Watching Tony Stark work wasn’t exactly poetry in motion. It was more like a combination of mad genius, controlled chaos, abrupt changes in moods, singular concentration, and always accompanied by fierce productivity, be it on paper, screen or simply in his head. Even before the Extremis enhancement Tony had been able to multitask in a way no one else either understood or could copy. His mind worked in leaps – strange leaps, mostly. He could do complicated math in his head just to avoid boredom, drew up amazing plans and sketches for all kinds of prototypes, and was collecting patents like others would stamps. He was feared in the R&D department, but his input was always valued, even sought after.
Tony Stark was the man behind a lot of developments, the man behind all the weapons that had earned him the name of a merchant of death, a war monger. He had stood above the names and slander; he had ignored the sharks that had circled his persona, the media and rival companies. He had lived his life as he had seen fit, even if it was a life filled with sex, booze and fast cars, as well as stock exchange markets, board meetings, shareholders, hostile take-overs and rival companies that would rather see you belly up.
Today, years after the fateful day in Afghanistan, Tony Stark was still the man behind everything Stark Industries poured out. It was a different line of products now. Media technology, household items, green projects, alternative energy sources… the like. No one knew what else was going on, though. No one knew about the Autobots, the war, the hybrid technology, or Extremis. Least of all did they know that Anthony Edward Stark was a Prime in the eyes of the alien mechanoids.
He was still the CEO of a very successful and internationally known company. He spent days wrapped up in Stark Industries matters. He would fly around the world, have a week here, a few days there, and then he would be back in New York or LA for weeks on end. There was nothing regular to his life-style and never had been.
He was still a reformed alcoholic, but hey, new liver! He was a workaholic – no reform in sight. He had an arc reactor in his chest – Extremis hadn’t taken care of that for some reason. He still hadn’t figured out why. And he was still a ruthless business man.
But he was also more. A lot more. That particular side was only known to a select few, a handful of people that knew the innermost workings of Anthony Edward Stark. Rhodey and Happy knew some things, Pepper and Jarvis were privy to a lot more. Only Rodimus Prime was privy to such intimate details, and it sometimes scared Tony a little. Just a little.
Now Tony looked up from where he had just closed a panel on something vaguely roundish. It hummed with power and several lights turned on. He ignored the lights and instead frowned at one of the screens on the right, displaying some complicated schematic of what didn’t look like anything found on Earth.
Well, not officially.
The main engine of the Wisp took up most of the screens in the work shop – when he wasn’t using the 3-D holographic fields to splash it all over the room in a gigantic maze of lines, dots, swirls and clusters of data -- and Tony had been going over several details for the past forty-eight hours with a fine-tooth comb. He had locked himself in his basement, told Pepper to hold all calls unless it was very, very VERY important, and then she would have to prove to him that it really, really REALLY was. Nothing was more important right now than the safety of the Wisp’s engines.
Pepper had argued that a whole team of engineers, human and Cybertronian alike, were taking care of the ship.
Tony had simply muttered under his breath and locked himself in. He had given Jarvis explicit orders not to let anyone enter.
It was simply too bad that someone was already inside.
Rodimus Prime sat parked in his usual spot, a gleaming silver presence in the muted light of the garage. They hadn’t really spoken a lot, but Tony was very much aware of the mech. It was hard to ignore someone one had known for what felt like forever. Extremis seemed to automatically recognize the other Prime and part of him apparently subconsciously logged onto Rodimus’s frequencies.
It was damn embarrassing.
Then again, it had given him valuable input in the past.
He hadn’t told anyone about the Extremis uplink, the almost permanent connection. Sam Witwicky knew because his thrice-cursed technopathic mind had picked it up. At least Tony could rely on Sam being discrete. This was nothing like the bond Sam or Will shared with their respective mech partners. This was a side-effect of Tony’s changes. He was part machine because of the countless nanites in his blood. He knew they had changed him. He felt at home in the network of data streams. If he threw open everything he would be at the center of the technological world – and probably go mad. Rodimus was a mechanoid; he was a machine. That was why it worked.
One monitor had a split screen, the small bottom window showing news reels.
“Jarvis, turn up the news,” Tony said, frowning at the images.
The volume rose obediently. “You could do it yourself, sir,” the AI replied nevertheless.
“It’s what I’ve got you for.”
“I feel so wanted,” Jarvis replied with mild sarcasm.
Tony ignored the comment in favor of listening to the newscaster. He grimaced at some comments, then simply said ‘Off.’
Jarvis switched the news channel to mute again.
“Idiots,” Stark simply said. “They have no idea at all!”
“You could give a press conference,” Rodimus remarked.
He shot a narrow-eyed look at the Audi. “I’ve been a good boy lately. I’ve been to all press gigs, charity events and boring, mind-numbing appointments Pepper heaped on me with a minimum of complaint!”
“And we’re very proud of you, Tony,” the mech replied.
It got him an evil look.
“I’m funding this whole thing; nothing more, nothing less. Let Fury deal with the media. He wanted money, he got money.”
“And you have another brownie point.”
“I loved you more when you weren’t sarcastic, Roddy.”
“You still love me,” was the smug reply.
“Love easily turns to hate. So watch it.”
Tony pushed the humming box aside and switched off the high-tech welder in his hands.
“What is it about national icons found frozen in the ice anyway?”
“I believe the fact that a human being was enclosed for decades in the ice, without any apparent damage so far, warrants this interest. I find it highly fascinating myself.”
So did Tony, but he tried not to let it show. When Nick Fury, Director of SHIELD and personal pain in the ass, had come to him for classified tech, Tony had blown him off at first. While Fury wasn’t exactly military, he also wasn’t not-military. SHIELD was an espionage and law-enforcement agency. Tony and the military had been a match made in heaven a decade ago. Now he was concentrating on different angles, different matters, new venues. He was juggling a lot of things, mainly his alliance with the Autobots and his new status as one of the Primes. He didn’t need any private military organizations breathing down his neck.
