#3: Minus Human, Prologue May 12, 2019 11:49:15 GMT -5
Post by Charlie on May 12, 2019 11:49:15 GMT -5
The Invincible Iron Man
Issue #3: "Minus Human; Prologue"
Written by Charles Wilkins
Cover by Craig Cermak
Edited by Brian Burchette
ONE WEEK LATER:
The armour was holding, but it wouldn’t for much longer.
He tried polarising the surface of his suit, strengthening the millions of micro-plates that wove together to keep him safe-- but even then, this thing, whatever it was, was battering down on him like he was wearing a tin-can tuxedo!
No, no time for jokes. Tony Stark spat blood. His chest hurt. It burned. His heart-- his heart--!
“Happy, give me some good news, tell me what systems are operational!”
<I could lie to you, Tone, but honestly, that’ll get you killed. The suit is nearly empty, you need to get out of there right now, dammit!>
“Repulsors are down, that means I can’t fight, let alone fly away--”
As he said it, the words sunk in. He was going to die here. Die at the hands of this pale skinned monstrosity.
“I love my life.” Tony Stark flew above the city. He was breaking God knows how many air-traffic laws, but who cared? He had a meeting planned with the Mayor. A few cigars, a few drinks, and that would be sorted.
<Tone, how you doing?>
“She handles like a dream, Hap. How are the feeds?”
<I’ve got a full diagnostic on the monitors here at the Hub. Everything’s at tip top. Now, you’ve got a meeting in six minutes, how about blessing the peons with your presence?>
“I’ll be there in four. Well, no, actually, make that three and seventeen seconds. Signing off.” He cut off the link between Happy and himself, and soared high, then, without a second thought, dove down, down, down, toward Stark Plaza.
STARK IRON WORKS:
Jessica Wong scratched the back of her head absent mindedly. “Nothing, just got an idea in my head.”
Nick Lewis laughed, shook his head, and looked at her. “Better than getting one in your elbow, Jess. Well… share?”
“No, it’s gone now.” She lowered her hand and looked around. “Isn’t Mr Stark supposed to be doing a walk-through soon?”
Lewis looked at his watch. “Yeah, I guess.”
“Hello, my children!” Tony Stark entered, arms open, a smile plastered on his face. “How are we fairing today? Lewis, I expect to talk to you about your environmental engine in a few minutes, if you’re not busy. And--” He looked at Jessica Wong, who stood right in his path. “Aaaaand Wong, how goes your nanotech paramedic project?”
“What’s Project Human Plus?”
Tony’s eyes opened wide. “Excuse me?”
“What’s Project Human Plus?” She repeated, in the exact same monotone voice.
“How did you hear about--?” Jessica began to stutter, her eyes rolled into the back of her head and her body convulsed. “Wong? Jessica?” He reached out to her, grabbing her arm and pulling her close as she seized up. He turned to the assorted men and women around him. “Get a doctor! Now!”
“Stark is an idiot,” muttered Justin Hammer, as he watched his enemy’s face on his laptop. “For a genius, that is. For a genius, he’s quite the idiot.” He looked over to Sandhurst, who was staying close to the tesseract doorway into his secret lab. “These… Control disks… Work very well, my dear friend. And those optical implants…? Quality work.”
“Those weren’t mine” stated Sandhurst matter of fact. “Bastardized Stark designs. Low-tech. Quite dangerous. The link to the optic nerve can cause blindness in the users. They also burn out very quickly.”
Hammer looked back down at his laptop. Stark was looking right at him, a look of worry on his face. “Sun Tzu once said ’if you know your enemies and know yourself, you will fight without danger in battles. If you only know yourself, but not your opponent, you may win or may lose. If you know neither yourself nor your enemy, you will always endanger yourself'...” He paused. “I know Stark. He’s an egomaniac. It’ll be delicious to watch his empire topple, and even sweeter when we pick up the pieces.”
