Miguel O’Hara saw bodies everywhere.
Withering, rotting corpses strewn over the garbage heaps of wreckage that once used to be Nueva York.
He dragged his shattered frame across the dusty, wind-swept landscape, glancing up to the black smokestack sky and wondering what could have caused such a horrific catastrophe. His foot talons; razor sharp things he was just too tired to retract right now, ripped jagged lines across dirty rubble and faded plastic. He breathed in the choking dust out of necessity, letting the soot in the air scrape across his venom fangs. He coughed hard.
Miguel O’Hara had once been a researcher for the corporate conglomerate Alchemax Incorporated. He’d been privy to an upscale apartment building in the exquisite Babylon Towers. He’d had a wonderful fiancé named Dana. And he’d had a beauty of a holoagent named Lyla. He’d never admit it, but he loved that goldenrod hologram like a best friend.
Of course, once he’d gained the powers and the position as the head of Alchemax, Miguel finally felt like he could make a difference in the shocked-over world around him. He could clean up the soulless practices of the corporation and make Alchemax take some responsibility for its actions. He could finally, finally, after years of being hassled by pay cops and suffering the ‘Big Brother’ treatment like everyone else; he could FINALLY make the world of today something he could actually stand to look at.
Instead, he choked down whistling breaths of smog and dragged himself along the splintered wake of Babylon Towers. He stood amidst broken bodies and the creaking husks of devastated plasti-steel buildings.
He’d failed. Failed to make the world a better place.
Miguel had never really considered ever truly “failing” before. After all, Miguel had been the best of the best, according to the placement exams. He’d impressed the faculty of the Alchemax School for Gifted Youngsters; his latter-semester projects surpassing the meager work of his professors. He’d succeeded in catching the attention of Alchemax’s top dogs and becoming one of the most well-respected researchers in the company’s kennel; even to the point where then-CEO Tyler Stone tried to addict Miguel to the hyper-narcotic Alchemax brand Rapture just to keep him from jumping ship towards the competition…
Success was all Miguel had ever known. For the corporation’s newest executive to fail…on this level.
Seriously, the entire city was a crater. Just like Discord’s timeline prediction program had predicted. And it was all Miguel’s fault.
It was just too unwieldy to accept, too….
“Oh no….” Miguel choked out hoarsely.
Miguel’s accelerated vision fell along something sticking out of the rubble. Something fragile, delicate. Something limp and long dead. Something with a shining ring on its finger.
He scurried over, body quaking in pain from a battle he didn’t remember fighting. He crashed next to the limp appendage, knees cracking under the weight of his fall. They might be fractured. Or broken. But that didn’t matter. He dug his fingers into the ceramic, ripping them off a victim he knew was already gone.
“Shock…oh shock me…” he breathed hard into the dusty sky.
It was Dana.
Dana … Dana D’Angelo … his fiancé, she….
God, he’d failed her too.
He’d failed to save her from Tyler’s corrupt charms. Failed to save her from Venom’s sadism. And he failed her even now, amidst the ends of the earth.
Miguel looked around, seeing the broken bodies of everyone else that he’d ever cared about strewn like litter amongst the rubble.
His estranged brother, Gabriel. His ex-girlfriend, Xina. His mother, Conchata; the one he’d always called ‘the crazy lady’.
Shock, even the holographic Lyla somehow, glitching and flickering in distress.
Miguel had never failed before. He’d never even entertained the possibility. He was the best of the best.
And the best never…they never….
Miguel’s bloodshot eyes opened, the hushed hiss of a gasp escaping his trembling lips, the echo of tormented screaming sounding off the bedroom walls.
Miggy lied there in bed, letting the jackhammer inside his chest slow to a dull roar. Then he felt the synthesized feathers in his face.
His pillow. He’d shredded his pillow to bits. Along with most of his sheets, it looked like. Miguel breathed out and stood up slowly, letting the ribbons of cloth fall off his pajamas. Figures. He’d been meaning to replace his clothing and bedding with unstable molecular fabric now that he had a CEO’s vast income, but he’d never actually gotten around to it.
He stretched, feeling the protest of seemingly every muscle in his body. He'd been worked over a few days ago by a quartet of deranged Fantastic Four wannabes. He'd barely survived, and he still had a raging headache from the experience.
As he tossed the tattered rags into the auto-incinerator, Miguel thought of how he’d pushed the love of his life away in a fit of shock after accidentally discovering that his lice-bag boss Tyler Stone had actually been his real father.
