Doc Ock vs the TSA

4 01 2013


I wrote a silly little story about Doc Ock trying to get past airport security.

The digital clock overhanging the security checkpoint flicked over to 15:00. Easy, Otto thought as he checked the flight time on his ticket There were still three hours and ten minutes to spare before boarding ended. Might even have time for a coffee before I leave. He carefully stowed his ticket at the front of the folder that contained all his other important documents – passport, medical certificate detailing the permanent nature of his cybernetic implants, security clearance from both the US and Japanese governments, a presidential order giving temporary immunity to the legal consequences of any past acts of supervillainy, and so on. One could almost thank the Japanese for letting their nuclear reactor melt down so badly. Their need for his expertise to help clean up after Fukushima fit in perfectly with his desire to take an overseas holiday. Travelling was always so hard to do when you were not only wanted for various crimes, but also unable to remove the weapons with which you committed them.

There was an office on one side signed “Special Needs Security Clearance”, which seemed to be the place to go. Otto asked the Officer inside how he should go about getting through security. She took a glance at his documentation and told him to go and wait in line with all of the other passengers, before turning her attention back to the 1990s episode of Passions that filled her computer screen.

Only four of the six available scanners were operating today, and the lines for each of them seemed to be crawling forward at a glacial pace. Every other passenger seemed to be a conscientious objector today, going for a full body patdown rather than the simple scans.

Otto joined the line that appeared the fastest. By the time he joined in, he had already wasted ten minutes.

By 15:30, Otto was only twenty places closer to the front of the line than he had been when he arrived. The idiot woman at the head of the line was complaining bitterly about radiation exposure, as though she wasn’t going to receive ten times the dosage on her flight to Miami. The scientist within Otto wanted to shout at her to stop worrying and get a move on, but a far more practical part of his mind cautioned him to keep quiet. The last thing you want to do while going through security is bring unwanted attention to yourself. Especially when you were already doing so with the four giant robotic arms stuck to your back. Seeing the woman at the front of the line was still arguing with security, and apparently planned to continue doing so for some time, Otto sat back on the lower of his two robot arms and waited.

The clock continued to progress, even as the line didn’t. As 15:40 rolled over, the same woman was still holding up the line with her pointless argument. None of the other lines seemed to be moving much faster either. Harried staff walked through the crowd, choosing to stifle discontent through intimidation and vague threats of expulsion from the airport, rather than through opening up one of scanners that still remained closed. Otto signaled one to come over and was rewarded five minutes later with the full and undivided attention of a trainee.

“Excuse me,” Otto said. “I have special security considerations, and need to make sure that I’ll have time to go through all the procedures properly. Can I discuss this with your supervisor?”

The trainee gazed at a point somewhere past Otto’s shoulder with a vacant stare. He muttered something that sounded like acknowledgement and then scurried off. He came back at 16:02 to give Otto a report. “Uh, yeah…” he said. “I asked her about your situation and she says it’s all under control and it will be fine. Uh… Sir.” His eyes were still focused on that point beyond Otto’s shoulder.

Otto glanced behind himself see what was so fascinating, but saw nothing of note. By the time he had turned his head back, the trainee was already gone. Fortunately, the woman who had caused so much commotion had finally passed through the security checkpoint, and the line began to move forward at a much more steady pace. Motivated, perhaps, by a fear of wasting too much time waiting in line, the remaining passengers all passed through security with a minimum of fuss. Aside from a few instances with incorrectly packed toiletries, the crowd passed through the gates smoothly until Otto found himself first in line. At this stage, it was 16:25. He had just under two hours left until boarding.

“Passport, boarding pass, and remove your jacket for inspection, please.” The Agent in charge of Otto’s gate didn’t even bother looking up as Otto stepped forward.

Otto handed his bundle of documents over to the Agent. “I have prosthetics,” he explained. “All the necessary permits and medical certificates are there.”

The Agent briefly checked Otto’s papers, then handed them back. “Very good, Sir,” she said. “Now could you please remove your equipment so it can be x-rayed before boarding.” She gestured at Otto’s robotic arms.

