DISCLAIMER THE FIRST: "Has he lost his mind? - Can he write or is he blind? - Is it conceit or is it gall; That Marvel and Paramount owns it all? - Or if he's sued that will he fall? - Is he alive or is he dead? - Has he trademarked thoughts in his head? - We'll just leave this here: No money was made; So he's in the clear!"

PITHY STATEMENT RELATING TO THIS CHAPTER: "The mind of a bigot to the pupil of the eye; the more light you pour on it, the more it contracts." – Oliver Wendell Holmes Sr. –American polymath writer and poet. – 1809-1894

LAST UPDATED ON: 03-22-2020

XxXxX

CHAPTER SIX – THE BOARD STRIKES BACK

XxXxX

10880 MALIBU POINT, MALIBU, CALIFORNIA, AUGUST 26th, 2010 – AFTERNOON

"Ms. Williams? I believe Ms. Potts is in need of your presence in the lounge. Mr. Stane appears upset about many things and I believe your attendance will help calm things down," JARVIS' voice, while quiet, reverberated through the now much emptier lab.

"Riri's in trouble" STARC sing-songed from across the room. Ever since the new AI had come online, JARVIS' voice tended to come from one side of the lab while STARC's came from the other.

Riri rolled her eyes even as she cut off the soldering gun and took off her protective goggles. She'd been working on a new thruster design for the boots used on the original Iron Man armor. Given how much damage they had done to her along with having no steering ability, Riri felt that design was the first thing to fix.

"I'm shocked that Obadiah is angry. Shocked I say," Riri muttered.

"Careful Ririster; your sarcasm is showing," STARC quipped.

Riri chuckled at that. Most times STARC was like having a manic poltergeist in the lab with her, its sense of humor did help bolster her spirits. Between STARC's humor and JARVIS's cool, calming demeanor, Riri had managed to weather the storm which had broke upon the news of Tony's death, her being made his heir and the like. Her press conference where she laid out Tony's last wishes regarding the new direction for Stark Industries had created a firestorm in the business world and online.

It was tiring how often video of her being burned in effigy popped up on YouTube and on social media sites.

"Alright JARVIS, I'll head up and give a sister some solidarity. No one should have to go head to head with Stane by themselves," Riri said as she stripped off her protective apron and tidied herself up a bit.

"He is a bit of a pit-bull. Hope your shots are up to date, right? He bites," STARC quipped as the holo-projector came on with an animation of a bulldog with Stane's features barking up a tree which had cartoon versions of both Riri and Pepper in it.

"Well if he does, I'll just smack him on the nose with a rolled-up magazine. Besides, I am his boss now in a way," Riri said as she made some notes into her computer before heading up to the stairwell.

"Oh yes and he does so like that situation," JARVIS said with his usual dry sarcasm.

Riri chuckled again, "Don't worry boys; I'll be okay. You two keep working on the flight sims will you?"

STARC's holo-projector changed to form an image of Tony saluting in Captain America's WW II uniform, "Yes ma'am!"

Riri shook her head and headed up towards the lounge. It didn't bode well she could hear Pepper and Obadiah arguing from the lab.

As luck would have it, as she came into the room, the two had reached a break in the argument which had them both glaring at each other. "Well isn't this a pleasant scene," Riri said lightly as she made her way towards a box of pizza she recognized was from a famous New York pizzeria.

Pepper threw up her hands, "Riri! You can't just keep disappearing into the lab! The board is trying to get you committed since you are 'obviously' distraught and suffering from your time in Afghanistan."

Stane sighed and rubbed his eyes, "That's not exactly what I said, Pepper."

Pepper scoffed indignantly, "But that's exactly what the results are going to be. Tony warned us this would be the most likely course of action. Jennifer said that it was more likely than trying to go after the mental competency of a dead man."

"A dead, white man," Riri said quietly as she snagged a piece of pizza.

Stane exploded to his feet from the couched he'd be reclining on, "That's not helping! The board has legitimate concerns…"

"And those concerns would be taken a lot more seriously by me, the Stark CEO," Riri interrupted ruthlessly, "If the business news wasn't awash with coverage that seems to focus more on my gender and my skin color then on my accomplishments. I might not be at Tony's level or that of Reed Richards, but both men said I'm damn close. So, forgive me that I'm leery of the board when one of the major stories coming out after my press conference was about what I was wearing."

Stane made to speak but Riri raised her hand to stop him. "Look Obadiah, I'm not wanting to fight. I felt that Tony constantly gave you a raw deal and both you and Pepper had to constantly clean up after him. I respect that you are trying to do what you think is best for the company, but right now my main concern is to honor Tony's last wishes. I was there. I saw what it did to him when he realized exactly what his inventions were doing to people. Quite frankly there are enough people in this world cranking out more inventive ways to kill each other. I'm totally behind Tony's last wish to make things which save lives. Besides, there are plenty of things we can still make lots of money on that will keep the likes of the DoD and SHIELD happy."

