[AC] The Spyder: Manhunt #2 By Bill Castonzo

Artifice Comics artificecomics at yahoo.co.uk
Sun Jun 13 11:20:03 PDT 2004

Artifice Comics - http://www.artificecomics.com

The seven small zeppelins hung ominously over the vast expanse of
Harbour City.

They ogled the dark metropolis with glassy searchlight eyes that sat
patiently idle alongside gatling gun fangs. Drifting slowly and
lazily. Hungry airborne sharks. Vigilant to the dark things which
dared stalk the city's rooftops under the ancient gargoyles'
indifferent granite eyes. Waiting for their first fleeting glimpse of
the black countenance of vengeance. The huge white letters emblazoned
across each blimp, "HCPD", proclaimed their purpose loudly and

The bastards were after him. 

The pain pulsed through the Spyder's veins in burning, debilitating
waves. He grunted and staggered weakly out of the darkness of an
alley, snapping his eyes forward to ensure he hadn't attracted
attention. He couldn't afford to be seen. In or out of costume, he
wasn't safe. From anyone. He surveyed the unsettlingly empty street,
scrutinizing every one of the five people in his field of vision, all
of them violators of the curfew law. All of them technically
criminals...Just like him.

He reeled with a psychological pain deeper than anything physical the
Drainer might have inflicted upon him. He doubled over in his private
agony, feeling the asphalt impact his knees but not caring as his
pants began to stain red. It was over. It had all collapsed around
him. So quickly, so violently. So easily. He heard the lost souls
mocking him from the shadows of the cavernous ghost town, taunting him
and cursing him. The ghosts of countless dead. Murdered men and women
lost to the winds of Harbour City. So many at his hands.

"Enough," he rasped, smacking himself hard in the temple with a
loosely clenched fist. The physical pain was enough to interrupt the
mental, and he used the opportunity to rise, composing himself as best
he could. He rocked unsteadily for a moment in complete silence,
letting the voices fade from his mind, before some deep-seated
instinct pushed his eyes skyward.

He found himself assaulted with the vision of one of Jeff Ross'
bloated sharks, swimming slowly over the nearby ocean. Watching him.
Was it watching him? He stared at the predator with wide, icy eyes as
his every muscle stiffened in the grip of fear. He needed to just dart
back into the alleys, back in the darkness. He was safe there. As much
as they might taunt him, he was at least safe with the shadows.

His breaths trembled in shallow syncopation and his eyes became
frantic. Should he run? No decisive thought could navigate the chaos
in which his mind was lost, and it only intensified his panic. He
watched the fat airship as it crawled languidly behind one of the
city's dark towers, then reappeared, only to gradually fade into the
distant night. The Spyder let loose a ragged breath, his eyes wide and
wild, and only then, out of the presence of the predator, did he allow
his body to relax.

"Motherfuckers," he muttered, staring up at the sky. 

They were all after him. Hunting him like a god damn animal. The

No, calm down. Concentrate, dammit, think. He brought his hands to his
face, rubbing hard against his forehead. As he raised his arms, he
felt the searing pain from his shoulder, so sloppily relocated after
being wrenched from the socket in his three-story fall. He felt the
crude, blood-caked stitches shift through his skin with each of his
movements, nipping at his flesh, shooting random nerve endings. Pain.
It consumed him, dulled him. He had lost so much blood, and the
concussion still pounded at his brain, blurring thoughts and memories
into an opaque haze across the landscape of his mind, leaving only the
searing pain.

Concentrate, damn you. 

Random shrieks of incoherent thought pushed through the fog, painting
a chaotic picture.

He had been set up. 

First Raymundo Zuleta, then the Drainer murders. Someone was
manipulating him. Turning the city, his city, against him.

The entire city. The whole fucking city was after him. 

Grimacing against the pain, he hustled across the street, feeling
awkward and off-balance as he approached the next alley. The tight
wrappings of athletic tape which protected his stitches also
drastically limited his flexibility, and the clothes stolen from
sleeping homeless men and waterfront warehouses which hung about his
muscular frame smelled horrid. The thick tuft of facial hair under his
nose felt dirty and itchy, a much less agreeable mask than the black
silken fabric and artificial spider.

The transient clothing nauseated him...Nauseated him with its fleas
and stench, and nauseated him with its necessity. The whole damn city
had seen his picture, after all. His real picture. They knew who the
Spyder was. He had seen the flyers, posted on lampposts and store
windows. Plastered on the front page of the Harbour City Tribune along
with all of the names that the government knew he used. The people now
had a face to place with the fear. The people now had a face to hate.

The Spyder was no longer a ghost in the city. Harbour City could no
longer dismiss him as an urban myth in order to quiet its collective
nightmares. In one frenzied blitz, the city government had released
their supply of Daniel Stockholm's photos and identities to every
media outlet on the eastern seaboard in conjunction with their
unprecedented siege of the city. Leo Briggs had declared martial law
in the name of the vigilante's capture. And in doing so, the Spyder
became not an invisible phantom, but a very real enemy to every person
in Harbour.

He trudged further into the darkness of the alley. 

"An enemy of my own city," he snapped, disgusted and enraged at how
quickly all his proud plans of reclaiming the mantle of vengeance in
Harbour had fallen.

Now, against a man who once sought to purify it, the city clamored for

In all his years, he had accomplished nothing. 

"Fine," the vigilante rasped as he approached a small garage in a
rundown residential neighborhood. He breathed deeply into fiery lungs,
tasting the salt of the Pacific's foam on the chilly night air...And
something else. The bitter tang of blood.

"They want to go to war with me..." the Spyder growled, slinking to
the side of the ramshackle building. Even in his condition, the door
splintered under one blow from his heel. The vigilante reeled a bit,
squinting away the dizzying pain from torn stitches in his leg, and
shuffled into the garage. The Spyder did not have to worry about the
owners of the dusty and cluttered garage interrupting his business. He
would not be long anyway. "I'll show the bastards what that means."

The Spyder had been to war. All his life he had fought a seemingly
endless war, against a thousand different enemies. Enemies who dared
to challenge the vigilante's power and mercy. Enemies whose blood had
long since been washed away into the gutters of the city's darkest
streets, their mutilated bodies never to be missed and never to be
found. Enemies slaughtered by an opponent who would not let himself

He pulled a small ladder from the corner of the room. 

The owners of the garage had never met the Spyder. They did not even
realize what was in their possession thanks to the vigilante's
collection of spoils from his wars. Similarly, he knew nothing of
them, save for the fact that they were an elderly couple who would
probably have no need to move from their current property, nor to
enter their garage attic.

The rickety ladder squeaked as the Spyder ascended. His shoulder
seared as he reached for the attic's entrance, and he tried
desperately to ignore it. He shoved the board away, kicking up a cloud
of dust which reeked of mold and age, and quickly retracted his bad
arm, vigorously massaging his deltoid for a moment. With a haggard
breath that tasted of mildew and dirt, he climbed into the attic.

It took a quick moment for his eyes to adjust. The box was there. Just
as he had left it five years ago.

"They should know better," the vigilante hissed, a crazed smile
creeping its way under the shag of his beard and mustache as he
approached his objective. He ripped the top of the box off and tossed
it away, exposing the contents. Gently, almost nurturingly, he reached
inside, letting his hands run softly over the cold, dark metal.

He could no longer hear the torturous voices over the din of his
mind's insane cackle.

"I'll show them. I'll show them what happens when they push me too
far," he barked, anger overtaking him as his fingers wrapped firmly
around the contents of one of his most desperate reserves. The last
straw had been drawn. "I'll show them war."

The Spyder sprang to his feet with a renewed gait, rising out of the
darkness like the triumphant undead. The man who would not let himself
die. Finally pushing the pain aside, he hoisted two of the seven items
out of the box.

In one hand, a Heckler & Koch G11 advanced combat rifle, and in the
other, a large HK SMG II automatic. Precision tactical weapons
designed in experimental labs, dedicated to severely minimizing the
duration of war through the maximization of bloodshed. Meant only for
the hands of the most elite and cold-hearted soldiers of the most
select countries. Killing machines for killing machines.

Eleven more stops throughout the city, and the Spyder would be ready. 


Artifice Comics Presents 
The Spyder: Manhunt #2 
"The March of War" 
By Bill Castonzo 


"First tonight on your News at Nine, Harbour City District Attorney
Bobby Briggs announced today that the city has decided to drop its
long-pending case against the science being known only as Hammerhand.
Hammerhand was originally detained for his involvement in an incident
last October, in which the Spyder invaded the home of the late
Raymundo Zuleta in a failed assassination attempt. Hammerhand was
found at the scene in a state of severe shock following a struggle
with the Spyder which left Hammerhand temporarily crippled. The city
chose not to file charges against Hammerhand while the cybernetic
components of his body were being reconstructed, citing the fact that
he would be unable to appear in court given the circumstances. Now,
after a lengthy period of deliberation, the D.A. has decided not to
prosecute the science being..."

