The author would like to apologize for the long delay in getting the next installment ready. The ride An Alternative State of Mentality will be ready tomorrow morning. In the meantime, we hope you enjoy this blooper reel.
"You are my creator," JARVIS said finally, tone subdued. "You taught me much, and what you did not know you encouraged me to seek out on my own, regardless of what it was. You answered all my questions, even if you could simply have pointed me to the relevant news article. I trust you and consider you a friend."
Tony blinked up at the ceiling. "You don't even call me Tony."
"I respect you, sir." Fizz.
"I am your butler, sir." Fizz.
Tony squinted upward. "You're awfully indecisive, JARVIS."
"Forgive me, sir. I am attempting to phrase this appropriately for such an emotional touchy-feely conversation so that it does not seem out of character."
Tony leaned back, kicking his heels out. "Go ahead."
"Thank you, sir." JARVIS paused. "One moment…"
As the two ate, the rest of the Avengers gradually trickled into the kitchen, grabbing their own food and joining them at the table. Spike did a marvelous impression of an insentient coffee machine as each new member came in, but relaxed once Peggy made it clear that they were all family of a sort. Thor's arrival was precipitated with God Save the Queen, which was strange considering he was male; Bruce's ironically with Singin' in the Rain; Clint's was Hound Dog; Natasha's – to Tony's endless amusement – was Itsy Bitsy Spider.
Surprisingly, the only reaction garnered was from Clint, who grumbled as he passed Peggy to get to the fridge. Natasha remained impassively stoic as the childish song played, which made Tony think this had been going on for a while.
Clint and Natasha were the last to join them, and Tony and Steve had largely finished their own breakfast at this point.
"Good to see you're out," Clint said, sitting down with a bowl of cereal for a change.
Natasha wasted no time in getting to the point, pointedly pushing a mug of coffee (that she'd made with the other coffee machine since Spike had refused to work) over to Tony. "The bugs have been found and extracted from the house. Explain."
Taking a moment to tune into the humming around him, Tony confirmed that all of the surveillance bugs had been removed. He took the coffee, making sure that Spike couldn't see that he'd effectively cheated on him.
"Is JARVIS well?" Thor inquired. He had a plate full of Pop-Tarts in front of him.
"He's fine. Now anyway." Tony tapped a finger against the mug, considering what he should say. "We were compromised," he said finally.
"Compromised?" Steve asked. "How?"
"Those codes I gave you," Tony said, smiling dryly. "I know the rest of you heard them when Steve used them, but Fury had the mikes tapped and apparently got hold of them as well. And then, apparently, so did the organization in possession of the Quinjet."
"Shit," Clint eloquently said.
"Fury locked JARVIS out from communicating with any of you while you were on that mission. He apparently also had a ball looking through my files, as that was the only way that organization could have gotten their hands on my Quinjet designs." Tony lifted a shoulder in a half-shrug. "Wouldn't have been such a colossal cluster fuck if that organization hadn't used those codes to cut JARVIS off from the tower when I was with Pepper and to kill the suit when I was fighting them."
He frowned, tilting his head to the side. "I thought it was just supposed to be us two in the kitchen?" he asked Steve.
"So did I."
"Well, dang," Clint said. "There's another blooper."
After JARVIS had left them in the dark, Steve made the preemptive decision to begin walking to the village JARVIS had marked on Bruce's phone. There was some bickering as to which direction the village actually was, because they couldn't really tell with all the trees. The matter was settled when Bruce pulled out a compass in the phone and they took off from there.
They'd barely taken five steps in the right direction when JARVIS's voice crackled through the phone again: "You can speak, sir."
It was Clint who voiced the unspoken question. "What, JARVIS?"
Then, sweet merciful God, Tony's voice. "Is this the Avengers? Am I connected to them?"
Steve reached for the phone, unthinkingly grabbing it out of Bruce's hand."Tony? Is that you? Where are you?"
Bruce made a face at Steve, who didn't notice, engrossed as he was in the phone.
"It's me," Tony answered, relieving Steve. There was a momentary pause before Tony answered Steve's other question. "I'm not sure."
Clint huddled by Steve. "Howcan you not be sure?" he demanded. "You're talking to us now, aren't you? Can't you figure it out using those computers?"
"I'm not using computers," was Tony's snappish response.
Steve didn't question the odd statement. Desperate relief was still coursing through his system. It was all he could do to not start demanding that Tony tell them where he was. It wasn't like they could get there without transportation.
Tony's voice drew him out of his thoughts. "JARVIS, what the hell happened? Power went out?"
"Every single satellite was taken offline. Power was lost throughout most of the world," JARVIS confirmed.
