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

November 23, 2005

Is this the end of The Velvet Marauder?

Well, yes and no.

Hello everybody, Dave Campbell here, the guy who has been chronicling The Velvet Marauder's adventures for the past year or so. Forgive me for breaking the "fourth wall" and all that, but this seems the appropriate time to break character and speak directly to the big handful of people who regularly read my little narrative blog.

Sadly, I'm putting The Velvet Marauder on hiatus. I know: bummer.

Lately I haven't been able to devote the time and energy into The Velvet Marauder that he/it deserves. There are a number of different forces competing for my attention these days, and it seems that VM always comes up short. I've got a job, a family, baby #2 on the way (Jan 1st!), another blog, and a number of writing projects in various stages of development. It sucks, but I just can't put the time into writing VM like I used to, and I'd rather not do it half-assed. So for now, I have to put the adventures of Connor Mackenzie aside.

Will The Velvet Marauder return? I think so, although perhaps not in blog form, if that makes sense. There are still a number of plot threads that I want to explore. Interbionics, The Malefactors, Margo... there's still a lot of story left and I hope to get to the point where I can continue where I left off.

I want to thank everybody for reading and for commenting - I really appreciate everyone's support and interest. I started The Velvet Marauder back in the summer of 2004 as a writing exercise, a way to get the creative juices flowing and to motivate me to write on a daily basis. I never wrote notes or plotted the story out ahead of time, which was a departure and challenge for me. I just wrote the damn thing and let VM and his world sort of unfold as I went along. The trick (and I'm not sure I was successful all the time) was to make it seem like VM was a natural part of a bigger universe that slowly revealed itself as time went on, and to make seemingly disconnected episodes tie in to a grander plot. At the risk of sounding corny, I learned a lot about the craft of writing and grew as a writer while writing the blog, so I suppose I accomplished what I set out to do.

But now I must set aside The Velvet Marauder and Wombat and Yiff and Dr Quark and Margo and all these characters that I've grown sort of attached to and focus on other stuff. I invite those of you who may not have visited my blog Dave's Long Box to stop by - I'll announce any future projects on DLB, including any VM-related stuff.

Again, I want to thank everybody who has read VM over the past year -- it means a lot to me that people actually dug something that I wrote, and I hope to "see" you all in cyberspace soon.

Do not fear - there is a decent chance that The Velvet Marauder will return, in one form or another...

Thanks and good luck!

-David Campbell

November 05, 2005

A series of awkward but heartfelt metaphors

It feels great to go out on patrol again.

I suit up early and hit the town around sunset, when the streets are clogged with buses and cars abandoning the city for the night. The salty November sky is full of the river-rush white noise of traffic.

Sharing the top of a midtown condo with some seagulls, I watch the sun set on Evergreen City. The skyscrapers glow orange in the last rays of daylight. Across The Bay, the twin towers of the half-completed suspension bridge shimmer against the burning Pacific horizon. Behind me, huge pink thunderheads rise above a foundation of smeared grey clouds that cling to the darkening earth. Gulls whirl above the city like white leaves in a fall storm.

And then, the sun slips below the distant sea, and the rich warm colors fade. The city, The Bay, and everything before me turns a steely palette of blues and greys. The towering cumulus clouds glow for a few minutes, and then they too cool and turn blue.

A crescent moon rises in the south as the lights of the city twinkle to life. I turn around on the roof, letting the salty breeze tug at my topcoat. The pulsing red beacons of the radio towers throb like metronomes or lighthouses or something over South Bend.

The gulls scream and cry, then wheel away to wherever seagulls go when it’s dark.

Ahh, my city. Evergreen City.

I feel like beating up some muggers or something.

November 04, 2005

Back in the E.C.

Well, that was interesting.

Maybe I’ll get around to chronicling my cross-country adventures and my stay in New Avalon someday – sort of a “Velvet Marauder: The Lost Adventures” type of thing. Suffice to say I had a number of interesting and dangerous misadventures traveling this Great Land of Ours. I learned a few things about myself along the way, as well as crushing cultists, having sex with a mysterious female hitcher, nearly getting turned into a werewolf, battling mutant bikers, and enjoying roadside cafĂ© food. You know, the usual road trip stuff. It was like one big long episode of BJ and The Bear, only with no chimpanzee.

Now I’m back, and my house smells dusty and stale. Evergreen City looks a little different; the corner store down the street is gone and they’re putting up townhouses in its place, monorail construction is coming along, and they’ve begun building that suspension bridge across the mouth of The Bay. Looks like there’s been a spike in gang activity in Chinatown – Judo Boys versus a new gang. Paracrime bagged another superfreak last month.

So, I’m back, but I have one question:

Who the hell is Paleowolf and what is he doing in my city?

June 23, 2005

Vaya con dios

Okay, I’m out of here. I pack up the Saab with clothes and my armor and weaponry (one never knows) and I’m leaving today. I’m going cross-country, baby, driving all the way to New Avalon. No blogging for me for a while; I’m taking a break from that, too.

I settle all my affairs before departure. I hire a landscape service to keep the place looking okay, pay all my bills, call the post office to have them hold my mail, and set the lights on timers.

On my way out of town I stop for a quad soy mocha at Starbucks and, using their wireless internet service thing, I type up a quick email to Margo. In short, I tell her I’m quitting and that I’ve had enough of The Company and am taking a break. Without going into too much detail, I tell her that The Velvet Marauder contacted me and everything’s cool with the QuantumWorks project – they’re not supervillains after all. The Marauder has a mission “out of the country” but he’s assured me not to worry, et cetera.

I feel kind of lame just firing off an email like this – Margo deserves more than just a brush-off. But what can I say without blowing my cover?

Here we go: road trip!

June 22, 2005

I hate bugs

I’m writing this on my laptop because I kind of put my fist through my monitor and shattered my computer tower over my knee.

I’ve discovered something about myself: I don’t like the idea of electronic surveillance when it’s directed at me. After demolishing my computer and swearing like a longshoremen with Tourette’s, I scoured every flat surface, every nook, every cranny in the Secret Chamber, muttering to myself the entire time. Not surprisingly, I didn’t find anything. What did I expect? If the Midnight Rambler bugs your pad, you’re never going to find the damn things.

With all the stress and confusion and humiliation and violence of the last week, I think I’m going to respond in the time-honored Connor Mackenzie way to my problems:

Run away!

I’m bailing, going to go stay with my brother in New Avalon. He and Moonbeam just had a kid; I know they’d appreciate somebody to babysit and stuff. Plus, they have that huge guest room downstairs. I’m sure they’ll be happy to see me. Right?

So yeah, I’m going to leave. Travel around for a while, see the country, spend some of the Black Budget. What’s keeping me here? It’s not like I have a job.

God, I can’t stand it here now, in my house. I feel like the Storm Riders are watching me.

I stop writing and flip off the walls, the ceiling, the room. For good measure, I double-flip off every point of the compass, just in case they’re watching.

Fucking Storm Riders.

June 21, 2005

The Boardroom, Part Two

(This is Part Two; please read The Boardroom, Part One before you read this. Actually, you should read the entire blog - that's right, the whole damn thing - before you read this)

It’s uncomfortable when people announce their godhood in front of you.

“Well,” I say. “I can sing ‘Stairway to Heaven’ in Pig Latin.”

More silence. Dr. Quark looks at me like I’m a bug.

“He does that a lot, the secrets of the universe speech,” Ted says, referring to Dr. Quark. I’m stunned – did Ted just make a joke?

Quark continues, ignoring Ted. “I have a higher purpose, Mr. Mackenzie, and I’m willing to break a few Earth laws to reach my goal. I would expect you of all people to understand. Your relationship with the police could best be described as adversarial, yet you persist in pursuit of the greater good, breaking the law every night.”

I bite back the obvious comment about how my nocturnal activities haven’t spawned any unstable miniature black holes lately. I don’t want to push my luck.

“My goal is simple: I want to bring dimensional technology to the planet, to humanity, before it’s too late. Think of the possibilities, Mr. Mackenzie. Think of the problems it would solve.”

I smile sourly. “And of course, it’s proprietary technology, right? You’d license it to humanity - but at a price.”

“Yes, we would stand to make a lot of money,” Dr. Quark says in a matter-of-fact way.

“One has to cover one’s costs,” Aaron Clarke says.

Ted Bradbury bristles. “You got something against making money, Mackenzie?”

“Defensive much, Ted?” I say. “Yeah, I have a problem with making money when you’re doing mad scientist shit and accidentally creating black holes just to make a buck. Call me crazy.”

“Let’s move on,” Dr. Quark says flatly to me. “Next question?”

“All right. Are you shutting down QuantumWorks?”

Quark sighs. “Yes. Given the circumstances, we think it’s best to suspend the project until we can figure out what went wrong and how to fix it.”

That’s the answer I was looking for. “Okay then, why did you bring me onboard? You must have known I was The Velvet Marauder – I don’t get why you’d risk having me hanging around.”

Dr. Quark smiles, and there’s actual warmth there for the first time. “To be honest, we were scouting you for a project. We wanted to monitor you up close, see how you reacted.”

“Who’s we? QuantumWorks?”

“The Storm Riders.”

He lets that one sink in for a minute, and then speaks: “We’re interested in expanding our organization by creating a network of auxiliary heroes. It’s similar to Silver Striker’s affiliate program, but instead of a loose network of on-call agents, we want to form a few regional super-teams to support The Storm Rider mission.”

“Like a minor league,” I offer.

“More like a bush league,” Ted says.

I mouth the words “fuck you” to Ted as Dr Quark continues.

“The regional teams would handle terrestrial threats that the Storm Riders might not otherwise have the time to handle. It would be a good opportunity for young heroes to learn tradecraft and get some experience, and provides the Storm Riders with a large pool of potential replacements if one of us is killed or otherwise incapacitated.”

I’m a little insulted that he thinks I need to work on my tradecraft, but I’m flattered that I’m even on the Storm Riders’ radar, to say nothing of actually being a candidate for an auxiliary program. I must rule.

“Why didn’t you just ask me?”