Tony’s involvement with SHIELD was a diverse one. He gave money, he supplied tech, but he also demanded that Stark Industries be involved in all the new developments, that SI was the only supplier, and that Iron Man and his technology belonged to Stark alone. As much as Nick Fury wanted to get his hands on that particular tech to use it as full body armor for his agents, Tony had put his foot down and not budged.
In the end he had won.
Nick Fury could be a very stubborn bastard when he wanted something and since he hadn’t been able to grab the armor, he had made a pest of himself concerning the latest in SI Explorers. Tony had given him the SI DeepSea Explorer, an experimental new sub, and told him to bring it back without a scratch.
He had. And he had also brought back a man found frozen in the ice. The media had been all over that, calling it a miracle, a wondrous occurrence, a scientific discovery. Tony knew that Fury had heard about the ‘ice man’ through various channels, mostly because a tribe of Inuit had been worshipping the block of ice like it was sent from the gods. So SHIELD had wanted to explore and Stark Industries had funded it.
The media didn’t know that the frozen man was still alive. For now he was a scientific find, a fully preserved WWII soldier, and they would keep it like that. SHIELD had already taken care of the coverage, the ruse, and they would have the resources to keep playing the game.
“Least he could do was invite me over for the party,” Tony grumbled.
“So that’s it,” Rodimus commented.
“You feel slighted because there was no invitation to schmooze with the press.”
“First of all: I do not schmooze. I’m suave and classy and charming. I wrap them around my little finger. Second: I’ve had my share of media for the next millennium. They’re sharks.”
“So are you.”
“And third: SHIELD throws lousy science parties,” Stark continued, ignoring the interruption. “All of them are idiots who can’t tell their shoes from a cold fusion cell. I’d get a brain meltdown. The only bright spot in the whole stuffy outfit is Romanov.”
“Who’d sooner kill you than…”
“Shut up, Roddy.”
The Autobot chuckled. “Not for your lack of trying.”
“I’m not suicidal. I know when a woman would rather see me as a corpse. A good-looking corpse, but a corpse.”
“You could always pay Fury a visit. He is, after all, using your facilities to thaw his find.”
“It’s not his find, Roddy. And I’m charging him per hour, and I’ll send him the electricity bill. Not to mention whatever he breaks.” Stark poked viciously at something on the table. It gave a squeal and sparked. “I pull the plug, he leaves without his frozen relic.”
The sound of a mech transforming had him stiffen and he waited, but nothing happened. Finally Tony turned and looked up into the blue optics. Rodimus was studying him silently.
“Spill it, Roddy, before your systems fry.”
“You make this more difficult than it is, Tony,” was the reply. “Fly to New York, go and see what they’re doing. You’re the CEO of this company.”
“Damn right I am.”
“So go and be nosy.”
“I’m never nosy, Roddy. Just showing a justified interest in proceedings.”
The Autobot chuckled. “And that.” He was kneeling, gazing at Tony with amusement. “I know you read the reports on the expedition. You know who they found.”
“Allegedly found. No positive ID yet.”
“Even so the probability is high.”
“So even if… He’s a relic who might end up a brain-dead vegetable.” Tony waved it off. “My dollars well-spent. Publicity to the hilt, but sadly, the guy is just like that mammoth people found in Siberia.”
“The mammoth was dead. This man is alive.”
“In a coma.”
Tony turned away and shook his head. His eyes drifted over to the work station and the vault behind. It held projects: private projects, personal projects, and one involved the relic in the ice. He walked over to the vault and opened it. There, on the back wall, gleamed a disc-shaped shield with a large, white star in the middle. It was red, white and blue. Not the original. That one had been lost forever. This one had been Tony’s creation when he had tried to reverse-engineer what a Sector Seven scientist had accidentally created: a near-impenetrable alloy of vibranium and steel. He had yet to succeed.
“Child-hood hero,” he muttered, gazing at the shield.
Rodimus cocked his head, saying nothing. Stark was silent for a minute, not looking at his friend, then straightened his shoulders and pushed away from the vault. It looked behind him with a soft hiss.
“Jarvis, call Colonel Fury. Tell him he can expect me to be there tonight.”
“Very well, sir. Shall I ask Ms Potts to make room in your schedule?”
Tony rolled his eyes. “She’ll know.”
“Of course, sir.”
Tony was sure Jarvis would email her to warn his assistant that their boss was being erratic again.
“Okay, let’s crash a party!” he announced.
* * *
The flight aboard the private company jet was spent researching.
Data streams kept running through Tony’s head and he automatically moved emails from the inbox to the spam folder, forwarded them to Pepper or Rhodey, or answered according to the occasion: a scathing reply, a charming note, or a general reply without much content. He was also flipping through the channels, from news station to news station, found it all boring, and went to the stock market. All simultaneously, together with his research into the relic.
Rodimus Prime sat in the freight area, connected to the jet’s systems and through Extremis to Tony. Both were looking at the preliminary reports and Stark muttered a curse under his breath.
Inside his mind, Tony switched off several data streams and uplinks, and went deep into the SHIELD mainframe, digging up all he could find, every scrap, ever line, every remark. He stored the findings like a computer, and he set up programs to keep monitoring, just in case.
::I really want to see him now:: he murmured, still reviewing the test results. ::If this is for real…::
Something told him that his first suspicion was going to prove to be the right one.
* * *
Living Network, a branch of Stark Industries, was located in a rather inconspicuous building, older than the others, but blending perfectly into the background of so many glass and steel towers. Howard Stark had bought it back in the sixties and had remodelled everything inside while leaving the old exterior, which had earned him a lot of good press. Preservation, the future that included the past, all those headlines. Back then it had been a R&D facility. Now it served as the environmental representative enterprise of SI. It was also where SHIELD had set up camp to defreeze their find.