He’d been more comfortable with the idea of an abusive prick like George O’Hara as his dad. Miguel could outthink him without much effort, at least when Georgie-boy’d been alive. But Tyler ... he was a whole other monster altogether.
Tyler had sent Sims to his death without a second thought, had watched as pay cops beat the hell out of Gabri … and worst of all, he’d manipulated Dana into his own weasel hands. Dana, the love of Miguel’s life, finding solace in the arms of his own morally-destitute father. He wouldn’t lie: it had hurt like hell. And if Tyler hadn’t manipulated her into feeling sorry for him, Venom would have never had the chance to…
But Miguel had pushed her away first.
He’d ordered the SHIELD agents to use deadly force on Venom, a fact one of those same shocking glorified pay cops had pointed out to him much later. He might as well have killed her himself.
Didn’t matter if he couldn’t have known the paycop bullets would pass through Venom and hit Dana instead. Fact was, he’d failed her. Her and everyone else.
He hadn’t been there to help Doom or the Punisher when they were both mowed down on national television, Jake Gallows’ complete lack of sanity notwithstanding. Sure, they’d had issues, but they’d stopped a floating city from crashing down on Nueva York. They’d saved millions of people. Miggy had helped, but it had been Doom’s network-wide re-programming that kept the city up. It had been Punisher’s bravery against faux-Thor that had saved the city from total destruction under the hammer of the nanotech god.
They’d been there for him against the nanotechnical fury of the Aesir. But he hadn’t been there for them when Captain America and his SHIELD death squad came calling.
Gabriel still wasn’t talking to him. Probably sitting in c-space, blaming Miguel for Dana’s death. And he wasn’t wrong to do so, either.
And Xina…she blew town right after Dana’s funeral a month ago.
Dana, Doom, Gallows, Gabri, Xina.
He’d failed everyone in his life that was worth a damn. And to top it all off, he was the head of a corporate empire that had been responsible for ruining so many lives. Just like Tyler.
To top it all off, he’d failed in not becoming his father.
Wait, scratch that. He hadn’t failed everyone. At least the crazy lady had a job now.
Yeah, like that made him feel better….
Miguel walked over to the windows, cringing at the sunlight ebbing in from the shades. His Day of the Dead costume was draped over his pseudo-leather couch; he stood over it. He ran his fingers along it, feeling nothing but misery as his sheathed talons touched the unstable molecules.
He gripped the fabric in his hands and stared hard into those brick-red pincer emblems around the eyes. He stood, transfixed by the black suit, remembering how it felt to slink into the molecular threads and take a spin around the town. He remembered how it felt to be free. The cool air ripping across his chest, spinnerets tensing and spitting out organic webbing across the skies, his web-cape picking up the updrafts and letting him glide between the skyscrapers. It was a far cry from the sterile, steel laboratories; the gleam of metal and plastics that had been a second home for him his entire life.
It was something new, decent. Something real.
And even though the costume seemed to attract every freaking loony from Downtown Twelfth Street to Paradigm Estates, the courage-builder of imagining Tyler’s face on every shockin’ one of them had been a definite plus.
“Good morning, Miguel,” Lyla’s familiar female voice purred as her holoimage resolved into view in his bedroom. “I see you are awake. That means I don’t have to spend the usual half-hour running through various subroutines in an attempt to get you out of bed.”
“I’m full of surprises,” Miguel muttered, turning away from the window. His months-ago transformation had revamped his eyes for night-vision. “Mind darkening the windows by about half so I don’t burn out my eyeballs first thing in the morning?”
“Okay, Miguel. Increasing window opacity by forty-five percent,” the goldenrod image of Marilyn Monroe reported. In response, the already-tinted windows darkened even more, casting the room in more muted tones. As a result, Lyla was now the dominant light source in the room, her holographic form softly twinkling in the darkness like a soft candle. “The window had already been at the default setting you’d previously programmed for this time of day. Would you—“
“Don’t argue with me, dammit!” he snapped. “Just do it.”
“I was not arguing. I was making an observation.”
“Well, don’t. I’m not in the mood.” He trudged to his closet, annoyed at the holoagent’s programmed tendency to adapt to his every mood to provide him with maximum comfort. He understood that she was merely attempting to update the current room settings, but his nightmare had left him with a shorter fuse than usual. He was experiencing a level of discomfort no amount of technology could fix.
