That night, Dr. Julian Connors sat in his office, frowning as he was brought up to date with what had transpired in his absence. His personal assistant, Jonas Harrow was attempting to explain.
"So basically what you're telling me Jonas," growled Connors, "is that the matter of the Congressman was completely bungled! Honestly, I told you I wanted to take care of it myself. Now I have to deal with the FBI and their interminable questions."
"Look," said Harrow, his pacifying open hand attempting to reason with his, as of late, increasingly mercurial employer. "Don't worry about the FBI. They're obliged to question you because the newspaper report named Oscorp as a profiting party to the death of Congressman Warren. But they have absolutely nothing solid linking us to the murder."
"Yes but you told me, Jonas," Conners ranted, slamming his fist on his desk. "You told me that by making a deal with the Kingpin, he would take care of it and sew it up so tight that no one could even ask questions."
"I stand by that decision," said Harrow calmly. "Our discreet alliance with the Kingpin brings many advantages. And I am assured that they also take our association very seriously and that they had given this job to their top man. Only we weren't counting on this freak in the wrestling mask on showing up and making a mess of things."
"Ah, yes. Our human spider. What news on that front?"
"We had hired some local muscle to keep a tail on the reporter who originally photographed this guy. So he was led to surveille one Peter Parker, an alias. When he showed me photos of Parker, look at what we discovered." Harrow slid a photo over to Connors. "Recognize him?"
Connors betrayed some surprise. "Why it's young Jones, the intern! He's moonlighting as a reporter?"
"That's what we were wondering. Well wouldn't you know it, the thug we hired followed him to a meet with Warren just before he was killed. And guess who else just happened to be there?"
"The spider." Connors paused to process the implications. "So our young polymath has been experimenting on himself it would seem. Not that I stand fit to judge, but he has managed to complicate things."
"What do you want to do? Expose him? Make him disappear?"
"That would only serve to complicate matters further. No, we keep watching him. Only he's been playing his own little game. We must even the playing field somewhat." Connors grinned.
Eddie Brock sat on his stool in the lab in Oscorp, fidgeting with his fingers. This job just kept getting stranger, but he could not afford to be choosey these days. He owed big to some loan sharks, and he had recently fallen out with the Gamboni's, who were no longer interested in his services. He had been living with constantly looking over his shoulder for a while, and the stress was wearisome.
Finally, Dr. Connors walked in. "Ah, Mr. Brock, is it? What a pleasure to meet face to face. Now I have it on good information that you are an unfortunate man who is interested in opportunity. Am I mistaken?"
"No, I suppose not. But just what exactly are we talkin' here?"
"Patience, Mr. Brock, patience. Now we need you to keep trailing this reporter, Parker, but even more so we are greatly interested in this human spider. We have reason to believe that some of our confidential intellectual property has been misappropriated, and we risk losing a great deal. Now before we knew what we were dealing with, you were left at an unfair disadvantage. How would you feel if your natural skills were to be genetically enhanced, allowing you to enjoy much more success in the future? I feel it fair to warn you, Mr. Brock, that this type of offer does not come around more than once in a millennium. You would be remiss to pass it up, especially as it seems you have already made many powerful enemies."
"Yeah, okay. So what do I have to do?"
"Just sit in a chair, relax, think happy thoughts while you allow us to treat your deficient genetic code. It will be little more than an injection now, and perhaps monitoring your condition afterwards."
"What will happen to me?" Brock asked nervously, as Connors deftly injected him with the serum containing the retrovirus.
"We are setting you upon hunting a spider," said Connors elatedly. "So you too need to be a spider." Eddie Brock felt the room spin and he crashed to the floor as he blacked out.
Dr. Toby Auchmann worked tirelessly in his home office, failing to notice the late hour. His total absorption in his studies was interrupted by a knock at his door. "Come!" he commanded.
"I've brought those files you requested from Oscorp," his secretary informed him, entering the room with a heavy box.
"Thank you, Carolyn. Kindly put it over there with the others." He motioned to a growing pile of filing boxes in the corner of the room. "Get some rest now. The sun is already starting to come up, and I may need you to help some more in preparation for the shareholders meeting today."
A few moments passed before she returned. Doctor there is a group of your coworkers here to see you. Shall I show them in?"
"At this hour? Who is it?"
"Dr. Guy Kasady for one."
"Is he alone?"