“No,” said Otto, “you don’t understand. These arms are permanently attached to my body. I can’t remove them.”

The TSA Agent creased her brow in confusion. “I see,” she said. “May I look at your permits again? Otto obliged, and the Agent looked through the papers, flipping from one note to the other. The line behind Otto started mumbling restlessly.

After five long minutes, and after much apparent soul searching, the Agent finally appeared to have come to a conclusion. “If you will excuse me for a minute,” she said. “I’m going to have to show these to my supervisor.”

She wandered off towards the office, leaving Otto alone at the head of the line. The man directly behind him let forth several choice insults regarding this turn of events, which in turn sparked a larger ripple of discontented mutterings throughout the crowd. Otto rather wished he hadn’t done that. The tense atmosphere had begun to affect the artificial intelligences in his arms, and they had become rather twitchy and unhappy. He found himself needing to spend a significant amount of willpower in order to prevent them from snapping at random strangers. Even so, his top two arms insisted on waving around threateningly, despite his best intentions.

At 16:40, the Agent came back with the Special Needs Officer who Otto had spoken to earlier. “I’m sorry, Sir,” the Officer said, “but you appear to be in the wrong area for someone with your particular security requirements. If you would just step this way for a moment, I can see to your situation.” She gestured towards her office.

It would have been nice if you’d realized that when I first arrived here, Otto thought. He said nothing, however. Mistakes like this were the reason why he’d chosen to check in so early. He endured the dirty looks from his fellow travelers as he followed the Officer.

“Please sit down,” she said as they reached her office. “I just need to retrieve your file from our database.”

Otto nodded and obliged. The room he was in was the kind of barren, impersinal office that one would expect from an airport. Aside from the desk and the chair he sat on, the only furniture in the room were a filing cabinet, a water cooler, and a half-dead ficus plant. The walls were bare save for a clock and a couple of faded photographic prints that were both half-covered over by a bright poster that read, “Your Safety is Our Priority!”

Otto poured himself a drink of water while he waited for the Officer. It was 17:03 when she returned, carrying a large folder, a coffee and a half-eaten donut.

“Mr Octavius, I presume?” she asked, as she spread her items over the desk.

Doctor Octavius,” Otto corrected. “I have a PhD in Nuclear Physics.”

“Of course,” said the Officer. “It says here in your file, Mr Octavius, that you have a criminal record.”

“It’s Doctor Octavius,” said Otto, “and I’ve been given a temporary pardon. The Japanese government specifically requested that I help them with their tsunami cleanup.”

“And you would have the documents to support this, I suppose?”


“And where are they?”

“Your Agent took them just now when she came to fetch you.”

“Mmm-hmm,” The Officer took several deep sips from her coffee and finished her donut. “Will you excuse me for a second?”

Otto saw little point in giving an answer to her question, and the Officer left quickly enough that it was plain she cared little for any reply he may have given anyway. She returned ten minutes later with his documents and a fresh donut, which were once more dumped unceremoniously upon the desk.

“Yes, I see your documents are in order here, Mr Octavius” she said. “Now if we can just clear up the issue with your arms, then you can be on your way. Would it be possible for you to remove them for the duration of your flight?”

“It’s Doctor—oh, never mind,” Otto said, quickly realizing that the Officer had no interest in using his correct title. “As it says in my doctor’s note there, the arms are permanently fused to my spine. I can’t remove them without risking serious neural damage.”

“I’m sorry, but I didn’t see any doctor’s note amongst your documents.. Perhaps you still have it on your person?”

Otto knew damn well that he had already handed over a perfectly decent medical certificate. Fortunately, he had had the good sense to pack notarized copies of his documents to use in the case that his originals were misplaced. As he rummaged through his satchel for the certificate, one of his mechanical arms, sensing that he was getting thirsty again, quested over to the water cooler to pour him another drink.

“Is it difficult to control your arms like that, when you’re focusing on something else?” the Officer asked, in a rare display of competence.

“No,” said Otto. “The arms are all controlled by their own individual AI, and run semi-autonomously unless I choose to interface with them directly.”