Gabriel O’Hara lounged back in the driver’s seat of his customized 2095 Cadillac, feeling the comforting hum of the electric engine, bouncing lightly on waves of antigrav particles. He sat, arms tucked behind his head, bright orange vest and goggles hugging his lamenting frame like an old lover.
If only she were here right now….
He cruised along; or rather his car cruised along, weaving in and out of geometrically fractal traffic patterns on autopilot. Gabri simply relaxed and watched the polygonal building structures pass by, solid against a streaming sky of binary code. The buildings themselves hovered in the void as communities, hyperlinked together at different points by virtual corridors, streets, and walkways.
Everything in cyberspace was connected in some way to everything else. There was order even in virtual chaos.
Not like the physical world, where isolation was rampant and few things ever made sense. Where time and space moved at a relative snail’s pace. Where people didn’t experience downtime; they died.
He shook his head, banishing that train of thought as he returned his attention to the outskirts of the bustling digital megalopolis. He passed a few traffic snarls and construction roadblocks that bespoke bad coding; not everyone possessed the talent for computer language that he had.
He was, after all, Firelight, one of the elite group of hackers known as the Avalon Five who’d averted the great Crash of 2097. He was more a hero than his brother Miguel could ever be. As Firelight he even had a virtual car that left a flame-trail ‘sig-line’ and came complete with a simulation of a gorgeous woman in skimpy bathing suit.
Firelight felt the simul-girl’s soft hands on his fingers, and he looked up at her as she sat on the top of the passenger seat, smiling at him as if she were about to undress him with her nimble fingers any second. He smiled back, though the expression wasn’t as flirty as he would’ve liked. Staring into her emerald-green eyes as her mane of curly reddish-brown hair flapped in the wind, he decided that he hadn’t customized her appearance in quite some time.
She’d started out with straight chin-length hair, ice-blue in color, so he idly decided to return to that. The coding that comprised her hairstyle immediately shifted, and he selected her eye color and swimsuit color to match her hair, just to see what it would look like.
Sensing that she was being customized, she started adopting sexy poses like a model during a car show.
Not bad, but he was in the mood to do something really different with her look. He hadn’t tried the ‘girl next door’ options before, since the idea of cyberspace was to get away from the mundane. But he was bored, so he gave her mouse-brown hair and matching eyes. Next came a forest-green pantsuit and matching overcoat, and Gabri was faintly surprised that conservative attire would even be an option with a simul-girl.
Not having to worry about falling off the car, she lay on her side, propping her chin up with her hand so she could give Firelight a cute look … and Gabri made the ends of her hair curl up just so and—
Dana. She looked like Dana.
She looked like his first girlfriend, the shy, perceptive girl who’d ended up with Miguel, and whom Gabri had tried dating a succession of free-spirited women to forget, and who’d continued to steal his breath every time he was in a room with her … until her death, and dammit, she was dead and it was all Miguel’s fault—
“Don’t be so down in the dumps, gorgeous,” the simul-girl soothed, interrupting his train of thought as she slid into the passenger seat, placed one hand on his cheek and the other on his thigh. “Tell me what’s on your mind. I’ll make it aaalll … better…” She whispered that last part into his ear, adding a husky depth to her voice that was designed to jumpstart his engine – and not his car’s.
Instead, her actions had the opposite effect: Gabriel turned away from her, suddenly annoyed. He cursed under his breath. This simulation didn’t act like Dana D’Angelo, and it could never be her. The real one had been lost to him twice-over: first when she’d involved herself with his undeserving brother, and for all time when she’d … when she’d been….
When she’d been murdered.
Gabri cancelled the simul-girl, causing her to vanish back into the illusion of his Cadillac. That left him alone with his thoughts … or as alone as he could be in the crowded world of the information superhighway.
Miguel stepped off the public transport outside the Alchemax building. He and a bustling crew of workers left the floating skybus, watching the marvel of modern machinery as it lifted off to its next dropoff point. True, Miggy could have web-slung between the skyscrapers or glided along the wind tunnel updrafts funneling up from the streets below to get himself to work. But he thought it would be good today if he rode with normal people for a change. He felt somewhat somber that way.
