Editor’s note: For this column, all proceeding text in italics/bold must be read in a Ted Knight superhero narrator voice. If you are unsure what that is, listen to the opening narration in this video.
Last week (year), campus troubles became a national crisis! President Wallace Loh possesses a computer supervirus and plots to destroy all university test results and trap Maryland students in a summer of exam taking, while Terrapin League boys uncover the clues to foil the plot!
MEANWHILE CIA Agent Keith Booth recovers in a New York hospital, refusing to take a day off cracking the case!
Will President Loh succeed in destroying Maryland’s summer? Will he pass on the technology to ever more dangerous foes? Will the heroes, unknown to each other, foil the plot before it’s too late? Read on to find out!
“This could be the end of public education in America,” said the television on the wall mount. CIA Special Agent Keith Booth stirred. Opening his eyes, he could dully make out the blurry outline of New York Congressional Republican Peter King speaking on Fox News. “The tentacles of Islamo-socialism are tightening their suffocating grip, and ideologically reject mercy,” continued King.
Before he had even regained motion in his fingers, Booth grabbed his cell phone from the nightstand and began furiously and haphazardly dialing.
MEANWHILE in College Park, the ever-techy James Padgett and his lady-killing sidekick Dez Wells have identified the University of Maryland as the target of the supervirus!
“Dez, it explains everything, why Wallace Loh ever even came to College Park. The target has always been Maryland!” stammered James Padgett, running frantically past the big M toward the Computer Science Building.
“Hold on,” said Dez, jogging much more comfortably, allowing his eyes to trail off after female passerbys. “Are you sayin’… he actually didn’t come here for the ladies?”
“That’s exactly what I’m saying. His collegiate history is written in Iowa, and the data went missing when Iowa and Maryland played in the NIT last month. I just don’t know where he could have hidden all the servers necessary to hold and run such a virus, it needs – Dez? DEZ!”
But Dez wasn’t listening. He had stopped running, unable to resist talking to a tall, slender blond girl who decided that finals were no reason not to don a skirt and tight white tanktop.
“Hey baby, I know you plannin’ on studyin’ some math but I’m tryna study a-broad, get it?”
“Where you studyin’ at?” he asked her.
“Haha, McKeldin!” she said, still giggling.
“Damnit Dez! This is serious! We have to stop this plot!” Padgett was losing patience, but Dez paid him little attention.
“Yeah man, in a minute. So girl, what you say we study together? I know some quiet places up there we can study together with a lil’ privacy, kno what I’m sayin’?”
The girl giggled. “Oh yeah?”
“Yeah, ain’t you ever wonder why half the fifth floor ain’t on the map?”
Padgett lost his cool.
“STOP THINKING WITH YOUR DICK, DEZ, OR WE’RE ALL – wait, what?” he stopped, finally listening to Dez, who had continued flirting as if Padgett didn’t exist.
“Yeah girl, it’s like a super secret study spot, lemme show you!”
Before the girl could respond, Padgett had switched gears. “We’re going there right now!”
“Uhh, we’re not doin’ a science project wit you Principal Skinner,” said Dez tersely, but Padgett had already grabbed Dez by the arm and was dragging him back up Campus Drive toward McKeldin Library while the girl looked on, confused and disappointed.
Meanwhile in a hidden super secret location!
“What does it mean, Clayton?” asked Wallace Loh, smiling maliciously.
“WHY ARE YOU DOING THIS?” demanded retired University of Maryland President C. Daniel Mote, bound on a wooden wheel on the floor of a mysterious, dark room, before his voice collapsed in exhaustion.
Loh considered Mote for a moment. “Normally I would say, ‘you tell me the information I desire first,’ Clayton. But perhaps you’ll like my master plot. Perhaps you’ll even assist me.”
Both men were silent for a moment.
Loh continued: “The year before I came here, you may remember a massive snowstorm during finals. They were cancelled. You apologized to the students and parents, because students had to retake their exams in January, just before the start of the spring semester.”
