Where Nobody Knows Your (Government) Name
Well, hm. Our protagonist drags the last of her suitcases into her bare apartment. The previous tenant left a bed, a weird smell, and not much else. She collapses against the dozen or so boxes that held her worldly possessions, sweat staining her last clean set of clothes. Mercí City has not been kind to her so far.
Her phone rings, and she puts it on speaker so she doesn't get the screen all gross and sweaty. "So, ready to hit the town?" The voice chimes from the other end. "I don't know if I'm up for it. I just had to carry everything I own up seven flights of stairs because the elevator doesn't work."
"Come on, it's ladies' night* down at Mary Menace's!"
"Does that mean we drink free?"
"No, it means they play that Kool & The Gang song you like."
"All my clothes are dirty, I won't be able to do laundry until tomorrow at the earliest-"
"I'll bring a change over! Take a shower, I'll be there in half an hour!"
The phone beeped quiet and she sighed. "New city, new me." She silently resolved to stand up for herself more. After this shower and going to the bar she didn't want to go to and buying drinks she didn't want.
She came out of the bathroom wearing a towel. It was a smart choice, considering that her friend was impatiently sitting on the bed with clothes already laid out.
"Jeez, I thought you fell in." She stands up. It's easy to forget how tall she is- and how big her bust is until it's right at eye level and covered in spandex.
"That's what you're wearing? You look ridiculous, Su-" A gloved finger presses against her lips.
"Ah ah ah! Tonight, I'm Starburst!" Starburst stands up straight, free hand on her hip. A brilliant red and orange wig bounces against her lower back when she moves her head. A pair of orange-tinted sunglasses sits on her forehead. Her gloves are big, bulky, and ringed with long, flickering shafts of bottled volcano. She steps aside to present our protagonist with her options, and the floor creaks under her big, heavy combat boots.
"Well, I definitely don't think I can pull that off." She looked at the heavy leather jacket with flame decals stenciled around the bottom, back and wrists. And she definitely wasn't wearing leggings after dark, even if they did have a cool solar flare pattern.
There were two outfits laid out on the bed, like your mom might do in the morning before school. If you went to a school for gay supervillains.
One looked like it was a package deal with Starburst's. T-shirt with, uh, the Firefox logo, some orange dishwashing gloves, and some jeans that, at one point, someone tried to dye orange. She shot one look to the side and moved on.
"Hey, some people would kill to be my number two."
She moves on to the other choice. A denim jacket with a rainbow of lightning bolts spray paint stenciled onto the back, a blue T-shirt with a white heart split with a similar bolt, and some jean-colored sweat pants. She drapes the towel over her shoulder and starts to get dressed as best she can without her friend seeing.
Starburst politely turns her back and crosses her arms. Looking at the ceiling in that "I'm pointedly not looking at you" stance. "I went by Blue Bomber when I wore that number, but feel free to pick your own thing."
"Why do we have to have code names? Can't I just be St-"
"Ah ah ah! You'll have to do better than that! It'll all make sense when we get to Mary's."
She sighed and got dressed. The sweatpants could be rolled up and the jacket kept falling off her shoulders, but she couldn't help but smile at the girl in the bathroom mirror.
"Oh, you have a prop? A ring or a necklace or something you can wear?"
"I have… a camera they don't make batteries for any more and a single driving glove from when I owned a car."
"Perfect. Put your hair in a ponytail, too."
"It's not ponytail night, is it?"
"Nah, that's Wednesday. I'd stay away unless you know what you want. I know what you want, though, and it's the outdoorsy look."
Mary Menace's was only a few blocks away, and the cool air feels good when you're wearing too many layers.
Starburst walks half a step ahead to lead the way. It's easy when your legs are longer. "Shutterbug."
"Maybe I could come up with a name if I knew what I was naming."
"Your persona! Nobody at Mary Menace's goes by their government name. Think about the image you want to project."
"I look like an embedded reporter in the war against roller derby."
"How old are you?"
"Just trying to help. Don't wanna come up blank when someone asks. Flashbulb."
They bounced names off each other the whole walk there.
The pair turns a corner. "We're here." Starburst smiles. She takes big strides towards the black flag, split down the middle with four colorful bolts. An old-fashioned wooden sign hangs out over the sidewalk. "Mary Menace's Tavern" is engraved and lined with worn gold leaf.
