Tom and Gwen, now working and studying at Oscorp Laboratories, were incredibly busy. It was as if their already intensive education into regenerative medicine had suddenly been shoved into overdrive. But for both of them, they loved every minute.
Tom immersed himself in his research. He secretly kept a photo of Mariah on his laptop, to keep himself orientated. The company, being in a state of upheaval, meant that many were playing politics from the higher-ups down to those who were basically in training like those in the intern bullpen, but Tom tried to ignore these intrigues as much as he could. When something actually significant was happening, Gwen would keep him informed. "Dr. Connors has formed the new board of directors," she said one day. "Most of them share his vision, but I have the feeling that a few of them aren't friendlies." The board had also elected a new President of the company. Guided by Connors' coaching, they brought in Mark Iraklis, former General Counsel and Vice President for Stark Industries, to run a lot of the business operations and basically be Connors' right hand man. Iraklis and Connors had served together in the military in Afghanistan, and had continued being friends. Connors appeared to be trying to put together a board that was as loyal to him as possible, especially since there remained shareholders that reminisced fondly for the days of Norman Osborne, founder of the company.
Two of his fellow interns came over to where Tom was working. "Jones, you coming to Connors' product launch? I hear he's practically turning it into a rock concert." said Kevin.
"He's got all the pharmaceutical companies coming, not to mention all of the shareholders. But we'll be going for the free food." said Ray, as he gave Kevin a high five.
"I think I'm going to pass," said Tom, trying to concentrate on his calculations.
"Jones, do I detect a hint of superiority in your voice? You think by not having a life you can win yourself extra credit? You're new here; so let me give you a piece of advice. This is no different then when Osborne was in charge. When these guys throw these parties like this, if you don't show up then they think you're not a team player. Then they think you're against the company. And then you're out on your tush with nothing."
Tom finally looked up at them; "Thanks I'll keep it in mind."
One of the scientists that Tom did take a liking to was named Toby Auchmann. He was a department head, and was on his way to becoming a well-respected doctor and leader in the company in his own right. Connors had taken a special interest in him, and he had accompanied him to several seminars as Connors assistant. Tom respected Toby as a man of good judgement. Tom saw Toby standing with another department head, named Guy Kasady, and walked over to them. "Are you guys not going to the product launch either?"
"I have a lot of work that I need to finish up," said Toby.
Guy spoke up, "I'm surprised to hear you say that, Toby. Connors would forgive you for not getting your work done, especially if you were behind after going to worship at the altar of his ego in these parties he throws for himself."
"Yeah but you guys must respect what his theories have discovered. I personally am really excited over the possibilities of the research I'm working on." Tom said.
"Be careful where that enthusiasm takes you Tom. Einstein's most brilliant discovery was used to murder millions of people. Some of the stuff we're working on could be very destructive if it fell into the wrong hands." Guy said, as Toby looked on with a grave expression on his face.
"Okay, well, I do have some stuff to finish up with." Tom said slowly edging away. 'I must have been interrupting some kind of intense discussion,' thought Tom. As he walked away, he saw out of the corner of his eye Guy wave Dr. Peter Morgan to come over, a respected biochemist who had been awarded a Nobel prize for his role in the discovery of aquaporins, and the three of them continued talking heatedly in hushed tones.
Tom ended up going with Gwen to the product launch anyway. He had run into some problems in the calculations for the computer model he was creating, and he had decided to ask Dr. Connors directly. After the program, Connors was hobnobbing with many fans thronging around him, always with Mark Iraklis in his shadow. Iraklis seemed to be in his element as well, shaking hands, posing for pictures, and answering questions pertaining to the medication that they had launched to great fanfare. When Tom finally was able to get close to them, he was starting to second-guess whether asking him at the product party was such a good idea. But before he could make an escape, Connors saw him and called him over.
"Mr. Jones, how good of you to come and support our modest celebrations of the future of Oscorp." said Connors, shaking Tom warmly by the hand. "At first I thought that perhaps you had been taken in by Dr. Kasady," referring to Guy. "He works intolerably hard I'm afraid, and that can cause a man to overthink his lot in life. I've seen it many times in students. They start off young and ambitious, but then they turn into dangerous men, both to themselves and to others."
"But this fine Mr. Jones is not one of those, Julian," interjected Iraklis. "And I wouldn't be afraid of Dr. Guy Kasady. He's harmless. Just a dedicated scientist, like the rest of us."
"Well I'm afraid I myself came late to your event because I was struggling with a problem, relating to a project I'm working on," said Tom. "I just can't get the equations to work. It's like there's one missing."
Connors and Iraklis shared a knowing glance. "Could it be your wrestling with the problem of the 'decay rate algorithm?'" Connors asked. "That's remained one of our biggest obstacles in applying transgenesis en vivo, or to live patients. We are able to apply and blend limited transgene information, but inevitably the host DNA defeats and destroys the alien DNA, causing harm to the patient." An image of a photo of Norman Osborne, with his unnaturally bulbous features flashed through Tom's mind. "We've tried it on test subjects before. Best-case scenario, the superior genetic qualities wear off in time, and the subject is left no worse for wear than before. But there are catastrophic possibilities, so we haven't tested extensively and are still grappling with this equation to unlock the full regenerative possibilities. Well keep working, young man, and we'll all pray for a breakthrough."