“Most embarrassing moment of my career,” spat Mote.
“It was beautiful. Winter break was… nonexistent,” said Loh, his eyes lit with a tantric glow. “Students spent a month and a half indoors studying. The few who went outside and frolicked in the snow, had in the back of their minds the shame and the guilt – I should be studying! Sarah Bellum reined supreme!”
“So you will…” coughed Mote, “delete finals records… trap students … in a summer of finals?” He was slowly gaining his breath.
“We control the weather… tornadoes… bombings… we’ll keep delaying finals until August. Those kids won’t see an ounce of sunlight this summer,” laughed Loh. “But then there came this … prophecy. Now, the chip is in, those codes will be unleashed eventually, but to … cover our backs… we should really know what it’s about. Rodman told me you’d know what it meant,” he continued, pacing around the room. Mote was following him with curiousity. Prophecy?
“But I don’t think I need to tear it out of you…” Loh continued. “Think of all we could do with them for a whole summer, Clayton. We could build an entire country.”
“And I’ll be rich,” added Studley, absently plugging away at a large computer mainframe in the smoky background.
“And if anyone gets in our way,” added Loh. “We’ll kill them mercilessly. Including you,” he said to Mote. “What do you say, Clayton? Can you tell me what the prophecy means?”
Mote lifted his head.
“It means, long live the ACC!” he spat in defiance. But within seconds he was screaming in pain.
Back in New York, Special Agent Keith Booth is hot on the trail of Loh and Studley!
“Dammit Booth, take a break!” stammered Booth’s mustached boss. “That’s an order, dammit man! You need rest!”
“Ain’t no rest for the wicked,” said Booth. “I’m on to something.”
Booth had indeed discovered something on University of Iowa power forward Whitman Studley. Though Studley had a massive prescription for a drug called ‘Adderall’ which he kept refilling, his urine samples, collected from what remained of Rikers Island Jail, proved empty of the substance. Moreover, all his teammates had prescriptions to Adderall, but none of them ever checked into a pharmacy to collect their prescriptions themselves. It seemed that Studley was collecting them himself.
“I don’t care Booth!” stammered his boss. “Let it go dammit! Give up!”
“Now,” Booth said, speaking more to himself as his chubby boss stood there fuming, “scientific research and studies conducted over the last four years, as well as investigative research by the CIA, ATF, FBI, MI6, the ACLU, all in conglomeration with seventeen public universities and all eight Ivy League schools, suggests there may be a possible link between Adderall use and major collegiate exams with students.”
Booth’s reddening boss was almost literally boiling, with hot air bursting out of his face. What was this nonsense?!
“Some people even suspect a few kids are using the medication without prescriptions!”
“God dammit BOY THAT’S THE DUMBEST IDEA YOU’VE COME UP WITH YET!” roared Booth’s loose-tie, swollen-prostate boss. “DAMMIT I WANT YOUR BADGE IN MONDAY MORNING!”
Booth hadn’t noticed anything. “This is all theory… but it seems Studley, if he’s selling his Adderall to other students, would have something to gain by prolonging final exams for multiple colleges.”
Booth pulled out the last piece of evidence, a fortune from the now-shuttered Panda Express in College Park, conspicuously found at the wreckage of Riker’s Island Jail.
Only that which has never been felt before, can truly ignite the beast within.
It was signed by Dennis Rodman. “Loh is plotting something on campus,” said Booth, after reading the evidence. “But …. Chief, who did Dennis Rodman insist on meeting after he got back from North Korea?”
“DAMMIT BOOTH!” roared the aging, bizarrely stressed man. “WHAT THE HELL DO YOU THINK DAN MOTE MATTER TO AN INVESTIGATION OF THIS MAGNITUDE, AND RODMAN, WHY WE HAD TO DEBRIEF THAT FOOL, DAMMIT I WANT YOUR BADGE, TURN IT IN!”
“Oh my God…” whispered Booth. He grabbed a phone.
