Chapter One

Chloe Sullivan gently blew the steam from her mug of freshly brewed coffee as she waited for her laptop computer to detect the Talon's wireless network. Though many of her peers at Metropolis University were off to various exotic locales for seven days of partying, tanning and excessive alcohol consumption this spring break week, she was glad to spend it in the quiet, familiar town of Smallville with her family and friends close by.

She looked up and gave her cousin Lois a smile and a wave as she walked by carrying a tray of dirty dishes. Lois rolled her eyes and gave a half-hearted smirk as she ducked into the kitchen.

A window popped up on Chloe's screen letting her know that the computer had detected the Talon's wireless network, and she was now free to surf the web. She typed in her password and then took a sip of coffee as her instant messenger signed on. She gave her buddy list a cursory glance as it popped up, not surprised to see a long list of away messages. She sighed.

Chloe was just about to sign back off when a name popped up on her buddy list that she hadn't seen on-line in ages. She could barely hold back the grin that crept across her face as her fingers click-clacked over the keyboard and began typing a message to her friend.

At the Daily Bugle in New York City, Peter Parker slouched down in his chair. He had stopped by the Bugle to try to sell some new pictures of Spider-Man to J. Jonah Jameson, only to find out that old J.J. was out of the office. Miss Brant had said that Jonah was due back any time, so Peter opted to have a seat at one of the computer workstations and check his e-mail. When Jonah still hadn't shown, Peter double clicked on the instant messenger icon, typed in his password and waited for his buddy list to load.

After only a few moments, a message popped up on his screen from someone with the username ReportrGalCS. Peter smiled. "Chloe," he said to himself.

ReportrGalCS: Hey stranger:o)

His excitement at seeing a message from his friend quickly gave way to guilt as he realized how long it had been since he last replied to one of her e-mails. Between trying to make ends meet by taking photographs for the Bugle and working other odd jobs, his studies at Empire State University, and fighting crime as Spider-Man, free time was a precious commodity that Peter Parker was sorely lacking as of late. He typed a message in reply.

PParker15: Chloe! how are you??

A brief pause, and then a reply from Chloe.

ReportrGalCS: Great, I'm home in Smallville for spring break! So when is the city boy going to come out and visit us country folk?

Peter laughed. When he'd first met Chloe Sullivan and Clark Kent, back when Chloe had won a trip to the Daily Bugle in a writing contest, he and Chloe had formed a close friendship. They'd stayed in touch, and he had long ago promised that he'd eventually make his way out to Smallville and pay them a visit. Someday, he thought to himself, he'd have to make good on that promise. For now, though, he was just too busy. He decided to change the subject.

PParker15: sorry I haven't written in so long. congrats on the daily planet internship!

ReportrGalCS: Thanks! Yeah, how about that, we are both working for great American newspapers!

PParker15: I know! crazy, huh? how is met u treating you?

ReportrGalCS: It's been a busy semester, but I love it! How are things in NY?

PParker15: hectic. been busy with work, school, and… everything else.

ReportrGalCS: Still swinging:o)

Peter smiled. Chloe was one of the very few people in the world who knew that he was Spider-Man. She'd saved his life after finding him beaten and bloody in a dumpster after a brutal fight with the Green Goblin.

PParker15: shhh… ;o)

ReportrGalCS: Hehe… just be careful out there!

PParker15: I try my best. hey, how's Clark? haven't talked to him in months.

Before he could get another reply from Chloe, the newsroom was thrown into a frenzy as the Bugle's Editor in Chief burst in like a force of nature. The staff jumped to attention as J. Jonah Jameson barked orders left and right, even as he lit a cigar as he marched across the room.

"Brock! Your pictures from the courthouse were out of focus!" he bellowed. "Jones! Your article on the mayor's sex scandal was supposed to be on my desk an hour ago! Hoffman! Get my broker on the phone, I've got some stock to sell!"

Peter grabbed the folder that contained his latest batch of Spider-Man pics, and started to stand up. Then Chloe's latest reply caught his eye.

ReportrGalCS: OMG… you haven't heard then…

Peter sat back down. He watched as Jonah marched closer to him, waving his cigar in the air and yelling for Joe Robertson to bring him the mock-up of the evening edition. He looked at the folder in his hand, then back at the computer screen. Quickly, he typed a reply.

