It's like Bridget Jones' Diary, but with a super-powered vigilante.

December 29, 2004

Hatebeak

I will resume usual posting shortly, but for now, I give you:

HATEBEAK, the only death metal band with a parrot on lead vocals.

The world is such a beautiful place.

New Avalon, where it snows like a mofo

I’m back from my holiday sojourn in New Avalon, where it snowed like a mofo!

My brother and sister-in-law aren’t very psyched about the Arctic cold front that grips the entire Eastern seaboard, but I’m happy because I know I’m leaving in a few days and I like the pretty, pretty snow. I make Serenity bundle up and go for a walk in the snow with me on Christmas Eve. Their handsome upper-middle class neighborhood is full of Victorian houses and chapels that are blanketed with snow and glowing with festive Christmas lights. It looks like one of those saccharine paintings by Thomas Kinkade, Painter of Light. Serenity gets into the spirit of things and we have a nice chat. We’re buds now.

I have a good time hanging out with Colin and Serenity, who I dote over because she's pregnant. They have their rich hippy friends over for a dinner party on the day after Christmas, and we drink a lot of wine and play charades. That’s right, the Velvet Marauder plays charades. Again, I'm not gay. Anyway, the whole thing is actually fun, and the dinner guests find my inability to keep from swearing very funny.

At one point in the evening the conversation turns to superheroes, specifically the Velvet Marauder. Colin’s friends Biff and Chip draw me into their conversation.

BIFF: Connor, you’re from Evergreen City. Have you ever seen that guy, the Velvet Marauder?

ME: No, not personally. Did you guys hear about that fight last week, with the jet pack guys? They took out a construction crane; the whole damn thing fell over. It was awesome.

CHIP: That’s insane.

BIFF: Was anybody hurt?

CHIP: Biff, construction cranes are falling over. I’m sure people were killed. That’s how it always is with those people: the more property destruction the better. It doesn’t matter if anybody’s in the way.

BIFF: I’m just asking –

ME: Nobody was killed during the fight, to my knowledge. But I mean, these fuckers had just gunned down four people inside that bank. That was like, the fifth robbery that month by those guys.

CHIP: They don’t have police in Evergreen City? Where are the police?

BIFF: The guys have jet packs and bulletproof armor. What are the cops going to do?

CHIP: I don’t know, shoot them with a laser or something. Every big city police department should have like a SWAT team that takes care of shit like that. We do.

ME: And you’ve got Silver Striker.

CHIP: But we know who Silver Striker is. Or at least, he has a reliable track record. I’m sure the government has checked him out, or they’d just shut Striker Mountain down. Nobody knows anything about Velvet Marauder, he could be a psychopath.

ME: I don’t know, Chip, I'd say the Marauder has a pretty good track record so far. Those guys had killed over a dozen people, and he stopped them. The cops couldn’t do it, and you can’t count on people like the Storm Riders to bail you out all the time.

BIFF: Plus, we need more gay superheroes.

ME: Wh-what?

CHIP: We don’t need more superheroes, period. Gay or straight.

ME: Wait a second, the Velvet Marauder isn’t gay.

BIFF: Yeah, he is.

ME: Nuh uh.

BIFF: He hangs out with Wombat all the time. They’re like, boyfriends.

ME: What? Jesus Christ!

CHIP: Yeah, I read that, too.

ME: That’s not true, dude.

BIFF: I’m not passing judgment. There’s nothing wrong with being gay.

ME: No, of course not, but –

CHIP: More wine?

BIFF: Yeah. Let’s open that Feudo Maccari…

And then we move on to talking about something else. At this point I begin drinking heavily.

I am like the Charlie Brown of costumed vigilantes.

December 24, 2004

A Big Peace Out to Earth

OK, I'm going offline for a few days. I'm flying out to New Avalon and spending Christmas with my brother Colin and his wife Serenity, aka Moonbeam. I decided not to take my spare suit; the Velvet Marauder can take a few days off, too.

Merry Christmas to all you stone cold players out there. Be good to each other, and remember to spay and neuter your pets. Peace out.



The Interbionics Thing

So the Interbionics building’s groundbreaking ceremony gala is tonight, and I’m going with Margo to represent The Company. Our CEO Paul Dean is going as well; we’re just part of the contingent.

I pick up Margo at 7 in the Saab, which is fucking immaculate. I detail that car on the molecular level. You may not have thought about it, but the same super strength and speed that helps me fight crime also helps me clean my car with inhuman speed and efficiency. I have skills.

Anyway, the car was clean, I'm wearing a tux, and Margo looks beautiful. I meet her in the lobby of her high-rise condo in Midtown. She glides in, grinning, looking like a movie star.

Margo is wearing a strapless black gown with a double string of pearls and a pearl bracelet. Her chestnut brown hair is swept back, held in place by shining diamond and pearl hair clips. Margo smiles, and her teeth are radiant against her glistening red lips.

“Mackenzie,” she sings. “You look like a million bucks, baby.”

She gives me a chin kiss to avoid messing up her lipstick.

“Back atcha,” I say. “You’re beautiful, Margo.”

She looks at me, amused. “Am I?”

Whoops. “I mean you look beautiful.”

She smiles at me. My heart is spasming and my cheeks burn. I feel like an idiot.

“Are you blushing?” Margo asks.

“Whatever,” I say. “It was a compliment, you said I look like a million bucks, I said you looked nice. Big deal.”

“You’re blushing, Mackenzie!”

“Let’s move on,” I say.

“This is going to be fun!” She laughs wickedly.

“Can we go?”

I help her into the fucking immaculate Saab and we make the short drive into Old Town, to the new Interbionics West Center. Originally it was a brick cannery or cold storage place, but now it’s a fusion of brick framework with futuristic steel designs. There’s an underground parking lot, and the building is surrounded by plazas and gardens full of ornamental grasses and shrubs. Big searchlights wave back and forth in front of the building, which is a chaos of limousines, town cars, and TV vans.

Oh, a side note: I think that Interbionics is run by supervillains, too.

A valet takes the Saab (I’ll search it for bugs later) and Margo and I stroll inside the main foyer, which has graceful brick arches and steel framed skylights. Interbionics has gone with a generic holiday theme for this one – the foyer is festooned with wreaths and white lights. An absolutely massive yellow Chihuly glass sculpture hangs over the dance floor area. A red-vested swing band quietly plays to one side, and a crew of caterers in elf suits are already hard at work behind a frosty wonderland bar, serving drinks. No sign of the evil mastermind Jason Delacroix.

It’s kind of a typical event. The elves circulate with trays of appetizers. A few brave souls timidly dance at the edge of the dance floor. People get their drink on. The Interbionics West Coast HR manager says a few words to polite applause. Then Jason Delacroix takes the stage and people go nuts.

A big screen behind him magnifies his satanically handsome face as he shakes hands around the edge of the little stage he’s on, gives the thumbs-up, etc. Watching this guy give a thumbs up to his crew in the Operations Division makes me ill. He looks like he should be waving a pitchfork and cackling evilly. Still, I must admit he is a handsome devil, which makes me hate him even more.

The crowd loves him. “You know, when I first took over as North American VP of this company five years ago the critics said we were an ‘East Coast’ company. Nobody is more proud of our Maryland roots than I am, but when I took over…”

He goes on about his vision for a west coast expansion, how people said he was crazy, but how together we proved them wrong and here we are and woo! My attention starts to wander. I make up corporate pixie dust bullshit for a living, I don't need to eat it. I see Margo, listening to Delacroix’s speech near Paul Dean. Then I see the Ice Queen.

She’s walking straight towards me through the crowd, looking at me like a hungry cat. I cannot for the life of me remember her name, but she’s one of Delacroix’s Aryan inner circle, a handsome blonde specimen I call the Ice Queen. She’s wearing a tight white strapless dress that glitters and shimmers when she moves. Her blond hair is slicked back and her cold, beautiful face is framed by sparkling diamond earrings. Damn, that's one well-built woman.

“Mr. Mackenzie,” she says. I take her outstretched hand, noticing the supple muscles of her arm. “How nice to see you again. Ingrid Vanderwaal.”

"Of course," I say. "How could I forget? Nice to see you, Ms. Vanderwaal."

"I'd like you to call me Ingrid," she says. Her eyes are mean and hungry. She's like a shark; a hot blonde shark with a nice rack.

"Ingrid it is then. Nice place you guys have here. Are you spending any time in the E.C.? Will I be seeing more of you in the future?"

She snags a drink off a passing tray and takes a sip, all without moving her eyes from me. "I certainly hope so."

I shift a little. My trousers suddenly don't fit well.

"I've been wondering something," she says.

"What's that?" I flag down an elf and grab a glass of red.

"What's it going to take to get you to come over to our side?" She arches an eyebrow, lets her eyes drift up and down.

"I didn't know we were on opposite sides," I say.

"We are," she smiles. "You just don't realize it yet."

"Mr. Mackenzie!"

Our verbal foreplay is interrupted by Jason Delacroix, the irritatingly handsome Interbionics executive. Margo is with him with a fake smile on her lips; she's looking at Ingrid appraisingly. He extends a hand.

"Mr. Delacroix. I'm flattered that you remembered, sir." I am a total liar. Again there is the iron handshake.

"I was hoping that you could join us on stage in about an hour for our groundbreaking toast," he says.

"I'd be honored." Again with the lying.

"Super. Can I borrow Ingrid from you for a moment?" Delacroix hooks out an elbow and Ingrid slides over to him, shooting me a look. "If you'll excuse us."

Margo and I watch them go.

"Uggh!" I say. "That guy makes me feel oily every time I talk to him."

"What about her?" Margo says. "What did she want with you, besides your blood?"

"I think she's headhunting me for a job."

Margo makes a disgusted noise. "Headhunting is the right word for it," she says. Then, quietly, "Tramp."

We chat and drink some more. I keep flagging down a big strapping elf waiter for more gin and tonics. Margo eyes the guy, whose muscles are straining against his cute elf get up. "What do they feed them up at the North Pole these days?"

We're both a little tipsy and despite my protests, she drags me out on to the dance floor for a slow song. The big Chihuly floats over our heads. It looks like a thousand glowing yellow glass sperm trying to get into a big orange egg.

"So how do you like the Ninth Floor?" Margo says.

"Eh, it's okay. You?"

"Same."

We dance in silence for a minute. I should say something.

"Hey, you still going out with that guy?" I say.

Her face darkens a little. "Yeah..." she sighs.

"Uh-oh. Things not working out?" I ask, hopefully not too eagerly.

"No, it's fine. It's just -- we're both so busy, you know. And I can't really talk about the project to anybody, so there's like this whole area of my life that I have to keep secret. It's kind of lonely, you know?"

"Yeah," I say. "I know." More than you can imagine.

"Plus, I don't think he..." Her voice catches a little. "I um, I don't think he loves me."

I notice that she's dancing a little closer now. I've never seen her like this, so... soft. I don't mean soft in a bad way.