Meanwhile, inside McKeldin itself, the terrible truth unknown to them, superheroes Alex Len and Nick Faust continued their argument about the merits of the Thirsty Turtle Times. Was its content a giant fallacy? Is it an underground vein of truth in a world of lies? Does it matter?
“FAUST, JESUS CHRIST MAN” screamed Len, his Ukrainian accent and broken English more pronounced in his hysterical anger, “IF YOU DON’T STOP SPREADING THIS BULLSHIT LIES I WILL FORGET HOW GOOD AND LOYAL FRIEND YOU ARE! I CHOKE YOU!”
“Yo man,” said Faust, remarkably calm, “All I’m sayin’ is the Thirsty Turtle Times keeps it realer than Kraft Cheese, kno what I’m sayin?”
“IDIOT!” bellowed Len. “KRAFT CHEESE IS MADE FROM CHEESE PRODUCT, IS NOT REAL CHEESE! IS FAKE LIKE THIRSTY TURTLE TIMES!”
“Dude,” said Faust. “You shoulda leff that temper back in Russia.”
“I AM FROM UKRAINE!”
There was a corresponding shatter.
The guttural roar was apparently enough to break glass on both sides of the floor, bringing a cool breeze came through the hallway. The boys heard several movements within the building; it seemed as if it hadn’t felt a breeze in years. White, pasty nerds scurried for darkness and stillness. Len coughed, gesturing that his anger had abated.
Before anyone else spoke, James Padgett burst into the hallway, with Dez Wells coming in right behind him. He was frantic.
“MARYLAND IS THE TARGET!”
“Of what?” asked Len, as a large gust of spring wind blew through the entire floor.
“Prolly that” said Dez, pointing up. The ceiling tiles had begun to move. One in particular was moving mechanically upward.
“DAMN son, whatchu do?” yelled Faust at Len, as more ceiling tiles suddenly began moving up into the ceiling. Within a few seconds, every tile was moving up, shifting sideways and vanishing, while the ceiling frames too shifted sideways into the walls.
The room was morphing.
On McKeldin Library’s fourth floor, there is not but an ominous stairway into darkness where a sizable part of the ceiling used to be. Brave they were, those boys, to ascend the stairs, and find not more books or computers, but a terrible site indeed – in a dark, misty room, their former president, Dan Mote, was bound and racked!
“President Mote!” yelled Len, running forth to release him. “What happened?! Are you ok?”
But before Mote could fail to answer, a cold, ominous voice came from the corner of the room.
“That’s it? A gust of wind? The prophecy was about a breeze?”
“Mis – Mistah Loh?” breathed Wells. “Whatchu doin up here? What’s goin’ on?”
“Don’t worry boys,” said Loh, responding with an eerily still smile to Wells, while Len checked Dr. Mote’s pulse and everyone else stood behind him, rooted to the floor. “The prophecy spoke of me. I am the beast. And now I must liberate this campus.”
James Padgett took a step forward. “You monster! You – you’re not going anywhere!
“On the contrary James, we’re all going everywhere,” said Loh, slowly raising his hand and snapping his fingers.
There was a rush of wind and rumble of Earth ground, and all was chaos.
Outside, Studley stood ready on Regents Drive, watching McKeldin Library as its upper floors crumbled inside and into a twirling mass of concrete.
Students had already been pouring out onto the Mall to witness the calamity from a safe distance. A massive, laborious tornado had engulfed the library and was expanding still, making incredibly slow, deep booming noises and seemingly willing to swallow everything – except one large projectile.
A thick, suited figure was blasted forth into the air, falling gracefully toward the students. Some tried to catch him, but Dan Mote hit the grass with a terribly loud thud nonetheless.
Students were screaming. With one big gasp, Mote opened his eyes. Vision blurry, he was able to make out a large, dark outline of a young, bald black man leaning over him.
“There is…” he began, as many more shapes began to appear around him. “There is another…”
“Another what?” asked the man. “What is it, Dr. Mote?”
“Testudo. There is… another… Testudo.” and with that, Dr. Mote breathed no more.