He straightened his tie, straightened his back and entered the corporate arena, where he was immediately assaulted by people wishing him, “Good Morning, Mr. O’Hara.” It was becoming a tired routine. Besides, ‘Mr. O’Hara’ was his stepfather’s name. Mr. George O’Hara. Georgie-boy wasn’t quite as twisted as Tyler Stone, but still a grade-A loser. He’d never forget watching in horror as George had beat on his mother, clutching his ears as his parent’s shouts and screams of hatred filled the neighborhood. He’d never forget recoiling from their never-ending hostility with his little brother, Gabriel.
Still, Miguel had to put up a strong front then, for his brother’s sake. Just as he did now, every greeting a reminder of those horrible days.
But, even though Miguel didn’t have much luck as far as father figures went, somehow ”Good morning, Mr. O’Hara” was still better than the always-fun, “Good morning, Mike!”
He loathed that name most of all: it was the calling card greeting of Tyler Stone, his real father.
He hated being called Mike.
Miguel stepped off of the elevator to the endless sounds of computer buzzing and humming. The executive floor of Alchemax was in top form today, familiar bleeps from computer keyboards and crackles of white noise sounding tirelessly from the holo-mated displays scattered across the expansive office.
And suddenly, the crazy lady was on him.
“Miguel! Just the sarcastic, mother-hating son I want to see,” Conchata O’Hara said, walking toward him with a datapad no doubt full of meetings and schedules Miguel had no part in creating.
“I don’t hate you, ma…” Miguel sighed.
“Of course you do, but that’s not important now,” Conchata continued, smiling innocently at him and glancing back down at the screen, “The final draft of that “Declaration of Downtown Worker’s Rights” you’ve been working on with Boru for the past month has been drawn up and is in your e-mail bin…”
“You’ve got some Alchemax supply shipments to Docs in the Box Local 9360 and 6704 that need your stamp of approval.”
A “Mr. Roman” from the Atlantis colony still has some … concerns, he’d like to address. Oh, and you wanted me to remind you to…!”
“Ma!” But she kept right on going. He shook his head and wondered: Maybe if he bit down on his tongue hard enough with his venom fangs, he’d knock himself unconscious and could finally get to spend one day of his life in a peaceful Docs in a Box, just for once. Just one nice, peaceful day in the clinic. A comforting thought, even though he was naturally immune to his own venom. He wasn’t immune to the taste, unfortunately; his saliva tasted like rancid cough-syrup, causing him to invest quite a bit of money on mouthwash….
Conchata noticed he’d stopped paying attention, so she spoke louder, “aaand Ivan Rutger, your science department head, wants to discuss some tests he’s planning with the … it … downstairs…”
Miguel stiffened up. The Venom symbiote. Rutger wanted a nod of approval to screw around with the Venom symbiote. As if Miggy gave two shocks about what the lab-boys did with that…creature.
“And don’t roll your eyes at me, dear,” she warned sharply. He blinked and suddenly she was wearing a smirk. Never a good sign.
“Hurry along now. Mr. Rutger’s been waiting for … going on twenty minutes now, dear. He might be a bit antsy.”
Yup. Never a good sign.
He walked off toward the science department housing the symbiote, jaw clenched in anticipation. Might as well get it over with. No rest for the wicked, after all.
They rose up from the dusty ground.
Guided by some unknown force, the specters of granite and rock melted up; oozing out from the bare land, forming solid shapes. Bending up and straightening with backs made from dirt, tensing and flexing from muscles and skeletons of sand, they slid up. Heads. Shoulders. Arms. Waists. Knees. Legs. The feet formed last, as the human-ish details coalesced on these mindless monsters. The mouths, instinctively clenching and hissing out some bestial, unintelligible growl. The fingers, flexing in much the same way one would before crushing a larynx. And the eyes, those soulless white eyes, those inhuman portals to a soul never formed.
The rocky monstrosities continued belching out from the land, coming to form a solid roadblock between the cannibals and their quarry. The cannibals themselves came to feel some feverish mix of adrenaline and a subconscious echo of primal fear crawling throughout their bodies, seeing the rock zombies form from nothing, wanting nothing but to kill for their master.
“Lecter alive, look at those demons! My God, what are they?” the buck-toothed one gasped, fighting the urge to vomit all over himself.
“I have no shockin’ idea,” the driver fearfully shook his head, “but damned if I’m gonna let these rock puppets shit on my parad—“
And then the driver saw a flicker of something in the eyes of the rock men. In ALL of the rock men.
The same flicker of murderous hatred their victims wore just before they were cooked and served as a meal for the tribe.
The same angry, violent desire for vengeance.
“Lecter forgive us….these monsters… they…they’ve come back from....”
