- Canon Divergent
“Sir,” Jarvis began, waking Tony from a fitful sleep. “There are SHIELD agents entering the property.”
It was two weeks since Tony had entered SHIELD headquarters, he was in talks with his lawyers about possible legal action and when it should be put in motion. He hadn’t heard anything from Pirate Spy and his band of merry agents in that time.
“Any sign of hostile intent?” he asked. He was on his feet and pulling on a pair of jeans and a long-sleeved sweatshirt.
“Not as yet, sir,” Jarvis replied. “It appears that Agent Coulson is leading a group to the front door. They appear to be carrying several boxes and cargo crates.”
Tony smiled and headed for the door. He opened it just before Coulson could knock and leaned on the door frame. “Good morning, Agent,” he said. “Is that all for me?”
“Sign here, Mr. Stark.” Coulson, unsmiling, handed him a data pad. “These are all of the items that we know of that were labeled property of Howard Stark.”
Tony stepped back, not taking the pad, but motioned for it to be placed on a small table next to the door.
“Thank you, Agent,” Tony replied. He looked over the manifest briefly. “You can put it all right there.” He pointed to an empty patch of the floor before signing the release form.
“I trust that you will refrain from suing us now,” Coulson said tightly.
“For the moment,” Tony said. “Everything seems to be in order, but I’ll let you know.”
The two of them stared at each other for a long moment. “We aren’t the enemy, Mr. Stark.”
“But you also aren’t a friend,” Tony replied quietly. “Trust is a commodity that I have very little left to give.”
“Perhaps in the future…” Coulson offered.
“We’ll see,” Tony acknowledged.
He very pointedly stayed at his door and watched them leave before closing the door and looking at the pile. He grabbed a hand truck from the lab and proceeded to bring everything down into the newly secured area. “Jarvis, scan everything for tracking and listening devices,” he ordered.
“Right away, sir.”
Tony looked at an old metal storage box, there was something familiar about it. It was sealed with security tape and several heavy padlocks. The entire thing was covered in a thick layer of dust except where the moving crew had needed to touch it. The locks were rusty from disuse and there was no sign of a key in the rest of the things. He grabbed a pair of bolt cutters and opened it.
The content of the box was a surprise. Pictures, notebooks, several old film reels and an old photograph of Howard standing next to Steve Rogers and Peggy Carter. They were in turn surrounded by the Howling Commandos, including Bucky Barnes.
There was a journal in the bottom, one of the types that Howard had always used when working on a personal project. Tony flipped through it casually at first but stopped when the equations caught his attention. It was the same equations that were used to create the arc reactor.
Tony looked at it closely, turning each page slowly, until he came across an odd diagram of a box within a box-shaped. He knew that shape, he remembered it from when it was little. A photograph slipped out from between the pages and fell to the floor. He bent and picked it up, blinking at the picture. It was the cube from his childhood, the one that had burned his hands when he held it. It glowed with an inner light. On the back of the photograph was written “Tesseract”.
Later that evening, he set up an old reel to reel projector to play the film. It turned out to be raw footage of the film his father had created when he had opened the Stark Exposition in Queens back in the late seventies.
It shocked him that he had no memory of the moment the little boy he had been stepped into the frame trying to play with the models on the table. Howard yelled at him to stop playing, calling his mother in to ‘deal with him’. It was a gut punch to see his mother even for that fleeting moment. She had been so young especially when compared to Howard.
Tony remembered the model, vaguely, but not the cameras or his father’s anger. But then there were so many moments that he seemed to anger his father that is all blurred together into a feeling of constant disappointment and fear.
“Tony,” Howard said in a tone that caught his attention when he had been looking away. He looked up to see his father looking directly at the camera. “Tony, I don’t know if you’ll ever see this, but I wanted to get this down in case… Just in case.”
Howard paused and looked down at the model. “I built this for you. You’re too young to understand at the moment, but… I’m limited by the technology available to me. The arc reactor works, but it is too expensive in its current configuration. I know there is a way around this.” His hands spread across the model. “One day you’ll figure this out for yourself and on that day, you’ll change the world.” Howard looked supremely uncomfortable. “But what you need to know, more than anything, that I am blown away by you. You’re so young and so smart. I’m terrified by the potential I can see in you even now. I couldn’t have asked for a better successor, but I’m selfish and jealous of the future that you have waiting for you.” He looked away from the camera to something past it before looking straight into it again. “No matter the awards, no matter the accolades that I’ve received over the years, please know that you are my greatest creation.”