"No, he has quite the group with him."
"Um, certainly, tell them to come in."
In short order, Toby's modest study was filled with seven more individuals, including Guy, Peter and five other scientists from Oscorp. "Sorry to barge in on you so early Toby," said Guy, shaking his hand. "Are we greatly inconveniencing you?"
"Not at all. My sleep has been fleeting this night. I've been obsessing over this due diligence for the Oscorp charity fund for regenerated organs and I've been trying to reconcile some discrepancies."
"I've always said you had the mind of a lawyer, Toby. You never let the details escape you."
"Well I certainly can thank my father for that. As an attorney his favourite adage was, 'The Devil is in the details.' Good morning, Peter. How are you?" He shook his hand as well.
"Yes I apologize for inviting such a large group to our tete-a-tete this morning, but each and every one of these people greatly respect you and begged me to be included if we were to create a strategy for the future. I think you know most of them. I present to you Dr. Spencer Smythe, Dr. Fred Foswell, Mr. Maxwell Dillon, engineer, Dr. Janice Lincoln and Dr. Martin Li."
"Yes we all have met on occasion. You all are welcome, as what I am in the process of unravelling concerns all of you as well. As I said, I've been trying to resolve inconsistencies in our accounts, and basically I've discovered that our worthy CEO has transferred to himself great financial powers of allocation. He has a new division, under the label of research and development, called Conjectural Analysis that is burning through money, but I can find no other paper trail of what exactly it does. I had my secretary bring in some more files that may be of some assistance. Perhaps you could help me sift through some of this evidence."
The eight of them began reading through files. After some time, Janice spoke up, "Here is something. Did you know that Oscorp owns a private island in the south Pacific? It's called Noble's Isle and it's supposedly being developed as an executive retreat with all the amenities. But how come we've never heard of it?"
"That reminds me of something," said Toby, shuffling through files and papers. "A huge purchase of industrial prime thermal cyclers, micropippeters and all the equipment to assemble many gel electrophoresis apparatuses were bought and shipped to Australia but there is no trail as where they went afterwards. That can't be a coincidence."
"So Connors has set up a lab?" said Peter.
"A secret lab," said Guy.
"Don't you see?" said Toby. "He's set up a secret island laboratory to run experiments and keep his test subjects! He's preparing to take this to the next level." Toby sat back in his chair. "He can't be allowed to continue," he said firmly.
"So we stop him," said Peter. "We can share this cover-up with the shareholders today and the authorities and they'll open an investigation."
"And how long will that take?" said Guy. "By the time anyone gets to that island, everything will be gone and Connors will have set up shop somewhere else. No, what Toby is saying is, we have to act. Today. The eight of us. Fate has chosen us to save the human race."
"Guy is right. Connors has to be stopped," declared Toby.
"So then this is it? I say to all of you, once we go down this road there is no turning back. Any one want to back out, leave now." Guy looked around the room. "Okay then, we are all in this together. How should we do it? Shall we shoot him?"
"I have a better idea that is a little more, er, elegant, with less risk of collateral victims. As you may or may not know," Toby walked over to a locked cupboard. "I served in Her Majesty's Army with the Paratroopers. I propose that we use these." Toby laid out an array of large British Paratrooper knives. "In this way we can be assured that only our intended target will be taken out."
"But what of Senator Baker?" asked Guy, getting excited. "Shouldn't we ask him to join us? I think he would want to be part of something so important."
"You're right he should be included," agreed Peter.
"He would certainly want that," nodded Martin.
"Him above all would give us legitimacy," put in Janice, "And he would help us with convincing both the public and the authorities that we were acting for the greater good."
"It's better if we don't add anyone that is not already in this room. The less the better, and indeed Baker is foremost a politician, and he won't support something unless it is his idea to take credit for," reasoned Toby.
"Then we'll leave him out," agreed Guy.
"Exactly right. He's not a good fit," added Peter.
"So is it only Connors that must be held responsible?" asked Max Dillon.
"That is an excellent point," charged Guy. "Surely Mark Iraklis is equally culpable in these crimes against humanity. And if we were to leave him unscathed, he will come after us. We should take him out as well."
