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Amazing Spiderman

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Issue #26
March 2013

"Twist of Fate"

Written by Andrew Gabriel

spider-man mj

Ryker’s Island Super-Powered Containment Facility.

            “Aleksei Sytsevich.”

            The voice seemed like nothing more than a gust of wind.

            “Hey dumb ass!  You deaf or something?”

            The gust of wind quickly turned into a torrent of anger in the mind of Aleksei Sytsevich.  He was ripped from the quiet solace of his dreams, and thrown back into the depressing reality of his situation by the guard’s harsh words.

            “You have two seconds to get your ass out of that bed, or I’m revoking your recreation hour for…”

            “I’m up,” Aleksei muttered, still pulling himself from sleep, as his enormous body stirred in the bed.  “I’m up.”

            “Then let’s go,” the guard hissed angrily.

            Aleksei heard the sound of the ten massive metal locks that held the door to his small, solitary cell closed slowly begin to whine open at the electronic request of the impatient guard outside.  He gingerly took the moment’s time that it took for the immense cell door to groan open to stretch, and he couldn’t help but smile as he recalled the dream he had been pulled so abruptly from.

            This dream, like all of the sleeping visions he had experienced as of late, had been extremely peaceful, leaving him with feelings of happiness and warmth.  The total opposite of the nightmares he used to suffer from day in and day out, usually revolving around the series of agonizing chemical treatments and surgeries that he had underwent years before while in his homeland of Russia; the experiments that had successfully turned him forevermore into the form of…

            “The Rhino is about to go mobile,” the guard said into his walkie, as the door continued its slow progression.

            “Copy”, Aleksei heard a muffled voice reply from the machine.

            As the door finally finished pulling open, the man that had become known as the rampaging, unstoppable Rhino couldn’t help but smile at the thought that his change in subconscious visions had been the direct result of his recent near-death experience, only weeks before; a state that he had been dealt by none other than his old enemy, the super-hero known as Spider-Man.

            This hero, stronger than he had ever been before when the two had faced, had angrily beaten him to within an inch of his life.  Then, with a speed and power that the Rhino had never known the masked vigilante to possess, he hammered a punch into Aleksei’s grey, armored chest…and had stopped his heart.  Spider-Man had killed him.  He had felt himself lifted upwards, floating free of the armored costume that had become both the source of his strength and his unending prison.  He could see his physical form lying on the street below, in full cardiac arrest, the sounds of ambulances ringing somewhere in the background.

            A typical ‘out-of-body’ experience he would later assume, but the tranquility of it felt so real.  Aleksei Sytsevich knew that he was on his way to a better place…yet something was wrong.  He knew…instinctively almost…that he didn’t deserve the peace and calm that was now beaconing to him.  He knew that he would be unable to accept such a gift, because of the sins of his past; acts that were now playing before his eyes like some horrid movie of guilt.  Suddenly, he felt his ethereal self pulled back to his physical body.  The paramedics had succeeded in restarting his still heart.  Though he was immediately restrained and put under armed guard once he had returned to the physical realm, the Rhino knew that it wasn’t necessary.  He wouldn’t try and escape.  Something had changed within him during those few minutes of ‘death’, something that made him realize the long, unending mistake that his life had been.

            “Start walking,” the guard said gruffly.  “You know the routine.”

            The Rhino slowly moved the grey bulk that was his body out of the cell and down the hall, a routine march that he had become accustomed to during his latest stay in this prison.  He didn’t mind though, it seemed, which was shocking to say the least.  His previous imprisonments had been met with angry rages and outbursts that had earned him loss of privileges and worse.  This time was different though.  Aleksei seemed to be almost content with the fact that this penitentiary would probably be his home for the rest of his life, because of the myriad of crimes he had committed over the years.  He seemed to be resigned to his punishment, comfortable with the fact that he needed to pay for his sins.

            “Death changes you.”

            “What,” the guard questioned, staying a good distance behind the hulking prisoner as he walked, tapping a large, augmented cattle prod in his hand that contained enough power to take down a raging bull elephant.

            “Death.  A near-death experience, I should say…it changes you.  Makes you realize what you have never been able to before,” the Rhino spoke, almost gently, his head never turning to face his keeper as he walked.

            “Yeah…that’s great,” the guard scoffed.  “I’m glad you’re finding Jesus and all that.  Can’t say I give a s***, so shut up and keep walking.”

            The Rhino merely nodded and kept his silence for the rest of the march.  It was true what he had said to the guard, though.  An experience like that changes a person.  Aleksei knew that all too well now.  It was a shame, though, that this realization had come so late in an already wasted life, he thought.

