"Ladies and gentlemen, can you believe this?" J Jonah Jameson laments in my ear. "Spider-Woman helps destroy a block of Brooklyn, and she's treated like a hero!? She helped destroy yet another building in our city, put countless lives at risk, destroyed thousands of dollars worth of property, and on top of that, she stole a ride on the subway! Info Bugle listeners, this is an outrage. The fact that Captain George Stacy, the man who is supposed to be catching this wanton criminal, seems to be going soft on her leads me to believe that he's in on this whole mess! Or maybe the NYPD is scared of people with super powers? If that's the case, who is going to protect us? Are we going to have to take matters into our own hands?"
"Okay, Triple J," I grumble. "Go after me all you want, but leave my dad out of this."
I'm perched on the roof of a building overlooking a park, waiting for DeWolff to show up. I left her a message using Peter's voice masker from a payphone. She may not show up. She may show up with a battalion to try and arrest me. We'll see how it goes.
"You know this guy called 'Firefly'? I hear all he wanted was to take down the superhumans. Maybe he's got the right idea. His actions are deplorable, of course. But maybe we need to start making sure we're safe from this metahuman threat."
Jameson's rants have been becoming more and more unhinged since the Firefly popped up. I don't know if its just their screeds line up perfectly or what, but the guy has been calling for militias against me, or something. So far I haven't seen any action because of it, but I won't be surprised if I do sooner rather than later.
From below, I see the form of Jean DeWolff approaching the park alone. If she brought backup, it's not an obvious detail following her. There's an outside chance that some of the people in the park are plain clothes undercover officers, but I can't assume that. And I need to talk to Jean, either way.
"Well, let's see if this is a trap. God I hope it's not a trap."
Swinging down, I land in a tree above DeWolff, startling her, "Jesus. Are you kidding me? You're going to give someone a heart attack doing that."
"Sorry," I shrug, "Next time I'll give you a Tarzan yell. Might blow my cover, but at least it won't make you jump."
"Funny," she grumbles and lights a cigarette. "What's up?"
"Firefly wasn't working alone. The tech he was using was given to him. The building that burned down when I was tracking him had a lab in it. I don't think a high school graduate who spent most of his time since in the Middle East could cook up all that stuff."
"So what do you want me to do about it?" DeWolff takes a drag off the cancer stick.
"I can try and track them down, but you guys need to know what is out on the streets. If someone is supply goons on the street with super powered weapons, we need to find them and get them off the board. Not everyone with super powers is going to help you guys out. I don't want to see anyone get hurt."
Jean considers my words for a while, "Fine. But we're not working in tandem on this one. Your last stunt almost got me kicked off the force."
Defensively, I respond, "Excuse me, last time you brought in a small army to arrest me."
"Hey, not my call. Blame the boss."
"Yea, well, next time I see him-"
I'm cut off when around us the lights of the city flicker and go out.
"Yea, that can't be good," I fire a webiline off. "I'll go check things out!"
The hum of electricity and science surrounds Flint Marko. He's never seen so much crazy technology in his life, never experienced anything like this. Every piece of the lab that surrounds him looks like something straight out of science fiction. If they have all this fancy equipment, he figures, there's no way this thing is going to go south. After tonight he'll be just as strong as any other super hero, and he'll become the king of this town.
He lies strapped to a cold metal table, the icy metal stinging his naked body, covered only below the waist by a medical gown. Marko may not be a shy man, but he can be bashful in situations like this. He tries his best not to blush, but his anxiousness is palpable.
"Relax, Mr. Marko," Otto Octavius places a hand on his shoulder. "Doctor Warren is the best in biological engineering. Well, the best aside from me. He assures me his Sandman project will create the planet's preeminent super soldier of the future. You will be the first in the line of people that will reshape the future."
"You sure can talk pretty, Doc," Marko laughs nervously. "Don't know if I should feel better, but I do."
"As you should be, Mr. Marko!" Miles Warren, the stringy, shrimpy scientist in the control booth overlooking the procedure area, says. Warren is the kind of man who disappears into the wallpaper when not being looked at. His large, Coke-bottle glasses sit under shaggy, greying-blond hair, making him look like a living toupee. He is the antithesis of Octavius, who radiates an aura of strength. Warren gives off an air of scared puppy. "And if I do say so myself, Otto. I am better than you are in every possible way."