"Hey, you know what?" I say. She looks up at me. "I --"

"Excuse me?" The PA system squeaks to life and the music dies. Fuck, and I was having a moment there with Margo! A woman's voice comes over the speakers. "Excuse me everyone. Interbionics Vice President Jason Delacroix would like you all to join him in a toast in five minutes time. Our elves will be passing out champagne, so please grab a glass."

Our CEO Paul Dean waves us over to the side of the stage, behind a roped off area full of VIPs. Mayor Chip McChesney is there along with some local business leaders, a few city council members, and a few basketball stars. I guess this is the group that will be joining His Satanic Majesty on stage for the toast.

Elf waiters start circulating among the crowd with trays of champagne. A stern looking elf with a goatee passes out flutes of champagne to the VIPs. I take one.

Somebody bumps into me from behind; that big strapping elf from earlier.

"Sorry, bro," I say.

The big elf smiles. "Sorry," he says. "Have a shrimp roll." He presses a shrimp roll and napkin in my hand.

"No, I'm good, really..." But then he's turned his back and is gone.

Where do they train these guys? I look in vain for some place to ditch my shrimp roll. I spot a big planter. As I'm about to surreptitiously dispose of the unwanted canape, I notice writing in black permanent ink on the napkin:

DON'T DRINK THE CHAMPAGNE

What the fuck? I look around for the big elf, but he's gone now. The flute of champagne in my hand looks normal enough. Smells normal enough. Actually, wait a second. It smells sort of like... metal. Or ozone.

Out goes my drink, into the potted plant.

I push past the other VIPs and past Margo. Where's the elf waiter, the stern looking cat with the goatee that was handing out these drinks? I find him at the edge of the roped off area, scanning the crowd. He looks more like a trained security agent than a waiter, though the red and green elf tights really drops him a couple notches on the tough-guy scale.

"Hey buddy," I say cheerfully. "I spilled my drink. You got any more of that champagne?"

The guy looks thrown for a second, like he hadn't planned on this. "Uh, yes sir. Let me go get you a glass."

"Oh, it's okay, I'll just get one of these," I say, and motion an elf waiter from the non-VIP zone to bring me a glass.

"No!" the guy says too quickly. "No, no, I'll get you a glass, sir. The VIPs have special champagne tonight, sir."

I shrug. "Whatever."

The stern elf with the goatee turns and marches off. I assumed he would head for the caterer's staging area, where all the other little elves go, but he heads for a curtain near the stage's edge. With a glance back over his shoulder, he disappears between the folds of curtain. I'm no genius, but that looks suspicious to me. I duck under the rope and set off after him.

"Mackenzie, where you going?" Margo calls.

I wince and make a little gotta-pee dance. "Emergency!"

"Well, hurry up!" she says.

I duck out of the crowd and through the curtain.

The backstage area is just a partitioned-off area of the foyer, hidden by thick crimson curtains. Nobody's back in this area, which is dimly lit and covered with thick power cords for the lights and sound system. Nearby are a bank of elevators and a long spiral staircase that heads up to a balcony that looks down on the main lobby.

And there's my waiter guy, over at a table. He's refilling my drink... from a stainless steel thermos of some kind. In front of him is an open briefcase with several other thermoses inside.

"That's what champagne comes in these days?" I say, and the guy jumps, startled.

"Sir! I'm going to have to ask you --"

"Whatcha got there?" I ask, stepping closer. "That's weird."

"If you could wait out front, sir."

I point a finger at the stainless steel containers. "Let me take a look at --"

The stern elf grabs my finger and twists my wrist. He grabs at my lapel - this fucker's trying a judo move on me!

I easily pop out of the hold and we stare at each other for a second.

"That was rude," I say, and he punches me.

The stern elf is fast. He clocks me in the jaw with a roundhouse punch that sends me staggering. I trip over some cables and flop awkawardly to the ground, holding my sore jaw. That hurt! Holy shit, this fucking elf dude has super strength!

I pop to my feet. "Okay, elf. That was your free shot. You don't get another one." I brush dust from my shoulder and stride towards the guy, who is still holding the thermos.

Just then the intro music starts and applause swells on the other side of the curtain. The toast ceremony is beginning.

I reach for the thermos in his hand. The elf spins away from me and comes back with a sweeping heel kick aimed right at my temple. I block it with my forearm then twist and grab his ankle. His eyes widen with a brief "oh shit!" look and then I toss him bodily forty feet through the air and into the elevator doors. Clang! He drops the thermos.

Serves him right, fucking with me like that. I grab one of the stainless steel containers from the briefcase. It's cool to the touch. It looks like something you'd keep fissile material in.

"What's in here, shorty?" I say, turning...

... the elf guy is running up the circular stairs towards the balcony.

"Hey!" I set off after him.

On stage, Mayor McChesney is talking some shit about the private sector and the public sector working hand in hand to strengthen and diversify this great city on the sea.

I run up the stairs, four at a time. I need some answers. Who gave me that note? What's in this champagne? Why do just the VIPs get it? I have a feeling stern elf won't be very forthcoming with answers, but it will give me an excuse to pound on somebody for a while.

There's more applause from below as I reach the balcony. It wraps 3/4 of the way around the foyer and offers a nice view of the lit up gardens outside and the huge glowing Chihuly sculpture suspended over the lobby. And there's my guy, the stern elf, running for an elevator. It briefly dawns on me that he is probably intentionally leading me off someplace quiet where I can get ambushed and killed without disturbing the party.

Ding! I leap at him as the elevator doors open.

We both crash into the elevator, cracking the wood paneling on the inside. The elf elbows me in the jaw and for a brief second half of my face goes numb. Then the guy's clawing at me - Jesus, he's strong - and his hands close around my neck.

He's choking me. Instead of fighting his crushing grip I swing the steel thermos around and brain him. With a groan he slumps off me, stunned.

"Okay, my little Keebler elf," I say. "Time for some questions and answers."

He spits blood, dazed. "Fuck you."

"Question #1: Do you feel pretty in that outfit?"

He snarls and head butts me. Wow, I didn't see that coming. Stars fill my vision and I'm vaguely conscious of stern elf grabbing the thermos cannister. I punch him in the face. Once, twice. He kicks me out of the elevator and across the balcony. A few more feet and I would have gone over into the crowd. Fortunately they can't see me down below.

The guy yells and charges me, face bloody. Flying kick.

Down in the foyer, Jason Delacroix is speaking. The toast must be coming up soon. Then the Mayor, half the city council and all the other big shots will drink the weird champagne. Then Margo will drink the weird champagne.

I block a knife hand strike from the stern elf and counter with a leg sweep that he easily avoids. This guy's pretty good. We grapple for a second, grabbing each other's wrists and hands. He's pretty strong, too. The stern elf looks at me with cold rage in his eyes. Blood and snot bubble from his mouth and nose.

"Question #2: What's in the champagne?"

He gnashes his teeth in a bloody grin and spits the word, "Perfection!"

Down below, I hear Jason Delacroix say the words: "I'd like you all to join me in a toast."

Margo!

I squeeze hard and hear the elf's wrist break.

"...to the future of this great city and to the future of a new partnership..."

I pivot to one side, twisting and shifting my weight. I execute ippon seoinage, the one armed shoulder throw, and flip the bloody elf over my shoulder...

...off the balcony...

...flying through the air...

...and crashing into the huge Chihuly hanging over the empty dance floor. There's a horrible chain reaction of breaking glass sounds mingled with screams from the audience - then the whole thing shatters and drops elf and all twenty feet down where it just fucking goes Death Star and explodes into a million pieces.

Well, that interrupted the toast.

I pick up the cannister and run back downstairs and join the chaotic exodus of revelers trying to escape outside. A woman's voice on the P.A. reminds us to stay calm, everything's okay.

After a few minutes of looking I spot Margo.

"Mackenzie, where the hell were you? Did you see it? This guy just jumped off the balcony on to the glass scuplture --"

"Yeah, I saw that," I say. "That was crazy."

She doesn't have her coat. I take off my tux jacket and give it to her and we wait our turn for the valets. Margo leans against me to keep warm and for a moment, I forget all about evil corporations and super-strong elf waiters and that incredibly hot Ingrid and I just enjoy the smell of her hair and the warmth of her body. And for a moment, I don't care about any of that other shit. My paranoia will kick in full gear on the drive home. Maybe My Guy can run a test on the fluid in the thermos, tell me what it is. No, for right now, I don't think about that. I just enjoy standing here in the cold, being with her.

She looks up at me and smiles. "Thanks, Mackenzie."

"What for?"

"I had fun."

I smile. "Me too."

December 23, 2004

An orgy of Christmas joy

“You never come dowwwn here anymore,” Corine whines, doing that passive aggressive pout thing that says ‘I’m just kidding/I’m really not.’

“Coriiine, I’m sooorry,” I whine back, and give her a nicely wrapped present. I do feel like a dick; I haven’t been down to my old department in weeks. “I’ve been hella busy up there, it’s crazy. I’m sorry.”

“Thanks, Connor,” she says and kisses me on the cheek.

I give out presents to everybody in the department, mostly books. Fred Schneider gets this hilarious book I found, “Molvania: A Land Untouched by Modern Dentistry,” a very authentic travel guide to an amusingly desolate and totally fictional eastern European country. Gail gets a set of cat mugs. Surfer Dave gets a 3-D paper castle model. Dragon Lady gets an Ann Coulter book. Of course, Corine gets a kick ass mini-bust statue thing of David Boreanaz as TV's Angel.

The whole thing makes me sort of miss working in Brand Development. It was like, a normal job, not this weird paranoid world on the Ninth Floor that I’m stuck in, with alien plants and shit.

December 21, 2004

What the hell is that thing anyway?

What the hell is that thing anyway?

It's like a big purple aloe vera plant spliced with an octopus. The plant - and I use that word loosely - is planted in a big pot on a dias in the hallway outside my office. Thick, serated, tentacle-like leaves reach up from its cabbage-like "head." I spend the better part of an hour online looking at different types of exotic plants, but I don't find it. One gets the distinct impression that it comes alive at night.

I should figure out some way to get it identified. All the plants on this floor are weird "ornamental" exotics.

What if they're aliens? Quentin, Clarke, and Bradbury - they could be aliens, and these are alien plants that they keep around to make them feel at home.

Yeah, okay, that's lame. But really, what the hell is that thing anyway?

December 20, 2004

Margo Report

Margo smells good today, I catch a whiff of her as I walk past her in the hall with the weird plants. "I catch a whiff of her" -- that's probably not a good phrase to use in association with a woman. Anyway, she smells like flowers.

"Hey, so I hear you're my date on Thursday," Margo says and give me The Smile. She's wearing a pink wool skirt suit today, sort of a Jackie O thing.

"Thursday?"

"The Interbionics thing."

"Right, right," I say. Interbionics, the software company run by a cabal of Aryan supervillains, is opening their West Coast office in Old Town this week. I should say allegedly run by Aryan supervillains, I don't really know. "Yes, I am your date. What are you wearing?"

"Why do you ask? You don't want to wear the same outfit as me?" she says.

"Funny," I say. I like this thing we do, the banter thing.

"I have a gown I'm wearing. The party's black tie."

