His fingers tapped hurriedly along the keypad, neon-green touch-pad keys humming happily with electric life. Ivan Rutger ran a hand across his bald head, sheening with the sweat of deep thought and calculation, and tapped his way through a ninth and final check of the sound thresholds.
Amid the keystrokes, Rutger glanced over toward the subject of this special sound test: It swam circles around itself; a black gooey mass of living tendrils and drooling white teeth. The creature was the shape and consistency of a melted slinky toy, acidic green ooze sweating from its micro-fine pores. Its teeth, of which it currently had four hundred lining the entirety of its jet-black body, released the green ooze in spurts.
Rutger could only guess it meant the creature was hungry. After all, even though Alchemax scientists were always in pursuit of the answers to nature’s questions, none of them would be insane enough to try and test such a hypothesis.
He once again said a silent prayer of ‘Thank you’ to whoever was listening that the containment unit for the Venom symbiote was comprised of a specialized uranium-teflon alloy; universally-lauded for its absolute inability to melt under extreme circumstances. And as Rutger watched the alien acid splash out from the twisted creature’s pores and its whirling ribbon of a tongue, he couldn’t imagine anything more extreme at the moment.
With renewed resolve, Rutger stared the thing down like a hunter staring down a pheasant before pulling at the trigger of a rifle; stared down the glaring, suspicious red pupils, steeling himself as he pressed the final key.
An invisible wave of sound left the machine to the symbiote’s right side. No louder than a dog whistle. Rutger instinctively wanted to walk over to the machine to see what was wrong, but resisted the urge. His instruments taught him better than that. And then, so did the symbiote.
The smooth black beast writhed angrily inside its containment cage, blinded by agony. A thousand micro-claws ripped at the plexiglass, the shape-shifting mass bubbling and swirling for release. Its eyes bulged, dragging into red circles as it became a tornado of psychotic motion. It did figure-eights, loopdy-loops. It bulged, exploded, re-formed and bulged some more. Its teeth grew and shrank and circled in on themselves in convulsive fury.
Rutger, ever so slightly, upped the frequency a few pitches.
The symbiote lashed out, ripping razor sharp tendrils toward the source of the silent noise. It convulsed, forcing the bulk of its involuntarily-dripping black mass as far away from the dog whistle shrieks as was possible. It cowered wetly on the one side of the containment tube, bubbling and bulging with rage as it continued to lash out with whipping, wiry black razorblades. It wheeled itself up and down the one side of the containment tube, searching frantically for an escape as the other side of its body slashed vainly at the plexiglass.
Rutger upped the frequency further.
The symbiote surged and belched out weakly, its tendrils melting into puddles of goo it quickly pooled back into itself. It hugged the entirety of the other side of its cage, forcing itself as far away as possible. No longer coherent enough to attack in the direction of the noise, it stayed on the safe side of the container, dripping and oozing quietly, and shuddering from unrelenting pain.
Rutger shut down the dog whistle. The symbiote relaxed itself, finally, melting onto the bottom of the container. It bubbled and bulged, becoming more solid as it regained its strength and faculties. Fueled by spite and anger, it settled down to its usual seething state, intermittently forming maces and other stabbing weapons from its body from time to time. After a few moments of quiet observation, Rutger clutched his datapad, anxious to record the results.
“High frequency test successful. Subject is vulnerable to non-audible sound sources in addition to those of the normal audio range. Subject became increasingly violent as the frequency was increased. The speed at which it shape-shifted also went up as the duress continued. However, it became watery and incoherent as the frequency reached an apex, its naturally violent tendencies giving way to its instinct for self-preservation. Will commence with a pulsating frequency test shortly, once the symbiote has been given adequate time to fully regenerate from the experience.”
Rutger saved the audio file, suddenly hearing Kenneth Zimmerman, his…obnoxious…to put it lightly, assistant shouting orders above the normal din of the lab. He glanced in the direction of the shouts, placing the keypad atop the sound machine. It looked like Kenneth was….releasing Kron Stone from containment?
“Zimmerman!” Rutger shouted, “What the hell are you doing?”
