Read The Avengers Assemble Online

Authors: Thomas Macri

Tags: #Marvel Junior Novel (eBook)

The Avengers Assemble (3 page)

CHAPTER THREE

TONY WOKE SLOWLY
in a dark room, his head throbbing, his vision blurred. He couldn't see past whatever it was that covered his eyes. A bandage? No, it was too rough. As the ringing in his ears began to abate, he heard voices speaking a language he didn't recognize. The wrappings over his eyes seemed to cover his entire head. It was rough, like burlap. Come to think of it, it
was
burlap. His hands were burning. No, not burning—numb. He couldn't feel anything but a tingling in them. He couldn't move them. Or his feet. He was tied.

With a quick whip, the burlap hood was pulled from his head, and the little bit of light in the room stung his eyes. As he adjusted to the dimly lit room, he could make out what felt like sticks prodding him. But as things came into clearer view he realized they weren't sticks, but guns—rifles, machine guns.

The men surrounding him were hooded, threatening, menacing. And it was clear they had Tony's life in their hands. He looked down and noticed that his chest was bandaged with gauze. The room was still blurry, and he was having trouble focusing. He lost consciousness over and over again and had no idea each time how long he had been out. But during this time, he experienced nightmarish flashes of crude operations being performed on him. He felt sharp stabs of pain, and felt like he was being torn apart and stitched back together over and over.

Then he enjoyed a long period of rest, without these visions, and finally awoke in a cool, dark room. A hose had been placed up his nose while he was unconscious—to help him breathe or to drain blood, he figured. So whoever it was that did this to him clearly wanted him alive. He slowly pulled the hose from his nostril and attempted to sit up on his make-shift cot.

As he shifted, mechanisms rattled, and he realized he was connected to something. He turned and saw—a car battery, with wires running toward his chest? Tony tore the gauze off his chest and discovered what looked like a very simple transistor affixed there.

At the far end of the room, an old bespectacled man stood stirring a pot of something over a fire.

“What did you do to me?” Tony rasped.

“What I did is to save your life,” the man replied with a pleasant smile. “I removed all the shrapnel I could, but there's a lot left near in your atria's septum. I've seen a lot of wounds like that in my village. We call them the walking dead, because it takes about a week for the scraps to reach their vital organs.”

“What is this?” Tony asked pointing to the apparatus on his chest.

“That is an electromagnet, hooked up to a car battery. And it's keeping the shrapnel from entering your heart.”

Tony shrugged uncomfortably and zipped up the sweater he found himself clothed in.

The steel door on the far side of the room rattled, and the man looked up, nervous. Then he snapped at Tony with a quick urgency.

“Stand up!” he told Tony. “And do as I do!”

The door opened and a dozen or so armed enemy soldiers entered. One walked in front of the others. He was large and carried papers in his hands. Tony figured he was the guy in charge here. He spoke in a foreign tongue to the man who had been helping Tony. The man translated that the enemy soldier wanted Tony to build him one of the Jericho missiles he'd demonstrated upon his arrival in Afghanistan. The enemy army had a stockpile of Stark Industries weapons. Tony could use those for parts and then supply a list of anything else he would need to build the missile. And when the missile was completed, the man would set Tony free.

“No, he won't,” Tony mumbled under his breath, at the same time tentatively shaking the enemy's hand.

“No, he won't,” Tony's companion agreed.

The two men were returned to the cave and were set to work.

“I'll be dead in a week,” Tony said.

“Then this is a very important week for you,” his companion replied.

Tony got to work immediately. He barked orders for everything he'd need for the project. And light—he needed more light to be able to work effectively. Men rushed in and out of the cell with munitions, wiring, batteries—all supplied somehow or other by Stark Industries.

Tony and his partner, whose name he learned was Yinsen, worked tirelessly, welding, soldering, melting metals in ingots and pouring it into molds. They rarely rested. But when one of them
was
resting, the other was always working. They established a twenty-four-hour operation, all while they were under the trained eye of their captors, who observed them through webcams strategically placed throughout the cell.