The Humvee came to an abrupt stop as it hit one of the rock men, instantly caving in the front hood. The driver’s face bounced off the steering wheel in a wash of blood and dislodged teeth. The buck-toothed one flew out the passenger’s side window, launching into the air before breaking an arm with a disgusting wet thud, and shattering a collarbone in the ensuing roll. His frame came to a stop a mere ten feet from the destroyed vehicle, both of which were now surrounded by the rocky monstrocities.
The driver pulled his splintered face out from the wheel, spitting out pulp and gum and sobbing uncontrollably in superstitious fear. “Oh god oh god oh god I’m so sorry for eating all of you I’ll never do it again I promise I promise I promise I promise to Lecter himself I’ll never…”
And then the driver was done, involuntarily plopping back into the steering wheel. His pulpy face unleashed the sound of a very angry cat suffering from some very bad intestinal disorder on the wheel’s broken horn. Their job done, the dozen or so rock demons faded into the sands below the carnage like a wary traveler might fade into quicksand; seemingly finding peace at last.
Xina Kwan looked on at the scene in shock a mere twenty yards away, having stopped the hovercar once the zombies had formed as per Tensen’s request. She shook her head, wondering what on Earth she’d done to deserve this.
Back in New York City, Xina repaired robots and cybernetic systems for a living. And everything was going peachy until her old lover Miguel O’Hara walked back into her life, asking for help in repairing Lyla, his holographic assistant.
Typical Miguel. He was always interested in other women, even back when they were dating.
Other women, like the late Dana D’Angelo.
Xina’d left the city to get away from all that. From Miguel, the SMAN, SHIELD; everything that reminded her of that stupid feud she’d had between Dana and herself. Even if Dana’d stolen her boyfriend years ago, that was no reason to hold a grudge for as long as she’d had. After all, Gabri and Dana had made up since then, and Gabri had been Dana’s lover before the affair with Miguel.
Maybe Xina was just feeling survivor’s guilt.
Survivor’s guilt; that gnawing ache which had compelled her to pick up the one-time hitchhiker sitting in the passenger’s seat beside her almost a month and a half ago.
His name was John Tensen, referred to by the superstitious of New York as “The Net Prophet”. She’d picked him up on the side of the road just a few hours after she left the city. And in the month and a half since, during their wild road trip across the American northwest, this so-called “Prophet of Thor” had proved to be a wonderful friend and needed confidante.
John had accompanied her practically everywhere in their travels outside the Big Apple; despite his obvious advantage of teleportation as a means of transportation over her more mundane method of hovercar. Mostly due to the fact that he’d wanted to experience life outside the corporate sphere, and he’d wanted someone to experience it with.
He’d also been immensely helpful; protecting them from the dangers of life on the fringes of corporate control with strange reality-warping powers, the likes of which even the Prophet didn’t seem to fully understand.
He wasn’t alone in that.
She watched as the last rock zombie slurped its way under the ground, leaving a completely totaled car and two completely totaled passengers in its wake. Even though she’d seen the whole spectacle, she still couldn’t believe that the humanoid things, made of little more than dirt and rock, had stopped a Humvee. They’d completely totaled it.
She couldn’t even be sure if anything had ever been in this desert to total the cannibals’ vehicle. There was no trace of the rock-things anywhere.
Mouth still agape at the quiet scene, she looked over at John Tensen, the apparent creator of the rock creatures. Looking for answers from this hitchhiker-turned-savior, she instead saw a man doubled over in his seat, sweating and coughing and stammering to catch his breath.
“John!” She forced herself out of her shocked stupor, shaking the sweating man beside her. “Hey John! You okay?”
“…yeeeah….just….gimme a minute…” Tensen choked, taking in a lungful of dusty air, “…overextended myself…”
“Gotcha,” she murmured, turning on the air conditioner and letting the cold air rush Tensen’s face, “That’s it. Deep breaths. Deeeep breaths. Then you can tell me just what the shock happened back there. Did you do that?”
Tensen coughed, managing a sly smile in Xina’s direction.
Xina cocked an eyebrow. “Seriously? I thought you could only teleport stuff. And those eye beams…”
Tensen slowly straightened from his hunch, leaning back against the plush seat with a hiss of exhaustion. “Just trying something new.”
Xina simply let out a low whistle of amazement.
Tensen wiped the sweat from his face with his forearm, a purposeful exhale escaping from his lips. “Even though I scared the piss out of them…we don’t want to be here when they wake up.”
