempt back a bubbling tide of laughter. “You... look... ridiculous,” she finally manages and then suddenly sobers up. “Wait a minute....”
Leaning across the table, Koyotie lowers her voice. “Burlesque? Do you ever actually wear clothes?”
Koyotie watches Burlesque's arm as she sets down the napkin dispenser. In a heartbeat, the sleek pelt on it transforms into the sleeve of a red crushed velvet suit. Koyotie's eyes follow up the arm, and suddenly finds herself next to a very short man with horn-rimmed glasses and astoundingly bad teeth, smiling at her.
"Why—do I make you horny, baby? Do I?"
“No,” Koyotie replies with a shudder.
Burlesque shifts back to her normal form. "Actually, I guess I'll have to—at least while we're on patrol and stuff. If I get knocked out, pfft!" She snaps her fingers. "It all goes away. Most nights, that's S.O.P. for me. But I'd like to preserve at least a little dignity if I'm supposed to be a superhero now. By the way," she adds, " it's OK to just call me Charli, when we're like this...."
"Anyhow, I still think you and I would make a great couple... err, I mean... a good two-man team." Burlesque smiles coyly. "We should probably probably plan on getting together to practice regularly—y'know? Spar a little on the mat, show each other what we've got, talk strategy. You doing anything on Tuesday?"
“I don’t know. Are you going to look like that?”
"Depends. If Black Ice will let us use his hideout for team meetings and practice sessions, then we can cut loose and not worry about who sees us. But I figure all of us should also get comfortable and train for what to do if we ever get caught without our gear or powers. Like if Sidewinder's out of his suit, or you lose your sword. Or me—I hear ICoMP's got stuff... enzyme blockers or something, that stop my kind from making the change. For that, we could just meet at a regular gym."
“Trust me, Burl--Charli, I’m far from helpless without my bokken. But that’s a good idea. We should train together, all of us, so we can complement each other’s strengths and cover each other’s weaknesses.”
"Terrific! It's a date, then!" Burlesque's smile is dazzling. "I'll e-mail you the directions to Ice's place. See you at... say, eight?" Before Koyotie can respond, Burlesque turns on her heel and heads out the door of the Third Rail, her features and outfit shifting from her fighting togs to nightclub attire as she goes....
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