Their captors knew all about war, but nothing about science. So when Tony completed his first project, they had no way of knowing that the result was a palladium-fueled Arc Reactor. He would use it in place of the unreliable battery-powered magnet that was keeping him alive. It could power his heart for fifty lifetimes.…

Or it could power something huge for fifteen minutes.

Tony had a plan.

He unrolled a series of blueprints. The paper was transparent enough to see through the overlapping sheets. Tony shifted them strategically, so that a portion of each blueprint overlapped another—like a complex jigsaw puzzle. Yinsen raised his eyebrows as he examined the prints. It was like nothing he'd ever seen before. And it certainly wasn't the Jericho missile that their captors were expecting.

CHAPTER FOUR

TONY AND YINSEN
worked furiously to com-plete their project. Tony's blueprints showed a huge suit of armor, powered by his Arc Reactor. The armor was large and thick enough to keep whoever was inside it protected, and it was fitted with simple but effective weapons. The reactor should have been able to power it long enough for Tony and Yinsen to make a clean getaway.

But as the suit began to take shape—the chest plate intact, the legs operating—even the captors, who didn't know much about science, began to suspect something was up. The materials that the duo were developing looked nothing like the Jericho blueprints. The captors stormed into Tony and Yinsen's cell and demanded an explanation.

Tony and Yinsen explained that it was a very complicated project. Building a missile was not easy. The enemy guard was not buying it.

“You have till tomorrow to assemble my missile,” the leader of the enemy unit snarled. Then he stormed from the cell and locked the two engineers inside once again.

Tony and Yinsen worked more furiously than before, and in a matter of hours it was ready to use. Yinsen quickly helped Tony suit up in the clunky armor. It looked like a huge iron tank, with a medieval-style mask and makeshift munitions. As soon as Tony was suited up, he made sure to stay out of view from the surveillance cameras to avoid arousing suspicion. It worked, with the captors noticing that Tony was missing right away. They rushed down to the cell to investigate.

The guards called through the door to Yinsen, asking where Tony was. But they were speaking a language that Yinsen wasn't familiar with. Yinsen called out to them using the few words he knew in order to hold off the men, but they threw open the door to storm in.

A huge blast rocked the entrance to the cell the moment the door clicked open. Yinsen and Tony had rigged it to buy themselves time in the event that they were interrupted while assembling the armor. The blast rocked the compound, and the remaining enemy troops stormed down to the cell. Tony and Yinsen could hear the approach of their stomping feet and rattling ammunition as the two men anxiously finished preparing the suit.

As the soldiers marched closer, Yinsen realized that he and Tony would not be able to power up the suit before the men arrived. “We need more time,” he said. “I will buy you more time.…”

He grabbed a machine gun from one of the fallen guards and stormed out of the cell, hollering. The soldiers were taken aback and held off approaching the cell. But they soon located Yinsen and surrounded him. Every one of the soldiers' guns was pointed at him. A chorus of clicks sounded. Just before they were about to shoot, the lights in the compound cut out.

Tony's suit had powered up, and in doing so had drained all the electricity in the complex. The soldiers scouted the area, not sure how or if to proceed. They carefully made their way down the corridor, feeling their way as they went. Some eventually arrived at the cell. They entered apprehensively, unsure of what awaited them.

And that's when Iron Man attacked.

Tony stepped from the darkness into the few shafts of light that made their way into the cell. Glimpses of the suit were visible, but the soldiers couldn't make out exactly what they were up against. As Tony stepped from the room, that all changed.

Tony's armor was a monolithic suit of metal, fitted with special devices. The enemy soldiers fired relentlessly, but their bullets couldn't penetrate Tony's suit. They ricocheted off and boomeranged back toward his attackers. Tony walked, undeterred, toward the open air, and as he did more and more soldiers descended upon him. But no matter their number, they couldn't stop Iron Man from moving forward. The heavy suit caused Tony to walk in a lumbering way, but that didn't prevent him from getting where he needed to go.

When he was almost at the exit, he found Yinsen. But he was badly wounded and laying on the ground.

“Yinsen!” Tony called out. “Come on! We've got to go! We have a plan, we've got to stick to it.”

