Chapter 15: Epilogue: The Sixth Day

"What are the roots that clutch, what branches grow

Out of this stony rubbish? Son of man,

You cannot say, or guess, for you know only

A heap of broken images, where the sun beats

And the dead tree gives no shelter, the cricket no relief

And the dry stone no sound of water. Only

There is shadow under the red rock

(Come in under the shadow of this red rock)

And I will show you something different from either

Your shadow at morning striding behind you

Or your shadow at evening rising to meet you.

I will show you fear in a handful of dust."

--T.S. Eliot, The Waste Land

"Peter, I…just can't keep the secrets anymore. I've been hiding so much from you, and I was supposed to be the one you could trust with your secrets…"

Peter Parker, cradled his wife, Mary Jane, in his arms. Little Ben and May were finally asleep, too young yet to know the yoke their father was fated to bear.

"The baby I had after Ben and placed for adoption, the one I never told you about until after May was born—"

"Forget her. That baby is in the past. Little May and little Ben, and me, we are your family."

"—she was Harry Osborn's daughter. I betrayed you. I betrayed our family."

The child didn't have that look newborn babies always had—squashed, slit-eyed, and bawling at the indignity of being forcibly dragged out of the cozy womb into the cold world above. This one's eyes were wide open, and she looked like someone ready to take charge. I am here, her look seemed to say. Watch out, and get the hell out of my way, or you'll be dealt with. And she was exceptionally beautiful, which newborn babies also rarely are. Her skin was creamy porcelain, her eyes the color of glisteningly lovely but forbidding icebergs. Her hair was a cloud of lustrous, soft, deep auburn curls. She was a big baby, too. Everyone there fell in love with this beautiful child.

Everyone, that is, except the child's own mother, looking pale and exhausted after the hard birth. Mary Jane Watson-Parker turned her head away from the baby girl.

"Take it away. I don't want it."

Peter, oh Peter, she thought, if you ever saw this baby, you would see my betrayal in her face and never forgive me.

"You could sign the papers. Relinquish your parental rights. She'd be given up for adoption."

Mary Jane thought that was a good idea. Give the child up for adoption. Preferably to some elderly couple in some Podunk cornfield clearing in Kansas, well away from its murderous monster of a paternal grandfather. Well away from his perverted legacy.

She was still sleepy from the anesthetics. She did not notice the tall, auburn-haired, nattily dressed man enter the hospital—until it was too late.

She could not find the strength to lift herself off the bed as the monster hastily signed the paperwork and cradled his infant granddaughter.

Her screams were lodged in her throat, her protests locked in her soul forever.

"Oh, what have I done?"

"Why didn't you tell me? I would have forgiven you. I would have raised her, don't you understand. Harry was my best pal. It was the least I could do for him."

But the damage was done; it could never be undone. She hung onto her husband for dear life. How could she selfishly betray her husband and young son for a fling—and why did she have the oddly sinking feeling that the true consequences of that betrayal were still to come?

The ten-month-old girl solemnly scooped out the baby food from the plastic tub with her fork and brought the pasta to her mouth—a little awkwardly, but just like a grownup. Her grandfather had taught her well.

"Someday, Noreen," he mused to his beautiful auburn-haired, blue-eyed girl, "I will tell you about how Spider-Man murdered your father and made your mother go away, and why you must kill him…but not now. It can wait. I love you, Noreen. You're the son I never had."

The mad scientist bobbed the olive up and down his martini with a black-gloved finger. A family, he thought. That makes life worth living. Someone you can love, who will love you in return. He fiddled with the Irish claddaugh wedding ring he still wore, even though his wife, Rosalie, had died years before. Comprised of a band with two hands holding a crowned heart, it symbolized love, loyalty, and friendship. And he remembered why he never had a family.

