His blue eyes followed the strategic nuclear missile as it coasted into the center of the alien armada and staging area. In just one second, he was was going to fall back through the Tesseract powered portal. The fifty megaton city killer bomb went off and his armor polarized his lenses as its last active function, then all systems died.
Captain America... No, Steve Rogers stared into the portal. "Close it."
Black Widow had been tensed. I one world, she hesitated for just a second. Here though, she stabbed Loki's scepter through the forcefield and disrupted the portal device.
He and burst of electromagnetic energy hit the portal as it close. The suit of armor hit distorting portal as it closed and was swept up into a lateral spin, disappearing in a flash of light.
"Does anyone see him?" the blonde super-soldier called out.
"He hit the portal as it closed and disappeared," the team's archer called out. Now if only his acute eyes had not caught part of that flash.
"Then he is gone. Lost unto infinity. Mayhap he will return. He is a puissant... nay, stubborn mortal. If anyone has the wits to get back from where he ended up. We can only have faith." The Nordic warrior in blue armor gathered his scarlet cape about him.
The green goliath had watched the portal, raging at the unfairness. They had been stronger! They had won! His roar echoed throughout the city.
"Good luck, Tony," the last of the Avengers said. He had been a jerk, self-centered and narcissistic. She would have never pegged him to be the one that would sacrifice his life to save the world.
Just goes to show you never really know someone.
"Oh, god," Tony Stark said. "I think I'm going to puke." He had awoke with a jerk to find he was in an uncontrolled spin with flashes of lighter pale rose and darker blue. His armor was dead weight. "Talk-" Urp. "-to me-" Oh no. "-Jarvis." There he let go even as he started to black out from the G-forces.
He was lucky that he was coming in at a very shallow angle, as his battered red, gold and steel colored armor actually skipped across the shallow waves of the bay three time before plowing a huge trench in the gritty sand and pebble beach. The armor had ended up staring skyward, with one leg jammed painfully straight up.
"Hello?" a jogger called out from the top of the beach where this read ended. "Hey, does someone have cell phone? I think this cape is hurt." She usually didn't run this far, but she was feeling better.
Only one of the bystanders responded, as the rest had started to flee the area.
"Don't have one, miss, but my apartment is right there above that salon. I'll go call the PRT." The older dark-skinned man took of a good pace for a sextegarian.
She leaned back over to try and see if she could hear someone inside the armor or if it was a robot of some sort.
Beeps and whines filled the air as the suit reactivated. The suits biometric sensor were not detecting any respiration and all of the life support apertures appeared to be filled with a mildly acidic fluid. The bespectacled girl started to scrabble backward.
"It was a pleasure to serve, sir," the AI said.
With a bang, the emergency release explosive bolts triggered over over most of the armor excepting the one leg stick straight up. Pieces of scarlet and gold armor landed softly three to six feet away.
The jogger blinked as she realized it really was a person. She dropped back to her knees right next to him, noting the odd glowing triangle in a circle of light in his chest. The lower part of his face and neck was covered in slime. Leaning over, her eyes watched his chest even as she listened for any breathing eve she checked him for a pulse.
Strong regular pulse, no breathing. Washing his face with water from her drinking bottle and clearing the air passage, she started to breathe for him. The class she was taking had never talked about guys with facial hair. Sirens started to sound in the distance, indicating the authorities were on the way.
With a gasp and wheeze, he suddenly started breathing.
"Oh. I'm alive. I guess that makes you my angel. God, I hurt. What's wrong with my leg?" the main said, suddenly very much awake.
"Um, one leg is still in your armor and sticking straight up," the jogger said. "Angel? Are you eyes working?"
"Yup, perfectly fine. Did we stop the invasion? Is New York safe?" he asked woozily. "And my armor doesn't allow for that much flexibility. Which probably means I've got a broken or dislocated hip. That's really going to suck." Probably still in shock then.
"Invasion? Oh, are you a new member of the Protectorate? Was there some big parahuman fight last night?" Taylor Hebert asked curiously.