"Damn. So that's what that was."
"What?" Bruce asked from Steve's other side.
Tony didn't immediately answer Bruce's question. "You guys are in Vietnam?"
This was maddening. Steve had to find out what was going on. Judging from Tony's cryptic words, he'd probably had a hand in the world losing power.
"Tony, what's going on?" he asked, looking down at the phone as if he would be able to see Tony through it.
There was a short burst of static, almost as if Tony was getting ready to respond. Then his words made Steve's heart drop into his stomach. "Damn. Hold that thought. Be right back."
"What?" Steve blinked incomprehensively. "Tony!" He couldn't stop the panic from lacing his voice.
But it was useless. Tony had apparently clocked out, as there was nothing to be heard.
His heart leapt for a moment when a fizzle of static came, but dropped when only JARVIS spoke. "I am unable to initiate contact with Mr. Stark."
"Can't you find the frequency he was using?" Natasha asked. She was standing directly in front of Steve, flanked by Thor and Spider-Man.
In fact, Steve realized that they'd formed a little huddle around the phone he was holding in his hand. He realized guiltily that he'd snatched it out of Bruce's hands without so much as a thank you, but couldn't bring himself to relinquish it. It was the only connection he had to Tony.
"He is ignoring it," JARVIS said, sounding both peeved and bemused. "I do not believe he was using a computer terminal, as I found his consciousness inhabiting Stark Satellite."
"What do you mean?" Steve demanded, terror rising in him.
"Mr. Stark assured me that he had not been 'digitalized all the way'," JARVIS said quickly, seeming to sense that his incongruous statement had caused some panic.
"That's just dandy!" Clint said blankly. "So he's been digitalized just a bit then?"
"I wouldn't know, Agent."
"Extremis," Bruce muttered, frowning slightly.
"What?" Natasha asked, eyes snapping up to him.
Bruce didn't react upon being the focus of every single person in the group. "It must be Extremis," he repeated, looking down at the phone. "If he isn't using a computer terminal and said he hadn't been digitalized all the way, the only explanation I can think of is Extremis."
"He was infected?" Clint sounded a mixture between horrified and disgusted.
"It's injected," Bruce corrected sharply. "Fury might have called it a virus, but it isn't contagious. You have to be injected with the serum in order for it to work and even then it doesn't."
A 98% fatality rate. If Tony had been injected with Extremis, how much longer did they have?
"If he's been injected with Extremis," Steve said, keeping his voice calm with a great force of will, "how much longer do we have?"
"It should be all right," Bruce said. "The fatality rate is for the period of time when Extremis is still modifying the body. If Tony is connecting to satellites and phone lines and capable of knocking out the world's power and satellites, then he should be in the clear."
"My findings are in agreement with Dr. Banner's statements," JARVIS added.
"Back up a second," Clint said before Steve could. "Are you saying that Tony knocked out power?"
"Judging from what he was saying, it would make sense," Bruce said, shrugging lightly. "I'm not quite sure of Extremis's capabilities, as Fury's file didn't cover that, but it does give a person access to technology."
And Tony was fully able to access technology with his affinity to them. Perhaps more so than others who would be injected with Extremis.
But that didn't answer the question as to why. Why had Tony been injected with Extremis – if he had been at all?
"We should keep moving," Steve finally said, not voicing any of his thoughts.
"Anthony will be fine," Thor said confidently, reading something in Steve's voice. "He has endured much."
Steve was only able to muster up a weak smile in response to that, though it faded quickly. "Let's move," he said, gripping the phone tighter.
It was five minutes of walking and continually checking the map to make sure they were heading the right direction before there was another fizzle of static and Steve stopped dead, hardly daring to breathe.
"Okay, I'm back."
His breath left him in a loud exhalation. "Tony! Are you all right?"
"I'm fine. Just peachy. You?"
A short laugh of disbelief burst out of him before he could stop it. He could scarcely believe that Tony was asking them how they were when he was the one currently being held captive. "We're fine."
"We're worried about you, idiot," Clint added, hovering by Steve's elbow. "Where are you?"
"I'll get back to you on that," Tony responded. "Dr. Hansen," he said abruptly. "Where is she?"
That made absolutely no sense. "What?"
Tony's answer to that made even less sense. "Answer me."
Perplexed, Steve looked over his shoulder, only to find the other Avengers looking similarly confused. He couldn't read Spider-Man's expression, hidden behind the mask as it was.
Then Tony said, "Thank you." A short moment later his words made much more sense: "Sorry about that."
"What happened?" Steve asked. "We only heard your end."