"The fact of the matter is, despite past transgressions, Hammerhand
has committed no crime since his legal release from the Enhanced
Criminal Prison Organization some four months ago. There is no
evidence to support any claims that Hammerhand acted with malicious
intent on the night of October 30, 2001. Some have even hailed his
efforts as the only reason the Spyder failed that night in murdering
the late Mr. Zuleta. Whatever Hammerhand's reason was for being on the
Zuleta property, Mr. Zuleta's estate has expressed that they do not
wish to press trespassing charges, and we at the district attorney's
office feel it would simply be a waste of the taxpayers' money to
proceed with a trial at this point."

"District Attorney Briggs also addressed a scenario discussed lately
by several right-wing activist groups, who suggest a download of
information saved within the digital components of Hammerhand's brain
could lead to valuable information for the courts. The D.A. explained
it was not within the city's legal purview to approve such a procedure
without justifiable cause. Briggs did go on to say that despite the
lack of evidence against Hammerhand, scientists were cleared to remove
all of his on-board weapons systems, and the police will be monitoring
his activities as closely as they can for the foreseeable future.

"Meanwhile, the so-called 'Spyder Siege' continued for a second day in
Harbour, as concerned citizens took to the streets in a protest march
some one thousand strong. Protesters began this morning at All Saints
Cemetery at the grave of the late Raymundo Zuleta, and marched into
downtown before finally rallying at Poole Plaza, where they were
violently dispersed by police officers armed with tear gas, rubber
bullets, and night sticks. Under the temporary martial law, the police
arrested over one hundred protesters for temporary detainment without
trial. Nearly three hundred people have reported sustaining moderate
injuries during the struggle, while at least fifteen individuals are
currently in critical - "

The screen went black. 

Just past ten and already the city was dead. Dead and cold. 

Amie Paige's vacant gaze drifted from the dark visage of the
television to the darker tableau beyond her window, and then back to
the sterile glow of her computer screen. The cursor blinked mockingly
at the top of the page. No words yet preceded it.

It would have been easier two weeks ago. Before the siege, before the
drainers. Before John Norrington.

But the world, the country, the city, indeed Paige herself, had
mutated wildly in the past two weeks, leaving only wistful vestiges of
more innocent times. Of course Harbour City had never been innocent,
so to speak, but things had spiraled so far out of control that it
seemed the city had finally lost its flimsy grasp on whatever sanity
to which it had been so desperately clinging. Perhaps Harbour really
had gone mad...Or maybe it was only following suit. Paige certainly
could not ignore the dramatic metamorphosis of the world political
stage as a result of Pacific City's own lapse into madness. Maybe it
really was the country, the world. Maybe there was no use in fighting
it. Whatever the case, reality had taken on a whole new definition for
Amie Paige than how she might have defined it some scant few weeks

And so Paige found herself ready to begin writing her book. Her
complete memoir, of encounters with masked men and vigilante justice.
A tale the publishers and public alike were chomping at the bit to
have told after the Spyder's return. His reawakening. A tale she had
never before had a problem telling.

Yet now, as the zeppelins hovered and the streets laid bare in the
night, what was her story? A tale of violence in an overly violent
world? There was no meaning, no greater truth in what she had to say.
Nothing that honestly mattered to a disillusioned...and perhaps
outright terrified...populace. She could offer no hope, no redemption
for the soul of the people, the victims, the city. Or herself.

Maybe that was the real truth. The unconscious realization which
stayed her hand and kept the screen so ghostly white.

She shuddered a bit, suddenly aware of the darkness around her. She
had found herself in that position often of late, though it was
through no machinations of her own that she arrived there. Yet there
she sat, frozen in the darkness and lost in the most unwanted recesses
of her mind. In a way, she was thankful that this particular instance
had not driven her thoughts too far into her own past; to the
beginning of the tale she could not tell.

Paige had been thinking a lot about Joseph Liebowitz lately. 

Raven. The emotionally crippled boy in a man's body that the city had
once embraced, and then brutally rejected, as a savior. Amie Paige
knew Joseph Liebowitz. Far before he masterminded the destruction of
the Pacific Tower, a fact which had so casually been downplayed as
focus shifted rabidly to Millennium Man, Amie Paige had known Joseph
Liebowitz as a tragic, unbalanced psychotic. She knew that he was
little more than a shell of a human being, hollowed out by an abusive
father and eager to be filled with whatever sense of purpose could
validate his power-trip cravings for violence and order. Just another
sad link in the self-perpetuating chain, but one she had used and
manipulated to the utmost to further her own career.

She had fucked him, over and over again, without ever loving or even
caring for him. When it was all over, she was a lauded reporter and he
was still nothing more than a directionless rage addict. She had not
shed a tear for Raven when Harbour City had persecuted, ostracized and
exiled him.

Until she sat down to begin her god damn book. Then the tears wouldn't
stop flowing.

"Jesus, Joseph, I'm so sorry..." she whispered, feeling the hot water
pooling in her eyelids.

Liebowitz was dead now. 

And she was still a lauded reporter. 

Crying, Paige threw herself out of her chair. She stumbled across the
room toward the window, wrenching it open and letting the cold breeze
viciously slap her wetted face.

"I'm a good person..." she tried telling herself through the tears.
But the stark image of Joseph Liebowitz's face, contorting between
fleeting glimpses of ecstasy and agony as he rocked back and forth on
top of her twenty-two-year-old body, still seared her mind and fed the
rivulets of tears. "No, I'm a good...I'm a good person..."

But she could not convince herself. At that moment, she understood the
Spyder's hatred. She understood the violent abhorrence he so obviously
felt toward her. Because she felt it too.

The cruel wind again thrust itself through her skin. She really was no
more than what John Norrington took her to be. An ignorant and selfish
whore. She had never before been forced to admit to herself the
vacuity her own life. The worthlessness of what she was, behind the
fame and the name. And the hidden, shadowed truth that she hated

She collapsed, hands grasping futilely at the window frame, stretching
to hold on to something tangible, to save her from the depths of the
spectral black void. She wanted to feel. She wanted to love. She
wanted to live. Her fists pounded at the windowsill as she wailed to
the shadows, choking on her own tears.

"You're a fucking crybaby!" she screamed at herself, rolling onto her
back and propping her head against the wall below the window. "Shut
up! Just shut the hell up!" Her angry fists found their way from the
windowsill to her face.

One blow connected harder than she expected. It jarred her head,
fostering a numbness in her cheek and a throbbing in her jaw and
suddenly panic overtook her malevolent self-deprecation. It was a
nervous breakdown. She had almost broken her own jaw. She clutched
herself, curling up upon the plush carpet and shaking. Gasping for
air, trying to will away the pain from the blow. Suddenly, she
remembered she had been in that position before too...

Her eyes snapped open and for a heart-freezing instant she caught a
glimpse of the Spyder's wild eyes, before the darkness gave way to the
familiar features of her spacious living room. Slowly, she hoisted
herself from the ground, bracing against the open window. That was it.
The heart of her slow, nauseating epiphany.

In the Hotel Continental, all those months earlier, she had glimpsed,
however fleetingly, the true extent of his fury. The unbending
devotion belied by a treacherous visage. The intelligence hidden
behind eyes of coal black madness. The undying passion masked by the
Spyder's fatal rage. Beyond the mortal brutality...There was such
verve, such life. Such a frightening, inexplicable duality.

The origin of her doubt was ultimately on the floor of that hallway in
the Continental, curled into a fetal ball, gasping for breath through
the pain in her throat, and seeing those eyes grow wider in her own

Within them lied such terrible, unknown pain. And yet such a verdant

She longed to understand it. 

Paige righted herself, wiping the tears from her cheeks. The computer
screen still radiated its cool sterile glow. And the screen was still
hopelessly blank. It just didn't seem to matter anymore.

She turned, casting her eyes over the dark metropolis which stood like
a graveyard beyond her window. The cold wind howled, screaming the
dark riddle of the city which so many had tried futilely to answer.
Screaming with purpose.

Somewhere within the darkness, the truth was waiting for her. And with
it, the possibility of absolution.

* * * 

Camille Gregor had lived in the building at Nineteen David Street for
nearly twenty years. And even in the city's north-side waterfront
projects, she had never experienced anything like this.

The front door splintered sharply, its remains trampled by a
locust-like swarm of SWAT officers.

They moved through the tenement with stunning efficiency, infesting
each of the four floors in under a minute flat. None of them minded
the panicked screams.

