Fire In The Sky
By The Inimitable Enigma Cypher
Chapter One: This Thing About The Supercriminals...
Late November, 1940; 10:03 p.m...
New York City.
Many called it a city of opportunity. Others called it a cesspool of crime. Others still called it the cultural center of the country; after all, it was the first place new arrivals in the country would arrive, settle down.
In his apartment/laboratory in the city's East Village, one of those 'new arrivals' was in his study, reading the day's paper and shaking his head at the article.
Well, technically, he wasn't exactly a new arrival anymore; Dr. Otto Octavius had lived in America for close to eight years now. And every day he lived in this city, he hated it even more.
Octavius had emigrated to America from Germany in the middle of 1932, in order to escape the dark memories of his past. He hadn't had a normal life since he stepped off the boat, and resented it quite a bit. His first three years were by far the hardest, and he didn't like to think back on them often.
His first year in America started out normally enough; he had gotten a job at one of the city's best laboratories, and had even found a girlfriend. Soon, things started to get rough, when his boss, a shady businessman by the name of Norman Osborn, had started asking him to build these strange devices, which he later learned Osborn had been using in bombs, to destroy all rival businesses. When he confronted Osborn about this, the sinister businessman had threatened both his life and that of his girlfriend. This ended in a fight that left the building destroyed and Octavius seriously afflicted by radiation poisoning, brought on by the explosion of a small experimental reactor. He had almost died. But he had decided that he was going to find the evidence to clear his name and put Osborn behind bars. Eventually he found all he needed to expose Osborn and the two had fought atop the Empire State Building, with Octavius coming out the victor. Osborn was promptly arrested and thrown in prison for various counts of arson, murder, and other related charges.
Then not six months after that, his then-fiancée was abducted by the Russian Intelligence Service, the SVR, in order to force him into building them an atomic bomb. He refused. Instead, him and a good friend of his, a renowned biologist named Curt Connors, went overseas to Moscow to try and find her. After a week, they had found her (or, more correctly, she found them), and the SVR was shut down.
Then a year later, Octavius received a phone call one afternoon, telling him he needed to go down to a nearby police station, Precinct 92, and that it was important. He learned that someone was out to end his life, but nobody knew who it was. As soon as he had walked out of the precinct house, he had been snatched off the ground by a giant birdman, who turned out to be an assassin working for the mastermind. Octavius escaped the birdman's clutches, and the incident was forgotten for a short time. It was brought back into sharp focus when another assassin was sent. This attempt ended horribly, when Octavius' friend Curt was gunned down by the assassin in a fit of cold blood. After that, Octavius had devoted every waking moment to finding the mastermind, a man who called himself 'Scrier' and who later turned out to be none other than Norman Osborn, escaped from prison and with a deadly vendetta. The two of them fought once more, and once more Octavius emerged victorious, but not without serious repercussions; Osborn was dead, and he himself was seriously injured in several ways. He got through it all in one piece. However, he had never quite been the same.
Right now, however, his mind was focused on the paper he was reading, and the bad news that was splashed across the front page.
"This is getting ridiculous." he said aloud, shaking his head again. "These people are becoming more and more audacious. It can only bode ill..."
His wife, Rosie, had just walked into the room, two cups of tea in hand. She handed one to him and took a seat on the arm of his chair.
"The situation in this damn city; that's what is so ridiculous." Octavius replied, in that thick German accent that he still spoke in, pointing towards the paper. "Do you see this? The number of superpowered criminals has risen dramatically in this city. More and more people are becoming victims of these... these imbeciles in costume."
He had been following the news on the superpowered situation in the city; when he wasn't working on his experiment, anyways. He couldn't help but be concerned; he had already been wrapped up in several situations involving supercriminals. He knew how ruthless they were.
"I don't like this situation any more than you do. Let's hope it gets better soon." Rosie said as she put her arm around him, resting her head on his shoulder.
"That's all we can do, for now." he replied, looking back down at the article, taking a sip of his tea. "Especially since not even the police can handle them all. This city's becoming a madhouse."
"I know what you mean. They're causing a lot of damage citywide." Rosie said. "Not to mention, a lot of people are being victimized, even killed..."
This was a reference to an old acquaintance of theirs, Police Capt. George Stacy, who had recently lost his life in a supercriminal altercation. He had been trying to save a young child who had been in danger at the time.
"It's only going to get worse. Mark my words, it will get worse..." was all Octavius said in reply.
Rosie did not have anything to say to this. Instead, she asked, "I have to ask, because I'm curious... how soon do you think your reactor will be completed?"
"Not for a while, I believe." he answered, setting his cup on the table, before standing up and walking over to his desk. He flipped open the notebook that was sitting on its surface, looking through the schematics he had drawn out. "Fusion is still an unproven science. It's unknown, even to me, if it will ever be practical. The problem is-" here, he flipped to the next page, "-that a successful fusion reaction will require extremely high temperatures to initiate a chain reaction. There's nothing this day that can produce temperatures high enough-" He slammed the notebook shut, before locking it in a desk drawer, "-to rival those on the surface of the Sun."
