The crisis had been averted, and Farpoint Station was revealed for the sham it had been all along. So the Bandi would not, in fact, be able to offer Starfleet a high-efficiency station on the edge of the new frontier. So they were charlatans, people who had been taking advantage of a living being whose natural habitat was the cold depths of space, and they were not on the same good terms with the Federation that they once were.
Uncle Ben was dead.
Peter walked into his quarters and found the costume for which he had devised the name “Spider-Man” still draped over the chair by the door, right where he’d left it. He snatched it up angrily and hurled it onto the floor.
“Uncle Ben is dead! And all because I was too late to save him! My Spider-Man costume--I wish there were no such thing! Now Aunt May is alone…what’s she going to do all alone on some colony world the Federation never cared about? I’ve got to quit Starfleet and go home to her!”
He couldn’t dwell on it, however. His door chime sounded.
Who could that be? He wondered, but he said “uh, come in,” and the door slid open as he approached. He found himself looking eye-to-eye with Wesley Crusher, who was grinning from ear to ear.
“Hey Peter! Me and Adam, Craig and Flash are gonna try and recreate that masked guy from the surface of the Bandi homeworld in the holodeck. Wanna come help us?”
“No thanks, guys, I uh, I have things I need to do here.”
“Might have known,” Flash said sarcastically, “he’d rather read up on his science stuff for his new assignment. Who needs this walking bookworm anyway?”
“Come on, Flash, give him a break. Science is fun, you can do all kinds of interesting things.” Wesley told him.
“Yeah, whatever; you’re lucky you don’t have your nose stuck in a padd all day.”
Wesley and Peter were both slightly bemused by Flash’s bizarre metaphor, but they didn’t say anything.
“Let’s go,” Flash practically commanded.
“Okay, well see ya later, Pete!”
“Yeah, later.” Peter waved a halfhearted goodbye and walked away from the door, allowing it to whisk shut behind him…
…and elsewhere on the ship, a man at a computer screen was making even more trouble for him.
“The Bandi haven’t seen him since our vessel and the two spaceborne entities departed from orbit,” Picard explained to Admiral Jameson. “We have reason to believe he may have sought refuge aboard the Enterprise.”
“But wouldn’t you have picked up his enhanced life-signs?” Jameson inquired, his scratchy voice coming through the screen’s speaker more loudly than any other Admiral Captain Picard regularly contacted.
“Admittedly, no, we haven’t. However, it is quite suspicious. The Bandi never reported any tales of their people acquiring bizarre abilities from the creature, and the very aesthetic of the man’s outfit and motif seem to suggest an Earth origin. He was clad in a costume with spider symbols on it.”
“He sounds like a menace to the Federation, Picard.” Jameson pulled out a cigar and lit it up; he was a glaring anomaly in the world of the twenty-fourth century, probably the only person in all of Starfleet who would poison his own lungs with deliberate smoke inhalation.
Picard did his best to hide his ironic smirk as Jameson chomped angrily on the cigar. Even he indulged in a fine glass of wine on occasion.
“Oh, uh, nothing, sir. You’re absolutely right. I don’t like this situation any more than you do. If he’s on my ship, I guarantee I will take him into custody and make sure he’s dealt with.”
And he meant it. Jean-Luc Picard was not fond of vigilantes, especially when those vigilantes took refuge aboard his ship. Granted, he had only been the captain of the fleet’s flagship for nearly a week, but that didn’t mean he couldn’t take umbrage to an unwelcome visitor--and after Q, well, one was enough.
“How’s my son getting on?” Jameson changed the subject. “Is he prepared for his mission?”
“Yes, Admiral, we picked him up three hours ago and are another two from our destination. I look forward to this experiment. No one has attempted what he’s going to do before.”
“He’s my son, Jean-Luc, don’t you think I know that?” Jameson was now biting into his cigar to keep it in place while he spoke, lending him a particularly nasty edge.
“Of course, my apologies, sir.”
“Keep me informed. I want to know how things go. On both counts.”
When the connection was closed, Picard began writing a report on his terminal intended to begin to remedy the situation. It was an alert to all department heads and to security, warning them about a potentially powerful stowaway. He told them this person was given to showboating and should not be allowed to interfere with the mission of Lieutenant John Jameson, the Admiral’s son.