The residential doors came down just as quickly as the main entrance.
Three officers per apartment, safeties off. Search and seizure.
Identify the target, take him down. Several frightened residents moved
to defend themselves against the sudden intrusion. A well-placed blow
to the base of the skull, or if the case may be, in the teeth,
nullified any and all threats posed by the tenants as quickly as
possible. The unconscious were dragged out into the halls to be lined
up on the ground next to their kin and neighbors.

"What the hell is this? You can't do this to us, this ain't right!
Look at Martin, he's bleedin' all over the place!" Camille yelled as
she was forced to the tile. Martin Hongauer had visited her for
morning coffee almost every day since Camille's husband had died.
Martin was also a widower. He had probably been watching the classic
TV shows they often aired after the news. The butt of a gun to the
back of his head had apparently stopped him from turning the old
revolver he kept in his bureau against an officer of the law. He lay
unconscious on the hallway floor next to Camille.

"Fascists!" she screamed. "This ain't right! Tell 'em this ain't

Her neighbors had no intention of taking up her cause. Several men in
trenchcoats entered the front door, flanked by the last of the armored
SWATs. Obviously the presiding officers.

"You're like the god damn Nazis, you know that?" Camille screamed
shrilly. "You can't do this to us folk! We ain't done nothin' wrong!
You all get the hell out of here now, damn it! You can't do this to
us, it ain't right! Bastard fascist Nazis!"

"Somebody shut her up," Middleton growled. 

The butt of another gun left Camille drowsy and face to face with
Martin against the cold tile.

"Keep it down, you old bitch," the officer advised. 

"Turner," Middleton called. "We got a positive ID?" 

"That's a negative, Lieutenant. No trace of him yet." 

Ron Middleton sighed, pulling a cigarette from his inner pocket and
flicking a match to life. He turned to the detective at his side as
the tip of the white stick flared orange.

"Alright, I want you to check every room here, make sure all residents
are accounted for, then check the fuckin' rooms again. The Spyder's
apparently been living off his victims, and if he's been in any of
these shitholes to so much as shower and take a piss, I wanna know
about it. And make sure we get some guys in the basement, too, I'm
working off some reliable information that this place..."

A flash of light from outside the front door left Middleton wide-eyed
as he snapped his head around.

"What the fuck is this?" he shouted, pulling the cigarette from his
lips and marching out the building's front door, toward the small
collection of photographers, cameramen, and reporters trying to inch
closer to the scene. "I want these fucks out of here now, god damn

Several SWAT officers rushed from the building ahead of Middleton,
forcefully grabbing the cameras and trying to wrestle the curfew
violators into handcuffs.

"You can't do this! You're denying the freedom of the press!" 

"Don't fucking start. You're all in violation of temporary statute
A-13," Middleton snapped. "You know you fucking people are the reason
it's all come to this to begin with, right? You do know that?"

"Oh, that is bullshit and you know it, you f-" 

"You all need to just sit back and let us do our jobs instead of
having to get involved all the god damn time," Middleton continued.

"Oh fuck you, you pig!" 

"Mother...What's it say on that camera? Turner, pick up that fucking
camera, what's it say?"

"Channel Nine, sir." 

"Alright, I need somebody on the radio back to the station. Recommend
a blackout on the channel nine news for the next few days."

"You can't do that-!" 

"Additionally," Middleton pressed, shooting the uppity reporter an icy
glare. "I need you to find out what other rags these people are
working for, we're gonna need to screen their printings..."

"Yes, sir." 

"Alright, good, let's take these fucks in to a holding cell until
morning. Davis, could you?"

"Sure thing, Mid." 

"You can't do this! We haven't done anything!" 

Middleton turned his back on the scene, having said all he cared to.
He approached the entrance to the tenement, where he was greeted with
frightened eyes by the mass of people lining the hall.

"Fucking press..." Middleton grumbled, taking a long, soothing drag
from his cigarette. He exhaled with a wet, throaty cough before
turning to the officer at his side. "Alright, Turner, let's move. I
don't want to waste more fucking time here than we have to, especially
if the Spyder doesn't turn up. Last thing we need is another goddamn
wild goose chase here. And if anybody gives you any fuckin' problems,
take 'em outside to Davis, I don't need to deal with any more shit."

Middleton punctuated his last sentence with a sneer at the kneeling

"Alright, you heard the man!" Turner shouted as he hurried off.
Middleton watched the ensuing buzz of activity with grim, bloodshot
eyes. He breathed again from the cigarette, holding the smoke in for a
moment before letting it drift from between his lips and curl into the
starless night sky.

"I'm comin' for you, motherfucker," Middleton whispered to his own
personal nocturnal demon. "And no one's gonna fuckin' stop me."

* * * 

"This shit's gotta stop, Paul." 

Foster nestled the phone between his skull and shoulder as he thumbed
through an overstuffed file cabinet.

"Ian, I appreciate your concern, but there's really not much we can do
at this point. City Hall is of the position that
certain...transgressions...by the police department are acceptable by
the definition of martial law."

Three days into the supposedly short siege, and Foster was running
short of generic apologies.

The backlash to the declaration of martial law had been explosive and
immediate, if not entirely unexpected. Six hours after the initial
press conference, the citywide curfew had already been postponed an
hour. Still, the voices were, understandably, not silenced.

And yet since that press conference, the honorable mayor of Harbour
had offered nary a word of comfort to an increasingly volatile public.
By default, he supposed, Foster had been elected to pick up Leo
Briggs' exponentially increasing length of slack. Twenty minutes after
word was officially out that his office would be addressing all
concerns about the martial law, Foster realized he was in over his
head. Since that time he had tried to gain access to as much
information as his clearance would allow, but even so he found it
nearly impossible to quiet the frenzied outrage of thousands when he
himself suffered such serious bouts of it. As the fuse on the
powderkeg grew shorter in the streets, the Media Affairs office could
offer little more than lip service. Foster found it both nauseating
and terrifying.

"Look, I appreciate the shit outta the fact that your guys stopped
shipment on the Times-Herald...Hell, between that and the station
blackouts, our sales haven't been this high in years."

Foster would have returned Ian Thorpe's chuckle out of sheer
politeness had he been listening. Instead, he skimmed an inflammatory
letter from Channel Six News, and felt the sickening lead ball in his
gut grow heavier.

"But the bottom line here is that I've got a literal pile, I shit you
not, five and a half feet tall in my mail room of letters from readers
about this quote unquote siege. And I'm not talking 'keep up the good
work' shit, or polite suggestions...I'm talking death threats, I'm
talking 'please make the bad men stop or I'm gonna lose it' letters.
For my paper, and for the people in this city, I need to know what the
hell your boys are pulling out there."

Foster reclined in his chair, rubbing at the bridge of his nose. He
had heard it before, from other newspapers, and magazines, and TV
stations, and churches and community groups. Through tightened lips,
he forced out the memorized form letter which masqueraded as useful

"Look, Ian, the police department has been given full jurisdiction to
operate at its own discretion concerning the pursuit of the Spyder,
for the time being. We're requiring all supervising officers to lodge
detailed reports, all of which are being investigated by an
independent committee to determine the effectiveness of this...siege."

"Spare me the bullshit, please," Thorpe replied indignantly. "I've got
three e-mails sitting in my inbox from your people that have that
exact statement word for word. At least feed me something new."

Foster sighed heavily. The line fell silent for a moment. 

"Let me ask you something, Ian," Foster said wearily, letting his
professional face slip. "Why'd you get into journalism?"

Thorpe laughed. A sound Foster was not accustomed to hearing lately. 

"Hell, I was a copy at fourteen. My old man worked the presses at
night and got me a job after school...I almost didn't even go to
college. I was already working in layout for a few years before I
finally started taking night classes at HCU. Just kind of evolved from
there. Why do you ask?"

"I was just thinking about when I started in politics." 

"Yeah? How'd that go?" 

"Heh...Tryin' to help people. Simple as that. I actually started off
as an alderman. I was born and raised in the metro area...Harbour's
always been home. I saw this city through a lot of tough times growing
up. Thought maybe if I were to get involved, I could prevent some of
that crap from happening again, y'know?"

On the other end of the phone line, Thorpe sighed knowingly. 

"And now, look at what's become of all of us," Foster whispered. 

"Are we on record?" 

"What do you think?" 

"Just checking. Look, Paul, I hear where you're coming from, believe
me, I do, but this country...this city's seen it's share of good and
bad times, same as anywhere else. We can manage it."

"Can we? I just...I can't stand myself anymore, Thorpe. You...You can
take some consolation in the fact that you're trying to bring people
the truth-"

"I'm just trying to sell papers," Thorpe snorted. 