            “The Rhino has arrived at the rec area,” the guard again spoke into his walkie, while activating another massive door that slowly began to open.

            The ‘recreation area’ was nothing more than a large, plain, gymnasium-sized room with a basketball court, various exercise equipment, and a game and reading area.  The ‘cheap outdoor feel’ that it had often been referred to by the inmates, came courtesy of a bulletproof, reinforced Plexiglas roof that allowed the midday sun’s rays to filter down over the room.

            The walls were coated in vibranium, which, thanks to its natural ability to absorb vibratory energy, made it nearly impossible to break through, which allowed the inmates that spent their free time here to roam without shackles and without the prison’s enforcers having to worry about the possibility of escape attempts.  Still though, for added insurance, the room was ringed along the top with a metal catwalk, on which stood heavily armed guards every one hundred feet.  This would be a rather difficult room to escape, if the notion had even crossed Aleksei’s mind, which it didn’t.

            The hour of recreation time slid by slowly, as it usually did.  Each minute felt as if it were ten, as Aleksei consciously enjoyed every moment of each day’s ‘free’ time. Normally, the Rhino would take full advantage of the room’s activities, but today, he merely felt like sitting and thinking in the ‘reading’ area, which was composed of two small tables bolted to the floor, accompanied by chairs, and a thin book shelf, packed with used books.  The telepathic mutant villain known as Mentallo asked him to play chess, but he declined.  Bulldozer and Piledriver, two quarters of the incarcerated Wrecking Crew, tried to pull him into a game of basketball, but again he politely declined, much to their chagrins.

            He just scowled in thought for this hour, which was odd for Aleksei these days.  Though he was at peace with enduring the time he had earned in the prison, at that moment, regret began to enter his thoughts; regret that he would never have the chance to thank the man that had sent him on that involuntary path to redemption via the afterlife.

            “Hey…hey.  You busy,” another voice interrupted him.

            Aleksei looked up at the whisper, forced from is thoughts yet again.

            “No,” he replied.  “Though I’d rather be left alone, Sanders.”

            “Hey man…I won’t bother you,” James Sanders, the super-powered criminal known as Speed Demon said in a hushed tone, putting his palms out in submission.  “Just wanted to let you know to keep your eyes and ears open.  The ‘freedom run’ is going to happen soon, my friend, soon.”

            Speed Demon nonchalantly walked away from the Rhino and Aleksei returned to his thoughts.  This ‘freedom run’ was none of his concern.  It was just another in a long line of badly codenamed escape attempts that the inmate rumor mill spread on a weekly basis to give themselves hope that they would indeed have ‘freedom’ once again.  Plans like ‘Walk Away’ and ‘Run like Hell’ were almost always failures, though there was the occasional success story.

            The Rhino no longer wanted any of that.

            Recreation hour came and went, bringing with it the long hours in between exercise and dinnertime.  The day’s meager portion of prison food was slid into his room by the guard, right on schedule as usual, but Aleksei found himself unable to eat this night.  His newly peaceful mind had become stuck on the regretful thought that had plagued him since the recreation area that day.  He sighed when the call for ‘lights out’ came at 10 o’clock that night, as usual, right on schedule.  The Rhino tried to force the remorseful thoughts from his mind, as he closed his eyes, lying on his back on a reinforced bed that was much too small for his bulk.  Eventually, though, the call of peaceful, happy dreams overtook him, and Aleksei fell into a deep sleep.

            This time, it was the sound of wailing sirens that startled him from his dreams.  His cell was dark, save for the flashing of red light that splashed his room like blood from the emergency lights in the hall outside.  He pulled himself up from the bed to peer out of the small windows of his cell, and could see shadowy figures running up and down the corridor, the sounds of shouts, screams, and gunshots filling the air.  It seemed ‘Freedom Run’ was indeed underway this night.  Aleksei merely shook his head and sighed, before he lay back down on the bed.

            Then, a familiar screech of turning metal and the groan that followed filled his cell.  He lifted his head to see his cell door opening, and a blurred human form rushed into his room at amazing speed.

            “Come on man!  We’re doing this!  Let’s go!”

            “I don’t want any part of this, Sanders,” Aleksei growled.  “You should do the same, before the guards beat you without mercy.”

            “Are you kidding me man,” Speed Demon laughed.  “We are kicking their butts!  They can’t hold us anymore!  We’re outta here!”

            “Then go.  I already told you, I’ll have no part in this,” he responded, waving off the criminal speedster.