"We are not in the business of murder," mollified Toby. "If we start killing every person that doesn't agree with us, then we are no better than every tyrant that has ever been born and we regress into the dark ages. We will sacrifice Connors for the greater good of humankind, but let us not become butchers, Guy. We will fight what Connors has become but not be vengeful about it. If we are to justify this before the world, (and the world will be watching us. Make no mistake.) Then we will demonstrate that we are protectors, not murderers. That we acted for the greater good, and everyman will understand that we sacrificed one man, instead of standing idly by while the future of our species was compromised beyond restoration."
"If we allow Iraklis to remain, then we'd better watch our backs," warned Guy. "He is fiercely loyal to Connors."
"It's okay, Dr. Kasady," soothed Toby. "Don't worry about him. If he is that committed to Connors' cause than he can try to defend him in the court of public opinion and crucify himself on the very same issue. In the end, he can die for Connors if would so choose, but when all is resolved, I think he'd rather be fishing, watching American football, or be drinking with his old army buddies."
"That's right, he's no real risk to our cause. Let him live and he can laugh that he wasn't more of a staunch believer in Connors' message," laughed Spencer.
Toby looked at his watch. "It is getting late."
"We should scatter for now," urged Spencer. "We don't want to raise suspicion."
"He will be expecting us to be all together today for the shareholders' meeting. We can approach him there and get it done. But I fear that with his health and emotional state becoming more erratic as of late, he may not come to speak before the shareholders. Increasingly he acts as though these duties were beneath him," fretted Guy.
"Don't worry about that," said Max Dillon. "I've been tasked with programming his agenda. If he balks at coming before the shareholders, then I will tell him he is right, for it will be a waste of his valuable time. I'll say to him, that the principal item on the agenda is simply to shower honour upon him for his scientific achievements, and because he detests such aimless flattery, he can invest his valuable time elsewhere. His ego being so coddled, he will agree in principal, being already extremely flattered, yet wanting it all the more. Leave it to me, and I will get him to the function theatre of the Four Seasons where the meeting will be held. You can count on it."
"No, it's better that we all be there to meet him," said Guy.
"Maybe we could meet him by the side entrance of the hotel," said Janice. "Fred has had his funding drastically reduced recently, and he could pretend to raise the issue privately."
"Then please go with him, Janice," said Toby. "Your presence will get Connors to drop his guard."
"The sun is rising," said Guy. "We'll leave you, Toby, and the rest of us will disperse and arrive separately at the hotel. And everyone remember to show yourselves to be defenders of freedom, both of thought and expression."
"And lets all do our best to act normal and friendly. We don't want to draw any undue attention until the moment arrives. For now I will bid you all good day and good luck."
Tom was stirred out of the sweetest slumber by the ringing of his phone. He begrudgingly reached over without raising his head off the pillow. He didn't want to answer it, but seeing the display indicated it was Gwen calling, he got out of bed to see what was the matter.
"Dr. Connors didn't come home last night."
"Oh? Is that an emergency?"
"His wife thinks so. He went out for a walk around 8:00 last night, and didn't return, and he's not answering his phone."
"Could it be that he's just caught up with work? Is he in his office?"
"Security does put him at the lab last night, but after that nobody knows what's happened to him. Look, I know it's probably nothing, but his wife is freaking out. She says that she has a terrible feeling that he's in great danger, and maybe I'm still suffering from jet-lag, but she has me half convinced."
"Okay, I'll look into it. I'll try to ping his phone to see if I can get an idea of where he went, and if it comes to it, I also have a police scanner."
"Thanks, I do appreciate it. Mark Iraklis has called in the help of this new guy, Augustus. I guess he has some pretty exceptional resources."
"Alright, I'll let you know." Tom started pulling on his clothes and wiping the sleep from his eyes. Practically as soon as he was off the phone with Gwen, his phone rang again. "Oh what fresh hell is this?" It was J.J. Jameson.
"Parker! The human spider has been spotted climbing the Chrysler Building, this time dressed all in black. But as usual he's endangering public safety and disturbing the peace, so I trust that you are there right now, getting me my exclusive photos? Well hang up the phone, idiot, and get them for me!" Click.
"Hello?" asked Tom, actually feeling like an idiot, not just because he was talking to a dial tone. "The human spider has been spotted? I'd better start my search by checking out the Chrysler building," he said, grabbing his Nacho Libre mask.