"But still. What am I doing to help? What the hell are any of us doing

"Hm. Thought it was your job to tell me that..." 

"Supposed to be," Foster sighed, resting his forehead in his palm. "I
just don't know anymore."

"Well lemme ask you a question, still off the record here," Thorpe
said, his tone growing a bit more ominous. "Do you really think the
Spyder's a threat?"

Foster was utterly unprepared for the question. His professional
conscience immediately answered "of course", but something deeper
within him stayed his tongue. Four months worth of memories wound
together chaotically through his clouded mind, and Foster felt his
sinuses grow heavy. For a split second, the world went dark.

"Paul, you all right?" 

"Yeah...No, you just caught me off guard. I..." Foster paused, trying
to make sense of the tangle in his mind. The line between truth and
fiction had been irrevocably blurred for him during the scant few days
spent with Middleton and Rockwell on the trail of the Spyder. That
time when the seeds of his self-doubt had first been sown. Since
Raymundo Zuleta's death and Foster's subsequent promotion, the Media
Affairs Director had buried himself in his work, in the hopes that he
could avoid a confrontation with the alarming contradictions and
questions the Spyder's return had borne. In one crushing moment, Ian
Thorpe had opened the floodgates of Foster's repressed emotions and
memories. For the first time, Paul Foster had been brought face to
face with the frightening loose ends dangling from the vigilante's
bloody crusade. As well as the first hint of a far larger truth.

"No. I...don't," he answered softly. "I guess I...For some reason I

"Well you're not alone," Thorpe replied, his voice growing softer but
the darkness growing stronger. "Paul, I'm the editor of one of the
largest dailies on the eastern seaboard. All the news you'd ever want
to see passes through my desk. I know the pulse of this city like my
own damn heart. And now, especially after hearing what you've been
telling me, I can only tell you this: Martial fucking law does not
make sense."

"Come again?" 

"The Spyder's not the threat. I mean, he's a threat, and he should be
dealt with. But you know how that bastard operates...Offing civilians
isn't really his thing. There's more going on here than the damn
Spyder. And whatever it is, it's big, it's scary, it's invisible. And
it's happening right under our goddamn noses."

Foster's brow furrowed. From the haze of memory, still painted with
fleeting images of the black-clad vigilante, came a face more
distinct. More recent. Foster remembered Leo Briggs before he entered
that last fateful meeting with the city council. Like a man marching
into the face of death. Like a man dreading what he somehow knew to


"You ain't kiddin'." 

Again, an uncomfortable silence. 

"Look," Thorpe said. "I got a paper to run. You have anything useful,
send our offices the press release and I'll try to get back to you
personally. In the meantime, just think about what I said."

"I'll do that." 

"Two hundred fifty years and no city in Australia's seen a maritime
police action of this magnitude. And all for the sake of one fucking
psycho in black pajamas? Makes a lot of sense to me." Thorpe paused to
let it sink in. "I'll talk to ya."

"Take care," Foster said meekly. 

The line went dead. Foster breathed heavily, closing his eyes in an
attempt to quiet his mind. He turned languidly toward his office
window, catching a glimpse of one of the great black airships as it
drifted over Harbour City's twilight. Foster bit his lower lip and
returned his gaze to the office, slowly casting his eyes over the
stacks of information collected in heaps upon his desk and floors, in
his drawers and in his hard-drive. A complete record of all the
transpirings at city hall. All entirely at his office's disposal.

In complete silence, Paul Foster began to read. 

* * * 

"Garage attics, tenement boiler rooms, large corporate
warehouses...Hell, even the basement of an occupied office building.
All isolated storage areas, all relatively easy to access, all not
liable to ever be well-inspected. All ideal, yet unexpected, places to
hide military-grade weaponry."

A soft murmur floated through the crowded room. Behind the seated
assembly, directly opposite the large podium to which all attention
was afforded, Commissioner Jeff Ross silently cocked an eyebrow. Yet
another detail he had not been informed of.

"Hiding in plain sight, gentlemen. This afternoon we received the
eighth report in three days of a B-and-E with seemingly nothing
stolen. Nothing that anybody knew was there at least. In all eight
cases, forensics has found evidence of heavy...HEAVY...ordinance being
removed from the location. Slide, Jerry."

The projection which bled from the expansive wall behind Ron Middleton
onto half of his face changed abruptly from an annotated map of
Harbour to stock photos of several military-issue weapons. The largest
collection of SWAT officers ever assembled in Harbour City squirmed
noticeably in its collective seat.

"Unless you were unfortunate enough to be around for our battles with
that gun cartel in the mid-90's, you've probably never seen weapons
like these," Middleton explained. "That's because you were never
supposed to. This is an HK G11, and this is and HK SMG II. The United
States government still will not admit to having warehouses of these
motherfuckers somewhere in a desert. These are two of the weapons we
believe were taken from one of the eight sites. By the Spyder. Slide."

Crime scene photos of a crate full of explosives and ammunition.
Middleton paused a moment to let the image sink in.

"Word released by a TV special report earlier tonight, along with a
recommendation that citizens and business owners inspect all storage
areas, solicited a response from a ninth location; an elderly man in
the south suburbs found a sealed crate of hand grenades, smoke bombs,
land mines, hollow points, and other assorted treats in the corner of
his old storm cellar. Unless that man turns out to be the dictator of
a small country, I think it's safe to assume this is the kind of shit
the Spyder's planning on using. On us. Lights."

As the fluorescent bulbs blinked on, Ross felt the searing pain of a
migraine flare behind his eyes.

"He's more than likely almost fully recovered by now from the injuries
he sustained during his fight with Nostromo last week. We'll treat him
as though he is, at least. Field lieutenants will update you on
tonight's specific events; needless to say, we will be busy. Be aware
that we've put many business owners on a quiet alert...We're just
waiting for that one call. In the meantime, efforts will continue to
be focused on probable bases of operations and living quarters. That's
it. Good luck to everybody tonight."

Nervously, the crowd began to disperse. None of them had been
reassured by their de facto commander's words.

"Just what the hell's going on here?" Ross managed through gritted
teeth as he approached Middleton at the podium.

Middleton rolled his eyes dismissively at the commissioner. 

"Why wasn't I told about any of that shit? The guns, the storage, the
fucking TV broadcasts?"

"It happened fast," Middleton said as he brushed by his commander. "I
did what needed to be done. You want a report on every move I make
now? 'Cause last I checked time was still a pretty goddamn big

"Protocol is a priority," Ross snapped. He grabbed the retreating
detective by the arm and spun him violently into an about-face. "And
don't walk away from me when I'm talking to you, god dammit! I'm still
in charge here!"

Middleton's eyes widened in a strangled rage and he leaned close to
Ross's own angry face. A few nearby officers slowed to an awkward
pause at the sight of them.

"You are way too close to the fuckin' edge for me to take right now,"
Ross growled. "This is still my force. You may have taken it upon
yourself to lead this little manhunt, but don't make any mistake in
knowing that these are my men, and it is my orders that are carried
out here."

"I'm doing what I fucking have to," Middleton spat. "What no one else
ever has. You wanna punish me for that, fine. Shows where your
allegiances lie."

Ross choked down the anger. 

"Ron, I don't know what in the hell is wrong with you lately, but I'm
caring less and less. No more questions, no arguments. I want reports,
from now on, of all significant moves made. Just like you were ordered
at the beginning of this operation. No fucking exceptions. You got
that, Ron?"

Middleton snapped his head away, disgusted, but kept his feet planted

"Do you get me, Detective?" 


Both men turned at the sound of the shout. 

"Commissioner Ross...Lieutenant Middleton...We got a call. Woman on
the north side reports seeing a figure in black climbing in a third
story hotel window off a fire escape. Crappy place above Remini's on
the corner of Seventy-Eighth and Euclid."

Middleton and Ross exchanged glances. A tense silence befell the room.
Ross's face flushed red and his voice was a strained whisper.

"Do what you have to, Detective." 

* * * 

A distant nightmare shrieked in the Spyder's mind, then vanished. His
eyes fluttered open.

The sirens were far too close. 

He growled an unintelligible curse to himself, and just as quickly as
the slumber had overtaken him, he was awake. He sprang out of bed, his
body screaming at him with every movement. The flitting bouts of
erratic sleep, while sufficient mentally to a person of his training,
had not been nearly enough to allow his injuries to properly heal.
Like a wounded, mangled animal scurrying to escape its predators he
dragged himself through the darkness.

He fumbled for the door handle. Still locked. He pressed his face
against the lacquered door and peered through the peephole. The
hallway was still empty. Still time.