“Jarvis, check Stark Industries storage archive,” Tony said as the reel ended. “See if the scale model of the Stark Expo from the seventies still exists.”
“One moment, sir,” Jarvis said. “It does indeed. It was put into storage in the main office in Los Angeles.”
“Call the office there, have someone from the archive room find the model and have it set up in one of the labs with the 3D scanner and wireframe projector,” Tony said. “I’ll be there in the morning, I’ll expect full access now that the injunction has been lifted.” He grabbed his cellphone and dialed.
“Tony? What’s going on?” Pepper asked.
“I need you to reschedule the meetings for this week,” Tony said. “I’m flying back to LA for a few days.”
“Flying back-” Pepper sounded exasperated. “What on earth for? We have a meeting with the planning board about the sight for Stark Tower and a press conference in three days about the reorganization of SI. You can’t just fly back there for no good reason.”
“This isn’t some whim,” Tony sighed. “I have… fuck. I have a medical issue that I need to take care of before it becomes a serious problem.”
“Medical…” Pepper trailed off. “Is this about the reactor? Are you sick?”
“I’m not sick… yet,” Tony admitted. “Look, I don’t want to talk about this over the phone, but I can’t delay this for long. I’m flying to LA in a few hours. I will explain it all to you when I get back, okay?”
“Tony, you can’t just drop a statement like that with no explanation,” Pepper said heatedly. “You have a responsibility to the company. You’re the CEO and Chairman of the Board. I’m just your PA, I can’t do this for you.”
Tony paused, caught in that thought. He could do that, he should do that. Pepper was the most capable person he had ever met. She was a terrifying powerhouse of determination and patience. She had been dealing with him for years and had never wavered, even during his worst moments. She could handle anything SI for him.
“Not yet, but I would like it if you became my Chairman of the Board,” Tony said calmly.
“I- WHAT?!” Pepper exclaimed. Her voice echoed through the elevator doors as they opened to reveal her. She marched into the lab space her face flushed. “Repeat that to my face.”
“We’ve been looking to rebuild the company, with half the board gone the restructuring has been slowed down because of legal and personal issues on my part,” Tony scrubbed a hand through his hair. “You know the ins and outs of SI as well as I do, better if I was honest. I can’t be there all the time, not with what I need to do as Iron Man.”
“You don’t need to be Iron Man anymore,” Pepper said. “We have the State Department and the DOD baying for your blood as it is.”
“They’re pissed because I took out one of the nests of terrorists they had been trying to court into working with them,” Tony waved her off. “The group that was kidnapping and selling children. Yeah, they can be pissed all they want, that wasn’t going to fly.” He sighed, not wanting to talk about how the US government was already pushing him to turn over the suit to them. That wasn’t going to happen, not ever.
She looked around the room at all the dusty boxes. “What is all this?”
“SHIELD coughed up some of my old man’s property,” Tony said.
“You said you’re not sick ‘yet’,” Pepper said with narrow eyes. “And you want to make me Chairman of the Board of SI. What is going on?”
Tony turned to face her, his hand touching his chest just over the reactor. “So, remember when you helped me put the new reactor in my chest?”
“How can I forget?” Pepper replied. “The giant hole in your chest, the puss…”
“Not puss,” Tony sighed. “It is an inorganic-
“Discharge from the reactor,” Pepper finished for him. “Yes, yes, what are you trying to tell me?”
“The discharge contains small quantities of palladium,” Tony said. “Palladium, being a heavy metal, isn’t exactly good for my health.”
“The reactor is poisoning you,” Pepper said slowly. “But you can’t take it out because of the shrapnel.” She covered her mouth with her hands. “Oh god, Tony.”
“Yeah,” Tony tried to smile, but it didn’t quite work. “I have a lead on a possible replacement, but I need to go back to LA to check.”
“How long do you have?” Pepper asked, all seriousness.
“I have a while yet,” Tony replied. ” A few months tops.”
“Months?” Pepper pale skin went white. “How can you be so calm about this?”
“The palladium poisoning is currently being mitigated by a chelation treatment, in the form of a chlorophyll emulsion which Sir has been drinking every day for the last several months,” Jarvis said.
“Thank you, Jarvis,” Tony replied.
“You’ve known all along that the reactor has been poisoning you,” Pepper realized.
“Yes,” Tony replied, not meeting her eyes. “I didn’t want you to worry. There has been so much going on, it was something I could put off for a while.”
“But you can’t put it off forever,” she said.
“No, Tony admitted. “Time is running out.”