Students were running, screaming, scrambling. McKeldin Library lay in ruins, and a tornado, too slow to believe, was sluggishly twirling in its wreckage.
“Murderer!” shouted Padgett, climbing out of a pile of rubble.
“We gotta stop that mothafucka!” burst Wells, tumbling out of a pile of papers.
“Shit, I knew he evil,” mumbled Faust, crawling out of the fountain.
“STUDENTS OF MARYLAND!” bellowed Alex Len, stumbling onto the biggest pile of rubble he could find. The panic subsided, undercut by the low rumble of the strangely graceful tornado behind.
“I came to this land from Ukraine,” he said. He was calmer than he felt. “And I understood less English than engineering department. I only dreamed of a life of fast cars and loose women, with rock & roll music and lots of success for myself!”
The screaming and yelling had stopped. Silence prevailed.
“But in America you have this word called “team,” which I initially thought was gay orgy. But I realized it could be a cause for great crime-fighting. And so we formed the Terrapin League! It was we who ousted Marcus Plummer, we who stopped the natural disasters, we who defeated the College Park Cuddler, and we who drove Vito Riccio out of town!” he declared. But he was interrupted.
“TRY YOUR BEST, TERRAPIN LEAGUE!”
Wallace Loh had reappeared, standing in front of a dislodged Testudo, at the base of what used to be his school’s flagship building. His tornado continued behind him, like an obedient servant waiting to clear its master’s plate. “It’s over boys. The virus is already taking effect. You’re mine all summer!”
But Len continued. “ Now we call upon you for our help!” he yelled to the students, his eyes still on Loh. And as he said it, students began to shift toward him. Some of their eyes began fixating on Loh as well.
Loh kept laughing. “Ok, let’s do it your way,” he said quietly. Then he snapped his fingers again.
There was a louder rumble than the slow tornado. From behind what remained of McKeldin Library, there came great stomping noises. Frozen, the students and the Terrapin League watched as, coming from all angles, behind McKeldin, Tydings Hall, Chincoteague, and Jiminez Hall, marched several massive contingents of an army the rest of the school had only ever seen on televisions or computer screens.
“North Korea!” yelled James Padgett. “I should have known they were behind this!”
Loh was cackling.
“It’ll all end soon boys. Alex, come this way, and I’ll spare the rest. I need some students left to actually take the finals I’ll be administering all summer,” he said smiling. “But they won’t miss just one.”
Momentary silence revealed that the stomping noises had paused.
“What?” said Len.
Loh pulled a small handgun out of his pocket. “Let’s go,” he said, no longer smiling, beckoning Len with it.
“Bullshit,” said Faust. Len stared on, having not moved an inch. Then he turned to face Loh entirely. Presently he accepted what he had to do. And as he did, taking one step forward, he began to hear a low hum in his ear.
There were angry protests and screams. The student body, terrified, yet brave enough to protest, did so helplessly as reality set in. Loh intended to execute Len before all of them.
The hum grew louder. This must be what the end sounds like, thought Len.
“Don’t go, dude!” yelled Wells.
Len walked forward, the humming increasing in his ears.
Loh was still. Len stepped up to the top step – he was much taller than Loh, who didn’t recoil, but appeared a little shaken. He began raising his gun. Len didn’t flinch. The humming was growing louder still. As Loh’s eye’s began to flicker, and students began looking around, Len closed his eyes. He momentarily recalled the stories his grandfather used to tell him of being made to dig his own grave by S.S. soldiers.
Even if they did succeed in killing me, his grandfather had said, It would have been a failure. They came to subdue us. They couldn’t conquer the East.
“Alex,” muttered Padgett. “You… you don’t have to do this.”
Len turned his head back for a moment.
“I know this won’t be easy for you,” he said to Padgett. “But you need to tank those finals.” And as he turned back to face his destiny, the humming became a low rumble.
Len turned his head back, staring into Loh’s twitching eyes. Loh had fixated the gun between Len’s furrowed eyebrows. The rumbling grew louder.
