The Renewable Energy World Conference and Expo of North America was in abundant attendance. Thousands of scientists and researchers from around the globe had flown in to participate in the numerous exhibits, demonstrations, and presentations the conference had to offer. Along with a swath of the press... reporters and journalists from well-known magazines and newspapers looking to capitalize on a good story for their featured articles and front page. Alternative energy was a hot topic nowadays, and a burgeoning field for intrepid minds looking to 'engineer a sustainable future' and 'change the world for the better' (to name a few of the buzzphrases being thrown around). Not to be excluded from the guestlist was Anthony Stark of Stark Industries.
He'd reserved his entire weekend for this-- from the conference's opening ceremonies to its closing remarks. Usually he wasn't so punctual, especially with anything that had specific dates or specific times-- as far as he was concerned, things ought to wait for him, he was Tony Stark after all-- but he was a man on a mission. His goal was to capitalize on one of his more recently developed prototypes, by selling it off to one of the top CEOs attending the conference. That meant a lot of schmoozing. Good schmoozing was an art-- an art Tony was rather proficient in, which was why he predicted it would only be a couple more hours until he got his answer from Dr. Walsh, head of ABI Energy Inc, and was walking out with a crisp check for several thousands of dollars.
For now, however, he'd excused himself from the conference halls to get a drink at the bar in the adjoining hotel and loosen up for a bit. All work and no play made Jack a dull boy, after all. And if there was one thing Tony refused to be, it was dull.
He was sitting at the bar when he felt a tap on his left shoulder. Tony turned around on his barstool, lips still glued to the conical glass of his martini, but when he saw who it was, his eyes lit up. "Oh hey, Rhodey! What are you still doin' here? You want a drink? I can buy you a drink," he immediately offered, raising his hand to signal the bartender over.
"No, I consider being here as 'on-the-job'," the decorated colonel declined. His posture remained erect and serious as he folded his arms and tipped his head. "Though I'd ask you the same thing, Tony. How long have you been here?"
Stark scrunched up the left side of his face in consideration. "Probably since six?" he gave an estimate, shrugging his shoulder.
"This morning?" Rhodey asked incredulously.
Tony shook his head, setting the alcoholic beverage down on the counter. "Yesterday morning," he clarified.
This had the U.S. Marine reeling. "Tony, go home," he said in an authoritative voice, looking down at him disapprovingly. As if that could convince Stark. Please, a little sleep deprivation was nothing he couldn't handle.
Tony pointed a finger at him. "That's not going to sell my prototype to Walsh." He lifted his martini glass and took another sip.
"Neither is losing track of time and passing out at the bar," Rhodey shot back. "You do know his Q&A session is starting in six minutes, right?"
The innovator set his drink down roughly, sloshing the remaining liquid nearly out of the glass. "You're kidding me?" He spied a quick glance at the time displayed on his phone-- Rhodey wasn't kidding. "Son of a bitch." He had to get back there. Pronto. Indiscriminantly he pulled some cash out his wallet, not particularly paying attention to the denomination, and slapped it down on the counter to cover his beverage. He shoved said drink off onto his friend hastily. "Thanks," he imparted appreciatively, hurrying off in the direction of the meeting room, running his hand through his hair to fix it and tightening his tie around his neck as he went.
The colonel just chuckled and shook his head before tipping the martini back and finishing it.
The Q&A went swimmingly (well save for the fact he'd been just a couple of minutes late and missed a few of the questions in the beginning), but Tony knew he had made an excellent impression with Walsh. He rubbed his palms together pleasedly, mentally clapping himself on the back as the session let out and the crowd began to get out of their chairs and disperse. Next step, get alone with the CEO and make it happen. Maybe he'd even make it back to Malibu in time for a dinner celebration with Pepper!
Speak of the devil, his cell began jingling away to AC/DC's Love Song, the ringtone he'd set for her quite some time ago when they started dating. The billionaire fished the device out of his pocket and quickly put it to his ear. "Hey, Pep," he greeted cheerfully.
