The Ruins of New York: The Spider-Men and the Sky Filled With Goblins…
Aaron hovered above the ruined cityscape, feeling the intermittent kicks of thrusters in the heels of his thick, crimson boots as he adopted a fighting stance. His gaze was focused entirely on the army of Goblins that was swarming the already-polluted skyline like a cancer, speeding towards the Spider-Men with murderous intent.
The Spider-Man of 2211 leaned over toward Miguel. “Looks like we’ve got our work cut out for us.”
Aaron pursed his eyebrows beneath his helmet, a little more than slightly confused. He turned away from the approaching wall of Goblins and looked for his anachronistic ally, only to find him…spinning webs?
“What are you doing?” Aaron asked, maneuvering his six-armed frame toward the Spider-Man of 2100.
Miguel paused, his taloned fingers clutching the rather large piece of girder in his hand. He looked up, narrowing the crimson pincers on his mask. Even though the black and red veil of his facemask left him limited in what kinds of expressions he could convey, Aaron knew it was one of annoyance. “Trying not to die by the time they get here. What‘s on your schedule for the afternoon?”
Miguel went back to work, dragging the girder toward what seemed to be a very long line of taut silk webbing - a webline - one end attached to one metal skeleton that was once a building, and the other end attached to an enormous concrete block. Miguel leapfrogged over to the opposite side of the long webline, placing the metal girder in his hand against the silk. The Spider-Man kept his grip on the girder and pulled the metal back as far as he could, taking the webline with it. Miguel grunted and stretched, leaping and pulling further and further behind him as the webline bucked and squealed taut. Aaron winced at the sound.
Miguel looked up and yelled. “Aaron! You might want to get out of the way!”
Just as Aaron swerved smoothly toward the left, Miguel released his grip on the girder, and the webline launched the rusted piece of metal in the air with a chilling WHOOSH. Aaron whipped his head around and followed the girder with astonishment.
“A slingshot!” Aaron yelled. “Ingenious!”
“It’s good to be me.” Miguel smirked.
Aaron laughed as the girder launched itself, over three thousand yards according to the trajectory indicators of the helmet, into the leading Goblin. The flying demon fell backwards into his squadron like a pack of pins being crushed underfoot by the weight of a bowling ball. But even as the few Goblins fell out of the air and into the desert they were still over, the others swarmed right in to take their place.
The Goblins were closer now, Aaron could see, picking up their pace tremendously. Aaron swore he could hear the distinct cackling of a hundred modified voices, all howling with insane laughter. It rang in from all sides, seeming to form a wall of sound from which there was no escape. Aaron looked down at the webhead, who was re-filling the slingshot with an enormous piece of splintered concrete.
“You gonna help me with this or what?” Miguel yelled up to his companion.
“Uh sure,” Aaron spoke, swooping down toward the jagged buildings and dusty ruins. His six hands worked quickly, making three separate weblines for himself. Biting his lip, Aaron began ripping chunks of rubble out of the ground and randomly loading them into his three slingshots. With six arms - two clutching each piece of debris, he rocketed back using the full power of his boot thrusters until the weblines would give no more. With perfect timing, Aaron released all three balls of concrete, watching as they further thinned the lines of the Goblin tribe.
Miguel looked toward his companion, who was launching girders and concrete bricks with wild abandon, and simply chuckled. “Hey, I copyrighted that. You owe me royalties!”
“Sure I do.” Aaron scoffed, launching another volley with a grunt. “Parker actually had the idea in the twencen, so it’s more like we both owe him.”
“But did he patent it? That’s the big question.” Miguel flexed his muscled frame, launching a single assault on the right flank of the approaching group of Goblins.
“You and your technicalities.” Aaron spoke as three more concrete slabs slapped at the front line of the Goblin tribe, now a mere nine hundred feet away from the city limits.
“Corporate motto, friend.” He laughed through crimson pincers. “Read the fine print, no matter what.”
“Yeah, well…” Aaron’s words were lost in the sharp, high-pitched squeal coming from the Goblins. The Spider-Men turned their heads away from their witty banter and directed zooming helmet lens and accelerated vision toward the Goblins. The entire lot - the purple-and-green sea of grinning, shrieking armored fiends - stood perfectly-balanced on their hundreds of gliders, one leg up across their shoulders, tensed in a classic pitchers stance . Like a well-organized attack team, they launched their payloads - a berth of pumpkin bombs.
