My name is Tony Stark. For the two or three of you who are unaware, I am the twenty-first century's Jesus Christ.
For the rest of you, I know you need no further introduction. Come unto me, my disciples, and hear this parable. You might learn something.
I suppose that, to continue the metaphor, the John the Baptist to my Jesus would have to be my good friend Bruce. Unless you follow the metaphor to its logical conclusion, where he gets his head chopped off. Maybe he should be Peter instead. That'll work. Nobody's going to believe him if he claims he doesn't know me.
So, Saturday evening. I was in Stark R&D, the top ten floors of my tower, with my Peter.
Well, let's go back to calling him Bruce.
Bruce and I were there to contemplate some of the mysteries of the universe, and also to drink a lot of booze. It was his birthday, and nobody else was going to celebrate it with him on account of being deathly afraid of him losing control and breaking the city. But I know better, and you know better, because I'm telling you he's fine and you can trust me. Mostly.
We were sitting in one of my many labs, staring at a wireframe holographic model of what was supposed to be an Einstein-Rosen bridge. I'm not much for description, so picture the lab from Fury's wannabe Battlestar, but with more chrome. I say the model was supposed to be an Einstein-Rosen bridge, because we hadn't quite worked out all the math behind it yet. That was half the fun of the evening, the other half having mostly to do with alcohol.
Bruce leaned back in his chair, the ice clinking in his glass of twenty-year-old single malt Scotch whiskey. He'd dropped the rocks in there and laughed while I had a mild coronary watching. No respect for the finer things, I swear. I would have hit him, but I got over my suicidal phase when I kicked my Palladium dependency.
"We still haven't figured out how to overcome the quantum tunneling effect," he said.
"We don't need to!" I told him. "Look, if we collapse the infinities into one another, they'll cancel out and we'll manage to compensate for the Heisenberg uncertainty principle too. Two birds, one stone."
Bruce snorted. "I'm hearing a lot of technobabble, Tony, and not a lot of sense. If we collapse the infinities we lose the electroquantum structure."
"Which we could compensate for with iridium, like Selvig did."
My friend threw up his hands, his drink sloshing about as he did. It was his third or fourth of the evening. "You know how much iridium that would take? Why don't we just bombard it with tachyons and reverse the polarity while we're at it?"
"Ah cannae do it, Cap'n!" I shouted. "Tha' would create a temp'ral feedback loop an' tear the ship apart!"
He gave me a dirty look. "Now you're just trying to avoid the best parts of the problem."
With a shrug, I got up to pour myself another drink. "What can I say? I'd rather just cut the wire."
"Yes, Tony, we all know about your shameless crush on Alexander the Great."
I frowned, setting my tumbler down on the drinks cabinet. "How did we go from wormholes to this heinous slander of my character?"
"Your solution to Steve's problem with the wire," Bruce replied. "Lateral thinking. You're very good at it. Alexander the Great and the Gordian Knot's one of the earliest anecdotal examples of it."
"Okay," I said. "But where are you getting this business about me crushing on a dead man? Because I don't recall ever having expressed any such feelings myself. Or feeling them."
"You like to see yourself as a modern-day Alexander," Bruce said in the philosophical tone of a very drunk man. "Or the reincarnation of Tesla, or Buddha, or someone like that. You know it's true."
"That is a patently ridiculous notion," I told him.
"Sure. My point is that for someone who considers all possible approaches to a problem before choosing the approach he thinks will be the most fun –"
"More slander. Fantastic."
"– you seem to have no eye whatsoever for the consequences." Bruce gestured at the hologram. "You collapse those infinities, you generate more problems than you solve, just because it makes the math look cooler."
"But I like cool math," I protested, raising my glass for a sip. I got it halfway to my mouth before the alarm went off and startled me. I managed to spill about three hundred dollars' worth of booze on myself and the floor.
"Sir, I'm afraid we have intruders," Jarvis announced.
Bruce shot to his feet, also spilling a small fortune in booze. "What?"
"How the hell did they get past our security, Jarvis?" I demanded.
"I'm being overridden at every access point," my AI butler replied. "The code bears the earmark of Bailey Smith."
I paused for a second. "Who?"
"One of the Stark Tower programmers you fired two weeks ago."
"What?" I scoffed. "I don't remember firing anybody."
"You told him to 'collect his things, because I would rather hire Justin Hammer than employ you for one more nanosecond,' and that he 'does to computers what Jersey Shore does to our nation's culture.'"
I shrugged. "Sounds like me. How the hell is he managing to break your firewalls, Jarvis?"
"You leave the spare key under the mat outside the door?" Bruce asked.