Mr. Black chimes in from the corner of the boardroom. “That’s not how it works.”

Who is this guy? I turn my attention to Mr. Black as he rises from his seat and approaches the table. Big fella. “Okay, so how does it work?”

Mr. Black says, “We place candidates under surveillance so we can get a better idea how they work. We’ve been monitoring you for nine months now.”

“Surveillance?” I ask. I’m starting to get a bad feeling about this. “What kind of surveillance?”

“We bugged your house with KOMA probes and set up micro-cameras in your secret chamber and gym-- ”

“You WHAT?”

Without missing a beat, Mr. Black says, ““We bugged your house with KOMA probes and set up micro-cameras in your secret chamber and gym.”

This is a nightmare. Am I blushing? I must be blushing, because I’m thinking of one night a few weeks back when I was online in the Secret Chamber, looking at pictures of Valkris. Specifically, I was looking at video footage of her famous “wardrobe malfunction” during the battle with those zombie conquistadors. Don’t tell me you haven’t looked that shit up – she’s got to be the most Googled heroine ever. Anyway, I might have, you know, engaged in activity which requires the use of tissue paper that night – and these guys have it on video.

“Oh Christ,” I mutter, hiding my face in my hand.

Mr. Black says, “We also installed GPS tracking devices in your armor, and set up a video feed through your goggles for point of view shots.”

I’m still hung up on the whole masturbation thing, so I’m not sure I heard him right. “You what?”

Patiently, Mr. Black says, ““We also installed GPS tracking devices in your armor, and set up a video feed through your goggles for point of view shots.”

“How the hell did you do that?” I say.

“It was built into the armor.”

But my armor and stuff comes from My Guy -- Wombat referred him to me. Is MY Guy in bed with The Storm Riders? “Wait a second – are you My Guy?” I ask Mr. Black.


“My weapons and armor dude.”

Dr. Quark interjects. “Your equipment was all designed by Hephaestus, our weapon smith.”

“You gotta be fucking kidding me.” Hephaestus designed my suit, my Marauderangs? The guy who makes Midnight Rambler’s armor, who designed the Storm Shuttles, who made Sun King’s containment suit, the guy who made the Katana giant robot? “Hephaestus made all my shit?”

“More accurately, Hephaestus’ team of engineers made your shit,” Quark says.

I stand up and walk away from the table, mind racing. This is all happening too quickly, I’m getting flooded here. If I was just a little smarter I could have figured this all out months ago. Steadying myself at the buffet table, I pour myself a mimosa. They’re all looking at me when I turn around. Ted Bradbury has a big smirk on his face. He’s enjoying this, watching me squirm.

“Hang on a second,” I say. “Wombat referred me to My – to Hephaestus.”

“Yes,” Mr. Black says. “Wombat was under consideration for the teams as well. Hephaestus designed his suit and spades.”

“But the KOMA probes – Hephaestus made those, right?” Nods. “But he does work for villains. I fought this ninja once – he was planting KOMA probes--”

“That was me,” Mr. Black says.

“That was you? In the Interbionics Building that one time?”

“That was me.”

“Who are you?”

Mr. Black says, “I’m The Midnight Rambler.”

Any other time this would be a major, mind-blowing revelation, and I’d be awe struck by the presence of the hero who, let’s face it, I’ve idolized for years. Now I’m just numb. Plus, The Midnight Rambler has been privy to some of the most humiliating episodes in my life: the embarrassingly one-sided fight with Ninja Rambler, the varsity football pep talk I gave myself in the bathroom before this meeting, and my pathetic masturbation session inspired by one of his teammates. Oh, and Midnight Rambler probably watched the video of me pissing myself that one night when I was drunk and decided to go on patrol. No, I’m not exactly psyched to finally meet my hero. Not like this.

“Great,” I say gloomily. “You’re The Midnight Rambler.”


“So you were planting bugs in the Interbionics Building that night and I came along and screwed it up.”

“Not entirely,” he says. “You didn’t find all the bugs; I got the information I needed.”

“So I was right. Interbionics is dirty.”

The Midnight Rambler nods. “They’re in league with The Pomeranian government and have developed some extremely dangerous technology in their lab in eastern Washington.”

“And that robot I fought – the Insekt model. That was a Pomeranian robot that Interbionics was going to use to guard their lab.”


Then it hits me. “Hey! Hey, you were the waiter at the Interbionics Christmas party, the one that slipped me the note warning me about the champagne!”

“Yes. And I was the one that broke into your house and stole the canister of material you retrieved from Interbionics. It was very helpful, having a sample of that material to analyze.”

“Well, what’s in the canister?”

Mr. Black smiles. “I can’t say unless you’re part of the team.”

“That’s bullshit!” I say, forgetting who I’m talking to. “I risked my ass to get that canister! I saved the fucking day during that Christmas party!”

“Yes. But I’m still not telling you until you’re part of the team. I don’t share intel with outsiders.”

“I can’t believe this,” I say. “You guys spy on me, jerk me around for the better part of a year, and now you’re holding out on me.”


Dr. Quark gets up and pours himself some coffee. “Any other questions?”

I’ve segued from embarrassment to anger now, but I stay cool. “Sure. What about Margo? Is she involved in all of this?”

“Ms. Thompson was brought on to the QuantumWorks project as a further incentive for you to join,” Quark says. “We were aware of your feelings for her and thought you’d be more likely to participate if she were involved.”

Aaron Clarke adds, “She’s an excellent project manager, though. Quite intelligent. She was suspicious of the entire program from the beginning.”

“What about Hydrangea? Was she working for you guys?”

Dr. Quark sits back down and sips his coffee. “We’ve had our eyes on her for a while, but direct surveillance was impossible given her powers. She’s been tapped to join our teams.”

I say, “So was she working for you during the whole Hungry Ghost caper?”

“No,” Quark says, but I’m not sure I believe him. “We approached her shortly afterwards to ask for her help with the unstable dimensional vortex. Hydrangea is impressive. She’s barely tapped into her full potential. In time…”

“Good for her. What about the bacon smell, what’s up with that?”

“Well, an inevitable byproduct of side slipping – matter teleportation – is a fairly strong odor at the destination point. Originally it was an overpowering brimstone stench – like the devil had farted.”

His joke gets a little courtesy laugh from me. I get the impression that Dr. Quark has explained the bacon smell a million times and he always throws that little gag in there.

“You can imagine how a noxious smell would undermine the drama of Dr. Quark suddenly appearing out of nowhere. Through a great deal of trial and error, I managed to change the smell to a sickly sweet perfume odor. I kept working at it, and now we have the relatively discrete bacon smell. I’m working on a Nag Champa scent right now. Next question?”

I point at Ted Bradbury. “Who is he?”

“That’s Ted,” Dr. Quark says.

“I mean, who is he really? You’re Dr. Quark, he’s The Midnight Rambler, he went to M.I.T. – who is Ted?”

“I’m retired,” Ted says. “I don’t do the cape thing anymore. I’m a businessman now.”

“Okay, who were you then?”

Ted hesitates, and then says, “I was Action Lad. Then I was The Wanderer.”

The room is quiet for a moment.

Then I bust out laughing. “You were Action Lad?” I cackle. “Fisticuffer’s sidekick? Holy shit, Ted!”

Ted jumps to his feet, pissed, as I nearly collapse laughing. One part of me knows how inappropriate it is, but I can’t stop myself. Maybe it’s the stress of the situation, I don’t know.

Laughing, I point at Ted. “Dude, and you had those shorts and the little cape!”

“Shut up, Mackenzie,” Ted says, clenching his fists.

“I’m just trying to picture you in those shorts, Ted.”

“I’m warning you.”

“And the Wanderer!” I laugh. “What was with the shoulder pads and shit? When was that ever cool? You looked like an extra from that Olivia Newton-John movie, with the roller disco--”

Xanadu,” The Midnight Rambler offers.

“Right!” I cry. “Xanadu! You should combine the two looks, Ted, and wear those short-shorts with some big fucking shoulder pads and that headband.”

“I think that will do, Mr. Mackenzie,” Dr. Quark says.

But I’m on a roll. “The Wanderer! I heard Siegfried and Roy sued you for stealing their look!”

Ted lunges at me, snarling. I’m ready for it, and I swing my fist around in a roundhouse punch aimed right at his face.


My punch stops. I stop. Ted stops. We’re suspended in mid-action, totally frozen, but Dr. Quark and the others can move. It’s the strangest sensation, like when you just space out and stare for a minute into space. Do you ever do that? Just kind of zone out, staring at nothing, self-hypnotized, lost in non-thought? It’s sort of like that – I feel like I am able to move, but won’t.

Dr. Quark approaches and looks at me. “Do you have any more questions, Mr. Mackenzie?”

“No, I think I’m good,” I say. I’m keenly aware that he could wrap me up like a pretzel if he wanted to.

He waves his hand and Ted and I float away from each other, weightless. Dr. Quark puts us on the other side of the room and lets us go.

“Now then, if you’re done antagonizing Mr. Bradbury, let’s talk business,” Dr. Quark says.

“Talk business?” I say, smoothing out my shirt. “Are you kidding? You guys offer me a fake job, bug my house and my armor and shit, and just generally play me like a chump, and you want to talk business?”

“You’re letting your pride dictate your actions, Mr. Mackenzie,” Dr. Quark says. “Be reasonable.”

“Fuck reasonable. You made a fucking black hole, dude! How is making a black hole on accident any worse than making one on purpose? I mean, if Diabolik did this you guys would be on him like stink on shit!”

“Nice analogy. Lower your voice,” Dr. Quark says, his eyes growing dark.

“Sorry,” I say quietly. “Let me tell you quietly, then: I quit. Connor Mackenzie quits, The Velvet Marauder quits. I don’t want to be part of your little ant farm.”

“Don’t be stupid, Mackenzie,” The Midnight Rambler says.

“Let him go, you don’t need him,” Ted says.

I hold out my hand. “Give me my phone back,” I say to Dr. Quark, who is glaring at me now. I don’t think he hears the word “no” a lot. Or “fuck,” for that matter.

The Nokia transat phone that Silver Striker gave me appears in my open hand with a flash of light.