"Wow." was Rosie's reply. "That hot? How is that even possible?"
"As I said, right now it's not." Octavius answered, leaning against the edge of the desk, thinking. "Not with human technology, anyways."
"Well, if I know you, someday you'll figure it out." she said, a smile on her face. "You always do."
"I appreciate the confidence..." he said, a half-smile crossing his own face. "But it might not be for a great many years that this technology becomes practical."
Rosie was silent a moment. Finally, she said, "You know, I find it endearing, when you speak with such passion; even about your work. It reminds me that you're still the same as when I met you."
Octavius came up short, here. This was a strange twist in the conversation.
"As much as I'd love to stand here all night talking with you about everything that comes to mind, I'm pretty tired." Rosie continued. "And from the look on your face, I'd say you are, too."
"I must admit I'm rather tired..." was Octavius' response as he broke off in a yawn.
"That's why I'm going to bed." Rosie said. "Join me?"
"Sure... maybe I'll be able to think better in the morning." Octavius replied, following Rosie down the hall.
Many blocks away, the sole occupant of the eighth floor apartment was asleep, having had a rough day. She was still trying to get her life back in order; she had spent the last five years of her life in prison. A small sacrifice to ensure the safety of a man she found herself drawn to. She had been released only a month earlier, and was still trying to reacclimate to a normal life.
That night, though, she was not sleeping easy. For the last year or so, her dreams had been haunted by a memory; one of a hitman she had once had an altercation with. The dream was always the same; the hitman gunning her down, a malicious smile etched across his face. But it always got worse.
This night, however, before it took that turn for the worse, she awoke with a start, gasping, her hand flying up to her chest. It took her a minute to calm down. At least one part of the dream was real; she had been shot. Twice. Fortunately, she survived, but it led to the very series of events that had landed her in prison.
"Only a dream..." she muttered, running a hand through her jet black hair. "Only a dream..."
She turned the lights on, walking over to the mirror on one wall, noticing the paleness of her skin, the redness around her eyes.
You need a vacation. she thought to herself.
Taking a seat on the edge of the bed, she looked out the window at the half-moon in the sky. She couldn't help but think on the last five years; how much her life had changed, was still changing.
The sound of heavy footsteps outside drew her attention towards the door, a moment before said door was blasted inwards, and two men entered the apartment.
A break-in? And here I just thought I got my life back in order!
"WHERE ARE YOU!?" A deep voice, rough, split the eerie silence that had settled over the apartment in the wake of the door's implosion. The two men started to search the apartment, and in that instant, she knew what she had to do.
I have to get out of here, and fast.
She sprinted for the window, grabbing a light tan trenchcoat off the wall beside the mirror. She flung open the window and crawled out, right before the bigger of the two men kicked open her bedroom door.
She crouched low on the fire escape outside the window, right out of sight of the man, who was still screaming her name.
What do they want with me? she thought, confused.
At the risk of being seen, she took a look through the window to catch sight of the two strangest figures in her bedroom. The big man was stomping on the floor, obviously infuriated that she had eluded them.
Unbelievable. she thought, infuriated. I just can't have a normal life anymore, can I!?
She quickly made her way down the fire escape, to the ground. She slipped into the trenchcoat, tying it shut and running out of the side street. She had to find somewhere else to stay for the night.
I can't stay there anymore; I have to make myself scarce.
But where was there for her to go?
Octavius did not wake easy the next morning. He laid in bed for a moment, the blanket pulled over his head, ignoring the ringing of his alarm clock.
Oh, will you shut up already? he thought, pulling the covers off of him and turning the alarm off.
Yawning, he pulled on a clean pair of pants and a long black shirt, before slipping a green vest over his head. As usual, it made his hair stand on end. He tried unsuccessfully to smooth it out, before abandoning the attempt as he walked into the kitchen, to get something to eat. On his way back to his study, he caught sight of his lab assistant, Dr. Carolyn Trainer, who was sprawled across the couch in the living room, sound asleep.
Now when did she get here? he thought, bewildered. She wasn't here last night...
He walked into his study, where Rosie was sitting, reading a book.
"Am I the only one who noticed a stowaway on the couch?" he asked, confused.
Rosie looked up at him and said, "Oh, you mean Carolyn? She showed up about three in the morning. She said something about her apartment being broken into. She said she was not going to stay there, no way, no how. And I don't blame her; there's been a lot of break-ins lately. I didn't want to wake you, so..."
"Was she home at the time?" Octavius asked, concerned.
"Actually, she was. She escaped through a side window and had to run down the fire escape before she was spotted." Rosie said in reply.