            “Has your brain died in that gray helmet of yours,” James Sanders asked bewildered.  “You don’t want the chance to get out of here and give that web slinging f*** Spider-Man the ‘thank you’ he deserves for sticking you in here?”

            And just like that, the Rhino’s eyes opened wide as he came to a grand realization.  A smile formed across his face, and he again pulled his massive body from the bed.

            “Yes…yes, I would like that indeed.”

********************

The Apartment of Peter & Mary Jane Parker, Greenwich Village, Manhattan, New York.

            “Well look at you,” Peter Parker said with a laugh.  “Nicely done!”

            “Dad, I’m just changing a light bulb.”

            “Changing a light bulb, yes,” Peter said from where he hung on the ceiling next to his daughter, wearing a pair of jeans and a blue, button down shirt.  “But you’re doing it with your feet, while sticking to the ceiling with your left hand, and texting on your cell phone with your right!  Impressive!”

            May Parker just shook her head and laughed, as she finished screwing in the bulb of her bedroom ceiling light with her pink and black polished toes.  Her father had been making her do weird chores like this for the past few weeks, since they moved into the new apartment; their new home.  He claimed that he just wanted to see what the extent of her ‘spider-like abilities’ were.  May, on the other hand, seemed to think that he was just giving her chores to do creatively.

            “Now, I want to see if you can vacuum this rug, while walking on the ceiling.  I think that…”

            Suddenly, his words turned into a yell of surprise, and May looked up from her Iphone just in time to see her father fall from the ceiling and land headfirst into the basket of laundry that his teenage daughter had, thankfully, carelessly dropped in the middle of her room with a loud ‘thud’.

            “Dad!  Are you alright,” she asked, trying not to laugh.

            The hero known as Spider-Man lifted his head from the laundry, a bra hanging over one eye, nodding his head.

            “Yeah…Yeah, I’m fine,” he muttered, pulling the garment from his head, forcing a smile onto his face to show his daughter that he found it funny as well.

            The fact was, however, that he didn’t find it funny.  He was actually becoming quite frustrated…and scared…over these occurrences that had been happening with more frequency; he was losing his powers, for small periods of time, without any warning.  It was a prolonged side effect of his use of the mutant-growth hormone that he had taken weeks before.

            He had regretted taking the highly unstable drug, but he knew it had been necessary.  It was the only thing that had allowed him to survive and overcome the deadly obstacles that had been thrown at him by his old enemy, Norman Osborn, the Green Goblin; it was the only thing that had allowed him to save his family…and his long-lost daughter…

            He winced, rubbing his head as a sharp headache made his left temple throb, another wonderful withdrawal effect of his short-lived drug use, and the soreness that he now felt through his body, which hadn’t entirely recovered from the injuries he had received quite yet.  He had to admit, this sucked.

            “Hey, everything all right in here,” Mary Jane Parker asked, knocking on the partially opened door.  “I heard a bang.”

            “Yeah, Dad just lost his powers again, and tried to where my bra as a hat,” May giggled, as she flipped off the ceiling, landing feet first on the floor.

            “Yep.  Funny girl,” Peter answered.

            “Just like her father,” Mary Jane said with a smile, kissing her husband on the cheek.  “Come on though, Aunt May says breakfast is ready.”

            “Sweet,” May said, putting a pair of TOMS-brand slippers over her multi-colored socks, continuing to text on her phone, as she adjusted the pair of red and white boxers and the ‘One Direction’ shirt she was wearing.

            “Who are you talking to this early,” Mary Jane asked, giving her daughter a kiss on the forehead as she passed.

            “Friends from school, mommy,” May said, walking down the hall, barely looking up.

            “Well, you better put that away before you sit at the table.  Aunt May’s not in the best of moods today.”

            “Why, what’s her problem,” Peter asked, still rubbing his temple.  “Her Metamucil not working?”

            “Yeah, you should have saved that one for her face,” Mary Jane quipped with a smirk, as she and her husband walked out of the room.  “I’d love to see her smack you upside your head this morning.”

            “Young lady, I will not ask you again!”

            Peter and Mary Jane walked into the kitchen to the stern voice of the normally pleasant matriarch of the Parker family.  She was at the stove, putting a helping of scrambled eggs onto a plate, while staring at the young May, who was still busy texting at the kitchen table.

            “Lighten up,” May said, furrowing her brow.  “I’m not doing anything wrong…”

            “Jesus Christ,” Peter said, shaking his head.  “I’m just going to grab something on the road…”

            “You will sit your butt down, Peter Parker, and eat what I serve you,” Aunt May responded, turning on him like a cat.