"Like prom?"

"Yeah, Mackenzie, it'll be just like prom," she says.

"Just like prom?" I ask. I got lucky with Sherri Casperson on prom night. I like to think of it as the night I became A Man.

Margo cocks an eyebrow. "You wish. Just don't get fresh, my dad will kill you."

She slugs me in the arm and strolls off.

That was like, flirting. I was flirting with Margo. I mean, it was crude unintelligent flirting, but flirting nevertheless. Hey, wait a second -- I have a date with Margo. I mean, it's a work thing, but we're dressing up and having dinner and stuff, and maybe dancing. That makes it a date.

I'm suddenly nervous.

December 19, 2004

Media Coverage

I'm resting today. My ears are still ringing from the multiple head injuries I received last night from those fucking Jet Pack Mafia goons.

I made the national news. They had footage of the battle area on CNN! I mean, it was a short clip, but still. I Tivo'd all the local broadcasts as usual. Hot reporter Leslie Milton used the phrases "reign of terror" twice when refering to the Jet Pack Mafia crime spree. As in "their reign of terror was brought to an end tonight in a spectacular and destructive battle with the Velvet Marauder." There's been some bitching about the property damage, but whatever. That's what parahuman catastrophe insurance is for, am I right? Babies.

Holiday Hellzone! Part One

(This is part one of my battle with the Jet Pack Mafia. I have mercifully divided it into two sections for your reading pleasure.)

I decide to go out on patrol early. The sun never does break through the thick layer of fog which envelopes Evergreen City all day. A long winter twilight lingers over the city, then darkness falls and the buildings light up, glowing in the misty night.

Feeling sort of festive tonight. I bounce around midtown for a while, running across damp rooftops and vaulting over streets crowded with holiday traffic. On top of the Bon Marche building I look down at Waterfront Park, brilliantly lit and crowded with people. A holiday carousel twinkles and spins and the sound of caroling drifts up to me. Ahh, Christmas.

A dull explosion jars me out of my yuletide reverie. Sounds like it came from downtown. Trouble? I toggle to the police scanner on my audio suite.

“…Zebra 9, need back up. 211 in progress at Fidelity Trust, corner of Fifth and Spring. Suspects are armed –“ Machine gun fire interrupts the cop.

Fifth and Spring, that’s like three blocks from here. Game on.

I’m on the wrong side of Waterfront Park. A few weeks ago I’d have to hop around the buildings on the perimeter of the Park and work my way around, but now I’ve got personal flight technology – glider wings. I’m taking the high road, baby.

I snap the clips on my wrist on to the retracted wingtips, spread my arms and –whoosh- the glider wings lock into place below my arms. I step up to the edge of the Bon building, take a deep breath…

Somebody down in the park yells, “Look! It’s the Velvet Marauder!”

Head swivel up. People start to whistle, cheer. Maybe they think I’m a jumper.

OK, if I fuck this up I’m going to retire forever in total shame. I do a little Greg Louganis hop on the edge of the roof, hop up about ten feet, spread my arms… and I’m airborne, gliding over Waterfront Park, picking up speed. I feel cold air rushing by me, hear people screaming and clapping below me, see camera flash bulbs going off. I hope somebody’s filming this…

Suddenly I’ve spanned the breadth of the park and a rooftop on the other side rushes up towards me. I pull up slightly, “flaring” like a helicopter, and skid to a halt on the roof. Of course, I trip over some wires and skid on my face for a few yards, but whatever – I just flew across Waterfront Park! I can hear the holiday shoppers in the Park going apeshit, screaming and applauding. Am I awesome? Yes, I am!

The sound of machine gun fire snaps me out of my self-adulation. I twist my gauntlets – thwack – and the glider wings retract under my shoulder cape. I hop up on a ventilation unit, hop an easy twenty feet to another roof, then another, and I’m overlooking Fifth and Spring.

Ten guesses who it is.

There are three Jet Pack Mafia goons this time, and it looks like they’ve decided to not only rob but also totally demolish Fidelity Trust bank. They’ve shot up the bank, which is on the bottom floor of a forty-story skyscraper. Fist sized bullet holes from their armor piercing Tommy guns pockmark the granite of the building. Black smoke gushes out of shattered windows. Somehow they managed to throw the big circular vault door through the lobby window, crushing a taxi that was waiting at the light at the intersection. Two cop cars burn down the street and all the smart people are either under cover or running away.

I can see two of the Mafioso on the sidewalk in front of the bank throwing what I assume are bags of money into a garbage dumpster. The third goon is brandishing his machine gun, dragging some poor schmo – bank manager? – out into the middle of the street by the arm. He holds the guy in front of him and fires off a few heavy rounds at a cop car a block away on Spring. It blows up.

“Take that, coppers! Haw haw!” I swear, that’s how they talk.

I should explain: The Jet Pack Mafia is a gang of high-tech bank robbers who use, well, jet packs to escape from their robberies. Not only that, but they wear customized exo-skeleton body armor that enhances their strength tenfold and are covered with a rubbery bullet proof outer layer. For some reason these guys have modified their armor so they look like life-size 1920’s gangster action figures. Really. They have weird plastic skin and rubbery hair and plastic pin stripe suits – they look like creepy rubber gangster robots. I think they look like The Puttermans, the creepy plastic robot family from those old Duracell ads. Anyway, I first fought them a year ago with Wombat and Kestrel during the Villain’s Revolt and lately they’ve been robbing armored cars in Evergreen City, making me look bad. I tussled with one of these clowns recently and almost got killed, but he got cocky and dropped his guard and I brained the fucker with an old car battery. (see post Why Jet Packs Should Be Illegal, 11/26/04) Taking on all three at once may be suicide, but I can’t just let them rob banks and do whatever they want. I’m a fucking superhero, we don’t tolerate shit like that.

From somewhere down Spring cops fire tear gas canisters up into the intersection

“Eat lead, pigs!” The Mafioso sprays the street with gunfire. He looks like the leader; he’s got a red carnation on his suit and an oversized fedora. A cartoony scar runs down one side of his face.

Okay, here’s the layout: I’m on the south side of the intersection of Fifth and Spring, eight stories up on top of the Evergreen Art Museum. The Jet Pack Mafia is robbing the burning Fidelity Trust building on the north side of the intersection. On the east side there’s a mid-rise building with offices and Bullimore’s, a great steak restaurant. I would feel bad if Bullimore’s got destroyed. On the west side of the intersection is a construction site, a big fenced off pit with a huge construction crane rising out of it. That’s the battlefield, obscured by tear gas and smoke from the bank and burning cop cars.

Scarface’s hostage drops to his knees, coughing and retching. Go time.

I jump off the building. About halfway down I spread my arms and twist into position – woosh – the glider wings fill with air, and I swoop down into the intersection, gathering speed. It’s as if I’m at the end of a long, invisible cable, swinging madly.

The Mafioso turns before I hit him, and his black shiny Little Lulu eyes go wide with surprise. That’s right fucker, I’m flying.

“Sunava—“

My aim is a little off, so I settle for clothes-lining Scarface as I fly by him. I stick out my arm and catch him in the sternum, which makes a sound like a Japanese kettle drum when I strike it. The impact fucks up my trajectory and I spin clumsily off and slam into the side of the burning bank. Scarface hits the granite wall full on, making a spider web of impact cracks on the stone. I hop to my feet.

“Bitch?” I say. He’s out cold, I think. “Is that what you were going to say? Son of a bitch?”

Bullets shatter the wall over my head. I dive through a busted window into the bank’s lobby.

Behind a pillar I catch my breath. I can’t see the goon with the Tommy gun due to all the smoke, but I can hear him outside.

“You mutt!” he says. Is this the guy I fought earlier? They all sound the same. “I’ll drill you fulla holes!”

“You’re such a tease,” I say.

I look around the ruined bank. It looks like they used explosives on the vault and high caliber rounds on the lobby. Some people are cowering under a table, wide-eyed and covered with dust. From where I’m standing I can see the feet of a dead woman, probably a bank teller or something. The rest of the body is obscured by a shattered countertop, but I can see her feet. She’s wearing nylons and black pumps, and she’s dead.

How many people have they killed here?

“Come on out, Fancy Dan!” the Mafioso calls. He fires off a few more rounds. Is he calling me gay?

I glance around the other side of the pillar. It looks like the other goon is still loading bags of money into a dumpster on the sidewalk outside. A stupid plan formulates in my mind, and I act.

I unclip a sepia bomb from my utility belt. It’s like a smoke bomb, but better. Taking a couple of quick breaths to psyche myself up, I pull the tab on the grenade. I lob the grenade out the window towards the goon, who I will now refer to as “Fancy Dan” for simplicity.

“What the --?”

The sepia bomb goes off and Fancy Dan is engulfed in a boiling cloud of inky darkness.

While he’s occupied, I turn my attention to the other clown. Breaking cover, I sprint out of Fidelity Trust and full-on slam into the dumpster that they’re loading all the money into.

I hit the thing hard, lose balance and fall. I watch the dumpster fly across the street and bust through the wooden wall surrounding the construction site. The whole dumpster – money and all - drops into the deep construction pit, landing with a noisy clatter thirty feet below. I laugh.

“You motherless—“

The Jet Pack Mafia guy who was loading the dumpster with loot is really pissed. He kicks me in the face with big oversized loafers.

“I’ll murderize ya!” This Mafioso has a beak nose, a pencil thin moustache, and tiny hateful cartoon eyes. He raises his Tommy gun.

Shaking off the kick, I strike hard with my patented Cobra Punch, right in his crotch. The blow blasts him back into the bank, sprawling into the wreckage. If he wasn’t wearing that weird rubbery exo-skeleton, he’d be dead. Or crotchless.

Then Fancy Dan throws a mailbox at me.

It hits me right in the side of the head, and I nearly black out. I sprawl drunkenly into a car, putting my fist through a window. Forgive me for being obvious, but getting hit in the ear with a mailbox will fuck your shit up.

I’m still trying to clear my head when Fancy Dan grabs me by the lapels of my topcoat and hoists me into the air above him.

“Bon voyage, Fruitcake!”

He throws me into the construction pit.

(Oh no! Do I die? Please check out Holiday Hellzone! Part Two and find out.)

Holiday Hellzone! Part Two

(This is part two of my battle with the Jet Pack Mafia, a Christmas tradition for me.)

I’m still trying to clear my head when Fancy Dan grabs me by the lapels of my topcoat and hoists me into the air above him.

“Bon voyage, Fruitcake!”

He throws me into the construction pit.

That wouldn’t be so bad – it’s only a thirty foot drop – but I hit the crane. Or rather, my head hits the crane. I slam into the thick white metal scaffolding headfirst. I shit you not, there is a large gonging noise when my head hits the steel. Little fairies dance in front of my eyes, and I think I black out.

Music. I hear music.

What is this? I’m coming to, tangled in the steel scaffolding of this huge construction crane. Really loud music is playing in my ears. I’m confused.

