The Velvet Marauder

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

February 03, 2006

Table of Contents

VM art by Ken Christiansen

Exploder ambushes our hero, destroys his car. A team-up with Kestrel. Bitching about public transit and bruises.

September 2004

A business trip with the object of Connor’s affections. New armor. A co-worker goes apeshit. Humiliated by a ninja. Positive media coverage.

October 2004

A huge fight with Yiff, a freak in a bear suit. More positive media coverage. Team-up with Hydrangea to battle zombies and a Tibetan sorcerer. VM finally gets laid.

November 2004

Connor’s brother and fiancĂ© visit. A mugging. Recruited into the mysterious QuantumWorks project at work. A brawl with Jet Pack Mafia. Connor destroys a printer.

December 2004
Connor grows suspicious of weird plants. My bitch, Chad. Kung fu fight with an elf at a holiday gala. VM crushes the Jet Pack Mafia. New glider wings.

January 2005

Team-up with Kestrel and Wombat to battle Baron von Blitzkrieg and his super-blimp. Connor grows suspicious of his new bosses.

February 2005

The perils of super-powered sneezing. The Paracrime Unit hunts VM. Saving an ungrateful old lady from Judo Boys.

March 2005

Connor gets laid, then dissed. A Paracrime dragnet. VM battles his first robot.

April 2005

VM accidentally kills the villain Parka in battle. Hiding in Costa Rica from The Malefactors, Parka’s homies.

Silver Striker gives Connor a pep talk. Return from exile. Margo is suspicious of QuantumWorks, wants to meet VM.

June 2005

Margo and VM finally meet. A battle with Green Dragon. Showdown with Connor’s mysterious bosses. All is revealed. Connor skips town yet again.

Return from extended road trip. Who the hell is Paleowolf?

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.]