Chapter 1: Discovery
By Yumegari and LRH
He'd increased the speed and power of his actuators. He knew all of Spider-man's tactics backward and forward. He even had the advantage of an open space in which to fight and that blasted arachnid still avoided his every strike! The actuators tore up chunks of pavement and building and still Spider-man flipped deftly between them.
"Woah, there, Doc, you even trying? I coulda dodged that one in my sleep!" Spider-man taunted, leaping aside. This only served to anger Octavius further.
"You insolent little--" he spluttered. Spider-man managed to land a lightning series of blows against Octavius' head and shoulders before deftly avoiding his next strike.
"Gettin' slow, Doc, it's not much longer before the Super-villain Retirement Home for you, is it?"
The actuators pounded against the pavement. He charged forward, reaching for the other with his bare hands.
"Though I'll bet you'd hate it there, on that low-calorie food. You might waste away to normal!"
His breath hissed in his lungs and his head pounded almost as loudly as the actuators did. They swiped and struck and still they missed. They moved blindingly fast and yet Spider-man always seemed to avoid them. Octavius' blood boiled.
"Sad, really, lumbering dinosaur like you should have retired already by now," Spider-man continued.
"GRAAAHH!" was Octavius' only comment. That voice, that irritating voice, would it never shut up? Would it never silence itself? He reached out again, his actuators arrowing toward him from four different directions. He would silence the pest himself, before that voice of his made his headache any worse. The first three actuators missed their mark, but the fourth caught Spider-man by the ankle in mid-leap and slammed him against the wall. Repeatedly. Octavius charged forward and grabbed hold of his foe when the actuator brought him near enough. His hands found the other's neck and gripped it.
Spider-Man kicked and struggled and webbed Octavius' head, yanking it forward and against the nearby wall. He released Spider-man, but reached out instantly and grabbed hold of him again, fingers finding the other's face, ears, eyes.
"You unceasingly agitating little pest! I will silence you myself! I will--" He broke off with a twitch. He took a deep breath and reasserted his grip. "I'll be rid of that irritating voice of yours once and for--for--for..." He twitched again, violently, his head snapping backward as his back convulsed. His hands lost their grip and Spider-man dropped, scuttling out of the way.
Images. Sensations. Memories, commands, images, sounds, sensations, data, the actuators' response, soundsdataimagesresponsecommandsdatasensations--
His hands clapped to his head and he jerked violently, uttered a strangled scream, and pitched face-first onto the pavement to lie silently, limbs convulsing weakly.
Spider-man, still clinging to the nearby wall, looked down at the other for a small while and, when Octavius didn't move, he cast a web-line and swung away, off to parts unknown. The area grew quiet and a wind ruffled the ends of Octavius' hair.
Clair came home, tired but mostly content after a long day at Harborview Medical. She'd saved a kid's life today; kept a blood clot from destroying his brain. Her Zombie Juice could have saved more of his brain cells, but it was still not approved for public use, still going through the endless battery of tests that all new drugs, especially "wonder cures" have to go through. She couldn't be testing it herself, no matter how much she wished to. The serum was attributed to a Clair Watson, some whiz kid who didn't exist anymore. Clair Holmes, resident neurosurgeon, wasn't in the research business.
It had been hard enough to get her credentials to transfer with her when the state put her in Witness Protection after her encounter with Doctor Octavius, six years ago. She had been lucky to stay in her original field at all. Her new identity had been forgiving, letting her keep her own first name and the career she loved, but only because she'd agreed to move all the way across the country. Seattle, Washington was just about as far away from NYC as you could get without taking a plane or a boat. She'd settled in well, in a nice house in Fremont, just across the street from the Troll, and was happy enough there.
But she missed the research greatly. Her last published work under her old name was the report she'd written on Dr. Octavius, which had been hailed as sensational, exaggerated, and premature until additional, more public testing supported those first results, and then it was vilified as cruel. But by then, Clair Watson had already vanished. An anonymous tip had made the police decide that it was too dangerous to leave her where she was. She wasn't sure whether to thank that person or wish them violence.
She dumped her keys on the long table in the entry way and wandered down to the back of the house, where her lab was set up. You can take the doc out of the lab, but.... She kept current with the tests being run on ZJ, and tried to duplicate their results when materials allowed. Shortly, she was deep in the middle of a decay-rate examination when a loud commotion outside her house made her set it aside and go out to check.
Apparently, a camera crew had set up to view the Fremont Troll. This wasn't unusual; whenever out-of-town news came by, they had to check out the giant cement sculpture and its accompanying VW bug. She waved amusedly to the camera as it panned by her front porch and went back inside.
He forced an eye open and noticed he was lying on the pavement where he'd been fighting Spider-man. As he pushed himself up from the ground, he noticed two things--one, that Spider-man was long gone, and two, that his right arm had gone... stupid. There was no other way to describe it. The limb in question was weak, clumsy, tingling unnervingly. He sat up, shaking it. Had he pinched a nerve? The left one didn't feel much better, but at least it could be used normally. The right leg didn't seem to be faring much better, and he found he couldn't walk properly with that leg the way it was and the weight of the actuators. He lifted himself into the air on them and clanked his way home, rubbing his right shoulder contemplatively. That pounding headache had died down to a dull, sickening ache. His vision had blurred and he felt vaguely ... sick. Letting himself into his home, he clanked his way in, dropped himself into his overstuffed easy chair and tried to relax and assess his condition.
