Uncle Ben and Aunt May did not think Peter could hear them talk. They thought he didn’t know about their money issues, or about how his hospitalization (which they didn’t press charges on) had wiped out their savings, or how Uncle Ben couldn’t take out any more loans and their credit cards were maxed out. They also thought Peter couldn’t hear Aunt May cry softly about Flash and Peter and Liz.
They were wrong on all counts.
Peter didn’t notice much as he walked through Queens’ streets. He bumped into people and was sworn at, but he didn’t hear. He handed his whole backpack to the cops with hardly a grimace. He pushed through the crowd as much as he could, but was slower than he normally was at getting through. He was late to first period, for the first time ever. Nor did he answer any questions. Peter was scribbling in his notebook; he didn’t even notice the bell.
By the time Peter walked up to Dr. Allan at the end of Advanced Physics he had filled up an empty notebook. Without saying anything Peter thrust the notebook into Dr. Allan’s hands and sat down in a front row desk. Dr. Allan opened the notebook gingerly. He stared at the front page. And then began to flip through it, hurriedly. Dr. Allan flipped through an entire 70 page notebook in three minutes. Dr. Allan sat down on his desk and stared. He got up and walked down the hall, and came back a minute later. “Mr. Elvarez knows you will not be in his class. You are excused from English. Because this is revolutionary.” He sat down and took a deep breath. “Peter, this is a 70 page equation about how to make an impenetrable force field that can be powered by AAA battery. This…. This is beyond amazing. I cannot begin to tell you how amazing this is. It’s revolutionary. This could change everything. I can’t overstate this.”
“Good. How do I sell this?”
Dr. Allan laughed. “Slow down there! There’s a lot more to go before we patent this. Like building an archetype and proving that your math checks out.”
“It checks out.”
“I know it does. But Peter, not everyone will be able to follow this. You literally invented three different symbols to make the math work. PhDs wouldn’t be able to read this. The only reason I’m able to follow this is because I’ve graded your homework and I’ve seen you make up symbols before. We need more than just a key of symbols. We need a working prototype.”
“Peter, without a prototype to prove that this isn’t gibberish nothing can be done.”
Peter sat there, looking at the desk. “I can build it. Cheaply.”
“Peter, how? How are you going to find an object that can reliably produce an atomic threat that the force field can deflect, consistently?”
“I can get one. That’s all you need to know.”
“Alright, I’ll help you build it if you can get something.”
The rest of the day was a blur. Peter grabbed another notebook and continued to fill it. By the end of the day Peter had filled another notebook with schematics. The instant the bell rang Peter was out of his seat and out the school doors. He didn’t even stop at his locker. He ran down the street, dodging between people and light poles and cars and all the other random nonsense that was in his way. It wasn’t until he got to Inglesia that he realized he needed his inhaler… and then he needed to puff on it twice and wanted to do more.
Manny was just coming out of the bathroom when Peter came into the restaurant. He beamed at Peter and patted him on the back, almost knocking him over with each pat. “Manny, I need a really big favor from you. It’s huge.”
Manny laughed and said “Sure, Peter, sure, let’s go into the office in the back and we can talk.” They headed back, past the smelly kitchens and dirty people, and they turned his stomach. Just the sight of the dishes in the sink made Peter want to throw up. When Peter went into the office, which was strewn about with file folders and chewing tobacco tins, the enclosed space made Manny’s pungent smell unbearable.
Peter couldn’t stand. Fortunately there was a chair, which he grabbed. Out came the inhaler. Manny delicately helped Peter down. He took a fan and put it in front of Peter (“To help with breathing!”), who found the gesture helpful, if not sentimental. Manny sat down opposite of him (and away from the fan), and waited. “Uncle Ben needs help and I can help him.”
“What does Ben need?”
“Money. And I can get it.”
“I can make a small force-field generator that will stop anything, on a molecular level. It can make billions, ending my Aunt and Uncle’s financial troubles, forever. I can do this.”
Manny nodded. He got up and turned to the safe behind him (12-00-68, as Peter saw it) and got the adamantium knife out. “Adamantium cuts on a molecular level. Count me in.”
Peter looked down at the knife. “Um, I hadn’t even asked yet. You sure? I’m not sure what my force field may do to this knife. And I know it’s important to you.”
“Pete, you and your family will never go hungry because of what your Uncle did for the Morales family. I would do anything for you. The knife is nice. It reminds me a time when I needed strength and I found it. But this is huge. It’ll work.”
Peter shook Manny’s hand. “I really, really appreciate this, Manny.”
Manny smiled and nodded. “What’s family for?”
Flash was sitting in Peter’s living room when he got back, sitting with Uncle Ben and Aunt May. Flash stood up and Peter took a step back. “Parker, where were you at the end of class?”
“I had gone to see Manny. What the… I mean… what are you doing in our house?”
“It’s Liz, Parker. She’s gone.”
