I never realized how many places in Empyreal City had Venus in their name. Neither did anyone on the news up until they reported on the string of crimes that have occurred recently while I sat watching on the sofa at the Big Top.
“The mysterious fire that claimed the New Venus Restaurant was just the first of an epidemic. Then a clinic specializing in beautifying people’s skin, Venus Treatments, was destroyed by a colorful group of mutated-looking humanoids with super powers.”
“Then a group of people attacked a dance studio. Reports say they just waltzed in, wrecked the place with pickaxes, and waltzed out. Police are still investigating a chemical weapon used at the crime that caused fog and oxygen deprivation in those nearby.”
That was fun. I’m not the most prolific of chemists, but I’ve learned a lot more than just which ones go boom by now. Just like when I first faced Venus in Memphis, I really enjoyed breaking out that knowledge again. The prep work became a minor problem, but I had a lot of helping hands. I still hadn’t contacted my old black market contact, Michelangelo. I’d been fairly loyal to Michelangelo’s House of Negotiable Goods ever since shaking him down for information one Christmas. Michelangelo would still be more than capable of getting me the other treat I had in mind.
The news segment on the Venus crimes ended with the camera panning over an intersection, the voice over saying, “Whatever the reason for this spate of attacks, police and heroes are hard at work solving the cases. We urge anyone whose business is named after the Roman goddess of love to practice caution.”
I switched off the TV and hopped up. “Typical speculation…I could be some crazy guy obsessed with astronomy. For all they know, I was planning to attack Uranus next.” I headed over to my nearest worktable, where Spike Smooshyface chewed on my saxophone.
“Shoo, go chew on something hallucinogenic or electrified.” I suppressed my urge to punt the little guy and set him on the floor. While I messed around recalibrating the sax, I called out to Roberta. “You got the floor plan?”
She perched on a bar stool in front of a movable podium with a computer on top. “Got it right here!” She chirruped, tapping a few keys. Images of Foley College, a local center for higher education, replaced a fascinating news piece on an upcoming cheese festival.
I couldn’t tell if that story was gouda or bad. I figured it was a queso bad scheduling. What’s that, y’all don’t appreciate the jokes? Were they too cheesy?
Back to Foley College. It existed prior, but the guys in charge renamed it in honor of a nigh-indestructible hero. He had no super strength or speed, and he could suffer all manor of minor injuries so long as they didn’t kill or permanently disable him. He dubbed himself “Wreck” and set about becoming a world-renowned humanitarian aid worker, entertainer, and children’s author.
The pictures showed a friendly but fenced-in campus. There were four entrances, with only two open on a regular basis. Entry required a keyfob or identification by a security guard at the main gate. The buildings had custom brick work. It looked more like decorative slabs of rock made up the exteriors. They looked like you could climb the outside of a building with just a little rock climbing experience.
I stepped out in front of them and pointed at the outer fence and checkpoints with the sax. “As y’all can see, the security here is incredible at keeping out overprotective parents and particularly frail old ladies. It may even stop a turtle with dementia.”
Carl raised his hand. “Boss, I don’t understand.”
I shook my head. “You’re right, Carl, I didn’t make it clear. The turtle has dementia. The security doesn’t somehow cause dementia in order to stop intruders. If it could, this would be serious business.”
“No, why are you putting this much effort into this? Normally we just bust in and take what we want.”
“Good point. Team, the reason why I had Roberta research this, and Larry print copies of the floor plan, and Tom collate…by the way, do a better job next time, Tom…is because college campuses are a supervillain’s worst nightmare. After all, it’s full of doctors and professors. How many times have you heard a superhero named ‘Professor This Guy’ or ‘Doctor So-And-So,’ huh? They didn’t all pass medical boards, and there are only so many jobs for a professional graduate student. Which brings us to the students. Superheroes go to high school all the time. It’s the story everyone’s heard. Teen gets powers. Teen practices powers. Teen, being immature and stupid, tries to protect people and right wrongs. Then what? Teen goes to college. Teen is away from adult supervision and can set his own hours around easy classes. Plus, everyone’s all idealistic in college. People learn that shit is going down in the world and they want to fix it, just like most people do who haven’t had their morality’s cherry popped like a drunk freshman at a Greek mixer. By the way, if you get a picture of a hero taking advantage of that, you have them by the balls for the statute of limitations. Any questions?”
Steve raised his hand, a bone glinting in the light. “Yeah, is this going to be on the final exam?”
I nodded and smacked my worktable with the sax. “Yes! My exams typically consist of a dozen essay questions and an interpretive dance segment. Now, back to the plan…”
We went in that night, Monday evening, with me in my armor for this one. There were no parties going on to distract potential student heroes, but their weekend hangovers and sleepless shenanigans gave us an opportunity. Plus, almost all the professors and doctors were gone at night.
Entry was easy. I faked our credentials by stopping at a nearby liquor store and mugging a guy who showed up to buy a keg of beer.
We had to park the van off to the side. The science center rested under a portion of the campus. The entrance rested at the bottom of a small amphitheater. Those at the top could just take stairs up a few steps and walk over the building. Maybe peer down in the middle of the area to see a small courtyard.