“Thanks,” I say, pocketing the phone.

They’re all looking at me.

I start to walk out. Nobody is saying anything. Lightning doesn’t fall from the sky.

I stop at the boardroom door and turn around.

They’re all looking at me.

Deliberately, I walk across the room to the buffet table. I grab a croissant and hold it up.

“I’m taking this,” I say, then walk out.

My heart is thumping heavily in my chest as I walk down the main corridor of the QuantumWorks annex for the last time. At the end of the hallway Hydrangea waits for me, standing next to one of the big non-carnivorous potted plants. She’s wearing a green silk kimono-type gown, and looks tired.

“Hello, Connor.”

“Hello back,” I say bitterly.

“What happened?”

“I quit. I’m walking away. I don’t want any part of that bullshit, I don’t care who they are.”

“You’re angry,” she says in her Katherine Hepburn voice. “You shouldn’t make any rash--”

I stop in front of her. “You could have told me. Why didn’t you tell me?”

“I was instructed not to,” she says.

“And if Quark told you to jump off a bridge, would you do that?” I say, then instantly regret it. What a dumb thing to say. What am I, seven?

“What are you talking about?”

“I don’t know,” I say. I turn and walk away. “Have fun working for Mr. God Complex.”

She calls my name, but I’m gone.

I’m gone.

The Boardroom, Part One

(This is a big post so I will break it up into two parts.)

Getting out of the Saab is difficult this morning. I unfold myself from the driver’s seat and slowly stand in the nearly empty parking garage at my office. It’s late Sunday morning, almost time for my meeting with one of the most powerful beings to ever walk the face of the earth, who I kneed in the balls last night. I’m beginning to think that wasn’t a smart move.

I wince at the scorpion sting of pain between my shoulder blades that starts every time I move my head or breathe or blink. It feels like I pinched a muscle in my neck, too, and I think one of those walls Ted tossed me through last night screwed my hip up big time.

I take the elevator up to nine, where Dr. Quark told me to meet him. I’m not sure where exactly he thinks we’re meeting, because Ted and I have pretty much demolished the QuantumWorks annex. There’s nobody on nine, everything is cool and quiet. I limp into a bathroom for a safety pee and a damage assessment.

In the mirror: Split lip. Swollen left ear. Blood shot eye. Scratches on neck and cheek. Other than that I look good in my black Egyptian cotton shirt. Even when I’m beat to hell I’m still fine.

I shoot myself a little thumbs up and grin at my reflection.

“You look fabulous,” I tell myself, but I sound as terrified as I really am.

What the hell was I thinking, going for a crotch shot on Dr. Quark? I mean, the manipulative bastard deserved it, but that still doesn’t mean it was a good idea. He could kill me in a thousand ways.

I must be an idiot, walking in there like this…

“No,” I say, firmly. “No, you are going to go in there and kick some ass.”

That’s right. I am. Who do these guys think they are, fucking with me like this? Jerking me around?

“That’s right! They don’t know with whom they are fucking.”

I have every right to be pissed! It doesn’t matter who these guys are, they can’t screw with me like that. I’m not out of my league. I’m the Velvet Fucking Marauder!

“Major league!” I say, then louder: “Major league!”

I’m going to suck up all this doubt and uncertainty and shit and I’m going to go in there with my “A” game.

“A-Game!” I yell at the mirror, pumping my fists in the air. It hurts, but I’m on a Tony Robbins roll here.

There is no fear. No fear here!

“No fear!”

Fear is the mind-killer!

“No fear!”

That’s right!


Fucking right! You’re the Terminator, Connor! Unstoppable!


Game on!

“TERMINATOR!!!” I scream, stabbing my fingers at the mirror.

Game on!

“Game ON! Game ON!”

Connor Mackenzie Machine: zero defects!


The toilet in the stall behind me flushes. I freeze.

I feel my stomach drop and my face get hot as a big, dark-haired guy steps out of the stall, buckling up his belt. He looks at me. Good looking cat, wearing a black turtleneck and grey wool slacks. He looks like Antonio Sabato, Jr. And just because I know who Antonio Sabato, Jr. is, it doesn’t make me gay.

The guy steps up next to me and starts washing his hands. “How you doing?” he says in a deep voice.

“Good, good,” I say, and begin washing my hands as well, trying to be cool.

He dries his hands on some paper towels, then nods on his way out. “Good luck with that meeting.”

God, I’m such an ass. I lean against the sink for a minute, letting my face regain its normal hue. That was mildly humiliating. I wait for a few minutes, then collect myself and limp out towards the QuantumWorks annex, which I’m kind of looking forward to seeing destroyed in the light of day.

To my surprise, there is a completely intact set of stained oak doors at the entrance to the annex, right where a gaping hole should be. Mike the security guard nods and buzzes me in. I walk through exact replicas of the doors I knocked down not twelve hours ago –

-- and into an immaculate, totally un-destroyed QuantumWorks annex. Instead of snapped beams and crumbling drywall, the main corridor is the same tasteful mix of greys and pastels that I left on Friday, without the slightest hint of the mini-apocalypse that raged through here recently. As a matter of fact, the place smells like it’s been freshly vacuumed and has a new coat of paint.

The only thing that is different are the plants. The groping, stinging, vomit-inducing alien plants are gone, replaced by tasteful grasses and miniature palms. They’re exotic and expensive-looking plants, but they’re definitely of this earth.

A little dazed, I walk down the hallway towards the board room, eyeing the plants warily. They don’t attack. I pass by a wall that I know Ted and I crashed through – it looks as good as new. Paint isn’t even wet. This is Dr. Quark’s work; Surgeon of Reality stuff.

I reach the board room doors and hesitate before I touch the handle.

My heart is beating fast.

My armpits feel hot.

I take a deep breath – game on – and open the door.

They’re waiting for me inside, four of them. Impassive, owlish (owly?)Aaron Clarke sits behind a cup of coffee and scone, fixing me with an inscrutable look as I enter. Ted slumps in a chair at the big boardroom table, looking sullen and bruised. It makes me feel warm inside to see that his face looks as bad as mine. Dr. Quark, in his GQ John Quentin persona, looks up from a small buffet table and smiles politely at me. He’s wearing a smart black cableknit sweater that’s too early for the season. If he doesn’t banish me to a prison dimension, I’ll have to ask him where he got it.

And the fourth person? Antonio Sabato, Jr., from the restroom, of course. He sits off in a corner, reading a magazine and drinking bottled water.

That’s just great.

“Good morning,” I say to the room, neutrally. What else am I going to say?

“Good morning, Mr. Mackenzie,” Dr. Quark says, waving at the table. “Care for something to eat?”

I walk over to the buffet table, nodding to Aaron Clarke. Ted gets the stink eye. I nod to Antonio Sabato, Jr., who looks vaguely amused at my discomfort.

“Oh, Connor, this is Mr. Black. He’s a business associate of mine.” Dr. Quark turns to Antonio. “Mr. Black, meet Connor Mackenzie.”

“We’ve met,” he says dryly.

I grab a couple of croissants and some juice. “What line of work are you in, Mr. Black?” I ask, trying to recover some initiative.


I’ll bet. I sit down at one end of the table with my food. “Well, let’s get this party started, then.”

Dr. Quark takes a seat. “I imagine you have some questions.”

“I do.”

“I can assure you that I will answer any question I can truthfully, Mr. Mackenzie, but I can’t promise you’re going to like the answers. And I can appreciate how you would be angry about our deception – I would be, too, if I were in your position – but I want to be clear with you. I won’t tolerate any outbursts or violence today. We’re going to have a civilized meeting where we will discuss matters peacefully. And if you try to knee me in the groin again I will genetically castrate you. Are we clear?”

“Clear,” I say, crossing my legs. I don’t know what genetic castration is, but it doesn’t sound good. I can feel my face burning. I resist the urge to apologize – he should be the one apologizing.

Aaron Clarke pipes up. “Yes, speaking as the only one in the room without the benefit of parahuman abilities, I’d appreciate if we kept the groin kicking and whatnot to a minimum.”

“Wait a minute, you don’t have parahuman abilities?” I ask.

Clarke shakes his head. “Well, I have degrees from Harvard, Yale, and M.I.T..”

“I thought you were some retired golden age hero or something.”

“Sorry,” Clarke says. “I’m a lawyer.”

Dr. Quark reasserts control. “Well, you have questions, Mr. Mackenzie.”

“Right,” I say. “How did you fix this place so quickly?”

Dr. Quark says, “I reverted the cellular matrix of the damaged area to a previously saved state. It’s sort of like using a computer back-up disk, but on a subatomic level. Unfortunately, it only works with non-living matter, so everyone’s plants and goldfish died.”

“What was the story with those crazy plants in the hallway?”

“Just some plants I picked up on my travels. The Royal Court on Shang Seven uses them as guards in their palaces.” Quark’s features darken a little. “Pity they were destroyed.”

Quark shoots Ted Bradbury an irritated look. Ted sort of shrugs and keeps glaring at me. I ignore him.

“Okay, so the QuantumWorks project?”

“What about it?” Quark says.

“I just want to make sure I understand what’s going on. Are we in danger of having that black hole thing in there bust loose and swallow the world and shit?”

“Currently the situation is under control,” Quark says carefully.

“How encouraging,” I say. “So just to be sure I understand: The QuantumWorks search engine was going to use this transdimensional technology that you developed, and something went wrong, and now you have an unstable breach between dimensions in that big chamber back there.”

“More or less,” Quark says.

“And you’ve got Hydrangea and Buddhist monks stabilizing the breach, but it’s still kind of dicey.”

“Yes,” Quark says.

“What the fuck were you thinking?” I say.

Dr. Quark’s jaw tightens. “Frankly, Mr. Mackenzie, I don’t think you could grasp my reasoning or thought processes regarding issues like this. I have a more… holistic perspective.”

“Well why don’t you explain it to me like I’m a child?” I snap, ripping a big chunk of croissant off with my teeth.

“Very well,” he says with a somewhat forced smile. “Three years ago I purchased a controlling share of stock in The Company and brought Ted and Aaron on board. We began the QuantumWorks project using proprietary technology that I had developed.”