Tony breezed through the airy entrance hall, past the startled receptionist, and into the waiting elevator. He didn’t need a key card; he had Extremis.
One of the security people was jogging after him.
“No time to chat. Business to attend to,” he called cheerfully and the elevator doors snapped shut.
He was already expected when he got out several levels down. There had been no elevator buttons to push. The elevator only showed the top floors. Tony smiled at the two security guys and nodded politely.
“Gentlemen, if you please.”
They exchanged unsure looks. Their boss walking into the most secure level without a prior warning was unusual. Then again, they should know who they were working for: Tony Stark was into the unusual.
“Let’s cut this short: where’s the relic?”
The two men exchanged looks.
“Even shorter,” Tony added sarcastically. “Me – boss. You – show me.”
That was the moment Fury walked around the corner, his habitual cigar in the corner of his mouth, chewing on it in a clear sign of annoyance. Tony sometimes wondered if the man ate them instead of having a good smoke. The two security men stood back and Tony made a note to have them fired.
“I see you got my message,” he addressed the Director of SHIELD.
“I got a heads up, is what I got,” was the very not-amused sounding answer.
“And here you are. So where’s the boy wonder?”
Fury stared at him with his good eye, then muttered something under his breath and turned abruptly. Tony smirked and simply followed.
* * *
Tony had no idea what he had expected, but something along the lines of a lab, beeping machines, a man in a block of ice, and a dozen or so scientists had been involved. As it was, the lab was an isolation room in a closed off section of the medical wing. The medical staff consisted of two doctors and two nurses, all employees of SHIELD or SI. The ice had already been thawed. The machines didn’t beep and there weren’t all too many. Someone had cut off the clothes from the motionless form of the blond man, putting them in sealed bags and keeping them inside a special container to be examined later. Underneath the old World War II uniform a more colorful outfit had been found. Red, white and blue, the colors of the American flag, with a star on the chest…
Tony stared at the costume and shook his head. Sure, he flew around in a tin can powered by an arc reactor, but this guy had fought in the second World War in a less-than-camouflaging outfit.
“Vitals are very good,” the doctor said. “It’s like he has just a bad case of hypothermia. We’re keeping him in an artificial coma to bring his body slowly back to normal temperatures, but his advanced physical and anatomical condition make him a lot more resilient. Any other human being would be dead.”
“He’s not any other human,” Tony muttered.
He knew that. Extremis gave him access to everything and he was accessing everything. Especially about this man.
Captain Steven Rogers, born on July 4, 1917 in the Lower East Side of Manhattan, New York City, to Irish immigrants Sarah and Joseph Rogers. Joseph Rogers had died when Steve had been only a child. His mother had passed away not much later, when he had been just a teen, because of pneumonia.
Steve Rogers, the one and only subject of Operation Rebirth in the 1940s.
Tony had cracked several sites and codes to get what he wanted about this secret experiment. He had been revolted and fascinated in one.
Operation: Rebirth had sought to develop a means of creating physically superior soldiers. Rogers, a scrawny art student who had tried to enlist, only to be rejected due to his poor constitution, had volunteered for the research. After a rigorous selection process, the fine arts student had been chosen as the first human test subject for the Super-Soldier serum.
The fact that someone had developed such a serum had launched a dozen alarms in Tony. The alarms had rung even more shrilly when he had come across the ‘Vita-Rays’ that were supposed to stabilize the chemicals injected into Steve.
Rogers had been physically changed from a scrawny kid into the near-pinnacle of human perfection. Frailty had been a memory of the past. Enhanced musculature and reflexes, peak endurance, 6'2" in height and weighing 240 lbs… Steve Rogers had become Captain America.
Tony didn’t believe for a second that the Vita-Rays were anything of this planet. Too much about them screamed Allspark, especially considering that the scientist who had allegedly developed them, Dr. Abraham Erskine, had been on the list of Sector Seven scientists around that time. So digging deeper into the Sector Seven archives had given Stark a very good idea where all the research had come from, and it might also explain why the man was still alive today. Anyone frozen in solid ice for decades would be dead.
Steve Rogers showed no adverse effects so far. He was actually recovering quite nicely. He was kept in an artificial coma until his body was ready, but no brain damage had been diagnosed so far. The rest would show when the man was awake.
::You really think it was the Allspark?:: Rodimus questioned through the Extremis uplink.
Tony had immediately set that link up when they had breezed into the facility, demanding to see the ‘subject’. Roddy was parked in a cordoned off area while Tony was having a sneak peek at their relic. There had been no argument that the Autobot would accompany their ally and stay with him, and Tony was somehow glad he had.
::What else could it have been? Super-Soldier serum? Really, Roddy, who believes that? Vita-Rays…:: He snorted. ::Erskine was Sector Seven. The funds for Operation Rebirth were Sector Seven, even if they are untraceable. It was as black as ops can get. The government knew and they made sure it wasn’t written down anywhere. Back then they had the war as a good excuse to launch such a hair-raising operation. Rogers was a desperate young man, ready to serve his country. Perfect guinea pig::
::And he did serve his country. His record is commendable::
::Screw the record:: was the harsh reply. ::He was a guinea pig!::
Rodimus was silent, but his presence was a lot more pronounced. Tony refused to fall for the wordless bait and went back to watching the silent form of Captain Rogers.
