Times like this, I feel incredibly small.
He had avoided coming here since that day, when he and other heroes had helped the best thing could during the confusion*. Then, he waved it off with joke after joke, even though he knew this was no laughing matter. When had finally made it to bed that night, he vowed to return to pay his respects. Since then he had immersed himself in both of his jobs, not letting himself come back. Until now.
*Captain America #3-Kelen
They've sure done a great job cleaning up. He looked up at where the World Trade Center once stood, and suddenly couldn't shake the image of those commercial airliners slamming into them. Even though he had witnessed it from half a city away while web swinging, the image felt as if he had been standing right under the towers. He returned his vision to the ground below as the thoughts finally disappeared. Satisfied, he turned and began to walk away. Small and helpless.
Peter Parker raised his head high and continued his walk to Stark Solutions. He rarely walked to work ever, but he thought the walk might do him some good.
"Yeah, that web-slinging just doesn't do it for ya anymore pal," Harry Osborn had laughed earlier. Although Peter saw him die, Harry had recently returned to New York for Mary Jane's funeral and to reconcile with his wife, Liz. When Liz gave him the heave-ho, he had moved in with Peter. Now Peter was worried about Harry's claimed sanity, not knowing whether it was real or a front. Only time would tell.
Then there's Gwen. Gwen Stacy's clone had reentered Peter's life when Miles Warren's cloning journal was turned up. After being rescued from Warren by Peter, she had stayed with him for a few weeks, before she decided to return to her own home and try to reestablish ties with the remaining Stacys, Arthur, Jill, and Paul, clone or not. Peter had never let go of his feelings for the original Gwen, but he also knew that he and Gwen were just friends now.
Besides, my heart belongs to certain redhead. He flinched at the thought of Mary Jane, his wife who recently died in a plane explosion. But even though Peter had buried an empty coffin and erected a tombstone in her honor, deep down he still didn't believe she was dead. And he wouldn't let himself think otherwise.
Dodging the traffic of a New York City sidewalk was easy when you have spider-sense, and Peter could almost get lost in his thoughts and keep walking. But he turned to the right and entered the lobby of Stark Solutions, where he was greeted by his boss, Steven McCoy.
"Can't stay and chat right now Parker," he said as walked up. "But there's a few experiments we need your help on upstairs and I'd like for you to get started on that ASAP." Peter nodded. "Good. I'm off then, have to go review this strange case they called me in for at a hospital. Involves radioactive particles in the blood…*"
*That's a little plug for my Scarlet Spider series, and issue #2 will be released in a few weeks!-Billboard Kelen
Peter didn't notice that last comment as he made his way to the elevator. I like McCoy, and he seems like a good guy. I just wonder why he hates Spider-Man so much. I hope this doesn't come back to haunt me later. Shrugging, he pushed the button for the 14th floor.
Back in the lobby, a trench-coated figure lowered his newspaper from his face. Ah, so the tiny spider got a real job and stopped letting Jameson step all over him? We're proud of you Parker, too bad we'll have to eat your brains! Smiling, Eddie Brock crumpled his paper and headed for the exit.
Meanwhile, across town in a small Italian restaurant, Gwen Stacy sat alone. She had asked her cousin Jill to meet her here, and she was already 15 minutes late. Gwen looked down at her watch and played with the straw in her Pepsi. Maybe this wasn't such a good idea.
Suddenly, Jill burst into the diner and looked around franticly. Spotting Gwen, she hurried her way to the table. "Oh my gosh Gwen, I'm so sorry, I was trying to leave work, but then the boss told me to do this, and that took forever, then I couldn't get a cab, then he took me to the wrong place, and then…"
Gwen smiled and put her hand up. "Jill, it's okay, I understand. Sit down so the waitress can finally take our orders." Jill sat down and set her purse on the table. Then she looked at Gwen.
"This is freaky," she said. She immediately covered her mouth. "I'm sorry! That came out wrong!"