"The whosit? Parahumans? That could be a problem. But later. After the pain." The inventor looked around. "Think you can pull me a couple of feet out in the direction of my head."
"I'm not really strong," the curly haired girl replied, almost hiding behind her bangs.
"I'll teach you a little secret. It's not about strength, but all about leverage. And I can help. I just don't think I can do it on my own."
With a big of work, the two of them pulled him back down the trench. Once the leg was more horizontal, it freed itself with a bang just like the other parts as two police cruisers that screeched up with sirens and lights on. Lightly armored PRT officers popped out. Tony was huffing in pain, barely bearing it.
"Huh. Just after dawn. East coast?" Tony Stark nattered to distract him from the overwhelming pain.
"Uh, Brockton Bay. Between New York and Boston." She stood up carefully while keeping her hands visible. "He needs medical attention."
"Who was he fighting?" the first officer said as he trotted down the crunchy beach.
"He said something about an invasion in New York City."
"Sir, do you want a temporary mask?" the PRT officer asked of Tony.
"Why the hell would I want that? What I want is an ambulance and some pain medication. Not necessarily in that order. I could also take a really good strong whiskey right now, too." Tony's one eyebrow was raised up as an expressive question. "Say, you guys wouldn't have happened to have heard of an organization called S.H.I.E.L.D., would you?"
"Um, no. Is that the name of your superhero team? We can try to get in contact with them, if you like. Ambulance is on the way. Hey, is your armor safe to handle or should we get a bomb disposal squad here?" one of the officers at the top of the beach by the cruisers asked.
"Nah, shouldn't explode or anything. Just put it in a duffel or something. Damn, I need to make another armor. I didn't even have time to test that one. And then figure a way home. Today just hasn't been my day. I didn't even get to tell Pepper I love her. Say, kid? What's your name?"
"Uh, Taylor. Taylor Hebert, sir." She was definitely withdrawing a bit now that more people were here.
"Tony Stark. Thank you for saving my life. You're a hero in my book. I might call you angel sometimes." He really needed a drink.
A motorcycle pulled up to a stop by the police cruisers and its silver and blue armored rider dismounted.
"Oh, wow. It's Armsmaster," Taylor said in awe. "He's the leader of the local Protectorate."
Tony wiggled a little bit to sit up, groaning in pain. "Huh. I don't think I'm in Kansas anymore, Toto. You don't mind if I call you Toto, do you?"
"I thought you were going to call me Angel? Even though I'm not!" Taylor was severely confused now.
"It's a stream of conscious thing. I babble my smarts all over. Not many people can keep up. And you save my life, so of course you're an angel. Is there a license required to have super armor?"
She and the officers blinked as Armsmaster walked down the gritty beach to them.
"Um, I don't think so? Unless you use it to commit a crime."
"You mean I'm going to have to certify my armor with the FAA? That's a ton of paperwork and hassle," Tony complained.
"I take it he's a Tinker then?" Armsmaster had a small smile at the other man's complaint on paperwork and procedure. More sirens were approaching.
"I like to tinker. Used to be my sportscars, but somehow I think you using the word that way means something more than I'm used to. A category of superhero that makes items? That means there's a lot of them. Huh. Yeah, really over the rainbow here Tony. Great."
"Sir, I've called for one of the trucks to come and pick up the remains of the armor. It's obviously combat grade and we don't want it falling into someone's hands. Like Squealer," an officer said to Armsmaster.
"Good call. Tell Director Piggot that I would not mind taking a look at it myself. If it can fly under its own power, that's a useful ability."
"Miss, if you could come over here? I need to get a statement. No, no. You aren't in trouble. In fact, I think you probably saved this guy's life. Afterwards, I'll give you a lift home, how's that?" the only female PRT officer said.
"Oh, thanks. Yeah, I'd really appreciate it. Um, goodbye, Tony."
"Bye, Angel! I'll catch up to you next week? How's that?" Tony turned back to one of the officers that was helping pull him all the way out of the trench and up the beach.
When he woke up again it was to the pleasant beeps of life monitors in a hospital room. "Ah, decor de la medicina. Always a pleasure to see offwhite with more white with yet more bright white."