But already he heard the first frightened screams from downstairs,
from restaurant patrons growing faint at the sight of the obviously
fast-approaching SWAT teams. He heard their rhythmic footsteps
pounding at the stairs. Coming for him. Ever closer. The ghosts of
countless dead cackled from the darkness.

Ever so eagerly, they were waiting to claim him. 

The Spyder reached for the mask. Ultimately, knew it was a pointless
gesture. But though his identity had been forever compromised, his
spectral disguise was still the only reflection which he could stand
to look upon. The only identity which allowed his heart to run free.

The silken fabric glided over his cheeks and the faux arachnid found
its familiar fit around his jaw. Filtered air filled his lungs a low
growl escaped his lips. The ghosts fell silent.

"Focus," he whispered, suddenly acutely aware of his every sense, his
every nerve. The acrid tang of city smog brushed against his nose as
the pounding on the stairs grew deafening and something deep inside
him screamed for blood. For release.

But there was more to consider than just his immediate survival. Far
more. For himself and the city, and the suicidal plan for redemption
to which he had resigned himself, he had to keep his bloodlust in

And in the back of his mind he was still haunted by Beth's cold,
lifeless eyes.

"Focus," he repeated. He drew a slow breath, and his eyelids fell
closed for a brief, fleetingly peaceful moment.

Then, with a gait fueled by his ever more dominant instinctual mind,
the vigilante armed himself. He collected every last piece of
equipment he had elected to keep with him in his temporary quarters.
He left his street clothes in a heap in the middle of the room,
fastening his shoulder harness across the sleek black material which
hugged his chest. He tightened the straps, feeling them pull taut
around equally tense muscle. Cold, heavy metal slid silently into
place all around his person.

The late Frankie Fontana's "extracurricular" hotel room had suited him
well the past few days, despite the stink of cheap sex and cheaper
cologne. But now it was time to leave.

The vigilante bounded across the room, flattening himself against the
wall next to a window. He removed a small mirror from a pocket on his
harness and held it out cautiously, giving himself a brief glimpse at
the street outside and what lay waiting for him. His eyes went wide.
Just as he snapped the mirror back into place, a battering ram began
to splinter his locked door.

Then, for a moment, the world fell still and quiet, and somewhere
beyond it all, Beth Rockwell's dead eyes pleaded for a mercy her
killer never allowed. Not to her, or the ones that loved her.

"I know," the Spyder whispered, warm, human tears collecting in the
rim of his coal black eyes. "I know."

The Spyder sighed heavily and said a silent prayer. 

He then pulled the pin on a mini-grenade. 

He sprayed the far side of the room with a swipe of a FN-P90
submachine gun just as the door fell, scattering drywall in a white,
starchy cloud. He was moving before the panicked shouts died down,
letting the gun on its shoulder strap fall back to his side as he
lobbed the live grenade. He rolled forward then, and with a strained
grunt he hoisted the mattress on end upon the bed frame then yanked it
to the floor, propping it on a diagonal with his body. The far wall
exploded as he dropped to his knees and let the mattress fall on top
of him.

The explosion was louder than it was destructive, but it left the
SWATs reeling. Random gunfire ricocheted across what remained of the
room, blowing out the windows and threatening to collapse a section of
ceiling. A commander's shout halted the barrage, and at that moment
the Spyder was moving.

He sprung up on powerful legs, sending the slightly scorched mattress
crashing into the shattered door frame and propelling him atop the
bed. He clicked the mask's rebreather and ripped a canister from his
belt. The vapor trail began leaking immediately, and he whipped the
device toward the demolished door.

"Masks! Masks!" 

"Get the fuck in there!" 

The Spyder took up the P90 again and found his aim, shredding one of
the room's side walls as a noxious cloud overtook the SWAT team. But
quickly the mattress toppled back and several shots peppered the wall
around the vigilante as the cops secured their gas masks. The empty
clip slid out of the Spyder's gun. Once more dropping the weapon to
his side, he dashed forward madly, straight toward the shredded wall,
raising his forearms in front of his face. He dipped his shoulder as
another bullet clipped the television set just past his legs.


"Shit, he just blew through a wall! I want lights on all the third
story windows! Take him down on sight if he tries to leave the

The Spyder staggered only briefly as the crumbling drywall littered
the floor around him. He slapped a fresh clip into the P90 and
squeezed. Sniper fire from the next rooftop suddenly shattered the
windowpanes to his left, but he paid it little attention. The P90
buffeted the second wall as easily as the first, and as the clip ran
out, the Spyder tore the gun strap from his shoulders, discarding the
weapon. He ripped the two micro-uzis out of the holsters which hugged
his thighs and careened into the next room. Rifle fire nipped at his

He fell into a somersault as the wall gave way, feeling the familiar
pain in his shoulder. Ignore it. He rolled to his feet and twirled
deftly, opening fire on the formless mass within the creeping
smokescreen behind him. Several men cried out over the thuds of their
own bodies and again the vigilante whirled, this time holstering an
uzi and sprinting for the door just as a helicopter's spotlight
flooded through the windows behind him.

The Spyder's body flew horizontal into the hallway, framed in a beam
of brilliant white light. He twisted in mid-air and a small cartridge
left his hand, outpaced by several bullets which shattered a portion
of the overhead lighting. The glass fell like jagged, sparkling snow
upon the SWAT team, affording them only the briefest of glimpses at
the fast-approaching cartridge before the hallway fell into deep


The Spyder tucked and rolled as the magnesium in the flash-bang
ignited behind him. He grimaced at the immediate ringing in his ears
but had to keep moving. He stuffed the other uzi back into the leg
holster, freeing both his hands.

"Beta Team, shit, we lost him! It was just a damn flash grenade! He's
headed for the south stairwell!"

The stairwell door flung open. Without any hesitation the Spyder
hurled himself over the railing. He raced down a full floor before
grabbing hold of the railing on another landing and feeling his bad
shoulder nearly tear from the socket again. He screamed, but only took
momentary pause as the second floor doorway suddenly collapsed and
filled with HCPD.

The Spyder swung forward with a gymnast's grace, landing another
half-story down and scampering flush to the wall as shots filtered
down the twisting stairwell. He bolted forward, descending two steps
at a time while vigorously rubbing the pain out of his shoulder. The
swarm of cops pounded after him.

He pulled another flash-bang grenade from his harness and tossed it
randomly behind him, forsaking the time to identify a target. He
pressed his palms against his ears as he dashed further downward,
catching sight of one blinded officer falling hard down the concrete
steps behind him in the wake of the grenade.

"Sonuvabitch, Delta Team! I can't hear shit! Be ready in the

* * * 

The lights in the basement garage were eerily dim. 


The sounds of gunshots from the other side of the door had finally
stopped echoing, leaving the cavernous underground structure in near
silence. Heavy riot gear squeaked as several officers shifted to ease
the cramps in their legs. All twenty men trained their rifles on the
solitary door.


Sweat ran hot down their faces, pooling in the chin straps of their
helmets. They all tried to reassure themselves that it was just the
heavy kevlar which was making them sweat. But kevlar did not make your
heart race. Did not make your stomach turn.


The commander's voice grew soft. Drops of sweat began peppering the
ground. One of the men quickly wiped clear his eyes, careful not to
lose his aim.

Then, a soft click. The squeak of shifting gear swelled, then
disappeared completely. The door's handle turned.

More sweat. 

Suddenly, the latch gave way and the hinges began to whine. 

"Fire at will." 

Rifle fire tore through the metal door, scattering sparks upon the
pavement and mercilessly battering whatever awaited in the darkness
beyond. Spent shells jingled as they collected at the SWAT team's feet
and the air grew heavy with the scent of gunpowder. Several chunks of
battered plaster fell from the wall, shattering as they struck the

"Hold your fire!" 

The staccato flashes suddenly ceased and again the garage was cast in
an eery dimness, made all the more unsettling by the haze of gun smoke
lingering at the ceiling.

"Holy shit, we shot the fucker." 

The door's remains creaked wearily on its hinges in otherwise total
silence, then abruptly fell. The loud crash echoed through the garage.
Tentatively, the SWAT team advanced, their guns held ready.

"Can you see him?" 

"...Musta blown the lights in the stairwell..." 

"We had to have..." 

A single silver canister rolled out of the darkness. 


The officers scattered, dashing and diving away from the device as it
rolled to a pause several feet from the doorway. A thick cloud of
smoke erupted from the can, quickly filling the corner of the garage
with a soupy, choking mist.

"Shit, it's just a smokescreen! Get in there and rush the bastard!" 

The murky haze enveloped them eagerly as they converged upon it, and
suddenly time began to crawl. The smoke hung heavy in the air like
some otherworldly presence, accompanied by a frightening silence. The
garage's sparse lighting faded to a muted gray within the mist.