Stane made a face, "But the stockholders aren't happy."

Riri's face flushed with anger, "Like I give a damn about the stockholders? They invested in our company and that was a risk. Well sticking with us is a risk. If they don't like the risk, they can damn well sell. I don't see anything in Stark Industry's mission statement that says anything about ensuring the stockholders are happy. What it does say is about inventing technologies that advance humanity. Now you tell the board that they can try and have me committed all they want, but they're going to have to somehow get past the SHIELD team that evaluated me. Then they'll have to get through Pepper given how she's my designated representative to ensure that Tony's child inherits a company doing what he wanted done."

Riri dropped the pizza she'd only taken one bite out of back onto the coffee table, "I'm so glad we had this chat. I'm going back to the lab where I'm working on some things that will advance humanity. And do you know what, Mr. Stane? It's stuff that will make the stockholders happy. That is if they can get over the fact that their white male wunderkind is now a black female one. Don't think I'm not watching what's being posted on the StarkNet."

She then turned without a backward glance and made her way back down the stairs to the lab.

"Riri…" Pepper called after her but she didn't respond.

Stane just shook his head, "That girl is trouble."

Pepper turned to the older man with a fierce look on her face, "That 'girl' is your boss. If you can't deal with that, then perhaps you should sell your share of stock and find a position elsewhere."

Stane's eyes narrowed dangerously, "I'm not letting the likes of her or you toss me out of a company I built."

Pepper snorted, "I don't deny your contributions, but I'm pretty sure that Howard did most of the building. That and the fact that most of the money-making items this company has produced came from Howard or Tony. Given from what Riri has already accomplished, I think this company needs her brilliance more than it needs an old ironmonger like you!"

Stane's face turned ugly before he suddenly smiled, "We'll soon see, now won't we? Keep the pizza, I'm heading back to New York so I can get more."

Pepper watch Stane as he strode out with the same angry stiffness Riri had shown. She thought to herself that having the two most powerful people in Stark Industries at each other's throats was not a good sign.

She picked up the phone and dialed a number from memory. She needed Jennifer's advice and quickly.

XxXxX

10880 MALIBU POINT, MALIBU, CALIFORNIA, AUGUST 28th, 2010 – LATE MORNING

"I can't believe we're using a dummy. If I were real, I'd be in like Flynn to test this out!" STARC said with a more than a hint of childishness in his synthesized voice.

"First off, you are real STARC. Second, Tony was an idiot on certain things and this especially applied to some of his testing methods. I mean he had incredibly expensive cars within his testing space! Thirdly, I'm pregnant and the last thing I need is to have this test endanger the child."

"Spoilsport," STARC said in a sulking voice.

"I believe we are ready to begin, Ms. Williams," JARVIS said from his side of the lab.

Riri looked at the numbers on her own screen and nodded. She looked towards the crash dummy they had dubbed 'Obi' who was wearing the mostly uncompleted lower set of armor. However, the arm thrusters and jet boots were what was being tested. "Alright boys, let's do this right. Start mark half a meter and back to center." Riri looked to 'Dummy' who was to the right of the test area, "You're on fire suppression. We'll start nice and easy at 10% thrust capacity and g-flex. And three, two, one."

Riri hit enter on her keyboard.

The jet boots successfully engaged and immediately flipped the test dummy into the wall about 3 meters over the floor with enough force to dent the concrete. It fell to the floor with a loud clang. Dummy dutifully began to spray it with fire retardant.

"AWESOME!" STARC's holographic face looked like Christmas had come early.

"Oh dear," JARVIS said with one of his human sounding sighs.

"Oy vey," Riri said with a sigh of her own. "And THAT is why we use test dummies!"

OoOoO

Riri watched as the STARC hologram worked. It was eerie seeing the image of the now dead Tony Stark manipulate the data being holographically displayed the way he did. In fact…

"STARC…" Riri said

STARC turned, "Hmm?"

Riri made a face. She wasn't sure if this was the right thing to bring up, but her curiosity was aroused. "Why do you manipulate the data manually? You could do it internally much faster."

STARC's image looked surprised by the question. It paused for quite some time. Riri knew for an AI like STARC, it was a long time. Finally, STARC shrugged, "I'm not sure. I think it may be my way of down-shifting into your time frame. I don't have to do it, but by self-limiting myself and using Tony Stark's frame of reference, I feel more in touch with whatever made Tony's mind so unique. It feels more…natural to work like this. Besides, I am calculating other variables while I'm doing this. Unlike JARVIS, with his art and music, such calculations keep me focused. That and I'm playing various simulation games with ULTRON."

Riri's eyebrows rose, "Really? How is that working out. I've been keeping tabs on ULTRON since I got here. I still wonder about its capability to exceed its programming."