            “Yes ma’am,” Peter muttered, a little shocked, and he and Mary Jane walked to the table and sat down.

            “What is her problem,” Peter whispered to Mary Jane as they sat.

            “She’s moving out soon, and she’s just a little stressed.  She just wants to make sure that we are going to be able to get by without her,” M.J. explained, before she turned to whisper angrily to her daughter.  “Please put that away for me.  Now.”

            May Parker had made the decision not to rebuild the Forest Hills home that had been burned to the ground by the ‘Sinister Six’, on the orders of Osborn, where she had spent decades of her life with her late husband, Ben; where she had taken in and raised a young Peter Parker.  She felt it was time to move on, and had given a large portion of the money she had received from the insurance claim to her nephew to purchase an apartment for his growing family.

            However, shortly after moving into the comfortable, new, three bedroom apartment in Greenwich Village, Aunt May had announced that she was going to move out on her own, in order to give the family some much needed alone time.  In her words, ‘you don’t need an old woman hanging around’.

            “Why do I have to,” May complained, twirling a strand of her brunette hair around her finger that had fallen from the loose bun she wore.  “She’s not my mom…”
            In the weeks since the Parker’s had found out that this teenage girl was really the baby that they thought had died at birth only a few short years before, May and M.J. had comfortably, and quite quickly, fallen into your normal mother/daughter relationship, much to Peter’s happiness, as well as his frustration.  As May’s words left her lips, he cringed at what was to follow.

            Before Mary Jane could move her lips to scold the girl, Aunt May pounced.

            “You listen to me, May Parker,” the old woman hollered, nearly throwing the plate of eggs and bacon that she held at her nephew, as she stared at May.  “You will follow my rules, while you live under MY roof, and you will respect what I ask of you…”

            “Then why don’t you move out already,” May shot back, instantly realizing her mistake.

            Aunt May sucked in air like she hadn’t taken a breath in ten minutes, placing a hand to her chest as she did, completing her display of utter shock.

            “Aunt May…I..I’m sorry…”

            “Go to your room, May,” Mary Jane said, as calmly as she could.

            “But Mom,” May pleaded.

            “Go to your room, May Parker.  Right. Now,” Aunt May said sternly, breathing heavily, still in shock.

            Young May looked from her astonished aunt, to her disappointed mother, to her father, who was busy picking chunks of scrambled eggs from his shirt.  Tears began to well up in her eyes, and she threw the phone on the table, before storming off to her room.

            “Well, that was interesting,” Peter announced, picking a final piece of egg from his shirt.  “Somebody want to tell me what the hell that was all about?”

            “May, I’m sorry,” Mary Jane said, shaking her head at her husband.  “Teenage outbursts, I guess.  I’ll go talk to her…”

            “No…No, Mary Jane, dear,” May said, holding up a hand as M.J. got up.  “I’ll go talk to her.  I shouldn’t have been so rough with her.”

            “Aunt May, what’s wrong,” Peter said, getting up to console his elderly aunt, as he saw tears begin to flow from her eyes.  “Tell me what’s got you so upset.”
            “I received a call today,” May said, beginning to cry, as Peter took her in his arms.  “They sold the property Peter.  They sold our home…the home where I wanted to grew old with your Uncle Ben…”

            The old woman trailed off, as Peter held her, his eyes meeting Mary Jane’s in sad understanding.

            After Aunt May had calmed down, she had gone to the younger May’s room, where the two apologized to each other, and hugged, after the elder May had explained her actions.  Peter sat in the living room, after he had kissed Mary Jane goodbye, before she left for her part-time job at the Senior Center, peering down the hall over this morning’s edition of the ‘Daily Bugle’.  He saw Aunt May exit from the teen’s room, before she walked across the hall to her own, still visibly upset.  May came down the hall a few minutes later, and sat cross-legged next to her father on the couch.

            “Did you two hug it out,” Peter asked, putting an arm around his daughter.

            She nodded.

            “She loves you, you know.  She loves all of us…probably too much for her own good.”

            Again, the girl just nodded, and the two sat silent for several moments, before Peter spoke again, his eyes hitting an article about a new store in the ‘Diamond District’.

            “Hey, I have an idea.”

            “What’s that,” May said sullenly.  “You going to make me clean the windows, hanging upside-down by one foot?”

            “No, silly,” he said, smiling.  “Though that would be a good test for later.”

            She smacked his arm, pushing him away.

            “No, seriously.  Mom and I have a little money put aside that’s just burning a hole in our pockets,” Peter quipped.  “Why don’t you and I go up to the Diamond District and pick out a little something to make Aunt May feel better…and maybe a little something for you to.”