"You haven't forgotten, have you?" came immediate chastising words.
"I-- what? No, of course not," Tony reassured her, trying to remember what the hell it was she was referring to. He started pacing the lobby near the refreshment table, looking inconspicuous as people milled around him.
"Good. Because this guy is great. He could be great for Stark Industries."
Tony licked his lips with a wince. "Yeah… who exactly?"
"You did forget," Pepper's voice got that much higher with her increasing frustration. "You know, Tony, it wasn't easy to get this guy to agree to see you. He doesn't do this kind of thing, like ever."
The innovator gnawed his lower lip a bit. "I hope he has a good sense of humor, I can't stand people who don't have a good sense of humor," he tried to lighten the mood, feeling a little hen-pecked. So much for that celebration dinner. Yeesh. He snagged a doughnut from the table.
"I haven't actually met him in person myself, but I am not going to let you stand him up," his secretary went on. "He's arriving in LAX at 8:30, gate 21A. You better show up."
"I'll be there," Tony promised, hoping it would get her off his case. He paused and looked around to make sure he wasn't in earshot. "I'm just closing this deal with Dr. Walsh." He took a bite of the frosted pastry to keep from saying anything more that might get him in trouble.
"Don't you dare. Your prototype can wait," she spoke reprimandingly. "I'm just doing my job, Tony. But you're making it difficult."
The engineer spoke through a full mouth of partially-chewed dough. "I am completely capable of making business connections on my own," he asserted, though it was probably a mistake to argue with Pepper. She always won.
"Sure, you are. Just like you almost sold several thousand shares to those fraudulent Chinese businessmen in Norway last April."
Pastry dough lodged in his throat and he gave a cough to shake it loose. Like he said, mistake. "Hey, now… that was… it wasn't my fault…" Stark started to try and defend himself.
Quickly he switched gears. "Hey, do you think maybe we could do like some kind of late-night dinner thing--" he began to suggest, gesturing with his half a doughnut in the air out in front of him.
"I have another call," Pepper said abruptly, and like that she hung up.
"Well, I guess that's a no," Tony rolled his eyes and crammed his cell back into his slacks. He glanced around the conference room and let out an even more exasperated huff when he found that Dr. Walsh was nowhere in sight-- the CEO had exited some time during the telephone call and now he'd have to spend time trying to hunt him down and isolate him to get this deal pushed through. No way he was leaving here empty-handed. Tony stuffed the remainder of his doughnut into his mouth, licking his fingertips, and began the search.
The only person who was arguably hounding Dr. Walsh more than himself was Justin Hammer, rival weapons manufacturer and overall general nuisance. What the sub-par innovator (if you could call him that) was doing at a Renewable Energy conference was questionable, unless you knew a little bit more about the guy. Like the fact Hammer desperately desired to beat Tony at his own game, which had expanded considerably after he'd turned Stark Industries in it's 'new direction' a couple years ago. So, naturally, he was here to attempt to sell his clean energy prototype (which was really a flimsy approximation of what Tony had whipped up) to ABI Energy Inc. and steal his 'glory'. At any rate, Tony certainly wasn't worried; he set the bar high and no way was Hammer getting over it in a million lifetimes.
Though it was the sound of the man's annoying droning voice that led him to Walsh, so he had to thank the guy for that.
"And what I'm saying is, the amount of power this baby puts out will make you just light up-- you get what I'm saying here? Do ya? This energy is so clean, it would put hydrogen peroxide to shame."
The engineer sidled right in beside the two, interrupting the would-be sales pitch. "Hey, what are you guys talking about?" he flashed Hammer a big did-you-miss-me? Tony Stark grin.
Justin made a visibly disgusted face, which meant he'd successfully annoyed him just the right amount.
Walsh, who was a greying man with a large nose and several benign melanoma dotting his skin, regarded him over the thick lenses of his spectacles. "Actually, I was needing someone to introduce me at the beginning of the tomorrow morning's demonstration," he said.