STARC shrugged again, "He's pretty stupid but I'll give him this; he's an awesome number cruncher. You give him a task and he's like a dog with a bone. I don't think JARVIS or I have anything like the patience ULTRON has. Funny, you'd expect an A.I. to have patience but there's just so much to think about; to do!"

Riri laughed, "Well Tony and patience didn't seem to get along well so I can see you picking up on that. Any discoveries or things you've done I should know about?"

STARC went back to working. It knew that sometimes it made Riri uncomfortable to be using Tony's image so it tried to limit the amount of face-to-face time they had. "Nothing worth discussing. I'm still combing through all the Stark Industry records on past, present and future projects for an analysis on what we can change, what should probably be terminated and what venues we might pursue. I believe space travel and exploitation being our best bet from my initial pass on the data."

Riri nodded, "I agree. Mining this planet is stupid when we literally have planets and other celestial bodies filled with those same minerals. I hope you're looking into terraforming tech as well."

"Of course!" STARC answered with a tone which implied that it was a given he had done so.

XxXxX

WAREHOUSE, QUETTA, BALOCHISTAN PROVINCE, PAKISTAN, AUGUST 30th, 2010 – EVENING

Obadiah couldn't help but looked surprised, "Mandarin…well this is a pleasant surprise. I was under the impression you were in Indonesia." A subtle hand gesture told his security to play it cool. While the Mandarin's rings of power were deadly, Stane himself had quite a few technological tricks up his sleeve. In some cases, this was literal as Stane's left hand move towards the trigger of his sonic inhibitor.

This gesture wasn't lost on the tall man in a classic Chinese robe of the finest green silk. It also wasn't lost on his own security who were just as alert. However, the man simply smiled. "I was. But this was something I felt important enough to come for personally. While my followers did kill Tony Stark for you, it obviously did not work out as intended. A personal apology seemed appropriate."

Both Stane and the Mandarin looked at Raza Al-Wazar who stood off to the side with his men who had brought the suit in from Afghanistan. Stane gave the man credit; he did not flinch at the rebuke from his master. It was also to his credit he had survived the horrible wounds which scarred most of one side of his head. "My men and I are dishonored by our failure. We hope what we discovered will help make amends."

The Mandarin turned back to Stane with a look that seemed to say, 'what can you do?' before continuing, "Yet I cannot feel that it was not a total lost given they did recovered this so-called Iron Man suit." The Mandarin gestured, the 5 rings glittering on his hand, towards the suit, laid out on the floor where techs were still attaching labels to various pieces.

Stane nodded thoughtfully, "Yes, it is quite the unexpected windfall. Of course, now the question is of power. My team back in California is confident they can replicate the original power supply but I can tell they are lying. I'm going to have to see what I can do to get more information on the miniature ARC reactor Stark developed before he died. Luckily Riri Williams isn't going anywhere."

The Mandarin shrugged as he steepled his hands before him. Stane knew that his fellow HYDRA cell leader couldn't help but continue to show off his ten rings of power. Compare to some of the other HYDRA leader's quirks, Obadiah didn't mind even if it could be intimidating at times. The "I'm sure your iron-mongers will come up with something. Then again perhaps the cyborg Pierce and his Workshop will also make some use of it," the Mandarin said after a thoughtful pause.

Obadiah frowned slightly. He had hoped to have a monopoly on the suit. Yet he realized what probably happened. "I take it the Supreme Hydra made one of his suggestions?"

The Mandarin nodded, "Yes but I do not give much hope that Pierce will come up with anything. Even his most recent successes have been more biological. Still, it is possible he'll have a lower tech solution which could benefit my soldiers."

Obadiah chuckled at that. Donald Pierce's Workshop cell was good for cranking out minions and even super-slaves, but of late they hadn't created anything of note. "What about AIM?"

The Mandarin gave a low laugh, "I didn't bother. Your experience with your Defense Department should tell you why."

Stane chuckled in return, "If it wasn't invented here…yes. You're right; AIM probably would give one look at this armor and ignore it out of principle. Fine, more glory for the Ironmongers." He gestured for his own techs to begin bringing in the shipping containers which would be used to smuggle the armor out of the country and into America.

Surprisingly Raza took a step forward, "Stane; we had an agreement for weapons. I trust that agreement is still in effect? SHIELD has taken a larger interest into our operations. We need those weapons to continue."

Stane glanced at the Mandarin, but the Asian face which defied categorization as to his true region of origin was impassive. Again, Stane had to admire the balls of Raza to make demands of him. Still, Obadiah saw far too many 'yes men' to be put out at the implied disrespect. "You don't have to worry about a thing. Riri Williams and Pepper Potts think they know what they are doing, but they are swimming in deep water and I have yet to let loose the sharks."

XxXxX

THE BAXTER BUILDING, 4 FREEDOMS PLAZA, NEW YORK CITY, SEPTEMBER 4th, 2010 – AFTERNOON

"So...am I about to mutate or die of radiation poisoning?" Riri asked with plenty of comical sarcasm. The fact she was surrounded by equipment you'd expect to see in a mad scientist's lair did lend itself to a breezy snarkiness.