Hundreds and hundreds of them - so much that they seemed, almost for a moment, to blot out the sky. The psychotic cackles of the Goblins were fatally drowned out by the high-pitched whining of the pumpkin bombs - charging to critical mass. Aaron and Miguel were awestruck at the simple display of sheer firepower, shaking their heads in disbelief.
“Shock me…” Aaron breathed as he watched Miguel launch a single wedge of concrete at the approaching bombs. The wedge met its mark, causing a chain reaction that left a dozen bombs exploding in its wake, the fireworks popping and burning in the air.
“Hurry!” Miguel yelled, launching two more wedges in the same slingshot at the approaching sea of fire.
Aaron dutifully gripped as much debris as he could find, blasting the mess into the mass of bombs that was shrieking toward them at top speed.
“Shock! There’s too many of them!” Miguel yelled above the noise, hurriedly launching a final rock toward the bombs as he leapt toward the Spider-Man of 2211. “We need to go up, now!”
The sound of the whining was deafening as the bombs closed the gap between them and the Spider-Men. Aaron activated the jets on his boots and surged skyward, compensating as Miguel shot a webline toward Aaron’s backpack. They climbed through the dusty air and arced back toward the center of the ruined city as the bombs fell.
Aaron couldn’t hear himself scream as infernal winds ripped across his costume, debris pelting the two retreating Spider-Men from all sides. Aaron glanced behind him and saw a rising wall of soot, dust and flame, curling up into a thirty-foot mushroom cloud. The shockwaves hit, sending their flight into an erratic tailspin Aaron struggled to correct.
Aaron grunted, his helmet yelping and pleading with him to course-correct as the turbulent winds sent the team careening toward one decimated building after another. It was all Aaron could do to comply. And through it all, came the omnipresent cackling of a hundred Goblins.
The winds died down as Aaron attempted a smooth landing. Instead, he and Miguel crashed to the ground suddenly, pain surging through their muscled frames as they bounced off the dirt and gravel, over and over again, the ground treating them with the same care and respect reserved for a rag doll. With a duo of yelps, they came to a sudden, bloody halt.
Aaron pushed his bruised form up off the ground as Miguel did the same, wiping blood out from under the UMF mask. They groaned and shook their heads, glancing up at the enormous plume of smoke the Goblin bombs had left in their wake. The dark grey smoke still swiveled and wafted up toward the green-black haze of the skyline - the smoke so thick, the entirety of the desert behind it was completely obscured by black and grey soot.
The duo let out a terrified breath as a thousand metal and plastic planks - as well as other debris kicked up from the massive explosion - rained in on their heads suddenly. Aaron tensed, protecting his head with each of his arms, noting the irritating screech of metal shards against the four arms that happened to be metal.
He glanced over toward the Spider-Man of 2100, and let out an annoyed sigh. Miguel sat amidst the debris, clutching with his taloned fingers a large plasti-steel slab he was using as an umbrella for the falling debris.
Aaron rolled his eyes in irritated thought, ‘Why didn’t I think of that?’
“This is not turning out well!” Aaron yelled
“No kidding.” Miguel said, unsheathing himself as the final mass of twisted metal debris fell to the ground. “You come to that conclusion all by yourself?”
“Oh ha ha.“ Aaron mumbled. He watched as Miguel leapt up from the ground and - from his spider-like hunch - unwound with all his might, tossing the plasti-steel slab like a discus at the cloud. As the Goblins began to emerge behind the thick smoke, the enormous slab knocked another nine off their gliders and out of the fight.
Aaron and Miguel stood up, taking defensive stances as the rest of the Goblins emerged from the smoke and readied another volley of pumpkin bombs.
“This should be fun.” Miguel scoffed.
“Yeah, a real blast.” Aaron chimed in.
Miguel whipped around, scowling intently at him. “You. Sooo. Didn’t just say that.”
And their words were swallowed with the sound of a hundred whines.
The Chronalportation Chamber, Octet Headquarters. The Traitor.
The doors to the chronalporter room opened with a slight hiss.
Jenna Sosippi slipped in quietly through the entrance, thumbing the trigger on her hand-held laser gun. Even as she eased her way into the darkened chamber, the heavy doors quietly shut behind her, blanketing her once again in darkness. She was a shadow, lurking in-between the calmly humming technology in the laboratory.