"It seems," Jarvis said, ignoring Bruce, "that he has been equipped with an advanced cyberwarfare suite and access to a server node of considerable power. I am back-hacking him now, but for the moment, you have an unknown number of hostiles in the building."
"Great," I said, heading for the exit, Bruce hot on my heels. "What do you think they want?"
"From what I can gather from the feeds to which I still have access, they are heavily armed and carrying a large amount of plastic explosives. They are also all on your floor."
I stopped, my hand on the door handle, as I thought better of charging blind into a hallway which could be full of gunmen. "Well, shit." I turned back around as the hologram of the Einstein-Rosen bridge disappeared. A series of two-dimensional feeds replaced it, showing masked, black-clad men with assault rifles and other ordnance creeping through my halls. I counted at least fifteen of them, but there could easily be more that were in blind spots or hiding.
"Who the hell are these people?" Bruce wondered. "Tony, do you have many enemies – no, wait, that's a stupid question. Of your many enemies, who do you think has the resources and motive to do something like this?"
"Well, Hammer's still in jail, Obadiah and Vanko are still dead, and the last time I saw Loki, Thor was trotting him off to the BDSM pride parade in Asgard. So, color me clueless." I glanced at the ceiling. "Jarvis, any ideas?"
"Their uniforms bear no official markings or designations, not even of rank," Jarvis replied. "I believe these men are mercenaries employed by someone who wishes you ill. That, or a top-secret black ops team sent by the government of a world power."
Bruce looked at me. "Listen, I don't do this for everyone, but say the word and I'll –"
"Absolutely not," I said. "You're drunk. The only thing dumber than this idea would be buying Fury tickets to Avatar in 3D."
"The alcohol-to-Banner ratio will shrink quite a bit," he protested.
"Fine," I said. "Reason number two why absolutely not: the amount of money I put into these labs makes the US GNP look like pocket change. I'm pretty sure you can't reimburse me for that kind of cash."
He crossed his arms. "So what's your plan of attack?"
I opened my mouth, closed it. Rogers hadn't laughed; Bruce probably wouldn't either. "Well, they would never have decided to try this if they knew you were here," I said. "So you're going to be my ace in the hole."
"Uh-huh. To be played when?"
"When I'm all out of cards that come with less property damage," I replied. "I'm going to try to get to the top floor and get to my suit. If we can make it to the elevator down the hall from here, we should be set. Jarvis, you getting all this?"
"I am, sir," Jarvis replied. "I have also back-hacked Mr. Smith and terminated his connection, and the security systems should be back online momentarily. I think you will be just f –"
That was when all the lights went dead.
I felt it in my chest as my arc reactor flickered wildly before stabilizing. I staggered at the sudden fluctuation, my vision momentarily swimming. Bruce caught me as I tottered, kept me on my feet. "What the hell was that?" he asked, his face illuminated by the glow of my arc reactor and nothing else.
I coughed, sucking air back into my lungs. It had felt like I'd been struck in the chest with a big hammer, and without the help of my suit to take it. "EMP," I gasped. "They just set one off from inside the damn building."
"Don't you harden your circuits against this kind of thing?" Bruce demanded.
"Of course!" I snapped. "I'm not an idiot. But with this kind of proximity and power, the only system in this building that isn't dead right now is my arc reactor."
Bruce looked at me, his expression grave. "So your suit…"
"I should be able to get it up and running with a hard reset, but there's ten stories and a small army between here and there and I have a Goddamn glowing target in my chest," I said. "This is kind of bad." Nothing against Bruce, but I found myself wishing that some of my other colleagues were here. Tasha, maybe, or Legolas. I'd even take help from Captain Tightpants at this point. Thor would have been helpful, too, but he had the same property-damage problems as Bruce's greener half. Also I'd made fun of his cape that one time, and I had the feeling he still held it against me.
"Okay," Bruce said. "So they're on this floor with C4. This means they probably want to blow up Stark R&D."
"With you so far," I said.
"Why, who knows. The important thing is, asking the other guy for help would pretty effectively accomplish their task for them."
"Statement of true fact."
"So the two of us need to beat, or at least circumvent, a team of heavily-armed professionals when we have no power, no weapons, and no God mode," Bruce summed up. "Also we're both four or five drinks in."
"Exactly." I crossed my arms. "Any ideas?"
Bruce grinned. "Scotty," he said, doing a barely-passable William Shatner imitation, "I think it's time… for Jeffries tubes." He looked up at the ceiling.
I followed his gaze to the air duct above us.
"Ducts," I sighed. "It's always ducts."
"It's ducts or men with guns."
"And here I was thinking you were a fun drunk," I said, grabbing a chair to stand on.