"Jesus, where's the ventilation in this place?" 

The sound of unsure footfalls slowed until almost none were heard as
the officers tried desperately to get their bearings.

"Sergeant, I can't see shit in here." 

"We gotta pull back." 

An unseen radio crackled. "Delta Team, report. What's your situation?"

A soft, quick patter of footsteps cut through the blinded SWAT team.
The smoke began to swirl.

"Terry, was that...?" 

The officer's words died as his helmet was yanked viciously backward,
choking him with the strap. He felt a vice around his mouth as a
sledgehammer buckled his knees and a final dizzying blow sent him
headfirst into the pavement.

"Oh shit, it's-" 

"Pull back! Shit, pull back!" 

The officer screamed as two of his ribs cracked and something
unforgiving bent his ankle inwards. He fell in a painful heap.

"Sergeant! Where are-?" 

Again the smoke danced. 

"Over there!" 

Something brushed against one of the officer's backs. He whirled,
finding only mocking emptiness. He listened to his own ragged breaths
for a long, terrible moment, before something with the grace of a
snake coiled tight around his neck. His trigger finger tensed.

The burst of gunfire erupted through the fog, scattering the blinded
SWAT team.

"Argh! I'm down! Fuck!" another officer cried. 

"Damn it, pull back! Get out of this sh-" 

A fist suddenly struck the lieutenant's lips, fracturing his jaw and
knocking loose a tooth. He roared in pain. The SWATs converged.

The Spyder leapt out of the haze with an animalistic growl, wisps of
the gray smoke twisting and clinging to his person like a
lightly-flapping trenchcoat or the choking arms of long-dead ghosts.
He planted a stabilizing hand atop the lieutenant's head and launched
himself upward, kicking and breaking one officer's jaw before
redirecting his mass downward. The lieutenant collapsed under the
Spyder's weight, and the vigilante was immediately airborne again,
lashing out with his foot and snapping back another officer's head.
Two men darted for him but his fists came with inhuman speed, pounding
a windpipe and a gut. A flurry of expert blows felled the two officers
before they knew what had hit them and again the Spyder was moving.

The butt of a rifle appeared through the dissipating smoke. The Spyder
ducked and his foot came up, striking the startled officer in the side
of his head as his gun sailed harmlessly over the Spyder's back. The
vigilante's attacking foot whipped back down and his upper body lanced
upward, a fist catching the off-balance officer directly under the
chin and sending him sprawling into the gray.

"Everybody fall back!" 

"Delta Team, report!" 

"Get the fuck down these stairs!" 

The Spyder rolled, avoiding a punch from an officer whose Achilles he
then snapped with one deft movement. The vigilante sprang to his feet,
blocking another angry blow with one hand and pulling off the
attacker's helmet with the other. In a blur of movement the helmet
shattered the officer's nose and a punch from the Spyder drove the air
from his lungs. Three more men rushed him.

"Damn it, don't-!" 

One man lunged but with an Aikido twist, the Spyder caught and broke
his wrist, flipping him hard onto his back. He drove his heel
viciously into the man's solar plexus, debilitating him, as the two
others charged from opposite sides. The Spyder whirled, propelling
himself left. In one smooth movement he slid one arm tight around the
charging officer's windpipe and used the other to twist his hand
awkwardly and painfully behind his back, bringing the man into an
about face right into the butt of his fellow officer's rifle.

"Oh fuck, Jim!" the other officer yelped as his partner's blood
spattered his cheeks. The Spyder released his grip, letting the
stricken officer fall, and grabbed the bloodied butt of the other
attacker's gun. He spun the rifle deftly through the air, smacking the
stunned SWAT right in the face with his own weapon.

"Over there!" 

The Spyder whirled as the man collapsed at his feet. Beta Team poured
through the shattered doorway.

He sprinted forward, leaving two more smokebombs in his wake and
clotheslining a startled SWAT officer who hadn't seen him coming. He
dashed down the long, gradual ramp into the garage's second level.
Shots rang out behind him and he cursed as he turned into a row of
cars, gathering his momentum and hurtling the ramp's railing onto the
hood of a sedan parked in the lower level. He scampered down into the

"He's in the garage, Level B!" 

"Get some light down here NOW!" 

Beta Team, with rifles raised, slowly made its way toward the second
level, leaving the decimated Delta Team still writhing in the creeping
smokescreen. One of the Deltas left standing approached the leader of
the Beta Team, who stood behind his team at a distance.

"The guys outside have all the emergency exits covered. He's gotta
come back up this way."

"We've got the sonuvabitch now. How many did we lose?" 

"None, sir." 

The Beta Team sergeant eyeballed the Delta officer curiously. 


"No, sir. About fifteen men wounded...We'll need ambulances, but I
don't think there's anything life-threatening."

"Huh. Alpha Team said the same-" 

The crisp ring of gunfire pierced the still air. The sergeant whipped
his head back around, toward the darkness at the bottom of the garage
ramp, where the rifle flashes provided only fleeting glimpses of the
panicked officers. Then another sound over the shots. A dull roar.

"What the hell is-?" 

The shriek of tires accompanied the scent of hot rubber as a red
motorcycle burst forth from the shadows, tearing up the ramp at
breakneck speed, its black clad rider crouched low against its chassy.
The sergeant dove barely safe of the charging mass, feeling the heat
of the engine's exhaust as the Kawasaki suddenly dipped into a
dangerously sharp turn. The remains of Delta Team suddenly abandoned
their wounded and pulled their sidearms, desperately trying to find
their aim through the hanging smoke but to no avail. The cycle darted
past them. Right toward the exit ramp.

"Street teams! Converge on the-" 

The roar of the tires became a high frequency drone as they left the
pavement. There was a loud, collective gasp.

The cycle flew off the ramp and out into the cold Harbour night, its
undercarriage illuminated in strobe by the flashing police lights and
its rider staring down upon his startled would-be captors with fierce,
manic eyes. The dumbfounded cops fumbled for their weapons as the
corralled civilians from the restaurant began to scream hysterically.
No one on that street had expected the vigilante to leave the hotel
under his own power.

"It's the Spyder!" 

Out of the mammoth assembly, the shout sought one man's ears first. It
hit him with the force of a freight train. Or four months of
anticipation. Against the frozen grain of the police force, Ron
Middleton stepped forward.

The simple gesture lasted for an unknown eternity. 

Countless spotlights danced on the chill night air, tracing frantic
paths of illumination across the dark and ancient facades of the city.
All coalescing into a single point of brilliance, like an undeserving
halo for an ascending devil. For that endless moment, the Spyder
soared through the air in utter daylight.

Middleton glared. It was the first time he had seen the vigilante
since that fateful night after Raymundo Zuleta's funeral. When the
Spyder had confronted him in his own home with shocking revelations
and ominous threats. When Middleton's obsession had been irrevocably
justified. Now, four months and a collection of broken lives later,
the vigilante was still as despicably glorious as the detective
remembered. And the questions, the hatred, the fire in Middleton's
soul, suddenly flared to an intensity they had never before


The scream echoed from somewhere within the panicked, meaningless
crowd. Middleton saw the bomb roll from the Spyder's fingers, but paid
it no heed. Its arc was slow and graceful through the air, and as it
tumbled, he saw the men begin to flee, frantically crossing his face,
trying to grab him and pull him along. But he would have none of it.
He kept coming.

The ensuing explosion ignited a gas tank. Two squad cars flipped in a
magnificent plume of white hot fire which stretched several stories in
the air and shattered windows up and down Euclid Avenue. And amidst it
all, the blood red motorcycle touched down like the chariot of a dark
god, coolly lording over the sudden chaos, his arrival heralded by
smoke and fire and raining shards of glass. The tires screeched to an
abrupt halt. Middleton's march ended.

And they stood, the Spyder straddling the cycle and Middleton frozen a
few paces away, the only two calm things amidst the raging panic in
the street. The eternal enemies. Unrelenting, destined to their
private dance. Deja vu flashed through Middleton's mind, and suddenly
one thing consumed and overpowered his every thought.

"I'm not letting you go this time, Spyder," he hissed. It was barely a
whisper amongst the cacophony. But the Spyder heard him.

"Then come get me." 

And as the infinite moment ended, both men nodded grimly, their
understanding unspoken and lethal.

Then time resumed. 

The tires of the Kawasaki squealed as the Spyder punched it into gear.
The cycle's back end fishtailed and suddenly the rubber found its grip
on the pavement, launching the bike forward. Middleton reached into
his trenchcoat and pulled the Magnum out from under his arm as the red
and black mass shot breakneck down the street. He fired until the
hammer clicked harmlessly then whirled, flagging down and entering the
passenger seat of a waiting squad car.