"It's okay Jill really, it's strange for me too. I've spent years avoiding everyone so you're not alone there." Jill smiled a bit. "But the reason I asked you to come here is so I don't have to avoid you anymore. I've been spending some time with Peter and it got me to thinking…"
"Peter?" Jill perked up. "How is he? I wanted to come to funeral but I was tied up with work."
"He's fine," Gwen answered, surprised at Jill's sudden interest. "But I realized that even though I may not be the real Gwen, that doesn't mean that I'm not Gwen. And I have everything Gwen ever did, including my feeling towards family. I want to reconnect with all of you, even Paul and uncle Arthur."
Jill nodded and took a sip of the water the waitress had just laid down. She placed her hand on top of Gwen's. "I'm willing to try and I'm sure daddy is too. Paul may be a bit stubborn."
"That's okay," Gwen smiled. "It's a start." A loud clearing of the throat interrupted the two.
"Speaking of start," the waitress asked impatiently. "Are you ready to order now?"
"Look, I have some leftovers at my apartment, why don't we get out of here and go catch up?" Jill asked.
"Sounds great." Gwen smirked. The two picked up their purses and went for the door. "My time is too precious to by treated this way." She said snottily as she raised her nose into the air.
Jill followed her lead. "Yes, let us take our leave." With that, she closed the restaurant door, leaving the waitress to stand there, utterly confused about what just happened.
"Could you repeat that?" Peter asked, his jaw hanging wide open.
"I said," Mitchell Evans said, exasperated by Parker's lack of an attention span. "We're going to try get a better understanding of symbiosis by testing this symbiote here." He pointed to the class case with microwaves pumping into it. "We believe we can make it work for mankind's greater good!"
"No way!" Peter responded. "No ones ever been able to control a symbiote, that's not going to change." He walked to window and pulled his goggles.
"And what makes you an expert in this area? Taking a lot of pictures of for the Bugle of symbiotes in action doesn't qualify you." Evans laughed. "We're taking all the precautions necessary to ensure everyone's safety."
"Good luck then," Peter grunted. It's not like I can say, actually I thought a symbiote was a cool costume until I found out it was alive and it wanted to bond with me! After all the hell Venom and Carnage have put me through, I think… he stopped in mid-thought. As he turned the lab's doorknob, he turned back to Evans. "Where did you get the symbiote?"
"It was given to us courtesy of Ravencroft inmate #006606, better known to the world as Cletus Kasady," Evans replied. "If we can tame Carnage's symbiote, we can tame any of them. Did you hear that they're actually thinking of declaring him sane just so they can execute him?" Peter shook his head and left the room.
He entered his own cubicle and sat down. "He's crazy! You can't control those things!" He picked up the phone and dialed McCoy's cell phone.
"Dr. McCoy, it's Peter. The experiments with Warren's cloning process are going fine, but something else concerns me."
"What's that my boy? And make it quick, I only have a few minutes."
"It's the symbiote experiment. It's a proven fact that no one can control a symbiote. Believe me, I've read up on this."
"As have I, but I do believe it to be possible. Mr. Stark too."
Tony's behind this? "Okay then, I was just unsure about the whole thing, especially with the Carnage symbiote being the guinea pig."
"That's quite understandable Peter. I'll tell you what. The minute that thing has any remote chance on endangering anyone; I'll pull the plug. Deal?"
"Okay then. Thanks for your time." He hung up the phone a little more satisfied. Looking at his watch, he noticed he had never taken his lunch break, as he was too involved in his work. No time like the present. He stood and headed for the door, stopping next to Ryan Maxwell. "If anyone asks, I'm out to lunch."
Maxwell nodded as Peter headed for the stairs.
"And let me get a copy of the Bugle," the man finished as he pulled out his wallet.
"That will be $2.50," the Asian cashier spoke as he stuck out his hand.
"$2.50?" the man exclaimed. All I got was a coffee and a 50 cent paper!" He could feel his temper rising, and he couldn't take a chance on losing that.