They couldn’t even kill me.
Loh snapped back – he hadn’t pulled the trigger. So where did the bang come from? As he and everyone else looked up behind the Administration building, one student didn’t – Alex Len, whose opportunist fist was already launching into Loh’s face. The last thing Loh saw was a massive, fire-breathing steel… turtle?
The lights went out.
Looking onto to the scattering standabouts on McKeldin Mall was the strangest behemoth any of the students or North Korean soldiers had ever seen, and the University of Maryland’s greatest secret.
It was a massive, mechanized Testudo, the size of a small sports arena. Fully automated, with moving legs, and a swiveling head which thrusted forth a bronze-capped steel snout, it’s eyes were red, its legs a thick spiral of interlocking metal parts, its shell a huge spiked silver hull, and on top, wielding old-fashioned reins, was Special Agent Keith Booth. Long-rumored, rarely mentioned, it existed, it was massive, and it was bearing down on the battlefield.
“EASY Girl!” Booth yelled down as he was carried over McKeldin Mall, as the massive Mecha-Testudo blasted huge bursts of flames at scattering North Korean soldiers.
“It’s real!!!” shouted Padgett, running and skipping toward Mecha-Testudo. Faust was laughing hysterically.
The few North Korean soldiers who hadn’t taken off tried to shoot back. The bullets seemed to bounce off Mecha-Testudo’s hull. Now Booth was laughing. As he wheeled Mecha-Testudo over Alex Len, the young Ukranian looked up at the underbelly of the great mechanical beast. Stamped in letters no bigger than a license plate was a name no one had read or heard in a long time.
“HEY KIM!” Booth called to the dazed man lying on the ground, waving a Natural Light beer in the sunlight. Loh stirred. “I found the beer!”
And Loh shook his head just in time to see a Natural Light beer in his face, before the lights went out again.
But for Whitman Studley, the mission carried on.
“He’s getting’ away!” shouted Wells, taking chase.
Studley was laughing as he hurled the walls over Jiminez Hall, heading for Loh’s idling tornado, which had drifted to Campus Drive. With the virus still spreading, all he had to do was escape.
It seemed all was lost, and even with him vanquished, nothing could stop the completion of Dr. Loh’s master plot! With no hope left, wait, what’s that in the East?! It’s a bird! It’s a plane! It’s… Pe’Shon Howard! He comes out of nowhere and snags Studley from flight inches before his escape.
Pe’shon slammed Studley upon the ruins of McKeldin Library, and out of Studley’s pocket came the virus chip.
“Pe’Shon!” exclaimed Len. “You son of a bitch!”
Pe’Shon Howard kicked his sneaker jets off and threw Len a reassuring scowl. “You think I’d miss this party?”
Grabbing the chip, he tossed it up to Booth.
“Thank you!” shouted Booth haphazardly, plugging the chip into the back of Mecha-Testudo’s head. “What the hell do I do now?”
“It’s s’posed to work!” said Pe’shon. “Wait… Rodman said… you have to tell the machine to interpret the orders manually, or something.”
“WHAT IS THIS – SIRI?” screamed Booth, sarcastically.
“It’s a self-patronizing mechanism, Keith,” came a voice from Mecha-Testudo’s head. “Provide patronization, and you will have access to the University of Maryland Mainframes.”
Everyone went silent. Everyone except Dez Wells, who was standing behind the same blond girl he had been flirting with earlier, staring at her backside.
“Maryland…. we’re all behind you,” he began, dancing rhythmically, looking around, and back. “Raise high the black and gold ..”
“For there is nothing half so glorious,” joined in Padgett and Faust.
“AS TO SEE OUR TEAM VICTORIOUS!” joined Booth, Pe’Shon, and Len.
And soon the rest of the school joined in, even Dr. Loh in his disorientation:
“We’ve got the steam boys,
We’ve got the team boys,
So keep on fighting, don’t give in!
Maryland will win!”