Wilson Fisk rose early, as was his custom, by sitting at his desk to review his stocks, investments, businesses, international activities, coups, and employees. He dressed himself in his typical formal attire, dismissing the two call girls from his apartment. Running a vast business empire that spanned several continents and that operated on both sides of the law was time consuming, but rewarding. Expecting to receive his breakfast, he permitted his henchman to enter the office. But he was not alone. "I'm very sorry for the intrusion, Mr. Fisk, but there's a Mr. Edward to see you, and he is most insistent." The man sounded quite scared.
Fisk's eyes narrowed, but then his eyebrows peaked with curiosity. "That's perfectly fine, Raul, show him in. Do I know you? Mr. Edwards, is it?"
A hunched over and sinister looking creature glided into Fisk's office. "No, we haven't as yet had the pleasure of meeting face to face, Mr. Fisk. Or shall we dispense with the formalities so that I may call you by your menacing nom de guerre? Kingpin." As he hissed the name, his breath came out as a malicious exhalation.
"Who are you?" Fisk demanded.
"We have had some business dealings, Mr. Fisk, but I'm afraid I am not a customer of the satisfied persuasion. Your man, the Punisher as he is known, botched the job he was contracted to do. If I simply wanted someone killed, I could have sent a homeless cretin to complete the task. I paid you with the understanding that the police would have no other evidence than to close the case as a robbery gone bad. I am of the understanding that you have sent out Aleksei Sytsevich to clean up the mess, but I would be remiss if I did not inform you that the police are currently fishing his remains out of the East River."
"I make it my business to not be in the dark on these sorts of matters. The only way you could possess this information would be if you…" Recognition dawned on Fisk. "Connors? Yes, you're Julian Connors! What has happened to you? If you'll excuse my indelicacy, you look deformed."
"I can assure you my good Kingpin, I am not malformed. On the contrary, even if I may appear to be dysmorphic, rest assured, I have the custodianship of the sum total of the greatest possibilities in the animal kingdom. And we, as collaborators, have a problem. The world is changing, and I need to be able to rely on you to get things done. If you demonstrate yourself to be sufficiently competent to the task, you will find yourself to be greatly enriched and empowered. But we can't permit any more blunders like what happened with the congressman, now can we?"
"That incident was indeed unfortunate and anomalous," said Fisk. "We have hired the Punisher for many, more complicated jobs in the past, and this is the first time he hasn't exceeded our expectations. Like you said, we are entering a brave, new world, so forgiving a bit of a learning curve would be reasonable, I should think. But you can be absolutely certain, Dr. Connors, that there exists no one who can pretend to be my equal, both in possession of the required tools and the proficiency to join forces with you to protect your business."
Meanwhile, Tom had climbed up the building and had been listening at the window with a stethoscope since Connors had arrived at the office. After listening to one bombshell after another, he was having difficulty clinging to the outside ledge of the skyscraper.
"Our mutual interests depend on you being able to back up these claims with results, Mr. Fisk. As you are undoubtedly aware, I am in the midst of implementing sweeping reforms to the governance structure, which will inevitably invite opposition. I will be counting on you to help me to forestall these efforts so that we both can reach our respective goals."
"Indeed that would be wise. If you can subdue your enemies without any fighting, than your skill as a leader will be unmistakably manifest for the world to see."
Connors smirked. "I'm glad we are of the same mind on these matters. This way our stratagems will be aligned."
"I heard how you've restructured the company to contain A class and B class shares. This practically puts you beyond the possibility of any likelihood of defeat."
"Precisely. Now Oscorp is a 'controlled' company, which will allow me the right to eschew independent directors and allows me to designate my successor, in the unlikelihood I meet an untimely demise."
"Your victory is assured if you have prepared yourself, especially if you catch your enemies off guard. If I may be so bold, who is your chosen, improbable successor?"
While his attention was focused on trying to not miss a word of this conversation between two villainous despots, he suddenly felt a chill run down his spine, followed by a small, black item flying past his head and adhering itself to the window. It took Tom a split second inspection of its shape and digital numbers to recognize that he needed to leap off that ledge, posthaste.
Tom jumped, just barely managing to stay out of the blast radius of the small adhesive bomb that blew the window off Fisk's office. Tom struggled to grasp the ledge of a floor three levels down, and he became aware of a drone flying overhead. As he saw the UCAV flying away a figure all in black came gliding through the open window, gun drawn. Tom, attempting to jump back up to the office to help defend from this well choreographed attack, felt something hit him on his back. Looking back, he saw what looked like a silky cable attached to him. "Is that… spider webbing?"