“Get him out and into a room. IV drip on him till I’m ready for the procedure.” Zimmerman sounded off to the lab technicians as he strolled up to Rutger, obviously smug. Rutger watched the dutiful technicians carry out the orders like Rutger wasn’t even there. Rutger was the head of the science department for Christ’s sake!
“What procedure are you talking about? What the shock’s going on here?”
Zimmerman smiled, “Kron Stone. We’ve got orders to autopsy the poor schmuck right –“
“Bullshit!” Rutger growled, “Zimmerman, I swear to God--!”
“Orders came from O’Hara himself, Mr. Rutger.” Zimmerman lifted the notebook-sized datapad to the belligerent man. Rutger clutched at it, incredulous.
“You know Mr. O’Hara shares my feelings on the Stone matter. Get that lunatic back in lock-up or so help me…”
“I’m not making this up, sir.” Zimmerman replied, leveling his gaze at his boss, “O’Hara surprised me with it too…”
“Sure. And I still have my shocking hair…” the very bald Rutger breathed out sarcastically, searching through the document. He skimmed the words ‘Orders for Subject Autopsy’ as well as a few other choice clauses, before finding a familiar marking on the bottom of the page: Miguel O’Hara’s signature.
Rutger gasped in confusion, running his eyes along the electronic paperwork one more time, confirming its legitimacy. His shoulders began to slump as the enormity of the matter hit home. Shaking his head, he looked it over one more time in disbelief.
“This….this is total bullshit. Total goddamn bullshit!” Rutger yelled out, tossing the pad to the ground. “I’m talking to O’Hara about this. And when I’m done, you are out of here, Zimmerman! You’ll roast for this!”
“Go ahead, “ Zimmerman calmly regarded the shattered, flickering electric pad on the floor, a half-smile forming on his face as he heard Kron Stone’s containment chamber slowly draining of nutrient fluid behind him, “I’ll be waiting.”
Rutger rushed out of the bustling laboratory as Zimmerman stood regarding the twisted, bouncy black symbiote with eager eyes.
“We’ve got big plans for you, my friend. Big plans.” With a hiss of satisfaction, Zimmerman grinned; eyes glazed over with ambition and avarice, “You should be proud, my weird little friend. You’re about to be part of something special.”
The symbiote twirled about merrily, completely oblivious to Zimmerman’s musings.
Conchata O’Hara swiveled around in her hover-chair, wincing in pain from the angry shouts coming toward her once-peaceful office from up the hall. In no time at all, the head of the science department was throwing open her door, shouting and making an unwelcome fuss. He really should know better by now not to mess with her.
“WHERE THE SHOCK IS O’HARA?!”
Miguel O’Hara’s personal secretary, not to mention mother, stormed out from behind her receptionist’s desk and marched right into Ivan Rutger’s path. The department head was a good foot taller than she was, but he flinched backwards just the same. She had, after all, threatened all the department heads with a gun about a month back when the lot of them had become a little too insistent to see their new CEO. And Rutger was just one man.
Conchata stuck out an index finger in Rutger’s face as a warning.
“Do NOT take that tone with me, mister!” She commanded. He remained impatient and stern, but his gaze was more cautious now. Reserved. As it should be. She continued on. “Now, I don’t remember placing you on Miguel’s appointment sheet. What’s so important?”
Rutger leveled his eyes at Conchata. “O’Hara approved Kron Stone’s execution.”
“And people thought I was nuts.” Conchata muttered under her breath. Not quietly enough.
“You think I’m making this up?” Rutger sneered. “That little weasel Zimmerman is downstairs right now draining Kron Stone’s isolation chamber of the nutrient bath he’s suspended in. And when he’s done with that, he’s going to put the man on a slab, and start cutting. And cutting. And cutting and cutting and he won’t stop until Kron is dead. And Mr. O’Hara is the one who told Zimmerman he could do this. I had thought O’Hara and I had an understanding; no one dies in my shocking laboratory. Not even a parasite like Stone….”
