Spider-Man 2 [Secure Mobipocket/Microsoft Reader/eReader (recommended)]
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by Peter David
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Description: Peter Parker is beset with numerous personal problems while Spider-Man confronts the brilliant Dr. Otto Octavius, who has been transformed into "Doctor Octopus" (aka, "Doc Ock"), a multi-tentacled menace.
eBook Publisher: Random House, Inc./Ballantine, 2004
eBookGeek.com Release Date: May 2004
54 Reader Ratings:
Available eBook Formats [Secure Mobipocket/Microsoft Reader/eReader (recommended) - What's this?]:
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GEOGRAPHIC RESTRICTIONS: Available to customers in: US, CA
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 his 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.
A giant robot -- of all things -- was hauling a man across the ground right toward it. A lower section had slid open, like a bread drawer, and the man was being pulled in, kicking and shouting. The moment it snapped shut, his voice vanished.
The first thing Spider-Man did was glance around to make sure there weren't any movie cameras to be seen, because it was so bizarre, he wouldn't have been surprised to find that he had wandered into the middle of a film shoot. Unfortunately there were none.
Even more astonishing, he saw Doctor Connors standing there, shaking his fist in impotent fury. The robot ignored him, pivoting on its treads and rolling away.
Spider-Man swung down toward the robot like a guided missile, released his web-line at the last moment, and landed on the robot's back. He looked for an opening, a weak spot, something he could attack, but the robot appeared seamless. He was reasonably certain, though, that he'd seen some sort of viewing port. Quickly, he scuttled around the robot to the front and found himself staring in at a bald man with a surprised expression.
"Spider-Man!" came the voice of the controller, issuing over a hidden speaker. "What do you think you're doing?" His voice sounded distinctly Australian.
"Oh, just hanging around," replied Spider-Man. "So you coming out of this thing voluntarily, or do I have to pull out my can opener?"
The robot rolled to a stop, and for a moment Spiderman thought this was going to go easily. Then he saw the arms of the robot lift up on either side, snapping into attack position, and he realized such was not the case.
They angled toward him, huge vise grips on the end of either arm rather than fingers. Fortunately they were moving relatively slowly, and Spider-Man was able to dart between them, never losing his grip upon the robot's surface. In the meantime he kept looking for some weak spot where he could get a grip, rip the robot open, find some wiring, and tear into it. Certainly that would be enough to bring this thing to a halt.
He moved to the back of the robot once more, and the vise grips tried to get at him. But there was restriction in the arms' range of movement; the guy inside -- presuming he was the designer -- hadn't given them full 360-degree rotation. With any luck, that would prove to be a fatal mistake.
Looking closely, Spider-Man saw that there were, indeed, seams, but they had been welded over. Okay. Fine. Then I'll just have to make my own fun. He proceeded to slam the metal surface repeatedly with his fists. At first there was no sign that he was doing damage, but as the surface shuddered under the blows, dents started to appear.
"You're on the verge of making problems for me, Spider-Man!" grated the mocking voice through the speaker. "Guess I'll have to return the favor."
The entire robot suddenly began to tremble, then to shake violently, and Spider-Man felt substantial power building up at the base of the mechanoid.
"Oh, man," he groaned, "you've gotta be kidding me."
Seconds later, his worst fear materialized. The robot lifted off the ground, driven by nothing less than rocket power. Slowly at first, and then faster, it blasted skyward, with Spider-Man holding on for all he was worth.
New York City was a blur below him as his mind raced, trying to figure a way out. He was starting to be faced with the realities of drag as the high wind threatened to overcome even his incredible adhesive power.
Suddenly he felt something at his back. He'd been distracted, and the robot's arms were snapping at him again. He twisted away, and flattened himself against the robot's back.
Determined to end the confrontation, he skittered around to the front of the robot. The mechanoid began angling to the right, left, up and down, trying to shake him loose. Spider-Man moved around so that he was facing the operator once more, and he started pounding on the view port.
"No way you're getting through that!" laughed the man within. "That's triple-ply reinforced..." But then the laughter trailed away as cracks began to -- appropriately enough -- spiderweb through the view port.
Spider-Man kept pounding on it, and then his spider-sense warned him of danger. One of the vise-grip arms was descending right toward him. The world seemed to slow around him and he waited, waited for the right moment. Just as the vise grip was about to grab him, he twisted clear, stood, and grabbed it. Using the arm's own momentum against it, he slammed the claw down with all the strength he had.
The grip drove down and shattered the view port. The man inside let out an alarmed scream as Spider-Man reached in a gloved hand and grabbed him by the throat.
"Do you remember being born?!" demanded the web-slinger.
"Do you remember being born!"
"No, you lunatic! Of course I don't remember--!"
"Fine, then! It went something like this!" And he started to pull the man out through the narrow space, headfirst.
The man screamed at the top of his lungs. "Don't! Don't! I'll set us down! I'll set us down!"
"Back at the university!"
"All right! Yes! All right!"