“This was always the plan, Stark,” Yinsen said with the little bit of life he had left in him. “Don't waste…Don't waste your life, Stark.…” This plea was the last that Yinsen uttered.

Tony turned angrily toward the exit of the cave that housed the compound. He lumbered forward and stepped outside. As soon as he did, the enemy unleashed all their fire on him. He must have been hit with hundreds—or thousands—of rounds of ammunition, but nothing penetrated his armor. When the enemy paused their fire, Tony challenged, “
My
turn,” and lifted his giant metal arms.

Streams of fire flowed from his suit, igniting the air around him and forcing back his opponents. Tony turned his streams of fire toward the Stark Industries stockpile that the enemy army had amassed outside the cave. The weapons began to burn, and Tony knew it wasn't long before they would detonate. He lifted a flap under the cuff of his armor and pressed a red button. The suit began to rattle, and then it shot like a rocket high into the air, arcing away from the site. Tony could hear the ammunition exploding below him. He was a few hundred feet in the air when he felt the suit begin to sputter. Tony flailed his arms and legs, struggling to find some way to stay aloft. Then the power cut out altogether and Tony plummeted down into the vacant expanse of the Afghan desert, far from where anyone might find him.

CHAPTER FIVE

TONY WANDERED
the desert under the oppressive heat of the Afghan sun for weeks. Or was it hours? Perhaps it was days, or years…Minutes, seconds, hours—everything was running together. The desert wind whipped at his feet and blew him every which way, like sand in a jostled hourglass.

He needed water. He needed food. He needed rest. But if he closed his eyes for a second, he might never open them again.

Tony ambled about as he attempted to keep his footing. But it was becoming more difficult to control his muscles, and the dunes' uneven surfaces were complicating matters.

Tony began to lose his focus. In his disorientated state, the whole world seemed to be turning white. He couldn't tell where the sand ended and the sky began, or if the shimmering he observed on the horizon was a forgiving pool of water or a cruel mirage. Above him, sound seemed to swirl like the amplified beating of vulture wings, or the hungry moan of an angel of death. As the sound grew louder, Tony could feel the wind pick up. He looked up and was sure that he saw huge dark figures soaring overhead.

Tony squinted, then he filled with hope. These were no birds or supernatural beings, they were US military choppers! Tony felt a burst of adrenaline. He began to jump up and down, waving his arms furiously, acutely aware that this could be his only chance to be rescued.

The whirlybirds banked and swooped back toward Tony, who broke down in hysterical laughter, delirious from the heat and fatigue. The copters landed and a dozen soldiers rushed out. They held their weapons at the ready, but they began to drop them as they drew closer to Tony. He collapsed onto his knees at the sight of his close friend James “Rhodey” Rhodes, who was an officer with the US Air Force.

“Next time, you ride with me, okay?” Rhodey said.

Tony grinned, only half conscious, and Rhodey pulled him close, happy to see his friend alive.

It was a long ride back. On the way, Rhodey helped Tony rehydrate and cleaned him up a bit. Once they arrived at base, Tony was fully examined and sutured up. Rhodey had known well enough to have one of Tony's tailored suits ready for him, and Tony shaved and made himself look as dapper as he could. Even beat up and bruised, Tony looked every bit the billionaire playboy he was. It was just his way.

Rhodey helped him to into a wheelchair and they boarded an Air Force jet for their long journey home. Tony mostly slept on the flight. After months in captivity and who-knows-how-long wandering the desert, the voyage didn't seem all that terrible. When the jet landed and the gangplank descended, Tony was even able to step up from his chair, supported by Rhodey. As the two men walked slowly down the gangway, a medic approached them with a stretcher.

“Are you kidding me with this? Get rid of it,” Tony said dismissively.

Crowds of military personnel below were awaiting his arrival, but Tony locked eyes on the one person besides Rhodey that he had actually been concerned about never seeing again.

“Hm. Your eyes are red,” he said as he approached the woman, who with her suit, pulled-back hair, and made-up face looked as out of place as Tony on the airfield. “A few tears for your long-lost boss?”