She narrowed her eyes toward the location of the main control panels for the lab.
She heard a rustling ahead of her.
A silent alarm upstairs had informed her of a quiet break-in in the chronalporter room – something that ought to be impossible. The time travel device was their most sensitive piece of equipment. No one could even get in the laboratory without the express permission of the Octet.
The fact that someone had managed to bypass all the security measures save one silent alarm was nothing short of astounding.
She heard footsteps – the hard scraping of boots against the tile floor. She stuck to the shadows, eyeing the source of the footfalls while keeping her gun at the ready. She suddenly wished she’d called for back-up.
Silently, swiftly…she edged toward the unknown prey.
She stalked the side of the chronalporter device, sticking to the shadows, checking the charge on her gun while peering around the side of the device and seeing…
A man clad in blue and red, hunched over the controls for the humming chronalporter. Jenna cursed, drawing her weapon and focusing the laser sight directly in the middle of the man’s head, which was without the signature helmet at the moment. He was a very familiar man; a man Jenna had worked with in these very walls every day since she’d seen him join the ranks of the Octet.
“Bobb?” She asked as he turned to greet her. “What the hell are you doing here? Do you know how many rules you’ve just broken coming in here like this?”
Jenna lowered her weapon, shaking her head at the Fourth in irritation.
“I’m just peering into the mists of history, Jenna.” Bobb smiled, turning to face her. “Nothing wrong with that.”
“You know only Aaron and I have the authority to activate the chronalporter.” Jenna seethed, clipping her firearm to the magnetic clip on her belt. “Look…I’m gonna have to write you up for this.”
Jenna watched Bobb’s grin grow wide, “Come on, Jenna. You know how much of a history buff I am. I was just running some timeline simulations…see if I couldn’t solve the current crisis.”
“Aaron has the situation well in hand.” Jenna said.
“Actually, Aaron has his hands full with just about the entire contingent of Hobgoblin tribal warriors.” Bobb mused idly, glancing up above the confused heroine as he made a slight nod. “Whilst you need only deal with one.”
Jenna was stunned, struggling to comprehend. “What did you just…?”
A steely voice sounded from behind Jenna. Before she could turn around, she felt a fist slap heavy and hard into her unprotected jaw, launching her a good fifteen feet off the ground and catapulting her into a line of machines along the back wall.
She struggled to stand, feeling her bruised back already beginning to swell. She shook the pain from her mind and brought angry eyes to bear with those of her attacker. Swirling red dots outlined in black shadow, amidst a grinning visage of sharp green angles.
He had dropped down from the ceiling behind her – totally silent, totally unseen – and now stood hunched atop his Goblin glider, smiling that impossibly vile smile of his.
It was then Jenna realized exactly what Bobb had done.
“I told you I’d be free soon, didn’t I?” Dominic Norman, leader of the Hobgoblin tribe, cackled with a shriek of unrestrained laughter that bathed the laboratory in the throes of pure insanity.
Jenna checked her belt clip and closed her fingers around her gun, amazingly still attached despite the fury of the Hobgoblin’s haymaker. She squeezed off five rounds, burning bright holes into the ceiling of the massive room as the Hobgoblin dodged her assault with ease. Seeing the blurs of pumpkin bombs, Jenna ran along the outer edge of the laboratory. The bombs hit the humming machines behind her, bathing her sprinting form in fiery showers of sparks.
“Your friend Bobb was good enough to assist me and my agents, my delicious little Spiderette! There will be no last-second rescues for you and your comrades, my darling. Or I should say simply for yourself, as your comrades are no more!”
“You murdered them?! You butcher!” Jenna screamed, adjusting the settings on her gun and firing two enormous bolts of magenta energy towards the cackling maniac.
“If it makes you feel better, they all died rather quickly.” He hurled a pair of pumpkin bombs at the packets of energy, watching with glee as the explosions tore through the air. He weathered the aerial shock waves with ease. “Hardly worth the effort.”
Below the firestorm, Jenna continued to run along a weaving path through the lab. A moving target, after all, was harder to hit than a stationary one. She called out to Bobb. “You hear that, Bobb? He murdered the Octet like it was nothing! How can you stand there and help this psychopath?”