Spider-Man released his grip on the man and glared at him balefully... which, naturally, the guy couldn't see because of the Spider-Man mask.
The thoroughly cowed pilot was as good as his word. Within minutes, the robot was coming in for a landing back at the central quad. When people saw that Spider-Man was astride the robot, they began shouting and cheering, waving fists in appreciation.
"Let the guy out! Now!" ordered Spider-Man. The pilot nodded numbly, manipulated some controls, and the hatch snapped open. A man stumbled out of it, gasping for breath, looking around in confusion.
Spider-Man, meantime, had gotten a solid grip on the front of the robot now that it wasn't moving. He pulled, with a grunt, and the front section of the mechanoid ripped away. Sparks flew and the robot shuddered violently, then shut down. Gripping the pilot by the front of his shirt, he pulled him close and snarled, "We're having words, you and I." He fired a web-line and, seconds later, he was hauling the squirming pilot upward. The man let out a satisfying screech of terror as he swung higher and higher, tucked under Spider-Man's arm, his arms and feet flailing wildly.
"I wouldn't thrash much if I were you. I might drop you," Spider-Man pointed out to him, whereupon the man promptly went limp.
Octavius sagged against the side of the fallen robot, breathing heavily. The air had been getting stale inside that insane mechanism. People were clustering around him, shoving in close, all asking him if he was all right, and what was up with the robot, and a hundred other questions. He flinched back, trying to ward them off.
"One side!" came the angry voice of Curt Connors. "Move! Any student within the sound of my voice who doesn't get out of my way is going to see his GPA go down the toilet. I guarantee it!"
That was more than enough to cause the crowd to part, and Connors reached his grateful friend. "Oh, thank God," muttered Octavius.
"Otto, are you all right?"
"Truth to tell, I've had better days," admitted Octavius. "Curtis, do you think we might be able to postpone my talk with your students? I don't exactly think I'm up to it right now."
"Yes, yes, of course," Connors assured him. "Some people helped me gather your belongings. I... was going to send them to Rosie..."
"In case I didn't make it back? Very considerate." He patted Connors on the shoulder. "And very well-ordered priorities. We'll make a scientist of you yet, Curtis, even if you don't know the difference between a geologist and a seismologist."
Connors looked at the robot in amazement. "But... who was this person? What did he want you for?"
"Not a clue. And -- not that I'm knocking it -- but what am I doing back down here?"
"It was Spider-Man, dude!" said one of the students nearby, and others were nodding their heads.
"Spider-Man?" Octavius asked Connors. "That lunatic who goes about risking his life helping people?"
"Hunh," said Octavius thoughtfully. "Apparently it takes a crazy man to stop a crazy man."
"You're crazy, man!"
The former robot pilot was dangling upside down as Spider-Man looked down at him, casually holding a web-line that was attached to the pilot's right foot. "You're crazy!" he howled again.
"You have no idea," replied Spider-Man. If there was anyone he'd ever considered dropping from this height -- ten stories high as he stood on the edge of the rooftop -- it was this guy. Clearly he wasn't going to make it to class, which wasn't going to endear him to Doctor Connors.
He was supporting the dangling man's weight with one arm, and now he started rubbing that arm's bicep and saying, "Y'know, I think I may have strained this muscle while you were trying to smack me around on Gigantor back there. Not quite sure it has the strength it normally does."
"Please let me down!"
"Down isn't your problem," Spider-Man reminded him. "Staying up is the problem. And you'll only be doing that for as long as I feel like keeping you here. The speed with which you go down is dependent entirely on how reasonable you're prepared to be."
"Oh, good. Okay. Question number one: Who are you?"
"Jack! Jack All!"
Spider-Man just stared at him. "You can't be serious."
"Full name's Albright! But I go by Jack All! It's my alias, okay?"
"Brilliant. There's a name that'll strike fear into the hearts of millions."
"Hey! Hey!" The guy sounded annoyed. "Like 'Spider-Man' is any great shakes! How long did'ja have to think to come up with that one, eh? Why not something really creepy, like the Human Spider?"
"I thought of that, actually," Spider-Man said a bit too defensively. "But there was this guy, and he--"
"Okay, fine!" Spider-Man shook him a little to regain control of the situation and was rewarded with a terrified yelp. "Who was that guy you grabbed?"
Spider-Man kicked himself mentally. Of course. How could he not have recognized him? He'd been following the man's work for ages, discussed him at length with friends who, more often than not, were just pretending to understand what he was talking about. In this case, he supposed he could be forgiven, since he'd only gotten quick glimpses of the man in all the confusion. But certainly he'd seen his photo enough times in Scientific American. Nevertheless, he decided to respond in a guarded fashion. No sense letting upside-down boy know that Spider-Man was a science guy.
"Octavius! Otto Octavius! He..."
And then Jack All passed out.
At first Spider-Man thought the guy might be faking it. He shook him a little, even mimed releasing the web-line. There was no reaction.
"Man, they're just not making criminal masterminds the way they used to," he said to himself as he hauled the guy up to the roof. He dumped the limp body there, then lightly slapped his face a couple of times while saying, "Wakey wakey."