Of course, the role of the mad scientist was played by a petite blonde which sort of broke the imagery even if she was operating various mechanical manipulators into the hole in Riri's sternum.

The man who answered, however, was much more in line with the obsessed scientist with little in the way of a sense of humor, "Surprisingly I'm seeing very little in the way of cellular changes I was expecting. Of course, Susan is the biologist so I'd wait to see her take on the data."

Riri looked down as the little mechanical tentacles did their work. "So, is this your work Dr. Richards?"

Susan snorted even as Reed shook his head, "No. I adapted them from a much larger prototype done by Dr. Otto Octavious over at OsCorp. And please, just call me Reed."

Susan looked up from her screen, "We sort of have a no titles rule around here. With so many doctors, generals and the like, well it can get awfully stuffy in a hurry. A general ban seemed to be the best way to deal with it."

Riri nodded at that. She'd met about 20 people in the short time she'd been in the building who had various degrees. Many, like both Susan Storm and Reed Richards had multiple degrees and titles.

"I'm rather surprised you aren't doing the work yourself, Reed. I would figure you could stretch into the cavity easily enough," Riri pointed out.

Reed didn't look up from the screen he was monitoring, "I'm sure I could but I leave any sort of body cavity intrusions to Susan."

Susan laughed, "He has no trouble doing most things but bodily fluids and Reed don't get along."

Riri chuckled, "Well I have to agree with Reed on that. I'm okay with all manner of viscous fluids but yeah, I'll leave the bodily ones to experts like you."

Susan hummed in agreement. With a touch of a button and a beep, the manipulators retracted, "Okay that's all done. I know I've said it about ten times already but I am absolutely amazed at what you and those men accomplished back in Afghanistan given the conditions and tools they had available. That being said, Reed's upgraded interface will make the ARC reactor safer, last longer and your energy input will be better. This on top of the new, upgraded unit you created that were installing."

Susan picked up the upgraded miniature ARC reactor Riri had created with STARC's help. She gently inserted it slightly into Riri's chest cavity aperture. With a slight click, the unit automatically lowered itself down and auto-activated. "Wow, even though I looked at what you and Reed did, I'm really amazed that worked so well. Reed?"

"Everything looks good," Reed said. He then sighed sadly, "I really wish we didn't have to wipe this data or that I could keep your old reactor."

Riri laughed, "Come on Reed, you can work on it all you want. You just need to sign up for Stark Industries at least as a contractor and you can fiddle to your heart's content."

Reed gave her a sour look, "Yes but then your company will get most of the revenue out of it and it won't be my work I can use for my own experiments."

Susan chuckled, "Come on Reed; you know that's how it works. If you weren't so brilliant, most of the stuff you'd be working on wouldn't really be yours. You know most of the kids working under the Baxter Building Project are doing hybrid work of their ideas married up with various corporate work."

Reed scowled, "I know, I know...I just wish the money aspect wasn't so important. I'm a scientist, not an entrepreneur."

"Which is why you have Ben handling all of that for you," Susan said as she began doing her own post-surgery checks on Riri's chest piece. Seeing the confused look on Riri's face, she explained, "While Ben might look like a big dumb jock..."

"...which he totally is, except for the dumb part," Reed said fondly.

"...Ben has a really good head for numbers. I know he can follow a lot of your work, Riri. While finance isn't something he's thrilled to do, besides his love of flying, it is something he can do."

Riri had to laugh, "Wow! That's a mental image! Ben in a suit doing your taxes."

Susan laughed in response, "Well getting the suit will be the problem. Of course, Reed's unstable molecule project is showing promise."

Before Riri could ask what an unstable molecule might be, a young teen stuck his head into the room from one of the side doors, "Mr. Richards? Dr. Storm is wondering if you'll still be able to make your four-o-clock meeting with him and the Pentagon people?"

Reed looked up at the clock and blinked, "Is that the time? My word, this went faster than I expected. Yes, Peter; I'll be there. Come in, won't you? There's someone I want you to meet."

Reed motioned for the teen to head over to table where Riri lay. Luckily except for her chest piece, she was covered. Even so she could tell that this Peter was trying not to stare.

"Riri, I'd like you to meet Peter Parker. He's an intern here. He's really brilliant but didn't exactly make the cut for the Project. However, both Susan and I have looked over his work and we were thinking that perhaps you might take him on as an intern after his tour here ends? He has been working on a medical project left over from his parents before their deaths. Given the change in direction for Stark Industries, I think your company would be a better fit for him."

Riri looked at the boy and suddenly made a connection, "Peter Parker...you're Richard Parker's son, right? You look a lot like him. I just read up a summary of his work. It's impressive"

Peter nodded, "I am and I'm trying to keep my parent's work alive. I'm just having trouble with the aspects my mother worked on."