Illegal proprietary technology,” I added.

“Don’t interrupt, please. Multidimensional technology is restrictively regulated by Congress. It’s understandable after the incident in Pittsburgh, but that was a terrorist act perpetrated by a dangerously ignorant man – the QuantumWorks project is for the benefit of the human species and will usher in a new age of clean, efficient energy and information management.”

“You’re off to a great start,” I say.

He ignores my comment. “And at the risk of sounding immodest, I’m operating beyond terrestrial law,” Quark says. Attorney Aaron Clarke shifts uncomfortably in his chair. “I have tread the cosmos, transcended the limitations of space and time. I watched a universe being born and have seen vast empires fall. I survived a lifetime of torture in a place you would call Hell and brought an entire species back from extinction. I was the court advisor of gods. I healed a sun and assassinated a planet. I studied with the creator of worlds. I held Alexander’s hand as he succumbed to fever. I have slain dragons that eat stars, and have led armies in battle. I have a thousand lifetimes of experience and knowledge – I have read the secrets of the universe, Mr. Mackenzie. Now I want to share that knowledge with my own people, help mankind reach their best destiny. Do you really think I’m going to let some fickle, arbitrary law stop me?”

There’s silence in the room.

Oh, my aching everything

I get home and I peel off my filthy armor and just leave it on the living room floor in a stinking heap. Crawling into the bath tub, I soak my battered body in scalding water for the better part of an hour. I’m going to look like a prizefighter in the morning. I can practically feel the bruises bubbling their way up through my flesh to the surface.

Too confused and angry to focus, I seek the comfort of cable television. I am an American, after all.Laying there, slowly working on a pint of Cherry Garcia ice cream, I look at the TV without actually watching it while I work the night’s events around in my head.

Did I really hit Dr. Quark in the balls? Was that a smart thing to do?

I’m wondering if I should actually show up at the meeting tomorrow with the super-assholes who run the company, or if I should just change my name and get out of town.

June 20, 2005

It's Off

[This conversation takes place in the ruined QuantumWorks wing in the office building I work in on a Saturday night. Ted Bradbury and I have just gone four rounds with each other and some alien plants, and after a brief vomiting interlude, are about to commence pounding on each other again. Dr. Quark has just arrived, revealed that he is actually John Quentin - one of the VPs in our company - and has thoroughly confused and pissed me off. Let’s begin.]

ME: OK, again: what the hell is going on? I’m gonna keep hitting people if I don’t get answers.

QUARK: Please, Mr. Mackenzie, calm down. I can explain everything.

ME: That would be fucking great. Go.

QUARK: First of all, I’d like to apologize for deceiving you. It wasn’t our intention to –

ME: That’s not explaining, that’s apologizing! I don’t know if I’m conveying how super-molten-lava-nuclear war pissed I am right now! If that’s not coming across –

DICKHEAD: Why don’t you shut up and let him talk?

ME: Hey, fuck you Ted! You want some more of this? [I point at my fist.]

DICKHEAD: Let’s go, asshole, I’m ready.

QUARK: Both of you, calm yourselves. You’re done fighting.

DICKHEAD: I have to be calm? Me? Q, look at this place, look what he did here!

QUARK: It’s nothing that can’t be fixed, Ted. Mr. Mackenzie was doing what he thought was right, based on very limited information.

ME: Information I still don’t have. What is going on here? What is that thing in there, the black hole thing?

QUARK: That is QuantumWorks, Mr. Mackenzie. I’ll explain. As you know, we were developing an infinite-capacity historic search engine. The key to the whole project is our transdimensional feed technology, patent pending. We created a stable portal to a pocket dimension which both powers and acts as data storage for the search engine.

ME: Okay. Isn’t that, you know, illegal?

QUARK: Yes, well, technically. We were working on the patent process and getting approval with the feds when we had our problem. Several months ago we lost complete control over the portal. To put it in simple terms, the dimensional fabric began to tear, and we had a potential dimensional breach on our hands.

ME: That sounds bad.

QUARK: It is, yes. We’ve had experts from various disciplines working on the problem, and with the help of people like your friend Hydrangea, we’ve managed to stabilize the tear and have averted a full breach.

ME: So you say. What happens if there’s a full breach?

QUARK: Basically all the matter in a particular dimension gets sucked through an ever-widening dimensional rift – a black hole is the nearest analogy.

ME: Let me see if I got this straight. You guys were screwing around with shit that people shouldn’t be screwing around with, and you created a black hole that could destroy everything in this universe? By accident?

QUARK: In essence, yes.

ME: Do you have any idea how fucked up that is?

DICKHEAD: Hey! You have any idea who you’re talking to?

ME: Again, fuck off, Ted.

QUARK: We’re aware of the magnitude of the problem, yes. We pulled the plug on the QuantumWorks project several months ago, but we’ve maintained the illusion that the project is still ongoing while we try to seal the breach.

ME: And so you’re John Quentin, huh?

QUARK: Sometimes.

ME: Who’s he? Who’d he use to be? [I point at Ted/Dickhead.]

QUARK: Ted, would you care to fill him in?

DICKHEAD: No fucking way. He almost broke my knee, Q!

ME: You know what? I don’t care who you were. I just want to know why you guys dragged me into this shit, why you’ve been screwing around with me this whole time.

QUARK: Well, we actually hired you on the QuantumWorks project to keep a closer eye on you. Your work has caught our notice.

ME: Whose notice?

QUARK: The Storm Riders.

ME: [disbelieving] Ted’s a Storm Rider?

QUARK: No, Ted’s the CFO of our company. My projects overlap, frequently. We – The Storm Riders – have been interested in starting a franchise organization, of sorts. For more ground-level threats. We –

ME: Hang on. You guys hired me so you could spy on me, see if I could play nice?

QUARK: It was my idea, really.

ME: Have you guys bugged my house? Did you break into my house in January and steal that canister I took from Interbionics? What about Hydrangea, did you send her out to test me, was that the deal? And Margo –

QUARK: I have a proposal, Mr. Mackenzie. How about we shelve this conversation until tomorrow, say about 11:30? We can meet here and discuss the matter, answer any questions you might have.

ME: I can’t believe you would dick me around like that! Like a little fucking chess piece or something!

QUARK: See, this is why I think we should talk about this when we’re all a little more calm.

ME: Fine.

[At this point I walk out. On the way past Dr. Quark, I stop. I can hear the blood pounding in my ears. I can rarely recall feeling so stupid, so pissed, so outraged.]

ME: One last thing.


[I drive my knee into Dr. Quark’s crotch. He folds, slumps to the floor.]

ME: That.

[Then I split before he turns me into a toad or something. I can’t believe I just kneed the Surgeon of Reality in the nuts.]

[He had it coming.]

It's On, Part Three


You got me runnin’ goin’ out of my mind,
You got me thinkin’ that I’m wastin’ my time.
Don’t bring me down, no no no no no,
I’ll tell you once more before I get off the floor
Don’t bring me down.

ELO, “Don’t Bring Me Down”

I am shocked – shocked – by the flimsiness of the interior walls in this building.

Ted Bradbury throws me through, like, the fifth wall in the QuantumWorks annex at work. I end up in a heap of debris in the middle of yet another ruined office. Somebody’s desk is wrapped around me. I cough, mouth full of drywall dust.

Either Ted has high-range super strength, or these office walls are really weak. I think it’s a little of both. Seriously, though, don’t all office buildings have to be earthquake and parahuman-resistant these days? You’d think I’d bounce off some of these walls instead of smashing through them like a wrecking ball.

Bouncing sounds less painful.

Awkwardly I pull myself to my feet. Whose office is this? It’s fucked up now.

Then Ted Bradbury emerges from the drywall fog, charging at me in his bathrobe and boxers. I’d laugh if he wasn’t kicking my ass.

This time I’m ready. As I’ve found out in the last 90 seconds or so, Ted is fast. Super-fast. He may be a little older, but he’s got game to spare. Ted’s been hitting the Bowflex and the Ensure, too, because he hits like a kicking mule or some other animal analogy. So this time I’m not underestimating him, this time—

Ted smacks me in the face, again. Hard.

My body flies back, launched by Ted’s fist. The back of my head cannonballs into some shelving units and rams through a wall. Suddenly I’m stuck, my head lodged into the damn wall.

I’ve got seconds before he grabs me.

Quick, quick! I grab something blindly off my utility belt -

- a solar flare bursts somewhere below me, and I’m rewarded with the sweet sound of Ted bellowing in pain.

“You son of a bitch!” he screams.

My feet find something to push off of and I kick myself the rest of the way through the wall and into the next office over. I fall headfirst on to a stout red oak desk and flop to the floor.

Okay, keep moving.

I get up, look around. I’m in Margo’s office. There’s that dumb cat clock of hers, there’s that cool lamp…

Then, in the seconds before Ted Bradbury smashes through the wall behind me, I notice on her desk a picture of us - Connor and Margo. It’s from that business trip to Turbine City we took last year, the Delphi project thing. The project team all went out drinking, and I guess somebody had a camera. I remember that night fondly. I do.

She’s got a picture of us on her desk.

Of me.

The wall behind me explodes and a big Ted Meteor plows through. He’s covered in a nice frosting of plaster and drywall. Directly behind him is a floor-to-ceiling window which has (in the daylight) a nice view of the rail yards and The Bay.

Ted notices the window at the same time I do.

As hard as I can I kick Margo’s desk at Ted and the big window.

The solid oak piece shatters the glass and launches out high over the yards.

- but Ted has jumped over the desk and is now coming straight at me, yelling something.

I duck, and Ted’s fist plows into the bookshelf behind Margo’s desk, splintering it. Another punch whooshes through the air next to my face, narrowly missing.

You know, screw this being-on-the-defensive shit. I’m not going to let some old guy in a bathrobe beat the crap out of me. This is a dignity issue.

Grabbing him by the front of his robe, I pull Ted’s face towards me and head butt the bridge of his nose as hard as I can. I get an acceptable “gaaah!” noise from the big guy and he staggers back. That’s two points for me. Now if I could just get him out that window…

Ted recovers quickly, and returns the favor by punching me in the face.

