Spider-Man 2Peter David
Books By Peter David
Otto Octavius needed several extra arms. Certainly the two he possessed were proving inadequate.
Octavius was a darkly complexioned man, stout but reasonably muscular, hair hanging loosely about his face with very little attention paid to tonsorial trivialities. He was in his mid-forties and had an air about him that managed to be both distracted and intense. In other words, he tended to be very focused on things that had nothing to do with his whereabouts at any given moment.
He was busy trying to extricate himself from a taxicab on the corner of Sixth Avenue and Greenwich Avenue, at the edge of the university campus. He held a slide carousel in one hand; tucked in the crook of his other elbow was a folder thick with notes, and he was clutching a briefcase with his remaining free hand. This left him nothing with which to close the door except his foot, and he was having difficulty maintaining his balance. Then the cabbie informed him, with no small sense of irritation, that the twenty Octavius thought he’d handed him was actually a ten. Now he had to try to get at his wallet.
He muttered under his breath, tried to figure what he could put down where, and was extremely relieved when a familiar voice called from behind him, “Otto!”
A blondish man in a lab coat ran up to him. “Otto, we were supposed to meet at the southeast corner! This is the southwest!”
“Is it?” Octavius asked distractedly. “I’m sorry, Curtis, I’m not a ship’s navigator, you know. Can you lend me a hand?”
“If the one will be sufficient, then certainly.”
Octavius winced as he glanced at the flapping sleeve of Connors’ lab coat, pinned at the right shoulder, underscoring the lack of an arm.
“Sorry, Curtis,” Octavius muttered to Connors.
“Yo! Buddy!” snapped the cabdriver.
“I am not your buddy,” Octavius informed him archly.
“Damn right! What about my money?”
“Curtis,” said Octavius, nodding toward his right coat pocket. “Would you mind pulling out my wallet? The man needs another ten.”
“Don’t worry, it’s my treat,” said Connors, removing a roll of bills from his pocket and deftly extracting a ten.
“Curtis, I can’t allow you to—”
“Don’t be ridiculous. It’s my pleasure, Otto,” Connors interrupted, handing the money to the cabbie. “It’s the very least I can do. After all, you did agree to come down here and speak to my students.”
“Yes, well… I suppose I did,” admitted Octavius. “But I insist on buying you lunch afterward.”
Having paid the cabbie, Connors took Otto’s briefcase to help ease his load.
“I truly am sorry about the ‘lend a hand’ comment, Curtis. It was insensitive of me.”
“You’re a genuine hero,” said Otto. “Going there, to a war zone overseas, patching up soldiers… then losing an arm to mortar fire. That was a hell of a thing you did.”
“Yup… a hell of a thing that ended my career as a surgeon.” Connors said it lightly, but Octavius could tell there was still sting there. “But I went where I was needed, Otto. And molecular biology has been a fascinating field… the students have been just phenomenal.”
“Anyone with a future?”
“A few. One in particular. His name’s Peter Parker. Brilliant, but lazy. If he can ever get his mind into his work…”
“Ah, well. Young people.” Octavius shrugged. “More often than not, they have their heads in the clouds.”
Spider-Man swung in a dizzying arc that snapped him around the Flatiron Building and into the middle of Broadway. He fired another web-line, and another, swooping from one side of the street to the other. Pedestrians pointed and shouted, “Spider-Man!” People were yanking out their cameras, but he was confident that by the time they managed to get him in their viewfinders, he’d be gone.
Even after all this time, he had to admit he got a kick out of it. What he didn’t get a kick out of, however, was being late for class. Again.
It shouldn’t have been a problem. He’d left plenty early, but then he’d wandered into the middle of that daylight holdup, and one thing had led to another and… well, now here he was, trying to make up for the lost time by webbing his way across town.
He had his homework and textbooks snug in his backpack, which was, naturally, on his back. It lacked a certain “coolness” factor from a Super Hero point of view. Then again, he’d never really cottoned to the term “Super Hero” that the media loved to bandy about. It was too self-aggrandizing for his tastes.
As he drew nearer to the campus, he wondered about the special guest to whom Doctor Connors had alluded at the end of last Tuesday’s class. He’d been vague about it, saying only that this “special invited guest” had some intriguing thoughts and theories that Connors was certain would be of interest to the class. Peter had no idea why Connors was being elusive on the subject of the guest’s identity, but he figured the doctor had his reasons.
Peter felt a pang of frustration over how things were going in class. Curt Connors had made it clear that he thought Peter had tons of potential… potential, Connors never hesitated to point out, that Peter consistently failed to live up to. Well, Peter was determined to turn that around, starting this very day. No more missed classes, no more being late. It was time to get his priorities in order.
Granted, he knew he had responsibilities. He had learned that lesson all too cruelly when, two years ago, he had stepped aside and allowed a thief to escape from the scene of a robbery. He had done so in a fit of pique and with a sense of poetic justice: The thief had stolen from a wrestling promoter who had screwed Peter himself over money owed him. As the thief had fled, the promoter shouted in Peter’s face, livid over his lack of action. Peter had said with the sort of smug confidence that comes with being truly self-righteous, “I missed the part where that’s my problem.”