"Price $2.50, you pay or you don't buy," the clerk said firmly as he stuck out his hand again.
Jack Walker glared hard at the man. Finally, he shoved his hand in his pocket and pulled out a five-dollar bill, tossing it at the foreigner. "And I want my change."
Satisfied, the Asian smiled and picked up his cash box. As soon as he had it in his hands, it was jerked away from him violently. He looked up to see a hooded man running the other way with his money.
"Stop, thief!" he yelled, expecting someone to stop the culprit. Instead, the rest of New York just looked at him and walked on. "You," he said to Jack. "Get him!"
Jack grinned and went back to his paper. "$2.50 huh?"
The man looked at Jack in shock, not believing this city's unwillingness to help.
But then, Jack raised his arm, and as he did, his trademark shield formed. With one deft motion, he launched it at the crook, who had only made it a good 20 feet away. The thief looked back and saw that no one was giving any chase, leaving him scot-free.
Until he turned back around and was nailed in the forehead by USAgent's shield.
Jack walked up to the fallen man as he caught his shield. As it disappeared again, Jack yanked the unconscious man up by his collar. "Apparently, you didn't think I was serious about my change." He opened the cash box and removed his $2.50, then tossed it back to the Asian.
"Nice work," a voice came from above him. "Remind me to never mention change when I'm around you."
"Spider-Man," Jack grunted. While he and wallcrawler's paths hadn't crossed that much over the years, he did respect the hero. He just couldn't stand the wisecracks. "What do you want?" he asked defensively as he picked up his paper and coffee.
"I saw the commotion down here, but you seem to have handled it." Spidey replied as he dangled above Agent's head. He shot a webline that neatly wrapped itself around the crook's feet and wrists.
Jack barely listened as he scanned the Daily Bugle's headlines. When something caught his eye, he turned to Spider-Man. "What, or should I say who, are you out here looking for?"
"What's with the twenty questions? Can't a guy just hang around in the middle of the city?" Spider-Man snapped back. It's almost as if I'm supposed to be doing something.
Jack looked at the web-slinger. "Never mind. I don't have time to bicker with you. I'll catch you later." With that, Jack raised his paper.
"Okay, I know when I'm not wanted." Spidey said as he shot another webline to his right. "Just don't say I didn't warn you when all you have is coal at Christmas." With that, he swung off.
I thought he would never leave. It's obvious the mouth isn't up on his news, he thought as he finished his coffee and crushed the cup. He looked over the small sidebar on the Bugle again. Venom sighted in New York City, intentions unknown. There's a chance we might be running into each other again. Because tonight, I'm putting Venom down. He smiled confidently as he tossed away the newspaper. Now all I have to do is find him.
A few feet away, Jack did not notice the man in the heavy coat, a coat much too heavy for this weather. But Eddie Brock wasn't sweating from the heat. He and his other were sweating in anticipation.
He was here! The scent of his blood is still fresh in the air. He contemplated giving chase, and killing the Spider now, but thought better of it. Tonight Peter. Tonight. He kept on walking, his thoughts clouded with revenge and deaths of Spiders.
"Is this the best we can do nowadays Robbie?!" J. Jonah Jameson screamed from behind his desk. "A sidebar about Venom being sighted in the city? This story is a piece of garbage!" He tossed the paper away from him in a fit.
"Jonah," Robbie Robertson sighed. He and Jonah had had this conversation many times, and this wouldn't be the last. "It's the best we could do. It's not everyday you run across murdered lawyers and bad guys."
"Our own reporter was kidnapped and we didn't run anything! The Post and the Globe was eating Urich's story up and we sat on our hands!*" Jonah yelled again. He pulled out a cigar and shoved it between his teeth. "Almost makes me wish for the days when those nutjobs and Spider-Man would invade the offices twice a week."
*Daredevil Trade Cyberback #2-KC
Before Robbie could say anything to that, Jonah's phone began to ring.