“Because, dear, this ‘psychopath’ and I share a similar objective: To fix the timeline.” Bobb yelled back over the carnage, tapping furiously at the chronalporter controls.
“The Hobgoblins don’t want to fix anything! They want to destroy the timeline and us along with it!” She panted as she ran, the bombs bursting far behind her. “Aren’t you the one’s who’s always talking about how wonderful it would be if the First Heroic Age never ended? If this creep succeeds, there will be no more Heroic Ages. Ever!”
Jenna craned her neck to find the Goblin, only to feel an intense force knock her off the ground and into the heart of the chronalporter device, sparks and mini-explosions from the damaged machinery kicking up a cloud of electric dust. She fell to the ground, her boots barely touching the ground when a massive purple hand gripped her throat and held her securely against the damaged time machine. She winced painfully, feeling the icy hot sparks against her bare skin where her costume split open in the back.
A mask of daggered teeth grinned happily at the struggling heroine.
Bobb whirled around, gesturing frantically. “Shock it, Dominic! Could you perhaps not destroy the delicate time travel equipment?”
“Little minx didn’t give me much choice, Bobb.” Dominic Norman seethed behind his Goblin mask, Jenna pinned tight to the machine casing. “Are we still a go?”
Bobb glanced toward the controls and turned back to his partner with an icy glare. “You’re lucky. You guys only ruptured the auxiliary power port; the casing took most of the damage. The flight’s going to be bumpy, but—“
“Good.” The Hobgoblin took out a retcon bomb, noting the crackling shimmer of the object as he activated it and held it in front of Jenna’s bloodied face. She eyed the shimmering object warily, cursing the fact that her laser gun had been dropped in the exchange.
“W-why..?” Jenna groaned in Hobgoblin’s choking grip, her fingers moving imperceptibly toward her magnetic belt. “What are…y-you going to do--?”
“Kill everything and everyone in this rotten stillbirth of a timeline.” The Hobgoblin growled with menace.
“More specifically, Dominic…I’m going to set this timeline to rights.” Bobb said flatly in the laboratory amid the quiet crackling of fires and spouts of overloaded circuits echoing through the chamber. “I will make sure that the First Heroic Age never ended, and that foolish happenstances like the Registration Act, the Great Purge and the Corporation Takeover of America never come to pass.” With a slight nod, he added… “—the fact that this timeline will be destroyed once I do this will simply be a happy accident.”
“Y-you sick psychopaths…” Jenna choked out, gripping one object on her belt in particular.
“A marriage of convenience, Spiderette. Bobb gets his new timeline, and the Hobgoblins get to see this one die. A fair trade don’t you think?” The Hobgoblin hissed, not noticing at Jenna gripped one object in particular on her belt. “Time to die.”
Before the Hobgoblin could bring his deadly bomb down upon her, the shimmering waves from the bomb eager to completely erase the pinned Octet from history, Jenna stabbed the serrated knife hard into the Hobgoblin’s chest. The purple armor stopped the shining blade from fatal contact, but the cut was deep enough.
“EEEAAUUGH!!” The Hobgoblin cried out, flailing away from the First in pain, knife still in his belly. His retcon bomb fell out of his hand, twirling fitfully until it landed on a piece of debris on the ground, exploding on contact and erasing the shard of metal from existence.
“Got the idea from a guy named Sergei. Sergei Kravinoff. The Hunter.” Jenna snidely responded to his cries, deftly diving under the Hobgoblin’s reach and grasping her discarded firearm. “But then again, you’re not out to study history. You live only to destroy it.”
“Hey, isn’t Kraven dead?” The Hobgoblin growled, slapping the heroine with a powerful haymaker before she could pull the trigger. She bounced along the ground, rolling with the momentum and coming to a painful stop. She hopped to her feet, ignoring the bruises and cuts aching underneath her ripped uniform and quickly side-stepped an electrified blast from the Goblin’s gauntlets.
Jenna tensed her muscles, clenching her teeth as the Hobgoblin ran toward his shiny golden Goblin glider. If he got airborne again, there’d be no telling when she’d get another shot at him. She’d only have one chance at this…
Spitting a healthy glob of blood from her mouth, Jenna closed one eye and hefted her laser gun at the Goblin glider, currently screaming toward her at somewhere near forty miles an hour an accelerating, its insane occupant already aboard. She gritted her teeth at the double recoil, her well-aimed blasts tearing a hole in the underside of the glider.