It became his problem hours later, though, when the same criminal—searching for a getaway vehicle to steal as police had closed in on him—had stolen the car belonging to Peter’s uncle Ben, the man who had been like a father to him since his youth. Not only had he taken the car, he had also taken Ben’s life, coldly shooting him and then hauling him out of the car, leaving him behind on the street like a bag of garbage.
Uncle Ben had died, right there before Peter’s eyes. The tearful young man had fancied himself grabbing Uncle Ben’s soul and shoving it back into his body, but naturally that hadn’t happened. Then an enraged Peter had gone after the robber, tracking him down, confronting him… and realizing that his uncle’s murderer and the man he’d smugly let run past him were one and the same.
That tragic set of events had driven home to him, in a way nothing else could, the truth of something his uncle had said to him. “With great power comes great responsibility.” At first Peter had dismissed it out of hand as a cheap aphorism.
Now it was hi
s watch phrase, his philosophy, and his reason for living, all wrapped up in a few powerful words.
He had done great good as Spider-Man. On the other hand, in some respects he had taken part in great evil. Foremost was his involvement in the death of the Green Goblin, a.k.a. Norman Osborn, father of Peter Parker’s best friend, Harry. Spider-Man hadn’t killed Norman Osborn himself. No, he’d simply dodged, just as the Goblin had sent a lethal, pointed vessel of death screaming through the air at him. The Goblin had been run through, by his own glider. Hanging there on the wall, pinioned like a butterfly, Osborn had gasped out his last words and his last wish. “Don’t tell Harry.”
Peter had honored that. Unfortunately, in doing so, he had committed an entirely new sin. In failing to be honest with Harry, he had inadvertently led Harry to the false conclusion that Spider-Man was, indeed, responsible for Norman Osborn’s death. Not only was this naturally of great personal distress to Peter, but it meant there could be no closure for Harry so long as Peter—and Spider-Man—lived. Harry dwelled on it all the time, it seemed. Over the months it had eaten away at him, body and soul, and Peter was beginning to worry. Bottom line, Harry was his father’s son, and who knew what might come of it?
After all, nobody knew better than Peter Parker the influence of fathers upon their sons. Look where the influence of his father figure, Ben Parker, had left him: dressed in garish tights, thirty stories above the ground. Harry’s sanity was hanging by a thread? Peter was swinging on one.
We’re all mad here, thought Peter.
That was when he heard some sort of grinding noise… like a tank perhaps. Naturally it caught his attention. What would a tank be doing in the middle of Greenwich Village? He hadn’t read anything about an exhibition of military hardware. A parade perhaps?
Spider-man increased his speed a tic, suddenly becoming concerned. He switched to Fifth Avenue because that was the area of the campus that the sound seemed to be coming from. He barreled down it, released the hold on his web-line and soared like a projectile the remaining block, landing squarely on the arch that adorned the middle of the park that served as the campus square.
Beneath his mask, his jaw dropped.
“Okay… that’s different,” he muttered.
“So I understand you’ve got some sort of major microbiological breakthrough in the works, Curtis,” Otto said to him as they walked across campus.
“Right now, Otto, for me the major breakthrough would be if I could finally convince you to call me ‘Curt.’ Everyone else who’s my friend does.”
“And since when am I ‘everyone else’?” Octavius demanded. “Furthermore, you’re dodging the question.”
“How can you tell?”
“Your eyes begin to spin counterclockwise.”
Connors laughed at that. “If you must know, I’m doing some investigation into the cellular regeneration present in lizards. The way they regrow tails—”
“I know what lizards do. But this isn’t about lizards, is it?” He stopped and nodded in the direction of Connors’ missing arm. “Are you considering more… practical applications?”
Connors shrugged. “I won’t say it hasn’t crossed my mind.”
“Listen to me… Curt… all I’m saying to you is: Don’t do anything precipitous.”
“What are you suggesting?”
“I’m suggesting nothing. What I’m telling you is that, even when I was a youth, I always detested the portrayal of scientists in Grade B horror films. I know, I know,” he waved impatiently before Connors could respond, “they weren’t even remotely supposed to represent reality. The problem is, those were the only portrayals most people ever saw, and perception has a disturbing habit of becoming twisted into reality. And those scientists would always be involved with some sort of wild experiment, always be in a damned hurry to test it, and the next thing you know, bam, they’re fifty feet tall and destroying a city, or they’re radioactive, or they have X-ray eyes and can see through women’s clothing…” He paused and said, “All right, that one I never minded so much.”
Connors laughed. “Lonely as a young man, were you, Otto?”