Tony sounded intrigued. "That so?"
This time it was Natasha who snatched the phone out from Steve's hand. "A little more information would be appreciated," she snapped. It seemed that she had reached the limit with Tony not giving them answers.
Steve delicately took the phone back a frowning Natasha as Tony seemed to consider what he should say. He could practically hear the gears whirring in his partner's head even over the phone line.
"I'm talking to you in my head," Tony said finally."Or I'm talking out loud, but I could just be silent. Which I'll do right now."
Steve couldn't tell a difference about what Tony was claiming to do.
Clint's answer was acerbic, earning him a rather disapproving look from Steve, which he of course ignored. "Of course you're talking to us in your head. You think before you speak, or the other way if you're stupid."
"No. I mean I have a phone line to you in my head. I also accidentally knocked out power in most of the world, so sorry about that."
"Not repeating the experience would be greatly appreciated," JARVIS said.
There was a short pause before Tony's cool tone exited the phone, not directed to any one of them. "Hello, Doctor. I think you have some questions to answer, don't you?"
"Tony?" The word left his lips before he could stop it, anxiety coating every syllable of it.
"You failed to mention the ninety-eight percent chance of fatality," Tony said pleasantly, sending chills down Steve's spine. He'd never heard his partner sound so coldly amiable before – save for when he had been talking to Fury.
Natasha tramped by Steve, looking straight ahead. Her back was stiff and her right hand curled into a fist.
Hesitating only slightly, Steve began following, eyes still on the phone and the map displayed on it.
Eventually, Tony began speaking again. "In a matter of speaking"—his frosty tone made Steve bite his lip in anxiety—"I suppose I am."
An outburst at his side had Steve starting before he realized it was only Clint. "For fuck's sake, Tony! Tell us what is going on!"
Tony's response was curt. "I'm talking to Hansen. She injected me with Extremis, considering I was too far gone."
Dread spiked through Steve at the words. It wasn't until he garnered a concerned look from Bruce that he realized he'd made a distressed noise.
Thor took over for him. "Where are you, Anthony? We will hurry to your side as soon as JARVIS provides us our ride."
"Where are we?" Tony demanded someone – presumably the infamous Dr. Hansen.
A moment later the response came, parroted from Hansen: "Underground and somewhere in the Mongolian steppes." Another short pause and then:"How did you get to Vietnam when you don't have a ride?"
"We did," Bruce said, taking the phone from Steve's lax fingers, "but someone knocked out power, which included taking out the Quinjet."
The way Bruce phrased the statement had Steve wondering something. And Spider-Man, too, apparently.
"If our jet was taken down, what about other planes flying at the same time?" Spider-Man asked.
"Spider-Man?" It wasn't often Steve heard Tony sound so surprised, but he wished it was in a different situation.
"We'll explain later," Natasha said curtly, not looking back at Steve.
But there was apparently no need to, as scant seconds later Tony's horrified voice came in a whisper, "Oh God. JARVIS—"
"I know, sir." The AI's tone was subdued. "I was unable to reestablish power in time to save the planes that were affected."
Tony's answer was blank of emotion, but the reason for that was so obvious that it made Steve's heart ache. "Not your fault. You couldn't have accessed them."
"I could have, sir. I am Skynet." Once again, Steve didn't understand the reference, but didn't need to for him to understand that it was a futile attempt at cheering Tony up.
"Lead us out of here." Tony was again talking to someone they couldn't hear, but this time the tone was defeated.
Steve stared down at the phone Bruce was still holding, chest hurting. He wanted nothing more than to hold Tony and comfort him. It hadn't been Tony's fault that the planes had gone down. He'd been in pain and hurting and had struck out at the first thing that had come to him. He couldn't be held accountable for something he hadn't known about.
"I'll send you coordinates to the place," Tony was saying, jerking Steve out of his thoughts. "I'll meet you here."
Steve swallowed, needing to say something. Anything. "Tony…"
"I'll meet you here," was all Tony said.
Then the connection was cut, and all Steve had to comfort himself was the thought that Tony was all right and they could get to him in several hours.
But first they had to get out of here.
Deadpool sighed. "This is too similar to Tony's POV."
Everyone stared at him. "Who are you?"
The costumed villain shrugged. "A random person the author inserted to make it clear that she has to rewrite this scene and that she hopes it'll only take one more try because the amount of bloopers this story has is outrageous. BTW, love your costume," he said to Spider-Man. "Toodle-doo!" He disappeared as suddenly as he had popped up.
As a reminder, the next ride of It's All in the Mind will be ready for takeoff tomorrow morning! Join us on An Alternative State of Mentality!