“So it’s war then, sir?”
“War. Yes indeed, Mr Sandhurst.” He smiled and closed his laptop. “Destroy the evidence. Let us move on with our plans. Let us dig deeper into the mystery that surrounds this ‘Human Plus Project’. Stark’s reaction tells us something, does it not…?”
“That he doesn’t want to talk about the top secret governmental project with one of his employees?”
STARK IRON WORKS:
Tony looked at the woman in his arms that had uttered something so worrying to him and who had now collapsed to the ground, caught up in convulsions. He had reviewed her portfolio himself; she had no history of epileptic seizures in her medical charts. And why was she crying? “Wait…” His armours skin under-sheath formed around his fingers and he held her tongue down, the tensile material protecting his fingers from being bitten off and her tongue from being bitten off or swallowed, and then opened her eye with his spare hand, and jabbed a finger against her eyeball, then in one swift movement, pulled out a small contact lens from inside. “What the hell is this?” The device began to fizzle, and then dissolved into ooze that dribbled down his finger tip. “I know… I know what that is… god damn!” The medics finally arrived, and Stark left her in their capable hands. He then turned around, and headed straight for his office, with no intention in staying their for long. As soon as he entered and his door was shut behind him his under-sheath formed underneath his skin and clothes and he climbed inside his armour that propelled itself toward him with a thought. This was enough.
TAVERN ON THE GREEN, CENTRAL PARK:
“I’m glad to be finally out of the office, aren’t you, Pep? With Tone back, I’m back to being trusty retainer and tennis buddy. Which is all well and nice, but I guess the highlight is the extra time I get to spend with my lady love…” He smiled, and sipped his glass of water.
Pepper ran her finger over the top of her glass, and looked over to Harry ‘Happy’ Hogan. “You sure know how to treat a gal, don’t you, Happy?”
“You know me, ma’am, always a charmer.”
His phone began to buzz, and he looked down at his pocket in surprise.
Pepper looked at him, irritated. “I thought you were going to turn that off for a few hours?”
“I did…” He picked it up, the caller ID a mess of constantly changing numbers. “Weird.” He answered. “Hello?”
<Happy, I need you at the Hub, we’ve got work to do.> The voice was distorted, metallic, but Happy recognised it instantly.
“Tone, I’m out for lunch with Pep…”
<I’ll have you back before dinner. I have a table at the Waldorf-Astoria restraint on constant stand by. Plus the most expensive suite in existence. You can more than make it up to her, Hap, now get going, I need your help.>
He hung up, and sighed. “I gotta go, Pep.”
She stood up, and walked over to his side of the table. “Go do your job, I’ll be waiting.”
“I’ll make it up to you!” he said, nearly shouting.
She kissed him. “I know you will.”
Twelve minutes later, Tony Stark, wearing his Iron Man armour, hovered high above the city, and waited. He needed someone to back him up, and he needed someone to monitor the control interfaces of the armour. He had been able to amp up his armour’s power levels by having a remote station observe his read outs, and right now, as Happy was his best friend and right hand man; only one man could do the job. With a crackle and a buzz, Happy’s voice came online. <Alright, I’m here, now tell me Tone, what we doing?>
“An employee of mine is in a coma right now because… I think… of me. She asked me, before lapsing into a seizure, about Project Human Plus.”
<That government thing?>
“Indeed, mi amigo. What I’m about to tell you is highly illegal for me to. I signed dozens of contracts swearing me to secrecy. I’m committing secrecy even talking about it. But it’s a piece of my past, and I need to confront it. Phase Six of my life affirming plan in life.” Tony sent the armour on a dive toward the small pond below, and dove deep into the waters. When at the bottom of the pool, he brushed mud and litter away from a metal square. There was a red panel, and he pulled it up. Below the panel, was a pad of numbers. “Human Plus. It’s a name uttered within select scientific circles.”
