By Ed Ainsworth
Limp, broken and wrinkled beyond recognition. The ravages of the treatments applied and administered to his own body had taken their toll. Otto Octavius lay on a hospital bed, his breathing coming in short, ragged fringes. The Doctors gathered around him and with the remaining energy in him, he cursed them. Their bland features, inferior intellects. They were asking all sorts of questions when the answer, truly, was obvious.
Massive internal trauma, particularly to the cranial area. He had sustained far too many blows to the head for it to retain any kind of structural stability. Shaving it had been an agonising display of willpower, and even then, the precision exercised by his robotic arms had forced a headache that knocked him down for thirteen hours. He set his teeth on edge and stared up with milky eyes at the young Anaesthetist staring down at him. She asked him something, but the pounding of blood in his ears, from anger and, though he shouldn’t admit it, fear, forced her words from his hearing.
He gasped once, then twice. He felt the weight of his own chest, and his heart like a stone, dropping through his consciousness and through his body. He felt the fringes of his vision crinkle, darken and then, all at once – nothing.
Seemingly, an eternity, and seconds later, Otto’s eyes opened. The pressure in his head was gone. He felt it immediately. It was like stepping down from a mountain in a single leap. The air was cleaner, his breathing easier. Everything was fine again, and he felt smarter, quicker and stronger than he had his entire life.
He stifled a giddy laugh and sat up. He could sit up, immediately. His laugh grew almost manic.
A moment later he looked down. This was not his body, he was sure of it.
His laugh died in a tight, constricted gurgle in his throat.
This was not his body. The corner of his mouth corner, and a growl built across his throat.
He did not belong here. This was not his body.
Lithe, and strong, full of power and potential, this body was a spring, coiled and poised for release. His other body, the one he had spent the entirety of his life in, was less a spring and more of a sponge. Absorbent of information, indeed, but also of life, of depression, of pain and of weight. He touched his stomach experimentally and found that it was hard, firm, and toned. Not flaccid and sprawling as his previous body had been. He put a finger to his mouth to feel himself, his face.
He sat up and closed his eyes in quiet fury and desperation. Not his body. He was trapped in a temple of perfection, physical perfection. How he longed to be something else. To be, at least a strange facsimile of himself. He was used to pudgy, of spare weight and excess momentum. He was comforted by the movements of his body in motion.
The face before him was one he had come to recognise over the years. He had dated the Aunt, even almost marrying her.
“Peter Parker,” he said to himself in a voice not his own. He cursed himself silently.
“Yes,” a voice said behind him. Otto spun around, throwing a fist out with far more power, and far more skill behind it than that of a normal human. The man, whose brown beard was split by a broad grin, twisted his head slightly, the fist pulsing past. He caught Otto’s wrist, lowering it. He slid his free hand into Otto’s and shook his hand fiercely.
“Otto,” the man said,”Truce. I’m here to help you.”
“How…?” Otto felt the weight of his intellect churning. This individual did this to him. Made him…not himself. “You did this to me. Take me back.”
The man bowed his head, and crossed his hands behind his back, in mock reverence.
“There is no back, I’m afraid. You died, or rather, your body expired.”
“I..” Otto knew that something along the lines had happened, but he didn’t expect to be confronted with his own mortality in such a blunt fashion. He took a step back, rocking on heels that adhered themselves to the floor.
“I died…What is this…?”
Moments later, Otto shook his head. He rubbed the heels of his palms into his eyes and sat back down on the bed.
“Hellish, isn’t it? Cursed to live out eternity trapped in the body of an arrested adolescent.”
The brown haired man laughed and put his hands into his suit pockets.
Otto stepped forward and reached out for him.
“No,” he said, stepping backwards, “No touching, Otto.”
Otto balled his fists and took two confident steps towards him.
“Tell me why not, Stranger? Explain to me how you have put me in the body of Peter Parker and left me in this Hellish existence. Surges of…I don’t know what…within me.”
The man laughed, and ran a hand through his beard, experimentally, as though he was unsure what it was and how it felt.
“My name is Nathaniel Richards, but you can call me Qeng.”
“No, with a “Q” Like, Kweng.” Nathaniel shook his head, “Forget it. The point is, I am here, to offer you a second chance at this. A second chance at being a better you.”
Otto twitched, narrowing an eye.
“What is this? A deal with Heaven,” Otto narrowed both of his eyes, a tortured second of realisation on his lips, “Or Hell.”
Nathaniel spread his arms out and gestured, expansively.
“What if I said, neither?”
Otto rolled a shoulder in deference and turned away, to look at his new face in the mirror.
“I would hazard, that even if I were prone to theological bouts of fiction, that a deal with the Devil would be entirely more likely than a deal with God. I am, or rather was, less than the ideal candidate for heaven. I understand that, Qeng. I understand I was not a good man.”
Nathaniel pulled his hands from his pockets, and cracked his fingers, as though preparing for something significant.
“Peter Parker, you know him?”