“When I’m through with this report, the intruder should be flushed out…”
Peter spoke briefly with his commanding officer, Lieutenant Connors. Connors was going to be in charge of the monitoring Jameson’s flight the next day, and Peter was going to be there as well, for some, as he put it, “real hands-on scientific experience”. He tried asking Connors about ways to acquire money while serving aboard a starship, and Connors simply laughed dead in his face. Peter needed some way to help his poor Aunt May, who lived all alone now on a colony world that still relied on currency. He leaned back in his chair and reflected grimly upon the situation.
Then it came time for his physical.
“You have the single most unremarkable physiology on the entire ship, Mister Parker,” Doctor Crusher told him with a sing-song voice of admiration. “That makes it singularly remarkable. Normally I find all kinds of abnormalities within any human--or even nonhuman--body. Poor circulation to a finger or toe, a heartbeat that makes it sound like the individual needs to hit the gym a little bit more, or one which makes it sound as though he’s never seen a gym in his life. But you, Mister Parker…you’re thoroughly an anomaly.” She smiled at him.
Scratching the back of his head nervously, he said, “Gee, thanks, Doctor Crusher.”
“Hey, buck up, Cadet.” She put her hand on his arm. “Be glad you don’t have anything wrong with you.”
“Right,” he smiled back. Inwardly, he was sighing with relief.
If you only knew. I’m lucky my inhibitor actually worked. As long as I wear this microscopic device under my skin in my leg, no medical tricorder will be able to pick out my unique life-signs! The problem is, I’m not sure if it’ll let anyone detect a problem when I have one…
“It’s just that I’m not sure if I should run further tests or just tell you you don’t need to come back and see me for another nine years!” she laughed heartily at her own joke, which Peter wasn’t sure he understood, and then busied herself with finishing her examination.
Wesley came bouncing into sickbay then, alone. His friends must have gone on to other things.
“Wes, what brings you in here?” the Doctor asked.
“Just stopping by to say hi. Hey, Pete,” Wes looked around his mom to give Peter a wave, and Peter nonchalantly waved back at him. “Me and the guys were seeing if we could recreate that thing everyone was talking about with that Spider-Man-Guy taking down the Crusher on the Bandi planet. We got kinda bored after we couldn’t get it right, but we’re still thinking we might see him again!”
“Excuse me, Peter,” said the Doctor, and she sighed as she appeared to be taking on a heavy burden. She turned toward her son and took a few steps toward him, making her presence all the more intimidating.
“That Spider-Man everyone’s talking about is dangerous, Wes! Do you have any idea what you’ll be getting yourself into if you go looking for him? He set a horrible example for anyone who thinks it’s a good idea to go out and take the law into their own hands. Did you hear about what he did to that burglar he strung up on Deneb IV? I promise you, Wesley, it wasn’t pretty. You focus on something else for a change, okay? You like to build things…why don’t you come up with a new project and start working on that?”
Wes lowered his head. “Yes, ma’am.”
“Good. Now please leave the sickbay. I have a patient I need to attend to.”
As Wes loped out of the room, the Doctor’s attention was back on Peter, who had been sitting on the diagnostic bed with his hand on his forehead, feeling the shame and frustration of the moment. They were talking about him--and apparently his name was mud. However, he did an admirable job of neutralizing his expression by the time she had turned back around.
“I’m sorry about that, Peter. I’m sure you never cause your parents that much trouble.”
If you only knew…sounds like the people have spoken, at least. My alter-ego finally has a name--Spider-Man. Not sure how much I like it, but at least it makes sense.
The next day, a large crowd was assembled in the hangar bay for the launch of John Jameson’s two-hour mission. Lieutenant Connors was explaining the intricacies of what they would have to do while Captain Picard and the rest of the command crew socialized with Jameson.
Scoring brownie points with the Admiral’s son. Wish I could break ranks and do that. Even Wes got in to see him…
“Where he’s going, there are unique Class-G ion storms. The ionic energy is like nothing Starfleet has ever encountered. For that reason, we don’t know anything yet about the effects of the ionized gases on a ship’s hull, shielding or systems. What we need to do is keep an eye on him with specially-calibrated sensors that I’ve developed.”
With that, Connors indicated with a sweep of his arm the console that he and Peter would be working at. He then placed both hands upon it almost affectionately and began starting it up, moving all ten fingers deftly across the controls. He then gestured with one hand while still operating it with the other, inviting Peter to take his place at one of the monitors.