It’s just a quick jab, so it doesn’t shoot me through the wall, but it stuns me for a second. I get little dancing motes of light in my goggles. Then my vision clears and I see Ted closing to grapple.

“You stupid son of a bitch,” he shouts. “You see what you’ve done?”

“You’re the one throwing me through walls, asshole.”

Ted drives his elbow into the side of my head. Ouch.

I grab his throat with one hand and stab him in the ribs with my rigid gauntlet. Even through my ringing ears can hear him groan. Gotcha, fucker.

I squeeze hard on Ted’s throat and twist as violently as I can, wrenching Ted’s body over mine in a super-powered ippon seoinage – a one-arm shoulder throw. He breaks through the wall of Margo’s office and tumbles into a hallway, caught in a tangle of metal framing and wires.

“Ted, I gotta admit man, you’re in pretty good shape,” I say, producing a sepia bomb from my belt.

I pull the pin, drop the bomb into the hallway, and - vooosh! - Ted is suddenly engulfed in an expanding cloud of black ink.

I switch on the infrared setting on my goggles and move to engage Ted. Ted knows I’m coming. He swings blindly, doesn’t connect. I wait for an opening then kick him in the ribs again -- same spot. I know, it’s not very heroic of me, but I think we’ve established that Ted is not somebody to screw with, in many ways. I just need him to be unconscious right now.

Ted groans and drops to one knee, clutching his ribs. He looks strange in my goggles, a grimacing infrared gargoyle. It makes it easier to drive a wicked haymaker into the side of his head.

Ted drops.

Toggling back to the normal setting on the goggles, I step out of the sepia and back into Margo’s ruined office. I can hear Ted coughing in the middle of the ink cloud.

I think it’s time to call in the cavalry. Ted could be back on his feet in seconds, and frankly, I don’t have the power to shut down whatever transdimensional dog-and-pony show they’re running here. Plus - way confused. What the hell is Hydrangea doing in there? And what is that black hole thing? Margo has a picture of us on her desk? It’s too much shit for me to deal with alone. It’s time for the nuclear option: Silver Striker.

I bust out the switchblade Nokia that The Man himself gave me. Among other things, it’s a hotline to Striker Mountain. All I have to do is dial “911” and in seconds –

The Nokia reads “NO SIGNAL.”

“You’ve gotta be fucking kidding me.”

Ted Bradbury (or more accurately, Ted Bradbury’s forearm) slams into the back of my neck. I sprawl forward and blow through another wall with Ted on top of me. I drop the phone.

Where are we now? Ted decks me in the jaw. I almost black out. My head is pumping with blood. My neck hurts like a bastard.

“We’ve got jammers in play, idiot!”

Ted grabs me by my topcoat lapels and shakes me like a Muppet. He’s all blurry and loud.

“Who were you calling, Mackenzie?” Ted yells.

“Your wife, Ted.”

Ted shakes me some more. “Funny! You’re a funny guy.”

“I try,” I say. My vision is clearing.

Ted backhands me. I taste blood.

“What were you possibly hoping to accomplish, Mackenzie? Or do you even know?”

Ted pulls back his hand for another slap.

And right then and there I make up a new rule: nobody slaps me twice. Before he can land the blow I point my gauntlet down at Ted’s bare legs and fire a Marauderang point fucking blank right into his kneecap.

Ted screams like a pirate – “Yaargh!” – and falls back, clutching his knee.

I aim a kick at Ted’s head, but I’m still a little wonky from the neck trauma, and Ted catches my foot. He swings me into the nearest wall, but I only hit hard enough to crack it.

“You son of a bitch,” Ted yells as he holds his knee. “This is my bad knee.”

“Well if it wasn’t, it is now,” I say.

Ted leaps at me again, growling. I catch him in mid-air and try a throw of some sort, but we both end up crashing through the cracked wall and into the main hallway.

Right. The hallway with all the plants.

The red light is still on in the main hallway, and the air is thick with bitter smoke that reeks of burnt plastic. Ted and I end up on top of each other in the middle of the hallway, half-covered in plasterboard. I don’t think Ted realizes where he is –

- until a tentacle from one of the aloepus plants coils around his head.

I start to laugh, until another tentacle snares my right leg and lifts me up into the air. Crap, not again! Twisting around, I see more vegetable tentacles reaching up for me out of the plant’s giant ceramic pot. If more than one of these tentacles grabs me, my chances of escaping are not great. And I’m out of solar flares.

It looks at first like Ted’s in a similar predicament with his aloepus a few yards away, but then I watch him tear his tentacle in two like a baguette. The plant drops him, tentacles quivering in shock. He kicks the plant, pot and all, down the hallway, bashing into my plant, which drops me. The two plants scatter like tenpins down the hallway.

I barely have a chance to get to my feet when Ted tackles me.

We both rocket down the length of the hallway, which is now a red alien landscape of acrid smoke and thrashing tentacles. We smash into something solid, then careen against the main doors to the QuantumWorks annex, busting them open.

Too late, I realize that we smacked into the jumbo planter that holds the weird red orchids. I look up to see three of the beautiful orchids craning down towards Ted and I. Before I can react, the orchids shoot red dust down on us.

I breathe in this time. Smells sweet.

Both Ted and I scramble to our feet and away from the giant red orchid plant, wiping red powder from our faces. This can’t be good. I feel like I’m going to sneeze.

We stare at each other in the entrance of the annex. Neither of us moves to attack. Nice to see Ted’s favoring his hurt knee.

“Okay, Ted. What’s the story with that plant? What is this shit? Are we going to die or what’s the story?”

“Calm down,” he says, irritated. He blows his nose, farmer-style. “I can’t remember what that plant does – I don’t think it’s lethal.”

“You don’t even know what it is? What kind of lame-ass villain are you?”

Villain?” Ted laughs. “You really are a fucking idiot, Mackenzie. I don’t know what Q sees in you.”

I definitely feel like I’m going to sneeze. What’s he talking about? My stomach gurgles.

Ted holds his stomach, burps. “Aw, no. I just remembered what that thing, that plant does –“

Then my stomach contorts violently. I feel like a face hugger has planted an alien in me – severe cramping, sudden nausea, gas… I don’t have to sneeze, I have to puke.

“It -" Ted starts, then burps. “It makes you s-sick…”

We both vomit, in unison.

The sheer unexpected power of the vomiting drives us both down on our hands and knees. It’s pretty bad. My eyes tear up inside my goggles and my nose bubbles snot as I violently empty my stomach on to the carpeted floor on the ninth floor. Now there’s some shrimp phad thai that I never thought I’d see again.

I don’t know how long we’re like that, Ted and I, barfing helplessly on the floor. Occasionally we manage to groan an insult or profanity at each other between fits of heaving. Finally, we’re both just laying their next to our respective puddles of discharge, panting and occasionally retching.

“Jesus,” Ted says, coughing. “That was awful.”

“I thought I was going to fucking die,” I say.

Then, I smell bacon.

It’s that familiar aroma of cooking bacon that I smelled on occasion over the last few months – the smell of somebody interdimensionally transporting, or “jumping” as they call it. Well, that’s what SuperPeople says it’s called, anyway.

Bleary-eyed, I look up at a shimmering panel of light near the security desk. A silhouetted figure steps through the portal, which promptly collapses.

Dr. Quark – as in the Stormrider, Surgeon of Reality – is standing right there in front of me and my puke. He's wearing his trademark white lab coat over his trippy black suit that's full of stars.

I wipe my mouth. I'm confused. My head hurts. What the hell is going on? "Dr. Quark?"

"That's right," he says, in that same smooth baritone you hear in all the press conferences. "But you also know me as... John Quentin."

Dr. Quark takes off his black eye mask.

I stare at him. John Quentin - the VP in charge of QuantumWorks - is Dr. Fucking Quark?

I feel really stupid all of a sudden.

"Okay, will somebody kindly tell me what the fuck is going on?"


It's On, Part Two


It's the eye of the tiger, it's the thrill of the fight
Risin' up to the challenge of our rival
And the last known survivor stalks his prey in the night
And he's watchin' us all in the eye of the tiger

Survivor, “Eye Of The Tiger”

The first plant grabs me with a serrated tentacle and hoists me off my feet and into the air.

It’s like a cross between and octopus and an aloe vera plant. Four or five big limbs rise up from the big ceramic planter, blindly lashing out at me. Another tentacle grabs my right leg. At this rate, I’ll be immobilized in seconds. I’m starting to panic, and that’s not good. What can I say? I’ve never fought alien plants before, and it’s kind of freaking my shit out.

Okay, okay – assess the situation. I’m in the main corridor in the QuantumWorks annex, where my secret identity Connor Mackenzie works. Every day I pass these plants, six of them, big exotic succulents in huge planters. They’ve never attacked me before, but now, after hours, it’s a different story. There’s three aloepus plants, a mean looking Venus flytrap plant, a weird orchid-looking thing, and at the end of the hall, a huge creature with whipping vines and scorpion stingers. The corridor is bathed in red light, which just makes everything look more bizarre.

Crap, the aloepus just snagged my right arm. The thing’s strong – I don’t like my odds of busting loose if it gets all those tentacles around me.

Red orchid flowers float on thin stalks toward me, and the aloepus twists me around to face them. Double crap.

With my free leg I kick off the wall, jumping out of the way just as the orchids spew some sort of red dust at me. For a second I’m reminded of an old Star Trek episode, and then I turn my attention back to the evil aloe vera plant.

Holding my breath, I rip a solar flare incendiary bomb from my utility belt with my free hand. The aloe plant swings me into the red spore cloud.

I pop the top on the solar flare – fssss – and drop it right down into the aloepus planter.

That works. The tentacles suddenly go slack and I drop out of the cloud and on to the floor. The aloe stalks flail madly as the solar flare burns with nova intensity in the center of the plant.

The orchid plant’s beautiful flowers are looking for me, scanning around. I think the solar flare threw it off my scent. One of the red dust-spewing flowers rushes towards me – I decapitate it with a Marauderang.

