“Hawkeye, any visual of Arnolds?”
The villain of the day, one Franklin Arnolds, was currently hidden from view by his army of robots down on the streets of some city in Georgia. The robotic soldiers were not why the Avengers were called in, however. When the team had been told of the situation, Arnolds was in the beginning stages of what would have been a pretty pathetic attack on the city, had it not been for the container he was holding. The man was an accomplished chemist, but for whatever reason, the man had been fired from his place of work several months ago. Vengeance was always nasty business, and with a mechanism that contained some sort of chemical agent that would be released in the form of a gas, SHIELD wasn’t taking any chances.
The army of robots had been a bit of surprise. Apparently the man had been tinkering in the months of his unemployment. The army numbered into the hundreds; they weren’t anything to write home about, but there were enough of them and they were built well-enough to be causing a problem.
“Negative,” Clint replied to Agent Hill’s inquiry over his radio. He was currently perched atop one of the buildings, overlooking the scene where Thor, Black Widow, Iron Man, and Captain America were in the thralls of battle.
Bruce’s voice came over the communication line from his position in the quinjet a few blocks away. “So, it seems like the guy was fired for some highly questionable experiments he was doing with company equipment. None of that equipment is listed in the termination papers, unfortunately, but the experiments were described as ‘the fantastical notions of a madman without morals’.”
“Sounds like fun,” Tony replied as he shot his repulsors into the face of an attacking robot.
“Immoral men are never fun,” Steve said into his radio. “We aren’t getting any closer to Arnolds with these robots he keeps throwing our way. Banner, it’s time. Stark, you know what to do.”
“Do I ever.” Tony broke away from the fight and flew toward where the quinjet was. He rounded a building and found the aircraft lowering its ramp.
Bruce was already standing by the ramp, toeing off his shoes and unbuttoning his shirt.
“You ready, Green Bean?” Tony asked as he landed on the ramp of the quinjet.
Bruce slipped his glasses off and set them atop the tablet he had been studying on a nearby seat. “As ready as I ever am,” he replied, resignation leaking into his voice.
“You’ll knock ‘em dead,” Tony scoffed as the physicist wrapped his arms around the suit’s neck. Before the man could make a comeback, the engineer took off back toward the battlefield, Bruce attached to his back.
“Iron Man, what’s your position?” came Steve’s voice over the communication link within his helmet.
“Chill, Cap,” Tony answered easily. He popped around the corner of one of the taller buildings and found where the rest of the team was currently caught up in the heat of battle. “This is our stop,” he said to the man on his back as he slowed down.
“So it is,” Bruce murmured, his eyes already scanning the battlefield below them. He rapped on the helmet lightly with his knuckles. “See you on the other side.”
And with that, Bruce rolled off of the suit and fell toward the battlefield, his skin rapidly turning green as his muscles expanded. The Hulk exploded into being with a roar as he crashed into the fray.
“The cavalry has arrived,” Tony announced unnecessarily before he, too, rejoined the fight.
With the complete team now working against the villain of the week, the tide had turned. The robotic army fell easily against the combined force of lightning, brute force, and various energy blasts and lasers as Captain America and the Black Widow helped to evacuate nearby buildings of the civilians who hadn’t managed to get out before the fight had commenced.
“I have a visual of Arnolds,” Hawkeye’s voice suddenly came over the comm link. “Up two blocks; he surrounded himself with more of the bots. No clear shot right now.”
“Proceed with caution,” Hill said to the group at large from her position on the helicarrier offshore. “We’re still trying to figure out what that chemical warfare is. Agent Barton, when you have a shot, take it.”
Steve beat a robotic soldier off of him and took a quick glance up toward where Clint had reported their target to be. “Let’s see if we can get him to send more of his bots at us,” he said to his team. His eyes went to the giant green man, who had just sent three of the metallic soldiers flying with a sharp growl. “Hulk!”
It was still a bit daunting to have the Hulk’s glare, bright and green and angry, turn and stare straight at him. Steve’s eyes darted back down the street for a second before he began to fight his way toward the Hulk. The big guy continued to smash the robots coming at him, but also moved to meet the super soldier half-way.
“Cap, behind you—”
Steve brought his shield up and ducked just as one of the foot soldiers was about to attack his blind spot. A sharp grunt from the other direction sounded, and the attacking robot smashed into pieces as a jagged chunk of the broken road went flying through its center. Steve righted himself as the Hulk gave a satisfied snort and brushed his hands together, having reached the captain.
“Hulk,” Steve began, looking up at the giant, “can you get closer to Arnolds? Not too close, though. We need you to smash more of the robots up there.” Steve pointed up toward where the worst of the clutter was. “Don’t get too close to Arnolds,” he warned again.
The Hulk huffed, his green eyes following the soldier’s outstretched arm. Another snort escaped from him, followed by a short grunt as he leapt away from Steve, closer to where Arnolds had situated himself, but still at a safe distance away.
Almost instantly, there was a wave of foot soldiers against the Hulk.
Steve returned to fending off the bots that came at him. “Hawkeye, report.”
