Tony tapped his flexi against the bar, summoning another whiskey. The sum on the flexi flashed red for a moment, deducting the creds for the drink. He didn’t really care much for the whiskey on the outer rim planets, but he was trying to avoid attracting attention, and flashing enough flex for Terran casked whiskey would be the opposite of staying on the downlow.
He wasn’t sure if it was the casks made from other planetary trees, or the various synth grains that had been produced to grow well in alien soils didn’t lend themselves well to making whiskey.
There were days when Tony would have slit a few throats for a good cup of whiskey. Those days were gone, and if it didn’t taste good, it at least numbed the pain. At least it was actual alcohol. The last four jobs Tony had were on dry planets -- bathtub gin could get you two years in a tank, and no one wanted that.
He needed a job now, honestly.
He was about two days worth of creds from not having a roof over his head. His last job hadn’t gone so well, and he’d had to jump ship on this podunk world, leaving a hefty contract payment behind. And having another shit mark on his work record.
He took a sip of the shitty brew, trying to ignore the stale black pepper taste.
“You look like a man who’d rather drink piss,” someone said, and Tony blinked up at the blurry man. A few concentrated blinks and Tony managed to congeal the person down to base characteristics. Dark skin, no hair. One eye. A penchant toward black, tight fitting clothing and a flapping black coat over it.
“Are you real?”
“Son, I’m the realest damn person you will ever meet. You’re Stark.”
“You looking to hire me, or cash in on the bounty?” Tony shifted his hand, the nanotech forming a repulsor on his palm.
“I don’t care about the price on your head,” the man said. “I’m Fury.”
“And I’m a fan of lust, if we’re going for the seven deadly sins.”
“I would like to consult you on a special project.”
“Am I supposed to look at the eye or the patch? I might be a bit drunk here,” Tony said.
“Natasha, take him,” the man said.
Sudden pain jabbed into his throat and he turned to see the redheaded waitress standing there. “Could you just-- not do something awful for five seconds while I figure out what’s going on? Am I gonna wake up in a bathtub full of ice with my organs missing?”
“I’d apologize, but I have urgent business and--”
“You’re not sorry,” Tony slurred, slumping into the arms of the redhead and the bronky blond she seemed to summon with a jerk of her chin. “Help, I am being press-ganged!”
“No one cares,” the blond said. “They don’t mess with us.”
Tony knew there was some witty repartee somewhere, but he lost consciousness before he could think of something clever to say.
Tony woke up with a headache and a girl in his bed. Neither of these things was unusual. The fact that the woman was fully dressed and pointing a gun at him, that… well, it wasn’t even that unusual, albeit disappointing.
“Why do I feel like the first words out of your mouth are along the general theme of, we have ways of making you do as we wish? Come on, really. Get new material,” Tony said. He was not, apparently, chained to the bed. Or restrained in any manner.
He’d had worse mornings, although he might just about go for broke unless there was coffee in his immediate future.
“Well, then I don’t need to say it, do I?” she quipped. He thought her name was Natasha, or at least that’s what Fury called her. It would do, at least for a while. “Far be it from me to destroy your fantasy escapade of mouthing off to the bad guys until you have your moment.”
“There’s always a moment.”
“And I always step on it,” she said.
There wasn’t much in the room; simple bed, dresser, bedside table. Boring, white walls, industrial tiling floor. Could have been anything from apartment to a hotel to a hospital. At least it wasn’t a coffin hotel; those sucked.
“So, why don’t you tell me what you want me to do before I tell you to stick it,” Tony said. “And, aside from general firearm safety, could you point that somewhere else? I’m generally more pleasant to talk to when I’m not being threatened.” They wouldn’t get what they wanted from him; Tony never gave in to threats, but they might as well at least start out with the illusion of courtesy.
“What-- oh, this? I’m sorry, I forgot,” Natasha said, and if Tony hadn’t thought that was preposterous, he might actually have believed her. Her delivery was great. Excellent, really. “I just didn’t want you to jump me when you woke up.”
“Happens a lot, does it?”
“Sometimes, Mr. Stark,” Fury said, coming into the room. He hadn’t unlocked the door, as far as Tony could tell, which might mean the door was open for the escaping, although there were two of them and Tony was--
Huh. Still in all his gear, including his repulsor gloves. This might be easier than he thought.
“Well,” Tony said, hesitantly, “I’m sure I’m flattered, but I don’t want to join your secret boy band. The rock-glam look is just bad on me. Why should I deny the universe the opportunity to look at my face.”
“Mostly because it’s all over wanted posters everywhere?” the blond guy said, following along. “Got breakfast for you.”
“If there’s no coffee, I don’t want it.”
“Is there such a thing as no coffee? I would cry,” the guy said. “Here.”
He poured Tony a mug, then sipped out of it, as if to prove it wasn’t poisoned or anything, although even Tony knew how that went. There were all sorts of poisons that had pre-dosing antidotes.
But whatever. It smelled good enough that Tony wasn’t sure he cared. “This is awfully nice for people who had to kidnap me.”
“No, we had to make it look like we were kidnapping you,” Fury corrected. It was getting a little crowded in Tony’s-- whatever it was. Bedroom. Not that he minded a crowd or an orgy, but he usually liked to pick his partners.
“Congrats, you succeeded,” Tony said. “I’m growing less inclined to help you by the second.”
“We need your help, and we think the mission’s of interest to you,” Natasha said.
Tony took a sip of his coffee. Damn, actual bean. Fresh roasted, too. “I’m listening.”
Fury tapped his flexi and pushed an image into the air. It was an image he recognized. “This is Captain America. His ship crash-landed on a planet decades ago, along with an item of unspeakable power. The Tesseract.”
Tony’s hand didn’t move to hover over his heart, but he knew the tesseract. His arc-reactor worked on the same, or similar, tech. He didn’t have the original to compare it to, but he’d seen his father’s notes. He’d seen his father’s notes on Captain America, too. The original tesseract could be the key to stopping the palladium poisoning that was slowly killing him.
“Okay, I might be interested, keep going,” Tony said.
“The Captain’s ship has recently been spotted on scanners,” Fury continued. “I’m putting together a team to go down, retrieve the Captain, and get out. Cap’s been asleep for seventy years. You’re the only link we have to his past--”
“Yeah, my father helped invent the guy, and I was held up to Cap’s standards. Not exactly someone I’ve got fond memories of,” Tony said.
“We need Cap, and we’d like to retrieve the Tesseract. Your nanotech is about the only thing we know of that can hope to get people onto the surface. Help us get Cap, we’ll let you study the Tesseract.”
“You know, assuming I don’t die in the process of retrieving him,” Tony pointed out.
“Meet Natasha Romanoff and Clint Barton. They’ll be part of your team, so we’ll need you to get to work. Soon.”
“There are a few other members, one a little more reluctant that you. He’s in quarantine right now. I’ll introduce you. Assuming you take the job.”
“And if I don’t?”
“Nothing,” Fury said. “We’ll do what we have to do, and we’ll let you go right back to that dive where you were drinking. Keeping in mind that there’s an AIM extraction team on its way to your location-- they arrived on planet about four hours ago, and there’s not a lot of running room around here.”
“You know, you could have lead with that,” Tony said. “Let’s get to work.”
“Right this way, Mr. Stark,” Natasha said.