<Yeah? How come I’ve never heard of it?>
“Because you’re not part of any circles, Happy, let alone select scientific ones. Keep up: ‘Human Plus’ was the Super Soldier Initiative in all but name. Steve Rogers was a legend, Captain America an icon. When Doctor Erskine died, so did the formula to create superheroes. Superheroes, Happy, able to leap tall buildings in a single bound and win wars single-handedly, which, we have to admit, Captain America nearly did. So the military wanted to regain that power. Super Soldier Initiatives have run since the disappearance of Captain America (remember Hap, he’s officially MIA), but in the eighties, there was a lull, and it was only in the late nineties that the United States Military complex decided to try their hand at developing the formula again. But instead of the ‘Super Soldier Serum’, they decided to go in a different route, pulling together handsome, charming, suave billionaire technologist weapon developer Tony Stark (that’s me, if you’re not in the know, Hap) and expert nebbish biologist with a penchant for radiation experimentation, Bruce Banner.”
<Quite a mouthful, Tone. So, where’s this Human Plus project located?>
“Underneath New York.” Tony typed in a combination, and suddenly a bubble formed around him that covered the metal slab and Iron Man. The water drained, and then the panel hissed open, revealing another compartment the size of an elevator. Tony floated down. “And I’m here right now. I need you to keep an eye on everything. Human Plus was decommissioned. We went our separate ways, me to the East and a pretty horrific chest injury, and Bruce Banner… Well, he vanished.”
<So what do you hope to find down there?>
“I don’t know… closure. I need to find out if there’s anything left from my old life as a weapons maker that can be used to hurt anyone. If there is, I destroy this place. If not, then I destroy this place anyways.”
<Huh. That’ll work.>
The elevator shaft buzzed and quaked, and began to delve deep below the Earth. “How low are we now?” inquired Tony, as he ran an armour diagnostic whilst waiting.
<Three miles and nearing four. You’re travelling pretty quick, Tone, I’d be ready for anything when you get down there, ok?>
“I am, Hap, I am.”
The elevator shunted to a stop, and Iron Man walked out, repulsors on full charge. What welcomed him was a strange sight. Against the wall was the wrecked body of an automated mandroid. “What the hell is going on?”
<I see what you see boss, and it looks like someone got here before you.>
“That’s impossible, that’s a mandroid, SHIELD use them, how could anyone take down a mandroid, for God’s sake…?”
<Effortlessly, by looks of it, boss man.>
“Thanks, captain obvious. Ok, I’m moving on. Keep checking ambient readings. I don’t know how they booby trapped this place.”
Tony moved forward, and saw massive dents in the floor and wall. He paused, and bent over, looking down at the strange dents that seemed to get deeper and deeper as they approached the wrecked mandroid. Footprints? “Hope you’re recording this, Hap.”
<Recording and not enjoying. Just get done with this, Tony, I’m really not liking this at all.>
What can stop a mandroid, thought Tony, as he walked forward once more. Mandroid’s were designed for hard action. Nearly on par with his Iron Man armour, he thought, as his suit display began to show the layout of the complex. His armour plating was sending out sonics constantly, creating a map of the base as he delved deeper into the place. There was no movement… Just silence. “I don’t like this either, old friend.”
STARK PLAZA, NEW YORK CITY:
Pepper Potts sat at her desk, sipping her smoothie and working away. She was Tony Stark’s executive assistant, in charge of running his life, basically. She was currently heading the investigation into the missing R&D from cold storage. Security footage was fuzzy at best, but when the robberies took place, the cameras malfunctioned, grainy becoming static within seconds, and then pieces suddenly disappearing from sight. “Weird,” she whispered to herself. She had dozens of manifests for dozens of locations, and among the list of the stolen items were hologram emitters, video contact lenses, even… “Oh no.” She looked at the manifesto, and the list of actual items on sight, collected by Happy a few days back. “Oh, Tony, what have you done?” She picked up the lists, and her coat, and headed straight for the door.