Riri looked at Susan, "Given your field of biology, I'm surprised you aren't keeping him."

Susan shrugged as she finished up her diagnostics, "Normally I would but Peter's work is something he owns free and clear. Given our sponsorships, we aren't in a position like Stark Industries to buy or license. As much as I'd like to keep Peter in house, the work is probably better off at Stark Industries. Of course, I'd be happy to help as a well-paid consultant."

Riri had to laugh at the fake doe-eyed innocent look Susan had as she had said that. She turned to the teen who was still trying not to look at her chest (and mostly failing), "Well I'd be glad to take you on but our internships eat up a lot of time. It's hard on friends and family."

Peter shrugged, "Aunt May will understand and I don't have many friends." Seeing the look on Riri's face he hastily added, "I'm not anti-social, it's just a lot of my friends I had were because of my best friend Mary-Jane. But her Aunt got a job in London so without her..."

"...you drifted away from her friends. Okay, I know how that goes." Riri said with a whiff of sadness. It had happened to her after she left her hometown.

"It's not too bad. Dr. Richards helped me out there by providing a good friend of mine, Harry Potter, with a phone and laptop so we'd be able to stay in contact when he's off in this special school in Scotland. For some reason they don't have phone or internet connection there," Peter said happily.

Riri thought that odd and she noticed that Susan had a look on her face that meant Reed had done something not quite legal. Still, Peter seemed happy and friends for kids like him (and her, if she was being honest with herself) were rare. "That's great Peter. Well it's not like you won't find your fill of geeks and nerds at Stark Industries. But do try to keep the gaming, D&D talk as well as the Star Wars vs. Star Trek fight to a dull roar."

Peter blinked at this even as Reed muttered, "Trek rules!" even as Susan said, "The nerd is strong in the Force!" under her breath.

Riri rolled her eyes, "I rest my case. I really don't know how Pepper managed to keep Stark Industries running among all the fandom and geekiness...especially with Tony running things."

Susan made a face, "Dad has to deal with that here almost on a daily basis. I think he's going to go grey by oh...six-o-clock today at this rate. Anyway, Riri, you're good to go. Just be sure to give JARVIS the code on the disk I gave you earlier so we can monitor your reactor remotely. Reed's tripled the security on the database that will populate and we'll wipe it after your follow-up visit."

"So, what are you working on now?" Peter suddenly blurted out in an almost comical display of fan-boy crush.

"Oh, this and that while listening to a little Black Sabbath," Riri said cryptically with a devilish smile.

"Cool!" Peter exclaimed.

"Reed, why not take Peter with you? I need to talk to Riri about some health issues you both don't need to be privy too."

Reed looked up from his work, looked at his watch and made a face. "Oh alright. I guess I can't put this off any longer. Come on Peter, let me show you some of the 'exciting' things which await you if you become a famous scientist and inventor."

Peter looked back at Riri and Susan who were both smirking at the tired sarcasm in Reed's voice. Even so, the teen eagerly followed Reed out the door.

Riri turned back to see the smirk had fallen off Susan's face, "Okay doc, give it to me straight. Things aren't as great as you made it sound right?"

Susan looked guilty before shaking her head, "It's not that bad. It's just I have concerns. First is the fact that while we were able to remove the Jericho daggers from you, this entire operation isn't something that can be reversed. Normally we'd do some 3-D printing with some materials we have in house which haven't been released yet to replace the hole in your sternum. But the issue is that now your cardiac system depends on the ARC reactor and I think the super-charging effect we're seeing will be something your body can't do without even if your heart didn't depend on it."

Riri nodded; she had known that she'd have some form of device keeping her alive for the rest of her life. At least now if there was a problem with her ARC reactor, she wouldn't die in minutes as the Jericho daggers ripped her heart apart.

Susan rubbed her eyes before continuing. "The potential problem I'm seeing is while the ARC reactor energy and your physiology seem to be meshing to include your unborn child, I'm concerned about the long-term effects of the palladium used in your ARC reactor. I suggest you begin working on a replacement for it as soon as possible. I may be wrong but if I'm not, you'll be dead before you probably could find or synthesize a replacement element."

Riri nodded again as she couldn't help but rub the ARC reactor aperture, "I'm aware of the risks. However, the original reactor wasn't as stable as first thought and I'm surprised it still is working. Palladium fixed the stability issues but yes, I've already got a team working on a replacement."

Susan smiled, "Good. Palladium poisoning is a bad way to die."

Riri couldn't help but scowl as memories from Afghanistan surfaced, "Most ways are a bad way to die."

XxXxX

10880 MALIBU POINT, MALIBU, CALIFORNIA, SEPTEMBER 11th, 2010 – EVENING

"Ms. Williams, I am afraid we have a situation," JARVIS said in a clipped voice unlike his normal unflappable style.

Riri looked up from her flight simulator. She was concerned that if the Iron Man armor flew to high then icing would become a problem. To compensate, she was running the numbers from an ally used in Seraphim Tactical satellite. "What have we got JARVIS?"