I’ve got a plan.

Crouching on the floor, I dig out three more solar flares, activate them, and throw them down the hallway. The plants must be heat-seekers, because they go fucking crazy as the solar flares sizzle and pop like mini-novas. I don’t know how long the flares will distract them – I better move. The Nerd Zone, my target, is at the other end of the hallway, which never seemed so long as it does right now.

I spring up on to a wall, just above the writhing aloepus plant that attacked me.

Launching from the wall, I ricochet to the other side of the corridor, then bounce to the other side, and so on. I’m bouncing off the walls like Jackie Chan, dodging the tentacles and dust spewing flowers, leaping over the incandescent solar flares that burn the carpet… one final leap and a barrel roll takes me under the confused scorpion stingers of the last plant, and I’m suddenly clear.

Looking back, I see the corridor filling with stinking smoke from the burning carpets. The alien plants thrash in the gloom, backlit by the burning flares. The red overhead lights cast a hellish glow on the scene. Then the sprinklers switch on, dousing the corridor in a red monsoon. It doesn’t look remotely like the hallway I’ve walked hundreds of times to visit Margo’s office or to get bad coffee, or to take a piss.

I smile grimly. No stupid plants are going to stop The Velvet Marauder.

Gotta keep going. I run down a short hallway, past Aaron Clarke’s office, past Ted Bradbury’s office, then stop in front of the Nerd Zone, the mysterious tesseract chamber that holds the secret to this whole mess.

There’s a stout looking steel security door and a keypad blocking the way.
No problem.

I jump up on the wall opposite the door and launch myself, shoulder first –

- right at the wall about ten feet from the door.

I crash through the wall in a dusty explosion of drywall and Tyvek and roll into the Nerd Zone foyer. Suckers should have reinforced their walls as much as their door.

Coughing, covered in plaster dust, I get my bearings quickly. I’m in a reception area where non-clearance staff can meet with Nerd Zone techs. In front of me is a security desk and two very startled looking security guards. Behind them, another steel door and the Nerd Zone proper. I’m almost there.

One of the guards rushes me while the other picks up a phone and starts yelling “Intruder alert! Intruder alert!” They look like average rent-a-cops in their white uniforms, but I have to assume that these guys are parahuman or have some cool toys. They’re both going down.

The first guy is all business. He swings a nightstick at my face as he runs forward. I see a telltale blue crackle of energy coursing up the nightstick: stun baton.

I take the blow on my armored forearm. Doesn’t hurt at all. Then I hit him with a move I call “The Philadelphia Story.”

Let me be irritating here and stop the narrative to explain. Have you ever seen The Philadelphia Story? Great old flick with Carey Grant, Jimmy Stewart, and Katherine Hepburn. In the classic no-dialogue opening scene of the film, Grant and Hepburn are breaking up. He storms out of this house, mad as hell, and Hepburn follows him. Carey Grant turns, looks at her smug face – he’s just volcano TNT pissed – and you can tell he’s thinking about decking her. He hesitates for a second, then grabs Katherine Hepburn’s face and just shoves her down. That may not sound funny, the whole violence against women thing, but trust me, it’s hilarious. Besides, she’s not hurt or anything. Okay, now I feel like a dick for even bringing it up.

Anyway, I’ve been practicing the super-powered equivalent of Carey Grant’s face shove in my gym, and I’ve been just dying to try it in a combat situation.

Back to the fight: I block the security guard’s stun baton with my left forearm in a classic karate rising block, then twist my arm and grab a handful of the dude’s face with my gauntlets. Palming his head like a basketball, I shove him down. Hard.

The security guard slams to the ground in a reverse-belly flop, bounces, and stops moving.

“Boo-ya!” I shout, stabbing a finger at the guy. “Philadelphia Story!”

The other guard drops his phone and reaches for something on his desk. I’m already in mid-air by the time he brings a sub-machine gun up. He’s about to fire when my flying roundhouse kick catches him on the ear. Guard #2 is down.

Quickly I look at the security desk. A red light is flashing and buzzing, which can’t be good. Fortunately, there’s a big yellow button that says “ACCESS” right there on the desk, which I punch.

Behind me, the Nerd Zone security door slides open. I grab the transat telephone that Silver Striker gave me and step into dark territory.

“Holy sheee-it,” I say.

I’m standing on an observation walkway that wraps around the perimeter of a huge circular chamber made of polished steel. The room is about three stories tall, paneled in brushed steel. Twenty feet below me, on the other side of the chamber, I can see a control room full of computers and blinking lights and techs in silver hazmat suits. Red alert signs are flashing. It’s full-on Death Star stuff.

But the insane thing, the holy sheee-it thing, is the miniature black hole slowly spinning in the center of the round chamber. It’s utterly black in the center, devoid of any light, but at the edges purple and blue energy slowly swirls the dark core like pure energy circling a drain. It’s probably about ten feet in diameter, and I get a chill just looking at the thing.

Oh, yeah. There are two people floating in a lotus position in the chamber, deep in meditation. Both wear the saffron robes of Buddhist monks. As a matter of fact, one of them looks like a monk – Asian guy with a shaved head. The other person –

- the other person is Hydrangea.

She’s deep in a trance, floating about ten feet off the ground, legs crossed, facing the miniature black hole – Hydrangea, the most beautiful Tibetan Buddhist sorcerer I’ve ever met.

“Heidi?” I say.

And then, from behind, somebody grabs the collar of my faux-velvet topcoat and hurls me back into the reception area with incredible force.

I splat against the steel security door that I so easily bypassed minutes ago. I conk my head, and for a second I think I’m going to black out. My vision narrows and ears start to ring.

Pulling myself unsteadily to my feet, I shake off the impending unconsciousness with a groan. I’m back in the real world, in the reception area. The big steel black hole chamber seems like a dream I just woke from. My head hurts.

And I smell bacon.

“Mackenzie, you stupid asshole,” says a familiar voice.

Ted Bradbury is striding across the room towards me. He’s wearing a terry cloth robe over boxer shorts and a tank top. He’s barefoot. It looks like the big guy just rolled out of bed.

“Ted,” I say. “Did I wake you up?”

“Yes,” Ted says. Boy, does he look angry. “I’ve been waiting months to beat the hell out of you.”

“Then we have something in common." I take a deep breath and smack my fists together. "Let’s go.”

He charges me.

It's on.


It's On, Part One

So please, stay off my back
Or I will attack, and you don’t want that
I've got the power

-Snap “The Power”

After the sun goes down, I warm up for about thirty minutes by jumping and running over warehouses and train cars in the South End. I made a mix of hopefully inspirational music on the suit’s audio system, but I’m afraid it’s having the opposite effect. Listening to Snap’s “The Power” or fucking “St Elmo’s Fire” isn’t exactly motivating me in the Tony Robbins way I was hoping for – instead it just seems cheesy and desperate. So I turn off the audio right in the middle of “Highway to The Danger Zone” and just jump around in peace.

Once I’m suitably warmed up I work my way over to The Company’s building on the edge of the South End, a sprawling amalgam of old brick and new steel and glass. With an impressive series of leaps and flips I work my way up to the top level of the garage. I’m not being vain; it’s just a fact, people are always impressed when I hop and flip around like a monkey. What can I say? I have game.

Okay, here I am. I’m standing on the edge of the parking garage roof, buffeted by a warm breeze from the Harbor. I click my gauntlets into the glider wing hardpoints and spread my arms. Fwooosh. I leap off the garage, gliding on an updraft towards my target, a vertical cliff of glass on the west side of the building.

This time I stick to the glass. I flare my glider wings at the last second and gently smack against the building, limbs spread akimbo like a frog. The suction cups on my gloves and boots take hold of the slick glass.

I allow myself a proud smile. “Not bad,” I say.

Activating my goggle optics, I peer through the tinted glass and make sure I’m on the right floor. Then I wind back with my right hand and drive it like a spear right through the window in front of me.

It’s safety glass, so the window cracks into a crazy spider web when my fist punches through. I rip and tear at the hole until it’s big enough to crawl through, and then I do.

Family pictures, Post-It notes, bamboo shoots -- I’m in somebody’s cubicle on the tenth floor, one level above my objective. I was right. The Ninth Floor may be shielded and cloaked and reinforced, but the rest of the building is just good old glass and brick and Tyvek.

Time to haul ass.

I run through a labrynth of carpet-walled cubicles, heading for the staircase that will take me down to Nine. It feels weird to be here at work in my VM armor – it’s like I don’t belong in such a mundane environment.

I take the entire flight of stairs in one jump, skidding to a halt on the hardwood floor on Nine. Spinning around, I orient myself – the special QuantumWorks annex is fifty yards away to the west, beyond a miniature canyon land of grey cubicles and desks. It’s dim in here, so I scan the area with infrared. Nothing. Yet.

Trotting over towards the entrance of the QW annex, I’m surprised to find nobody manning the security desk. There’s a pair of stained teak double doors ahead of me, monitored by security cameras and accessible only with a high security pass card. They are probably reinforced with steel and have magnetic locking mechanisms, maybe even one of those stasis fields I’ve been reading about.

I break from a trot into a run, right at the doors.

Eye of the Tiger. Eye of the Tiger, baby.

I'm sprinting full-on. The doors blast towards me like I’m going into hyperspace. I twist my torso and use my shoulder, my padded shoulder, like a battering ram, striking the center of the doors with (and again, I’m not being vain) incredible force. The high-tech security doors crash open in an explosion of splintered wood and twisted metal. I stumble and skid into the main hallway in the QuantumWorks annex –

-- you know. The hallway with all the alien plants.

I make it about halfway to my feet before the first plant grabs me.


June 18, 2005

My stupid/brilliant plan

I go through my plan for breaking into QuantumWorks for like, the tenth time today, and I still can’t tell if my scheme is inspired or fatally stupid. Sitting in the Secret Chamber in my underwear, I contemplate my imminent doom or triumph while I listen to Iron Maiden and devour shrimp phad thai.