Tom was violently pulled down, and he thrashed and pulled back, trying to free himself of his unseen predator.
Tom grabbed on to one of the ledges, and bracing himself against the building, faced the direction of his opponent and pulled on the web strand with all his might. As a blackened figure came sailing towards him, Tom delivered a killer blow across the creatures face. The spider-like creature shook it off and while clinging to a rope of spider silk that hung down the building, he came swinging back up to Tom's level. Tom finally had the opportunity to look his assailant in the eye, and a crazed eye it was. While having the form of a man, the creature was sprouting greasy black hairs on his body. The spider silk that he secreted along with the fangs that dripped with venom served to detract from his humanlike appearance.
Meanwhile, the smoke was clearing in Fisk's office. Frank Castle came gliding in, after a successful jump from his UCAV. He rolled as he hit the floor and was on his feet, automatic rifle immediately at the ready. What was left of Fisk's security detail came barging in, and Castle calmly dispatched them. Fisk was hiding behind his desk, and Castle started circling, lining up the shot. A noise distracted him from the ceiling. He looked up just in time as a slithering figure leaped off the ceiling tiles and attacked him across the face, knocking his rifle out of his hands. Connors, having the upper hand, restrained Castle's arms and head butted him, dropping him to the ground. Fisk, braved a peak from behind the desk. Connors was facing him triumphantly as Fisk tried to warn him. Castle kicked Connors right between the shoulder blades, sending him flying across the room. By this time Fisk was up, clashing with Castle in close hand to hand combat. Fisk, for his girth, was surprisingly strong and agile, and was skilled in several martial arts techniques, while armed with his walking stick that had a weighted handle. Still, he was no match for Frank Castle, former Delta, and expert gong Fu fighter. Castle knocked Fisk to the ground, and was about to deliver the deathblow, when Tom came crashing into the office, followed by Venom. As Venom came up behind Castle, he sank his teeth into his shoulder, just below his neck. Castle was able to grab his assailant and throw him to the ground, before collapsing in a paralyzed heap. Venom then turned his wanton gaze towards Fisk, when Tom tackled him, and the two went tumbling out the window, knocking Venom onto a lower ledge.
Tom leaped to engage the venomous black spider in close quarters. The two exchanged blows while trying to put the other in a hold. Tom's original strategy of trying to knock him off the building was not working, while the other seemed to be trying to tie him with webbing so he could then inject him with venom. So Tom, adjusting his plan, dropped to a crouch on the ledge. As Venom encircled him with silk, Tom relied on his faster reflexes to keep his legs free and grab onto his attacker. He then jumped with all his might straight up, smashing Venom headfirst into the protruding ledge above them. He then leaped up with his cargo and swung into the open office window.
Tom, freeing himself, went over to see how Connors was faring, lying on the floor, trying to regain his senses. Tom looked back to see Venom rearing for another strike, when two, then three, colourful tranquilizer darts hit him in the neck. Venom reeled, and fell back unconscious. Tom looked to the doorway, to see Markus Vitaly holding a trank gun, shadowed by Gwen. They entered the room, holding their tranquillizer guns at the ready, while Harold Augustus fearfully followed in tow. Gwen swept the scene until she was convinced all immediate threats were neutralized. She then handed Harold a syringe, and said, "Here, inject Connors with this. I have the check out this latest mutation." She carefully walked over to Venom, while Harold gingerly looked for the best way to inject Connors.
"What is this thing?" Gwen crouched down by Venom, but looked up at Tom as she asked the question.
"He's a chimera, just like…" Tom's eyes dropped, but then they both looked towards Connors.
"Well he should be under control for now," she said. "Vitaly here was shooting tranquilizers, but mine were packed with chimera trait restriction serum, same as we injected into Connors." She looked back at Tom, and whispered, "I'm worried. I think he's getting out of control."
Tom looked around. Fisk was nowhere to be seen. "Let's get everyone back to the lab. We need to observe these two," he said, pointing at Venom and the unconscious Punisher. "And we should probably monitor Connors as well."
"But he has the shareholders meeting this afternoon," said Harold, almost in a whine. "Will he be in any shape to make his presentation? If he doesn't show, it could lead to speculation and destabilize confidence in the company."
Tom shrugged. "We'll see."