“Which of us wasn’t? What you have to remember, Curt, is… we’re scientists. To many people, even in the real world, that alone makes us monsters. And not just from the way they’ve seen us portrayed in movies. It stems from the fact that we challenge the most fundamental beliefs there are. They tell us that the Earth was created in a week—that man was dropped fully made into the Garden of Eden, ready to go—and we come back and say the earth took billions of years to form and, by the way, here’s evolution to chew on. But we’re not monsters. We must never lose sight of that, lest perception shapes the reality once more.”
“My, my. You’re in a mood today, Otto. Is this what you’re planning to discuss with my students?”
“I could discuss a great many things. What did they say they were interested in hearing about when you told them I was coming?”
“Ahhhh,” Connors waggled a finger at him. “I never told them it was you. I was purposely vague about it.”
Octavius stopped in his tracks and stared at Connors. “You didn’t tell them? Why on earth not?”
“Because, Otto, until you stepped out of the cab, I wasn’t certain you were going to show, and I didn’t want to disappoint them.”
“Curtis, how could you say that?” demanded Octavius. “I made a commitment.”
“You have exactly two commitments in your life that mean anything to you, Otto,” said Connors, ticking them off on his fingers. “Your wife, and your work. And not even always in that order. Tell me, how many times did Rosie have to remind you that you were supposed to come here today?”
“I have no idea what you’re—”
“How many?” he prodded gently.
“Eighteen,” Octavius admitted. “Maybe nineteen. But I was busy.”
“You always are. Did she put you in the cab?”
“And tell the cab where to go?”
Octavius slumped his head, defeated. “All right, fine. You win. It’s probably better that you didn’t tell them, in case I…”
“Forgot?” Again Connors laughed, and he patted Octavius on the back. “Otto, if Rosie weren’t in your life, you’d have had to invent her.”
“Believe me, I know that all too well. If it weren’t for”
A faint vibration shook the ground beneath them. Otto looked at Connors and said, “Are there fault lines beneath Manhattan?”
“I’m not a geologist, Otto.”
“Curtis!” said Otto, feigning shock. “How could you say that?”
Connors rolled his eyes. “Sorry. Seismologist.”
“Thank heavens. I would have expected that—”
“Oh, my God,” Connors suddenly said, his eyes widening, and Octavius turned to see what had so distressed him.
“What the hell… ?” breathed Octavius, no less surprised.
A vehicle that looked like nothing so much as a giant robot was charging across the quad. It had to be at least fifteen feet tall, and appeared to have stepped directly out of one of those Japanese animation cartoons. The legs, however, weren’t moving independently of each other, but instead were mounted on huge caterpillar treads. People were scrambling to get out of its way, and that was fortunate, because it paid no heed to whatever or whomever lay in its path. Trees, park benches, a couple of concrete tables erected to play chess upon, all were crunched under it as it made a beeline directly toward Octavius and Connors.
Octavius stood rooted to the spot. He was able to make out a human face peering out through some sort of clear window situated in the chest area. The person appeared to be male, with a shaved head, and he had a demented grin.
“Otto, come on!” shouted Connors. “There’s a giant robot coming this way!”
“I don’t know that it’s technically a robot,” muttered Octavius. “There appears to be a human operator within
. I believe that for it to be a robot, it needs to be able to function independently of—”
“Oh! Right! Coming!”
They dashed along the sidewalk, Otto weighed down by the briefcase and teaching materials he was carrying. They were running well clear of the mechanoid’s path, so Otto cast a glance over his shoulder.
“Curt… I believe we may have a problem. I think it’s following us.”
Connors turned and saw that his friend was right. The robot had changed course, and clearly was in pursuit.
Instantly, he dropped the materials he’d been carrying. Octavius looked at him accusingly. “Curtis! We’re going to need those for—”
Connors didn’t hesitate. He reached over with his one arm and knocked everything out of Otto’s arms, sending it tumbling to the sidewalk.
“Have you lost your mind?” demanded Octavius, shouting above the rumbling.
“No, but you may have! Run!”
Connors immediately began running again, and Octavius had to choose between stopping to pick up his fallen materials or matching Connors’ actions. He chose the latter, and within seconds the two scientists were pounding along the pavement, the robot coming right after them.
“You know… we can move much faster… now that we’re not carrying my books!” Octavius called to Connors.
Connors glanced at him incredulously.
Just ahead of them was the student center, which seemed their closest chance for refuge. As they bolted for it, there was the sound of something snapping out, rather like a whip.
Suddenly Octavius found his arms pinned, and he was yanked to a halt. He looked down and discovered that a thin cable had dropped down over his torso like a lasso. Twisting his head around, he saw that it was anchored to the mechanoid that had been pursuing them. It had ground to a halt. The face in the machine was grinning widely.
“Otto!” shouted Connors, who had stopped running and turned to help his friend.
“This is intolerable treatment!” Octavius declared, and then the cable yanked him firmly in the opposite direction. He was snapped through the air, hauled toward the mechanoid as he continued to protest.
Spider-Man’s eyes widened beneath his mask as he swung down toward the campus and gaped at what he was seeing.