            May’s eyes lit up and she looked at her father with a smile of joy that only a teenage girl, ready to go shopping, could produce.

********************

A pay-by-the-hour motel in Hell’s Kitchen, Manhattan, New York.

            “That’s friggin’ it!  I’m done!”
            Herman Schultz paced the floor of his rented, run-down motel room, racking his brain, trying to determine his best course of action.

            “I swear to God, I’m getting the f*** out of this city for good,” he announced to the otherwise empty room.

            He had been doing this for the last hour or so, as if trying to convince himself that he was, in fact, done with being the criminal known as the Shocker; that he was done having his ass handed to him at every turn by one super-hero or another.  For the last couple of months, he had been convalescing under heavy guard at Ryker’s Island, recovering from massive injuries he had received from…from…

            “F***,” he screamed, smacking himself in the head, angered that he was still unable to remember anything before he had been hired to go to a school and murder some teacher.

            He couldn’t even remember who he had hired him, never mind who he had been sent to kill…never mind who had beat him mercilessly, leaving him with more broken bones, concussions, and lacerations than he had received in his entire criminal career!

            That time period was nothing but a blur to him, and there was even a small partial memory that he had been tossed from a window by a teenage girl!  F****** nuts, he thought.  The prison doctors claimed that he may or may not ever regain his memories again.

            “F*** them,” he hollered, again to the otherwise vacant room, kicking a small plastic garbage can.

            The move sent a searing pain through his leg; a leg that had suffered a dislocated knee, before being shattered completely.  He was now complimented with metal rods running up and down both lower limbs.

            “God damn it,” he screamed, falling onto the bed.

            He rubbed his temples, his head beginning to pound.  He didn’t care if he ever remembered the last few months.  He just didn’t care.  He had been given the chance to make a run for it, and he was going to take it.  During the night before, a rumored escape attempt within Ryker’s Super-Powered Containment Facility called ‘Freedom Run’ had taken place.  The riots that followed turned out to be so big that they spilled over into the regular cellblocks of Ryker’s Island Prison.

            Still within the relatively low guarded hospital section, the Shocker, though still not entirely up to par, took the opportunity to escape with a large chunk of other inmates.  Some made it out, some didn’t, but he had been one of the lucky ones, and he wasn’t going to mess this up.
            He was ready for retirement; he was ready to leave it all behind, and move to Tijuana, Mexico, where he would spend the rest of his years indulging himself in relaxation, tequila, and whores.  He had earned it, after all, he thought, that was for sure.  And he had enough money set aside in different places to make it happen.  Unfortunately, after spending the last few hours collecting the funds from around the city, he realized that it wasn’t quite enough to live the way he wanted, for as long as he wanted.

            Herman Schultz was now racking his brain, determined to come up with one last, easy hit that would pay off big, and give him the money he needed to leave this rotten town in style.  Was he greedy?  F*** yes, he thought, but he deserved it too, as he held his last remaining pair of vibro-smashers in his hand.

            “I deserve this,” he muttered, trying to calm his mind.  “I deserve this…”

            He trailed off as he turned his head onto an open newspaper, his eyes falling upon an article on the ‘Diamond District’ of Manhattan.  He took the paper into his hands, reading about one of the newest and most expensive stores that had recently opened up, touting ‘one of the biggest collections of diamonds in the United States’.

            “Son of a bitch,” he muttered.  “Look at this f****** gift from the f******gods.”

********************
Tarington & Sons Jewels, the Diamond District of Manhattan, New York.

            When Peter Parker told his daughter that he and Mary Jane had extra money just waiting to be spent, he couldn’t have been further from the truth.  The fact was, they had very little left over from the money that Aunt May had given them to buy and furnish their new apartment from the settlement that she had been granted for her former home in Forrest Hills.  Still, Peter knew that the women in his life had been going through a lot lately, and, though he swore if his wallet could speak, it would cry in agony in this new, ritzy jewelry store, Peter was determined to please them as best he could.

            “Oh Dad,” May said, her face pressed against the glass of a case.  “Look at that!  It’s beautiful!”

            He felt his wallet shudder in distress as he leaned over and looked at the price.

            “A wee bit out of my price range,” he said, pulling his daughter away from the stand.  “Plus it looks a little bit gaudy.  Let’s see what else we can find…and keep it below something that I’d have to sell myself in order to pay off.”

            May chuckled, and the two continued to make their way through the bustling new jewelry store.  The shop was two stories, surrounded almost entirely by floor to ceiling windows which allowed those passing on the street to view the high-priced items inside, and perhaps coax just a few more into the already crammed store.