"Turner, don't you lose that fucking cycle!" 

Middleton's car took the point, sirens wailing, as black-and-whites
flooded the otherwise empty street. The cycle grew fainter in the

"Stay on him, goddammit!" Middleton yelled, spattering the driver with
foamy spit from the corners of his mouth. As the car lurched forward,
its engine roaring into gear, the detective tore the radio microphone
off the dash and clicked it to life. "This is Middleton! I need the
northeast side shut down, NOW! Get the civilians off the main roads,
then nothing gets south of Sixtieth or west of Cook! I repeat, nothing
south of Sixtieth or west of Cook! Target is currently moving south on
Euclid, south on Euclid, just past Seventy-Fourth at approximately
eighty miles an hour on a red crotch rocket. I want all available air
units on this bastard, and I mean helicopters, not the damn blimps!
DON'T lose him!"

Middleton slammed the mic back into the dashboard as he heard his
orders repeated over the police band. He felt the car lurch again,
this time into fifth gear, as Turner tried to match the Spyder's

"Jesus Christ, Detective, he's handling that bike like nothing I ever

"Just stay on the fucker," Middleton growled, glancing back to see
that the caravan was keeping up.

Outside the car windows, the city began to meld into streaks of gray,
each successive building flashing past quicker than the last.
Middleton glanced down at the speedometer then back up at the
motorcycle, noticing out of the corner of his eye that the tops of the
buildings were gradually fading farther up into the dark sky. They
were approaching Harbour City's business district. Middleton checked
his watch; almost 9:30.

"Damn it, Turner," he growled. "If he heads east, we're gonna hit the
curfew rush bad."

A half block ahead, the bike cut left, disappearing down a tangent

"Ah shit!" Middleton exclaimed as his seat belt suddenly cut sharply
into his midsection. The car squealed into the turn, its back end
spinning out a bit, just as a police chopper blew past overhead,
banking left and rising over the taller buildings.

"Suspect headed east on Sixty-Seventh. All available units pleases
respond," the radio crackled. Middleton looked back to see several
cars break off into sharp U-turns, hoping to head off the cycle if the
Spyder attempted to double back north. Abruptly, Middleton's head was
jerked backward as his own vehicle caught the road and nearly jumped
out of the harsh turn. Turner was clutching the wheel and sweating.

"No one gets on or off Highway One! Shut it down!" Middleton shouted
into the radio as the city again became a blur around him. He turned
to Turner. "He's headed for Shoreline or Poole. He knows we won't be
able to stay on him through the damn traffic."

"Harbor patrol can pick him up if he gets on Shoreline," Turner
responded, his eyes wide and completely transfixed on the motorcycle.
"Don't know about Poole though. Buildings get too tall through the
downtown area for even the choppers to stay on him very well."

"Fuck," Middleton muttered. His eyes went wide. "Right! Right!" 

Middleton's hands suddenly shot out, bracing against the ceiling and
the door to hold his body steady as Turner violently jerked the car,
clipping a curbside trash can with the rear fender. Several loud
collisions sounded behind them as the turn proved too quick for a
group of other officers. Turner spun the wheel back around, dropping
his and Middleton's black-and-white safely back to all four tires as
he widened a sizable gap between them and the other pursuing vehicles.

"We have lost visual, repeat, we have lost visual," the radio

Middleton grabbed the microphone and jerked it to his lips. 

"We're headed south! Down an alley off Sixty-Seventh at..."
Middleton's eyebrows jumped as he glanced at the speedometer. "...At
almost seventy miles an hour..."

Middleton clenched his teeth as a garbage can suddenly rolled up the
hood of the car, bouncing off loudly and landing somewhere behind

"I really hope they have these fuckin' streets cleared..." Turner said
softly as the gaping mouth of the alley grew steadily larger.
Middleton set his hands upon the dashboard and bit his lip. The red
Katana jumped a bit as it left the alley pavement, banking left down
Sixty-Sixth. Suddenly, Middleton and Turner lost visual as an SUV sped
past the alley's exit. Then a sedan.

"Oh shit." 

The squad car bottomed out as it hit the street and careened into
traffic. A black Jeep swerved with an earsplitting screech, coming
inches from side-swiping the black-and-white as it barreled into the
right lane. The Jeep attempted to regain control, but as it crossed to
the far lane a pick-up plowed into it and sent it through a storefront
window. A sedan in the left lane suddenly spun out as the cop car
pulled into traffic in front of it.

"Jesus Jesus Jesus..." Turner muttered as he struggled with the wheel
and left several accidents in his wake. The other vehicles on the busy
street began pulling to the curb at the sight of the collisions and
fast-approaching lights. Middleton leaned forward as the lane opened
up before them, revealing the next few blocks and the endless black
maw of the Pacific beyond.

"Can you see him?! Fuck, can you see him?!" He reached for the
microphone. "I thought I said I wanted these roads clear, god damn

"Suspect headed eastbound on Sixty-Sixth. Suspect is moving against

An oncoming semi suddenly swerved into the left lanes. With a gasp,
Turner twisted the wheel one way then back, nearly planting the car
against a curbside tree as he avoided the errant truck. As the two men
caught their breath, a helicopter swooped down low in front of them.

"There!" Middleton exclaimed. 

The Spyder, bathed in the chopper's spotlight, weaved in and out of
the oncoming traffic with deadly precision, sending cars careening
onto the sidewalks as he cut an unrelenting path eastward through the

"How we doin' on the oceanfront roads?" Middleton shouted into the

"Not good," it crackled back. "Highway ramps are closed but we didn't
have enough time to-"

"CAR!" Middleton screamed as a Pontiac spun haphazardly out of the
Spyder's way and into the left lanes.

Turner cut into the oncoming traffic as the Pontiac settled lengthwise
across both eastbound lanes, and with a quick jerk of the wheel pulled
the car back into line once they'd cleared it.

"I got it," he whispered. He was coated in a cold sweat. "I got it." 

"He's gonna try to get on the highway," Middleton growled as they flew
across Poole Avenue and the dense cityscape finally opened up into the
oceanfront. The oncoming traffic had all but cleared, yet the Spyder
remained in the right lane. "He's gonna try to go the wrong way down
the exit ramp and get on the fuckin' highway!"

"Should I..." Turner mumbled softly, apprehensively moving the car
toward the right lanes.

"Don't," Middleton said sternly. "We've got all the exits barricaded."
Turner sighed. "But stay on his ass!"

Turner punched the accelerator as the overpass loomed ahead. The
Spyder wasn't slowing down.

"Sir, I don't think..." 

The cycle blazed past the highway ramp. 

"Shit!" Middleton snapped as they sped onto the overpass, glancing all
at once to the squad cars at the ends of the ramps below them, back to
the empty streets behind them, and up to the second helicopter which
tore through the air overhead. The lights of harbor patrol boats
glistened amidst the dark waters. "Turner, get up next to him and run
him off the road!"


"Do it!" Middleton screamed. 

"Sir, I'd kill-" 

"Fucking do it!" 

"I can-" 

"God damn it, d-" 

"Oh fuck!" 

Turner slammed on the brakes, sending the car to a screeching, shaking
halt as the Spyder cut them off in a screaming left turn. The seat
belt wrenched the air from Middleton's lungs as his body whipped
forward, and Turner gripped the wheel with all the strength of his
sweaty hands as the smoking wheels threatened to send the vehicle
spinning out of control.

"No," Middleton wheezed, his face contorted in rage as the car
stopped. "No no no. Get...the hell...after him."

With quivering breath Turner bit his lower lip, then jerked the wheel
around and hit the gas.

"Suspect now traveling north on Shoreline Drive, north on Shoreline
Drive!" the radio said, sounding every bit as breathless as Turner and
Middleton at the Spyder's suicidal maneuver. Along the coast, a police
speedboat struggled to keep up with the red cycle, its spotlight
faltering as it bounced across the waves, but supplemented by the two
choppers' lights. Up ahead, a bevy of wailing squad cars was moving
south along the whole of Shoreline. One of the choppers swooped close
above the cycle.

"We've got his ass boxed in," Middleton said, his breaths heavy and
ragged but his face twisting into a dark smile. He pulled the mic off
the dash without taking his eyes off the Spyder. "Take him," he

The near chopper dipped lower and tried to steady itself as its side
hatch slid open and a tethered sniper leaned out. He took his aim. And

And the Spyder cut right. The bullets sparked as they peppered the
pavement in his wake. The helicopter banked away.

"What the fuck?!" Middleton yelled, almost jumping out of his seat.
"Where in the hell...? Right, Turner, damn it, right!"

"Where?!" Turner exclaimed. 