Conchata cocked an eyebrow, incredulous. “Even IF Zimmerman has the stones to do something that stupid, I can assure you that Miguel would never…”
“Don’t believe me?” Rutger gestured over toward the phone, “Call him out right now.”
Conchata pursed her lips at the department head, “Mr. O’Hara is out to lunch at the moment. He’ll be back when…”
“Out to lunch, huh?” Rutger snickered maliciously. “Yeah, he’s definitely ‘out to lunch’ alright, if he thinks this is gonna fly. This whole set-up has Tyler Stone’s sig ALL over it…”
The absolute wrong name to mention. Conchata narrowed her eyes at Rutger. “If you think I’m just gonna stand here and let you bad-mouth my son, you’ve got another…”
“Save it.” Rutger threw his hand up in disgust. His voice was low and bitter as he muttered through his teeth, “I’m through being jerked around and played for a fool. You tell O’Hara that I’m not going to have any part of this murder. I’m done.”
Rutger snatched the plastic name badge off his loose-fitting lab coat and tossed the thing onto Conchata’s desk. The audio device currently around his ear soon followed suit.
She watched the scientist storm off toward the door, throwing it open and crossing the threshold before coldly turning back one last time, “You tell that weasel I’m quitting Alchemax before I sell out too. He can murder and autopsy to his heart’s content.”
Conchata flinched slightly as the door slammed shut, staring forward with a mixture of confusion and slowly-dwindling anger. Miguel couldn’t have signed away Kron’s life. He’d been adamant about keeping the little tormentor alive for some reason or another. It was insane to think Miguel would do such a thing on a whim.
But even if the seething department head was right, and Kron Stone was dying floors below her office, Conchata couldn’t help but smirk about the fate of Tyler Stone’s murderous spawn. Only one thing popped into her mind after that.
‘Good to be rid of that shockin’ office for awhile,’ Miguel thought to himself, feeling the electric breeze of the city through the unstable molecules of his facemask.
Heart thumping with pure adrenaline, he tensed his forearm and another webline shot out of the top of his wrist. Along with the lyte-byte cloth attached to his shoulders, he soared across the skyline, taking a deep breath of air that had not been this fresh in a long time.
A barrel somersault and he gripped at the side of a building, his finger and foot talons tearing jagged lines across the plastic monolith until they caught, stopping his descent. He checked his footing and started to crawl up the side of the building. Despite the constancy of feeling sorry for himself ever since the genetics device had grafted spider DNA into his genome, he really did enjoy this ‘ultimate high-life’, so to speak. More so since his stomach stopped churning every time he looked down at the ground and realized just how high he was above the city walkways.
Yet, as he climbed, his thoughts kept nagging him about Kron Stone’s impending fate.
“Kron Stone was a jerk-off.” Miguel told himself, “The world will be better with him gone.”
The ‘scritch-scratch’ of Miguel’s talons continued, the Spider-Man pulling himself up across the wall and onto the roof. His conscience nagged at him once again.
“What part of ‘making the world a better place’ don’t you understand?!” he said to no one. He stood up and gestured, intent on further proving his point, when he caught himself.
His arms fell limply to his sides. “Great. Not only am I talking to myself, but I’m arguing with myself as well. Good job. I should just send myself off to the Wellvale Home for Crazy People. Probably argue with myself over doing that, too.”
Miguel rolled his eyes, shaking his head slightly and leaped off the building, letting the lyte byte cloth grab at the wind updrafts. The brick red pincers of his eyes narrowed on his facemask as he narrowed his eyes at the sunny horizon in front of him.
“I promised myself that I would make this world a better place. Kron Stone is a sociopath, and a murderer. He’s been that way for years, even since the Alchemax School. He…he can’t be rehabilitated. And even though I want that shocking bastard to rot in a cell for the next fifty years, I have a responsibility…a responsibility…to…”
Don’t say it. Don’t say her name.
“Dana…” he breathed out.
He slackened, his heavy body suddenly falling between the wind updrafts. A flick of the wrist, and the webline caught his freefall. Miguel lazily swung toward the tower he’d snagged, all the fight having left him. He dragged himself to the building’s expansive roof and slumped down to the ground, resting his head on his arms and staring blankly at the ground.