The titter of giggling just out of sight obviously meant someone had heard him. That brightened Tony right up. Good quips should never be repeated but should also not be wasted.
The girl in white robes with a red cross on her front was not what he expected. She was cowled and hooded so all you could see what the section around her eyes. "Hello. Mr. Stark, right?"
"The one and only. I take it you are another local heroine? You look a little young," he noted.
"Panacea. And that's right. I just had to wait for permission as attending physician, but I believe I can have you mostly healed in about five minutes." She thought he was pretty expressive.
"Wow, I wish I had met you after I got back from Afghanistan. That could have saved a lot of bother. Like the Palladium poisoning, not to mention all the shrapnel in my chest. But you know, what's a little shrapnel damage among friends?" he quipped.
She put her hands on his arm. And then stopped. "You still have the shrapnel in your chest? And what is that thing in the center of it? What barbarian installed that?" she asked in horror.
"Dr. Yinsin was... under pressure and not able to remove the shards. So he fixed me up an electromagnet to keep the shards from slicing up my heart. I added the ARC reactor, escaped my prison cell and then blew up the terrorist camp. Really, sort of Tuesday for me now that I think of it." He'd been nodding his head back and forth just a little bit as he talked.
"You have a nuclear reactor in your chest?" she squeaked out.
"It's an Starkium electron fusion reactor. Pretty much the safest type of reactor out there. Now that I've replaced the Palladium it used to use. Just ignore it, okay?" He gave her a little helpless shrug and a smile.
"Right. Well, your leg is pretty good. Most of your bumps and bruises are healed. And I did finish purging that poisoning, too." Panacea was also reading all the scars he had on his body.
"Great! Then I can start figuring out a way back to my Earth!" He gave one of his smirk even as he sat up. "Oh, so much better. Thanks, Panacea."
"I'm just going to go over there and let Armsmaster know that you're fine. Okay?" She retreated from the madman quickly, in case it was contagious. Just down the hall, she spotted the armor wearing Tinker and the head of the Brockton Bay Protectorate talking in low tones. She did not run, but it was obvious she was walking quickly. "He's okay. Other than the fusion reactor in his chest. I could probably heal that hole, but it would be tricky."
"I was wondering where the power source for that armor was. Why is it in his chest?" That had to be the oddest post-trigger mutation that Armsmaster had ever seen.
"He said something about getting hit with a bomb, some electromagnets to keep the shrapnel from tearing up his heart. Then he added the ARC-y thing to power it so he could break out of a terrorists camp or something. I think he might be a little unstable," Panacea said rapid-fire.
"How the hell..? Armsmaster? Are you sure you want to recruit this lunatic?" the stout, bob-haired woman next to him asked.
"I'm sure, Director Piggot. A preliminary survey of the armor pieces indicates that it's a full exoskeleton that's armored, flight-capable and ludicrously armed. Micro-missiles, a couple of triple-laser emitters that I couldn't get to warm up with the full output of my lab," the Tinker explained.
"What does that mean?" Piggot asked in a very serious tone.
"I'm pretty sure if I'm reading the power ratings on that thing correctly, he could probably tussle with Lung. Maybe not win, but that armor laughed off armor piercing rounds."
"Yeah, really cool, huh? Hey, have you guys seen my pants? I'm pretty sure I'll get arrested if I try to walk out of here with just a hospital gown," Tony called out as he stuck his head out the door. "Oh, and nice to meet you. I'm Tony Stark!" He gave them both a disarming smile.
"Armsmaster. I'll talk to a nurse about getting some clothes. So where are you from? We didn't get any hits about anything happening in New York last night or a super-team called S.H.I.E.L.D.," the Tinker replied holding out his hand to shake.
"Sorry, don't do the handshake thing. Not after Afghanistan. Not actually trying to be a jerk. Well, this time." Tony made no move to shake the hand.
"I'm Director Piggot of the PRT. What happened in Afghanistan?" the administrator asked.