::The guy is a relic, a national idol, a super hero:: Tony finally broke the minutes of silence. ::He slept for close to seventy-five years in the ice, has no idea what happened in the mean-time, and he is in the hands of an organization who’ll exploit him::
::The involvement of the Allspark would make Captain Rogers a matter of utmost security, a case for Project and the Primes::
::Fury will be thrilled::
::Politics:: Rodimus commented. ::They’re a bitch::
It got him a chuckle. ::I’ve sat through hostile take-overs and board disputes. This is more like one of those. If Banachek can get the President on his side in this, SHIELD won’t stand a chance::
::He has more than the President. Project, the Autobots, the Primes – which includes you – are autonomous institutions. You have very legal claims::
::Well, there are no laws, exactly…:: Tony drummed his fingers against his thigh. ::But you’re right. I’ve got the command power of a Prime, don’t I? Everything remotely Cybertronian falls under my jurisdiction. Rogers was influenced by the Allspark::
He finally called Banachek via Extremis. While Tony Stark was very well able to pull rank on one Colonel Nick Fury, he knew that the leader of Project and maybe Optimus Prime would have a bigger impact.
This one was out of SHIELD’s jurisdiction. This one was his.
* * *
Fury hadn’t been a happy camper. He had actually been spitting mad, but Tony didn’t care. He had been a listener to the conversation between Banachek and the Director of SHIELD, and he had to give it to Banachek: he could be a bigger bastard than Tony had given him credit for.
But whatever arguments Fury could pull out of his hat, he had no chance to win this. Whatever involved Cybertronian technology, Sector Seven, or the Allspark, fell under the Primes’power to handle it. Project was the liaison and Banachek had full jurisdiction.
“You have yours, I have mine,” had been Banachek’s last words. “We won’t cross paths.”
Fury had glared with his one good eye, but he had had to give in. Project was Sector Seven’s successor. Banachek was in charge.
Rogers was moved to a secret location from Project. Not one of the bases because contact with the Autobots would be controlled when it came to the man from the past. When he woke, and if he was lucid and not a vegetable or otherwise brain-damaged, he would have to learn about this time slowly. Giant alien robots were things to be brought to his attention late in the information game.
“You’re into this as deep as I am,” Banachek remarked as they stood and watched the transfer of the unconscious form into the isolation area.
Dr. Mark Keyron was supervising the whole procedure and he was the chief medic in this case. Not even Ratchet would be consulted for now. Involvement of the Autobots would be limited, simply because if Rogers woke in their presence, it would probably send him right back into a coma.
Tony snorted. “What’s new about that?”
“Fury won’t give up getting his hands on Rogers.”
“He knew the deal. You read the prelims. I checked and rechecked it all. It’s Allspark radiation, Tom. We got dibs on him.”
Banachek watched the proceedings with barely a twitch. “We have no idea what the changes done to Captain Rogers will be now that he was thawed and his body is recovering. Time is a factor in mutations. He seemed to perform as predicted back in the war.”
Tony was silent, eyes on the door that had closed after the intensive care team. “We’ll wait and see.”
* * *
Tony had been in the isolation chamber when Rogers had blinked open incredibly blue eyes, looking confused and slightly out of it. Of course he would be out of it. He had been in a hibernation-like state for seven decades!
Medical personnel had swarmed around the man, checking blood pressure, breathing, heartbeat, everything. Tony had been a by-stander, dressed in his Iron Man suit. It was the only reason he had been allowed in because the armor was better than any HazMat gear or Quarantine pressure suit. No bacteria, no germs, no foreign biological material of any kind was allowed to touch the defrosted Captain America, and now that he had woken, security was even tighter.
Tony had watched through impassionate, glowing slits in a featureless mask. No one had seen his expression of disbelief and… hope.
Blue eyes had fallen on him.
Dull and unfocused. Filled with so much confusion and emotional pain, Tony had stepped forward and wrapped a gloved hand around Rogers’. The blond had held onto it with more strength than Tony would have thought possible, and he had refused to let go. Those blue eyes had been on him like Tony was his life line. He was trying to voice a question, but his voice didn’t work. It was a rough rasp and Tony shushed him almost gently.
“You’ll be fine,” he said over and over.
Doctors worked around him. Medical personnel swarmed into the room. Captain America was staring at him with that painful confusion, unable to understand anything happening to him.
Until the moment he had fallen asleep again, the young features relaxing, his full concentration had been on Iron Man.
Tony had never been more struck with another human being than with Steve Rogers. Maybe it was part of the Super-Soldier serum effect. Maybe it was the plain human need projected by the man. Maybe…
* * *
Tony lost himself in mindless work. Mindless for him. Others would have to consult a dozen books and then some, while having their brain ooze out of their ears. For Stark, working on the Wisp together with the Constructicons, it was close to what others felt when playing with their train set. About the only other person who could keep up with him in the engineering department – Cybertronian tech – was Sam Witwicky. Sam wasn’t here, so he did what he did best: work alone. It was distracting him from work, from board meetings and stock figures, from Pepper’s reminders, from Jarvis’s well-meant but still nagging advice, and from himself.
He had made the trip to Yuma with Rodimus, even though he had told the Autobot to go to hell with his good advice. Roddy hadn’t been deterred. He had been as obnoxious as Tony could be, nagging and annoying and sarcastic, and in the end Tony had gotten into the car for the drive to the Yuma military base and the adjoining testing ground where the Constructicons had their home.
“The least you could do is go with the time and give me a convertible,” Tony bitched as they drove the endless roads faster than the speed limit allowed. A lot faster.
“I don’t think so.”
“Hey, you’re impersonating my car. You hogged my energy down in my garage in my house. You pretend you belong to me, but when I want something, you get all alien on me?”
“You could buy a convertible, Tony,” Rodimus pointed out.
“I have you.”
“I’m not a convertible.”
“You could be.”
“You’re a transforming robot, Roddy. Note the ‘transforming’ part.”
“I’m not a toy you can tell what shape to take,” Rodimus replied.