“Hulk is taking the blunt of the bots up there, but I still don’t have a…” The archer’s voice trailed off, his tone changing just slightly in a way that the team knew he had just spotted something.
They heard Clint curse. “He has hostages being brought toward him. Looks like a family. Man, woman, two kids. One block south-west. No clear shot.”
“Stark,” Steve immediately began—
“Trying, but I’m a bit busy,” Tony replied, sounding a little winded.
“He’s prepping his chemical gizmo,” Clint reported. “No shot.”
“Thor,” the soldier began again, his eyes lifting to the skies to search for the demigod.
A thunderous roar seemed to shake the air, and the soldier’s eyes instantly darted back to the fray. The Hulk was in mid-air, having leapt away from his position amidst the automatons, and his glare was fixed toward where Arnolds was.
“I am on my way,” Thor declared.
Thor flew into view, swift as lightning, his hammer flung forward as he raced toward the hostages. The Hulk crashed into the ground in front of Arnolds, his massive green hand already balled into a fist and already lifted to strike. His fist connected with Arnolds in a fatal back hand and sent the man flying.
Not a second later, the device detonated, sending up a giant red cloud of gas with explosive force. The Hulk let out a roar as he and nearby bots were sent flying, engulfed in the cloud.
As the green goliath crashed through a nearby building, a trail of red smoke and robotic parts following him, Thor landed in front of the hostages and whirled Mjölnir, creating a whirlwind that kept the noxious gas away from family. The gas dispersed throughout the air over the robots before disappearing into the air.
Arnolds hit the asphalt in a broken heap and rolled to a stop. Whether he was dead or not was unclear.
As Thor destroyed the bots that were holding the family, Steve thrust his shield against an attacking robot. “Stark, can you analyze the air and see if it’s toxic?”
There was a sound of sizzling mechanics before Tony replied. “On it.”
Natasha reappeared, as she had been protecting a small band of civilians as she evacuated them to a nearby safe post. “Barton, do you have a visual of the Hulk?”
“Negative,” Clint replied.
“The air’s clear,” Tony announced from his place above the carnage. “Whatever was in that canister has pretty much dissipated and shouldn’t have any effect on anyone.”
The robots by this point seemed a little aimless without their leader, who hadn’t moved from where he had landed. Natasha made her way to his body. A quick check of his pulse confirmed that he was still alive, even if just barely. She also found a remote control. It didn’t seem to come with an “off” switch, so she used her Widow’s Bite on it.
With the control spitting sparks and otherwise inert, the robots surrounding them slumped and fell to the ground with a graceless crash.
“Stark, can you check on the Hulk?” Steve asked as he moved across the littered street and approached Natasha and Arnolds. “He hasn’t emerged from that building he crashed through. I think he may have gotten a lung-full of that stuff.”
“You got it, Cap,” the iron-clad man replied as his repulsors flared to life. Tony flew up to the giant crumbling hole in the brick wall and looked into the building. The interior was dim, stray beams of sunlight came in through the high windows to highlight the clouds of dust still settling. He spotted the crater in the now-destroyed floor, the cloud of particles obscuring a visual on the man no doubt lying in its center.
When there was no sign of movement from within the cloud, the iron-clad man hovered through the hole and cut off his thrusters, landing with a solid, metallic clunk. He was about to lift his mask when a flashing red box appeared on the screen before his eyes with a warning of some foreign chemical in the air that would be most harmful.
“Better hang back, kids, that chemical is still pretty potent in here,” Tony said to the others via the comm link. To JARVIS, he said “Activate infrared, J,” before he began muttering about having to run through decontamination procedures with Bruce when SHIELD arrived on the scene.
The screen came to life, and through the murk of the chemical and dust cloud came a heat signature from the center of the crater. He started to step toward it.
A stray gust entered the building from the gaping hole in the wall and helped clear some of the dust. The flashing box disappeared; the chemical had been harmlessly dissipated into the air. Tony instantly paused in his approach and his eyebrows furrowed. That wasn’t the body of a man down in that crater…
With a growing sense of trepidation, the suited man cautiously approached the scene before him, not quite sure if he was seeing this properly. He ordered the infrared to be shut off, just to be sure.
Tony stared down at the unconscious and half-naked body of a young child, lying prone in the crater. The boy’s back was exposed, and while his face was hidden from view, the messy brown curls were familiar enough to shoot a tendril of dread into his core.
Without taking his eyes from the child lying in the wreckage, wearing nothing but the tattered remains of what used to be a grown man’s pair of slacks, Tony opened up the communication line to his other teammates. “Um…guys? I think we have a problem…” he said uneasily.
There was a pause on the line before Steve spoke up. “…how big of a problem?” he asked warily.
Tony carefully knelt down next to the child and nudged him gently until he rolled over, revealing his very young and vaguely familiar face. The engineer struggled to find his voice for a second, simply staring down at the unconscious boy and trying to figure out if this was a very strange dream. “Uh…I’d say four or five?” he responded slowly, unable to take his eyes away from the youthful face of Dr. Bruce Banner.