Suddenly, something hazy appeared in front of him, fading in and out like a corrupt hologram.
Lyla? His holoagent? Why the shock would she be here? How the shock would she be here?
Wait. No, this definitely wasn’t Lyla. This wasn’t even a woman, for that matter. The figure had full-spectrum color as opposed to Lyla’s monochromatic goldenrod hues. A strange red helmet covered his face, six moving eyes jutting out from the plastic mask. He wore blue and red spandex, the design completely foreign to anything Miguel had ever seen and yet shockingly similar to Miguel’s color scheme. It even had some modified spider-symbol on the chestplate.
Waaait a minute…not completely foreign to anything he’d seen.
If only he could place…ah, yes.
Unbelievable. This being looked exactly liked Miguel’s cyberspace avatar! The one Gabriel had helped him design with the rollerblades and the domed helmet....but wait, Miguel’s avatar wore a green helmet, and definitely only had two arms.
This guy, however, seemed to have two extra sets on his sides. Four additional arms, which seemed more robotic than flesh-and-blood. Miguel couldn’t make out any sort of elbow joints or muscle structures on those oddball arms. Who on earth was this creature; some demented cousin of that Flipside robot?
Oh God…another possibility. What if this thing was the Flipside robot?
He shuddered at the thought.
Miguel stood up, regarding the odd-looking hologram with a skeptic’s eye. He could only guess that someone was trying to communicate with him holographically. Although they weren’t doing a good job. Miguel watched as the choppy hologram moved about, making frantic arm gestures while opening and closing its mouth wildly, as if it were screaming something at him. Something very important. Apparently, the wavering holo didn’t even have sound. Miggy tried in vain to hear the mute shouts of the ghost, but whatever he was saying to the Spider-Man was lost to the quiet buzzing of the city around them.
As the figure became increasingly agitated at Miguel’s inability to hear him, a lingering thought kept buzzing in the back of Miguel’s mind. An echo of memory, perhaps. Long ago forgotten. And yet, Miguel felt it had been something that would be hard to forget. Something important. He strained to remember amidst the mute shouts of the ghost in front of him.
Rubble. Destruction. A battle of some sort. And yes, the six-armed creature before him was definitely becoming more and more familiar by the second.
Then the six-armed hologram did something quite impossible, at least for a normal hologram.
It grabbed him.
It grabbed and started shaking him, still shouting soundlessly at the costumed CEO.
Before Miguel could wonder just what kind of hologram he was dealing with, not to mention whether it was hostile or not, the image flickered out of existence as mysteriously as it’d come, leaving an electrostatic charge in the air that left the hairs on Miguel’s neck prickling and standing at attention. Amidst the electric buzz in his brain, something clicked.
“Who the shock was tha---?
“No… No, it couldn’t be….”
And then the memory was gone, as quickly as it’d come. And Miguel was left alone on the rooftop with nothing but his guilt and his questions to keep him company.
A flash of light, and suddenly the Net Prophet stood in St. Patrick’s Cathedral, accompanied by his own personal aura of shimmering electric energy.
As the light faded, the Prophet looked across the pews lining the church, and was taken aback at what he saw.
Gone were the few homeless whinos, sore-covered vagrants and dregs of society; seeking this holy refuge from the outside world to feel sorry for themselves and their lives without any of the annoying interruptions of reality.
Here in their place were pews packed with the faithful; people from all walks of life. Genuine parishioners knelt down on the kneelers of the pews in front of them and were actually praying. Jesus Christ looked upon the gatherers with concrete eyes no longer marred by cobwebs and bee’s nests, the centerpiece statue of God’s son finally receiving the prayers of the needy. Volunteers were hard at work, dusting long-neglected plate-glass paintings of the Virgin Mary. A handful of people who’d left the priesthood years back now proudly wore the black and white, directing the volunteers with newfound vigor. An old musician tapped out a hesitant hymn on the church’s creaking organ, practicing his craft in the church’s off-hours.
And when they gazed at the man lit up in a glistening halo of all-blue, suddenly appearing directly below the newly-refurbished statue of Christ, they all thought the same thing.