Adrenaline caking her system, she dove swiftly out of the way, the out-of-control glider narrowly missing her lithe form as it plowed into the wall behind her, taking the Hobgoblin with it. The force of the explosion sent her nimble frame spinning end over end until she bounced off an auxiliary control console towards the back of the chamber, badly bruising her taut stomach in the process. Her body popped and crackled, over-strained and damaged muscles screaming with agony as she slumped to the ground.
Off to the side, she could hear the shrieks of Bobb, that lying snake, freaking out rather loudly about the new perforation in the wall. Jenna’s world spun for a moment and she saw spots blinking in and out of her vision, but she shook these things from her mind. This was hardly the time or the place to pass out. Not with so much at stake.
With a groan, she rolled over so she was face-up on the floor, and heaved her bloodied body to a sitting position. She eyed the crumbling wall warily before spotting the shimmering pieces of the Goblin glider. Half of what was once the transport of choice for the Hobgoblin laid strewn in three chunks on the one side of the wall, and the other half presumably laid on the other side of the broken wall, somewhere beneath the dull glow of flames.
Her heart stopped when she saw the figure of a man stumbled out from the broken wall.
What the flying shock was he made of?
Jenna growled in frustration, watching as the Hobgoblin trod on toward her, obviously injured from the crash. His purple tunic was cracked and badly scratched in many places, and his skin were burnt to hell in the areas where his green sleeves had been shredded by shrapnel and flames. He glared at her beneath his mask, which looked melted and sagged from his face like silly putty. Grunting suddenly, he peeled off the useless mask, glaring at her hard with his real eyes.
Jenna hid her exhaustion, stumbling a bit as she stood to meet her adversary. “Dominic Norman. You are under arrest for…escaping imprisonment, illegally using Octet equipment…attempting to destroy the timeline, multiple accounts of murder and attempted murder….and generally PISSING me off.“
The Hobgoblin just smiled, leveling his eyes at the heroine. “Well, it looks like we’re adding another murder to that list of charges against me, aren’t we?”
And he strode toward her.
The Ruins of New York: The Epic Battle, and the Psychotic Laughter…
Jet engines roared through the sky as Aaron flew at top speed, chased by no less than six Goblins on various rocket-powered flying vehicles. energy beams issued from their fingertips, causing him to have to perform some complicated aerial moves in order to evade them.
The good news was, Aaron's helmet was equipped with a computer system that constantly made the necessary course corrections. The bad news was that the computer was acting sluggishly, probably due to an earlier blow to the helmet he'd experienced. The longer he remained in flight, the more his flight path became erratic. A few energy blasts tagged his back and shoulders, singeing holes into the fabric. of his costume and exposing the red-metal body armor beneath.
"Fine," he breathed, "you wanna play rough? Let's go."
Two of his four robotic arms took aim at the Goblins following him. Contained in the wrists of the robotic arms were delivery systems for specially-designed nanotech material called 'guided webbing'. Acting on signals transmitted his helmet, the webbing could assume virtually any shape or density Spider-Man imagined.
In this case, the baseball-sized globs of webbing that struck the two nearest Goblins were made to be as dense as cannonballs. The Goblins were slammed backward off their rocket gliders, which spiraled out of control and crashed to the ancient streets below.
From the gauntlets of his two real arms, Aaron fired two weblines, each anchoring to a real skyscraper on either side of the street. This swung him at an upward arc that took him over and behind the Goblin swarm. An internal mechanism in the gauntlets severed the weblines, and Spider-Man let go of them and fired another pair of webbing globs. These two entered the engine exhausts of the two Goblin gliders and expanded, causing the Goblins' vehicles to explore and buck them off.
That left the two Hobgoblins nearest Spider-Man – one dressed in an aviator's bomber jacket with matching goggles, the other dressed improbably in a flowing pink gown. Aaron wasn't sure he wanted to know whether that was a female member of the Hobgoblin tribe, or a male in drag. And it didn't matter much, because he considered himself an equal-opportunity dealer in beat-downs.