"J. Jonah Jameson," JJJ answered harshly. The color drained from his face as he listened the caller. After a few minutes and not saying a word, Jonah hung up the phone.
"Who was that?" Robbie asked as he noticed how shaken Jameson was.
"I don't know. All he said was he was an old friend and he was coming to see me right now." Jonah took the cigar out of his mouth and smiled. "Maybe this is the break I've been looking for." He reached into his drawer and pulled out a tape recorder.
"It's Gargan isn't it? You're not staying here Jonah! Don't try to hide your fear behind getting a story." Robbie demanded.
Jameson would have none of this. "When he gets here, send him in."
"Fine." Robbie said sternly as he exited the office, slamming the door behind him.
Meanwhile, the look of fear had crossed Jameson's brow again. "What am I going to do?"
Back at Stark Solutions, Peter was filing the day's reports in his cubicle when McCoy popped his head in.
"Can I talk to you for a minute Parker?" he said in tone more demanding than asking.
Peter stood and followed McCoy back to his office. Once inside, the doctor motioned for him to sit down. He then slid a folder over to Peter. "This is all the documentation we have on the symbiote experiment. Since you seem to have a good knowledge of the species, I'm allowing you to head up this experiment, giving you complete control, and you can only be overruled by Mr. Stark or myself. Think you can handle it?"
Peter flipped through the file briefly. "I can. But I still don't trust symbiotes."
McCoy smiled and stood from his chair. "That's the part you get to change Parker. Now I do believe it is 5 o' clock. Go home!"
Peter nodded and took his leave. Why does he sound like a younger me? Dismissing the thought, he started reviewing today's experiment reports.
"Harry Osborn." A female voice called out. "Mr. Carver can see you now."
Harry nodded and rose from his chair. He had received a call from Carver's law offices this morning, asking him to come in. He was surprised they had located him so easily; only a few people knew he was staying with Peter. He arrived at the door and entered. "You wanted to see me?"
Carver nodded and removed his glasses from his face. "Yes I did Harry. It's about your father."
"My father?!" Harry shouted. "What does he want?"
Carver sighed. "He told me you would be like this. As I was saying, during his incarceration, he has left you control of Osborn Industries."
"He what?!" Harry exploded. I can't believe he would stoop this low, just to get me to back under the Goblin's shadow! I won't allow it! "Keep. It." He growled.
Carver leaned back and smiled. "Very well Harry. Your father anticipated you refusing the company. In this event, he would like to turn control over to Normie Osborn. And since Normie is not of legal age to actually run a business, that leaves you with control for the duration. Refusal of this leaves Osborn Industries on the market, and your father not very happy. You don't want that do you?"
Harry was furious. His father had him under his thumb. Again. Seeing no point in any other words, he turned on his heel and walked out of the law offices.
Gwen sat alone in Jill's apartment, idly flipping through the channels. It had been 4 and a ½ hours since Jill had went back to work from her lunch break, but she had insisted Gwen stay here until she got off of work so they could catch up some more. Must have gotten tied up again, she thought as she glanced at her watch. Let's see, go home and give Peter a call or stay here and wait for Ms. Tardy? Deciding it was better to stay, she settled on a Friends rerun and set the remote down.
No sooner did the theme music stop playing; she heard a key in the door. "Well it's about time." She said as the door opened.
Much to her surprise, it was not Jill in the doorway; it was her uncle Arthur Stacy. Arthur was just a shocked to see Gwen. He nearly dropped his shopping bag. "Gwen?" he asked as his jaw dropped. "What are you doing here?"
Gwen sat up as her stomach knotted up. "Jill asked me to wait here until she got off of work. We had lunch together and she still wanted to catch up."
Arthur looked at her uneasily. He knew this wasn't his Gwen, she had died years ago at the hands of the Green Goblin, or so he liked to believe. This was his niece's clone, the invention of an obsessed madman. For years, he had shunned her, barely acknowledging her existence. Only in light of her recent publicity had he thawed. He couldn't show that now.