You know when you’re driving in your car, and you’re scanning through the radio stations because you’re sick of all your CDs. You’re scanning, and you come right in on the middle of some song. For a second it’s just noise, your mind can’t make sense of it. Then you hear it for a few seconds and suddenly the noise gels and becomes a recognizable song. It’s David Bowie’s “Golden Years” or whatever. Well, that’s what I’m going through as I try to figure out where I am, where’s this music coming from, why my head hurts, and what song I’m listening to.

I’m vaguely aware that I’m in some danger.

It’s some dance music, with a galloping beat. Jesus, it’s loud. A woman is kind of singing. Hey, I know this song!

The scaffolding explodes around me as the two Mafiosos open fire with their big cartoony Tommy guns. Armor piercing bullets rip into the metal, shredding it.

I tear loose from the scaffolding and leap off the crane into the pit.

Awkwardly I land on a pallet of rebar. The music is still playing.


Drugs and rock 'n’ roll, bad ass Vegas hoes,
Late-night booty calls and shiny disco balls.

I must have bumped the audio suite in my utility belt when the goon threw me into the crane and turned on my MP3 player full blast. Currently “Shiny Disco Balls” by Who Da Funk is playing really, really loud. It’s a disco song, good for the cardiovascular workouts. Again, not gay.
Drugs and rock 'n’ roll, bad ass Vegas hoes

I’ve got to turn this goddamn thing off.

There’s a horrible groaning noise above me, louder than the music. I look up –

Late-night booty calls

The base of the crane buckles and with a terrible roar the entire crane, one hundred and twenty feet high, the whole goddamn thing falls over.

Shiny disco balls

The music keeps pumping as the crane comes crashing down on 3rd street, flattening about six cars parked on the side of the street. I can’t see from this angle, but I think the crane may have landed on the Art Museum.

Fancy Dan and the Murderizer appear right on cue, flying into the pit with guns ready, looking for their dumpster of money and the annoying superhero who fucked up their day. The two goons float down into the dusty pit, held aloft by their small art deco jet packs.

Drugs and rock 'n’ roll, bad ass Vegas hoes

No time to think this through. I grab a length of rebar from the pallet I landed on. It’s a good ten feet long.

Late-night booty calls and shiny disco balls

I make it to the base of the fallen crane in one huge leap, rebar in hand. The air is thick with dust from the collapse. I run up the warped scaffolding, hopping and climbing higher.

Disco, disco, disco, disco, shiny disco balls

The Jet Pack Mafia are floating down further. I run up the crane towards them.

Disco, disco, disco, disco

The Murderizer spots me first and opens fire. I swear I can almost see each bullet as it races towards me. I push off with one foot, launch myself into the air.

The bullets pass under my feet as I go airborne. I’m dimly aware of something exploding behind me; he must have hit some fuel drums or something.

Everything’s in slow motion now.

Disco

I wind back with my length of rebar like it was a nine iron.

Disco

I float towards The Murderizer.

Disco

And in exquisite slow motion I swat the Murderizer in the head with my makeshift golf club.

Disco

His head snaps back. The rebar distorts with the force of the impact. His feet fly up. He’s falling. I’m falling.
Disco

I land gracefully on top of the portable construction office. The Murderizer does not; he smashes into a backhoe and collapses in a heap.
Disco

God damn it I wish I could focus just for a second on turning this music off!

Fancy Dan coasts sideways with his jet pack, hovering over the dumpster full of money. He snarls and says something, but I can’t hear a word he’s saying. I want to call time-out or something so I can turn off the disco.

I’m ready for it when it comes. He opens up with the Tommy gun, hosing the portable office down with fire. I’m already back flipping off the structure as it disintegrates. I land next to the Murderizer, who looks like a broken doll. I’m worried that I’ve killed him.

Drugs and rock 'n’ roll, bad ass Vegas hoes

Bullets zing and ricochet overhead. I cower behind a backhoe.
Late night booty calls

I pop out from behind a backhoe with Fancy Dan's Tommy gun in my hands.

Fancy Dan’s facing the wrong way. I aim right at his jet pack…

…and fire.

Shiny disco balls!

The gun bucks in my hands and the jet pack explodes. Fancy Dan spasms, then falls burning like a ragtime Icarus into the dumpster full of money. I couldn’t make up a more fitting ending myself.

I turn off the MP3 player, and in the sudden silence I realize that there are several helicopters overhead. Approaching police sirens echo in the construction pit. Somewhere up on Third a car blows up. Everywhere I look there is twisted metal, fire, black smoke – carnage. “Dude…” I say to nobody in particular, awed by the destruction.
Time to get the hell out of here.

December 18, 2004

To Christmas? Or not to Christmas?

So Christmas is a week away and I have pretty much ignored it this year. Haven't even done any shopping. I should get stuff for people at the office. Not those evil supervillains running the QuantumWorks project, fuck those guys, but I should get a little something for Fred Schneider, Corine... jeez, should I get something for Margo? Would that be too forward? Maybe just a card. I wonder if she's still going out with Evil Val Kilmer? Probably.

My brother Colin called and left a message while I was working out in my gym. He and Serenity want me to come out to New Avalon next weekend for Christmas. It sounds like a hassle, but maybe I should go. What else am I going to do? Drink and think about Margo or Hydrangea? Go on patrol? Mitch and Lisa are driving out to Seattle to hang out with his folks, and JC and his woman are having a "family Christmas" this year. Poor JC's so stressed out about his upcoming nuptials, I can't imagine it would be fun hanging out with them anyway. Seriously, is it a good idea to get married this time of year?

Maybe I should go to New Avalon. I could take my spare suit and go on patrol over there, just for the hell of it. After all, crime knows no holiday.

December 17, 2004

Blade: Trinity

So I saw Blade: Trinity, which was a let down.

I love - love - the first two Blade movies, and I'm not going to cop out and qualify that statement by calling them "cheesy fun" or something. I just flat out dug them. And nobody is a bigger fan of writer David Goyer than I am, but somebody else should have directed this one. It was like the pilot for a Canadian syndicated adventure show based on the Blade movies -- cheap and devoid of atmosphere. It was like an episode of the TV series Highlander, only with swearing. They didn't get enough coverage for their fight scenes so they try to fix the problem with choppy editing. The guy that played Drake (aka Dracula) looked like a pagan rugby player. None of the vampires looked cool. You wouldn't think that would be important, but it totally is. Fuck, how much would it have cost to hire Tim Bradstreet to do production design again?

And please, Hollywood, for the love of all that is holy, stop filming movies in Vancouver BC! Enough already.

Space zombies or evil beast from another dimension? You make the call.

So I just read this article about the weird meteor craters up in Canada's Northwest Territory.

Remember last month that giant sentient asteroid that nearly wiped out all life on Earth? (see post "Death Rock from Space" 11/16/04) Apparently after the Storm Riders destroyed the asteroid some chunks of it made it through the Earth's atmosphere, landing somewhere up in the Great White North. Now there are weird atmospheric and magnetic anomalies up there; radios don't work, the Aurora Borealis hovers overhead 24/7, the air smells like copper, etc. The Canadian government has sent a research team up there to check it out. They're dead men.

This is so totally an alien invasion, or a giant Cthulhu monster, or the start of a zombie plague. I give it a week before the shit hits the fan and we have another extinction scale crisis again (a crisis that I will not take part in, naturally) and some big shots like the Storm Riders or Minutemen will have to come in and sort shit out.

You think I'm paranoid. I'll admit that I sometimes jump to conclusions and assume that people are supervillains, or at the very least part of some sinister conspiracy. But you have to understand: I'm a superhero. That's how things work. In my world, if there's some sort of weird meteor crater up in the Arctic Circle, it means space zombies. Or something.

Just you wait. I know about these things.

December 16, 2004

I believe I can die

Jumping off of a great height is an unnatural thing to do, yet I am preparing to do just that.

After last week's disastrous attempt at gliding with my new "wings" I decide that I should try again as soon as possible or I would just wuss out and never fly at all. So I sneak into Evergreen Stadium, hop up on top of the grandstand awning or whatever you call it, and get ready for Take #2.

Evergreen Stadium (sorry, I refuse to call it Northwest Mutual Savings and Loan Stadium) is a big open air football stadium where the Greeners play. The grandstands on each side are covered by these gigantic overhanging structures which theoretically keep spectators dry while the players below are wet and miserable. In theory, anyway. The geniuses who designed the stadium oriented it in such a way that chill wind blowing in off the ocean just shoots right through the stadium - hence it's nickname Windchill Field. But hey, whatever, at least we taxpayers didn't have to foot the bill for it... Oh, wait. Yes, we did have to pay for it. I could go on about corporate welfare but nobody reads this blog for that shit. Come to think of it, nobody reads this blog for any reason.

I digress. It's midnight, the stadium is dark and empty, and I'm standing on the edge of this grandstand shelter in my armor trying to work my courage up. After last week's mishap, I have decided to test out the glider wings in a deserted area that was lacking in a) spectators to point and laugh at me, and b) skyscrapers to run into.

I step up to the edge and look down. Jesus, that's a long way. What is that, an eight story fall?

You may recall how I was desperate for some kind of aerial upgrade to my Velvet Marauder body armor after a battle with a Jet Pack Mafia goon (see post Why Jet Packs Should Be Illegal, 11/26/04). Those fuckers keep knocking off armored cars and I'm not having a lot of luck stopping them because they can fly whereas I cannot. So I sent away my body armor to My Guy for an expensive upgrade. My Guy added these kick-ass expandable wings that retract under my shoulder cape when not in use, and I was psyched. Stoked, even. (see post I Believe I Can Fly, 12/11/04) Then I tried the wings out and fucked my neck up real good in the process.

Okay, I'm standing there on the edge, thinking of reasons not to jump. I have to pee. Maybe I should pee. No! No, no peeing! No, I'm a goddamn superhero, I've fought ninjas and super-strong perverts in bear suits and evil Tibetan sorcerors! This is nothing! An eight story fall on to astroturf is nothing.

"I can do this," I say out loud, but the wind whisks my voice away and I end up sounding like a little girl. I clear my throat. "Fucking A, I can do this!" I hit my fists together. "Game on. Game on!"

I clip the wingtips on to the hardpoints on each of my gauntlets and on my utility belt. I spread my arms. Whoosh! The glider wings fill with air, forming a delta shaped wing on my back.

"GAME ON!" I scream and jump.

My body launches out over the dark stadium, then starts to fall. I keep my arms spread, trying to stay parallel with the ground. Shit. Shit!

Then I notice that I'm not plummeting to the earth. I'm... I'm gliding!

Cold wind catches me and lifts me up. The grandstand on the other side of the stadium is rushing towards me. Then I remember the instructions:


The webbing under the shoulder cape creates a wing-like surface area that will slow your fall rate from 120 MPH to approximately 50-70 MPH. At the same time, the wing structures can increase your forward speed from zero to over 80 MPH.

Okay, instead of falling straight down I'm speeding laterally towards an immobile object. I need to turn. Resisting the temptation to attempt a dramatic motion, I gently, gently angle my body to the right. I will myself to turn...

