10:14 PM, December 27, 2009
The man pushed the tip of his tongue between his teeth and eyed the object at his feet. His goal took intense concentration and skill. The object of his scrutiny was small and dimpled; a golf ball.
He carefully aligned the base of his golf club with the ball. It rested just in front of highly polished black shoes. Even in his position he was not one for casual dress, which he considered unprofessional and slovenly.
The artificial grass shone dully in the dim light. The man swung the golf club over his shoulder.
A tentative voice spoke from the shadows behind him. "Sir?"
The man sighed and relaxed his stance. Weygnd. Of course. He wondered belatedly why he had hired such a young, weak-willed little weasel as an assistant to begin with; he seemed to have a predilection for appearing at the most inopportune moments, and in addition his Icelandic accent made him nearly incomprehensible.
He quickly aquired his usual tone of bored derision. "Yes, what is it now, Weygnd?" he said, without turning.
"The Nantucket operation...intelligence has just reported...there have been some problems..." Weygnd trailed off weakly.
"Weygnd, your talent for understatement never ceases to amaze me," the man sneered at Weygnd's hapless tone. Weakness. There was no trait the man despised more. "The Nantucket operation has failed, I know that much. What I want to know is why."
"There was a guard insurrection..." stammered Weygnd.
"Those idiots couldn't disrupt an operation even if they tried. Our agent should have been able to handle them easily. It must have been a technical glitch."
"They had help, sir," said Weygnd.
He whirled to stare at the sweating aide. "What?"
"Th-they had h-help, s-sir."
"What? What help?" the man snarled. The interview was going to become dangerous if his unpredictable temper rose any further, and Weygnd knew it. Sweat trickled down the back of his neck. "Don't kill the messenger" was not a half-humorous adage here, but a real plea.
"Well...one person. Three, actually. Y-yes."
"Stop sniveling, Weygnd, you pathetic little...! Who are they? Names, Weygnd!"
"Spider-Girl!" Weygnd blurted.
Weygnd clasped his sweaty hands behind his back to stop them from shaking. His boss tossed both halves of the destroyed golf club carelessly away.
"Spider...Girl, did you say?" His tone was suddenly soft. Weygnd stood and trembled.
The man turned and walked a short distance to a rack of golf clubs, musing, "Spider-Girl, did you say." He selected one, slid it through his hands and examined the grip. "Any relation to Spider-Man?"
"In-intelligence reports that she is his daughter, sir," Weygnd said.
"T-teenaged. Fifteen, sixteen at most."
A smile curled at the corner of the man's mouth. Young. Very young. Not fit to be glanced at, let alone be considered a threat.
True to form, Weygnd dissolved this illusion. "She destroyed the operations base, sir. Nearly singlehandedly."
The man's grip on the club tightened, his tone deceptively collected. "Is...is that so?"
The man's lip curled up into snarl as Weygnd stuttered, "Sp-Spider- Man was there."
"Was he." The man selected another club. "Was he."
"And...and we know the identity of the third. The real identity."
"Yes, sir. Another teenager. One Harry Osborn."
The man whirled so quickly that Weygnd strangled a gasp. "Harry Osborn?"
"Yes, sir. He was apparently acting under the alias of 'Hobgoblin', but-"
Weygnd stopped in midsentence, grateful for an interruption. A woman in a pinstriped business suit stood in the office doorway. Her hair was drawn back in a severe knot. "Sir, it's Garcia. She's alive. She's here!"
The light from the hallway stretched into an elongated rectangle over the carpeted floor. The man regained his composure. "Send her up. Immediately."
The woman began to protest. "Sir, she's very badly wounded. She's being conducted to the medical quarters-"
"I said send...her...up," the man growled, enunciating each word clearly. The woman's eyes widened slightly, and she left much more quickly than she had arrived.
The man returned to his task of choosing a golf club. Weygnd stood in the half-light and fidgeted. After a few moments, two guards appeared silhouetted in the doorway, holding a limp object between them. It was a woman, dressed in the shreds of a lab coat over a strange black suit, dripping wet and clutching a hand to her side. Her black hair hung around her face like a curtain.
The guards dropped the woman unceremoniously to the floor. She sagged to her knees, both hands pressed against the wound. Blood trickled through her fingers. It was black.
The man did not turn. "Hello, Garcia."
Dr. Elaine Garcia did not respond.
The man continued, "I hear you've been having some difficulties, Garcia. Would you care to enlighten me on the subject?"
"I...sorry...sir...I...tried to..." Garcia's voice dissolved into a flurry of wheezing coughs. "It was...her..."
"Spider-Girl?" The man asked conversationally. "You were sabotaged by a teenager in tights with a few minor abilities? I'm surprised at you, Garcia."
"Sir..." Weygnd broke in, casting a worried look at Garcia. "Sir, I think Garcia's been shot."
"I'm aware of that, Weygnd."
Weygnd thought it in his best interest to remain silent until further notice.
The man turned his attention back to Garcia. "You did not obtain the formula."
Garcia shook her head, her face contorted with pain.
Garcia nodded slowly.
"Come now, Garcia, you know the Darwinian laws. Those who are unfit are weeded out. In fact, I hear that you in fact deviated from your objective in order to pursue a personal grudge. Is there any truth in that?"
"I'm...sorry...please...sir...help me...I won't fail you...again..." Garcia gasped.
"No, you will not fail me again," the man said. "Tell me, Garcia, can you give me any reason why I should allow you to live after this display of incompetence? Well? Then-"
"Yes," Garcia croaked.
"I know...the identities...of Spider-Girl...and Spider-Man..."
The man dropped the golf club with a clatter and practically bounded across the room. He grasped Garcia by the shoulders and pulled her up. "Who are they? Elaine! Tell me!"
Elaine Garcia had never before seen the face of her superior. Her eyes widened in astonishment, and her face almost seemed to brighten. "You...it's really...you...?"
"Elaine! Two names and treatment is yours! Tell me, Elaine! Who are they?"
"Yes...I'll tell...Spider-Girl...is..." She shuddered, clutching her wounded side. "Is..."
"Yes?" The man's eyes were wide, his teeth bared in either a smile or a snarl. Weygnd began to edge away from the bizarre scene: a half-mad man demanding names from a dying woman.
"Spider-Girl is...is...M-Ma-" The woman sagged, collapsing to the floor. Before the man's eyes, her body suddenly twisted into a form that only few in the operation had seen. Weygnd yelled and stumbled backwards as the extra arms and joints appeared with sickening crunches and cracks.
Black Widow, who had once been Elaine Garcia, lay on the floor of the man's office. She was dead.
The man snapped at the guards. They hurried forward, picked up the body and carried it out.
Weygnd stood in horrified facination as the man placidly chose a golf club. He walked over to his previous spot, aimed, and whipped the club around in a swing. The ball went flying.
A computerized voice mumured, "Calculated distance, eight hundred thirty-four yards."
"I'll...I'll reset the gauge," said Weygnd weakly. "There must be something wrong with it. Eight hundred yards is impossible."
"I just hit it, didn't I?" the man said. "Leave it, Weygnd. I'm going to need some thought on this matter."
He was silent for a long time.
" Get me...Anubis. Yes, contact Anubis. Tell him I have a proposition, and I want him here immediately."
"A-Anubis? Sir, are you sure...yes, sir! Right away!" Weygnd stumbled backwards as he caught a glimpse of the man's expression.
As Weygnd hurried out, wiping sweat from his forehead, the wiry, middle-aged man turned back to his game, allowing himself a low, satisfied laugh that could almost have been mistaken for a cackle.