“Hallelujah, my friends! The son of God has come to us again!” a priest cried out.
“Praise be to God!” the parishioners chanted joyfully, kneeling before the glittering man.
The Net Prophet gasped, his blue aura fading quickly. Suddenly realizing what was going on around him, he held out his hands in protest. “No! No, no, you don’t understand! I’m not a deity of any kind. I’m the Net Prophet…”
The pews were suddenly filled with soft chatters and murmurs, the reality of his statement settling in. John Tensen let out a sigh of relief; he’d dodged a bullet there. Even so, they were still huddled together in awe of his presence. Of course, it made some sense considering the nature of his entrance; he would have to be more careful next time. But at least now they weren’t mistaking him for true divinity.
“Prophet of God, forgive us for our mistakes.” One of the elder priests approached the man, “We are only human.”
“I told you, I’m not…” The Prophet pursed his lips looking at the intensely-devout crowd. Protest wasn’t getting him anywhere. “…forget it. Father, tell me, where is Father Jennifer?” Tensen asked.
“You keep counsel with Father Jennifer?” his eyes widened in awe.
“Yeah, we’re friends.”
A host of shocked gasps and murmurs rang out from the kneeling crowd.
“Goodness be, Father Jennifer truly is one of God’s chosen!” the priest gasped at the repercussions.
“No, no, she--!” Tensen protested. He looked into the priest’s bespectacled eyes, seeing the swell of belief overwhelming the man. He glanced at the tenets, heads all bowed in deep prayer. He sensed a swell of genuine hope in these once-faithless people. He decided then that even if he could get through to them, he wouldn’t be the one to burst their bubble. Let them believe, if it would make them happy. “Where has she gone?”
“Merciful Prophet, she is gone for the day. She said she had other work to attend to outside the church. Divine work.”
“When will she be back?”
“Later tonight, perhaps, if it is God’s will she be finished by then.”
“Ah,” Tensen nodded, “I’ll…come back some other time. Tell her I stopped by.”
Tensen left the steeple quickly in a flash of blinding light. The men of the cloth stood in shock, their hearts thumping in their chests, gazing among the crowd of awestruck Catholics. The lead priest spoke again, drowning out all doubt and fear with his powerful voice.
“Rejoice, my friends! The Prophet of Our Lord has come! Our suffering is almost at an end. Soon, the Rapture shall deliver us from our corporate oppressors into His waiting hands! Rejoice, my children! We are saved!”
For the next few hours, the church was abuzz with the cheering and celebration of the faithful, truly believing that deliverance from their struggles was soon at hand.
John Tensen re-appeared at the recharge station, his every molecule rapidly re-assembling itself in the familiar cerulean haze.
“Hey John, over here!” Xina waved at the glowing Prophet, standing outside her purring hovercar.
He strode over to her car, relieved at hearing the wispy thrumming of the engine. The electric hovercar’s battery pack had died just after their battle with the cannibals a few hours ago. Two hours worth of blind transportations across the desert sands had led them to a small little recharge station in the middle of Nowhere, Oregon. Tensen’s teleportation was very useful, but only when he knew exactly where he wanted to be, or who he wanted to find. Sadly, the West was a giant blank to him. They were lucky they’d found a recharge station at all.
After Xina shelled out more than a few creds for the thirty-minute cold-recharge for the battery, Tensen had decided to pay his friend in New York a long overdue visit before going back to their exploration of the coast. He’d offered to transport Xina back to check in on her friends in the city, but she’d declined. Not surprising in the least, considering.
“So, how was your visit?” Xina asked half-heartedly.
“Uneventful,” Tensen breathed out, running his hand along the hovercar as if he were inspecting it with his fingertips, “Mostly since she wasn’t there. The parishioners said she was away doing ‘divine work’.”
Xina cocked an eyebrow, suddenly looking straight at him. “Parishioners? I thought you said that place was barely a leg-up from a homeless shelter?”