“I’m really going to need you to give me a hand with this, Peter. If we’re forearmed for whatever situation might arise, we can cut short any disaster that might occur.”
Peter took his place just as the crowd was disengaging from the famous pilot and taking their places at the railing above the bay at the entrance, and Jameson was taking the stairway down toward his shuttle two steps at a time. Lieutenant Commander Argyle was just finishing the necessary engineering adjustments, his reddish beard just visible from beneath the shuttle’s raised frame. He rolled out from underneath to stand and speak briefly with Jameson, shaking his hand and practically beaming with admiration.
“It must take a lot of courage to go out in one of those,” Wes was heard to say somewhere behind Peter.
His mother responded with, “I’ll bet even Spider-Man would think twice before volunteering for this ride, huh?”
“I suppose so…”
Peter fought to remain focused on his work. The fifteen-second countdown was announced, and all the engineers on the deck scrambled up the stairs to get to safety behind the railing on the upper deck. Soon the hangar door was sliding open and the shuttle was ascending off the deck, facing the emptiness of space beyond, between the Enterprise and the planet below, which was a roiling mass of orange and brown clouds broken only by intense flashes of white. When the door had lifted to a point where it was completely concealed within its own frame, the shuttle glided forward, slipping through the force-field which retained the atmosphere inside the shuttlebay and headed toward the planet at an increasing velocity. Peter and Connors were able to track him once he’d become too distant to see with the naked eye by virtue of their two-man console.
“He’s ten thousand kilometers from the planet’s atmosphere…” Connors announced to all those assembled. “Five thousand…two thousand…he’s entered.”
They didn’t cheer like Peter expected them to. Instead, the response was the somber, respectful silence of a disciplined Starfleet staff. Peter appreciated that they didn’t behave like children around a heroic icon. Still, they had a profound respect for Jameson because of his piloting prowess. If only the same could be said for Spider-Man’s remarkable abilities…
“What the--!” Connors exclaimed as his screen went dead. “I’ve just lost my feed! Parker, is yours still functioning?”
Connors shoved him aside. “I need to figure out what the hell is going on. I designed this system personally! Built it with my own two hands!” He glanced over his shoulder toward the Captain, obviously worried that he would see a disapproving glare coloring Picard’s face. But Picard remained impassive, asking simply, “Can you find him?”
“I’m working on it, sir. I honestly have no idea. Parker, where is he on here?”
“I-I’m not sure, sir.”
“Weren’t you monitoring him?” There was accusation in Connors’ tone.
“Well yes, but since I got out of your way I haven’t--”
“Nevermind.” Connors was agitated. Peter decided not to push the issue, instead thinking about what might have happened, and what might occur next.
“Ent--Jameso--shuttle out--control! Req--”
His voice was coming over the communications board, which was barely receiving any signal. Picard, Argyle and now even Data were clustered around Connors as he tried to figure out what was going wrong. Their backs were to Peter, forming a solid wall beyond which all the action was happening. He was being ignored. Even Wes was trying to get closer to the console to see what was happening. Then Peter got an idea.
There’s only one person who can save John Jameson…and that is…Spider-Man!
Almost as if in a dream, it felt like one moment Peter was standing in the shuttlebay with everyone else, and the next he was in his quarters in his costume. The transformation had felt instantaneous, even though he knew a significant amount of time had to have elapsed. With his costume on, he did some quick hacking into the Enterprise’s transporter system so that he could get himself from his quarters all the way to the shuttlecraft. Unfortunately, first he had to hack the sensors and perform a spontaneous modification in order to locate it.
“Sometimes I forget how good I am at everything,” Peter remarked to the empty cabin. “I feel like the absolute worst kind of Mary-Sue fanfiction character!” He then stared straight ahead with an embarrassed look on his face as though he were being watched by an imaginary audience. Shaking it off with a sigh, he discovered the shuttle’s coordinates, projected where it would be when he materialized, and set the transporter for an immediate beam-out.
“I’ve got a partial sensor lock, but the shuttle appears to be damaged!” Connors called out. “There’s damage to several of the main thrusters--it looks like the storm has completely neutralized the shuttle’s shields and is beginning to put stress on the hull of the ship!”
