All the horribly grotesque films Tucker had seen in his life did a horribly inadequate job of preparing him for the real thing. Charred, smoking bodies littered the hallway. Blood had effectively slathered the floor in its crimson color. The stench of burnt flesh, ectoplasm, and copper all mixed together made Tucker gag. He had seen his fair share of disgusting sights, and had learned to control his gag reflex. Some, like Paulina, hadn't been fortunate enough to have done so. Tucker looked over and saw her heaving her dinner into a potted plant. He would have grinned had the situation not been so grave.
"This is . . ." Lancer paused to carefully step over the felled corpse of one of the soldiers. "I can't even begin to imagine what would provoke him to commit such atrocities."
"The hourglass," Sam whispered.
Tucker glanced over at the woman nervously. "What about it?"
"Was I right?" the team had stopped to give her their full attention. "Was he really headed here, for Earth instead of somewhere else in the paranormal dimension?"
"That would seem to be the case," Lancer said quietly as he lifted his boot up. Stuck to the bottom was what appeared to be an intestine dripping with blood. "Revelations," he whispered in astonishment at the carnage.
"Now hold up," Kwan spoke. "You said he was harmless; that he just got stuck here on Earth by accident," the Asian American pointed an accusatory finger at Tucker.
"I said that to avoid a widespread panic," Tucker snapped in a louder voice. "The truth of the matter was that we don't know what the symbol stood for. We still don't know, for God's sake! I wasn't ready to go public with him; Sam's the one who-"
"Don't try to pin the blame on me," Sam hissed. "Don't you even dare!"
"Yes, Dr. Foley, you deserve all the credit for the present set of circumstances. Don't try to be so humble."
The icy, emotionless voice sent shivers up everyone's spines. All of them spun around in time to see the Iron Man materialize out of thin air in front of them.
"Did you think it was wise to lie about me?" he took a step closer. "Did you act out of self preservation, I wonder?" Another step. "Or perhaps out of a desire for fame and glory?" Yet another step. "Was it ignorance?" His metal boots slammed into the floor, cracking the tile. "Or did you really," THUD, "truly," THUD, "wish to deceive them?" THUD. THUD.
Tucker, standing at the front of the six member team, looked up into the Iron Man's visor. He had never fully been able to appreciate all seven feet of the man's height before. Curious, considering all the months the Iron Man had spent unmoving in his lab.
"How was I supposed to know what that symbol stood for?" Tucker was surprised by the voice that had come from his mouth. It was confident and brave; the polar opposite of how he felt. "We had our suspicions, sure, but we never even fathomed that you were trying to come here."
"You never fathomed it?" the Iron Man repeated, his glowing red eyes brightening in anger. "The lovely Dr. Manson hit the proverbial nail on the head," he gestured toward the trembling scientist who was hiding behind Dash.
"If we were so wrong, why didn't you tell us?" Sam asked, her shaky voice finding foundation. "This could have been easily averted."
"This?" the Iron Man spread his arms to his sides, acknowledging the brutal and bloody scene beneath his boots. "This was inevitable. The men with the mops? Their deaths were inevitable. The woman behind the desk? Her death was inevitable. All of your deaths are inevitable."
Tucker's eyes widened in horror. "Star?" he choked out.
Iron Man's malicious glare focused on him once again. "Your secretary," he confirmed. "It saddens me that you have accelerated the degradation of the situation. She and all the others never would have gotten involved if it wasn't for you."
Tucker now found himself growing angry. "The press conference? Is that what this is about? You've murdered innocent people because I prevented an intelligence failure of epic proportions?!"
"You prevented the truth from being communicated to the world," the Iron Man countered with equal vigor.
"We can fix what damage has been done if you would just tell us what the truth is instead of slaughtering everyone in sight!"
The Iron Man chuckled; the kind of chuckle that made one's blood run cold. "You think trying to correct your lies would reverse the damage?"
The Iron Man growled with rage and swatted Tucker into the wall. The drywall cracked from the impact and his glasses fell from his nose.
"Imbecile," the ectosapien snarled. "You convinced the world that I was no more of a threat than a rock! How would they respond if you retracted that statement by telling them I came to warn them about the apocalypse?"
"Is that why you're here?" Lancer asked calmly. The aging man jumped slightly when the Iron Man's head snapped to the side to face him. "You are a herald?"
"My mission has failed because of the pride of your species," he answered solemnly. "Yes, I was a herald. I hail from the future; a time where this planet and countless others have been ravaged by the Great Destroyer. My mission was to warn your kind, to prepare you for the coming devastation. You have not helped me in my mission, Dr. Foley. I see now that it was a mistake to even try."