“It was. It seems the church has done well since my absence. Very well, in fact.” Tensen remarked, turning to meet her gaze, “Actual priests and altar boys. A choir, an organ-player. Volunteers. It’s been a long time since I’ve seen anyone volunteer to do anything in Downtown.”
Xina shook her head in amazement, smiling slightly. “I guess things are finally working out for Father Jennifer now. Good for her. Good for…”
Xina’s voice was soft and fragile now, suddenly trailing off as she looked toward the sky blue horizon.
Tensen drew in a breath, sensing her sudden twinge of grief. He looked at the ground between them both, realizing her sorrow stemmed from the fact that Father Jennifer was Dana’s sister, and anything that reminded Xina of Dana D’Angelo or that final night at the Escher Club was best left unsaid.
Xina shook herself out of her silent, depressive reverie, promptly changing the subject. “Hey, just how the shock did you transport from Oregon to New York? That’s gotta be a few thousand miles from here. Doesn’t your transportation power have a limit or a radius or something?”
Tensen bit his lip, “No. No, I don’t think it does. I merely have to focus on the specific place I want to be at and I’m there. From what I can tell, I don’t think it matters how far away that is.”
“Lucky you,” Xina scoffed jokingly, wiping the sweat from her glistening brow and reaching for the keys, “C’mon. The air conditioner awaits, now that we’ve got power for it!”
Tensen smirked at Xina over the shimmering, reflective car roof before she disappeared under the shining magenta of the hood.
He quickly followed her into the car which, to Tensen’s surprise, was now housed with the finest in junk-food cuisine. Potato chips, beef-jerky packs, donut softgels…all from the convenience store hosting the recharge station.
“We might get hungry out there,” Xina smirked, revving the engine. A cushion of anti-gravity particles gently pushed the car off the ground, the sleek, smooth vehicle once again floating just above the dirt. The roof folded back on itself once more, automatic motors pulling the malleable plastic into the hood of the convertible. As she gunned the auto-throttle, Tensen felt the wind sweep through his thick brown hair once more. For once in his life, the Prophet basked in the dusty breeze, thoroughly enjoying of this lovely alternative to instant transport.
Tensen nearly jumped out of his seat when Xina cranked up a headbanger rock station, tapping her hands on the wheel hard in tune with the heavy-bass beats as she gunned the straightaway desert road. He glanced sidelong in her direction before laughing and gazing along the bright yellow horizon in front of them. Watching the meeting of white sky and gold sand inch toward them ever closer, he began to think about the beautiful blonde vixen he’d met only once in his life some time ago. A beautiful blonde, he thought, who might know all the answers to his strange, elusive past.
They had crossed paths in a cyberspace café, and he’d helped her shake off a clingy ex who didn’t know when to quit. She’d left him with a kiss that sent electric up his spine and, for the briefest of moments, had unlocked the secrets buried in his mind since his release from the Virtual Unreality Gate. The memories were gone once they’d parted, and she’d gotten lost in the crowd before he was able to track her true location. Endless searches on the cybernet for her avatar had proved futile. She had signed off from cyberspace whether by choice or by force, and it was doubtful that he would happen to run across her again. Chance meetings like that happened once in a lifetime.
Tensen had to find out what had happened to her since that night. He had to find her, no matter the cost.
‘Sintilla,’ he thought, silently wishing she might hear his mute plea wherever she might be, ‘Give me a sign.’
Xina’s abrupt question ripped him out of his reverie: "wait a second ... you can teleport back and forth wherever you want. You can animate the ground to look like corpses. So why couldn't you recharge the battery with your power?"
He gaped at her, turning the idea over in his head. "Uh ... to be honest, that hadn't occurred to me. We could try it next time."
A scandalized look crossed Xina’s face as she opened her mouth, closed it, then finally reopened it a few moments later with, "after I just blew all that debit at the station? Thanks a lot!"
Bashful, John Tensen sunk into his seat a little bit. He decided that a woman didn’t have to be mysterious or missing in order to make his life interesting.
"Dana?" Gabriel began, his voice barely a whisper, barely audible above the cold wind of the early evening. Not that it mattered. "It's me."