            “Let’s check this out,” May said, pulling on Peter’s coat sleeve, as she eyed an emerald necklace that looked as if it would way down an elephant.  “This would look great on Aunt May!”

            “I don’t think she’d be able to lift her head with it on,” Peter answered, feeling as if his poor wallet was beginning to boil in his back pocket.  “Let’s…”

            He stopped himself, looking around the store.  He could have sworn his spider-sense had tingled…but then the sensation passed just as quickly.  Or he thought it had, at least.  He may have been imagining it, since his powers had been giving him such problems lately.  He scanned the store, almost willing his extrasensory perception to engage again.

            There were so many people, but one did catch his eye.  A man in wearing a sweatshirt with its hood up, and a trench coat on top had entered the store.  Suspicious to say the least to anyone walking around, and it seemed security had already locked onto him, as two dark suited men approached him.

            “C’mon Dad…let’s go over here,” May said, pulling her father’s sleeve again, as he continued to watch the suspicious man and the security guards.  “I want to…”

            Suddenly, the sound of a blast filled the air, followed by the unmistakable smell of burning flesh, as all heads turned to face the hooded man, who had turned and attacked one the guards.

            “STAY THE F*** AWAY FROM ME AND DO WHAT I SAY AND NOBODY HAS TO DIE,” the man hollered, jumping onto the nearest display case, while throwing off the hood of the sweatshirt, revealing a yellow mask underneath.  “THE SHOCKER’S JUST GOING TO DO A LITTLE SHOPPING!”

            “Son of a b****,” Peter muttered to himself, his eyes rapidly counting the number of potential victims there were in this crowded store.

            The Shocker jumped behind the counter, and shattered the glass with his vibro-smasher, beginning to fill a white clothe bag with all kinds of jewelry.  From where Peter stood, he could see that the villain seemed to be limping terribly, obviously still nursing the wounds he had suffered in recent weeks.

            “Dad…that’s the guy who attacked me and Mom in the hospital,” May said, as Peter pulled her around the corner of a vacant display area for cover.

            “I know,” he replied, quickly unbuttoning his shirt to reveal a spider insignia over a webbed costume underneath.  “Some people just don’t know when to quit.”

            “I can help,” May said, realizing her father was quickly changing into his Spider-Man costume.  “I…”

            “No,” Peter said quietly, thankful that all eyes were locked on the Shocker as he and his daughter ducked behind the empty sales area, and he slipped on his mask.  “You stay here.  Understood?  This shouldn’t take long at all.  He’s still injured from the last time.”

            “HEY IDIOT,” Spider-Man said, vaulting over the case, and sprinting towards the Shocker.  “Looks like your luck is nothing but bad today…”

            Spidey leapt over another display, as the Shocker turned to face him, and let his right foot ram into the villain’s stomach.  “As usual.”

            Something wasn’t right.  That kick should have sent the Shocker flying into the next display case, ending this battle before it started.  But it didn’t.  Schultz staggered backwards, the wind knocked out of him, but he stayed on his feet.

            “Wh-what’s the hell was that, f*****?  You kick like a little friggin’ girl,” Shocker said, smirking under his mask.  “Let me show you how it’s done.”

            As the shoppers began to panic and flee from the store as the fighting started, weakness filled his body, as Spider-Man quickly realized his powers had failed him again…at the worst possible moment.  The Shocker let lose with both vibro-smashers, and Peter banked to avoid them, but with no power, his body moved too slow.

            This was going to hurt, Peter thought.

********************

A rundown apartment in the Alphabet City neighborhood of Manhattan, New York.

            The one-room cesspit was just as he had left it, weeks before his latest incarceration.  The walls were still adorned with flowered wallpaper, peeling dreadfully, stained yellow with nicotine.  The beat-up mattress that he had slept on while awaiting orders from Norman Osborn was still lying on the floor, a thin sheet thrown down on top of it, and the colony of roaches that he had shared this living space with were still scurrying everywhere that the rays of light that shone in from the ratty curtains on the windows met the shadows of the apartment.

            The only sound, save for the wailing cries of a baby next door that flowed through the paper-thin walls as if they weren’t even there, came from the hiss of the police scanner that he had perched on the window sill, in order to ensure that he wouldn’t be hulled off to prison before he had accomplished his goal.

            Aleksei couldn’t care less though, as he sat in an old easy chair in a corner of the room.  This is where he had spent the last few hours, lost in thought.  The escape from Ryker’s had been a surprising success, much to his amazement, and he had made it out without having to unnecessarily killing any of the guards, which eased his new state of mind to know end.  He had spent the rest of the night picking his way cautiously through Manhattan, until he had made it back to what he had called home before his life-changing experience.