Peter tried to hear the rest, but he couldn’t. Not on the first go around, anyway. After he was sat down and given a glass of milk by Aunt May (“His poor nerves!”) he heard it: Flash had tried to meet up with Liz at their usual spot during lunch… and Liz wasn’t there. Flash went to look for Liz but couldn’t find her anywhere. Flash cleared the whole school before talking to anyone. And, when the cops said they wouldn’t look for Liz without twenty four hours of absence, Flash went to the only place he thought he could turn… to Peter. When asked why Flash thought Peter could help, Flash said that he couldn’t think of anyone smart enough to figure it out.
Peter gripped the adamantium pocket knife in his pocket and walked out the door with Flash. The first place they checked was her house (“So good to see the two of you together again!”), but that was a dead end: Liz’s mom and step-dad had assumed that she was with Flash. The pair went back to the highschool and Peter broke into Liz’s locker. And, there on the top shelf, was a spray canister. It was an unmarked grey. Peter picked it up and examined it. “It’s got a refrigerant system built into it, high-tech stuff.”
Flash took it from Peter. “Liz would never have something that was this boring.”
They looked at each other a moment.
Peter had keys to the science lab, courtesy of Dr. Allan. He wasn’t in. Peter ran up to one of the microscopes, sprayed a bit of the stuff in the canister on the slide, and ran it under the microscope. Flash stood next to him for a few minutes, tapping his foot. “What’s the hold-up?” Peter held up a finger. “The clock’s ticking, Parker. We need to find Liz!” Peter flipped his hand around into a rude gesture and Flash chuckled. “There’s the old Pete.”
Peter didn’t seem to hear that last comment. “This has got to be a mistake.”
“This stuff, if sprayed in your face, would change your DNA.” Peter pulled back from the microscope. “How the hell would you package a DNA resequencer in an aerosol can?”
“Well, I mean, you see crap like this TV shows all the time, right?”
“That’s my point, Flash. This shouldn’t be possible, not even by my standards.”
“You have standards?” Peter glared at Flash. “What? You either laugh or your cry or you kill someone. I need you around right now, so I’m doing the first.”
Peter rolled his eyes. “How about none of them right now? I’ve no idea what the resequencer does. All I know is that, if they used this on Liz, they’d need a place to stash her. Somewhere quiet and out of the way.”
“You mean like an abandoned warehouse? Would it need to be nearby?”
“Her DNA is being re-written. If I was going to do something that ridiculous I’d want to move her as little as possible. Not even out of the building, if at all possible!”
Flash started for the door. “I know exactly where. C’mon!”
Peter rolled his eyes when he saw the place. “Oh, you got to be kidding. Of all places?”
Flash bristled. “Look, how were we supposed to know that behind the bleachers had a secret door?”
“Dare I ask how you found it?”
One of the bricks was slightly off-shade of the rest of the wall. Flash walked over to it and leaned on it, putting all his weight on that brick. It slid in with a “click”, and the ground next to them opened up, slowly, with hardly a sound. Something small and dark skittered out, but it moved so fast that Peter and Flash barely even registered it was there. After a minute of waiting, nothing happened, so both Peter and Flash started to go down.
The door closed behind them, blocking out all the light. Peter screamed. “AH! IT BURNS IT BURNS! MY NECK! GOD! HELP ME! HELP ME!” His screams reverberated down the walls. Flash tried to shut him up, but it was too late. Peter had rolled onto his back, spasming and foaming at the mouth. A small object fell out of his pocket: it was a pocket knife. Flash picked it up on reflex as he tried to help Peter. Down the hall Flash heard another scream; it was Liz. A small light appeared at the end of the tunnel, flickering. Flash flipped the pocket knife out and hurried down the cramped tunnel.
Liz was naked. Liz was on fire. Liz’s hair was a flaming mane that went down her back. She looked at Flash. Flash looked at Liz. Liz screamed, the flames reared up, and Flash was knocked over. When Flash came to, he was alone, in darkness.
Peter had started to regain consciousness when Flash found his way back to him. Peter wasn’t able to speak; he seemed to have lost his voice. Flash looked around for a locking mechanism near where he thought the door was and couldn’t find one. Peter kept trying to say something, over and over again, but he was so quiet that Flash couldn’t hear, so he put his ear right next to Peter’s mouth.
A small pocket knife cut through a foot thick wall of concrete in about fifteen minutes, with not even one scratch on the knife. Flash had never seen anything like it. Once he was out of the building he had cell service and called 911 for Peter, who had a huge welt on his neck. Peter did not let the inhaler leave his mouth once until the ambulance arrived. The cops investigated the area under the school and found several labs and an operating table. But the place was clean; no prints, no nothing. The whole place had been cleaned meticulously… aside from the burn marks that they found, walking out a rear entrance from the lab… which all of a sudden stopped. The cops were baffled. Flash was in shock.
Peter, for his part, didn’t get out of hospital for another week.