"Apparently an intruder. How they gained entrance is a mystery," JARVIS replied.

"Okay...I thought this was pretty much one of the more secure areas on the West Coast," Riri said as she pulled up the house defense protocols. She noticed that ULTRON was in stand-by mode. STARC, however, was offline although that wasn't exactly true. STARC had been surfing the web and 'ghosting' as he put it in other Stark Industry facilities. He had said he was working on a surprise. JARVIS didn't seem worried so Riri had allowed the new AI some freedom to express himself.

"It most certainly is," JARVIS assured her. "However somehow the intruder gained accessed to your living quarters."

Riri's eyebrows went up in shock, "My bedroom? How in blazes did that happen? Wait, never mind, give me a video feed!"

As much as she detested having cameras around her 24-7, Riri knew that at least only ULTRON, JARVIS or STARC had access and all of them had no reason to watch her get naked or any other private things she did in her room.

The screen above where the original mock-up for Captain America's shield came to life. "Our intruder does not seem to be doing anything but waiting. Indeed, it seems likely she is waiting for a response," JARVIS mused.

"And why..." The words died in Riri's throat as the image came into focus. On the bed a woman lay, seemingly uncaring that she was trespassing. She was idly flipping one of the magazines Riri had been reading before bed the night before. The camera must have made some noise for she looked up and smirked, "It's about time! What's a girl have to do around here to get noticed when they're breaking in to see an old friend?"

Riri licked her lips and blinked hard. She couldn't believe it. On her bed might as well be the Ghost of Christmas Past. Her past. Her rather torrid college past to be precise.

"Juliet!" Riri said in a breathy tone which surprised her. Even after not seeing her for two years, it seemed like only yesterday.

"Ms. Williams? I take it you recognize our intruder?" JARVIS asked.

"Yes, yes I do. Go to yellow status till I find out what is going on," Riri said as she got up and made her way to the door.

"But Ms. Williams! She may intend you harm!" JARVIS said in what Riri already referred to as his Nervous Nelly voice.

"Oh, harming me is probably the last thing on her mind...well except if she's feeling kinky," Riri said even as she felt her cheeks burn from the memories surfacing.

OoOoO

Riri stared at the ceiling and for the hundredth time in the last ten minutes wondered how she got to this point of being naked, sweaty and quite sexually satisfied from her old college roommate she had given an ultimatum never to darken her door again.

Somehow, she had gotten through the security and then the gall to act like it was just a lark. The recriminations led to raised voices which led to shouting which somehow led to kissing and then passionate sex. Riri couldn't believe that even after all this time, Juliet Calabria could push all her buttons, good ones and bad ones.

The woman in questions stirred and made a face, "Don't look like that, my little kitten. You make me feel unloved."

Riri looked into the deep green eyes of her one-time room-mate and tried to look cross, "Juliet, world class security is supposed to do that!"

Juliet merely shrugged in that indulgent way of hers that always irritated and yet fascinated her. Riri had grown up in a mostly poor area and Juliet came from old European money. She almost reek of power and wealth and coupled with her beauty and her smarts, it was once again hard for Riri not to fall under her spell again.

"You haven't changed, kitten. You work too hard! Shut up in your lab. That's no way for you to live and certainly not for a mother to be! I was in the area and I thought I'd set up a meeting but surprise, surprise you are one hard woman to get any sort of time with," Juliet said with a mocking smile as she ran a hand through her raven-dark hair which contrasted with her pale, olive toned skin.

Before Riri could respond, Juliet raised a hand, "Yes I've been bad; I've made a career of it. Just ask my father. But I figured from what I saw in the news, everyone wants a piece of you. So, who can you trust? Well at least in me you know I want more than a piece."

Riri had to snort at that even as she felt a twinge between her legs at the sultry look Juliet was giving her. "So, you're here for my health and welfare? I find that hard to believe Juliet."

Juliet shrugged again which distracted Riri as her breasts jiggled provocatively. Riri didn't think of herself as a lesbian or bisexual. In fact, she rarely thought of sex other than it was a bother with guys trying to get into her pants. Juliet, however, breezed through all that and made her want her.

"Of course, that's not all! I'd love a tour of what you can show me. Hell, my roommate from college is made CEO of the premier technology firm and you think I won't want to see it?" Juliet said in a frank tone which implied Riri would do the same if their positions were reversed.

"Yes, but most friends wouldn't break into their friend's house, Jules, especially one with very heavy security," Riri snapped. It bugged her that Juliet had penetrated security she shouldn't have been able to. Juliet had focused more on computers and math in college.

"Ah but that's a job I've done quite often of late. I test security. If I hadn't been paid in the wonderful coin of your luscious body, I'd probably bill you for illuminating the holes in your security!" Juliet said with a satisfied smile.