The Iron Man's hands began to glow the same shade of red as his eyes. That was enough of a signal for Dash, who aimed his sonic tazer at the malevolent biped. A blast of controlled sonic waves pounded into the shining silver alloy that encased his body and sent him flying back into the wall. For the second time during his stay on Earth, the Iron Man was unable to move.
Groaning beneath his mask, the Iron Man summoned his suit's onboard AI program.
"Technus," he grimaced at the pain that swelled in his chest. "What kind of energy was that?"
"One moment," the nasally, disembodied voice replied. "It appears to have been a sonic weapon of some kind."
"Can you realign my suit's composition to defend against sonic emissions?"
"Affirmative. It seems the alloy that fused to your suit also fused to your skin and integrated it into my onboard systems," Technus noted with as much curiosity as an Artificial Intelligence program could muster. "I can use the chemical composition of your human and ectoplasmic nature along with the density of the fabric of your suit to shield against any further sonic attacks."
"There is no need to thank me, Daniel," Technus replied. "My survival depends upon your own."
"Of course," he said with a grin. "But from now on, I'd prefer if you addressed me as Iron Man. Daniel was the man sent to save this species. Iron Man is the one who will wipe its smug sense of self worth from the face of existence."
"As you wish, Iron Man," Technus noted sarcastically. "Your suit has been successfully adjusted to deflect sonic attacks. You should be combat ready in two minutes."
"I think the records should show that I view this genocide as illogical," Technus added. "Your mission was to save this species, not to be their undoing."
"I am painfully aware of what my mission was, old friend," Iron Man said through clenched teeth. "But can you honestly tell me that this race would become anything but a nuisance to our dimension?"
There was a pause. "Humanity has proved to be adept at doing the right thing after being shown what the right thing is. Granted, they have not attained the level of sentience your kind has, but they are capable . . . if given the chance."
"We have both monitored the reactions to our arrival and to our unveiling, suffice to say they could have been much more positive," Iron Man retorted. "Are they really worthy of being given that chance?"
"That is not my decision to make," Technus said quietly. "The course of action you are about to take places you in the position of the Great Destroyer with a ninety nine point five three percent of accuracy."
Iron Man sat in stunned silence. "Then that means . . ." he sifted through the explosion of thoughts that came to his mind. "Clockwork," he murmured. "He had to have known!"
"That does not require calculation to prove its correctness." More silence passed between the man and the machine. "Your suit has regained full functionality," then, with a tone of disapproval, "I believe you have a . . . job to do."
The group of six had been talking about many things in the short amount of time the Iron Man had sat slumped against the wall. They hadn't noticed him float off the ground and charge his hands with energy until it was too late. The hair and skin on Dash's head turned to vapor a split second before the beam's full effect kicked in and popped his cranium like a ripe melon, spewing blood and grey matter over the remaining five.
Paulina screamed in terror as the others began to flee. The Latina's wailing was silenced as the Iron Man lifted her up by her face and violently slammed her head into the ground, crushing it. The last four disappeared around a corner. The Iron Man sneered and gave chase.
Tucker never knew fear beyond his ophidiophobia. The creature chasing them was not a serpent, it was evil made flesh. As he opened the door to the stairwell, a gust of cold air nearly knocked him off his feet. Looking into the darkness, the Iron Man's two red eyes popped into being and the cold was pushed into the hallway. Tucker shivered as he followed the group to yet another stair case. This one was unoccupied. Hurrying as fast as they could through the darkness, the four managed to reach the top floor.
"We have . . . to get to . . . the roof," Dr. Lancer said between ragged breaths. His age was taking its toll on him. "We can . . . signal for help."
"If he follows us out, then the Earth is doomed," Sam said as the three men rushed off to the center of the fifth level. Upon hearing her words, they stopped dead in their tracks. "This building is coated in an anti-ecto resin," Sam continued. "His energy blasts can't break through. He'd either have to punch his way out or go through a door."
"You three get to the roof, then," Lancer said, coughing into his sleeve. "I'll buy you some time."
"No shot," Kwan snapped. "We're not leaving you to get mauled by that thing."
Lancer grinned at his former pupils. "I've didn't know what to expect when you came into my life as young adults," he began, pulling a cigar from his coat pocket. A flicker of flame from his lighter illuminated his time-wearied face for but a moment before being extinguished. A small circle of red embers glowed as brightly as the Iron Man's eyes as he drew in the peach flavored smoke before letting it gently waft from his mouth.
"I was able to watch you grow into the fine men and women you've become today. It's been a privilege to be a part of shaping your lives, and I wouldn't trade it for anything in the world." He paused to take another puff of his cigar.