...and I wheel around in a graceful arc like a hawk as I slowly float down. I come to a skidding halt at the fifty yard line, then twist my gauntlets. Thwack! The glider wings snap back up under my shoulder cape.

I cannot fucking believe it.

"WINNER!" I scream, pumping my fists in the air.

"I RULE! I FUCKING RULE!"

December 15, 2004

All your bugs are belong to us

So all of the expensive KOMA probes that I planted on the Ninth Floor are gone. They never even transmitted.

Hunh. Looks like the electronic surveillance option is out. I might have to go old school and pull a Watergate, break into the offices at night.

I can't figure this out. Clearly these guys know that I'm on to them and their plan (whatever it is) but they haven't confronted me or killed me or any of the shit you would expect. If Quentin, Clarke, and Bradbury knew I was the Velvet Marauder, why did they hire me? It doesn't make sense.

If I were smarter, I think I'd be able to figure this whole thing out.

December 14, 2004

Espionage for Beginners

Today my goal is to plant eavesdropping bugs around the Ninth Floor - I'm hoping that I'll pick up something useful and get to the bottom of this whole supervillain CEO thing in my company.

I'm using KOMA probes, tiny needle sized seismic sensors that send audio files to the communications system in my utility belt. For about ten minutes I walk around pretending to look for a file I left somewhere. For authenticity, I make my bitch Chad look for the nonexistent paper, too, which sort of cracks me up. I stick one bug in the fabric covering a seat in the conference room, one under my desk, one in Margo's office, and one in the potted plant outside of Aaron Clarke's office.

What the hell are these plants, anyway? The main corridor in the QuantumWorks section has these freaky looking potted plants, vivid succulents and cacti in weird colors. The plant near the mysterious big shot John Quentin's door is this freaky looking Venus flytrap thing that I swear turns its head to watch you.

I activate the KOMA probes. I'll listen to the audio files tonight in the Secret Chamber. Maybe I will find out more about the sinister troika - Quentin, Clarke, and Bradbury - who run the QuantumWorks project, and maybe the entire company.

Then I will kick them all in the nuts.

December 13, 2004

My pathetic power trip

I have nothing to do today but suffer. My neck makes crunchy noises now and it feels like there are small invisible bear traps biting into the tendons in my back. I have to continually roll my head around to keep the muscles loose and moving - if I don't, they lock up on me and it's Painsville, baby.

There is precious little for me to do. I've got Chad the Designer doing logo design concepts just to keep him busy and I'm waiting to hear back from Anthony in Legal, who is doing some copyright searches for me on some potential names for The Project, aka QuantumWorks.

It's a beautiful day; fresh crisp air blowing in from the ocean, glowing white clouds scudding across minty blue skies. I should walk up to Waterfront Park and work the kinks out of my back, maybe get some of those donut holes at that one place.

My bitch Chad walks quickly by my open office door, his arms full of papers.

"Hey, Chad," I say. "Got a sec?"

Chad steps in my office, a little reluctantly. He knows this will involve menial labor. He is my bitch, after all.

"How's it going with the logos?" I ask.

"Good, good," he says. Chad is a hipster, a goatee and chain wallet type of guy. Good artist. "I'll have a batch ready by end of day tommorrow. Like we talked about."

Is that attitude I'm hearing? "Hey, while you're up, will you do me a favor? Can you grab me some Pain Crushers out of the medicine cabinet? Oh, hmm, I don't have anything to wash them down with. Will you grab me a cup of water, too? Thanks bro."

Chad looks like he's going to say something, then smiles thinly and leaves.

That's right, Chad. Get me my water.

Man, I am a dick!

December 12, 2004

Help me Dr. Bobby, you're my only hope

I call JC and bail out of our scheduled round of golf. My back is spasming and my neck makes strange crunching noises when I move my head.

My chiropractor Dr. Bobby's office isn't open on Sunday. Crap. I could go to the Bayview emergency room, but I'm afraid that my cover will be blown when the doctors check me out. I can't pass for a non-superhuman under close inspection. For one, you have to use one huge-ass needle to even puncture my skin to draw blood. I should ask Wombat if he can refer me to somebody.

Man, I hurt. I end up taking a bunch of Aleve and soaking my bruised body in a tub full of ice. Then it's time for wine, nachos, and a screening of the 1984 Matthew Modine/Nicolas Cage flick Birdy (which has one of the best endings in cinema). Velvet Marauder says check it out. Thank you, Netflix.

Teaching yourself how to fly: a steep and painful learning curve

I think I really fucked up my shoulder.

And my head.

I crash - fucking crash- into a skyscraper doing, like, eighty. Damn glider wings. I slap into the Banque Evergreen building like a sparrow into a window.

In good conscience I cannot recommend a personal flight device to anybody who is not at least partially invulnerable. If I wasn't all armored up and super tough I would be a bloody smear down a skyscraper right now. Don't try to fly, kids. There, that could be the motto I'm looking for.

My right arm is all tingly...

I should go to the hospital.

December 11, 2004

I believe I can fly

I got my armor back from My Guy with the glider mods I requested, plus a couple pages of instructions.
I am stoked. Stoked, I tell you!

I try the suit on in my living room. It feels the same, but now my shoulder cape can transform into a delta shaped glider wing that should enable me to fly... sort of. I have lockable hardpoints on my gauntlets and at the small of my back. To "fly," I snap the shoulder cape to the three hardpoints and the cape stretches out to make a "wing-like surface." When I'm done, I just unclip the wing and it retracts back into place as my shoulder cape.
It strikes me that the instructions for this are pretty general, full of helpful tips like "avoid dangerous updrafts." You think there would be and instructional DVD or something. Here is the meat of the instructions:

The webbing under the shoulder cape creates a wing-like surface area that will slow your fall rate from 120 MPH to approximately 50-70 MPH. At the same time, the wing structures can increase your forward speed from zero to over 80 MPH.
The CAD designed semi-rigid plastic ribs and low-drag material enhance the "flight" experience and the webbing collapses easily under your shoulder cape when not in use. The webbing is flame retardant and bullet proof. Great care must be exercised when gliding in urban environments due to updrafts and unpredictable air currents. Gliding in extreme low temperatures is also not recommended; if the webbing frosts up its efficacy will be greatly reduced.
I am fucking psyched. I'm trying this thing tonight!

December 09, 2004

Patrol Report

I went on patrol last night in my spare costume. Have I gained weight? This thing is really tight on me, particularly in the groinal area. Plus, the shoulder cape/topcoat is an unmanly purple color, instead of the masculine deep blue color I have now.

I'm using the spare because my primary suit of body armor is getting upgraded by My Guy -- I'm hoping to get it back at the end of the week. Then - I'm airborne. Glider wings, baby.

Anyway, I have to go on patrol, I'm getting rusty. My shoulder is no longer an epicenter of molten pain and I feel like I have full range of motion. I healed pretty quickly after I fucked my shoulder up in that fight with the Jet Pack Mafia goon (see post Why jet packs should be illegal, 11/26/04) I have clean living and my chiropractor Dr. Bobby to thank for that. Well, that and a superhuman physiology, that helps.

To satisfy my curiousity I bounce over to Old Town and check out the Interbionics building. Sure enough, it looks ready to go. They renovated the original brick building and it's now a dramatically lit retro-modern fusion of old brick and polished steel. The building is going to be Interbionics new west coast office, and Mayor McChesney hopes that it will serve as the foundation for a new low tax bio-tech district among the cobblestones of Old Town. I'm not too psyched about it because Interbionics are all a bunch of fucking supervillains. Mark my words.

I pick up reports of a fire on the South End, so I bounce over and check it out.

A warehouse burns, vomiting black smoke into the night sky. The ECFD are hosing down the adjacent buildings, trying to keep the fire from spreading. Looks like they're just going to let the warehouse burn.

I hang back a few blocks and scan the scene using the binocular setting on my goggles. No point in getting involved. I'm guessing there's nobody inside the warehouse, and I kind of make it a rule not to fuck with fire scenes unless absolutely necessary. The firefighters know what they're doing, and the last thing they need is some superpowered dude knocking around inside a burning building and messing up their game plan. I'd feel like shit if I collapsed a roof on somebody or something, so I just let them do their thing.

As I'm standing on a rooftop checking the fire out, I notice a figure on top of a warehouse a few blocks away. At first I think it's just some kid or homeless guy who climbed up there to watch the fire, but then I zoom in on the figure with my goggles.

It's a cop. A SWAT guy, sitting cross legged on the roof, chewing gum. His black ECPD baseball cap is on backwards and it looks like he's got a video camera and a sniper rifle. He's clearly there on purpose - he's sitting on a mat and he's got smears of black greasepaint under his eyes to fight the glare. The guy looks around, yawns, then turns his attention back to the fire.

What the hell is this guy doing here?

The SWAT guy is saying something into his headset. He's not alone. I scan the nearby rooftops. Nothing. I switch to infrared, but it's all fucked up by the ambient heat from the fire.

What if this cat is waiting for me? Are the cops staking out emergency scenes hoping I'll make an appearance?

I have a bad feeling about this.

December 08, 2004

Big Jim Double Trouble Commander

Man, it is really raining today.

I’m hanging out in my office, bored. I don’t really have a lot on my plate – just doing some market research and what I call associative cognition, which I could also call staring into space. So far today I’ve downed five cups of coffee and a Cinnabon Diabetes Special, browsed through some trade publications, answered email, and bid on a Big Jim doll that I wanted on Ebay.

A little background information on Big Jim action figures. In the 70’s they were Mattel’s answer to G.I. Joe, and tended to be a little more sports/martial arts oriented and gayer. I had one when I was a kid called the Big Jim Double Trouble Commander. The figure had a face-changing device; push a button on its back and the face switches from a bemused, stoned expression to a constipated grimace. Double Trouble! I loved the Double Trouble Commander because he was the only toy whose gimmick was the simulation of emotion. With all the other dolls, you push a button and they fire a dart or they karate chop or something, but with this one you pressed a button and the doll expresses emotion. It was a fantastic toy. I saw it on Ebay and had to bid on it.

Anyway, I’m sitting there immersed in associative cognition when Aaron Clarke knocks on the door.

“Mr. Mackenzie,” Clarke says, and I jump, startled.

Aaron Clarke is on The Company’s Board of Directors but he looks like he should be the head of an English department at some Ivy League school. His muttonchops and spectacles make him look like an owl.

Oh yeah, and I think he’s part of a sinister conspiracy among the executives of The Company, and could be a supervillain. (see post The Ninth Floor, 11/28/04)

“Aaron, hi, come on in. Sorry, I was just zoning out.”

“I trust you have grown accustomed to the view, Mr. Mackenzie?” Clarke says.

“Yeah it’s beautiful,” I say. “Please, call me Connor.”

Clarke smiles in a humorless way and inspects me over his bifocals. "I have a need for your unique skills, Mr. Mackenzie." Somehow him calling me that pisses me off.

"What can I do for you, Mr. Clarke?" I say, a little coldly.

"As you know, InterBionics is opening a west coast office here in Evergreen City. You're familiar with the building, I imagine."