“We haven’t much time,” Picard began in earnest. “We must find some way to save John Jameson’s life even though the shuttle is doomed!”
“We could try to tractor him out,” Riker suggested.
Picard at once slapped his combadge. “Mr. La Forge! Activate a tractor beam at once and attempt to secure the shuttlecraft!”
“Aye, sir,” came the crisp reply.
Acting with desperate speed, the visored Lieutenant (j.g.) attempted a few times to snare the floundering shuttlecraft, but with no success!
“It’s no good, sir,” his voice came back to them. “I just can’t get a lock!”
Picard’s hand balled into a fist and then he released it, refusing to accept that it was over. “There must be something else. Mr. Data? Mr. Argyle?”
Data immediately began conferring with Argyle, but it didn’t sound promising. In the meantime, Connors continued to work his panel with fevered frenzy. Then he exclaimed, “There’s something going on!”
Picard and the others turned their attention back to him post-haste.
“There’s…a person? On the side of the shuttle! But how did he get there?” “Visual!” Riker crisply commanded. A moment later, a flickering, static-filled image appeared on the viewscreen, showing a familiar red-and-blue costumed man crawling along the shuttle’s body, practically hugging it to stay safe from the pressure and energy of the surrounding ion storm that was buffeting it.
“How did he…?” Picard began, incredulous.
“It appears he may have tried to sabotage it, sir,” Tasha Yar, the security chief, contributed angrily.
“No, look…” Connors pointed, indicating Spider-Man’s next action.
Spider-Man was now squirting something from his wrist into the cracks in one of the thrusters, sealing them so that no further energy leaked out of them. After that, he began bouncing madly around the hull, avoiding a sudden electrical storm that threatened to fry him alive.
“How is he keeping ahead of the lightning so easily?” Yar wondered.
“I wouldn’t say that it looks easy, Lieutenant,” Riker told her.
“I don’t know what he’s playing at, but it’s obvious that he set this in motion just so he could go out there and fix it, and perhaps win us over,” Picard said, unconvinced by Spider-Man’s heroics. “What used to be referred to as a ‘publicity stunt’ on Earth.”
Riker looked at his Captain as though he’d suddenly sprouted a clown nose. Picard didn’t seem to notice, which was just fine in Riker’s eyes. The last thing he needed to do was to incur the wrath of his new Captain. But was he really suggesting that Spider-Man’s risk of life and limb to save John Jameson was for attention?
“I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s in league with Q,”, Picard added earnestly, practically growling.
But in the meantime, Spider-Man’s efforts were bearing both danger and success. He flung himself in a wild somersault over the prow of the ship, hurtling toward the other side so he could seal up another of the thrusters that had been damaged. He saw the face of John Jameson looking out at him through the window, shocked, incredulous and a little bit scared. But if he was keeping an eye on hull integrity, he would surely notice that things were being patched up.
Peter noticed a slight drop in altitude, and wondered if Jameson was trying to make the ride a little bit smoother for him. As energy scored the ship right next to where he was working, he prayed that that was the case. Otherwise, the next strike would surely hit him! He held his breath until the thruster was sealed, then rolled along the hull to the next one and started working immediately. It had to be manipulated a little bit in order to put the cracked pieces back together so they would close, but they were hot to the touch. As the shuttle dropped through a particularly tumultuous patch of clouds and began to shudder violently, he created web-mitts for his hands and performed the work necessary, utilizing his spider-strength to force the components to touch. Then he squirted some of his web-fluid into the crack and moved on again.
They emerged into the lower atmosphere and started to level out. With a sigh of relief, Spider-Man sealed the rest of the cracks on the ship and crawled back to the window, where a smiling John Jameson gave him a thumbs-up. Peter returned the salute, then tapped the communicator on his wrist and dematerialized.
He found himself in his quarters once more. With a sigh of relief, he threw off his costume and put his uniform back on. Then he turned and bolted out the door and down the corridor toward the turbolift, ignoring everyone who was staring at him. The adrenaline rush was still going strong. He’d have to convert it into pure nervousness by the time he reached the cargo bay, or else someone would suspect something.
Emerging back where he was supposed to be, he noticed that no one even realized he’d left. A few seconds after the door closed behind him, Connors turned around to look for him.