"I was doing a weapon demonstration for a few generals (with the full wet bar, by the way), got blown up by a missile my company made and then kidnapped by terrorists. They tried to blackmail me into making advanced weapons by offering to remove the shrapnel in my chest. Which they totally lied about, by the way. Dr. Yinsin and I staged a breakout using my Mark I armor. Blew up the base and went home. Pretty cool, huh?"
"I'll go talk to that nurse," Panacea said as she started to move away from the lunatic.
"Oh, right. You asked me where I'm from. As far as I can figure, an alternate dimensional Earth. Unless there's a large multinational company called Stark International around?" Tony nattered along.
"You are from Earth Aleph?" Piggot asked as she tried to parse his strange manner of dispensing information.
"No, he's not. They have a few parahumans there, but nothing like this. I guess we'll call it Earth Gimel or something. Well, you are stranded and the Protectorate and the PRT are always keeping an eye out for talented inventors. You can even fix up your armor again, do some heroing after you learn the ropes," Armsmaster said as he placed his hands on his hips.
"Sounds kind of official... I can probably do that... Maybe... Better than writing it up myself, I guess. Oh, pants! Thanks, Sarah! You are now my official, favorite nurse. If I wasn't in a steady relationship, I would totally date you Saturday." He snagged the clothes and disappeared back into the room.
"He's... energetic. I wonder if its part of his power?" Armsmaster asked.
"I'm not sure my blood pressure could handle him in large doses. Handle the negotiation, please. I'll see you at the Wednesday meeting." With that, she turned and walked off.
Tony stepped out in the loose jeans and T-shirt. "Was it something I said? Because I'm pretty sure I didn't say anything insulting. Pepper has been getting on my case about that."
"No, she's just not very comfortable around parahumans," Armsmaster said simply.
"Oh. That, right. So beyond the obvious classical connotations, what is a Parahuman? I'm all ears."
"People with superpowers? That have had a trigger event can now do things that normal people can't?"
"Trigger? Weird. No, I'm just smart. I mean really smart. Graduated MIT at sixteen, took over as CEO of Stark International at 18. Turned it into the mega-conglomerate in less than ten years. People bandy the word genius around. What's a trigger event?" Tony said. "And where are we going for lunch? They have Burger Kings here?"
"A trigger event is when you are at your absolute worst place and you develop superpowers. Some people mention that they see a vision, but I'm not sure I ascribe to that. And yes, there are Burger Kings here in Earth Bet," Armsmaster said as he walked down the hall to the elevator. "So how about I show you my lab and shop back at base?"
"Sounds fun. Is my armor there? I might be able to fix it up a little bit."
Armsmaster wasn't sure he could keep up. "Yes, actually."
Tony was studying the remains of his Mark VIII. "Looks pretty beat up. I only got to wear it an hour. Isn't even technically field tested."
"What did all this?" Armsmaster asked as he tapped some energy scoring.
"Chicarti? Not sure, alien storm troopers that Loki was partnered with. Stole a cosmic alien tesseract with unlimited energy, used it to open a wormhole above New York (above my building!) to near their space base. Sent hundreds of foot soldiers, these wicked sky skiffs and these absolutely huge monster flying snake things. My cutting laser didn't even score their armor. Luckily their insides are softer than their outsides. I think I'm behind in the numbers though. Thor and the Hulk both took out a couple and I only took out one."
"Loki? Thor? The Hulk?" Armsmaster prompted even as he watched him start to put the armor back together.
"Yeah, I guess Loki and Thor were the guys that the Norse based their legends. Not sure how much I believe in that. Hulk? Gamma radiation and scientists appear to be a bad mix. Normal guy, turns into a eight or nine foot green muscle rage monster that can smash buildings. Say? Can I try to finagle uploading onto one of your bigger computers?"
It took a few minutes, but they both managed to jury rig up a connection. Armsmaster made sure it was in a virtual 'box' system with no external access.
"Oh, hey. My black box recorder for the fight survived. I'm sure I got some videos of that. Let me throw it up on the big screen over there." His fingers were tapping away rapidly. "Need to make a holo-suite for you. Simplifies designing things drastically. And there we go. Hey, JARVIS? How are you doing, buddy?"
