After the grand electromagnet heist, things quieted down around the city. Nobody reported any sort of proof that the two were linked. As planned, college officials and police assumed Empyreal City State University pulled some sort of elaborate prank. They’ve been going over the ECSU campus with a fine-tooth comb, but they’ve also been entertaining other hypotheses.
I sent out the Rejects, Carl, and Moai to commit a few more Venus crimes, which also hid the connection. Carl had been eager to try out his newest mini-pistol. He and Ray X blasted a beauty salon apart. They got along real well too. According to Carl, Steve seems to remember being involved in some shady stuff in the past as well.
Another thing about this entire Venus mess: a lot of businesses with that as their name focused on beauty in some way. Dermatology, hair, dance. Roberta, aka Winsect, was particularly easy to manipulate into a rage over that. She did most of the work when I sent her and Moai off to take down a women’s gym.
About the only one’s who didn’t care were Tom the Rattler and Larry the Meltman. Tom never seemed to care about anything but trying to stay indoors and stay warm. Probably something to do with the giant evil millipede thingy in his head. I’ve suspected the bug’s calling the shots there. As for Larry, he enjoyed watching daytime TV and cuddling up with Spike Smooshyface. Spike didn’t mind. The pup chewed everything he could get his maw on.
At least I had F-Uhaul to help me out. They still delivered for Michelangelo, who happily provided me with what he could at a deeply-inflated black market price. I think I made him uncomfortable. Well, more uncomfortable than usual.
I felt like he knew something I didn’t. He still agreed to get me the chemicals I needed. It’s just that he seemed hesitant about everything, and now that I think about it, he acted surprised to see me.
Maybe chemicals set him on edge. Different people have different standards, but few folks, hero, civilian, or villain, would think to use mundane chemical weapons. Gimmicky chemical weapons get used all the time. Like with Mix N’Max. He’s crafted concoctions that could do just about anything. Aside from the Kingscrow drug trade, they tended to be single-use or limited run batches.
I’ve crossed a lot of lines. It wouldn’t be the first time someone wanted me for the criminal equivalent of a war crime. I’ve been accused of all sorts of things upon leaving the bathroom on burrito night.
You could add cyber stalking and invasion of privacy to my ever-growing list of charges, too. I didn’t spend this time just directing attacks by my cohort. I hunted down information on Venus.
I failed to find a way into whatever servers they had at the Master Academy. Instead, I relied on whatever dossiers, interviews, public speeches, and background checks I could pull. Anyone could have lied about the public information, but I figured on finding some kernel of truth within. The best lies are those that the person telling them believes as well. One way to further that while maintaining consistency is to grow a lie around a seed of truth.
My contact Harlon made finding this all immensely more easy. He was a fat executive for one of the major news networks. Vice president of this or president of that, I stopped keeping track. I didn’t kill him, helped him get promoted, and then saved him from a mugging once. That guy hadn’t been shown much companionship in his life to want to spend time with me. The meeting of our minds helped both of us, though. His network got some recordings and exclusives from an anonymous source in the super community. In return, they disseminated talking points that benefited my side of things. Being an agency concerned with reporting, they funneled information my way.
When Harlon’s news channel started speculating that a link existed between the electromagnet theft and the Venus attacks, they looked a little crazy to most people. Sometimes, crazy isn’t crazy. Sometimes, a crazy person just looks that way because they know a lot more about what’s going on.
In thanks for his cooperation, I sent him a fruit basket. He then called me up to tell me he didn’t appreciate a basket being delivered by a team of campy gay male strippers wearing little more than thongs and body glitter.
That Harlon, what a kidder.
There were puff pieces. You know, the sort of interviews that make a hero look good and nice for the kiddies. Interviews that sell toys. Entire transcripts about nothing but serving and protecting people. Venus mostly shied away from political talk. That didn’t mean she was shy, though. This blowhard on Harlon’s own network tried to draw her into a discussion about politics and began to use fancy insults when she refused. Words like “pinhead” and “bloviator”.
He came across more like a bully. Then, after the commercial break, his shirt and hair were a little disheveled and he behaved more politely.
There was so much to go through, I had to make use of a nifty little ability people with normal eyes don’t have. When my eyes were replaced on my world, the new pair came with many superior features, including a search ability. A secondary function of the facial recognition search was the ability to find a certain word in a document held up in front of me.
I checked transcripts for references to “past” or “history” or “family”. From there, I found an old interview from years ago. She had just taken down a troublesome villain: Matthias Darkstone, the Stellar Man. Afterwards, she sat down with investigative reporter Mei San Olivier.
When I found that, I shoved Larry out of the way and sent the digital file to the TV for viewing.