Tony opened his mouth to volunteer but hesitated. He'd just promised Pepper he wouldn't miss his engagement later that evening and there was probably no way he could zip there and back in time to…
"I'd just absolutely love to have that honor," Justin gushed. When Hammer laid it on, by God, he laid it on thick. Jeez, did anyone not find this guy annoying? His own mother probably got sick of his shameless sucking up.
"Alright, you got it," Walsh nodded. Tony felt his ears droop; he would have jumped on the opportunity if he could have! "You probably ought to get started writing it," the CEO recommended. "I want it to be good."
"Oh. Oh yeah, yeah, of course. I am," Hammer motioned at his head. "Writing it, that is. Right now, up in my head. I'll go write it down… on paper… and be right back. Don't go anywhere." And with that the blabber-mouthed development manager hurried away.
Walsh leaned in towards Tony with a slightly craven look on his wizened features. "Come on, let's hurry and find somewhere else to talk."
Tony grinned like a cheshire cat. Dr. Walsh was more clever than he gave the old guy credit; for all he knew there wasn't any morning introduction. He followed the CEO along into a small meeting room with a long table and several chairs. The older fellow shut the door behind them to grant them privacy. 'This is it,' Tony thought to himself, 'that prototype is as good as sold!'
"I was going to wait till tomorrow, but I honestly can't take any more of Mr. Hammer's pushing, so I've made my decision early. ABI Energy Inc. would like to purchase your prototype. As soon as possible," Dr. Walsh said.
Tony did a couple of mental backflips for joy. "Well thank you, sir," he extended his palm for a handshake which the CEO took. "As soon as possible? Did you want to…?" he looked around. "Right now?"
Walsh nodded and beckoned over a woman from his company who was standing nearby to serve as a notary. About an hour later they had all the necessary paperwork filled out, signed and dated and sent by fax machine back to Malibu (Tony would be making sure Pepper got to look over it and do the final processing). Tony Stark grinned down at the seven digit number on the check and tucked it away in the pocket on the inside of his suitcoat, safe and sound. "Thanks again, Dr. Walsh, sir," he spoke appreciatively, absolutely smitten with himself.
"You've earned it," Walsh said, holding onto the lapels of his jacket. "Unlike some others, you spend more time being concerned with your product's performance than kissing my ass." Tony felt a laugh bubble up in his chest. "A risky move, but I like it," the older man finished.
"There's a lot more where that came from," Tony said, mouth going into overdrive. "I've been making a lot of progress on--"
"Mr. Stark," the CEO interrupted to garner his attention.
He blinked. "Yeah?"
"Get a move on. You don't want to leave your engagement stranded at the airport." Tony's face metamorphized in a look of pure 'how did you…?', floundering. Walsh winked at him as he turned to go. "I know all."
It was as he was on his way out of the convention that he stumbled into Hammer, who was standing near the front entrance. As much as he might enjoy lording it over the other technology developer that he'd gotten Walsh's funding (including, but not limited to, dangling his signed check in front of Hammer's gawking face), he didn't have a whole lot of time to spare to get back to California. Tony started to walk past him but before he could get out the entrance doors, the man had already caught sight of him and approached.
"Hey, congratulations on the sale," Justin said with a smile that was too wide for his face to be genuine.
"Oh yeah, thanks--" he started to say but Hammer abruptly cut him off.
"My prototype was too advanced to go into production anyway. Would've been too much of a technological leap." He gestured with his hands and arms almost as if he were conducting an orchestra. "Would've shocked the face of science, thrown it out of balance in some kind of freaky-deaky mis-equilibrium."
"Right," Tony had to try to keep his face from screwing up with amusement at the preponderance of bullshit. "Well, that's good then."
"It's great," Hammer said, emphasizing the word harshly though nearly-grit teeth. "It's really great." It was all too obvious how he really felt; his ego damaged and desperately trying to cover the bruises up. "Until next time, Mr. Stark," he delivered coldly with a turn and he half-stormed, half-strutted away. Guy would never learn, Tony thought and just shook his head, exiting the building.