"These criminals are getting more and more daring." he said, shaking his head. "I hate this city more and more every day, you know that?"
"I'm pretty sure I already knew that." Rosie said, a bemused smile on her face.
"It just seems like this city is getting worse and worse every day."
"That's because it is." Rosie said in agreement.
"At least someone agrees with me." Octavius said as he sat back down in his chair. He was thinking about something, and he couldn't help but ask.
"By any chance, did she mention anything unusual about the intruder?"
"I'm not sure." was Rosie's reply. "If she did, I don't remember."
"I'll have to ask her, then." he said, resting his head on his closed fist as he stared at one of his reactor blueprints that was tacked to the wall. "I'm still concerned about the number of superpowered criminals that continue to appear in the city. If only Curt were here... he always found these kind of discussions interesting..."
Rosie didn't know what to say to this; she knew how badly he had been affected by his friend's untimely death; he had been there when it happened, and had tried to stop it from happening. He had been a bit too slow to stop the gunman, and he still couldn't get over that fact.
"At least you did what you could to stop it from happening to anyone else." she said reassuringly, placing one hand on his shoulder gently as she looked down at him, noticing the sad look in his eyes. He could never talk about that day without feeling some sort of emotion. How could he not? It was because of an attempt on his own life that Curt had lost his. How does one forget that sort of thing?
"But it still didn't bring him back, or save his life." he replied, before shaking the thought from his head. "But I'm not going to think about that now. I can't. All it will do is get me in a foul mood, and I've got things that need to be done."
Rosie did not have a reply to this.
She didn't need one, really. Someone else had spoken.
"What can't you think about?"
Carolyn was standing in the doorway; still half-asleep, it looked like.
"Sorry for showing up in the middle of the night, by the way." she replied, leaning against the door-frame. "I just couldn't stay there last night. Not after what happened."
"It's no problem, Carolyn." Octavius replied, gesturing for her to take a seat. "At least you're alright."
"You're not kidding." she said as she took a seat on a nearby couch, her hand to her head. "I was lucky to get out of there last night. They caught me completely unaware."
"I'm sorry to hear that." Octavius said sadly. "Do you have any idea why they broke in?"
"I do, actually." was Carolyn's reply. "I heard as much when they entered the apartment. They were looking for me."
"For you!?" Rosie said, stunned. "Why would they be after you?"
"I honestly have no idea. Something's telling me I don't want to know." Carolyn said, running a hand through her jet black hair as she thought for a moment. "Whatever the reason, it certainly would have only turned out horribly. I had to escape before they found me. They came impossibly close."
"That's terrible." Octavius said, shaking his head. "Why do people do this?"
"I haven't the slightest idea." Carolyn said. "I do know that my apartment is now a complete loss. They blew a wide hole in the wall to enter through, and as I was running out of the alley after descending the fire escape, I saw smoke blowing out the window. So, once again, I've lost all my research. I have to once again start all over. And all because these superpowered types think they own the city."
"Superpowered types?" Octavius asked. "You mean they had unnatural powers?"
"Yes. The one who blew a hole through my wall seemed to be charged with electricity. And the one who kicked my bedroom door down must have been the same person who destroyed your friend's apartment; he looked for all the world like a giant rhinoceros."
"Not him again." Octavius growled, putting his hand to his head. They'd had experience with the rhino-person before; he had once destroyed Curt's apartment. Now he'd struck again.
"Yes. Him. I recognized him; he'd broken into my bedroom shortly after I'd already escaped through the window." Carolyn replied, breaking off in a yawn. Clearly she had not slept much last night. "I was secretly watching him from the outside."
"Wouldn't that be a dangerous thing to do?" Rosie asked. "I mean, what if he saw you?"
"Someone of his size would have a hard time catching me."
"You're probably right..." Octavius said, "...but still... anyways, did you call the police?"
"Yes; when I got here, I asked Rosie if I could use your phone."
"What did the police say?" Rosie asked.
"That there was nothing they could do until morning." Carolyn said, shaking her head. "Which is their way of saying they're not going to do a damn thing."
"This is just wrong. How is it that the police can't stop this from happening?" was Rosie's reply.
"Too many of them are appearing, all at the same time."
"But still, you think they would be able to do something."
"Excuse me, could I be alone for a minute?"
This last sentence came from Octavius. Rosie looked over at him and said, "Why do you want to be left-"
She broke off when she saw the look on his face; she followed his gaze over to a picture of Curt that was hanging on the far wall. Of course. It had been exactly five years since his death.
"Of course. We'll leave you alone." she answered, and her and Carolyn left the room, shutting the door behind them.
Octavius sat there a minute, before standing up and slowly walking over to the picture.
"How could I have let this happen to you? It shouldn't have ended like that..."
He walked back over to his chair and sat down on the edge, his hand to his head.
"Why did this have to happen?"
-To be continued...