I’ll toss in some relevant pieces here.
Mei: “Were you nervous knowing you faced a man with inhuman abilities? He trapped Los Angeles under a night sky for sixteen hours, after all.”
Venus: “I’m not going to sound very heroic, but yes I was. That is, I was nervous. There is a major difference in pressure when you think about lives being at stake, but I never doubted my training. I trained along superhumans at the Master Academy. I grew up with them and I sparred with them. They don’t believe I’m not superhuman, hehe.”
She giggled then with a smile that scrunched her face up in a cute way. I realized I’d never seen her smile. Perhaps I just needed the right tools? Headgear of some sort, or some sort of chemical that freezes a face in a grin.
M: “What went through your mind when you beat the Stellar Man and had him in your custody? Did you have any hard feelings, did you feel any pity?”
The question caught Venus off guard. She sat up straighter but took a moment to mull the question over. She kept her mouth slightly open, tongue against the inside of her cheek. Then she blinked and looked back to Mei.
V: “Sorry, I’m so sorry. I wasn’t sure myself. Mostly I was glad. I don’t know if you know this, but it’s hard work fighting someone like that. I was so relieved he went down and I could cuff him. Then I worried he might escape me.”
M: “Oh no.” She said it with a laugh, leaning forward to pat Venus on the knee.
Venus laughed too. She seemed really young in the video. I called up stills of when I last encountered her and when I first encountered. She definitely aged over our run-ins. She held herself differently, too. Straighter and more stiff, even when she shouldn’t have for her fighting style.
Odd. In all our fights, I don’t remember shoving a stick up her ass.
Perhaps my newest project would dislodge it. You wouldn’t think a guy like me would want a big electromagnet. After all, they do such interesting things to computers. It would be like fighting a pyrokinetic while covered in gasoline. Or like a paraplegic taking up lap dancing.
Well, this is one lap dancer who isn’t afraid when things get hard, even if I had to bring Carl in on it to figure out how to transport the damn thing.
When we got that thing figured out, though, I think we had ourselves one heck of a menace to society.
So, tired of a day wasted on admiring Venus’s laugh and smile, I invited Larry and Spike Smooshyface along to test the thing out.
This involved a quick trip to a local piercing parlor in the van, which had been rebuilt and re-purposed. Remember how I said the Venus places tended to be linked to beauty? Venus Piercing kept that fine tradition alive. I would have given them credit for exploring less conventional ideas about beauty, but I also wanted to hurt somebody.
Larry skidded to a stop with the rear toward the outside of the stucco building, annoying everyone on the two-way street and earning us a chorus of horns. The nearest drivers stopped when the rear of the van folded away and the magnet emerged on a hydraulic arm. To protect and better direct it, I gave the magnet a casing and barrel.
Just because I stole the thing doesn’t mean I’m eager to get stuck to it.
The barrel also helped because of the enhancements I made to the design. Once again, there were benefits to having a head full of information from a more advanced planet.
I stood off to the side and activated the magnet. It drew from batteries filling the van to power itself as portions of the parlor’s building bent toward the magnet, then broke apart as various piercings flew free of whatever held them in and brought those construction nails and screws with them. I caught a glimpse of a Prince Albert covered with blood as it flew out.
That seemed painful, and I didn’t need all that sticking to my new toy, so I used the other nifty feature of it. One flip of a mental switch and the forces reversed themselves. Instead of attracting all that nice wonderful metal, those tiny bits were flung back with enough force to once again shoot through the exterior wall and speed back to where they belonged. Roughly. Very roughly. The kind of roughly that drew blood and cries of anguish.
I knew for a fact that whoever got that Prince Albert wasn’t going to let a little thing like having his piercing ripped off stop him from getting screwed.
I toyed with the place, swapping between attraction and repulsion, up until I saw the larger, five story building behind the parlor shake itself to collapsing.
Huh, you’d think a simple urban engineer would have thought to plan around magnet-wielding supervillains. This is what happens when you rely on engineers claiming it should stand up to attacks instead of testing it with real cataclysmic conditions.
Same for those piercings I yanked out and then violently returned to people. How dare that store sell defective piercings that couldn’t even stand up to some playful tugging?!
I fully intended on taking up my dissatisfaction with the management of that establishment, but then they were buried under a collapsing buildings. Ugh, some people will do anything to avoid hearing criticism.
Still, my test was a success. I had Larry crank that sucker and we sped out of there with the assistance of the repel setting and the cars behind us. Because sometimes you need to use the laws to your advantage, even if they’re a fundamental one in physics about equal and opposite reactions.
After so much time spent perfecting my magnet and reading up on Venus, I think I know what it takes to attract her to Empyreal City.