“I see,” said the Officer. “How intelligent would you say they are?”

“Oh, more intelligent than plenty of people I would wager,” Otto said.

This was apparently the exact wrong thing to say.

“In that case, Mr Octavius,” the TSA Officer said. “Could I see some passports for these AIs?”

“Pardon, what?” Otto asked. He knew that in that moment he didn’t sound anywhere near smart enough to match is native intelligence, but every so often, he encountered arguments so daft, so out of touch with reality, that his mind had not even begun to consider the possibility of their existence. This was one of those times. Since when did arms need their own passports?

“If your limbs are as intelligent as you say they are, Mr Octavius, then they would count as citizens under section 8 of the AI Personhood Act of 2009.” Otto felt his chin dropping in shock as he realized that the Officer was serious about this. “As such,” she continued, “I can’t allow them to leave the country without the proper travel documentation.”

The mechanical arm gently placed a full cup of water in Otto’s hand, and he took a sip as his vast intellect worked on a way to counter the Officer’s argument. “My understanding,” he said, pausing to take another sip of water, “is that the AI Personhood Act only applies to independent AIs, and not to ones that are subordinate to human commands, such as my own.”

“Perhaps,” the Officer said. “I’ll have to check that with our legal adviser first before I allow you to go, obviously. Please excuse me for a moment.”

“Hang on, my plane leaves—” Otto didn’t get a chance to finish his sentence before the Officer left. As she closed the door behind her, the clock read 17:42. He had less than half an hour before the boarding gate closed.

The seconds and minutes stretched and contracted with nauseating elasticity. It seemed to take forever for one minute to go by, but then all of a sudden, five minutes had passed, and there was still no sign of the TSA Officer. One of his mechanical arms helpfully handed him the Officer’s abandoned donut, which he ate. He considered taking the remainder of the Officer’s coffee too, but his mechanical arms all shook their claws at him in unison. “You’re right,” he said to them. “It will probably just make me even more jittery.” Instead of drinking, he sat and stared at the coffee cup, growing ever more hateful of his situation.

The Officer returned with a man who Otto assumed was the airport’s legal adviser. “I’m sorry for the confusion, Mr Octavius,” the legal adviser said. “You are correct that prosthetic devices such as yours would not be required to have their own travel identification.”

“It’s Doctor Octavius, and thank you,” said Otto. “So does that mean I can go through security now? My plane leaves in—” he checked the clock “—eight minutes.”

“In a moment,” the legal adviser said. “There is still the matter of you needing to remove your prosthetics before you board the plane. I’m afraid we can’t have you taking anything that could be used as a weapon on board. I hope you understand that we can’t make exceptions, Mr Octavius.”

Otto felt his entire body tense up, and immediately sent a silent message to his robot arms.. Don’t kill him just yet. Don’t kill him just yet. Don’t kill him just yet, he told them. We can wait until after we deal with the disaster, and then rip them all limb from limb when we return. The arms seemed to behave.

“I thought I had explained already,” he said, forcing himself to keep his voice even. “They are fully integrated with my spinal cord. I cannot remove them. It’s explained in my medical certificate. And I have the appropriate security clearances there, allowing me to board with my arms attached.” He pointed to the pile of documents.

The legal adviser looked through the documents. “Ah yes,” he said, finally. “I see what you have here. We don’t often see such wide-ranging permits for armed travel. My apologies.”

“So I can go then?” Otto eyed the clock. It read 18:10. Boarding for his plane would have just closed.

As if to answer his thought, the overhead speakers began to crackle with an announcement. “Attention passenger Otto Octavius for flight JX569 to Tokyo via Los Angeles. Your plane has now finished boarding. Please make your way to the departure gate immediately.”

Otto looked hopefully at the legal adviser. “That’s me.”

“I’m sorry,” the legal adviser said. “Before I can let you go through, I need you to sign a legal waiver, declaring that you have all the appropriate documentation that allows you to take your, uh, prosthetics on board.” He pulled out a four page form. “Please fill this in, and then you can proceed through security.”