"Yeah, I know the building," I say. It's that old brick building in Old Town that they're converting, the one where I had a humiliating "fight" with a ninja who was planting KOMA bugs there. (see post I Hate Ninja, 9/18/04) I never did figure out what that ninja was up to or who he worked for.

"They're having a gala next week to celebrate the opening of the building," Clarke says. "Since you and Margo have established a relationship with Interbionics, I would like you both to attend. That wouldn't bug you too much, would it? You seem like a night owl; I didn't think you'd mind."

Okay, is it just me or is everything Clarke says a double entendre? I have a feeling that he's fucking with me and he doesn't think I'm smart enought to notice.

"Sign me up, Mr. Clarke," I say, smiling. Of course I'll go; I think Interbionics is run by a bunch of Aryan supervillains that are up to no damn good. (see post Turbine City Update #2, 9/9/04)
Of course, I think my company is also run by supervillains, too.

Am I paranoid, or is everybody really out to get me?

Best video game ever

Instead of going on patrol I hung out at Mitch and Lisa's and ate spaghetti. Mitch and I polished off a few bottles of red wine and played his new game Katamari Damacy on his PlayStation.

Not to take anything away from Halo 2, but Katamari Damacy is The Shit. It's this trippy Japanese kid's game that looks like it was designed by a bunch of gay Japanese ravers on acid who watched Yellow Submarine one time too many. Watch the opening sequence here. You're this little dude who rolls a katamari ball around picking up stuff, and there's this surreal king character who vomits rainbows and... It's insane. After Lisa went to bed, Mitch and I snuck out on his back porch and smoked a joint*, then went back inside and drank more wine and played this game until 3 AM.

I felt vaguely guilty about not going on patrol, but hey, I'm still recuperating from my back injury and there haven't been any Jet Pack Mafia robberies lately, so whatever.

*Kids, don't smoke pot.

Kitten on motorbike

If you don't find a kitten on a sports bike jamming to British elctro-punk even remotely entertaining? We have nothing to talk about.

December 07, 2004

My bitch, Chad

So I don’t know if this is a good thing or not, but they gave me a designer – Chad. He’s a lanky Gen-X type with a goatee, a chain wallet, and a trust fund. I don’t like hipsters who wear expensive shirts that look like they come from the free clothing box on campus. Anyway, Chad the Designer is a contractor who has been hired to support “the project’s graphic needs.”

Margo stops by my new office and knocks on the door. “How’s it going, Mackenzie? You settling in?”

“Good, good,” I say. “Hey, what’s with Chad? What am I supposed to do with him?”

“He’s a designer,” Margo says. She’s wearing a cute neckerchief and sweater outfit today that makes her look like a Kennedy. “Make him design something.”

“I don’t have shit for him to do yet, not for a couple weeks,” I said.

“That’s okay,” she says smiling. “Make him get your cleaning.”

“The budget for this project is sick, isn’t it?” I say, and by “sick” I mean “huge.”

Margo grins. “Mackenzie, you have no idea. I’ll see you.”

So. I have a “bitch” as they say in prison. I wonder how far I can take this. I dial Chad’s extension on my phone.

“This is Chad.”

“Chad, it’s Connor. Hey, will you grab me a cup of coffee and some aspirin? Thanks pal.”

December 05, 2004

Patrol Report

I went out last night and hopped around the South End in my spare costume, just to try to work some of the kinks out. My back is still stiff, but I've been taking it easy all week and if I don't exercise, I'll bust a Godzilla and destroy a house or something.

I bounce around listening to Propellerheads and generally just getting my heart rate up. Since I have no interest in fighting crime tonight I deliberately pick a sleepy section of warehouses, docks, and rail yards as my personal gym. I feel vaguely guilty: what kind of Scourge of the Night goes out on crimefighting patrol just for exercise with no interest in Defending the Downtrodden at all?

Me.

December 03, 2004

My New Office

This week has been crazy, so I forgot to post about my new office up on Nine, which is bad-ass. Much like WKRP’s Les Nessman, I have always longed for an office of my own, something with four walls and a door and maybe a window. My wish has been granted. I have arrived. I have an office.

It’s not huge, but it’s mine. I spend the entire day settling in and finding the perfect spot for my rocket ship lamp. It’s got the standard desk and various accoutrements one finds in a modern office, plus a full-length window that looks out over The Bay. I can watch the big cargo ships coming into the harbor and seagulls wheeling about in the sky and the early fall sunsets - all from my office. My office.

I have to check myself and remember that I may have gotten this gig because the supervillains who run the QuantumWorks project want to eliminate me or turn me to the Dark Side or some shit. (see post Situation: Uncool, 11/30/04) Still, having an office is cool.

December 02, 2004

Fly, body armor, fly!

I packed up my body armor and shipped it off to one of My Guy’s P.O. Boxes. I’m going with the glider wings. I thought the jet boots were too much. I’ll leave the rocket propelled flight to techno heroes like Megadroid and what’s his name, the guy with the fishbowl helmet.

Jet boots or gyrocopter?

I get an email back from My Guy in response to my request for some sort of aerial upgrade to the Marauder armor:

This is possible. You have four options:

1) Flight (expandable wings w/ propulsion, jet boots)
2) Gliding (expandable wings)
3) Mechanical Assist (grappling hook, “webline,” pogo platform)
4) Vehicle (air scooter, gyrocopter)

For the first three options, I would need your body armor for approx 1 week. Let me know.


I don’t think I can afford an air scooter, so the Vehicle option is out. The Flight option seems too expensive and over-the-top and strays too far from the brand image. I’m an urban avenger, you know? Plus, I think I’d kill myself. As far as the Mechanical Assist option, same argument: I’d just kill myself using a webline, or at the very least humiliate myself by swinging into a skyscraper. I’m not Black Ant or Arachnita or any of the other insecty heroes.

So that leaves Gliding. I wonder how that works, are there like, wings that flip out like a switchblade or are there skydiving/flying squirrel type wings?

I make the arrangements to ship my suit to one of My Guy’s PO Boxes. This means I have to wear my uncomfortable back-up armor, but in a week or two I’ll be flying! Gliding, anyway.

Pogo platform? What the hell is a pogo platform?

December 01, 2004

Fly like an eagle

I have decided that I need to have some sort of aerial capabilities in order to effectively fight crime and kick people like the Jet Pack Mafia in the head. I'm going to contact My Guy and see what my options are in terms of hardware, because I definitely need to fly or something. Glide, maybe.

November 30, 2004

Situation: Uncool

You may recall that during my meeting with the QuantumWorks steering committee on the ninth floor I planted a bug in the conference room. The needle size KOMA probe was buried into the fabric cover of the seat I was sitting in, recording and transmitting to the audio suite on my utility belt. I got a weird vibe during the meeting, particularly from the enigmatic John Quentin, who smells like a super-villain to me, so I planted the bug in hopes of gleaning some info about whatever nefarious plans they undoubtedly were plotting.

The KOMA probe works great - the sound is crystal clear. I listen to the wav. file it made the day of the meeting, starting with when I left.

There's some generally positive and inoffensive chatter between ringleader John Quentin, CFO Ted Bradbury, the scholarly Aaron Clarke, and the beautiful Margo, who has been recruited as a program coordinator for QuantumWorks. I fast forward. Margo leaves and it's just the three guys. The three evil masterminds.

BRADBURY: --seemed harmless enough. I don't know why we're even bringing him into the picture, John.

This sounds interesting.

JOHN QUENTIN: I think Mr. Mackenzie will work out fine.

CLARKE: He seemed suspicious of the whole set-up.

JOHN QUENTIN: I think he exhibited a healthy skepticism.

BRADBURY: It just seems like an unnecessary risk. I don't know why you play at this level, Q, you should focus on the big picture.

JOHN QUENTIN: The big picture is a mosaic, Ted, made up of little pieces like this.

BRADBURY: Uh-huh.

JOHN QUENTIN: Guys, guys. Have a little faith. In a short while we'll all be very, very rich.

CLARKE: We're already very rich, John.

JOHN QUENTIN: Wealth is relative.

BRADBURY: It's like talking to a sphinx.

CLARKE: Well, I'll go with John's instincts on this. He is, after all, the resident expert on costumed sociopaths.

JOHN QUENTIN: It would be a mistake to underestimate our Mr. Mackenzie...


There's a scuffing noise, like somebody sat down on the chair or... or found the bug and picked it up. It's quiet, then I hear Clarke chuckling in the background.

BRADBURY: Son of a bitch...

They found the bug. How did they find the bug?

Who are these guys? They seem to know that I'm the Velvet Marauder and I get the impression that I wasn't brought onboard the project for my marketing savvy. What the fuck is going on around here?



November 29, 2004

Dr. Bobby

After meeting with the supervillains who run my company, I go to see Dr. Bobby the chiropractor, who I hope to sweet God can help my tweaked back.

As you may recall, I fucked up my shoulder during a fight with a Jet Pack Mafia goon the previous night. Now the pain was intense, unignorable*, like a white hot sun under my shoulder blade. I made it through my meeting without crying with the help of a handful of Aleve pills, but that wore off and now I’m in crippling agony. Kids, I don’t care if you’ve seen Daredevil do it, it is not a good idea to try to stop a fall from a great height with the aid of a flagpole. That’s a little safety tip for you.

Dr. Bobby looks like a beatnik Rick Moranis – he purses his lips and squints his eyes, appraising me as I sit shirtless in his office.

“Hmm…” he says. “When did you do this?”

“Last night. Basketball. I was going up for a dunk and…” I pantomime a dunk, then wince as lightning bolts of pain shoot through my back.

“And you haven’t been to a hospital?” He walks around behind me, gently probing my back.

“Nah, I thought I’d see you first. What, is it bad?”

“Let’s try some things, some adjustments,” Dr. Bobby says.

He tries some things. Dr. Bobby pops my neck, then hugs me from behind and cracks my spine. “This doesn’t hurt?” Dr. Bobby twists my torso and yanks on my arm. “Tell me if this is uncomfortable.” He yanks harder. “Anything?”

Nothing seems to work. He stands back, panting. “Gosh, that shoulder of yours is pretty dislocated. Are you sure you’re not in pain?”

“Well, yeah I’m in pain,” I say. Duh. “That’s why I’m here.”

“I think you might have to go to a trauma center,” he says, wiping his brow.

“Aww, come on Dr. Bobby,” I say. “ I don’t want to do that, I hate hospitals. Can you give it another shot? You won’t hurt me, I promise.”

Dr. Bobby brings in Summer, a bored Asian riot grrl type who works the front desk.

“Summer, I’m going to have you push here, while I pull on his arm,” Dr. Bobby says, positioning her. She checks me out, and who can blame her? I’m a fit shirtless superhero. Her eyes linger on my shoulder.

“Dude, your shoulder is fucked up.”

“So I gathered,” I say.

“Summer, please,” Dr. Bobby says.

Summer gets in place and pushes against my torso while bracing my right arm while Dr. Bobby pulls. Hard. He looks at me questioningly. Clearly he can’t believe that I’m not drooling with pain and that he can’t relocate the shoulder.