The two Goblins cackled and circled around Aaron as he swooped downward and webbed the falling ones to nearby buildings and walkways to stop their fall. They tossed pumpkin bombs at him to impede his progress, which puzzled him. "Hey! What're you doing? Or do you want your buddies to be splattered all over the ground?"
The pair of circling goblins just kept cackling and tossing bombs.
"Fine," Aaron replied again as he flew toward the pair, his flight path twisting and weaving to avoid the incoming explosives. "Enjoy your long, exciting trip to the ground." Long sharp talons extended from the fingertips of his four artificial arms in an intentional homage to Miguel's claws.
Miguel flexed his claws as he studied the Hobgoblins who surrounded him. His portion of the battle had taken him inside one of the gutted office buildings -- Alchemax Tower, in fact. He barely recognized the interior, considering the debris-strewn building looked as if it had been extensively ransacked and carpet-bombed. That, and it was lying on its side, so all the floors and ceilings were walls, and vice-versa. Every scrap of technology had been raided.
He wasn't just surrounded by Hobgoblins, he was surrounded by a clear example of his inevitable failure to make the world a better place.
And it royally pissed him off.
"You want a piece of me? Huh? I'm waiting."
All five Goblins converged on him as one, and Spider-Man leaped over them, landing near a pile of debris. Snagging a skull-sized chunk of plasti-crete with a webline, he swung it at the gut of an approaching Goblin doubling him over.
Two more Goblins rushed toward him, and Spider-Man leaped onto a wall (formerly a ceiling) and swung the chunk at them. The chunk slammed against one Goblin, causing him to collide with another.
Spider-Man yanked on the webline, adding a wrist-flick to whip the debris chunk to his right. It bounced off the skull of an approaching Goblin; another tug caused it to strike another Goblin in the back of the head.
He leaped off the wall and continued swinging the debris chunk around, ricocheting it off of Goblins left and right. Each hit chipped pieces off the plasticrete until it was smaller than an apple. Spider-Man wrapped it around the legs of the last opponent in the group and yanked the webline hard, bringing him to the ground.
He had just finished webbing the group to the floor when he heard the approaching roar of Aaron's boot jets. He turned to find the Spider-Man of the current era hovering outside one of the many shattered windows.
"That all of 'em?" Miguel asked, catching his breath and checking the organic spinnerets in his forearms. They were almost empty and it was going to take a couple of hours and a lot of protein to replenish his supply.
"That's as many as I could find," Aaron reported. "We can't afford to waste any more time--"
"You think that was wasting time?"
"What I mean is, the Goblins here have delayed us long enough. Let's get back to headquarters."
Just Outside Octet Headquarters. The Race Home.
"Are we there yet?" Miguel shouted over the roar of the thruster engines and the steady rush of hot wind.
"We're almost there," Aaron reported, pointing to the rapidly-approaching city wall and the Octet headquarters within it. "Now will you stop asking me that?"
"Good. Glad to hear it. Your flying was really starting to make me nauseous. Did you sneak off and have a few drinks during the fight, or what?"
"Funny, but no," Aaron replied, sounding irate. "One of the Goblins put a dent in my helmet and scrambled the stabilizer computer. I'll have to run a diagnostic later on once things settle down."
"Assuming we survive this little hoedown?"
"Well, yeah, there is that."
They flew over the high wall toward the headquarters. An entrance door slid open to admit them, and the two-Spider-Man flew through a long hallway corridor. As they approached the operations center, they were
shocked to find the corridor littered with the bodies of low-ranking Octet personnel. Blood was smeared across the floors and walls.
Aaron slowed to a stop, and Miguel hopped off his back. Crouching over one of the bodies, Aaron swept his gaze across them. "Helmet readings indicate ... they're dead. Every single one of them." His voice quivered as he desperately tried to keep his composure.
Miguel stood off to the side. "I'm ... I'm sorry. I mean ... did you know them?"
He slowly nodded. "Mitch. Dack. Cyndy. Rita. Kell. Interns ... engineers ... lowbies just like I was before I - I was promoted. And now ... even as Spider-Man ... I couldn't save them."
"You'll get your chance to get even," Miguel replied, placing a hand on his shoulder.
Aaron stood up. "I don't care about getting even. I just want this nightmare to be over with." He turned on his heel to stride toward the op center, which was completely sealed to prevent outside intrusion. He pressed a few buttons on a keypad to override the security lockout, and the vault door opened to admit the Spider-Men.