Tom returned to the lab. He was seriously out of his depth. He considered emailing Beaker, his old college roommate who was a whiz with algorithms, but that would only land him in hot water because of the intellectual security at Oscorp, not to mention their military contracts that they sometimes worked on. One by one the other interns retired for the night, and then Tom was left alone. "I need something to recharge my brain." he said to the empty bullpen. Then an amusing thought occurred to him. He opened up his web browser and googled 'animal brains.' Maybe he could shoot himself up with animal DNA to refresh his mind. Or at least it was a funny diversion. Then his attention was captivated by a study scientists had done into jumping spiders' brains. It was fascinating. They relied on quick and efficient interaction between their tiny brains, eyes, and muscles instead of making spider webs.
'I could analyze spider DNA without any kind of permit." thought Tom. He looked around the building, crawling around the atrium in the centre of the building where there were plenty of plants, and soon bingo! he caught some jumping spiders. Taking them back to the lab, he extracted their cells and analyzed their DNA. Tom worked with the DNA, applying the parts of the equation that he had, and finally extracting the elements of the DNA that he wanted relating to brain function. He also considered including the genes that would greatly increase his body's production of the proteins actin and myosin, which would allow his body to cope with the added stimuli of greatly enhanced cognitive abilities. Increased production of these motor proteins would probably have the side effect of increased strength, which would not be so bad, Tom mused to himself. He entered the equations and placed them into the DNA particle accelerators that they had in the lab, finally creating a serum.
Then he had to prepare an appropriate form of vector, or means of delivering the DNA into his cells. Transduction seemed like the logical choice, and he had the means at his disposal to put the double-stranded spider DNA into an Adenovirus, which would make its way to his own cells and code in the chimeric attributes.
"To science and discovery," Tom declared to the cosmos, as he injected himself with his spider vector.
At first, he didn't feel any different. Then after an hour he started to suffer consequences. He broke into violent sweats. He felt like he was going to throw up all over himself, and started running to the bathroom. 'I think I've made a terrible mistake.' was the last thing he remembers thinking before he passed out.
Tom had many violent dreams; in many of which he was running from assailants that he could never quite outrun. Also, in many of his dreams he felt like he was drowning and then fighting some nefarious but unseen foe. He lay twitching on the floor until suddenly his eyes popped open and he sat up violently.
"Whoa, buddy, what happened to you?" As the world started to slowly come into focus, he recognized the form and voice of Kevin.
"Is he hungover? Smell him for booze, he looks hungover." said Ray. Tom gradually realized that the bullpen was full of the interns. It was morning, and they had all arrived to find him passed out on the floor in a pile of his own vomit.
Kevin took a whiff. "No booze, but it's not pretty. He is very sick. Dude you got to cut back on the Red Bull and twizzlers and actually get some rest," Kevin said, helping him off the floor. Tom slowly walked over to a chair. "Man what were you working on last night? Whatever it was I think it broke your brain." Finally, Tom started to recollect what he had been up to the night before, and started laughing.
"Yeah thanks, I think, um, I think maybe I should take a sick day. I've just been working too hard, you know?" he looked up at Kevin.
"No I don't know actually, but you're right about one thing. You're going home."
Tom made his way back to his dorm room. He threw himself fully clothed onto his bed and settled down for some fitful slumber. Suddenly Tom shot up out of bed. He looked at the time. He had slept for twenty-five hours. "Paper." he mumbled. He looked over at his roommate Marty, who was consumed in a video game. "Paper!" he shouted.
Marty looked over with bleary eyes. "Did you say something, man?"
"I said, give me paper, dammit!" Tom trundled out of bed and starting throwing things around looking for a notebook. When he finally found one, picking it up violently, he manically started scribbling in it like someone possessed. Then, as abruptly as he had started scrawling on the paper, he halted his mad writing, and just stared at the paper, astounded. "Great Caesar's ghost! I've done it." he whispered. Then progressively louder, "I have freaking done it!"
"Do I have to ask you what you've done?" muttered Marty, without taking his eyes off of his computer screen.
Tom continued staring at his paper when there was a knock at the door. Neither Tom nor Marty reacted. Then the knocking came again, but more insistent this time. Marty said, "You going to answer that or what?" Tom gave no response. Finally, Marty got up and went to the door as the knocking came yet again, this time dripping with annoyance. "Alright, I'm coming." Marty said. The sharp rapping on the door suddenly broke Tom out of his reverie, and in a split second and without thinking, he jumped straight up in the air to the ceiling and clung there, hanging upside-down.
Marty opened the door a crack to see who it was and turning around said, "Dude, it's that hot Muslim chick. Dude? Where did you…?
Gwen interrupted Marty's slow-witted stammering. "Hey, if Tom's not here, when you do see him just tell him I came by, okay? Bye."
As Marty closed the door, puzzled, Tom came crashing down on his head from the ceiling. "Hey what the hell man? Why are you smashing around like that?"
"I'm not sure. Something is happening to me." Then Tom remembered his equations. "I have to go. Things to do and people to see." And with that he walked out as Marty stared blankly at the ceiling.
Dr. Julian Connors opened the door of his home to find Tom standing there, looking peaked. "Tom? While I admire enthusiasm in my young interns, I may need to remind you that this is my home and not…"
"I'm very sorry, sir, but I had something I thought I should show you immediately and in person."
"Oh?" Connors took on his most condescending tone. He took the notebook as it was handed to him, and held it at arm's length to read it, sniffing. But then his features suddenly stiffened. "This is…. this is the decay rate algorithm. But how? But who? How did you get this?" He stared at Tom in awe. Tom just shrugged and tapped himself in the temple with a pencil. Connors turned back to examine the equation in more detail. "My god, you've done it. After all this time. Well please come in. You were right to bring it directly to me. We need to keep this confidential until we have had the opportunity to verify our findings. But very good my boy, yes very good indeed. Come see me tomorrow and we will run some tests by producing animal chimeras. And bring your study partner, Miss Stacy. I value her insight very highly."