“Tears of joy,” Pepper Potts joked. “I hate job-hunting.”

“Yeah, vacation's over,” Tony said.

The two of them entered a waiting car.

“Where to, sir?” The driver asked.

“Take us to the hospital please,” Pepper responded to Tony's driver, “Happy” Hogan.

“No.” Tony cut her off.

“No? You have to go to the hospital; you have to see a doctor; the doctor needs to look at you.…”

“‘No' is a complete answer. I don't have to do anything.…I've been in captivity for three months, there are a few things I
want
. Two. One, I want an American cheeseburger, and the other is I want you to call for a press conference now.”

“Call for a press conference? What on earth for?” Pepper asked, still arguing with her boss.

“Hogan, drive. Cheeseburger first,” Tony demanded.

* * *

After a quick stop at a burger joint, Tony's car wheeled up to Stark Industries headquarters. The roar of applause from his staff was deafening as Tony stepped from his vehicle. And one man, Tony's second-in-command, Obadiah Stane, ran to Tony and embraced him.

“Hey, hey! Look who's here!” Obadiah said joyfully, hugging Tony tight. He ushered Tony past cheering crowds of Stark employees and hoards of media and press.

Pepper Potts looked on, relieved to have Tony back in mostly one piece. She smiled as camera bulbs flashed and members of the press swarmed around her boss.

Almost unseen, a suited man approached and stepped up beside her.

“Ms. Potts?”

“Yes,” Pepper replied.

“Can I speak to you for a moment?”

“I'm not part of the press conference, but it's about to begin right now.”

He handed her his credentials. “I'm not a reporter. I'm agent Phil Coulson with the Strategic Homeland Intervention, Enforcement, and Logistics Division.”

“That's quite a mouthful.”

“I know, we're working on it.…”

“You know, we've been approached already by the DOD, the FBI, the CIA…”

“We're a separate division with a more specific focus. We need to debrief Mr. Stark about the circumstances of his escape.”

“I'll put something on the books, shall I?”

“Thank you,” Agent Coulson said, then he stepped away as Obadiah Stane took the podium.

Tony sat with his back against the front of the podium. He unwrapped his cheeseburger.

“Hey, would it be all right if everyone sat down?”

The gathered crowd looked around at the chairless room.

“Just sit down. That way, you can see me and I can…It's a little less formal.…”

Obadiah stepped out from behind the podium and sat down on the stage next to Tony.

“Good to see you,” Tony said to Stane, who smiled back broadly.

“What's up with the love-in?” Rhodey whispered to Pepper.

“Don't ask me, I don't know what he's up to,” Pepper responded.

Tony turned to the audience and began his press conference.

“I never got to say good-bye to my father. I never got to ask him about what this company did. If he was ever conflicted, if he ever had doubts. Or maybe he was every inch the man we all remember from the newsreels.

“I saw young Americans killed by the very weapons I created to defend them and protect them. And I saw that I had become part of a system that is comfortable with zero accountability.”

Obadiah glared at Tony, and the audience, which Tony had clearly made uncomfortable with his frankness, began to cautiously ask questions.

“What happened over there?” a young reporter asked.

“I had my eyes opened. I came to realize that I have more to offer this world than just making things to blow up, and that is why, effective immediately, I am shutting down the weapons-manufacturing division of Stark Industries…”

The room exploded in an uproar of gasps and questions. Obadiah stepped up to the podium, smiling as broadly as he had since Tony arrived home. Pepper and Rhodey looked on slack-jawed as Tony, now standing as well, was swarmed by reporters.

Obadiah attempted to usher Tony off the stage, but Tony persisted. “Until such a time as I can decide what the future of this company should be, what direction it should take, one that I'm comfortable with and is consistent with the highest good for this country as well.”

Tony stepped off the stage and out of the room, and Obadiah quickly grabbed the microphone, still wearing his broad smile but scrambling for a way to manage the situation.

“Okay!” Obadiah began. “What we should take from this is that Tony's back! And he's healthier than ever. We're going to have a little, um, internal discussion, and we'll get back to you with a follow-up.”

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