The guy stirred and then gasped as he found Spider-Man staring down at him. He looked around frantically, thoroughly disoriented.
"Otto Octavius," prompted Spider-Man.
"Oh... right," grunted Jack All. He sat up, running his hand over his bald pate. "He's a scientist. Doing research. I figured he could be of use to me."
"Waaaaiit a minute," Spider-Man said, acting as if he were trying hard to recall something, rather than knowing it off the top of his head. "I read about him somewhere, I think. Something to do with some sort of energy source?"
To his surprise, Jack All let out a dismissive snort. "If you think I care about that, Spider-Man, then you don't know Jack All."
"You've probably been waiting this whole time for a chance to say that," accused Spider-Man.
"Well, kinda. Yeah," Jack admitted.
"All right, so if it's not an energy source..."
"It's the other thing."
"What other thing?"
Jack glowered at him. "The weapon."
"Octavius isn't a weapons-maker."
That seemed to amuse Jack tremendously. "No, he's not. And he's not intending it as a weapon. But he's working on something that could be one. Stupid bugger probably doesn't even realize it." He pulled a battered packet of cigarettes and a lighter from his pants pocket. "Lucky these buggers didn't fall out, what with all that dangling. Do y'mind?" he said.
"Go right ahead, kill your lungs. See if I care."
Jack nodded and lit up a cigarette. Then he tucked the pack in his shirt pocket.
"How do you know about it?" Spider-Man asked him. "This 'weapon.' "
"Heard tell through the grapevine. I would've tried to snatch Octavius at his lab, but I didn't want to take a chance of messing with what he's cooking up in there. It's got that much potential, is what I hear." He nodded his head in the direction of the university. "Bottom line, mate, I'm a merc. Strictly freelance. And I'm a techno junkie. Whipped up that little battle shell there, and it ain't bad. Not at all. But Octavius, without even trying, may well have outdone me. So I nabbed him 'cause I wanted to pick his brain. Find out the details, find out how it works."
"How what works?" Spider-Man said in exasperation.
"The arms, mate. The arms."
"What arms? What are you--?"
Suddenly Jack All flipped the cigarette in Spider-Man's direction. His spider-sense screamed a warning at him, and he desperately back-flipped to get out of the way. He didn't entirely make it, and the cigarette exploded in a fireball. It knocked him clear to the other side of the roof.
As he scrambled to his feet, he heard screaming.
Jack All was staggering around on the rooftop, slapping at himself frantically. He was completely aflame. Apparently all of the cigarettes he'd had on him were likewise incendiary devices. A stray flame from the one he'd just set off had struck his chest and ignited the rest of them. His screams were horrifying, and Peter mused that burning to death had to be just about the worst, most painful way that someone could die.
Fortunately enough for Jack All, that wasn't to be his fate. His back leg hit the edge of the roof and he toppled over. Spider-Man fired a web-line and it snagged him just before he went, but the heat of the flame promptly sizzled through the gossamer threads and Jack fell off the roof.
Spider-Man vaulted from one end of the roof to the other, but knew even before he reached the other side that he was going to be too late. He was right. He peered over the edge of the roof and saw the burning and motionless body of Jack lying on the ground. People were backing up, some screaming, and someone was running at Jack All with a fire extinguisher that wasn't going to do a bit of good.
Then people started pointing upward at him, shouting things. Even at this distance, he was able to discern what they were saying.
"Spider-Man! What the hell did you think you were doing!"
"Why didn't you save that guy!"
"Maybe he pushed him!"
"Someone down here could'a been killed, y'freak!"
He sighed heavily, fired a web-line, and swung away.
As he did so, his thoughts kept wandering back to Otto Octavius. What had Jack been talking about? Arms? Was Otto Octavius becoming some sort of weapons developer? Had he taken on some contract for the military? That didn't sound like him, though. Certainly not based on anything that Peter had read.
Peter felt adrift. There was no one he could ask about it, and he had no way to follow it up. This Jack guy had obviously been deadly serious, but Peter just couldn't fathom what any of this was about.
Perhaps he should ask Doctor Octavius.
And how, precisely, was he supposed to do that? Stroll up to the guy and say, "Excuse me, are you involved in some sort of arms program that would attract the interest of mercenaries? No offense." Yes, definitely, that was sure to work. Crackerjack plan.
Inform the authorities? They'd want to know how he knew what he knew. If he contacted them anonymously, they'd likely pay him no mind. If he went in as Peter Parker, they'd ask him all sorts of very uncomfortable questions. And if he went as Spider-Man... well, thanks to J. Jonah Jameson's constant diatribes in the Daily Bugle, he had the credibility of a dirty politician, a terrorist, and a shyster lawyer all rolled into one.
Still... reading up on Octavius, doing a little digging... that might not be such a bad idea after all. If nothing else, he might be able to find out just what sort of arms might be worth dying for.
Copyright © 2004 Columbia Pictures Industries, Inc.