“Got it,” Xina nodded, revving up the dormant engine and speeding off down the sun-beaten desert sands, anti-grav particles knocking up a powerful plume of dust and soot in their wake. She gunned the engine, trying to come to grips with what on Earth just happened, when she noticed the Prophet staring right at her. She turned toward him knowingly, teeth clenched.
“Xina,” he said slowly, “The very next time a pair of hungry cannibals in a Humvee honks at us for cutting them off, what are you not going to say?”
Xina rolled her eyes, muttering out the two words that had started the whole chase in reply. “Eat me.”
With its sharp bony teeth, oily black-and-white skin, and wicked red eyes, the alien symbiote known as Venom had been the stuff of nightmares. Now it was a test subject, an impotent blob floating inside a cylindrical container. It was now the stuff of experiments.
Miguel O’Hara and science department head Ivan Rutger walked beside the tanks that held the Venom symbiote and one-time host Kron Stone in captivity, discussing Rutger’s plans for the two test subjects. The bald-headed department head nodded in approval as he looked over the datapad.
“Yes, this will do quite nicely,” Rutger keenly reviewed the datapad, noting Miguel’s John Hancock on the bottom of the two pages outlining both Rutger's proposal for a new series of audio stress-tests against the writhing symbiote and a renewal form for retrieving more of Kron’s genetic tissue for study. “Thank you very much sir, for all your time.”
“All three seconds of it,” Miguel muttered absently, looking up at the sneering Kron and the disgusting symbiote, the latter creature quite agitated and shape-shifting violently inside its glass case. Turning, he walked out of the lab, avoiding further eye contact with either of the subjects.
Ken Zimmerman, senior scientist and Rutger’s personal assistant, watched the drama unfold as both of his superiors departed for their separate responsibilities; Rutger to program the next test sequences into the blue-hued computers lining the laboratory, Mr. O’Hara to attend to the normal bucket load of CEO duties.
Zimmerman waited until Rutger was fully immersed in his data entry to act, quickly rushing out of the lab and catching up with Miguel only a few short steps from the entrance.
“Mr. O’Hara! Mind if I speak to you for a moment?”
“You have some bad news, don’t you?” O’Hara guessed, turning to look Zimmerman straight in the eye. “You waited until I left; should I assume this is something you couldn’t tell me with Mr. Rutger present?”
Zimmerman let out a measured breath. He honestly hated dealing with Mr. O’Hara, who’d been obnoxious as the top geneticist, insufferable as the head of Special Projects, and was even worse now. Like Rutger, he had quite simply never had the stomach to get things done, yet for some reason Tyler Stone had seen fit to reward O’Hara handsomely for it. “Well, I do have some concerns about the Venom project.”
“Yeah, Ivan already brought them to my attention, thanks.”
“I wasn’t referring to those concerns,” Zimmerman replied. “We need to find out how Kron Stone became entrenched inside the DNA of the alien symbiote. How he was able to morph and shapeshift, hopefully so we can….” He looked at O’Hara, gauging his response to see what he should say next, “…ah, make sure a freak like Venom never happens again. Our test results are inconclusive. I believe that if we can perform a genetic autopsy, we’ll have a better idea of his physiology and then be able to…”
“Kill him?” O’Hara’s voice grated like steel over rock salt, “You want to kill Kron Stone?”
“Well, in order to do the genetic autopsy…”
“No,” O’Hara growled, “We’re not doing that.”
“Mik….Mr. O’Hara,” the senior scientist paused, remembering Tyler Stone’s little nickname for O’Hara with a smile just as he remembered how much O’Hara hated it, “Despite the little morality trip you’re on, this has got to be done. We must get to the bottom of this mystery. If Tyler were here…”
“He’s not, Zimmerman.” The incensed O’Hara glared at the scientist. “I am, and if I hear one more ‘if Tyler were here’ out of you, I’ll shove you in a crate without air-holes and air-freight you to him.” He took a breath, his gaze still drilling into Zimmerman. “Are we done?”
“No, Mr. O’Hara,” the scientist continued with the poise of a lawyer, “Kron Stone is an evil which has not been seen since the time of the heroic era. This “Venom” creature, whatever it is, was able to bond with Stone on a genetic level, enabling him to transmute himself into varying deadly shapes and to perspire an as-of-yet unidentified acidic compound. His sensitivity to sonics seems to be his only weakness. If another creature like him were to surface…”
“Then we pump a sonic boom into the Public Eye frequencies again. Problem solved.” The CEO countered, cracking his jaw from frustration.