"Why are you really here Gwen?" he asked in a more interrogative tone than an inquisitive one.
Gwen could not believe her ears. "You know what, I'm not going to sit here and take this. All I'm trying to do is reach out. I know I'm not really "her". And I can never truly be. But I can't deny the fact that you are family. If you still can, it suits me fine!" She stood and headed for the door.
"Gwen wait…" Arthur sighed. Gwen stopped and looked at her uncle, more hurt than angry.
For the first time in his life, Arthur couldn't find the words. As he saw a tear roll down her cheek he said, "I'll try…"
The key turned in the knob again, as Jill almost fell in with an armful of groceries. "Sorry, I'm late, I wanted to stop and get some things for dinner, I knew I didn't have anything here, and I thought…" Her words trailed off as she saw Gwen and her father. "What's going on?"
Before Gwen or Arthur could respond, another voice interrupted from outside of Jill's apartment. "Hey Jill, wait up!" Paul Stacy called. "I need to talk to you!"
Peter looked up at the large digital clock across the street from him. 5:45. I guess I'll make a few more rounds before I head home. I'll be back later tonight. It always ends up like that.
He sighed and raised his left arm to fire a webline. Knowing that the line was secure, he leapt from his crouching position and used his momentum to come full circle before he shot another line. He looked down at the pedestrians staring open-mouthed at the webbed wonder, and a small smile crossed his lips. Releasing his webs, he backflipped into the air as he tucked his body under him. He could hear them murmuring at first as he began his rolling plummet towards the street far below. Stories passed him at high velocities as he fell; of course he knew what he was doing. The murmurs became quiet whispers as he came closer, as residents and tourists alike wondered what Spider-Man was doing. He was a mere 20 some stories above them now and panic and worry was being spoken and screamed now.
"Spider-Man's killing himself!" one yelled.
"No, he's trying to kill us!" another one followed.
"I should call the Amazon," another hooded woman said. As she crossed the street, a car hit her, killing her instantly. No one would miss her or the mysterious BPP tattooed on her arm.
At the last moment, Spidey uncoiled and let out twin shots of web. Once connected, he catapulted himself back into the skies, leaving some in awe, others applauding, and some cursing him.
Spidey laughed to himself as he pushed forward. "What can I say? I'm a showman."
"We'd like to show you something man," a voice that turned Peter's stomach came from behind him. Before he could twist out of the way, He felt a burly shoulder slam into his spine in mid-air, sending him towards a roof below him.
The Spider had just enough time to spin up a cushion of web to break his fall. He was still in a lot of pain. He looked this way and that before he finally regained his footing. "No way Brock! We're not playing this game! Come out now!" The only answer he got was another crushing spear from Venom, this time from, the front. He was sent a good 10 feet into a nearby wall.
As Venom materialized before Spider-Man's eyes, his tongue snaked out as those rows of teeth broke into a sinister smile. "So we resume our dance Parker. Miss us?" The symbiote yanked Spidey up by the front of his costume, their faces only inches apart.
Spidey kicked his feet into Venom's chest to separate the two, but he knew this was far from over. He leapt at his nemesis and caught him with a hard right. "No! You're not doing this to me anymore!" he screamed as he broke off some of his teeth with a hard left. "I'm not afraid of you!" He stood tall as Venom staggered a bit.
"You have something we want," Venom snarled as he shot a web at Spidey. The web wrapped itself around the web-slinger, leaving his arms immobile. "We want our other destroyed! He grabbed Spider-Man and headbutted him, then tossed him off the roof.
Stupid symbiote webs! It's stronger than my web, and I don't know how quick I can work my way free of this before pavement! The Spider struggled against his bonds, flexing for all he was worth. As the web began to slowly give, his descent stopped.