He took a few hesitant steps into the city park, a patch of grass, trees, and sidewalks dwarfed by the surrounding urban sprawl. The sun was setting, painting the polluted sky warm shades of reds and orange. Or so he assumed; the surrounding skyscrapers blocked his view of most of it. The wind rattled the leaves and blew them across the park; ripples cascaded in the water fountain at the park's center.
Gabe was given such a sense of deja-vu that he almost bolted from the park as fast as he could. Everything about this place felt like that night: the sound, the smell, the view. The worker robot cleaning up park litter. Everything.
But he'd brought this on himself, so he continued walking, toward a particular bench. An infamous bench.
"This where we met, y'know," he chattered to the bench, as if Dana D'Angelo were sitting there. "This is where it all began, a few years back. You were sitting right there, reading documents from work." He gestured at a specific spot on the bench. "And I was standing right about here" -- he pointed at his feet -- "jogging in place, turning down my headset so I could ask you a question. Interesting factoid: I was listening to 'Breaking Waves' by Triphammer, a song you later claimed you hated, and a song I couldn't bring myself to admit I liked in your presence.
"But I'm getting off track. I asked you what time it was, because I didn't want to be late for my shift. I was waiting tables back then, you remember. You smiled and told me, but I was so distracted by your eyes that I stopped paying attention to the time. I still can't remember what you said it was."
He took another couple of steps toward the bench, and gestured at another spot on the bench. "You offered me a seat next to you, and we started talking. First it was about the weather, because that's protocol. Everybody talks about the weather at first. Then I asked what you were working on, and you acted like it was no big deal. Just Synthia paperwork. An account with a restaurant chain, and I remember that, because I happened to work at one of those restaurants. Then I was reminded that I was supposed to be heading to work, and I made the hastiest apology and exit in history." He chuckled. "I was late, of course, and the boss glitched like a bad disc. To this day, I maintain that it was all your fault."
He gazed at the bench, at her hallowed spot on it, and he slowly reached out. "All your fault ... for being so nice ... and easy to talk to ... and so ... God, I wish things had worked out. I wish ... God, I wish you were still here!"
"You're not alone in that wish," a voice behind him spoke, freezing the blood in his veins. Dana's voice. It was Dana's--
He turned, but it wasn't Dana. It was her sister. He didn't know whether to be relieved or upset. "Oh, uh, Father Jennifer. Hi."
Father D'Angelo looked remorseful. "Sorry if I'm interrupting something--"
"No, no! I'm just ... talking to myself."
"It sounded like you were talking to Dana." She raised a placating hand in the face of Gabriel's attempt at protest. "It's all right, it's all right. I do the same thing from time to time. I talk to her as if she's still here, and I imagine how she'd answer. In some ways it's brought us closer together than ever."
Gabe had no idea how to respond to that.
Father Jennifer eyed him. "Would you rather be alone?"
And that was a good question, wasn't it? He honestly didn't know. Though considering the way he'd not only lost Dana, but had broken up (badly) with his most recent girlfriend Kasey Nash.... "No," he admitted finally. "I think maybe the problem is that I am alone, y'know?"
She stepped forward, holding out her hand. "You don't have to be, Gabriel. I believe we have a lot to talk about."
Miguel had a lot to think about. Far too much, to be honest. His costumed jaunt around the city-state had done little to ease his state of mind, and in fact the encounter with the glitchy holo-something had just confused him even more.
Spider-Man spread out his arms, riding the air currents as they lifted his glider cape upward toward his office at Alchemax headquarters. He had become so accustomed to this that he could glide up to his office window and circumvent the surveillance in his sleep. Which was a good thing: he was so preoccupied with thoughts of Dana, Kron, Venom, Alchemax, and everything else that there was seemingly no room left in his brain to pay attention to what was in front of him. He was coasting on auto-pilot.
Nearing the windows of his corner office, Miguel slipped into a surveillance blind spot he knew to exist between the window and one wall. Clinging to the vertical surface with his talons, he opened the window and slipped inside.