“You’re making me miss my flight.”

“I’m sorry,” said the legal adviser, “but the TSA takes no responsibility for missed flights due to the passenger not arriving on time to complete all the necessary security protocols.”

Otto scribbled his details in on the form, one part of his brain mentally imagining all the ways in which he could make the security staff suffer upon his return to New York. “Not arriving on time, my ass,” he muttered. “I’ll show you how to take responsibility.”

Time moved relentlessly forward, and at 18:15, the speakers sounded again. “Attention passenger Otto Octavius for flight JX569 to Tokyo via Los Angeles. Your flight is now ready for departure. If you do not arrive at the departure gate within five minutes, your flight will depart.”

Otto finished the form and handed it over to the legal adviser. “There. May I go now?”

The legal adviser checked the forms and nodded. “Just send your carry on luggage through the x-ray, and you can go on through.”

Otto made sure to collect all his documents, and was allowed to cut to the front of the security line this time, and only had to wait for one old lady to make her way through the checkpoint before he was able to go through. As he waited for his luggage, the x-ray paused.

“What’s this?” the TSA Agent in charge asked, pointing at an object in the x-ray..

“I don’t know,” Otto said. “But I’m about to miss my flight. Can you please hurry up?”

“Rules are rules, I’m afraid,” the Agent said. “I’m going to have to take a look in your bag.”

“Stupid rules,” Otto muttered as the Agent poked through his luggage. “Here I am, capable of ripping the plane to shreds singlehandedly, and they’re worried that I might be carrying something dangerous.”

“Ah, ha!” The TSA Agent stood up with a triumphant grin on his face. “I knew there was something untoward in there.” He held in his hands a pair of tweezers. “I’ll just hang on to these, Sir.”

The clock ticked over to 18:20, bringing forth a third announcement. “Attention passenger Otto Octavius for flight JX569 to Tokyo via Los Angeles. Your flight has now departed. Please collect your checked luggage from counter 1B on the first floor.”


If the TSA Agent had managed to survive the day, he would have gone home to tell his family and friends how Doctor Octopus had laughed upon learning that he had missed his flight. He would have told them how the look in the Doctor’s eyes spoke not of madness or anger, but instead held a calm acceptance of reality. As it was, he had but a split second to notice all of this before one of Doc Ock’s arms punched straight through his chest.

Having dealt with his closest adversary, Doc Ock sent his arms smashing through what was once one of the most state-of-the-art security systems in the world. X-ray machines were mangled, scanners were smashed. As for the security staff – the trained professionals who were the glue that held the whole operation together – they found themselves no safer from Doc Ock’s wrath than their equipment.

Most of the staff were fortunate enough to be killed swiftly, with a snap of the neck or a quick blow to the head. Some, however, were given a more individualized death. The Special Needs Officer was found dunked head-first in the security office’s communal coffee pot, while an autopsy later revealed that the airport’s legal adviser died of suffocation after having the Doctor’s security documentation shoved down his throat. One particularly unfortunate trainee had his eyes gouged out and his head impaled on a very particular spot on the wall.

Despite the carnage, most of the travelers managed to escape unharmed. They came out of the airport with horror stories about how Doc Ock’s voice managed to rise above the carnage, lecturing the crowd on typical radiation dosages for body scanners compared with cross-country flights. They all agreed that they would have much preferred he shout bloody vengeance, or at least scream a few obscenities. At least if he’d done that, they could have felt he was human.

Spider-Man arrived on the scene, but too late to do anything about Doc Ock’s rampage. Once the last of those who had antagonized him were dead, Doc Ock had escaped to one of his many mystery hideouts. The Daily Bugle headline for the next day read, of course “Spider-Man Impotent as Doc Ock Srikes JFK: Is this the hero we need?” The editorial went into an in-depth analysis regarding whether or not Spider-Man was living up to his responsibilities. Doc Ock’s motivation for the attack was discussed only briefly. Consensus was that it was due to general villainy, and that security should be increased at airports to prevent similar incidents from occurring in the future.




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