Okay, I've got a new story to tell! For those of you who know me from my previous two stories, the Austin series won't be concluded till much later, when I get to writing it. So, try to enjoy this story anyway.

But, whoever you are, one and all, read and review! Questions, comments, compliments, and flames are always welcome!

Nature Versus Nurture

Chapter 1: Prologue: Created in a Laboratory

"Why do you need my DNA?" the doctor asked. The dim yellow lights of a police interrogation room flickered overhead.

The man this question was directed at held a syringe in one hand and a rubber strip and vial in the other. He was planning to take the doctor's blood.

"There's been a rash of bank robberies and vandalisms of scientific laboratories lately. The DNA evidence we take now could exonerate you."

"Well, if I wasn't mind-numbingly stupid enough to leave DNA at the scene of the crime, I would use my actuators to handle the stolen object in question, wouldn't I?" For this was no ordinary doctor. The suspect was the notorious supervillian Doctor Octopus.

"I wouldn't know. And if you don't cooperate, I could get a court order to get a blood sample. Now, stick out your arm, please, Doc Ock—"

"—tavius," the doctor snapped. For the life of him, he couldn't see why they'd named him after an underwater mollusk. However, he obliged, holding out a flesh and blood arm and rolling up his sleeve.

The man was strictly business as he stuck the needle in. The man tried to ignore the four tentacles that curved over the doctor's shoulders. They hissed and clicked at him, for their voices could only speak in the doctor's mind.

The man, his job done, carelessly flicked the sample vial with his finger. "You're free to go, Ock—"

"—tavius," the doctor corrected again as he stood up to leave. For the life of him, he couldn't understand why they called him that.

Dr. Nancy Melitta was raptly gazing at the plastic Petri dish. To the untrained eye, it didn't seem like anything important. A layman would never think the contents of the human container was a human being. But that was exactly what it was, in a way. Inside the plastic container were cells, constantly multiplying and dividing. This was the very beginning of life—out of this primordial soup would emerge one female infant, if this was successful.

As Nancy adjusted the dials of the equipment, she found herself speaking to the contents as if it was already a completely formed little girl. "But you won't be just any little girl," she said. "You're going to be very special."

Nancy was startled by the voice behind her. "Is this a private conversation or can anyone join in?"

Nancy looked at her boss, Dr. Grace Morrison. "I'm afraid it's a bit one-sided," Nancy said. "She isn't answering—just yet."

Grace laughed. "Even our little Octavia isn't that advanced."

Nancy smiled. She was just the geneticist, taking care of the technical details. Grace, the psychologist, was certainly going to take credit for the experiment.

"So, tell me more about the Great Experiment," Nancy prodded.

Grace was happy to oblige. She loved the sound of her own voice. "Ah, Project Octopus. Well, Nancy, let me ask you a question. What has more influence on a child's life—genetics or environment? If a little boy grows up to be just like Dad, is it because he shares his father's genetic traits or because he grew up observing his father? That's the leading question in psychology, the nature versus nurture question."

"Is that the question you're trying to answer?"

"Yes. We cloned the scientist known as Otto Octavius—also known as the supervillian Doctor Octopus, with certain fundamental changes, obviously. Octavia shares all of her DNA, except for the one X chromosome, with this man. As soon as she develops fully, we'll give her to a loving couple I've picked out. She'll be raised in a stable, secure, ideal environment, without an overbearing mother or an abusive father. Then, when she reaches puberty, we'll give her a set of tentacles, and what do you think will happen next?"

"She may win the Nobel Prize—or a spot on the Ten Most Wanted list." Nancy's face darkened. "We're playing around with an innocent human life here. Aren't you worried about the ethical implications?"

"Did Martin Luther worry about the implications when he posted his 99 Theses on the church door? Did Copernicus worry about the implications when he said the sun went round the earth? Did Einstein worry about the implications when he wrote his famous equation? This could be the greatest psychology experiment since Harlow and the monkeys."

"Yes, Grace, but this is a human life, not a monkey. She may end up feeling resentful over what we did to her."

"I felt resentful when my parents didn't get me a Cabbage Patch doll when I was six. If her case study proves conclusively whether genetics or environment influence her more, we'll be in the history books. Right along with Copernicus, Einstein, and Harlow."

Nancy Melitta was running the final tests. The table of plastic containers had been replaced by one incubator, such as the ones used for premature babies in hospitals. Inside the incubator lay a baby girl with big brown eyes and a shock of soft brown hair. Octavia, as they dubbed her, lay on her stomach, revealing the mark that would identify her when the scientists came back for her: a tiny octopus.

Grace Morrison burst through the door with a young couple in tow. They looked perfectly normal and stable, as they better be, considering the endless battery of tests that the couple had to go through.

"You've run background checks, medical tests, psychological tests, IQ test, and questioned us on everything from our childhoods to our sex lives. Does every couple have to go through this to adopt? All we want is a child of our own," moaned Mr. Joseph Jones.

"Mr. Jones, you don't grasp the purpose of all these tests, do you?" snapped Grace. "You have been selected—no, chosen—to take care of a very special little girl. I want to make sue you are the best parents for the job."

"Where is she, then?" asked Mrs. Jane Jones, Joe's wife.

"In a minute," said. Grace. "I need you to sign some papers." She pushed over an inch tall stack of paperwork, then leafed through it. "Sign here, here, here, here—and then here, here, here, here, and here, initial here, here, here—"

"We've already signed enough papers to deplete a rainforest," sighed Jane. "What is all this for?"

"It's legal mumbo jumbo. Just sign it."

The couple began signing the paperwork. They had severe writer's cramp after they were done.

Grace reviewed the paperwork. "Okay, everything's in order. Come with me." She opened the incubator, gently lifting the baby out. "Here she is," she said.

"Does she have a name?" asked Jane.

"We call her Octavia," Grace replied.

"It's a nice name," replied Jane, taking the infant. "It will do."