"Otto, we could have a couple of kids together…get away from New York City and move to the suburbs. We could finally be a family. A real family, the kind we never had—"

"Rosie, do you know how much kids cost! I don't have time to raise kids now. These teenagers today—they'd pay more attention to the latest episode of Survivor than the world of science. Rather blast rock music on their iPods than learn anything. My career is just starting to take off, and—"

"You worry about your career too much, dear. With your genius, you could work at home and teleconference with Oscorp—"

"Look, dear, if I don't get this nuclear fusion project done, we won't have enough money to feed ourselves, let alone a passel of kids. You're still quite a young woman, Rosie. We'll have plenty of time for kids and the home in the suburbs with the white picket fence. Plenty."

He'd had that conversation, he realized, just a mere month before the accident. The accident, of course, that turned him into Doctor Octopus. Now Rosie was dead, he never had his family, and of course no one is ever told what would have happened.

"Ahem…" A statuesque, red-haired woman, classily dressed in a red business suit (that terribly clashed with her hair) was hovering over him. The doctor resented the interruption of his reverie. "What do you want, lady?" he growled.

"Well, excuse me! I just want to have a drink! Is this barstool taken, or not?" She pointed to the empty barstool to the right of him.

"No it isn't. Sorry for snapping at you like that."

"That's okay," the redhead replied genially. "Bartender! A tequila, please! Oh," she continued to the scientist, "I didn't quite catch your name."

He held out a black-gloved hand. "Dr. Otto Octavius."

"Anna Smith, Esquire. Here for family problems?"

"You have no idea, lady…"

"Ah! Nothing like a field trip to cure what ails ya!" Jordan Nicholas stretched in her seat on the school bus driving to the Museum of Natural History. "Away from scientists, mad or otherwise, secret agents, superheroes, government intrigue…"

Octavia Jones grinned and adjusted the collar of her trench coat. "Amen to that, sister! Couldn't agree with you more!"

"Let's get a move on! We're here!" Daisy Gatsby called as the students filed out.

Octavia couldn't believe it was only a day after her brush with death. It was Friday, and the day before Rosh Hashanah—the Jewish holiday believed to mark the completion of God's creation.

Today was the anniversary of uncounted years since God created man.

"No need to stick together!" the chaperone yelled to the class. "Feel free to, you know, fan out and look at the exhibits…"

After walking a short way, Octavia paused to stare at a mural. She recognized it, but everyone could; you have seen it hundreds of times in textbooks or parodied in cartoons. It depicted a line of life-forms, starting with a microscopic water organism, eventually evolving into amphibians crawling out of the water, then four legged hairy creatures which gradually changed into a caveman, and then to Modern Man.

Was that how it happened? Or was there really a God who created man fully formed and woman from his rib? Or was there a middle road—that God used the methods of evolution to fine-tune His creation? Was it Nature, or Nurture, that made her tick? There had to be a middle way on this—that humans lay somewhere between the extreme genetic determinism of the Nazis and the extreme environmental determinism of the Communists. And did Free Will really exist, or was it all just based on biochemical reactions in the brain?

Octavia took off her trench coat and carefully tied it to conceal her tentacles. She was wearing a green tank top underneath. A handsome, brown-haired hunk of a teenage guy had paused beside her to look at the mural. He flashed her a cocky grin full of perfect white teeth. "So, what's your name?"

"Octavia Jones." That was her true identity, after all. First name from Nature and last name from Nurture.

"My name's Macendale Jackson, but all my pals call me Mack, so you might as well, too," he said genially. Octavia noticed that Mack's eyes had settled on her right shoulder, where she bore the mark of her identity, the mark that set her apart: a tiny, dark brown octopus. "Cool birthmark," he said.

"It's not exactly a birthmark, Mack."

"It's not exactly a tattoo either, I know," Mack replied serenely. In response, he pulled up his t-shirt sleeve past his right shoulder to reveal—

A tiny, dark brown, perfectly formed scorpion.

So, Nature Versus Nurture ends, tying into the beginning of the Austin series...Octavia finds out there's another clone, the evil Norman starts twisting his young granddaughter's mind, and Otto meets his baby-momma Anna. Ah! Is this the end? It's been a nice time!