“But you could play nice and just do me a favor.”
“I do you one favor, I’m indebted to you for life.”
Tony looked comically wounded. “You think I’m that cheap?”
“Not cheap. Only easy.”
“I beg your pardon?”
“Tony Stark wants, Tony Stark gets. Sorry, but not with this bot. Money doesn’t buy everything.”
“Oh, but it does.”
“Roddy, you break my heart.”
“I can live with that,” was the dry reply.
“You’re no fun.”
“Your definition of fun involves removing my armor.”
Tony waggled his eyebrows. “Kinky.”
“Just forget it.”
“Humanity’s been driving convertibles way before you came along. Driving with the top down is fun!”
“I’m your guardian and I can’t condone it.”
“Condone?” Tony rolled the word around in his mouth as if it was something alien to him. “You can’t condone it? I can buy me a convertible and you couldn’t stop me! I already have convertibles!”
“Which is why I won’t turn into one because of your whims.”
The argument had lasted till Yuma and then some. Rodimus had left his friend with the Constructicons and parked far, far away. Tony was impossible to deal with right now, like a spoiled child who wasn’t getting what he wanted. He had yet to understand the shifts in behavior in his fellow Prime. Sometimes Tony was an enigma. Sometimes he was just an annoying bastard. But he was always Rodimus’ best friend.
Tony had consciously locked down the link between him and the other Prime and buried himself in work.
* * *
Scavenger gave him curious glances now and then as they tested the last equation on a 3-D holographic model projected into the lab. The model behaved nicely and the read-outs were well within safety limits. The area they were using was the biggest lab in the compound, which was easily ten times Tony’s workshop, and the Wisp was still scaled down. All the parts were being projected, all the different layers in different colors, and Tony stood inside what seemed like a wire-frame model and was moving sections or parts with flicks of his fingers or hands, or a quick shove.
Right now he balled up what had been a complex array and jugged it into the virtual waste basket.
“Wrong,” he muttered. “Wrong, wrong, wrong.”
Tony ignored the mech who had been his email buddy for six years before Stark had found out who Cyberbuilder3 truly was. Roddy had already tried to get him to talk, but all Tony had done was bury himself behind work and defend himself with sharp-edged remarks, and generally being a bastard. He knew how that worked. He could do it all the time, in his sleep, without thinking about it. It was his last line of defense and currently all his defenses were up.
If asked why, he couldn’t say.
Just knowing that Sector Seven had used the Allspark radiation to experiment on humans had him want to throw up. That the human in question had been a young, idealistic and naïve kid had only helped with their cause. War turned people upside down and inside out. They did things, even to themselves, they would never have thought of doing before.
Tony flinched from backlash as a program sputtered and sparked, Extremis immediately countering the ‘attack’. Scavenger made a soft noise and he gave the Constructicon a challenging look.
Scavenger returned it calmly.
“Spill it already!” he spat.
“I believe I should say that to you, Tony.”
Tony stared, then turned abruptly back to the holographic model. It was showing first signs of strain and he corrected a few figures until all read-outs were within limits again.
“I’m fine!” he finally growled.
“You are a lot of things, my friend. ‘Fine’ being the least right now.”
“What makes you such an expert?!”
“Being your friend?”
Tony was briefly taken aback, then caught himself and initiated part two of the test. The engine was now going through a second stress test.
Finally Stark whirled around. “How could they do that?” he blurted. “How could they irradiate a human with alien energy? How could they try and make him into a superhuman being without knowing the side-effects? What gave Sector Seven the right to do this?!”
“I don’t know,” Scavenger said truthfully, studying his friend.
“Nothing!” Tony spat angrily. “No one and nothing gave them that right! It was a betrayal of the worst kind! How much more will we dig up? He seems to be fine, he survived.” Tony looked away. “I survived.”
Scavenger knelt down. He knew a lot more about Tony Stark than the human was probably comfortable with, but it gave him almost as good an insight as Rodimus Prime had.
“I doubt Captain Rogers will be a Prime.”
Tony have a half-snort, half-laugh. “Hell, why not? The more the merrier. The pinnacle of human perfection. He’s more of a Prime than me, anyway.”
He dared Scavenger to say something. Of course, Scavenger was a lot older and had faced a lot worse than an angry Tony Stark.
“Being a Prime is not a matter of physical aspects or money or knowledge. It is a heritage.”
“Then you’re looking at the bastard son, the black sheep, the unspeakable one.”
“I’m looking at a Prime.”
Tony made a violent gesture and half the wire model folded, then disappeared. “What if Rogers is a Prime? Be happy! Another one! One with more control, more perfection, more of everything! He was made Prime by a mad scientist who had no idea what he was doing! How great!”
“Captain Rogers is no Prime. Allspark radiation doesn’t just create Primes.”
“Well, hello!” Tony gestured at himself. “What about me, myself and I?! What about Witwicky? We all got irradiated in some way!”
Scavenger knelt down, looking into the turmoil-filled eyes. “A Prime is not made, Tony. Something inside you and Will and Sam reacted.”
“Rogers is hero material. He’s the ultimate hero. Who wouldn’t want him as a Prime?”
The Constructicon hummed. “It’s not a matter of physical prowess or extreme intelligence. Nor are your peers’ views of you influential. Primes aren’t made. Don’t you think that if it was that easy, we would have had more in the past? Megatron was powerful, but he was never a Prime. Soundwave surpasses many in sheer computing powers. He isn’t a Prime. Rogers was created into what he is now. He isn’t a Prime. You are a Prime, no matter what you say or do.”
Tony looked away, pinching the bridge of his nose. “I’m being an ass again,” he simply said.
“No. You’re being human.”
It got him a dark smile. “Part-human, please. I’m no longer just human, Scavenger. Extremis and the Allspark radiation took care of that.”