Right. He'd experienced some kind of ... seizure, was the only word he could think of for it. Some kind of seizure. And, upon coming round, he'd discovered that his right side was less functional than it ought to be, and his vision was blurred. He slowly removed his goggles and rubbed his eyes. There was one explanation for it--well, all right, two--and he didn't relish exploring either of them.
He sighed, feeling terribly tired. Right now the last thing he wanted to do was think, and certainly not about his own condition. Almost instinctively, one actuator reached for the remote control of the television and turned it on, the news droning comfortably away as he closed his burning eyes.
"And now we have a report from our traveling travel expert, Gary Marsh. Where are you today, Gary?" asked the cheery anchorwoman on the news. The next voice was male, and distorted by background traffic.
"I'm in Seattle, Washington, Peg, and loving it. This beautiful city may not have any of the exciting attractions of New York, like super-heros and villains battling it out outside your window, but they've made up for it by creating monsters of their own."
Monsters... somehow that thought intrigued him and, with a barely interested "Mmm," he forced open sleepy eyes to look at the television screen. Seattle, Washington couldn't have much along the lines of true monsters like lizard-men or people with four extra mechanical arms. What did pass for monsters, there, then?
An image of a huge carved troll filled the screen, crouched under an overpass and eating a Volkswagen crushed in its fist. The reporter standing in front of it as scarcely as tall as said fist. "Behind me is the Fremont Troll. Sculpted by a high school class in the sixties, it's one of Seattle's least known treasures, stuck right here in the middle of this suburb, with a view of Lake Union." The camera panned around, showing a glimpse of sail-flecked blue in the distance, mostly blocked by houses. And on the porch of the nearest stood a woman. Her auburn hair was shorter now, but she was no taller than she had been six years ago, and the grey eyes hadn't changed at all. She smiled, waving at the camera, and then it had passed her, back on the reporter, who was interviewing a neighborhood child.
His eyes widened and he leaned forward... was that ... Clair? In ... Seattle? What in the world was she doing there? He flopped backward in the chair again, ignoring the stab of pain from having essentially flopped onto the actuators. Mmm. He could barely remember her, now, six years after the fact, but one hand rubbed lazily at his temple. What was it she called that neural restorative? Zombie Juice? He wondered vaguely if she was still working on that, and what had become of her findings. Good thing she wouldn't have used the name of her test subject anyway, no matter how successful said test was.
The test--of course... of course! His eyes snapped open again. The Zombie Juice! The neural degeneration must have relapsed. He leaned back in the chair, his breath coming fast, now. It had returned worse, this time. There was only one thing for it--he would have to find her. He looked back up at the television screen. Seattle, Washington. But where to start?
The next day, she had totally forgotten the incident with the film crew. She left the house early, as always, and drove to the hospital, sighing at the inordinate amount traffic crossing the lake, as always. "Backed up clear to the switch," said the radio cheerfully. She shut it off.
When she arrived at the hospital, it was to the news that her surgery patient had woken up, but he didn't seem to recognize any of his family members. The specialist wasn't hopeful. She spent every free minute that morning pouring over the transcript of the operation, trying to figure out what went wrong. She had accounted for everything, hadn't she? But a large portion of his brain had died anyway. She thought longingly of the ZJ in her lab at home, but she was forbidden to use it.
She went up at last to check on the kid, feeling like the culprit returning to the scene of the crime. To her shock, the hallway was glutted with reporters, being held back by two angry nurses and an orderly. When they saw her, the pack turned as one and descended, blinding her with flashes and lights, thrusting recorders into her face as the rapid-fire questions pelted her from all sides.
"Dr. Holmes, is it true that Michael Roth may never recover from his terrible head injury, suffered last week in a catastrophic car accident?"
"Is it true that he doesn't recognize his own family?"
"How did you feel about operating on the governor's son?"
"How do you feel about your failure?"
Clair stared at them, repulsed. "The operation was not a failure. He's alive. Now please, I have rounds." She turned and fled, hiding in a day room until she was paged to check on another patient. She played "dodge the reporters" all day, and at the end of it, fought her way through to her car with "No comment" held in front of her like a shield. She pulled over six blocks away, put her forehead to the wheel, and screamed out her frustration.
The morning sun filtered through the heavy curtains and found Octavius dozing fitfully in the armchair where he'd fallen asleep the night before. The TV was still on, and had cycled through sitcoms, the nighttime news, late night talk shows, a test pattern, and the morning news magazines before he blearily opened his eyes again at a rather painful ache in his left shoulder. The morning news was on and he blinked sleepily at it, shifting slightly off his shoulder. More about Seattle. These news people really had a fascination with that town. Something about a hospital.
"Mmmhhh," he said in comment at that until the face of a rather harried-looking doctor appeared on the screen, objecting to the insinuation that her surgery was a failure. The name "Dr. Clair Holmes" flashed across the screen. It floated through his mind in search of something to connect with. The word "neurosurgeon" also floated lazily through his mind in search of something to connect with.
And connect they did, causing him to sit bolt upright despite a shooting pain in his back. "Clair Holmes!" he gasped. He threw himself forward, ending up on his knees in front of the television, his hands reaching out to grasp either side of the device. "I've found you..." he said, despite the fact that the television was now briefing him on the weather. "Clair Holmes... Seattle, Washington... yes...." He stared at the screen until he could see the green and red and yellow phosphor-dots. "I know where to find you, now," he whispered, a smile spreading across his face.