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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.