We all hid our appearance in trench coats and fedoras as we entered. Moai, Roberta the Winsect, and “Ray X” Steve climbed up to take their positions near the courtyard. We received a few looks, but one of the advantages of working a college over is that no one bats an eye at anything you wear. The three on top of the building took pulled parts of a simple pulley system out of their coats and began erecting it.
The rest of us went inside. They didn’t bother locking it, but we still ate up time spreading out to find our target: the college’s shiny new research six foot diameter, two ton electromagnet, as reported on by the school paper. I had plans for that bad boy.
We found it being fawned over by a pair of grad students.
“Carl, Headgame, these two didn’t see anything.” Carl advanced and Headgame lunged forward with stretchy arms. Once they had the two scared students well in hand, it turned out they really hadn’t seen anything.
“In fact, I wasn’t even here tonight. I was with my girlfriend. Yeah, that’s it!” I nodded to Carl, who released the captive collegiate. That guy scampered out to live up to his alibi. I turned to the other, still safely clutched in Headgame’s coils.
“I, uh, I…was washing my hair?” My eyes flicked to his hair. Short and buzzed. The scalp was visible He looked like a peach.
“Try again,” I told him. “Come on, you’re smart. Tell yourself something you can believe. Maybe something happy if you want. Trust me, it’s about to get sad for you around here.”
“I was with his girlfriend.” He nudged his chin towards his fellow fleeing student.
I waggled my hand in the air, then gave Headgame a thumbs-up. He let the inventive academic run off as well.
“Now then…” I turned to the magnet, which resembled an expensive Ferris wheel for dolls. “Let’s hope we don’t attract any attention.”
Carl and the Rejects groaned.
I joined in soon enough as it took me a good twenty minutes to get the thing out to the hallway next to the courtyard. Jumping is one thing. Punching through a human head is another. Carrying that heavy, delicate piece of shit without bending or wrecking it was quite another.
When I got to that hall, I set it down, then promptly collapsed.
“Somebody, break those windows,” I ordered between huffs and puffs.
“Which windows, boss?”
“Carl, dammit, the windows to the courtyard! I can’t point right now and I think my water just broke.”
“I always thought you were a man,” Larry the Meltman interrupted.
“Meltman, either my water broke or my organs are trying to escape to safety through my asshole.” I groaned and stood up as I heard Carl begin shattering the windows to the yard. He swung the butt of his new mini-pistol against it. Good guy. Firing the combination minigun and handgun would have made more noise than that. He even opened the glass door and busted it.
Then, for the last time, I had to heave that heavy son of a bitch up onto failing muscles and machines and carry it carefully out into the night. Luckily, Moai, Ray X, and Winsect were more than ready.
I had the others slide the harness onto the massive machine while I laid down on the cool earth, looking up at Moai above us. “Do it…and somebody go move that fucking van closer.”
“How are you doing down there?” Ray X called down.
“I think I pulled my everything!” I answered.
Steve gave a thumbs-up. “Don’t worry, we’ll have it up in a jiffy.”
With that, Moai jumped over the edge in his harness to serve as the counterweight. He raised the magnet off the ground easily. That made me all the more glad that any time I had to lift him, I did so with his momentum on my side. Mostly, I just took in the glorious sight of that magnet being raised by something else.
Then I realized I had a clear view of Moai as he began falling on me. The breaking feeling in my legs was even more clear, but it couldn’t compete with pain coming from my newly-flattened ball sack as he landed right on top of my little guys.
I didn’t mute my helmet in time and the screams broke all the rest of the nearby windows around the courtyard.
We did get the damn thing out of there, though. In no mood for games, I had Larry fetch the van, drive it down the amphitheater steps, and crash through the doors. Then Roberta tore a hole in the side so the magnet could ride in there with them. I didn’t have much say in that. I was too busy dealing with the pain of nanites piecing my crushed lower body back together. They didn’t return any urine to my bladder when they sealed it up, though. Then again, I don’t think there was any left in there by the time they set to work.
After all that, the team realized they couldn’t fit the magnet and me in there, so they did the only sensible thing: they strapped me to the roof in full armor as I healed. “Remember guys, leave the letters ‘ECSU’ around somewhere they can see.”
They didn’t tie me to the roof well enough with that pulley cord, I soon realized. They did donuts in a campus lawn to spell out the abbreviation of a nearby rival college and nearly lost me three times in the process. Still, at least the cover of a college prank would keep things low key for a short time.
I just had to lie back and heal. And I did, up until a couple of people at a red light shouted at the driver of our van.
“Hey man, what the hell is that thing?” One of them asked from the next lane.
Carl must have rolled down the window, because I heard him yell at them, “That guy on top? The hunting season for them just started. I bagged him when he came right up to me and asked too many questions.”
I moaned in pain loud enough for the guy asking to hear. “Ooh, help. My balls. They rolled off into the road a mile back. Help me, please. Go back and find them. They’re the ones that are all bloody and squished.”
The car next to us revved suddenly and took off, not even waiting for a green light first.
If I had paid them to help me, that’s when they would have been sacked. They were not on the ball. I know those jokes were painful, but don’t worry. I only had a pair of them.