Venom swung above him, holding him in his trap. "You didn't think we would end it like that did you? We want to eat your heart, not have a pâté!" With that, he threw Spidey like a rag doll again, this time into another wall atop a building. Spidey crumpled to the ground.
As Venom landed a few feet away, Spider-Man rolled over as he tried to get his bearings. "Carnage is in Ravencroft Brock, you can't get to him like this."
Venom let out a laugh as some of his saliva splattered onto Spidey. "You fool. Not Kasady, we want my other that's currently being experimented on at your place of business! We will not allow it!"
"I'm with you!" Spidey began as he started to get up. "I don't like the idea either. I'm trying to end the experiment now." He came closer to the symbiote, hoping to distract him as he readied Ben's patented impact webbing.
Suddenly, Venom viciously backhanded the hero away and back to the concrete. "No, we will destroy our other and you in one swoop! There will be no more deals with you!"
Spider-Man launched himself from the roof and shot a webline, using it to nail Venom in the head with both boots. "Fine, then I'm not playing fair anymore!" He shot his impact webbing and as it hit its target, hit Venom repeatedly, hoping to have something good come of it.
Venom easily ripped through the webs and caught Peter's fists. He kneed him in the midsection and pushed him away. The monster grinned evilly. "Neither are we. By the way, how's Mary Jane?"
The mention of his wife's name brought forth blind rage from Peter, as he attacked Venom recklessly now. Although he landed a few shots, he wasn't doing much to villain. Tiring of this, Venom yanked Spider-Man by the neck and slowly began to choke him.
"Come on pal, where's that fighting spirit? Give us something to work for!" Venom joked as Spidey struggled to breathe. Suddenly, Venom loosened his grip and screamed.
As the Spider regained his breath and footing, he heard something cutting through the air overhead. The same sound from earlier at the newspaper stand. "Agent!" Spidey yelled. "Get away from here now!"
The USAgent landed a few feet behind where Venom was holding his head and caught his shield. "No way. This guy has terrorized for too long. And I hate terrorists."
Before another word was said, Venom disappeared. "Where did he go?" Agent asked as he looked around. Spidey did the same since his spider-sense would be little help.
"Just be on your toes, he can blend in with anything." Spider-Man replied.
On cue, Venom rematerialized in front of Agent and sent his elbow into his chin, knocking him to the rooftop. Spidey kicked the symbiote in the back, trying to regain his attention. "There's no need for you to take your bad taste in dentists out on him. Your battle's with me!"
Agent had other ideas. He stood up and swung at Venom, only to have his arm surrounded in tendrils. Venom used Agent for a weapon, knocking Spidey back as the heroes collided. He then slammed Walked down hard. "We'll have to teach you to not interfere in our business…" He picked a stunned Agent up and sneered. "…the hard way!" With that he bit down into Agent's shoulder, inciting a scream of pain.
Spider-Man elbowed Venom from behind, breaking his grip. Agent fell to the ground gripping his shoulder as Venom turned back to Spidey.
Punching him in the face, he shot a webline and disappeared again. "We'll finish this later Spider-Man!" And he was gone.
Spider-Man scanned the skyline for any signs of the crazed madman, but found nothing. Rushing back to the downed Jack Walker, he was irate. "What the hell are you doing? You almost got us both killed!"
Jack was in no mood to listen. "I'll be fine. But I'm taking him down."
"No you're not," the Spider said angrily. "You go home and take care of that wound, I'm going after Venom!" He shot a webline in the direction he hoped Venom had gone. "And stay out of my way!" He too disappeared, as he rapidly crossed the city.
USAgent stood as the blood trickled through his costume and fingers. "No, you stay out of my way Spider-Man."
To Be Continued In USAGENT #7!
NEXT ISSUE: First, read USAgent #7 for the conclusion to the Spidey/Agent/Venom slobberknocker. Then be back here for issue #448 where we find out who's coming to see JJJ, the Stacy family reunion, and Harry's first day at Osborn Industries. Oh, and there's a guy named Parker in there somewhere too.