Mary Menace's isn't the kind of place that has a bouncer. Starburst walks in and her friend rushes to keep up. The bartender, an older fellow with four arms, uses one of them to wave and two to wipe down the bar. "Evening, Star! Who's your friend?"
"Be nice to her. She's still figuring that out."
"You and me both." The bartender winks and shoots a fingergun at… Press Pass? Nah.
The bar was busy enough for a Thursday night. Starburst introduced her friend to The Titanium Twink, who offered to let her break a chair over his back. He even knocked on his silvery bicep so all could hear how hollow it was. He got a smile and a "maybe later". They sat at the bar, making small talk and comparing drink orders. Star had to get something on brand, like a tequila sunrise.
"Surprise me." She said, and then immediately regretted it as the bartender went off to grab four different-colored bottles and expertly pour them together into something glowing and fizzing. "This isn't a regular bar, is it?"
"I was wondering when you'd ask. Mary Menace's is a cape kink bar. Everyone here has a secret identity they leave at the door. Heroes, villains, epic battles, romance, anything you can think of."
"And you're a?"
Starburst sinks against the bar and laughs. "I've been matching wits with this mathemagician girl, Lady Mersenne, so I guess that either makes me a hero or a rival. I think I'm gonna do some math crimes to show her where I stand."
"What does a math crime look like?"
"I still gotta plot that out. I'm thinking I force some nerd to name a theorem after me."
"I'd go for a Kepler angle. Meshes with your space theme."
Starburst gave her a squeeze with her right fission gauntlet. "You're a natural. See why I brought you here?"
She got her drink. It tasted like a carbonated orgasm, felt like getting kicked in the shin, and the bartender would only call it "something for the lady". She was going to finish it. Eventually.
"So how'd you decide on Starburst?"
"Well, it wasn't my first look. Nobody's still on their first look. Titanium Twink was Tin Man for six months."
"Seven, and then I was the Mercury Menace while I fought Copperhead!" He calls from across the bar. She makes eye contact with him, and he pantomimes the chair thing in case she changed her mind.
"I was Miss Fire for a while until the quick draw act got old and felt weird bringing guns in a bar. Then I henched for Galaxy Gal for a year. Didn't really get a name beyond Vega-6. I left on good terms and liked the space theme well enough, and I still had some of the fire gear, so here we are."
"And you thought I'd look good as your henchgirl?"
"Some people like having a boss to report to. Keeps the attention off if you don't want it." Starburst pointed past Malefactor and Mercí Sound Machine to a corner booth, filled with one supervillain dressed to the nines in her ball gown and parasol and flanked on either side by as many identical maids as will fit in the booth- and then there's a few more underneath. "See? They're like zebras. They all want some attention, but not as much as Modemoiselle. So they can leave and join back in as they wish, and nobody has to be on all the time. Despite the name, Murdermaids are the friendliest darn things you'll ever meet." Starburst takes a sip of her drink. "And some people get off on it, of course."
"It's a lot to take in."
"Just wait until Miss Treatment comes in."
"Is she a nurse? or an evil nurse? or does she just mess you up?"
"Yes, and also giant syringe."
The night was over too quickly. About a dozen heroes and villains each introduced themselves. Mostly a blur. There was a fire guy and an ice queen and like three witches and one bee who was really a swarm. About half of them flirted, and about half of those made it sound like they wanted a hench or a girlfriend. She did wind up breaking that chair over The Titanium Twink's back and applauded when he stood right back up and took a bow. Starburst, never one to be outdone, hucks a shot glass across the room and blasts it to pieces with a single shot from her gauntlet before it hits the wall.
The bar tabs were tallied- including for the glass and the chair- and the capes sent on their way. Some paired off to get some late-night menacing in. Starburst and company got invited to go to the late-night diner with the Miss Chief and Stargazer, but it was getting late. "Next time", was promised.
"Does that mean there's going to be a next time? Friday is karaoke night, and Mighty Megapixel usually does the visuals." Starburst teases.
"You know, I think I will." She smiles. It was time to start making her own decisions, and this was a good one to start with. "I'll need a hand with the outfit."
"You'll need a name first."
She pulls the hair tie off, letting her platinum hair cascade and spread out across the puffy white cloud at the top of the rainbow bolt. The glove comes off (gets sweaty under there anyways) and her camera slides to the side. A deep breath in and out. She tugs the oversized jacket back over her shoulders. You don't have to have a horrible lab accident to get a fresh start. You just need to look around, try something new, and see what floats by.