“No one forced you to experiment on P-Cells, Tony.”
The glare was back. “No. And no one forced a mad woman scientist to try to kill me with the end product of her research. She did. I survived. For Rogers it was sheer idealism and stupidity. And a whole lot of luck.”
Scavenger wondered if he was the only one who couldn’t really follow that logic and thinking.
“What are you angry about then? Your changes? His changes? If it concerns him, why are you angry, Tony? You don’t know him.”
“No, I don’t. I could do without knowing about him, too! What my problem is? That Sector Seven merrily experimented with things they had no sane reason to! Studying the Allspark is one thing; trying out radiation on human guinea pigs? Irresponsible.”
“Like selling weapons to third-world countries, killing women and children, collaborating with terrorists…”
Scavenger felt something squeal over his firewalls and he knew he had hit bull’s eye. Extremis – Tony -- had finally lashed out and struck him. Not bad. Just a reminder that Tony was almost as capable on that level as a technopath, just not savvy enough. And he was finally releasing his anger.
“You are not that person, Tony Stark. Not anymore. And even then you were unaware of most things.”
“Not anymore,” he ground out. “And they weren’t as innocent of their actions either, Scavenger. They knew the radiation and energy influenced matter. They had tried it out on electronics. Some idiot wanted to use it on human test subjects. So it was packaged and sold as a Super-Soldier serum. Luckily the bastard was killed and took his notes with him.”
Tony tapped a finger against his head, indicating that Erskine had had most of his notes in his head.
“They never tried to duplicate the effects because they didn’t know how. They didn’t learn, Scavenger. They just didn’t have the means to do it anymore! I stopped because I chose to!”
“Yes, you did. It was a wise choice, Tony. You did good.”
The human looked up at him, visibly slightly perplexed by the soft words, then the mask was back. Tony was trying to collect himself.
“Yeah. Sometimes…” Stark looked around, at his work, at his achievements, at what his genius mind could create that it sometimes rivaled a mind like Hook’s.
Suddenly he turned and the emotions of before had disappeared. Scavenger knew enough about this particular human to realize that the shields were back in place.
“We might get our very own super hero. Isn’t that cool? Captain America, idol of millions.”
It was clear Tony didn’t expect an answer. The smile was brilliant once again and very much Tony, but there were still shadows.
Scavenger opened a line to Rodimus Prime and gave him a condensed version of this conversation. Rodimus was closest to Tony, understood him better than most, and Tony trusted him. Scavenger knew that the Autobot had to know about this.
Rodimus thanked him for the warning. ::He doesn’t hate himself that much:: the Prime told Scavenger. ::Extremis was good for him. Becoming Iron Man was good for him. He just hates deception and lying. Dr. Erskine lied to Captain Rogers::
Scavenger nodded to himself. He knew Stark hated being lied to, being kept in the dark, and he hated people thinking they could fool him. He wasn’t just bright; he was a genius and a shark in a tank full of sharks. He could be your friend or your worst enemy. Sector Seven no longer existed, but if they would today, Stark would be their worst nightmare.
Tony turned back to the model again and studied it with an unfocused expression. Scavenger waited. He knew he had to wait this out.
“Sorry,” Tony suddenly said, half looking over his shoulder. “About.. y’know. The attack.”
“Apology unnecessary but accepted.”
Stark visibly fought with something, then pushed the 3-D model away and walked over to his work station. Scavenger turned to his own work, smiling a little to himself.
Within five minutes they were hip deep in science again. Tony was his professional self, with more than a sprinkle of erratic genius, and a lot of sudden jumps and leaps of his mind.
Business as usual.
When Tony finally left Yuma, three days had passed and the Wisp was a huge step closer to final assembly. Scavenger had been joined by Hook, who had spent hours with Stark discussing complex equations, structural integrity puzzles, aerodynamics, deep space travel and space bridge technology. Tony hadn’t slept more than six hours in those days, but Extremis had kept him functional, he had claimed.
Now, standing in the cool morning air, Tony squinted into the distance. The sun was just rising over the horizon, the wind was cool, and it smelled like rain. He felt tired, but satisfied. He had finished some strenuous engineering work and it felt good. It felt great! It was what he enjoyed; it was what exercised his brain, made him stop thinking about everything else. Going up against minds like the Constructicons showed him his limits, but Tony had never been good at accepting limits. He always pushed past what tried to keep him down.
He finally looked to his left where he could make out the silhouette of a silver car, patiently waiting for him in the shadows of the night. Tony felt a smile creep over his lips.
“Got bored at base?” he asked.
“No,” was the quiet reply. “I was actually finally able to go through all the messages left for me. I read all the reports Optimus forwarded and managed to reply to all the inquiries.”
“Boring,” Tony commented. “You should get an assistant.”
“I doubt I can bribe Pepper into working for me instead of you. I might be able to interest Jarvis, though.”
Tony snorted. “You want him? You got him. He’s a blabbermouth.”
“He is what you need him to be, Tony. He is your creation.”
“If you were mine, I’d have a mute button.”
Stark walked over to the silver R8. “One of my many wishes, Roddy,” he said with a small smirk.
“Where to?” the Autobot asked as the door clicked open.
“Oh, I don’t know. Coffee, some cruising, unhealthy food, breaking your last speed record…”
Rodimus chuckled. “You already had coffee enough to fuel an entire R&D office for the day.”
“That’s a given 24/7.”
Tony pulled the door shut with more force than necessary. “I really have to look into that mute button,” he muttered.
Rodimus started his engine, a smooth purring sound, and suddenly the roof folded away. Tony made a surprised noise and twisted in his seat, watching the transformation that went a lot differently than a convertible with a hard top. He finally stared at the dash, then laughed as the R8 rolled down the road, away from the Constructicons’ base.
