“My name is Tony Stark and I am Iron Man.” I’m almost tired of saying it. I almost wish – almost, for a second – I was capable of keeping a thought in my slightly undersized head. That I could keep a single secret or pithy remark to myself. If I could just keep to myself, I could be the world’s shiniest street vigilante.
Well, second shiniest, behind a fully worked-up and sweaty Luke Cage. I’ve asked him on more than one occasion to try experimenting with using his head as a retroreflector for in-battle telemetry, but he thinks I’m just making bald jokes. I would never, for the record, make fun of Q-Ball’s hairless melon and frankly only a baldy like him would even think that way.
I mean the marketing opportunities alone! We’re back to the burden of being billionaire and known superhero Tony Stark, here, if you’re not keeping up. I should hyperlink everyday conversations… Note to self: make a note to Friday to make a note to me to invent something like that.
If I were a secret vigilante I could invent a terrible, tragic backstory for the media, something campy and dramatic like my parents dying before my young, innocent eyes. Or just let the world speculate: Is He Man or Machine? They could make me a licensed Transformer.
There would be extraordinary monetary benefit to hiding my identity. Significant. The money I spend just defending my home is outrageous. Botswana spends less on defense. That’s not a joke – I have it on great authority from Miss Potts that the numbers are, if anything, conservative.
And then there’s the benefit to my free time. Now, far be it for me to bemoan the lifestyle of a decorated world-renowned certifiable extra-super-hero, but sometimes I do miss the humdrum old-fashioned days of living as a billionaire drug-addict playboy. I could be, right now, with a beautiful nude woman, hovering above Central Park in a levitating nuclear-heated jacuzzi of my own design and manufacture, and instead I’m on a nondescript soundstage in the NBC building recording local PSA’s.
“Alright Mr. Stark, resetting. Next up: Tallahassee,” shouts some pretentious director in a frankly ludicrously tall chair.
“Happy, I think we should seriously consider initiating Operation Red Diamond.” To the world it may look like I’m muttering to myself like an insane madman, but in reality I’m communicating with my best-friend-bodyguard using a bone conduction earpiece I designed myself in a fit of depressed mania. Like a completely sane madman.
“Tony Stark has never met a problem he couldn’t solve with an ICBM,” comes Happy’s inevitable rejoinder. He thinks he’s clever with his snark, but I hear the faint sounds of an artist named Jewel in the background. The clarion tones are so crisp, so clear, with so little loss in the mids and lows, it could only mean one thing.
“Happy, do you remember me? Because I remember you. And since you’re hanging out back at the jet instead of enduring this publicity dog-and-pony show, I’d sugg–”
“Uh, hey, Tony–”
“Happy I’ve told you never to interrupt me while I’m cranky.” But then I notice it. No one is staring at the amazing, shining Man of Iron beneath the dazzling studio lights. They’ve all turned away, staring at flat-screens on the wall, all of them showing the same thing. I hear Happy say something about “a situation” but I’ve already ignited my thrusters and noted the donation I’m going to have to make to NBC for repairing their wall.
I fly to five-thousand feet and see it in the distance, what the camera feed was showing.
Even with a better look, there’s just nothing remarkable about this thing. It looks to be perfectly spherical, no obvious means of propulsion, the deepest, purest black I’ve ever seen, and it’s just hanging in the sky. I speed toward it, and it doesn’t move at all. No shifting in the wind, no wobble from oscillations in thruster output. It must be the size of a city block and it’s as still as my soldering hand.
When I get within a mile I start scanning all known hailing frequencies. This thing doesn’t want to talk and doesn’t want to listen. Or it communicates in a way I’ve never even heard of. So to speak. There doesn’t seem to be anything to latch onto to try to hack, either. It’s just a giant, floating black ball. So, okay, screw it, Plan F. Let’s go old fashioned.
“Friday, voice mode: crowd control.”
“Volume at maximum, sir.”
“Hey, terrifying ominous sphere? Here on Earth we introduce ourselves when we come to a new area – I’ll start. My name is Tony Stark, and I am Iron Man. Ask anybody. Now, you are…?”
Silence. Complete silence. My sensors are picking up birds a thousand feet away but this thing is as cold and quiet as death itself.
“Friday, hail Nick Fury.”
“Calling. First attempt.”
It doesn’t finish ringing once.
“I don’t know what the hell that thing is, either, Stark, and why, exactly, are you out there alone?” You know, behind that tough exterior of his, believe it or not, is an even tougher exterior that has been painstakingly hidden away through years of practice and speeches from HR reps.
“I’m doing well, thanks, and yourself?”
“Best we can tell this thing entered the atmosphere with hardly a whisper. Either no one noticed, or appeared out of nowhere. No energy spikes, nothing. The Russians are saying it’s the Chinese, the Chinese aren’t saying anything, and the goddamned Canadians are – “
“Well, I can tell you it’s not Chinese, that’s for sure. God knows what the canucks are up to though.” Might as well fly around and see if I can find an entrance of some kind. Or any kind of crease or line at all that might indicate this isn’t just a single cast piece of whatever the hell this is. I’m running the tips of my metal fingers along the outside, puttering along below Mach 1, looking for anything – anything – and not even getting a spark.
If I were to engineer a giant spherical monolith, where would I put the door handle?
“This looks to be maybe a metallic alloy, or… almost like a polished obsidian… But, Fury, this thing’s impenetrable. I can’t find anything to grab onto, physical or digital, to even start piecing together what it—”
“Which is why I’m telling you to stand down and wait for backup.”
“Aw, just one more minute, Ma! If I can maybe – oh, wait, action.”
A blade of light had opened, bright and golden, like an eye might, a straight line growing and becoming round as it did. When my displays adjusted to the brightness, I cold see a long cylindrical tunnel, lighter in color than the exterior, leading deep inside.
“Fury, I think I found an entrance. Or at least something that might do in a pinch.”
“We have specialists on the way to assist, Tony, just man the perimeter until our team arrives.”
“Specialists? More special than me?”
Then everything went brilliant white. And the heat, how instant it was, how it pierced through my armor like it wasn’t there at all; I never saw it coming.