“I’ll see what I can do about the planning board and the press conference,” Pepper replied.
“Thank you,” Tony replied.
“You didn’t have to hide this, Tony,” she replied. “You know you can trust me.”
“I know.” Tony didn’t look at her. “I know I should be able to. I want to.”
“I know that what Obadiah did hurt you in ways I may never understand,” Pepper said gently. “But you’re starting to isolate yourself and that isn’t healthy.”
“I’m fine,” Tony replied.
“You’re not,” she replied.
“I will be,” Tony promised.
The moment Tony stepped out of the Rolls getting ready to climb into his private jet, a woman appeared near the car. She was dressed in a business suit and her hair was pulled back in a tight bun.
“Mr. Stark,” she greeted him.
“Can I help you?” he asked.
“Consider yourself served,” she said with a winning smile, handing him an envelope. “Compliments of the US Senate.”
Tony looked at it for a long moment before Hogan took it and placed it on the roof of the car. Tony picked it up from there and opened it, even as the woman walked away without looking back.
“Tell the pilot we need to change the flight plan,” Tony sighed. “We’re going to DC instead.” He slapped the papers down across his high in frustration. He wondered briefly if he was getting some sort of Karmic payback for threatening to sue SHIELD.
He called Pepper on the flight to let her know what was going on, she was not going to be able to make it to the hearing the next day since he had her taking care of things in New York. However she did inform Brad Carmichael, the lawyer from SI Legal that had helped with their other recent problems. He was already in DC dealing with the Pentagon and the few on going military contracts that they could not simply cancel.
By the time Tony arrived at Ronald Regan International, Carmichael had arranged for a brief of what do expect from the hearing. That said hearing was practically put together overnight and the summons had blindsided nearly everyone, it was quite obvious what the Senate wanted. Tony read through it in the limo as he headed for the Capital Building.
Tony marched up the steps and into the Senate Armed Services Committee chamber with a smile on his face. He was greeted by the dower faces of multiple senators and members of the press and the military. As he approached the seat he was to take, he saw Rhodey sitting to one side, his expression guarded.
“Hey, Rhodey,” Tony greeted. “They roped you into this too?”
“I’m here at the pleasure of the President,” Rhodey said tightly. “They’re gonna try and take your suit.”
“Over my dead body,” Tony replied through a shark-toothed smile. He took his seat and waited while the proceedings got underway. He was asked to rise and swear to tell the truth. Then the questions started.
They tried to strong-arm him into handing over his suit, they tried to threaten him with penalties against his company if he refused. Then, Senator Stern called on Rhodey and Justin Hammer to call into question not just Tony’s motives, but the possibility that enemies of the state had been inspired to create their own versions of the suit.
“Mr. Stark, is it not true that the Iron Man suit is a very dangerous weapon,” Senator Stern asked.
“That is not how I would describe it, no,” Tony replied.
“Then how would you describe it?” the senator demanded.
“I call it a high tech prosthesis,” Tony said. “I and the suit are one. You can not have one without the other and as your demand that I turn it over, that would be tantamount to indentured servitude or involuntary conscription, both of which are illegal. I don’t see that ever happening.”
“Mr. Stark,” Senator Stern opened a file and smirked. “Is it not true that prior to creating the Iron Man suit, you had received stolen United States property?”
“Excuse me?” Tony said, taken aback.
“Senator Stern,” Senator Riley turned to the other in surprise. “What are you talking about?”
“In 1979 you received stolen government property,” Senator Stern said. “Given to you by your father, Howard Stark and you failed to report it to the proper authorities.”
“Senator Stern might not be aware of this, but I was born in 1970,” Tony said. “And despite the notion that I might have been mature for my age, I was in fact only nine years old at the time.”
“Don’t say anything else,” Carmichael said into Tony’s ear. “I don’t care if you know what he is talking about or not, but don’t answer it. It doesn’t matter if it might be true, you were a minor and not responsible for the actions of your father.”
“Senator Stern,” Senator Riley barked. “You are out of order.”
“It is relevant to these proceedings,” Senator Stern insisted. “I have documentation that Stark was injected with a sample of the original Super Soldier Serum from the famed Project Rebirth. As the stolen property now resides in your body, you are to be considered government property, just like Steve Rogers once was. Therefore we own your ass and anything that was created by you since the time of the injection. Therefore, the Iron Man armor belongs to the US government.”
The crowd around them erupted into loud comments, photographers were taking pictures.
“Senator Stern!” Senator Riley shouted over the growing din. “What is this nonsense?”