“A gift for your good behavior.”
Tony positively beamed at him. “Good boy, have a cookie,” he crowed. “Oh, I love you, Roddy.”
“I know you do.”
The wind whipped through Tony’s hair as they picked up speed the moment they had left the military compound, and Stark started to relax, hands loosely curled around the wheel.
::Thanks:: he sent when they hit the I-10.
* * *
Rogers’ recovery took little over twenty-four hours after he had woken out of the artificial coma the doctors had kept him in, after which he was briefed on what had happened. Tony was there, again as Iron Man, hiding behind the mask. The dull confusion of before had made way to curiosity in the alert blue eyes. Rogers was quick on the uptake, intelligent, and not as shocked about matters as Banachek had figured.
Super-Soldier, Tony mused. Here was the man who had volunteered himself to an experimental drug to save the world, to help his country.
Rogers was the All-American pin-up. He was broad-shouldered, blond, blue-eyed, muscular, with the good looks and general build of a quarterback, and an idealism that was almost supernatural. He inspired loyalty and confidence, you looked up to him – and not just because he was tall – and he wasn’t stupid. Quite the contrary. He might be a little overwhelmed by this new millennium, but he adapted fast.
Banachek had ordered a slow information feed, but the new guy was learning fast. And he was asking all the right questions.
Tony uncharacteristically hung back, just watched. He might be Iron Man, but he was also a Prime. Right now he had no job being in there with the Project people and Keyron. He had brought Rogers to them and like the Autobots he stood back and watched. Introducing Steve Rogers to the Cybertronian life-forms was on the agenda, but not right now.
So he left the facility and launched himself into the air, deciding to fly back. It was a long flight; long enough to take his mind off things. Long enough to work out the crimps in his brain, to get working on his projects again. Tony enjoyed going fast in his suit, just him and the controls hardwired into his nervous system.
::See you in a few:: Rodimus only said.
He smiled. Yeah. A few hours.
Rising up into the brilliantly blue sky, breaking through clouds, always aware of the air traffic around him, Tony blanked his mind and just… felt.
* * *
The home of Anthony Stark was a vast, sprawling building on the rocky outcroppings of the West Coast, outside LA. It was perched over Point Dume, overlooking the Pacific, still close enough to drive into LA in a moderate amount of time. Since Tony usually took his sports cars or flew, that time was always shortened to a third of normal driving time. Stark owned the whole massive rock foundation his home stood on, and then some. This was as private and exclusive as it got.
Held all in white, with a huge vista across the ocean, the mansion appeared both stylish and futuristic. The protrusion to the side of the ocean looked like a flying saucer had docked at the building, and even the massive supports appeared slender in their pristine whiteness.
“Good morning, Jarvis,” Pepper greeted the AI as she stepped into the house.
The windows showed the brilliant blue vista of the ocean, the sun was out and the sky was almost cloudless.
“Good morning, Ms Potts,” came the pleasant reply from the resident AI.
“Is Mr. Stark already awake?”
She shouldn’t really ask. Pepper knew Tony hadn’t slept a lot lately. Where she had sometimes stumbled into him running around half-dressed or just fresh out of the shower, she now found him in his workshop, up to his eyebrows in grease or in research. If she was really lucky, Tony had fallen asleep on the couch. Nowadays she should only be so lucky…
“He hasn’t been to bed yet,” Jarvis answered and she detected misgiving in his smooth voice.
Pepper sighed. “Again?”
“I’m afraid so.”
She descended down into the basement
Below the mansion, inside the massive rock it stood on, was a whole other world. Not only did the sub-terranean levels hold Tony’s sports car collection, as well as his garage and workshop, it also housed the Iron Man armor.
She keyed in the access code.
The workshop was well-lit and the Iron Man suit immediately drew her attention. It hung suspended over a cleared area, the armor plates peeled back, wires and cables peeking out. Tony was leaning over his work table, looking at something that had been projected onto the smooth, translucent surface.
Around him was… chaos. At least to Pepper’s eyes. She stared open-mouthed at the dozen or more smart boards and 3-D holo projections that were scrolling data, displaying files, design sketches and very old archive material. There were black-and-white photos on one screen while two others ran grainy footage of something or other. Now and then Tony would look up, frown, and the image would change. Extremis at work. Pepper would probably never get used to that particular enhancement.
“Are you going to stand there and stare all day, Potts?”
His voice startled her and Pepper met the narrowed eyes. “You have an appointment at ten.”
“Jarvis, the time please?”
Tony smiled at her. “Still enough time.”
Pepper eyed him with a critical expression. “You still need to shower. I’d also advise a shave and maybe a suit instead of your workshop clothes.”
Tony spread his arms and looked down his slender frame. “What’s wrong with my clothes?” he teased.
“For one, they’re full of oil and grease and unspeakable things. Second, your board members expect you to at least look like the CEO they once knew. Third, Happy would skin you alive if you spread this gunk on the Rolls’ leather.”
Tony raised his index finger. “One, it’s coffee and pizza, not ‘unspeakable things’. I don’t have sex in the workshop – ever!”
The middle finger rose. “Two, they are an intolerant bunch of dusty old men and uppity young snobs. Third, Happy has the good graces not to skin his boss.”
Pepper sighed and just raised her brows. She was so close to hitting him with her PC tablet, but she didn’t let it show -- much. “You might want to consider travelling time, too.”
“How about we video-conference the whole thing?”
Pepper was really, really close to violence now, but looking into the smeared features she saw a few more lines than Tony usually sported. She looked into the dark eyes and found shadows there that had taken up residence ever since the whole Captain America business. She knew Tony was hell-bent on keeping Rogers away from SHIELD and within his jurisdiction as a Prime to the Autobots – another thing that took getting used to, though being a Prime wasn’t all that much different than being a CEO. It just involved alien mechanoids.