HUMAN PLUS COMPLEX:
Tony didn’t want to fly. The servos made walking easy; flying was something he wanted to do out in the open, not in these tight corridors. He remembered his time working down here, plugging away at his nano-machines, his ideas flooding out, and he remembered the time spent talking with the other scientists, each with their own ideas and concepts. It was a fruitful time for him. Even though the idea of the armour was always in his head, it was here it started to become realised. He owed the people here a lot.
He took another step, and a loud clicking filled the corridor, echoing out through the metal passage ways. His sensors didn’t register any hostiles, but then his ambient sensors picked up another noise. <Gas.> His visor began to analyse the compound that was mixing with the air, “You getting this?”
<Yes I am, Tone. That’s some heavy duty knockout gas right there. If it wasn’t for the armour you’d be on the ground.>
“Thought so. I’m nearing--”
He span around as the wall opened up behind him, and a massive metal creation, twice his size, powered up. <<INTRUDER! INTRUDER!>>
“Danger. Danger, Will Robinson.” Tony threw up his arms as the newly activated mandroid slammed it’s fists down onto him. His armour held, and he pushed back instantly, throwing the robot off balance. The mandroid opened up its hands and tendrils shout out that yanked Iron Man’s arms to the sides, and then the chest panel mounted just below the circular head section of the armour began to spark. “Oh no.”
Red hot energy pulsed down against Iron Man’s own chest, and Tony Stark nearly screamed in pain… nearly. It wasn’t pain that shocked him, but the surprise… His chest plate was reinforced to protect the magnetic lock that kept his heart pumping, but he was beginning to sweat…
He began to think, his armour began to react, and his own chest plate pulsed, and repulsors throbbed outwards, hitting the laser blast of the mandroid and then crippling its attack systems. Iron Man then sent a burst of energy into his arm servos, and wrenched his hands forward, pulling the mandroid forward, and then with one almighty effort, slammed his head into the CPU of the robot, causing the machine to simply stop working.
<Tone? Tony? Are you there? What happened? Everything’s gone black!>
Tony grimaced. “I seem to have lodged my head into the body of this mandroid. Sorry about that.” He placed his hands against the robot’s front, and reeled back, freeing himself from the wreckage. “Damn, that was stupid. I need to devise battle tactics because that was just… pathetic.”
<Just get going, Tony. This isn’t good.>
“Right, right, on it.” Tony continued his journey into the .complex. There were dozens of labs, but he was only after one, and as he turned the corner, he knew that he was finally--
<Oh, my God.>
<What is it, Tony?>
Tony disengaged external audio, and glanced about the wrecked lab. “I’ve found the lab. And it looks like someone else has been here since the project was shut down.”
<You mean you didn’t leave this place looking like some Yancy Streeters had run wild?>
“Looks like a wild animal has run through here, I don’t get it… and that… is that graffiti?”
The lab was a mess of overturned equipment and tables, and the only thing standing was single chiar leaning against the far wall, and spray painted across it was three words. Tony approached the chair and picked up the folder that was sitting there, gathering dust.
Tony heard Happy murmur, <What…?> as they both scanned the information.
It was full of news clippings from Oklahoma. Government reports. Chemical compound breakdowns. And photos. And then, at the bottom of the folder, a small memory stick. He picked it up, and flicked open a latch on his gauntlet, which revealed a USB port, and then he plugged it in.
<The data's encoded, Tone. Hardcore encryption. We’re going to need-->
“Don't worry, Hap, I’ve already cracked it, and--”
A recording abruptly started playing in his helmet audio outputs, filling his head with a distant yet familiar voice. “Hello Tony. By the time you read this, I assume, hopefully, you’ve realised your dream of creating your armoured suit. Your Iron Man project, as you referred to it. You always said you never had the time to get down to it, but I’m sure, under the right conditions, you’ll get it down.”