PParker15: heard what?

Jonah shoved the cigar in his mouth and headed for his office, walking right past Peter.

"Um, excuse me, Mister Jameson?" Peter spoke up, rising to his feet.

Jonah sighed. "What is it, Parker?"

"I've got some pictures for you to…" he trailed off as another message from Chloe popped up on the screen. He froze. He read the words over and over again in disbelief, trying to get them to make sense.

ReportrGalCS: Clark's dad died.

"Oh my God," he whispered.

"Well, what do you want, Parker?" Jonah demanded, smoke seeping from the corners of his mouth.

"I, uh…" Peter said quietly. "I might have to go out of town for a few days, sir."

SHIELD Headquarters. General Nick Fury sat in the briefing room, surrounded by some of the greatest scientific minds on his staff. Among them, Henry Pym, also known as Giant Man; his wife, Janet, also known as The Wasp; and billionaire industrialist Anthony Stark, also known as Iron Man. Also seated at the table were SHIELD agents Clay Quartermain and Sharon Carter.

"All right, ladies and gents," Fury said. "I need to know where we are with Project Smallville. We've been monitoring this kid from Kansas for a long time now. Give me something."

"General, we recently learned of a Doctor Garner, formerly of the Summerholt Institute in Metropolis," Quartermain said, passing Fury a manila envelope. "According to our sources, he ran some unauthorized experiments on the Kent boy under the direction of one Lionel Luthor a few years ago."

"Experiments?" Fury asked, flipping through the contents of the envelope.

"Details are sketchy," Carter chimed in. "Somerholt is a neurological institute. Garner specialized in memory reconstruction."

"And we're just hearing about this guy now, because…?"

"Until recently, he was in a coma," Quartermain explained. "There was some kind of explosion in the lab during the Kent experiments."

"All right, I'm intrigued," Fury said, setting the papers aside. "Bring this guy in, I want to know what he knows. What else?"

"We've finished our testing on the meteor rocks, General," Janet Pym said. "As we suspected, they do emit a low level radiation. Their effects on human beings seem to be varied, occasionally resulting in mutations, however in most cases they are completely harmless."

"There are two strains that we've been able to identify," Hank said, placing a lead-lined briefcase on the table. He flipped it open, revealing one green meteor rock and one red meteor rock inside. "From what our agents have observed in the field, the green one has a physically harmful effect on the Kent subject. We believe that prolonged exposure could actually kill him."

"Hm," Fury rubbed his chin. "Least we'd have a way to control him if he ever turned against us. And the red?"

"The red meteor rock affects his personality," Janet answered. "It strips away his inhibitions, causes him to act impulsively, often erratically. He would be very difficult to control under the effects of this substance."

"Noted," Fury said, raising an eyebrow. He turned to Mister Stark. "Tony?"

Tony dropped a thick stack of computer printouts on the table in front of Nick.

"This is everything our agents in the field have been able to observe and document regarding the kid's powers," Tony said, leaning back in his chair. "Some highlights… stopping a runaway bus by grabbing onto its rear bumper, pulling a helicopter out of the air, and, my personal favorite, he jumped onto a freaking missile and dismantled it with his bare hands."

"All right, I've heard enough," Fury said. "I want this kid on the team. Tony, I want you and Steve to fly out to Smallville. Take Thor with you if you want. Recruit this kid. Whatever offer you have to make him, make it. 'No' is not an acceptable answer."

Tony nodded. "You got it."

Fury glanced at his watch. "All right, unless there's anything else, I have a meeting at the White House in 30 minutes."

"Um, there is one other thing, sir," Hank said, raising a hand. "You remember the artifact we found in Addis Ababa a few years ago? The one with the writing on it that we haven't been able to decipher?"

"Of course. What about it?"

"Well, this Kent kid… he discovered these caves, beneath Smallville," Hank explained. "There's some kind of writing on the walls of the caves. We think the kid can read it."

"Let me guess…" Nick said, folding his arms across his chest.

"Yeah," Hank said with a nod. "The writing on the cave walls is the same as the writing on the artifact."

Nick turned to Tony.

"Stark… get moving. I want this kid here yesterday!"