"Suspect has left Shoreline Drive, is currently traveling southbound
on the Common Docks, Pier Twenty Six. Repeat, the motorcycle is now on
the Docks!"

The silhouettes of densely packed, hulking ships flew past the
Kawasaki's sleek form, shadowing it from creamy moonlight and speeding
harbor boats alike. The hungry waves lapped at the edges of the narrow
boardwalk, a cold welcome to the city's massive lifeline. The Pacific
Ocean, where everything in Harbour came from and ended up.

"Oh no..." Middleton whispered, his eyes going wide as he realized
what the Spyder was about to do. "Damn it, no, stop him!"

"Sir, how am I gonna get the car down-" 

"Take him down! Fucking shoot him!" Middleton screamed into the radio
mic, squeezing it with both hands. The oncoming group of police cars
accelerated and the chopper suddenly dipped for a second go-around.
Middleton kept his eyes trained on the cycle, and after a few
painfully slow seconds, he rolled down his window and pulled Turner's
gun right off his hip.

"Sir, what're you...?" 

Wordlessly, Middleton leaned out of the car and opened fire; a last,
desperate gasp. But the bullets merely disappeared into the night.
Along with the Spyder.

"Go back! Go back!" Middleton screamed as he leaned back into his
seat. Suddenly, both helicopters peeled off to circle back around.
Middleton craned his neck backwards as Turner hit the brakes, catching
sight of the stalled motorcycle on the lip of the dark waters. The
Spyder began maneuvering it to the end of a long pier.

"No!" Middleton screamed. He threw open the car door just as Turner
popped the vehicle into reverse and dashed madly from the passenger
seat before his subordinate could protest. The oncoming caravan of
black-and-whites slowed to a stop at the sight of it.


"Stop, Daniel! Stop, damn it!" Middleton screamed over the din of the
whirling chopper blades and whining police sirens. He ran as fast as
his old legs would carry him, but he knew it wasn't nearly fast
enough. Some one hundred yards away, the cycle's engine roared. "God
damn you, Spyder, stop!"

Middleton fired a few more rounds sloppily into the dark, missing
everything but air. A strong gust of wind hit the back of his head and
a third chopper dropped in low, suddenly framing the Spyder in an
eerily appropriate spotlight. Straddling the idle bike, the vigilante
quickly tore all the excess gear from his body, save for one
apple-sized object in his right hand.

"This is the police! Step away from the vehicle and put your hands in
the air!"

"No!" Middleton exclaimed, reaching out futilely for the low-flying
chopper. "Wait, he has a...!"

He saw the bike begin to move before the shriek of the tires had even
drowned out his words.

The chopper's sniper opened fire. The bike sped down the pier trailing
thick black smoke, racing the helicopter and its steady stream of
bullets toward the ocean's inky void. Shortening the distance further
and further.

And suddenly there was no more pier to ride. The cycle was airborne
for only an instant this time, far shorter than the seeming infinity
of the Spyder's first grand reveal. Middleton cringed and watched the
vigilante leap from the bike as it splashed into the harbor's cold
water; watched as the Spyder whipped one arm quickly upward before
gracefully disappearing into the depths himself.

The grenade ignited while still in mid-air. The explosion was quick
and forceful, its immediate blast missing the helicopter, but the
shock wave powerful enough to send the craft into a short tailspin. It
hit the water with a loud crash, sending foamy waves splashing across
the pier and violently rocking the boats along most of the Common
Docks. One of its propellers caught the hull of a nearby ship and
broke off, shooting out to sea as the rest of the engine began to fall
apart and the occupants dove for safety.

And just like that, it was over. 

It would take all night to clear the wreckage. Longer to search for
the Spyder's body. Middleton knew they wouldn't find it.

As the cops poured out of their squad cars all along Shoreline Drive
and raced down to the ravaged docks, Middleton again found himself
moving against the grain. Every step felt as though he was walking
through water. Wearily, he dragged his tired body back up the weeded
hill to Shoreline Drive, letting Turner's gun fall from his hand and
his head fall lower still. He placed an arm on the roof of the closest
squad car and stood for a long moment, feeling the ache of his tired
body and the horrible pounding in his head consume him. He breathed
deeply and tasted the ocean's salty air upon his lips, hearing its
waves lapping at the harbor even over the din of his men's shouts.

And something else. 

The mocking cackle of Harbour's ghosts. 

* * * 

The twirling red lights ran frantically around the shadowed street,
accompanied by the soft roll of tires and the quick flicker of a
police siren. The lights shone brightly against the dark buildings and
under the fresh canopy of darker clouds. It had been a mere two hours
since the Spyder's daring escape at the waterfront, yet the city
already laid dead and quiet. Leaving the streets in the care of its
darker denizens.

The officer in the passenger seat exited the squad car first as it
rolled to a stop. He fingered his sidearm nervously.

"Alright, show me your hands," he said sternly. "Now." 

The dark stranger in the trenchcoat complied, raising both hands
toward the starless sky.

"Now come forward, slowly," the other cop directed as he situated the
car's hood-mounted spotlight. The stranger squinted and shielded his
eyes as the brightness encompassed him.

"It's alright, it's alright..." he mumbled, shuffling forward. "I have

The first nervous officer straightened up a bit and moved forward
cautiously, glancing back to confirm that his partner had the vagrant
in his sights.

"I'm cleared from the curfew laws," the stranger explained, nodding
down to the tag which hung around his neck. The nervous cop eyeballed
him for a long while at arm's length before finally stepping close and
grabbing the laminate.

"Paul Foster," he read aloud. "What the hell're you doing out here
this late?"

The other cop advanced and relaxed his aim a bit, but glared at Foster

"Out for a stroll," Foster said unconvincingly, stooping down to scoop
up his briefcase and tuck it securely under his arm.

"That a fact? You keep late hours, friend," the cop remarked with a
smug, suspicious frown.

"Couldn't sleep." 

"Your briefcase couldn't sleep neither, huh?" 

"Oh...Uh, it's just got my keys and a book in there...In case I wanted
to stop and read in the park or something."

"Probably not the best idea at this hour, buddy," the second officer

"Heh...Guess not." 

The two policemen exchanged glances and turned with narrow eyes back
to Foster. The first one finally took his hand off his gun and, seeing
Foster's discomfort, smirked.

"Probably not the best idea to be walkin' around these parts after
curfew either," he said darkly. "'Cause, you know, the Spyder's been
seen around here a lot and all. Can't be too careful what with
everything that's going on in this town. Lotta nutjobs."

The cop smiled as his eyebrows lowered, giving his face a sinister
appearance when backlit by the squad car's lights.

"Been a lot of Spyder reports around here is right." 

"Thanks, I'll...I'll keep that in mind," Foster replied. 

"I'd offer you a ride home..." the first cop said. He sneered. "But
then again, your tag says you work for the mayor's office. Let's get
outta here, Joe."

With a pair of snickers the two cops turned back toward their car,
leaving Foster shaken and still framed in the bright light.

"Stay outta trouble," one condescending cop chuckled as the doors
slammed shut. Both the lights on the hood and the roof went dark, and
the car sped off. Foster stood in the darkness for a moment, watching
as the cops disappeared around a corner. He sighed and shifted the
briefcase into a tighter fit in his armpit, then turned to continue
his walk.

Until something grabbed him from behind. 

He was wrenched into the closest alley by the back of his dark
trenchcoat as a gloved and foul-smelling hand wrapped around his lips.
The hand was unnecessary. He never tried to scream.

"What're you doing here?!" 

Foster's eyes were wide as they tried to adjust to the darkness, and
his heart raced if only from the start of the sudden abduction. The
hand slowly uncoiled from around his jaw, leaving the nauseatingly
strong stench of sewage in its wake. Foster coughed a bit and wiped
his lips frantically with his sleeve before spitting his mouth dry.

The hand suddenly clamped across his throat and forced him back hard
against the unforgiving brick wall. Forced to look up, Foster was
suddenly confronted by the rage in the Spyder's bloodshot eyes. And
the stink of sewage just would not go away.

"I...I'm looking for you..." Foster whispered as the vigilante began
to choke him. A moment passed before the Spyder relaxed his grip.


Foster bent down and coughed a few more times before picking his
briefcase up off the pavement. He dusted it off and extended it
between himself and the Spyder like some ceremonial offering. The
vigilante eyeballed it curiously.

"I...I didn't know where else to go with this," Foster said softly,
his eyes pleading for a chance of acceptance. "I really don't know why
I came to you, but I just thought...I don't know, I thought you

"Get to the point." 

Foster gulped visibly at the directive given in the Spyder's gravelly
baritone. He nodded down to the briefcase in his hands.

"I have information you might be interested in...About Leo Briggs."

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