<Do you know who that is?> asked Happy.
"It's... it's Bruce Banner," said Tony.
<The gamma specialist? That actually makes sense... I’m downloading the files, Tone. Lot of chemical formulas and weird genetic baselines… spooky stuff. What I'd expect from what you told me about that guy back in the day.>
“...Right conditions... right conditions... damn. Okay. Continuing playback:”
“You remember why I worked so hard? Because I wanted to make the next Captain America? Well that was only part of it. I wanted to be the next Captain America. You live a life like mine for so long and hey, you’ll do anything you can to further yourself, chemically, academically, you know, the usual list of suspects. Human Plus held me back. Too many mandates. Too many specifics that didn’t allow me to follow the right avenues. We both knew this. We both bowed out of the proceedings. I was… approached by another military complex. It was an easy deal. Develop a bomb capable of wiping out combatants and leaving architecture intact. We needed radiation that wouldn’t linger, and also, in this day and age, something that would wipe out any other radioactive source present. So we used gamma radiation. The deal was, Tony, that if I did this, SHIELD would let me have access to the only sample of Steven Roger’s DNA left in existence, and I would be given a lab on a helicarrier, and I could do what I wanted to do. But stuff went down wrong. Some stupid kid was on the testing grounds on detonation day, and I went out to get him to safety because for some stupid reason we were running on a skeleton crew and I was… Exposed. And the exposure did something to my DNA and now there’s a monster inside me. The Oklahoma incident was me, Tony. The Hulk, as the media call it, is me. Now, I don’t have the resources to sort out my problem. I can barely control the manifestation. But I know that you can help me. You know have access to every piece of information I have ever written on the effects of the gamma bomb. Theories and supposition and hopefully, I don’t know the basis of a cure. Help me, Tony Stark. Help me save myself.”
Tony took a moment to let the words sink in. “Bruce Banner. We meet at last.”
<Jeez, Tone. That’s… he’s the Hulk?>
“You wouldn’t know it if you met him, Hap. God, damn, he’s the Hulk. Alright, I’m coming to the surface, and I have a new agenda for Iron Works. Meet me at Stark Plaza in twenty minutes.”
<On it. Disengaging.>
The line went dead. Tony was alone. He collected all the data, looked at the wrecked computer circuitry and equipment, and opened two hatches in his armour. One would contain the papers, the other; he removed a spherical device from. It was the refined creation from a prototype he made before the incident. A black hole bomb. It would expand out a mile each way, and fold back in. Tony had done the calculations, the main labs would be hollowed out, but the metal structure would hold the supports in place, and the city above would not be damaged. The Human Plus complex would be demolished, but above, the secret would not know.
He activated it, readied it to be accessed by remote control, and placed it on the floor. One last sweep for life signs… None. He shot out of the labs like a spark, and headed for the elevator. As he reached the panel that lead back up to Central Park, he took a moment to seal shut the entrance to the secret complex, and then soared above the city once more. With a flick of a switch, the city rumbled, then fell silent. His past was his own, not anyone elses. And now, he had something else to fight for: A friend in need.
STARK IRON WORKS:
“I know you are all working on individual projects, and that’s all well and good, but I need your help. We have the opportunity right now to help a man in need. A man battling with a cancer inside him created by a form of radiation no one is ever supposed to be exposed to and live to tell the tale. We need to heal the Hulk, my friends. I think we’re all familiar with the Oklahoma incident?”
Murmurs echoed out among the scientists. They remembered the day that news broke.
“The official story was hurricane damage. But the newspapers reported a different story. A grey behemoth of destruction that ran loose and destroyed everything in sight. I have been reached out to. And I need to save this man. Now, I’m prepared to do this myself. To work on this project alone, for hours on end, day and night, but I have to ask you all… Will you help me?”
TO BE CONTINUED IN THE INVINCIBLE IRON MAN / HULK CROSSOVER NEXT MONTH!
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