Before Riri could reply, a harsh alarm went off and the soft mood lights went out to be replaced by blue emergency lighting. ULTRON's laconic voice echoed through the house. "High-speed aircraft detected deviating from approved flight paths and on intercept course with this facility. Three minutes till arrival."

Both women scrambled out of bed and grabbed for whatever clothing was closest. "JARVIS! What can we do? Options?"

The AI's smooth tone helped calm Riri down a bit, "House security has gone to red and we're locked down. Security response from the nearest Stark Facility will arrive in approximately 10 minutes. I suggest you make your way to the lab as it has the best defenses."

Riri frowned, "Yes and it also has the direct access tunnel because Tony thought it was a great place to store cars! Anyway, I'm betting they'll expect that. We're heading to ULTRON." Riri grabbed Juliet's hand, "Come on Jules, we don't have much time."

"What is going on? Who else is here?" Juliet asked as she allowed Riri to pull her out into the corridor.

"It's not important right now. We need to get to the ULTRON server room. I doubt it's somewhere they'd look and it's heavily shielded," Riri said as she cursed as she almost slipped on the slick marble floor given she wasn't wearing any shoes. In fact, except for a camisole, she wasn't wearing anything.

Juliet in her robe was in the same boat as she wobbled about unsteadily as well, "Why do expensive floors have to be so damned slippery?" Together they made their way into the main hallway towards the stairs which would take them to the secondary levels.

"Warning! Intruders on foot have breached the main gate. Counter-measures engaging," ULTRON's warning was followed by a thrum that Riri knew was a mix of rubber bullets being fired from remote gun emplacements. Whoever was trying to attack was finding out that attacking the CEO of a munitions company was going to be a painful mistake.

"Wow Riri, this is a change! Normally I'm the one who took us someplace where things went tits up. I'm so proud!" Juliet said with a laugh that showed how shaken she was.

Riri found herself laughing in return. The two had been in some hair-raising encounters while at MIT as they had taken part in the various pranking Juliet had roped her into. Yet those memories were cut short when the main door was blown off its hinges and smashed into some of the couches in the waiting area.

"What the hell? That wasn't done with explosives!" Riri she skidded to a halt. One part of her knew that she needed to get moving but she needed to see what they were up against.

Which quickly turned out to be a huge man who looked like he belonged on the cover of Steroids Monthly followed by a mousy looking man who had obvious cybernetic implants and limb replacements.

"Porca vacca!" Juliet swore as both men turned towards them.

OoOoO

Giulietta was furious.

After a flawless insertion into some of the best security she'd gone up against, she'd manage to penetrate into very heart of the complex, that being Riri's body. Something that had been entertaining and unexpected. She hadn't expected things to go this smoothly so soon. Giulietta had expected a round of flirting, plans made for a coffee date and then perhaps another meeting which would lead to sex.

Obviously, her one-time roommate was still the workaholic who didn't take time out to smell the coffee or get her carnal needs met. Better for her and her mission to say nothing of being a very pleasant way to spend an evening. She found, to her surprise, how much she had missed her time with her old college lover.

And now all of that success was ruined! What was going so well now had her naked except for a robe and facing off against what she was sure were some of Donald Pierce's Workshop men. She knew the beef-cake one could probably bench-press a small car and who knew what sort of weapons the cyborg had?

Worse was she had none of her normal gear. As good as she was, naked except for a robe wasn't going to cut it. She'd be lucky to get out alive to say nothing of protecting Riri.

Of course, if she didn't make it out, Donald Pierce would find that his place as a HYDRA cell leader would not protect him from her father's wrath.

OoOoO

"Alright chickies, let's be calm about this," the cyborg said as he pointed his cybernetic left arm at them while a small pod rose out of it. It was obviously a weapon.

Riri sneered, "My people will be here before you can get down the drive-way. Give up now and things don't have to get messy."

Both men laughed. The big one lumbered towards them, easily clearing away the shattered down and broken couches. "I like to make a mess. Blood splatter is an art form that doesn't get the attention it deserves."

Both women backed away and tried to calculate their best option. The cyborg saw this and sneered, "You're not going anywhere and our ride will be here before your people can show up."

Almost as if the universe was disagreeing with that statement, a loud explosion erupted about a mile away from the cliff-side home.

"In-bound intruder negated," ULTRON's voice almost sounded smug but Riri was sure that was just her imagination.

"So much for your ride; how's surrendering looking now?" Riri asked. She really hoped she might be able to bluff her way out of this mess.

The two kidnappers/assassins traded a look before the bruiser turned back and made his way towards them. "They won't do anything when I've got you to where I can unscrew your head with one twist."

Riri could feel Juliet tense beside her and she seemed to fall into a defensive stance. "Not going to happen," the Italian woman hissed.

"I totally agree."

A brilliant beam of energy came from somewhere above them which hit the large mutate dead in the chest and threw him back, narrowly missing his compatriot.

"He shoots! He scores and the crowd goes wild!"

