Just went back to edit a few things I noticed in the chapter that were really pissing me off :)
Ch. 1 - Yinsen
Fire. She could see fire, but that didn't make any sense. Well, maybe it did—there was some fucking terrible thing scorching in her chest. But she wasn't on fire, right?! As her vision sharpened, so did the pain. She wanted to sleep again but now everything was too real for her to ignore.
The fire wasn't real though; it was the reflection in a man's glasses as he peered at her. She could see through the glasses, into the man's pitying, dark eyes. He knew she was in pain. Why wasn't he helping her?
She tried breathing through her nose but was alarmed by the obstruction—her hand instantly went to her face, and tore at the tubing up her nasal cavity. They did that at hospitals, a nasal… something, when a patient couldn't breath on their own.
But Toni Stark was very, very sure that she wasn't at the hospital.
The man touched her hair, but she couldn't hear what he said. Flinching, Toni tried to sit up but the man pushed lightly at her shoulder, a warning. Her hand was instantly up again, brushing his touch away, but he caught her wrist and guided it elsewhere.
She should've looked at what he was doing, but Toni was too focused on the pitying look in the man's eyes. She was trying to figure out why he was so upset that she didn't pay attention to the bigger picture. Then her hand brushed at metal, at wiring, at gauze—Toni was forced to look down in curiosity because she knew that none of that should be there.
A scream was in her throat, but Toni was too petrified to use it. Instead, her eyes traveled across the wires, finding that her chest was connected to a car battery.
A car battery.
"Wha…what the hell did you do to me?" Toni's words were broken and hoarse. Her throat was weak and so very, very sore. She wondered what she'd done to wear out her vocal chords—the memory surged up, blood and pain and her own anguished screams begging them to "Just let me fucking die!" —and then she wished she hadn't remembered.
"What I did?" the man chuckled, but she was too suspicious to consider it good-natured. "What I did was to save your life," the man said lightly, moving away from the unkempt cot she laid on and towards the small fire that he was cooking something over. She simply waited for him to elaborate. "I removed all the shrapnel I could, but there's a lot left, and it's headed into your atrial septum."
Toni sat up cautiously, wrapping her clothes around her tightly and snatching the car battery into her arms. Her head felt light. She brushed a hand through her hair, but there were no knots. They'd cut off most of her hair, until it was brutally short, but manageable. Her jaw clenched, but she made no mention of it.
"Here, want to see?" The man held up a small jar, shaking it. She could see small bits of metal jingling. "I have a souvenir. Take a look," he tossed the jar to Toni.
Her fingers didn't shake, but Toni noticed, with gruesome fascination, that her dried blood was pooled at the bottom of the jar from the shrapnel. She listened, but didn't look at the doctor as he spoke. She wasn't ready for that.
"I've seen many wounds like that in my village," he continued, with an edge to his voice that told Toni he was serious. "We call them the walking dead because it takes about a week for the barbs to reach the vital organs."
Toni clenched her jaw. She wasn't ready to die in a week. She gripped at the car battery, and glanced down at the painful contraption in her chest. "What does this do?" she asked him quietly.
"It's an electromagnet, hooked up to your car battery. It keeps the shrapnel from entering your heart." Toni exhaled, almost laughing, and an incredulous smile broke out on her grim face.
The man raised an eyebrow at her strange reaction, and she shook her head, looking down. "The ingenuity of it," she explained, "in a fucking cave with terrorists." Her little smile twisted bitterly, and she glared at the ground.
Her brown eyes swept the area, and she understood that they were indeed in a cave with no visible exits. Toni knew that she could be anywhere at this point; she had no idea how long she'd been out. There was a very, very slim chance of a rescue.
Toni's eyes traveled up, and focused on a little red dot in the corner of the room. They were monitoring them.
"That's right," the man confirmed, his tone oddly cheerful, "Smile." She wondered how long he must have been in captivity for this man to seem so indifferent. "We met once, you know. At a technical conference in Bern."