“Do you deny it?” Senator Stern demanded.
“Senator,” Tony began slowly. “You are claiming that my genius, my creativity, my ability to learn was given to me by some magic potion. A potion that I was supposedly given when I was nine years old and that because I could never have been as smart as I am without artificial enhancement. That because of said potion, given at the age of nine, that was supposedly made by the government, any and all intellectual property that belongs to me, actually belongs to the government. Is that what you’re saying?”
“That is exactly what I’m saying, Mr. Stark,” Senator Stern said arrogantly.
“Then it may come as a surprise to you that I was three years old when I created my first electrical diagram,” Tony said. “That I built my first circuit board when I was four years old and my first engine when I was six. I personally owned my first patent when I was seven.” He stood, straightening his jacket as he did so. “The only thing that I had, according to your accusation, was the brains I was born with. If I was somehow imbued with genius when I was supposedly injected, then I wouldn’t have been able to do what I did at such a young age.”
“Answer the question, Stark,” Stern demanded.
“I find the claim that the man named Steve Rogers, who was later given the moniker Captain America was actually the property of the US government, highly disturbing,” Tony said, ignoring him. “Are you saying that if the good captain hadn’t died, that he wouldn’t have been allowed to enjoy the freedoms that he and the rest of his generation fought for? That Captain America would have been locked up in some lab somewhere for the rest of his life? Only to be let out when the country had need?” Tony signaled to his lawyer that he was going to leave. “If that is the case, Senator, then I can only assume that is my fate as well? Are you planning on taking control of my company, my patents, and my personal property because you believe that I belong to you?”
“Only if you don’t cooperate with this committee,” Stern replied.
“Then I’d say we’re done,” Tony replied. “I’m not a science experiment, I’m not a poster boy for selling war bonds. You want my property, well guess what? You can’t have it and you can’t have me. I’m happy to help, but I am not now nor will I ever be anyone’s dancing monkey.”
“Fuck you, Stark,” Stern shouted into the mike. “You’ll give us what we want or you can find your ass in a jail cell.”
Senator Riley grabbed the gavel off the desk, striking it on the table hard three times, said quickly, “This hearing is adjourned. Mr. Stark you are free to go with our thanks for your time here.”
“What the fuck?” Rhodey said, suddenly at Tony’s elbow, following him out of the chamber.
“Not now, Rhodey,” Tony turned toward the press that was surrounding them. “I will serve this country at the pleasure of myself.” He gave a showman’s grin. “And if you know anything about me, you’ll know that I never hesitate to pleasure myself.” He did a pirouette and a slight bow before exiting the room.
It wasn’t until they were in the safety of the limousine that Tony went deadly serious. “Carmichael, I want whatever file that was in Stern’s hands.”
“I’ll work on it,” he promised. “For now, I need to know the truth.”
“Something happened when I was nine,” Tony admitted. “I have no memory of it, but I know something happened. I was kidnapped, I was hurt, and I got better.”
“Alright,” Carmichael nodded. “I can work with that. If your father did something to you, you are in no way responsible for it.”
“I know,” Tony sighed. “But what I want to know is how a weasel, like Stern, had anything even pointing to that. The people that were there at the time are either dead or no longer capable of telling anyone anything.”
“Does anyone else know?” Carmichael asked.
“My AI knows,” Tony said. “And the current director of SHIELD, Nike Fury, knows that something about what happened. Just how much he knows is up for debate, since he worked with one of the people who was there for a long time.”
“So it is highly possible that Senator Stern has a classified file on you from SHIELD,” Carmichael said. “The question is who gave it to him and why would he bring it up in the committee meeting?”
“We need a copy of that file,” Tony said. “And we need it yesterday.” He pulled out his phone. “Jarvis, get into Senator Stern’s office and find anything he has about me. Also track his and his staffs’ movement for the last month. Find out if any of them have had contact with anyone from SHIELD.”
“Right away, sir,” Jarvis replied. “I should inform you that the lab at SI LA is ready for use. The V.S.P.E is being assembled as we speak and will be ready for use as per your instructions.”
“Excellent,” Tony sighed. “Let the lab know I’ll be there in a day or two.”
“VSPE?” Carmichael asked.
“Very Small Particle Accelerator,” Tony said. “I’m about to make a scientific breakthrough and I possibly change the face of energy production on this planet at the same time.”
“While restructuring SI and dealing with a Senate inquiry?”
“Well, I’m really good at multitasking,” Tony said with a shrug.
End part 18