And that glorifying music did the trick! Under Special Agent Booth’s command, Mecha-Testudo manually disabled the terrible virus, preserving students’ finals records just in time! And with the North Korean Army defeated, the heroes gathered with Wallace Loh and Whitman Studley safely captured!
“I TOLD you he was evil!” said Faust, pointing at Loh.
Loh shook himself out his daze yet again. He and Studley were bound together, on the grass of McKeldin Mall. There was a huge mark where the full beer had hit his head, but the gash simply looked abnormal. There wasn’t any blood.
“He don’t even bleed right,” said Wells.
“Actually, that ain’t Wallace Loh,” said Pe’Shon Howard. Booth was nodding.
“Indeed,” said Booth. “We learned a number of things from Dennis Rodman. One of them is that only the Dear Leader himself could harness the magical power of the tornadoes, which means…”
Len himself, having felt the imposter Loh’s face himself, understood. He grabbed Loh’s scalp and pulled. Off came the mask.
“It’s Kim Jong-un!” gasped Padgett. “Of course!”
“And I would have gotten away with it too, if it weren’t for you medderin’ Terrapins!” spat Kim.
“I TOLD YOU!” spat Len, taking everybody aback, as he glared at Faust. “I told you Wallace Loh is a good man and would never hurt his students!”
“Nah son, he had to have somethin’ to do with this…” Faust retorted.
“The real Loh has been trapped in North Korea since he visited there two years ago,” added Booth. “He hasn’t made a single policy decision yet!”
“So he COULD still be evil!” stammered Faust.
“ENOUGH FAUST!” sputtered Len, while everyone else laughed.
“But what about the prophecy?” interjected Padgett.
“Well,” began Booth, pulling out the fortune.
Only that which has never been felt before, can truly ignite the beast within.
“Loh, er, Kim, I mean, clearly thought it only referred to fresh air blowing through McKeldin Library. But with a little help from President Mote, I realized it also alluded to Mecha-Testudo here, hiding underneath the ground, in the woods, east of Route One,” he explained. He was gesturing toward the massive Mecha-Testudo, who took a break from slowly rebuilding McKeldin Library to loom over the proceedings with interest.
“East Campus ain’t never gonna break ground!” said Faust.
“Exactly!” said Booth.
“DAMMIT BOOTH!” came an angry voice. It was Booths mustached, corpulent, cigar-smoking boss, waddling up to the scene, scowling widely. “YOU DONE A FINE JOB HERE, DAMMIT.”
“Well,” said Booth, ignoring him, “it seems like another semester is in the books in College Park!”
“Thanks to da Terrapin League!” said Dez Wells, removing one of his arms from the beautiful young blond he had it wrapped around to put it instead the center of the group. Padgett, Len, Faust, and Pe’Shon joined in.
“Sorry I was late fellas,” said Pe’Shon, putting his fist up. “I may be transferring, but I’ll always have the Terrapin League’s back!”
Dan Mote then walked around the corner. “I wouldn’t miss this party either!”
“Dr. Mote!” the boys yelled. “We thought you were dead!”
“Nope!” he said. “Let’s get off to Happy Hour!”
“Is there room for oversized patrons?” came Siri’s voice from Mecha-Testudo.
“Mecha-Testudo!” laughed everyone. The boys, Booth, Dr. Mote, and Mecha-Testudo put their hands together.
“THE POWERS OF THE TERPS, ACTIVATE!” they declared as one, beaming themselves up into the air and off toward RJ Bentley’s.
And so, the Terrapin League prevailed! Kim Jong-Un was sent back to North Korea, where he would have to continue plotting how to ruin everybody’s good fun! Dr. Loh was returned to begin his tenure as president, making his first decision the total cancellation of all remaining finals. The boys had saved the day. And until then and beyond, where there’s trouble, the Terrapin League will be there, protecting life, liberty, and the pursuit of partying! Carry on boys, Fear the Turtle!
William Wallace contributed to this report. He can be reached at email@example.com
Thanks for keeping up with the Thirsty Turtle Times. See you in another life!