From the looks of things, Tony was researching deeply into what Sector Seven had been up to in regards of trying out Allspark radiation on human beings. It was more than a pet project or a phase. He was serious about finding out what else they had done and possibly stopping whatever results had ended up in the future, their time.
Instead of compassion Pepper set her face into a ‘there’s no compromise’ expression. Tony sighed deeply.
“You don’t play fair.”
“Neither do you.”
Tony wiped his hands on a rag and shut down the displays. The workshop was plunged into twilight. It no longer looked like a real version of cyberspace, just a huge room filled with tech and cars.
“Jarvis? Secure all files. Store them on my private server as usual.”
Stark walked toward the steps, Pepper trailing after him.
“Back up’s here,” Rodimus Prime’s soft voice could be heard in the earpiece of her Bluetooth. “I’ll kick his ass into the meeting.”
She shot the R8 in the back of the garage a smile. “Thanks,” she murmured. And she was glad Rodimus was back to being around so much.
“I heard that! And I don’t need a baby-sitter!” Tony called from the top of the stairs.
“Sure you do,” Pepper muttered.
Rodimus simply chuckled.
Happy Hogan was waiting outside besides the Rolls, holding the door open as Tony got in. Stark looked like fresh out of the pages of GQ. His hair was perfectly coiffed, the black suit without a dust particle on it and the silvery gray shirt seemed to gleam just like his polished shoes. Hideously expensive glasses covered his eyes and Tony gave his driver/bodyguard a nod.
Happy drove off, trailing a silver sports car. He glanced into the rearview mirror, smiled slightly, then concentrated on the road again.
Rodimus Prime had enabled a hologram to cover for the fact that the car was actually driving itself. He followed the Rolls at a distance, ready for anything.
* * *
The Wisp’s maiden flight from the Ark was three weeks later. Tony was aboard the Ark, watching, feeling pride at his accomplishments. From the expressions on the Constructicons’ faces, they felt it as well. Hook was glued to the read-outs as Jolt took the ship through her paces. Several times the size of any of the Ghosts or the Spook, she had been constructed with only one thought in mind: find Cybertron. Four mechs easily fit aboard, as long as they didn’t exceed twenty-four feet in size.
The Wisp was a mixture between functionality and aesthetics. Hook had put his foot down that she wouldn’t look like a sphere with stubby wings. She was spherical, but encased in a flat triangle, all in black, with running lights along the edge of the triangle wings. Small probes whirled constantly around it, their search lights the only bright spots in the darkness.
They were the 3.1 version of the probes Stark Industries had already developed for deep space use. Many of the earlier models were spread around Earth and part of the solar system. They were early warning beacons. Tony kept updating their software and the Ark’s computer was relaying the updates constantly. Now the 3.1’s would serve as the Wisp’s scouts.
“We’re ready,” Scrapper said.
Tony, in his Iron Man armor, nodded. “A few more runs and we can send her into the big unknown.”
Scrapper’s optics were on him when Iron Man looked up and the Constructicon was looking amused, despite the lack of facial features.
“Optimus Prime has given the go-ahead the moment we rule the Wisp ready. The crew is already aboard.”
“Can’t say I’m sad to see some go,” Hook muttered, optics still fixed on the read-out.
Scrapper said nothing, but Tony knew this was about Blades. The Protectobot had been less than civil ever since coming aboard and while Prowl was keeping a close optic on him and had him on a very short leash, everyone would feel better once the Wisp was on her way.
As if on cue, Prowl walked into the command room. The white-on-black Autobot was an imposing sight and Tony almost stood up a little straighter.
“Sequence two without failure. We’ve started the last run,” Hook said, not looking up.
“Good.” Prowl’s optics were on the screen.
Tony stayed until the last tests were completed. Mixmaster was already going through the data, evaluating it together with Long Haul, while Scrapper was talking to Prowl. Hook was in his own world, lost in whatever he was doing. He was probably already redesigning the Wisp and pimping this ride.
“Twenty-four Earth hours,” Scrapper told Prowl. “She’ll be ready.”
Prowl nodded sharply. “Thank you.”
Part of Tony wanted to be aboard, see the universe. Another knew that his place was on Earth. He had responsibilities there.
He was a Prime.
Tony smiled behind his faceplate.
He was a Prime.
Twenty-four hours later the Wisp was on her way. The ship had been tested through and through. The final skin sealant had been applied, the computers updated, everything checked. Jolt, her test pilot, had turned the ship over to a new crew.
She left the solar system, heading for the unknown.
Tony was aboard the Ghost-3 a few hours after that, heading home. He patched himself into the satellite system and called Pepper. It was time to get back and take care of SI business.
Rodimus greeted him when the Ghost-3 landed in Australia and he rolled wordlessly aboard the SI jet when Tony boarded.
::Miss me?:: Tony joked.
::Like a sore relay::
::I’m the good pain:: Stark simply stated.
::The one I learned to ignore:. Rodimus countered.
The jet taxied toward the runway. Tony buckled up and when they were finally in the air, he accepted a drink from the hostess aboard. Pepper had already called five times and he knew he had to talk to her, had to go over his schedule, had to sit through boring dinners, pointless board meetings, and braincell-killing presentations.
::Call her now:. Rodimus suggested.
Tony sighed and downed the drink, immediately getting a refill. First things first. He wanted an update on Rogers and he called Banachek.
Everything else just had to wait.
* * *
A/N: here’s the part from Chickie’s mail: “So anyway it popped into my head that a person could actually work Steve into your transformer fics. I always thought the Vitamin rays used to turn them into super soldiers was lame but you know if they used the radiation from the Allspark..........That might work.”
Well, as usual, it takes a while for a bunny to bite, but then it won’t let go.