            It was the only place he could call ‘home’ at the moment, and it was serving the purpose of what the Rhino needed it for now, as a place to think, and figure out how he was going to catch the attention of Spider-Man.  Surely, any move he made would be met with understood hostility.  The hero would never believe that one of his oldest enemies was now coming in peace.  He certainly didn’t know where he lived, and even if he did, that would surely be met with an even worse display of anger from Spider-Man.

            He pounded his fist into the arm of the chair in frustration, crushing the wood underneath in the process.  He had been given this chance final chance to make amends, and now it seemed to be met with failure, because he didn’t know how to find the man!  Aleksei couldn’t help but laugh at himself though.  In the past, it seemed Spider-Man was always there when he didn’t want him to be.  Always.  Never failed.  Now, when he actually wanted to find him, he couldn’t find a way that wouldn’t end up with the two trying to pummel each other into submission…

            “…We have a 211 in progress at the corner of 47th and 5th in the Diamond District,” the scanner hissed.

            The Rhino lifted his head slightly at the sound.

            “…Suspect is the criminal known as the Shocker, recently escaped from Ryker’s Island.  Proceed with caution.  Suspect is said to be armed and highly dangerous…”

            For the second time in twenty-four hours, Aleksei’s eyes opened wide with realization, and he smiled at the gift he had just been given.

********************

Tarington & Sons Jewels, the Diamond District of Manhattan, New York.

            Spider-Man let out a scream of pain, as the combined blast from both of the Shocker’s weapons hit him.  He had been able to push his powerless body enough to avoid the full brunt of the assault, but it still managed to catch him on his left side, hurtling him through a glass case.  ‘Not as easy as it used to be’, was the thought that ran through his head, from a certain sequel he had seen a couple years ago, as he slowly pulled himself up, wincing from pieces of crushed glass in his back.

            “What’s the matter?  You getting’ old you f****** loser?”

            “It-It’s not the years…it’s the mileage,” Spider-Man retorted.
            “I’ll tell you something,” Shocker said, visibly limping over to Spider-Man.  “This is another gift from the f****** gods!  My last gig before I leave this hellhole, and I get to take out Spider-Man in the process!  F****** fantastic!”

            Spider-Man tried to pull himself up to fight, but found that it was much harder than expected.  Damn his powers for leaving him so defenseless, as the Shocker moved in for the kill.

            “Sayonara,” Schultz said.  “See you in hell…”

            “Back off!”

            In the blink of an eye, before the words even had time to register in his head, the Shocker’s face met a foot that sent him reeling over the counter.  Spider-Man looked on in shock as his daughter ran to help him.  She had wrapped her jacket over her head, in a sort of Islamic hijab headdress, and looked like some weird teenage assassin.

            “What are you doing…”

            “Saving your butt…”

            Suddenly, Spider-Man’s spider-sense tingled, just enough for him to realize that the Shocker had recovered from the attack.  Unfortunately, May still wasn’t accustomed enough with her powers to realize the warning of danger ringing in her own head.

            “Behind you,” Peter screamed, but it was too late.

            The Shocker let lose a blast that caught his daughter square in the back.  With an agonizing gasp, the girl flew headlong over her father, and landed hard on the floor on the other side.  Peter willed his body into action, but the Shocker was still faster, punching the hero hard in the face.

            “Stay down,” he said angrily.  “I’m gonna deal with this b**** first.”

            Rumble.

            The sound caught Peter’s ears, but his senses were reeling from the Shocker’s punch, as he tried desperately to turn over to see his daughter, who was now lying motionless on the floor, with the villain looking down on her.

            “What’s a pretty thing like you doing tryin’ to play hero,” Schultz hissed, as he clenched his fists, his smashers charging with a hum.

            Rumble.

            “Pretty little thing.  Too bad you’re gonna have to die now…”

            RUMBLE.

            As the Shocker prepared to let loose a blast that would have ended young May’s life, the wall behind them exploded in a boom that sent debris hurtling in all directions.  Like some massive freight train, the Shocker’s eyes caught sight of a massive figure railroading into the building…toward him!

            He screamed, letting his vibro-smashers erupt on this new target.  The blasts bounced harmlessly off the nearly impervious grey hind of the Rhino, and behemoth barreled into the Shocker, side-stepping to avoid the unconscious girl lying on the floor.  Herman Schultz, with only a brief moment to spare, realized with horrifying shock that it was his old ally who was about to flatten him.