“Harder,” I say.

With a big groan Dr. Bobby hauls back mightily on my arm like a Thai elephant pulling a log. I feel my genetically altered muscles shift and my shoulder – pop! – slides back into place. The feeling is at once exquisite and incredibly painful.

“Wow,” I say, moving my arm around, flexing my fingers. “That’s so much better!”

Dr. Bobby and Summer just stare at me as I laugh and move my arm around. I feel great.

“Woo! Kick ass! Thanks Dr. Bobby!”

*Yes, I know "unignorable" is not a real word.

Catch phrases

I'm thinking of developing a catch phrase, you know, a tag line. Something to help reinforce the brand. It seems like a natural extensions of my catalogue of poses, and who knows, it might catch on and become a marketing phenomenon like back in 1992, when Mandrill's line: "It's Mandrill Time!" was on T-shirts and Frisbees and shit. Then Mandrill got killed by Night Train on national TV and suddenly the saying was in bad taste.

So it seems like you have to tread the line between catchy/clever and tough and try not to come up with something that will seem corny and dated in ten years.

I wrote some down, and here's what I got so far:

"It's Marauder Time!"
"You just bought yourself an ass kicking."
"I'm gonna rock you like a hurricane!"
"Time to make the donuts!"
"Crime - beware!"
"I like corn!"
"Meet Mr. Fist!"
"Shaka Zulu!"
"I'd like to buy a vowel!"
"Excuse my fist!"
"Ain't no thing but a chicken wing."
"Get ready to RIDE THE LIGHTNING!"
"Don't playa hate, congratulate."
"Shazbot!"
"Welcome to Bitch-Slap City, USA."
"Your face!"
"Pain train's comin'! Woo woo!"
"Boo-Yah!"
"I'm Number One! You're Number Ten!"
"Crime is a disease - I'm the antibiotic ointment!"
"Who ordered the knuckle sandwich here?"

Okay, those suck. Any suggestions?

November 28, 2004

The Ninth Floor

I neglected to post about the Ultra-Secret Meeting I attended at work on Friday.

As you may recall, the object of my infatuation, Margo, recruited me for some secret project that she’s working on. (see post Superficial banter and an intriguing offer, 11/23/04) I did some marketing voodoo for her team a few months back when she was the project manager for Delphi, this fancy-ass database management software. I like to think that I helped sell Delphi to Interbionics (I still think those fuckers are supervillains) a few months ago and that my work was appreciated and that’s why they’re offering me this new gig. I have no idea what this new project is; I imagine it’s the QuantumWorks thing that everybody’s been talking about.

Anyway, I have to drag my injured ass into work on Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving. Originally I wanted to go shopping with the rest of America (I’m sick like that) but now I just want to load up on painkillers and sleep.

I pop a few more Aleve and chase it with some Gatorade, then head up to the ninth floor. I don’t know if I dislocated my shoulder in the fight with the Jet Pack Mafia goon or pulled something or what, but it feels like evil little angels are poking my back with red hot crochet needles. That’s the visual I have in my mind.

On a whim, I decide to take my utility belt with me in the car. I activate one of the KOMA probes, the needle-size listening devices that My Guy sent me. (see post The KOMA Probe, 10/1/04) I stick it in my pocket. You never know.

Anyway, the meeting:

I show up at the special wing on the ninth floor and present my pass to the bored looking security guard at the door. They’re expecting me; the guard just nods and buzzes me in.

I enter the security area where they’ve been working on this mystery project for the past few months. This office-within-an-office has a subdued palette of grays and pastels and trippy framed fractal art on the walls and weird potted plants that I don’t recognize. What is that, aloe? Cactus?

Margo pokes her head out of a set of double doors at the end of the hall and waves me in. She’s wearing a pink collared V-neck sweater and black clam diggers.

“Mackenzie!” she says. “Come on in. Everybody’s here.”

“I’m not late, am I?”

“No, no. Things are a little different up here. We actually start meetings on time.”

That is different. I can count on my hand the number of meetings I’ve attended in The Company that actually started when they were supposed to.

I follow Margo’s perfect butt into a big deluxe conference room. Three men rise from the polished black marble table in the center of the room. The floor-to-ceiling windows afford a beautiful view of the Bay and downtown.

“Everybody, this is Connor Mackenzie, our marketing guru,” Margo says.

The three guys step forward, hands extended. They’re all dressed in expensive but casual clothes and they positively reek of money and power. I recognize one of them.

“Connor, hi. Ted Bradbury.” I shake Ted’s hand. He’s The Company’s CFO, a big Aryan looking cat with a firm handshake and Botox good looks. I’ll bet he was captain of the varsity football team back in the day.

“Hey, Connor. Aaron Clarke, I’m on the Board of Directors.” I recognize the name; Clarke is a heavy set older man with retro lamb chop sideburns and bifocals. He looks like an English professor or a John LeCarre spymaster.

The last guy sets off my alarms. He looks familiar; where have I seen him before?

“Welcome, Mr. Mackenzie. I’ve been following your work with great interest. My name is John Quentin.”

Quentin’s handshake is cool and dry. He’s a distinguished gentleman type, wearing a black wool blazer over a crewneck tee. The grey hair at his temples makes him look distinguished. His deep set eyes are the color of ice. He sort of looks like the actor Gabriel Byrne. I bet the chicks dig him.

“Thanks, it’s a pleasure,” I say. I still don’t know what the fuck this is all about.

“Have a seat, please,” Quentin says. “Can I get you something to drink? Coffee?”

I sit down a little stiffly. Margo sits down next to me. “I’m good, thanks.”

Quentin arches an eyebrow. “Are you injured?”

“Pulled a muscle in my back last night. Racquetball.”

“None of us are getting any younger, are we?” Bradbury says.

“I guess not.”

“Mr. Mackenzie is probably wondering what this is all about, aren’t you?” Clarke says.

“I’m curious, yes.”

“Margo hasn’t even hinted at what this is about?” Clarke says, glancing over at her.

She holds up her hands. “Not even a hint,” she says, smiling.

Yeah, yeah. Enough chit-chat, let’s just cut to the fucking chase here.

“I’m totally in the dark,” I say. Truer words were never spoken.

John Quentin has been looking at me the whole time, sizing me up. I pretend not to notice. Where do I know this guy from? Have I seen him around the office?

“Mr. Quentin…” I begin, but he holds up a hand, smiling.

“Please,” he says. “Call me John.”

“Forgive me if this is too direct, John, but what exactly do you do in The Company?”

“That’s a valid question. The short answer is I own a controlling interest of the The Company’s stock.”

Bullshit. He’d be on the board of directors, his name would be public. I would have heard of him. I let it slide, but I’m starting to get a bad feeling about this. I smell a supervillain. I know, I know. I think everybody’s a supervillain. But this Quentin guy, he has white hair around his temples and he’s got a slick Machiavellian vibe to him. I’d bet money he’s a supervillain.

“I see,” I say, letting a note of skepticism creep into my voice. Clarke and Bradbury exchange a look. Are they villains, too? And if they’re bad guys, then that makes Margo…

“Well, let’s get down to it,” Quentin says. “We won’t take up much of your time today, Mr. Mackenzie. I’ll just briefly outline what the project is about.”

He strolls to the full-length window, looking out over Emerald City with his hands in his pockets. “The working title for the project is QuantumWorks. We’re still in the design stage but in essence, it’s a very unique Internet search engine that uses patented technology.”

Quentin turns and smiles. That’s it? That’s the big fucking secret? Am I supposed to say something?

“Uhh, what’s so unique about it?” I ask.

“Our search engine allows the user to search for anything that’s ever been on the Internet, ever,” Quentin says. “Any site or page or message board post or blog entry – any Internet content is searchable, even content that no longer ‘exists.’ QuantumWorks is a comprehensive, exhaustive, historic search engine with total recall.”

Clarke leans over conspiratorially. “We’ve developed a function that searches email. Any email, ever.”

Bradbury holds up a moderating hand. “Of course, that aspect of QuantumWorks would not be made available to the general public. Ethical concerns.”

I look over at Margo. She’s smiling, excited.

“Is this for real?” I ask.

Quentin sits back down. “As real as anything else. The business model is simple: this is a subscription service, and it won’t be cheap. This is where you come in, Mr. Mackenzie.”

“What, with marketing? I don’t know if you need me. You could call this thing Hitler’s Pony and it would still sell.”

They all laugh. The Hitler joke: the hallmark of the true marketing professional!

“We would like your help crafting a brand identity for QuantumWorks,” Quentin says.

“I don’t want to tell you folks how to run your business, but usually a project of this significance would get farmed out to one of the big firms…”

Bradbury shakes his head. “That’s a no-go. We have to keep this under wraps until we’re ready to launch. We can’t afford for this to get out in the open.”

“You seem reluctant to take the assignment on, Mr. Mackenzie,” Clarke says, peering over his bifocals at me.

I feel like I’m on the spot here, like I have to make a decision. Normally anybody in my shoes would be psyched to get offered a gig like this; it’s very flattering. But I’m the Velvet Marauder. Danger is my business. And unless I’m totally high, I’ve stepped in a big stinky pile of supervillain.

“No, no. It’s just… I mean, how does it work? I didn’t know something like that was possible.”

Quentin smiles. “I’m going to have to ask you to have faith that it is indeed possible and that we have the means and resources to make this idea a reality. I know you’ll understand that I can’t tell you anymore unless we know you’re committed to the project. This is not mandatory; if you’re not interested we’ll understand and you can return to your normal duties.”

They’re all looking at me. What can I do? I have to learn more.

Then I remember the bug in my pocket; the needle-sized KOMA probe. I have what is either a cunning or incredibly stupid idea. I grab the bug with my right hand.

“Sounds great, Mr. Quentin,” I say. Hopefully I’m oozing enthusiasm. “Count me in.”

“Super,” he says, which seems sort of out of character. All the others rise, smiling.

As I get up from the chair to shake hands with everybody I pull the KOMA probe out and with one swift and hopefully unnoticed motion, I plant it in the fabric-covered arm of the chair I’m sitting in. There. I have just bugged this office and am now transmitting to my utility belt’s com suite, which will burn everything to an MP3 file.

There’s a round of “welcome aboards” and “we’re happy to have you” and more handshaking, which sends tremors of pain through my shoulder, and then Quentin is guiding me to the door by the elbow, grinning.

“Good choice, Mr. Mackenzie,” he says.

“Please. Connor.” We’re buds now.

“Okay, Connor. Mike at the desk will give you a badge. Why don’t you show up here on Monday morning and we’ll work out the salary details, et cetera. I’ll have my assistant Nancy show you your office.”

“My office?”

“Yes, with a view of the Bay,” he says. “We’ll need you to be close at hand for the next few months.”

“Sounds great.” It does sound great. Too great.

“Fantastic,” he says and claps me on the shoulder. It feels like getting struck with an axe. I nearly faint with pain.

“You should get that shoulder looked at, Connor," he says. "I know these things. I’m a doctor.”

