"When the opponent expands, l contract. When he contracts, l expand. And when there is an opportunity... l do not hit... it hits all by itself."
Bruce Lee

Part 1

Dunn's Gym was a dingy, smelly, disreputable place that sat near the river in a less-than pleasant part of town. Which was one reason why Koyotie, a.k.a. Merriya Highwolf of the RCMP, had picked the place. It stank of old socks and sweat, and offered none of the typical amenities one came to expect from modern 'fitness centers.' There were no aerobics, yoga, or tae bo, just free weights, barbells, jump-ropes, and best of all, punching bags. It was a place where men went to put on muscle mass with many learning to box on the side. It was in no way, shape, or form, a place where a woman would be welcome.

When Koyotie had first walked in she could almost feel the stares. The place didn't go totally quiet, but enough of the patrons stop (or slowed) what they were doing that the drop in noise level was easily perceptible. No matter, she wasn't interested in niceties, she wanted a place where she could work out in peace, where people minded their own business, and where she could hit something. Still, she'd rather not have to fight the entire gym just to be able to prove her right to be there.

Frankie Dunn, the proprietor had been happy to accept her money, but he pointed out the gym didn't really have a women's locker room, just a small restroom (as required by law). Koyotie just shrugged her shoulders and made sure to keep her bag zipped and locked. Not that she expected anyone to go rifling through it. They'd probably just steal the whole bag—and if someone wanted to swipe her street clothes, that was fine. Her real gear was tucked out of sight in a place accessible only to those with post-human levels of agility.

The first time she'd come out to exercise, she wore a fairly mundane outfit of shorts and a shirt, which she promptly removed to reveal a close-fitting sports bra. The sight of her well-muscled and well-shaped torso stopped most of the muttering dead, as the patrons decided almost instantly that having a woman in the gym couldn't be all that bad, could it? Of course, her follow up, in which she bench pressed nearly 600 pounds, shut up any remaining nay-sayers, none of who were dumb enough to try to tell Frankie she wasn't right for the gym. As for Frankie, he figured anyone who wanted to pick a fight with someone who looked to be lifting close to the women's world records for weight-lifting deserved what they got.

As the months passed, Koyotie became a regular feature of the gym, enough so, the older patrons forgot about her, and the newer ones accepted her as part of the crowd. Which was fine. Her only problem was with sparring in the ring. It allowed her to practice yes, but few, if any, of the patrons could her offer her anything even close to a challenge. She quickly gained a reputation for being far too fast and far too strong for any sort of practice bout, and a few wiser heads wondered if she was one of the costumed vigilantes the SLANT was always writing about. Koyotie tried to pass it off being the result of growing up on a Wyoming ranch, but she doubted anyone really believed her. Still, it served to further keep the idiots away.

Part 2

So now she sat in front of one of the heavy bags, dressed in her snug sports bra and a pair of loose-fitting drawstring trousers. She had karate sparring pads on her hands and feet, her hair was tied back, and a headband kept the rest out of her face. Sitting there, legs crossed, arms resting on her knees, eyes closed, she looked almost serene.

But looks can be deceiving.

What am I doing here? Why am I working with these people? And how, exactly, does Harshad expect me to deal with Blitzkrieg?

Life as a cop was never simple. And it was even tougher if you were a post-human asset of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. Koyotie was one of only a handful of such people the RCMP had, unlike ICoMP and their "join or else" recruitment policy. Until her present assignment she'd worked as a bodyguard for government officials, dealt with the Mafia's attempts to smuggle goods in from New York State, and with the Yakuza's intrusions into Vancouver. But now... now she was attempting to deal with something even larger and more dangerous—Second Syndicate and ICoMP. Both were at each other's throats, with no love lost and plenty of casualties to go around. It was just like Fistful of Dollars; ICoMP on one side, Second Syndicate on the other, and her right in the middle.