He’d had to time all of this just right: as Alchemax CEO, he’d made it a point to find the subtle flaws in the security system so that his alter ego could exploit them without anyone being the wiser. In fact, each time the routine security upgrades and inspections looked as if they were going to discover and eliminate the blind spots, Miguel would have to "arrange" problems in other sections of Alchemax security to divert the inspectors' attentions. The conceited genius side of him enjoyed the challenge and thrived on the thrill of playing such a game; the moral, guilt-ridden side of him (which was gaining ground with each passing day) was appalled at it. This created even more internal conflict he didn’t need.
The lights didn’t turn on the moment he entered the room; he’d programmed them that way. Less chance of Spider-Man being spotted invading Miguel O’Hara’s office, and the quiet darkness gave Miguel a chance to decompress and think before he had to switch from one persona to the other.
If only his problems were unable to follow him from identity to identity; that would have been a relief.
Still in costume, he sat in the middle of the cold office floor, knees drawn up to his chin, as he tried to make sense of everything.
In two hours, Kron Stone would be dissected and murdered.
And Miggy had given the kill order. He’d had no choice. On his own, Kron was a murderer, a psychopath. A complete waste of genetic material. Combined with the symbiote, Kron was even more of a monster. There was no way he could be redeemed. He had to be put out of his misery. He was a cancer. He was….
And there it was, wasn’t it? There was the true, honest reason Miguel wanted him dead. The true reason, even beyond Kron’s reprehensible actions.
Kron’s father Tyler was secretly Miguel’s real father. Miguel hated that part of himself. Hated that aspect of his genetics. He wanted to undo Tyler’s work as Alchemax CEO, which was the closest he could come to excising the taint of Tyler’s influence on his life.
Kron, who’d bullied Miguel during their childhood, was just another example of that taint, and Miguel wanted to be rid of him. That the man had been responsible for Dana’s murder was simply icing on the cake.
There it was, the sickening underbelly of the matter.
And yet – even worse – it didn’t convince him that he was wrong to order Kron Stone’s death.
He felt a gloved hand touch his right shoulder, snapping him out of his dark thoughts. An unfamiliar male voice spoke in a low tone, “okay, it’s time to snap out of it. We’ve got stuff to do.” An intruder, obviously.
Behind his mask, Miguel’s eyes widened and his fangs bared. It was bad enough that someone had slipped into his office with Miguel realizing it, and the fact that Miguel was in his costume made it even worse.
This was exactly the wrong time to mess with him.
Moving from a sitting position on the floor to a standing position in an instant, he lashed out, spreading the finger-talons of his right hand to slice at the shadowy stranger behind him.
A metallic hand caught his wrist.
Grimacing in frustration, Miguel brought the talons of his left hand up over his shoulder and downward toward the gloved hand resting on it.
Another metallic hand caught that wrist as well.
Springing upward, he snaked out his right leg in a lightning-fast backward kick, attempting to shatter the intruder’s ribs and/or tear chunks out of the man’s torso with his toe-talons.
Yet another metallic hand caught his ankle. What the--?
Once his remaining foot returned to the floor, Miguel balanced on it and looked behind him at the stranger … the same six-armed stranger from the holo-image earlier. Same red, white, and blue uniform. Same bug-eyed helmet. Same four red robotic arms – three of which were currently gripping Miguel’s wrists and right ankle. “Nice to see you, too,” the stranger remarked.
“Who are you?” Miguel demanded. “Why are the shock are you in my office? And will you let go of me already?”
The man shook his helmeted head, blowing out an annoyed breath. “Okay, answering your questions in reverse order: I’m not going to let go until you promise to behave yourself. If you want to throw a temper tantrum and waste energy fighting me, fine. I can do this all day.”
Miguel blinked behind his mask. “What--?”
“Second, we’re not in your office anymore; we’re in my laboratory … in my era. You were too busy sulking to notice you were being chronalported.”
He glanced around, realizing for the first time that they were in a massive laboratory decorated with all kinds of equipment and monitors. There were even a few other people in the room, all dressed in a similar uniform as his host. “Chronal….?”
“And third, we’ve met before. I’m the current Spider-Man of this era. The year is 2211.”