            The Rhino rammed into the Shocker, sending the man flying like a ragdoll across the store, where he bounced over three display cases, before coming to rest, unconscious, near the entrance of the store, where a field NYPD SWAT officers were preparing to move in.  The Shocker awoke for a mere moment before that pain of more shattered bones than he could count sent him into comatose once again.

            Spider-Man stared wide-eyed, feeling his body beginning to fill with strength once again, as his powers returned, as the Rhino, cloaked in a cloud of dust, turned to face May.

            The Rhino knelt down, and picked up the injured girl, who was regaining consciousness.

            “I’ve got you, little one,” he whispered to her.

            “Aleksei.  Put her down,” Spider-Man growled, as the Rhino turned, to see that the fallen hero had regained his stature.

            “I mean her no harm…”

            “I said let her go…”

            “I saved her from becoming a victim of the Shocker, Spider-Man.  Please…”

            “LET HER GO!”

            The Rhino nodded slightly, as he gently placed May onto the floor at Spider-Man’s feet.

            “STAND DOWN!  EVERYONE ON THE FLOOR!”

            The SWAT team had entered the store, guns drawn and ready through the haze of debris.

            “There is no time.  Take this,” Aleksei said quickly, throwing a small envelope towards Spider-Man, before making his exit back through the massive hole he had made upon his arrival.

            Spider-Man caught the envelope in disbelief, before shaking his head, and turning his attention towards his daughter, as a squadron of NYPD officers filled the store.

********************

The Rhino’s apartment, Alphabet City, Manhattan, New York.

            He had achieved what he had wanted.

            The Rhino took a deep breath, and exhaled, feeling good about what he had done.  Now, he would present himself to the New York Police Department, and allow them to escort him back to his cell on Ryker’s Island, where he would peacefully and willingly serve out his time.  Payment for the crimes he had committed over a very long career.

            “I take it this is not part of some massive, evil plan?”

            The sound of the voice stunned him, and the Rhino turned on his heels to see Spider-Man perched on the sill of his open window.

            “You’ve never been that smart, so I’m taking this for what it is.”

            “How did you find me?”

            “You wrote this on the letterhead of this dump,” Spidey said, flapping a piece of paper in his hand.

            Wide-eyed, Aleksei’s gaze moved down to the open letter that Spider-Man held in his hand.  He smiled.

            “I’m pleased that you read it.  I meant every word in that note.”

            Spider-Man nodded.

            “I…I just wanted,” he couldn’t believe the words that were about to come out of his own mouth.  “Just wanted to…thank you…for saving that girl.”

            This time, the Rhino nodded.

            “It was the least I could do.”

            Silence fell between the two for several seconds.

            “What will you do now?”

            “I will turn myself over to police custody.  You have my word on that,” Aleksei said.  “You didn’t have to come down here.  I’m not going to put up a fight.”

            Again, several seconds of silence, as Spider-Man stared down one of his toughest enemies, before he spoke.

            “What if you ‘paid for you sins’ a different way?”

            Aleksei furrowed his brow in curiosity.

            “You said that I gave you a second chance?  Said that you had a whole new life ahead of you?  Well, I say you prove it.”

            “I am,” the Rhino answered, throwing up his arms.  “Did you not just hear me?  I’m turning myself over to the police.  I’ll be serving my time…”

            “True…but what if you served your time under me?  What if you served your time…what if you ‘thanked’ me, by proving yourself to me…by becoming one of the good guys?”

            Well, this was certainly a most unexpected occurrence, Aleksei thought to himself.  He truly didn’t have the words to respond…

            Spider-Man flipped the note onto the floor at the Rhino’s feet.

            “If what I saw today at that jewelry store was the new Rhino…the true Aleksei…then rotting away in a prison cell isn’t the repentance that I want to see.  Think about it.  I’ll be in touch,” Spider-Man said, back flipping from the window, before web-slinging his way out of sight.

            Aleksei Sytsevich picked up the note, and slowly sat down into the old armchair, completely bewildered by what had just happened.  Though his mind wasn’t ready to wrap itself around these events, he couldn’t help but smile, feeling that a whole new path had just revealed itself before him.

            Spider-Man,

         Thank you for showing me the real man that was buried   deep within this grey hide, and for giving me this second         chance at life.

********************

NEXT:  A MYSTERY FROM THE PAST COMES BACK TO HAUNT AUNT MAY AND SPIDER-MAN!!!

AND BE SURE TO CHECK OUT ‘ALTERED VISIONS PRESENTS’ FOR THE RHINO LIKE YOU’VE NEVER SEEN HIM BEFORE!!!

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