He caught a cab back to the five-star hotel where he had been 'staying' (more like where he'd kept his belongings, since he'd ended up spending all his time at the conference). Soon he was checked out, his next-day reservation cancelled and refunded, and (since he preferred 'unconventional' methods of travel) his garment bag and other items arranged to be shipped back to Malibu in the morning, all save for his briefcase, which he had in hand. He made his way to the top deck of the parking garage; he might be a show-off but there wasn't any particular need to 'suit up' on the street. Tony felt around inside his jacket, quickly ensuring he still had Walsh's check before setting his briefcase down at his feet. He drew back his sleeve and pressed the button on his bracelet to activate his portable suit, the device keying to his signature and scanning a web of red laser over his body. Immediately the red and gold metal began unfolding; he stayed still as all the parts covered him from the legs up, the chest piece clicking into place over his arc reactor, until at last the headpiece came to rest over his face. The system booted up, the display lighting up before his eyes with all the read-outs. Everything looked good to him. He poised to take off.
"Sir, I suggest running a calibration diagnostic prior to take-off," the AI unit within his helmet spoke up.
Tony felt his eyes roll dramatically in his skull. "I'm on the clock, JARVIS. We know it works; I flew here in it yesterday. Now c'mon."
"As you wish," the program complied, overridden.
"Thank you," Tony said sarcastically and he shot up into the sky, two plumes of exhaust trailing behind him.
After achieving a stable altitude and velocity, JARVIS spoke up again. "May I recommend phoning Miss Potts?"
"Yeah, sure, give her a call," Tony shrugged. Maybe by now she wouldn't still be upset with him. He could hope. The engineer listened to it ring calmly as the wind ripped past him at Mach 1. She picked up, a video stream appearing in a miniature window on the screen within his helmet. "Hey, Pepper, it's me," he greeted with a smile, happy to see her face. Though she didn't look all that happy to see him.
"Hey," was all he got in response as she turned partially away to straighten some papers on her desk.
"I know, I'm behind 'schedule'," Tony used the cursed word apologetically. "But I'm on my way to the airport right now."
He watched her lean back in her swivel chair and coil her forefinger absently into the telephone cord. "Don't worry, his flight got delayed," the secretary said with a disappointed roll of her green eyes.
"Well, I'll wait however long it takes for him to get in," he shrugged within his suit of armor. "Hey, listen, I have some good news that might cheer you up," he added eagerly. "I sold the prototype to Dr. Walsh. It'll be going into production next fall."
"I know, I got the fax; it's great news!" she said as she held up the mentioned documents. The reminder did seem to lift her spirits at least somewhat, as he could see a small smile worming across her thin lips even as she tried to hide it. Her eyes half lidded. "Maybe if you get back here soon enough, we can break out some champagne after all."
Tony grinned widely. Officially out of the dog house. "I won't leave you waiting," he promised before ending the call. "Hey, JARVIS, throw on some Black Sabbath for me, watching the Rockies go by is getting boring."
"I presume 'Shuffle' is suitable, sir?"
"Yeah, sounds goo-- what the…?" The repulsor on his right palm stuttered and shut off, causing him to bank sharply to the right. He attempted to correct for it with his left arm as he shook his right hand to get it going again, and when that didn't work, he tried hitting it against his thigh. The stablizer merely sparked and began smoking, which was when the left repulsor flickered out as well.
"JARVIS, talk to me, what's happening?" he said with growing alarm, his eyes wide.
"Sir, the anterior repulsors have failed. Steering without them is practically impossible--"
"So I noticed!" Tony yelled at his AI as he fought to maintain a steady course with nothing but his legs. He gave a shout as he began to plummet out of the sky, on a downward course head-first towards the ground below.
Should have installed an emergency parachute system. He'd implement that in the next model. Well, assuming there would be a next model.