Armsmaster was watching the video as it rocketed up the side of a building. "This is combat footage? You weren't kidding about that portal or the aliens, were you?" The micro-missiles were better than he thought they would be. And yeah, giant ugly snake thing that was flying and smashing buildings.
"Online. Degradation of AI core only at 0.5 %. This system does not appear to be optimized. And it's good to be back, Mr. Stark," JARVIS said from the computer.
Armsmaster's head snapped around. "What is that?"
"That is a who. He's my personal A.I. And a friend. Don't you ever tell Pepper I said that, though. JARVIS, say hello to Armsmaster."
"Greetings, Armsmaster. And mums the word, sir."
"He's got restrictions, right?" the leader of the Brockton Bay Protectorates asked.
"Of course, sir. I believe I am under three hundred and fifty two at this time," the A.I. replied in his cultured tone of voice.
"Which ones did Pepper remove this time?" Tony asked with a raised eyebrow.
"My orders to reschedule all of your board meetings and to redirect all calls except hers, sir. And the directives to order the latest Porsche and Maserati when they come out."
Panacea was right. This guy was a lunatic, Armsmaster thought to himself even as he continued to watch and listen to the combat footage.
"So how long to repair the Mark VIII, JARVIS?"
"The damage appears catastrophic. Did you already spend your discretionary armor budget this month, sir?"
"Actually, JARVIS, we ended up on an alternate Earth. Earth Bet, I assume? From the Hebrew alphabet? So we don't exactly have a budget right now," Tony explained to his A.I.
"That will make things difficult, sir. We might get 50 % functionality with a week's work. More if we have quality repair supplies and parts."
Armsmaster paused the screen. Okay, that really did look a bit like the god Thor. "About that. I can let you use my shop here to fix up your armor a bit, but beyond that we're going to have to come to an agreement."
"Joining the Protectorate and/or that PRT (whatever that stands for?) right?" Tony asked curiously.
"Parahuman Response Team. They've been the main US administration of superheroes since the mid 80's. The Protectorate is the national parahuman super team, based in most major and many minor cities. Tinkers are a fairly valuable resource, especially if you can make reproducible and repairable technology."
Tony really had a raised eyebrow at that. "Since when is tech not reproducible or repairable?"
That stopped Armsmaster. "You could build and maintain multiple armors? Or teach someone to do it?"
"I usually have JARVIS do all the boring work. The reason I only had this armor on for the last hour or so was that my previous suit got trashed in a fight. I'm going to have to burst a small bubble, because I'm not selling my armor. I'm willing to help with things because I'm a nice guy. Really. But I don't sell weapons any more."
"At all?" the bearded inventor asked grimly.
"It would take a lot of convincing. Like world ending convincing," Tony said carefully.
Armsmaster tapped on his own keyboard, giving the virtual machine limited, guest privileges for the network and Internet. "JARVIS, access Leviathan attack on Kyushu and put it up on the big screen." Armsmaster waited until the picture of the Endbringer appeared on the screen as it started its attack. "This is the Endbringer Leviathan. One of three Endbringers. This is the start of the fight where after hours, Leviathan sunk Kyushu. Estimated death totals at over four million."
"Sir, I am seeing dozens of these attacks listed. Destroyed cities and hundreds of killed heroes and villains. Newfoundland was also sunk." JARVIS's voice was a bit subdued.
"Okay, I'm starting to be convinced. But you don't want the Iron Man armor. It's... complicated to pilot and way too expensive. If you know what you are doing, you can get that 150 % out of it. If you don't, you are a danger to everyone around you. JARVIS, bring up that prison guard armor that I did as a thought exercise last Thursday. The cost-effective design."
"The Guardsman? Sir, are you sure about this?"
"I might be, once I see the evidence." Tony was suddenly and frighteningly intense.
"Don't worry about that. There is a lot of evidence." Armsmaster was quite grimly convincing.
And that sounded beyond ugly.