As I walk down the hallways of subdued grays, rigid with pain, I wonder where I have seen John Quentin before. I find my eyes drawn to the odd plants in the corridor – alien desert succulents and colorful cacti. There’s something strange about the plants, and I feel vaguely like if I knew what it was, I could figure out what the hell I’ve gotten myself into.

November 26, 2004

Why jet packs should be illegal

How did I fuck my back up, you may wonder? Sit back, reader, and I shall regale you with the tale.

I was all pissed and feeling sorry for myself after my solo Thanksgiving dinner of General Tso's Chicken, so I went on patrol. I figured it would be a dead night and I'd just get a little exercise.

As usual, I park the Saab in one of my carefully selected spots (this one was on the south end), change into the Velvet Marauder body armor, don the cowl and goggles, stretch out a little, pick tonight's music selection, take a safety piss, then start out on patrol.

I don’t get far when the police scanner squawks - a very excited Sheriff's Department helicopter pilot is yelling about a flying man over downtown. I can hear the chopper overhead in the night sky.

Scanning the city skyline with the binocular setting on the goggles, I spot the police helicopter, a green Jet Ranger. It’s hovering over midtown, sweeping the sky with its searchlight. A flying figure flashes in the spotlight. Kestrel?

The figure darts behind a high rise condo. I catch fleeting glimpses of it flying through the concrete and steel canyons of Midtown. Then, he shows himself –

It’s a Jet Pack Mafioso.

Shit! And I’m like, two miles away. It’ll take me minutes to get there.

Game on. I leap up on to the Old Town Viaduct and take off at a decent clip towards the city center. Traffic is light; I weave between a few cars running at about forty mph. I’m sure it scares the hell out of the drivers, but hey, it’ll give them something to talk about.

I take the Waterfront Park exit. My suit’s sound system is busy with the chatter of the police trying to track the flying mobster. Sirens echo through the city.

Where are they? I catch a glimpse of the police helicopter up above.

I run up 6th, where my way is blocked by a bunch of cars waiting at a red light. I could jump them, or between them, or…

A fucking garbage truck backs out of an alley on to 6th, right in my way.

“Shit!”

I dodge out of the way and on to a sidewalk, bouncing off a granite wall. It’s tough to stop when you’re running that fast.

Of course, there’s an old lady hobbling down the sidewalk, right in my way.

If I hit her, she’s dead. I twist and pull myself sideways, breezing within inches of her at 40 mph. The gust from my passage knocks her over.

“Shit!” I look over my shoulder as the old woman teeters and falls.

“Sorry!” I yell lamely, then smash into a mailbox.

I shear the mailbox clean off the bolts that anchor it to the sidewalk with a horrible metallic shriek. The mailbox crumbles under the impact and letters explode from its innards. We both tumble and skid into the intersection of 6th and Thurston.

My slide is halted by a parked Jetta. I cave in the driver’s side door with my head and trigger the car alarm.

Okay, this is embarrassing. I pull myself to my feet, my ears ringing with that fucking car alarm. Mail flutters like leaves across the intersection I just skidded across. The mailbox lies nearby, flattened and disemboweled. The helicopter churns overhead. Headlights from all the stopped cars at the intersection stare blankly at me.

I wave. It’s the only thing I can think of doing.

Then, with one great leap, I’m airborne, leaving the dead mailbox and the screaming Jetta and all the bewildered people in their cars below me. I rebound off the fa├žade of an office building, bounce off a lamppost, then land on top of a mid-rise condo.

I scan the scene. The police helicopter is raking Midtown with its searchlight. Police lights flicker and strobe in the canyons below. I turn off all the confused chatter on the police scanner. Where is he…?

Then I spot him, hovering over a rooftop a few blocks away. The Mafioso.

The Jet Pack Mafia are a gang of high-tech thieves who use jet packs, revolutionary polymer body armor, and advanced weaponry.

That description doesn’t really describe how goofy and weird they are. They look like weird plastic Mafia androids. Really. Do you remember years ago those creepy Duracell commercials, with The Puttermans, the white bread plastic robot family? They look sort of like that.

I zoom in on the goon with my binocular goggles. He’s a typical Jet Pack Mafioso; dressed in a cartoony wide-shouldered pinstripe double-breasted suit that’s made of some kind of shiny plastic. No Fedora on this one; you can see his helmet of black hair over his rubbery, scowling features. He’s smoking a big, oversized stogie and grips an exaggerated Tommy gun in white-gloved hands. His jet pack is a sleek aluminum rocket mounted on his upper back that effortlessly holds him up in the air. Sure, he looks goofy, but that plastic suit and rubbery skin is actually a customized polymer exo-skeleton, his jet pack can propel him at incredible speeds, and that Tommy gun fires incendiary and armor-piercing rounds.

I scan the area. It’s weird, because I’ve never seen one of these guys alone. Could be a trap.

“YOU THERE! FREEZE!!!”

Uh oh. The choppers spots the Mafioso and pins him with the searchlight. The loudspeaker blares.

“LAND IMMEDIATELY! THIS IS THE POLICE!”

Time to move. If I can get close enough without him seeing me…

I jump over a forty foot gap to the next rooftop, then run towards the goon, trying to stay low.

“I REPEAT—“

I’m close now. I can hear the Mafioso: “Dirty coppers! You bit off more than ya can chew now, ya bums!” They really talk like that.

He raises his Tommy gun at the chopper.

I’m not close enough, he’s going to shoot them down.

I launch off an air vent high up into the air. Up, up, up towards the Mafioso…

At the apogee of my jump, I fire a Marauderang. It misses – they usually do – but I catch his attention and he swings his gun around.

Have you ever tried dodging in mid-air? It’s a rhetorical question, you don’t need to answer. Let me tell you, dodging in mid-air is impossible. I have to ride my jump out and hope he’s not a good shot. A rooftop rushes up towards me --

He fires.

Budda budda budda

Tracer bullets rip over my head, sizzling like lasers off into the night. I land – oof! - and roll behind some HVAC units on the roof of this mid-rise. The goon’s armor piercing bullets track after me, ripping through the metal ducting on the rooftop with a terrible racket. Sparks and shredded metal cascade down on me.

“Where ya hiding, ya stinking mutt?” The Mafioso floats overhead, awash in heat waves from his jet pack.

I peer up from the wreckage of the HVAC unit. I ready a Marauderang in my wrist launcher.

Rolling out from under some twisted metal, I take aim at, let’s see… at his crotch.

I fire. The spinning projectile launches from my gauntlet and flies in a blur the short distance from my outstretched arm to his groin.

Direct hit.

He does not crumple over, or groan, or collapse. He just turns, backlight by the chopper’s searchlight. His evil cartoony face, set in a permanent scowl, looks down at me.

“Below the belt, eh? Why you…”

The Jet Pack Mafioso opens up with his Tommy gun. I leap out of the way, chased by red hot armor piercing bullets. I roll and roll and roll…

…right off the roof.

“Yaaah!” I scream. I’m falling.

Shit! How high up am I? I turn my head, trying to see where I’m heading. If it’s ten stories or less, I’m cool, it won’t kill me.

Bad news. I’m twenty-five stories up and counting.

I’m too far away to kick off the wall that’s rushing by me, too far away to grab an outcropping or a ledge or anything to slow my fall.

Vaguely I’m aware of the Mafioso above me, yelling in his weird James Cagney vernacular. Retro asshole.

Then I see it below me. A flagpole. It looks really small and weak, but it’s the only thing between me and The Big Bounce.

I reach out with my right hand. I can’t tell if I’m going to –

PRANG!

I hit the flagpole with the crook of my elbow and I bounce off it. Something snaps deep in my right shoulder and a lightning bolt of pain rips through me. The impact miraculously rebounds me into the wall of the building I feel off, and I kick hard, bouncing off the wall and across the alley. I pinball off another wall and land face-first in a wet, dirty alleyway.

I can’t move. Is my nose broken? I think I pulled something in my shoulder. I just lay there, gasping for air.

Dimly I’m aware of the turbine whine of the Jet Pack Mafioso’s jetpack overhead. It sounds like he’s coming down to check on me. Or finish me off. I can’t tell how close he is.

Sirens. I hear sirens. Am I hurt?

Where is he? I can’t tell how badly hurt I am. I’m afraid that if I try to get up, I won’t be able to, and this asshole will just shoot me. On the other hand, if I just lay here he’s definitely going to shoot me. I move my head slightly to one side.

There. In the reflection of a puddle, I see the Mafioso slowly descending. He’s what, about twenty feet above me, five feet over…

“What a dope,” the Mafioso says, laughing. “Ya frickin’ iced yourself, saved me the trouble. Haw!”

About two feet away from me, next to a dumpster, partially hidden by wet newspaper and junk food wrappers, I see a car battery. It’s all rusted and crusty; who knows how long it’s been here. It’s just what I need.

I can feel the heat of the jetpack exhaust on my cheek as the goon descends closer and closer.

“Ta think of all the trouble youse given us, and here you go out like a rube, a babbo.” What the hell is he talking about? Is that English?

It’s go time.

I spring up into a crouching position, ignoring the pain. I palm the old car battery in my right hand – ouch! My shoulder! – and then I spin…

The Jet Pack Mafioso is floating on a cushion of heat waves, about fifteen feet off the ground. His big Mickey Mouse eyes go comically wide when he sees me move and the jumbo cigar drops from his mouth. He swings his Tommy gun around, aiming at me.

I throw the car battery at his head.

The battery strikes him right in his weird plastic robot gangster face, knocking him back into the wall, splashing his rubbery skin and plastic hair with acid and nasty-ass calcified chemicals.

“Gaaah!” he screams.

He fires blindly, and his bullets tear up the wall behind me. The sound of the gun is deafening, echoing down the wet alley.

Ignore the pain. Ignore the pain.

I leap up like a jack-in-the-box and whomp him in the head with a roundhouse kick. He reels, firing into the air.

“Motherfucker!” he screams, wiping at his eyes.

I grab him by the double-breasted lapels and shake him. “That doesn’t sound like mobster slang.” I backhand him. “Can you imagine Al Capone saying ‘motherfucker?’” I smack him again. “Come on, stay in character, dude!”

With a snarl, he brings the Tommy gun up and catches me under the chin. Have I mentioned that the polymer exo-skeletons the Jet Pack Mafia wear increase their strength tenfold? Well, consider it mentioned. The blow knocks me back into a dumpster, which crumples.

“Eat this, you dirty—“ The goon pulls the trigger, but his gun doesn’t fire. He must have busted it on my chin. Hah! Dick.

I extricate myself from the crumpled dumpster. My right shoulder feels like it has red hot pokers sticking into it.

The Mafioso considers his options, then does the smart thing. He lifts off.

“This ain’t over, punk!” he yells in his dumb accent as he flies up and out of the alley. “Not by a longshot. When we get through with you, you’ll be pushing up daisies! Fish food! You’ll be wearing cement galoshes, you stinkin’ mutt!” He goes on like this for a while until his voice is lost in the sound of the police helicopter thrumming overhead.

My shoulder is fucking killing me. Time to call it a night.