And to make matters worse, St. Louis was full of freelancers, like herself, who didn't want to knuckle down to ICoMP's tyranny, but also hated the Second Syndicate. Perhaps she should let the Unnatural Disasters wreck the place.... But much like 9/11, all that would do would serve as justification for ICoMP's next series of harsh and brutal crackdowns on anyone who's only crime was to be born different.

She sighed. Damned if I do, and damned if I don't. She couldn't let the Disasters level St. Louis, but there was no way should could really fight them. Not unless she could challenge one to a fist fight. And as much as she'd like to hand that idiot Blitzkrieg over to them and be done with it, there was no way Doc Quantum or Technicality would stand for it. And since they knew not only who, but what she was, she had two choices—eliminate them or work with them.

She stood and faced the bag. In a week the Disasters would come calling, and she needed to make a few decisions before they got here. Stay? Leave? Go to ICoMP? Join the Syndicate? Become a rogue asset? Or try and use the group (it was in no way a team) just long enough to eliminate Blackout and then get out?

Her feet slid across the mat as she settled into a fighting stance. Some of the other patrons paused for a moment. They'd never really seen Koyotie work the heavy bag, especially dressed as she was now. They knew she could box, but that funky Bruce Lee shit too? That was new.

Koyotie unleashed a simple punch, direct and to the point. It started down around her ankles, passed up through her thighs, was directed from her hips, and exploded out from her shoulder.

Asked later, just about everyone who watched said the same thing: she'd shifted her feet, uttered a sharp cry, and the heavy bag bounced. Other than that, they'd seen squat all.

She followed the punch by advancing a step and then driving her knee into the pellet-filled bag. The chains securing the bag in place ground against the eyebolts sunk into the floor and ceiling.

Once you leave the shelter of home, there are a million enemies.

It was one of the precepts of Shotokan Karate. And here, in St. Louis, it was so very true. She slapped the bag with the heel of her palm, bringing her right arm up in a presumed block and then drilled her left into the bag's "ribs."

Transform yourself according to the opponent.

How? Blackheart could be anywhere at anytime and could look like most anyone he chose. Did that mean she needed to become like him—changing her looks constantly so he would have as much trouble tracking her as she did him?

Her right shin impacted the bottom of the bag, the pads helping to blunt the blow. The bag bounced anyway, the chainlinks rasping loudly.

The outcome of the fight depends on one's control.

Yes. Control. Something she tended to lack. She tended to act before thinking, a benefit in the martial arts—since her foe couldn't see the clues needed to predict her moves, but not so good here in the St. Louis post-human scene. She was lucky to be alive, after her little display in the Third Rail.

She launched three quick kicks to the side of the bag. The first landed right around where a man's knee would be, then just above the hip, and then the third into the side of the head. They were delivered in rapid sequence, the next one starting almost before she drew her leg back from the last. One member of the gym, who had totally forgotten about any further training for the time being, decided that Neo had nothing on this woman.

Do not think that you have to win, rather think you do not have to lose.

She grinned, turned and dropped, ducking under an imagined return blow. One leg snapped out, the thick shin armor catching the chain where it connected to the bottom of the bag. How very Japanese. It is fine to die fighting Blackheart, provided he goes with me. Some how she doubted Harshad would approve. And then she smiled.

I have seen that in any great undertaking it is not enough for a man to depend simply upon himself.

The Sioux had precepts and proverbs too. And this one rung true. She wasn't going to be able to 'lone wolf' her way through this one. She'd need to work with Quantum, Technicality, and Jacket, if she expected to pull this off. Then she could disappear, fade into the background and be gone, back up in Canada where things made sense.

She rose out of her legsweep and spun full circle on her left foot, the ball of her right slamming into the heavy bag right where a man's navel would be. She froze, arms up protecting her face, her leg extended straight out before her, the only sound the hiss of pellets falling from the long vertical split where a seam in the bag had given way.

The solution was simple. She had a call to make.

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