Here’s where I’m at: I got hired some months ago to do marketing for special project called QuantumWorks, which I discover is basically the Mother of All Search Engines. Using mysterious proprietary technology, QuantumWorks allows a user to search for any information that has ever been published on the internet ever – even stuff that doesn’t exist anymore. It’s a “comprehensive historical search engine with total recall,” and I think The Company is using dimensional technology to run the thing. As we all know, dimensional technology is highly regulated by the feds. Nobody wants another Pittsburgh Disaster.

Sounds like a big deal, right? The QuantumWorks thing? Like a revolutionary product? The kind of thing you’d hire a whole army of marketing guys for, or outsource it, right? No, there’s just little old me. My bitch Chad and I are the entire marketing department for this incredibly important product.

Naturally, I’m a little suspicious from Day One. I’m a superhero, I think everyone’s a supervillain. But over time my suspicion ripens into full-on paranoia. I’m not the only one who is leery of the whole thing; the unrequited love of my life Margo Thompson, who was brought in as a project manager, is convinced that something illegal is going down.

The three executives who run the QuantumWorks project stink like supervillains to me. I’m guessing that the enigmatic John Quentin is the idea guy, the project visionary. I hardly see him around, but the dude is smug and handsome in that criminal mastermind way. The day-to-day brains of the operation is Aaron Clarke, a professor-type who I have seen chatting with guys in strange hazmat suits. Clarke doesn’t seem dangerous, so of course that means he’s the most dangerous of the three. That’s the way it works. And then there’s Ted Bradbury, The Company’s CFO, a big aging jock with a handshake that could warp cold steel. Definitely parahuman. Definitely a patronizing asshole.

These three guys, the QuantumWorks executive team, seem to know that I am The Velvet Marauder, but don’t seem to care, which worries me. I bugged one of their conference rooms and picked up some interesting info before they found the bug. Oddly, they didn’t seem to care about the bug – they seemed to think I was being “plucky.”

The really weird thing? When I got weirded out by their set-up and tried to quit, they just told me to be patient and offered me a huge raise. I took it of course.

But now my stew of mystery has come to a boil and I’m in a position where I have to do something – something heroic. Margo got pictures of the ultra-restricted Nerd Zone on the Ninth Floor, where techies in radiation suits sequester themselves behind security doors to work on God-knows-what. There’s some kind of strange high-tech chamber in the Nerd Zone, beyond those security doors that I think is the missing piece of the QuantumWorks puzzle, and I have to find out what it is. I think the Nerd Zone on the Ninth Floor is a tesseract chamber, a pocket dimension that is bigger on the inside than it is on the outside. You could fit a football field into a broom closet using tesseract technology.

So what’s the plan?

I’m going to raid the Nerd Zone tonight and I’m going to prove that, at the very least, these dickheads are using illegal dimensional technology. And then I’m calling my secret weapon –

Silver Striker.

A few months back when I was taking a sabbatical in Costa Rica after (accidentally) killing Parka, Silver Striker himself came down to give me a pep talk. Okay, actually he came down to Costa Rica to determine if I had murdered Parka or if it was a just kill. Striker told me to buck up, get back on the horse, walk it off, etc., and urged me to return to Evergreen City. I was a little concerned at the time about The Malefactors, Parka’s crew, taking revenge on me, so Silver Striker gave me a transat phone. Among other features, the custom Nokia phone has a direct line to the emergency operators at Striker Mountain. You just dial 911.

I’m going in there. I’m going to take some pictures of this high-tech chamber in the Nerd Zone, and then I’m going to send them directly to Striker Mountain. Even if I die, at least I will have got the word out. If shit gets hairy, I’ll just call in an air strike.

Sure, the smart thing to do would be to call Silver Striker and explain the whole thing and let the pros handle it. I’ll admit that I don’t have a ton of experience with vast super-conspiracies, and I may be way out of my league, power-wise. But I feel a certain sense of ownership over this whole scenario. It’s my problem, right? And what kind of hero would I be if I turned cases over to a big time player every time shit got rough? Plus, I don’t want him to get the credit. I know, that sounds really petty, huh? But I’m still trying to establish my brand identity, trying to cultivate the Marauder image – I need big wins like this if I want to keep seeing my name in SuperPeople.

So there you go. That’s my plan. And on Monday I’ll either be dead or not have a job. Or both.

I guess it’s a good thing I sold all my company stock this week.

June 17, 2005

Patrol Report

There are two of them -- ECPD Paracrime Unit cops in black tactical armor -- perched on the roof of the Hunan Hotel. The troopers are backlit by the neon glare of Chinatown, so I don't even have to zoom in with my goggle optics to see that they're on dragnet duty - they've created a mini-bunker bristling with antennae and rifles and spotting scopes. They look like post-apocalypse deer hunters waiting up in a blind for something big to wander by.

I'm about two blocks away on another roof, hiding behind some HVAC units. I had been bopping along on patrol, listening to... You know, it's not important what I was listening to. I was minding my own business, keeping the city safe, etc., when I spotted the surveillance post, so I ducked under cover, and here I am. They haven't seen me. I scan the surrounding area until I'm satisfied that there is only one post, then sit down and consider the situation. I start chewing on a Power Bar from the utility belt.

I gotta call Margo, I told her I would. Well, Connor told her I would. You know what I mean. I flip open the transat phone.

Her phone rings and rings.

Crap! The voice changer spray! Why is it so hard to remember the fucking thing? Am I self-sabotaging or what?

Her voice mail picks up. "Hi, it's Margo. I can't take your call right now --"

I tear the voice changer from my belt - it's like an asthma spray - and take a deep hit.

"--but if you leave a message at the beep, I'll get back to you. Probably."


"Good evening Ms. Thompson, it's the uh, Velvet Marauder," I say in my altered Robert Goulet voice. "I wanted to thank you for you help. I've uh, concluded my investigation and will be taking action. Soon. So, uh, thank you. I'm also very sorry about your car -- about your car getting destroyed like that. That's all. I'll touch base with you once this is all over. Uhh, have a good one."

I snap shut the phone with a groan at my own stupidity.

"Have a good one?" I say to no one in particular. "Have a good one? What the hell is wrong with me?"

God, you would think that I would have thought about what I was going to say. I'm so uncool. It's probably better that she wasn't there, I would have just made a bigger ass of myself in person. What hero says "have a good one?" Gas Station Attendant Man?

Pissed at myself, I pop to my feet and check on the Paracrime deer hunters. Still there. I devour the rest of my Power Bar and consider how I can childishly lash out at these cops to salvage some self-respect. I wish I could eavesdrop on the Paracrime Unit's radio frequency, but they changed it months ago and I haven't been able to find it again.

You know what? Let's just keep this simple. I look around the roof for something appropriate. There are a bunch of empty beer bottles in a corner. Some kids must have come up here to drink. They're perfect.

The first bottle falls short and torpedoes through one of the Hunan Hotel's windows.

"Oops. Shit."

The troopers hear the bottle hit, and start looking around frantically. That woke them up.

I throw another beer bottle. Direct hit. The bottle explodes against the deer blind with a brittle splash of glass. The Paracrime troopers leap to their feet, wildly swinging their guns around, screaming into their radios. They're not hurt, their armor protects them, but they're a little rattled. It makes me laugh. I'm a dick like that.

"Hey!" I yell in my chemically altered voice. "Officers! Over here!"

They start looking around. I jump up and down, waving my arms. "Officers! Hey!"

The cops spot me. One of them looks at me through a pair of binoculars while the other calls in my position to Paracrime. I wave to them.

Then I hop around and smack my butt in the universal sign for "kiss my ass." Seriously, everyone in the universe knows what that means. Dolphins know what that means.

"You guys SUCK!" I yell, then leap off the rooftop.

By the time I hit Queen's Row I can hear the Sherriff's Department helicopter overhead, looking for me. I drop down into an alley way and walk the last 100 yards to my parked car. Then I slip into the Friday night traffic and drive home, smirking the entire time.

I've had my fun. Tommorrow night I hit QuantumWorks.

Fuck it, I might die tommorrow: I was listening to the Pretty in Pink soundtrack on patrol tonight. Okay? Everybody happy?

Again, not gay.

Margo Report

I’m in the parking garage, sitting in the Saab eating a sub sandwich from Gino’s, this great little mom and pop sandwich joint on Atlantic not far from the office. If you’re ever in Evergreen City, check it out. Anyway, I’m sitting in my car eating and listening to Science Friday on NPR. They have an interesting program today about the origins of that evil death rock zombie-making meteor that the Storm Riders destroyed last November. Remember, when a fragment of the death rock landed up in the Yukon and turned everything Bad? Anyway, the theory is –

There’s a loud knock on the passenger window that scares the hell out of me.

Margo leans down and waves through the glass. I unlock the door and she slips in. Man, good thing I’m anal about keeping my car clean.

“This where you eat your lunch, Mackenzie?”

“Not a lot. I was just in the mood for some privacy today.”

“You want me to go?” she asks, putting her hand on the door handle.

“No!” I say too quickly. “No, no you’re cool. It’s all right.”

Today Margo is wearing a crisp white fitted blouse and a long black and white poplin skirt in a floral print, and cute little black bangle earrings. Trust me, she looks good. She smells good, too. That uniquely Margo scent fills the car, overwhelming the smell of raw onions in my sub.

“Hey, have you heard from our, um, mutual friend?” She means the Velvet Marauder.


“God damn it, I knew this was going to happen,” she says ruefully.


“I risk my ass and my job getting him this information, and then he just cuts me out of the loop. Typical male bullshit.”

“He’s probably just concerned about your safety,” I say, which is true.

“I’m not asking to fight supervillains and stuff, I just want to know what’s going on. It’s not fair; I mean, I brought the whole thing to his attention in the first place, I’m the whistle blower here.”

“Exactly,” I say. “This is why you should have as little to do with what comes next as possible.”

Her eyes narrow suspiciously. “What comes next? What’s coming next, Mackenzie?”

“Nothing good, presumably. Violence, destruction.”

“You sound like you know what’s going on,” she says. “Have you talked to him? To Velvet Marauder?”

“No…” I say lamely. Even I don’t believe me.