The smile that crosses Octavius's smile is less friendly and more hungry, "Good luck. The future awaits."
"Peter, tell me this blackout isn't city-wide."
"Well, do you want me to tell you that, or do you want me to tell you the truth?" Peter responds wryly.
"You think someone did this on purpose?"
"The entire electrical grid of New York city going down? On accident? No chance."
Below, in the procedure chamber, an energy envelope envelops Flint Marko in a bubble. Otto can see the man is nervous, fidgeting against his bindings on the table. Below the table where he sits, the floor opens up, revealing a pit of sand shifting around underneath him. It begins to swirl in the bubble, with energy from the bubble coursing through it into his body.
"What are you doin to him, doc?" Hammerhead, current leader of the Maggia, asks with worry in his voice. The two of them are friends, from what Octavius has observed. It's heartwarming, really. Some honor among thieves, so it seems.
"We're bombarding his body with vita rays," Miles Warren pushes his glasses up as he looks over the readings of the experiment going on below. "They're what helped create Captain America all those years ago. They're running through the silica in the air, rewriting his generic code. It will allow him to harness sand. Use it as a weapon. As armor. He'll be unstoppable."
"As long as it works," Octavius adds slyly.
"It will work."
Otto looks over his fellow AIM scientist curiously. Warren is brilliant. It is fruitless to pretend otherwise. But he is a weak man. Afraid of others in positions of power. He is the kind of man Octavius sees as a tool rather than a peer. It's why he's here now, creating a pawn in Otto's great game of chess.
The experiment goes on, with Marko changing before their eyes. The sand in the chamber forms around him, shaping around his body like a cocoon. Otto watches as the human form starts to become something more.
Suddenly the power fluctuates in the chamber, causing the vita rays to spike in intensity. The chamber glows with a blinding, white light, and the screams of pain from Flint Marko can be heard over the increasing din of electronics.
"What's goin' on!?"
"I don't know!" Warren protests. "Power is being cut across the city!"
"Is this from the experiment!?" Octavius growls.
"No, it looks like a city-wide outage."
The lights in the chamber go out, and Flint Marko's screaming stops.
Stryker's Island Prison is on fire.
The first sign was the glow on the horizon as I swung around the darkened city. As I got closer and closer, the tower of smoke gave it all away.
Someone is there, and they've given Firefly back his toys. I'm willing to bet the Silk Cartel is in on this, a diversion to get the Enforcers out of jail and back on the street.
"Pete, the prison is on fire."
"I know," he responds. "It's all over the police scanner. Problem is there's looting across the city as well. They NYPD is running thin."
Whoever turned off the power knew there would be looting. They definitely have one hell of a plan going. With little backup, heading to Stryker's is going to be dangerous as hell, not that I have any other choice. There are too many dangerous people on that island. If I don't make sure they don't get off, New York is going to go to hell.
"I have to go secure the prison. Firefly and the Enforcers are in there. If they get out, looting is the last of New York's worry."
"Yea, I kinda figured that's what you were gonna say," he sighs sadly. "Hey Gwen...just...be careful. And...I love you."
The words hang in the air as I watch the red and orange glow of the blaze mix with the grey smoke and inky back sky. My mind goes blank for a second, not processing what was just said to me. "I love you", three words I was never thought I'd hear this early from Peter. I love him of course. He's my oldest friend. Things have been going spectacularly well between us...but that well? I'm not sure. On top of that, he drops it on me before I head to a maximum security prison.
The thoughts come flooding back to me. Uncle Ben laying dead in the street, Aunt May wailing at the sight and Peter on his knees looking a million miles away. Maybe this was a mistake. Peter and I. Maybe it was a stupid shot at normality in a life that can no longer be normal for me. I don't know. All I know is I'm back to thinking this is nothing but a mistake.
I have a job to do. I can worry about the world of teenage relationships later.
Without responding to Peter, I swing towards Stryker's Island.