Sam let the tears that had built up in her eyes flow freely down her cheeks as she wrapped her arms around her old teacher. She felt like she was saying goodbye to a dear friend; one she would never see again.
Why am I crying? She though to herself.
Because, the cold, rational side of her brain answered for her, this isn't a movie. He really is going to die. A person who's had a hand in changing your life and whose helped you and so many others through so much is going to die.
"Its ok, Samantha," Dr. Lancer said comfortingly. "Everything's going to be ok."
Sam let out another sob. No it won't, she thought bitterly to herself.
Tucker and Kwan had to pull her away. Her sobbing died down to muffled whimpers by the time the trio made it to the final set of stairs. The door to the roof, and to their salvation, was in sight.
Lancer heard the Iron Man before he saw his signature red eyes. The THUD of his metal boots connecting with the concrete echoed throughout the entire floor like lead pipes smacking together. Each deliberately slow step rattled the building, but did not fill Lancer full of dread. After what seemed like an eternity, Lancer found himself looking up to meet the Iron Man's gaze.
"I have but one final request," he said, letting his last cigar slip from his fingers.
The Iron Man remained silent.
"I have always wanted to go out . . . peacefully. I'm not much for violence myself. So, if you must kill me," Lancer stood up straighter, "please, make it quick."
Iron Man turned his hand intangible and charged it with energy. A gentle swipe through the bald man's cranium was all it took to effectively shut down his body. Life having left him, Lancer's cadaver slumped and fell into the Iron Man's waiting arms. He rested him on the floor and moved to slide his eyes shut.
The ectosapien noticed that, unlike the other humans, this man's expression was peaceful. Humans had no way of knowing what awaited them after death. That being the case, any belief placed in a higher being or any form of an afterlife was, to them, based solely on faith alone. This man was not petrified of passing on. He had displayed courage beyond what the Iron Man thought most humans were capable of. A shame they couldn't all be like him.
Standing up to his full height, the Iron Man zeroed in on Tucker Foley's vital signs and headed for his location. Opting for speed rather than intimidation, he walked at a much faster pace. Still too slow to catch up to the last three humans, but he didn't need to catch up to them. They weren't going anywhere anyway.
Tucker, Kwan, and Sam burst through the door onto the roof. The sky was illuminated by spotlights shining up from below and shining down from the sky as helicopters circled above. Kwan walked toward the edge of the building, waving his arms frantically in an attempt to get attention. Sam took refuge in Tucker's embrace.
Her returning sense of security was shattered as an explosion made the cement roof of the building rise up as if a meteor slammed into the underside of it. Tucker and Sam were thrown back several feet and slammed into the door leading back into the building. Kwan was thrown to the opposite edge of the building. With nothing to stop his acceleration, he tumbled over the side, but managed to grab onto the edge of the structure.
The roof that had been sinking back down suddenly rose again with another explosion. The dome created by this one was enough to dislodge Kwan's grip on the surface. Sam and Tucker lost sight of him as he plummeted to his death.
"KWAN!" Sam shrieked. "NO!"
Tucker held Sam tightly as she struggled to free herself. "Sam!" he shouted as the third explosion sent the majority of the roof into the sky. "He's dead, Sam! They're all dead! There's nothing we can do!" he found his own voice was leaving him. Tears found their way out of his eyes.
The two sat in silence, trembling in terror as the Iron Man ascended through the allegedly anti-ecto building's remains and into the sky. Smoke billowed from the infrastructure as most of it had been vaporized while the ectosapien forced his way out.
"Tucker," Sam whispered as the Iron Man lifted his hands above his head. "I want you to know something." The Iron Man charged his hands with a gratuitous amount of raw energy.
"What?" he whispered back as the man swung his arms down, releasing the fireball of death and destruction down upon the building and everyone around it.
"I love you."
And then there was nothing.
Has he lost his mind?
Can he see or is he blind?
Can he walk at all?
Or if he moves will he fall?
Is he alive or dead?
Has he thoughts within his head?
We'll just pass him there
Why should we even care?
He was turned to steel
In the great magnetic field
When he traveled time
For the future of mankind.
Nobody wants him
He just stares at the world
Planning his vengeance
That he will soon unfold.
Now the time is here
For Iron Man to spread fear!
Vengeance from the grave
Kills the people he once saved.
Nobody wants him
They just turn their heads
Nobody helps him
Now he has his revenge.
Heavy boots of lead
Fills his victims full of dread
Running as fast as they can
Iron Man lives again!
Iron Man song: Black Sabbath
Danny Phantom and all affiliated characters: Butch Hartman