“Okay, Parker. You keep an eye on him as he comes back up. A close eye. I want that shuttle back intact, and with all hands.”
What is it with that guy and hands? Parker wondered, but he shook it off and did his duty.
Once the shuttle had landed and everybody was crowding around to make sure Jameson was alright, Peter heaved a sigh of relief and sagged against the console. He looked up to see Wes standing next to him.
“That was one heck of a show, huh?”
“It was pretty intense,” Peter agreed. “You have no idea how intense it was for me!”
“I’ll bet. I hope you’re not in trouble for losing him before. Lucky thing they managed to find him again.”
Peter nodded. “Let’s just hope I don’t have to do this a second time.”
As Jameson followed Picard up the stairs, followed himself by everybody else, he said, “I don’t know who that guy was on the hull, but he saved my life. I mean, I wasn’t imagining him, right?”
Picard stopped walking and turned around, speaking gravely. “No.” Then, to everyone, “No, you weren’t. I’m afraid I’m going to have to say this once again and make it quite clear to everyone that Spider-Man is not the hero you have all made him out to be. I would venture to guess that this mishap was all a plot by Spider-Man to steal the spotlight from Mr. Jameson here, and I accuse Spider-Man himself of sabotaging the shuttlecraft! He unlawfully boarded this vessel and commandeered the transporter system to get himself onto the hull. Then, by means of grandstanding, he tried to make a hero of himself, but he instead caused this experiment to fail, thus setting our exploration of this planet back by several weeks! He is a menace to the Federation, and he must be handled as one!”
“Sir, are you certain you believe that?” Riker inquired, still unable to believe his Captain’s adverse reaction to the superhuman.
“With every fiber of my being, Mr. Riker. Are you telling me that you don’t?”
Riker seemed to embrace the challenge as he replied, “As Starfleet officers, I believe it’s our duty to give every being be encounter the benefit of the doubt until we’re able to learn more. I can’t claim to know who this Spider-Man is or where he came from, but anyone who’s willing to take that kind of risk--especially in that ridiculous outfit--deserves a bit of respect, don’t you think?”
“You make an excellent point. I would argue, however, that we don’t know precisely how much risk he has actually undertaken in doing what he has done. Furthermore, was it wise of us to allow Q the benefit of the doubt to do what he wished with us?”
“I wouldn’t say we had a choice there, sir.”
This is just great, Peter thought, and not for the first, or second, or even third time since boarding the Enterprise. Now the Captain himself is out to get me? They’ll fear me more than ever!
“Captain,” Counselor Troi piped up, “Perhaps we should attempt to open a dialogue with him.”
Picard bristled at the notion. “Counselor, I’m perfectly willing to have a dialogue with him, provided he is on the opposite side of a force-field in the brig.”
Peter could have sworn Commander Riker was imagining Captain Picard inside the cell because of the momentary smirk that crossed his features, but there was also an underlying sense that Riker respected the Captain, despite the short amount of time he had served under him.
They discussed it for only a few more minutes, and then Riker suggested that he and Jameson get a drink in Ten-Forward, and anyone who wanted to join them was welcome.
On his walk back to his quarters at the end of the day, Peter caught sight of a notice on the wall panels which was no doubt everywhere on the ship. It read:
“ALL HANDS: Caution- Spider-Man is dangerous. Be on the lookout for him. If sighted, please report to the nearest security officer.”
Underneath that notice was an image of Peter in his uniform, as captured by the ship’s sensors. He shook his head and walked on, hoping this latest dilemma would simply blow over.
“Another incident?!” Admiral Jameson was completely red. “And you had the gall to let him get near my SON?”
“Shut up and listen, Picard. I want you to get this situation under control, or so help me, I will come and take over your ship, space your entire crew one-by-one, and when I get to Spider-Man, I’ll lock him up forEVER!”
Picard sighed inwardly, refraining through forced control the fact that the proportions of the Admiral’s proposed course of action were all wrong. Instead, he merely stared at the Earl Gray tea to the right of the computer screen, which was growing cold.
“Sir, I am no happier with this situation than you are. Rest assured I have security working round the clock to capture him, and I’ve alerted the entire crew to the danger he poses. I won’t tolerate that sort of thing aboard my vessel, especially after the episode we had with Q.”
“Episode, huh?” Jameson seemed taken aback by Picard’s choice of words.