The members of the Octet were alive and present ... but Aaron immediately noticed on one absence in particular: "Where's Jenna?"
The Second, Phillip Salticid, pointed toward a monitor linked to a camera in the chronalporter room. "She's there ... fighting the Hobgoblin and The Fourth."
Aaron registered this with surprise. "Fourth ... Bobb? I thought Jenna as working with Hobgoblin?"
Equally surprised by his question, the Third, Rhonda Pardosa, asked, "why would she? Bobb's the traitor, not her. He's the one working with Norman."
Indeed, Jenna and the Hobgoblin moved into camera range, locked in combat. Dominic Norman grappled her with his vast strength, but she seemed to be holding her own, slamming her knee against any vital area she could reach. They looked as if they'd been fighting for some time, and Jenna showed it the most: her clothing was torn in several places and her athletic body sported heavy bruises.
Bobb Arctos stood at the chronalporter, entering commands into a console and looking rather battered as well.
"Right idea, wrong traitor," Miguel muttered. "But ... why is she the only one in the Octet who's fighting?"
"Too dangerous,” Rhonda replied. ”The Hobgoblin carries retcon bombs, which not only destroy their target, but wipe them from existence altogether."
"If too many of us cease to exist," Philip added, "we can kiss our entire Spider Society goodbye."
"Which we'll have to do if we don't help Jenna," Aaron shot back as he reopened the heavy door. "We've got to get in there! O'Hara, with me!"
"Do I work for you, all of a sudden...?" Miguel commented, but he followed Aaron out anyway and climbed onto his back for another jet-propelled ride through the corridors.
"This isn't the time for disagreements and flip remarks," Aaron announced through gritted teeth. "Which means as long as you're in this century as my guest, you have to follow my orders."
"Aye aye, Cap'n," Miguel replied as he held on. "You're the head Spider-Man here, not me. And what can I say, I find it a nice change of pace not to be the guy in charge."
Aaron smiled as he weaved through the twists and turns of the corridor, covering quite a bit of distance. "It shows; you're in a better mood now than you were when you got here. But here's the plan: once we get in there, I'll get to Arctos and the chronalporter, while you help Jenna--"
The doors to the 'porter room opened, and one Spider-Man leaped into it while the other flew toward the machine. They found Jenna shoulder-throwing the Hobgoblin against the console. This fouled up the machine's settings, and Bobb made a run for it, trying to reach Jenna's long-discarded pistol. Jenna put on a green-and-purple glove she'd apparently pulled off the Hobgoblin and fired an energy blast at him. The beam struck his chest and sent him off his feet.
"Call me crazy," Miguel replied, "but I don't think your First Lady needs the help."
Jenna fired off a few shots at the Hobgoblin to keep him down, then she strode toward Aaron, opening her mouth to speak.
"If you're going to make some remark about why it took so long to get back here," Aaron warned her, exerting his authority over her, "you can save your breath. Miguel O'Hara and I just fought our way through countless Goblins to get here, and it took almost everything we had."
Jenna nodded. "Actually, I already knew about that. The two conspirators over there were bragging about it nonstop. I was just going to welcome you back. Glad to see you made it back in one piece, sir."
Aaron smiled as he pointed one robotic arm each at Hobgoblin and Arctos, binding them with guided webbing. "Well. Thank you. Glad to hear it."
"In fact, I take back almost all the bad things I've ever said about you."
Miguel wasn't paying any attention to them. He removed his mask and stared in disbelief at the massive chronalporter machine, and especially at the console, where the words, SYSTEM MALFUNCTION flashed across a screen. "This means I'm stuck here."
"I'll have a crew work on it," Aaron promised, turning to him. "You're not stuck here, but if you don't mind staying here a little longer...."
"How much longer?" Miguel and Jenna asked simultaneously.
The Chronalportation Chamber. The So-Longs and Goodbyes.
"Look, not that it hasn't been fun," Miguel declared as he watched the team of workers run a final series of tests on the chronalporter, but I've been here a solid week, and I'd really like to get back to my own era, my own home, and my own bed. Plus, I still have my own megacorp to run into the ground, so if this thing is ready...."