Otto crossed his arms.
“I know him. I am him, currently, am I not?”
“Something like that.
Otto sighed, and walked to a wall, touching it experimentally and adhering to it.
Nathaniel grinned and walked over to the Window of Parker’s bedroom. Otto found that some of the details were realising themselves to him. Posters on the wall, of scientists or memes. Books stacked on a desk about physics, and biology. Spiders.
“Oh, what a fool I have been all these years,” He said quietly, “A weakling wouldn’t have a body like this. Instead, he hit it under shirts and jumpers. Baggy clothes. He hid from everyone, in plain sight.”
Otto crawled up the wall and hung in place.
“He is Spider-Man.”
Otto turned to Nathaniel.
“Why do this? What fresh torture is this, to know that the man whom led to my death, to my defeats, to the loss of everything, was a boy. A stripling. An impotent child.”
Nathaniel waggled a finger.
“Clearly not that impotent if he beat you senseless on hundreds of occasional, Otto.”
The man clinging to the wall bared his teeth and leapt the distance in a second. His fist passed through the air, missing Qeng. Qengs own fist materialised in Otto’s abs, knocking him off course and into a wardrobe.
“Stop it. You are important, Otto. You’ve clever, exceptionally so. I, myself, am a scientist, although rather more…Chronally focused. I have need of someone like you, more importantly, I want you specifically. Someone who understands loss, and can see things from the other side of the track, if you understand my veiled reference towards your criminal inclination. I want to offer you something.”
Otto stared at him hard for a long moment.
“I am listening.”
Nathaniel cleared his throat.
“I need a chief scientist at Alchemax, which I own, run and utilise the profits for rather more…expansive experimentation. I need someone who understands heroes, who…could in the right circumstances…be a hero?”
Otto scoffed loudly, and looked down at the body he wore.
“You think that I could be a hero? That I could represent something other than my own needs and desires?”
Nathaniel quirked a smile.
“Otto, I think you fundamentally misunderstand heroes. They do things for their own needs and desire, but they’re tempered against the needs of the many, not the needs of the few. You want to be recognised as one of the greatest scientists in the world, correct?”
Otto met his eyes immediately.
“So do something that means you meet their requirements. Design robotic limbs, for example, that are cheap to produce, and you’ve solved a crisis the world has been sitting on because…There isn’t a profit in it. Cure a disease. Destroy Climate change.”
Qeng stepped forward and offered a hand again to Otto.
“You think you’re Superior to Spider-Man, don’t you?”
Otto nodded once.
“So, be the Superior Octopus,” Nathaniel said with a dry grin.
Otto was not swayed and grinned Nathaniel’s hand. Alarm began to ring up his forearm.
“You were Kang the Conqueror weren’t you?”
“Perhaps,” Nathaniel said with a not-quite nonchalant enough shrug.
“Ruler of Time and Eternity, and you’re wanting to play Superhero in the 20th Century. You are insane.”
“And you are Dead.”
Otto felt his breath catch.
“How?” he said, after over a minute of silence.
“This body…” Nathaniel said, pulling his hand away and gesturing, “Isn’t Peter Parkers. It is, in fact, a fully stable clone, mixed with some elements of your DNA. You have all the Spider-Man power set, but it’s your brain in there.”
Otto narrowed his eyes again.
“A Second chance? I will not be beholden to your whims, Qeng. I will not be trapped inside your morality, or your wishes because I owe you this body.”
Qeng quirked an eyebrow.
“Paranoid little man aren’t you? Desperate not to feel inferior,” Qeng grinned, “All I ask is that you, the Superior Octopus, assist myself and other associates within this little…Cabal. You help me, and I’ll get you want you want most from life.”
Otto’s mouth became a thin line.
Nathaniel blew air out the corner of his mouth.
“Tough sell,” he said, “You want to be recognised, Otto. You want your ego stroked, and you want people to understand you’re clever.”
Nathaniel took another step forward and put a hand on his shoulder.
“More importantly, your Father beat you, and your Mother was the only person in your life who loved you. I see you, Otto Octavius. I see you for who you are. More than anything you want people to love you and the slide you had into being Doctor Octopus was because more and more people viewed you as pathetic, fat and disgusting. As a waste of space. As a smart man but a not very nice one. You let your Father rule your life.”
Nathaniel removed his hand and walked to the bedroom door. He opened it up, to reveal a chrome clad room behind it.
“Otto Octavius, the fat, malformed victim is dead. Doctor Octopus is no more. The hate filled criminal is currently messing itself and slowly beginning to decompose on a medical table. Otto, do you want to come with me? Do you want a chance to try and be the Otto Octavius who is loved? Who has a purpose in the world? Who sees the good in things, and is capable of loving people? Do you want to really, truly be the Superior Octopus instead of…this?”
Otto stared at Nathaniel in shocked silence, quietly cursing the man for his perfect, but classic villains monologue. He closed his eyes and walked towards Nathaniel.
“Yes,” he said and stepped through the door.