“Issue, if you would prefer.”
Jameson seemed to snap out of whatever reverie he’d momentarily been caught in. “Nevermind.” He tapped the ashes off the end of his foot-long Ferengi cigar. “What are you looking at?”
“Eh, nothing, sir.”
“Good. No! That’s not good. You should be looking at your computer screen for ways of catching Spider-Man! Well? Get on it or I’ll have you busted down to Private!”
“We don’t have Privates in--”
The connection was severed, which was just fine in Picard’s eyes. The Admiral meant well, maybe. But he sure had a funny way of showing it.
Peter finally got back to his quarters after the longest day he could remember having in a very long time. He was exhausted, mentally and physically. He walked over to the replicator and ordered a special dinner for himself--an enormous stack of twelve wheatcakes covered in butter and syrup, just like Aunt May used to make…
…except not at all like Aunt May used to make. No one had anything on his Aunt May’s wheatcakes and his Aunt May’s syrup. They were an impossible recipe to replicate, and her personal touch was what it had to be that made them extra special. The only rival when it came to Peter’s palate was his Uncle Ben’s rice.
His thoughts wandered wistfully to Uncle Ben once more as he sat down in front of his computer terminal with his meal. He thought briefly about watching the news report on his uncle’s death once again, then brushed off the idea and decided it was time to try and move on. He would never forget his uncle, but he would also never live a life that Ben would be proud of if he dwelled on his mistakes and his losses forever. He did, however, need to contact his aunt.
“Peter!” she was just cleaning up the kitchen after her own dinner, and she stared at him across the light-years wearing a puzzled frown. “Really, now. Wheatcakes for dinner?”
“What can I say, Aunt May? You taught me well.”
“I never told you to eat all those wheatcakes at suppertime. You’ll have nightmares!”
“I’m alread--I didn’t have much to eat all day. Boy, were we busy!”
“Oh? Tell me all about your day, dear.”
“Well there was this famous pilot doing an exploratory flight, and there was a lot of turbulence. Doctor Connors--he’s my commanding officer--his console went down and the pilot almost died! Luckily he was saved at the last minute.”
“That’s nice, dear,” May replied bizarrely.
“Yeah, there’s this person we think boarded the ship back at Farpoint. Everyone’s calling him ‘Spider-Man’. He wears a mask and has some kind of super powers. It was him who saved the shuttle.”
May’s face darkened when he talked about Spider-Man.
“Well it seemed--it seems fitting. His costume kinda has spiders on it and he does things that only a spider…can…”
May stared at him for a moment. “Is he an officer?”
“Um, no…” Peter scratched the back of his head. “He’s not exactly popular with the Captain, either. Captain Picard wants us to keep an eye out for him and turn him in if we see him. He thinks Spider-Man sabotaged the shuttle.”
“That sounds like a good policy. I certainly hope they find that horrible Spider-Man and lock him up before he can do any harm!”
“Yeah, but I’m Sp--I’m s--”
“I’m sure…there’s a better explanation. We just have to talk to him, and then you’ll see. Everyone will see. He doesn’t mean us any harm.”
“You just stay out of harm’s way, Peter, do I make myself clear?”
“But I’m a Starfl--”
“I don’t want to hear it, Peter!” She waggled a scolding finger at him. “I don’t want any harm to come to my poor, fragile little boy. You can have all the fun you want playing Starfleet officer, but I don’t want you coming back here in a…as a…” Her lower lip trembled. “I don’t want you hurt.” At the end she screwed up her face to appear stern, even though Peter knew she was barely succeeding at fighting back tears over the recent loss of Uncle Ben.
“O-okay, Aunt May. I’ll stay out of harm’s way, I promise. I’m on a starship, after all. What can go wrong?”
“Good night, Peter.”
“Good night, Aunt May.”
After signing off, Peter heaved a deep sigh and resigned himself to what his life had become. He’d never be able to tell Aunt May, especially now! If she was going to worry so much about everything, it was going to be his burden and his alone.
What do I do now? How can I prove I’m not dangerous? How can I convince people that I wasn’t responsible for the failure of that shuttle? Everything I do as Spider-Man seems to turn out wrong! What good is my fantastic power if I cannot use it? Or must I be forced to become what they accuse me of being? Must I really become a menace? Perhaps--that is the only course left for me!