“Oh come ON, Mackenzie!” She punches my shoulder. Hard. “What’s going on? You’re hiding something! You talked to him, didn’t you?”

“Really, Margo –“

“Liar! What’s going on? Why is he talking to you and not me? Is it because I’m a girl?”

“No! Come on, I don’t know anything.” I’m whining now.

“You are like, the worst liar ever,” she says.

“Fine. Fine! I’ll tell you what: I’ll have him call you tonight. He can explain everything.”

“What do you know? Give me a hint at least.”

I take a deep breath. “Well, I think he’s going to take some sort of action this weekend, when the building is empty.”

“What sort of action?” she says, eagerly.

“I don’t know, man.”

“Mackenzie…” she groans, frustrated.

“Really. Really. I’ll have him call you tonight, okay?”

“Okay.” She’s calming down a little. “Okay.”


Margo looks over at my sandwich. “That looks good. Can I have a bite of that?”

I almost tell her to get her own damn sandwich, but I end up giving her half of it. I'm a sucker.

The calm before "it's on"

I pack up a few things at work today; stuff I don’t want to get destroyed. My GameBoy. A picture of Colin and I when we were kids. Some CDs. This really expensive pen that I never use. I throw all the crap into a box and walk it out to my car.

As I’m walking down the main hallway in the secure area on The Ninth Floor, the one with the alien potted plants, I pass Ted Bradbury in the hall. He just gives me a look; no smart-ass comments from Big Ted today. Fine, I’m not in the mood to play footsy with supervillains today.

I pass through the security doors and out into the offices where all the Normal People work. Here, people are working on payroll, or taxes, or R&D, or marketing, or whatever. They’re gossiping about that bitch in accounts payable, or who’s sleeping with whom, or maybe they’re passing dumb joke emails around or talking about last night’s game. Normal stuff. Office stuff. The kind of stuff I used to do every day when I worked downstairs with Fred Schneider and Corine and Wookie and all those guys. Hundreds and hundreds of people work in The Company’s main office, and 99% of them have nothing whatsoever to do with the QuantumWorks project and the weird behind-the-scenes supervillain games that have been going on.

And if I’m successful this weekend, I’ll bet most of them are going to lose their jobs. The Company is going to blow up Enron-style.

June 16, 2005

An Adventure in Babysitting

So I babysit little Hector for Mitch and Lisa.

I know what you're thinking; this is going to be a cute anecdote about the big tough superhero guy running around in a panic trying to find the right ointment, or trying to clean up poo or trying to get the baby to stop crying. Like in Three Men and a Baby, or that one scene in Tootsie. And when the parents get home they find their baby sleeping victoriously in the arms of the vanquished babysitter, who is covered in baby powder and has passed out from exhaustion, and isn't that charming?

That did not happen.

Or maybe you're thinking this is a little story about how the big tough superhero guy realizes that the true heroes are parents who do their best every day raising their kids in an unpredictable, crazy world, and maybe the real way to save the world isn't by punching out maniacs in costumes but is by making sure that the next generation of tenants on this planet value things like love, sharing, and justice.

Okay, that might have happened a little bit.

Mitch and Lisa get home three hours later and find little Hector and I asleep on the couch. I have my shirt unbottoned and the baby is sprawled out on my bare chest sleeping peacefully while I watch Wings of the Luftwaffe on the History Channel.

"Everything okay?" Lisa asks while Mitch looks around for property damage.

"Yeah, we're just hanging out watching the Nazi Channel."

"Did he take a bottle?" Lisa asks. She looks surprised to find her kid alive.


"Did you change his diaper?" Lisa asks.

"Yeah, no problem."

"Did you remember the ointment, the stuff in the orange tube?" Lisa asks.


"Did he fuss at all?" Lisa asks.

"A little. I did the bare chest thing like you said and he fell asleep right away. He's a little snuggler, isn't he?"

Lisa smiles.

"Yes, you're a little snuggler, aren't you Hector?" I say in a dog-voice to the sleeping kid.

"Wow, so... everything's okay," Lisa says.

Mitch returns. "Nothing broken or burned down. I can't believe it."

I smile sourly. "Ass," I say. "Drank all your Snapple, by the way."

Lisa strokes her sleeping baby's head, smiling. "Looks like you guys got along okay. Thanks a lot Connor."

"No problem. Hey, can you lift him up off of me? I've been lying here for the past hour because I didn't want to wake him up. Now I've got a bladder full of Snapple and I have to pee like a goddamn race horse."

I think I did pretty good with the babysitting thing. I mean, the baby survived, so that's Job #1 accomplished right there. I wouldn't want to make a habit of babysitting, but at least I know it can be done.

Climbing skyscrapers for beginners

There’s a good wind blowing up here tonight on top of The Company’s parking garage. I stand on the edge of the twelve story building, suited up, looking down a few hundred feet to the building’s loading bay. Beyond that, the rail yard where I fought the Insekt robot sprawls under bright fog lights, and beyond that, The Bay.

I take a deep breath, snap the glider wings on to the clips on my gauntlets, and step off the building.

The wind fills the nylon wings and I take flight. I soar out away from the parking garage, letting an updraft pull me higher, and then I arc back towards The Company’s building and zero in on my target: the Ninth Floor.

The black glass wall rushes towards me. I pull back, flaring the glider wings to slow my approach. I’m coming in fast –


I slap into the glass doing about twenty miles per hour. I make a horrible noise when I hit, like the world’s largest seagull meeting a glassy fate. Damn, it feels like I broke my nose…


Then I start to fall.


Panicking, I scramble against the glass, but there isn’t the tiniest crack or protrusion to grab on to. Then I remember my suction cups, and kick and swat the glass trying to make them stick.

I’m falling, kicking, swearing –

I jerk to a halt. One of the big cups on the palm of my hand sucks on to the glass, stopping my fall. I quickly slap the other palm cup on the glass, then kick until the two suction cups on the toes of my boots grab hold. Okay. Okay, I’m sticking to the building now.

I look around. I slid a couple of floors; I think I’m on six.

Slowly, carefully, I start climbing up the glass wall with the suction cups. It’s slow going at first, because you have to trigger a suction release button that un-sucks the cup, then move the cup, make sure it’s secure, then repeat the process with another cup. After a while I get in a rhythm and soon I’m clinging to the black glass outside the Ninth Floor, where the mysterious QuantumWorks project is being run.

I figure that this is the easiest, least-risky way of snooping around. Every other option I’ve come up with involves jeopardizing my secret identity, and even though I think that Ted Bradbury and those clowns already know my identity, I’d rather be discrete than not. If this doesn’t work I’ll move on to Plan B.

According to my calculations and the information Margo gave me, I should be right outside the ultra-restricted Nerd Zone inside the already restricted QuantumWorks wing where I work. I have reason to believe that the Nerd Zone is a tesseract chamber; it’s larger on the inside than it is on the outside. In other words, The Company is using dimensional technology to “fold” a huge lab into a small area. In realspace, I would be right inside the inner chamber of the Nerd Zone instead of hanging nine stories above the loading bay.

You’d think it would feel weird, being so close to a tesseract. I was expecting my fillings to ache or to be dizzy or smell bacon cooking or something, but I don’t feel a thing. Maybe I’m wrong about the whole thing.

I switch on my goggle’s optic systems and take a look through the tinted glass. Hunh. Nothing on infrared, nothing on ultraviolet, nothing on the passive EM setting… I can’t see through the glass at all.

“Weird,” I say to myself, then shimmy up to the tenth floor. I switch on the goggle’s optics –

-- and I can see just fine. I look through the tinted window in on a conference room: table, chairs, whiteboard, potted plants…

OK, obviously the Ninth Floor is shielded from conventional surveillance. I don’t know if this changes anything, it just confirms that I’m not high – there really is some serious shit going on here. Fine.

I release the suction cups and spring backwards off the glass and into the air.

Time for Plan B, which involves fucking shit up big time.

June 15, 2005

Care package - suction cups and incendiary flares

I got the package from My Guy today – a replacement topcoat, a bandolier of solar flares, and a set of suction cups for climbing.

The topcoat fits great and feels lighter. It’s the same nomex/Kevlar/ballistic nylon weave, but it feels stretchier, less heavy than the last coat. I’ll have to ask My Guy what he did differently this time.

I put the solar flares in the fireproof safe in my Secret Chamber, which doesn’t smell nearly as bad now. I simmered some orange peels* and now the place smells citrus fresh instead of smelling like burnt plastic and ass. Anyway, I usually carry just four solar flares at a time in a pouch on my utility belt. They certainly are handy, the solar flares. They saved my ass in that fight against Parka, and worked pretty well against Green Dragon. Thumbs up for solar flares, is what I’m saying.

I’m going to try the suction cups out tonight – I have a recon mission planned against The QuantumWorks project that requires some true wall crawling.

*Thanks Verity, for the tip!

June 14, 2005

My new enemy: Singing Guy

There’s a guy in our office who sits near my bitch Chad out in the non-restricted area of the ninth floor who sings when he talks. I mean, not every word or anything, but the guy sings when he should speak. Every time I see this guy in the hall or in an elevator or wherever, he sings his salutations. He’s like a one-man Glee Club.

I have a presentation at two for the steering committee, and I have this snazzy hand-out that I whipped up in Publisher that I’m passing out to everybody. I need Chad to run off a couple dozen color copies so I walk out to his desk to give him a disc with the file on it.

Singing Guy is leaning against Chad’s desk with a cup of coffee in his hand. So as not to be a dick, I say hi as I walk up.

Singing Guy literally sings, “Good morn-innnng!”

I look at him and managed a pained smile. “You have a good weekend?” I ask.

“Soooper, soooper,” he says lyrically. It sounds like he’s about to bust out in some Gilbert & Sullivan number. “Got some golfin’ in, never bad, never bad…” He pantomimes swinging a golf club as he sings.

“Right on,” I say unenthusiastically, then turn to Chad. I don’t want to encourage Singing Guy by feeding him anymore questions.

I give Chad the disc and some brief instructions, then excuse myself. “See you later.”

“Have a good one!” Singing Guy sings.

Briefly I consider punching his jaw clean off his face. I could, you know.