"Just be patient, Mig," Aaron told him, shrugging with all six arms. "They're just making final preparations, so that you don't end up spread around between dimensions." He smiled. Besides, this has been a week-long vacation for you; are you in such a hurry to end it?"
"Some vacation. Stone-age tech except for Octet equipment I'm not allowed to touch, participation in the weirdest rituals since a bunch of Scavengers tried to serve me Pop-Tarts, and--"
"Oh, for crying out loud," Jenna declared as she entered the room, spotting Miguel. "Is he still here?"
He jerked a thumb at her, still talking to Aaron. "And Miss Congeniality, there."
Aaron sighed. I guess it was too much to ask for the two of you to find a way to get along this past week, or at least come to an understanding."
Jenna smirked. "Oh, we've come to an understanding, all right. We understand we still can't stand each other."
"All systems check out, sir," a technician reported to Aaron. "Chronalporter is ready to go."
"'Bout time," Miguel breathed.
"All right, power it up," Aaron ordered, then shook hands with Miguel using his real right hand. "Looks like this is goodbye."
Miguel pulled his mask over his face. "I hope this is goodbye. It's been swell, but the swelling's gone down." He turned to Jenna. "What, no handshake?"
Jenna frowned, her arms crossed. "Are you expecting one?"
"Not really. Don't ever change." He padded over to the humming chronalporter and stepped onto the platform, which glowed beneath his feet. "Hey, Aaron? Make sure you take care of her for me, okay? After all, she's your first, and your first is always special."
"Just go already," Jenna told him, but without much malice, more like good-natured antagonism.
The chronalporter's humming and glowing intensified until the Spider-Man of 2100 was fading from view. Aaron found himself pondering the man's parting words, as if they'd held a private joke he didn't understand. Miguel had seemed preoccupied by the idea that Jenna was his First.
Wait a minute....
"Hey!" Aaron called out to his predecessor's fading form. "Jenna and I have not had sex!" But it was too late. Miguel was gone.
Unfortunately, Jenna and the rest of the Octet were still present, and they were staring at him as if he'd grown two heads.
Miguel’s Office, Inside Alchemax Towers. Back To Business…
Miguel felt light-headed as he was shunted outside of the timeline and back into it at a different point. He found himself standing in his office in the exact same spot he'd been sitting when he'd been sent to the future. A glance at his desk clock confirmed that he'd been sent back to roughly the same time he'd left as well. Of course, that part he could only guess, because he hadn't paid attention to the time; he'd been wallowing in self-pity.
A knock on the door attracted his attention. "Miguel? Are you in there?" His mother's voice.
Whipping off his Spider-Man mask, he opened a drawer in his desk and removed the civilian clothes that had been stored there. "In a second, Ma!" Within seconds he was once again dressed in slacks, a button-up
shirt, and shoes over his S-Man costume. Moving back to the door, he opened it to find Conchata O'Hara standing there, looking miffed. "What's up?"
"Got your clothes on now? Good. Are you aware that they're planning to put Kron and the alien under the knife? They're prepping him as we speak."
"I know. I gave them the order," he admitted. "But I was wrong, and I'm about to put a stop to it. Let's go."
Miguel led his mother-slash-secretary out of his office and to the elevator. He found himself glancing at his surroundings in a bit of relief that Alchemax Tower was in one piece and right-side up.
Once in the elevator, Conchata admitted, "I'm actually surprised I was able to catch you in your office. You're usually off running around at this time of night."
"You know me, Ma: I'm young and sewing my wild oats."
"Yeah, whatever," she replied with a roll of her eyes. We both know you haven't had a woman in months."
"And anyway, that wasn't the running around I was talking about." The elevator stopped and announced that they had reached the R&D level. "Now quick: fix your clothes so nobody sees the costume you're wearing underneath it."
Miguel's eyes widened. "My what?"
TO BE CONTINUED!
PREVIOUS ISSUE: "Tapestry". NEXT ISSUE: "Family Matters".
Uh-oh! Miguel's in for a whole world of headache now that his mother knows his secret identity. So how did she find that out anyway?
Miguel manages to stop Zimmerman in time to save Kron, but Miggy finds out that things aren't always as simple as they seem. All that, and our beleaguered hero encounters someone he NEVER thought he'd see again!
"Family Matters" arrives in two months, penned by our own Dynamic Dave Ellis!
Until then, you ravenous Spider-philes!