Both women looked up to see what looked to be a steampunk like version of C-3PO hovering in the air just past the stairwell to the upper floors. From the knees down, it looked polished but everything else looked as it had been activated half-way through assembly.

Given the voice coming from it, Riri knew that probably wasn't that far from the truth. While not Tony, it seemed the roles were reversed and STARC was saving the day.

"What is this shit?" the cyborg cried.

"Oh! Oh! I know that one! Robo-Cop, right? Ha ha! Dead or alive your coming with me!" STARC replied as he raised both hands to show glowing orbs on the palms. Again beams of energy came out, one hitting the mutate bruiser who was groggily trying to get back to his feet while the other one blasted off the cyborg's metal arm.

The cyborg screamed and fell to the floor.

"Oh, stop crying! I could have kept up with that movie scene and shot you in the crotch. But hey, Stark Industries is a more family friendly company these days." STARC said dryly before rotating slightly, "Ms. Williams, are you alright? You seem alright...and quite fetching if I might say so myself!"

"ST...Iron Man, less flirting and more securing," Riri snapped. She hoped Juliet didn't recognize STARC's voice filtered as it was through the armor. Unfortunately, Tony's manic personality hadn't been dulled being transferred to STARC.

Luckily her old roommate was more taking in the tech, "What is that? And where can I get one?"

"That, my dear, is a prototype I've been working on. Juliet, meet my bodyguard: Iron Man," Riri said with a small gesture to which STARC bowed slightly before landing and moving to secure the two prisoners. As he did so, Riri could see the Stark Rapid Response team pull up.

"Come on Juliet, let's get into some clothes. I have enough scandal to last me for a decade without adding to it," Riri said as she motioned for her to follow her.

"Spoilsport! My father's ticker would probably go if he saw a shot of us like this on the cover of Newsweek!" Juliet joked even as she followed.

Riri sighed. For as long as she'd know Juliet, she'd been trying to give her father a seizure or something. The girl was trouble sometimes!

OoOoO

As she followed Riri back to the bedroom to retrieve their clothes, Giulietta marveled at her luck. The Madonna really did love her! Not only had a tense situation completely turn around, but she had gotten a glimpse of what Stark and the rest had created in Afghanistan. She knew the original was crude; she'd already stolen the data packet right out of the Ironmonger's supposedly secure database. Yet while obviously still crude, this Iron Man suit was already an order of magnitude more powerful than what Riri had used to escape the Mandarin's men.

And then there was the question of whether Stark was actually dead. Whoever was in that armor certainly sounded like Stark, acted like him and had the same childish love of movie quotes. This mission had gone from success to failure right back to success! Now that she'd seen this Iron Man, she figured that Riri wouldn't completely cut her off if she wanted to talk about it.

Yes, she'd reel her old lover back in and then loot her inventions right out of her own servers. With such technology, her father could finally gain ascendancy in HYDRA and perhaps even become the new Supreme Hydra!

It took a great deal of control for Giulietta not to begin cackling in evil glee. There was no way Spymaster was going to win this one! Indeed, there wasn't anything she could think of that was going to get into her way.

Unfortunately for Giulietta Nucifero, she didn't realize that from the moment she'd appeared on the security feed, she had been watched, scanned and while Iron Man worked to help secure the would-be kidnappers with help from Stark Security, JARVIS was running facial recognition and voice recognition scans. At his behest, ULTRON had already used their covert link into SHIELD databases to search for anything they had on one Juliet Calabria.

XxXxX

A/N: I had figured to write some more on Nineteen today. However, I figured that in honor of the Woman's March on Washington, I'd spend my birthday writing time writing about a woman struggling to deal with bigotry due to her gender and color.

Spider-Mage: As mentioned previously, this MCU take includes a AU version of Harry Potter. Reed knows about the magical world and as shown in Chapter Two of Spider-Mage, jumps at a chance to test some tech under the heavy wards at Hogwarts. Again, both Peter, Harry and Mary-Jane are all 14. Also, for the purpose of this universe, Mary-Jane Watson and Michelle Jones both exist.

Dramatis Personae – For those who don't know their comics well enough to catch every character reference.

Reed Richards & Susan Storm: Going with the Ultimate versions of the Fantastic Four. However, if Victor von Doom ever shows up or is referenced, his origin would be the canonical one instead of him also being mutated by the Negative Zone experiment.

Richard and Mary Parker: Like much of the Ultimate Marvel Universe (UMU) and the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), the Parkers were working on a super-soldier type project. Yet instead of creating a new super-soldier, they were working on a 'suit' which critically injured people could be put into to help them heal. This is obviously the 'black suit' from the UMU but it won't morph into Venom. Never liked Venom the way it turned out.

Ben Grimm: For those who didn't catch it, the Ben referenced is The Thing who has always been a childhood friend of Reed Richards. In the UMU, he happened to be present for the Negative Zone experiment which went poorly which mutated him into The Thing.