She pulled her eyes away from the camera, and frowned at the man. Bern. She didn't like that conference, and she couldn't even remember it beyond a college student named Allan that she did not sleep with. "I don't remember you."
He looked up, slightly amused. "No, you wouldn't," he agreed, "If I had been that drunk, I wouldn't have been able to stand, much less give a lecture on integrated circuits." Toni nodded vacantly. She didn't really want to think about that right now, because she could already feel the regret setting in.
I'm going to fucking die in a cave, she though bitterly. There was no way to change what she'd already ruined.
"Where are we?" asked Toni, hoping to focus on their situation, however bad it was.
There were shouts of Arabic coming from behind the metal doors, and Toni quickly got off the cot, setting the car battery down on it. The man stood up as well, and hissed, "Put up your hands!"
The bolts on the door clicked, and Toni held up her hands as a dozen men flooded in, all holding similar weapons. Confusion hit her, then the fear. "Those are my guns. How did they get my guns?" she hissed back to the man, trying to stop herself from babbling. She had an awful feeling she knew exactly how they got those guns.
More soldiers were entering, and the man simply ignored her question. "Do you understand me? Do as I do!" he begged her, and Toni literally bit her tongue. She had a habit of trying to talk herself out of difficult situations.
A man walked towards her, speaking Arabic. Toni knew a lot, but she never learned Arabic. He gestured towards her fellow captive, and he repeated what the leader said, in English. "He says, 'Welcome Antonia Stark, the most famous mass-murderer in the history of America.'"
Toni only watched the man, expressionless, as he continued. "He is honored," her doctor translated. "He wanted you to build the missile—the Jericho missile you demonstrated earlier." The leader held up a picture for her to see, but Toni knew what he wanted as soon as she made out the word 'Jericho' in the midst of the leader's Arabic speech.
She answered before she really considered what she was saying. "I refuse."
Her throat burned, even though the water was cold. She gasped for air but her head was quickly forced into the water once more. Toni couldn't stop the screams. She choked up water when they pulled her out for a few seconds, and the whole process repeated.
It couldn't have been longer than five minutes, but when you were drowning over and over again, it felt like hours. They pulled her away from the water eventually; her short hair plastered to her face, then roughly yanked a burlap sack over her head.
She didn't want to think about what they did, or what they were going to do, so she instead focused on the direction they pulled her in; the gravel on the ground; the slight change in temperature as they headed into the sunlight of Afghanistan, outside of the cave.
Toni had been in the dark for so long. The sun was blinding until her face warmed and then it was blinding and burning. They were showing her the camp, and more importantly, all of the equipment they had with the Stark Industries logo printed on them. In the back of her mind, Toni recognized that there was no way they'd simply stolen this—the sheer magnitude of their supplies told a different story.
She hadn't even realized she had the car battery in he hands until she was shoved forward roughly, and nearly dropped it. The leader—or rather, the person who'd been speaking to her earlier, because she doubted he was the actual leader—beckoned to her. The doctor translated when she was close.
"He wants to know what you think," the man explained. Toni tried to remain indifferent, but there was still a bitter tone to her voice.
"I think you've got a lot of my weapons," she grounded out, her jaw clenched once more.
"He says they have everything you need to build the Jericho missile." The man told her, and Toni didn't answer. "He wants you to make a list of materials, to start working immediately, and when you're done, he will set you free."
A sense of calm washed over her, but it wasn't from the though of being able to leave. She wasn't stupid. Toni was a mechanic, an engineer—she was a fucking genius. And she smiled hopefully at the man. She even shook his hand when he offered it.
"No he won't," Toni told the translator, maintaining the same light tone he'd used earlier with her. She could see why he used it now.
"No, he won't," the man agreed.
The enthusiasm wasn't because Toni thought she would be freed soon. It was because, as an engineer with as much supplies as she wanted, Toni wasn't going to be helpless anymore. She wasn't in Malibu, she didn't have JARVIS or her equipment, but she had her hands, her head, and a heart with an expiration date.
And Toni would be damned if she let herself die just because she was expected to.
Or, she would be damned if she didn't manage to do some good before her bad heart did her in.