“Problem not solved….sir,” Zimmerman argued, “What if this new menace has no weakness to sound? What then?”
O’Hara paused, looking down at the floor for a moment before looking back up at the scientist and answering firmly, “We think of something.”
“We can think of something now,” Zimmerman pressed, careful not to let the bombshell slip, “If you let me do the autopsy. Or do you want another lunatic like this around to terrorize this city? Do you want a freak like this threatening people, Mr. O’Hara? Killing people? Like the…unfortunate incident with….Ms. D’Angelo…?”
O’Hara froze, the whole thing hitting him like a freight train. Miguel’s eyes glazed over, his mind no longer in the present. He remembered the first time he’d met Dana D’Angelo, in the magical diner called the “Escher Club”, with localized gravity wells allowing patrons to dine in areas that resembled some of the painter’s most famous works. He remembered the beautiful brunette walking in, glowing in spirit almost as if she were an angel. He watched her dark, mysterious eyes locking with his; that purr of a hello she’d given him when they’d first met; that unbelievably gorgeous smile. He re-lived her kiss, their affair, the romance and the engagement.
He remembered feeling giddy, coming home every night to show her the latest project he’d been working on that day. He remembered laughing at those ridiculous hair weaves she’d wear while exercising. He remembered making love to her in the warm bath every night after a tiring day’s work.
He reeled at giving her a black eye one day by accident, thinking she was an intruder; and that horrific look of fear and betrayal she wore the moment before he could explain. He could feel again the distance that had been growing between them ever since he’d become the Spider-Man; the long nights and days spent away from the apartment with little explanation.
He remembered pushing her away after learning his real father was Tyler Stone. His mind retread itself through their break-up; through learning Dana had sought solace in the arms of another man. He winced at Dana becoming Tyler’s assistant, and the spark of a relationship developing between them. He remembered feeling angry and betrayed, and the memory almost made him scream with anger.
He watched Venom kidnap her and Xina, and remembered not being able to do anything to save them. He felt helpless all over again, chasing the creature across the city using Alchemax’s nigh-unlimited resources. He heard the shots ring out once more as the SHIELD agents fired through Venom’s semi-solid form… and hit Dana instead.
He remembered holding her blood-soaked body in his arms, cradling her gently as she died.
He remembered her life, all at once, suddenly becoming very quiet. “…she was going to be Mrs. O’Hara, you know….”
Zimmerman smiled inwardly, watching Miguel O'Hara's face go all blank and misty-eyed. He had him. “Yes, sir, I know,” the senior scientist said through a well-practiced mock sympathy.
“…do what you have to….” O’Hara muttered, his thoughts slowly etching their way back towards the present.
“What was that?” Zimmerman had heard every word, but he wouldn’t be cheated of his victory.
“Kill him,” O’Hara said flatly, “Kill Kron. Make sure vermin like him can’t happen again.”
“Absolutely, sir. Will do.” Zimmerman nodded, smiling inwardly, holding the mask of concern firmly on his face as he watched Miguel O’Hara walk away to his office, finally a broken man.
Zimmerman had succeeded. Kron Stone was as good as dead, just as the former…no, the true Alchemax CEO Tyler Stone would’ve wanted. And someday, Zimmerman and the other division heads would have O’Hara thinking just like Tyler Stone did.
But not today. For today, O’Hara didn’t need to know that the autopsy was mostly going toward researching the most pragmatic and cost-effective approach to bonding the Venom symbiote to the human body, as had been done with previous genetic nanotech programs at Stark-Fujikawa.
This new project, however, would dwarf those meager advances and give Alchemax’s corporate raider program a nice little shot in the arm, to boot. O’Hara would thank Zimmerman for doing this someday, when Alchemax brought him around….
But for now, he hadn’t let the bombshell drop. And Zimmerman could live with that.
The man in the darkened room watched the flickering image of Miguel on his holo-screen.
He saw the Spider-Man collapse into his plush office chair. He looked on as the Alchemax CEO gazed over at a picture of his late fiancé, Dana D’Angelo. He could almost feel the man tear up, and sink even further into his chair.
The man cupped his hand over his mouth intensely, breathing out a deep sigh.
“This’ll ruin everything,” the voyeur mumbled quietly.