Tony was outnumbered by about twelve to one, and at least half of them had automatic weapons. If he had his armor, that would mean exactly zip. But he didn’t have it. He figured the only thing keeping him alive was the fact Hammer took his submarine pilot with him and no one aboard the Villa had any idea how to drive this monstrosity. Tony didn’t really know how to drive either, but no one else knew that. Claiming he could do it earned him the cutting of the zip-ties around his wrists and then faking it managed to buy a few more small advantages. He was a bit surprised he got away with shutting off the navigational sonar and telling his captors that the fish-finder was their only sensor.
The Navy had been sporting enough to further his bluff by hightailing it out of range of the inferior instrument, thus giving the bad guys that lovely sense of false security. He highly doubted the nuclear subs would have been so charitable had Rhodey not been able to report the Mark V was out of terrorist hands. But the whole point to the bluff was to give War Machine a chance to get his armored butt down here and get him out. That had been the plan, but once again, Hammer had thrown a wrench (no doubt forged in China of some cheap alloy) into Tony’s perfectly brilliant plans by sending not one, but three freaking Russian attack choppers, to keep Rhodey busy.
Actually, that was giving Hammer way too much credit. He probably just called for a taxi. Deshpande was more likely the one who thought Mi-24s with big guns and anti-submarine torpedoes might be prudent. No doubt they were highly pissed when War Machine came to greet them and Hammer didn’t show up with the Mark V.
So Rhodey had his hands full and Tony couldn’t fault him for it. Pepper, however, with that stubborn streak of hers, was dragging Bob down here anyway. It sounded like she planned to throw the Mark V back into the Villa, like she threw it out of the car in Monaco. But this was nothing like Monaco. The only person anyone had to worry about then had been Vanko, and his attention had been all on Tony. Here, there were a dozen armed terrorists to grab it. After all Tony endured to get it out of their hands, he couldn’t believe Pepper was going to give it back. The only thing that could be worse was if she got herself or Bob killed in the process.
Tony had told his captors the “killer whale” following them was a baby looking for its mama’s teat. Whether they believed it, or even understood his ridiculous lie, was anyone’s guess. But even if they did believe it at first, surely, all bets would be off when little Shamu ended up having a metallic docking collar and not a soft pink tongue. No one was going to listen to submarine safety tips and put their guns down when the whale feces hit the prop blade. Bullets were going to fly and he had no idea how to stop them.
Clang! Bob’s sub made the whole Villa sway when it coupled. Tony wanted to go down there so much it made his battered face throb all the harder, but he couldn’t think of a good enough excuse to get off the bridge. His only chance was to play dumb and hope Bob and Pepper were smart enough not to hand over the Mark V to terrorists. The HAL 9000 Protocol would only keep them from using the armor so long, and if they took his arc reactor too, all was lost. Of course, the Virginia and the Florida would probably blow the Villa out of the water once Tony, Bob, and Pepper were all dead, but that was hardly comforting.
Panicked Arabic shouts echoed all over the sub. They didn’t sound very happy. The Translator Guy grabbed Tony and shoved him into a console, face-first. Another man pressed a gun against his ear. They drew his hands behind his back and secured them once again in a zip-tie. Well, this is it. Take my reactor and I’m done.
His captors yelled at each other in Arabic, and then pushed him out the hatch. Surprisingly, his reactor was still in place and they were shoving him toward the docking collar. At least that was his guess, based on memory of the Phoenix blueprints, which he’d studied ages ago in Pepper’s apartment. Oh, so more hostage crap. These guys were so predictable.
From the number of guns pointed at the ceiling hatch which led to the docking collar, Tony reasoned they must have decided the SEALs had come back. He was going to play human shield in the shootout between terrorists (who thought death for their cause would transport them to box seats in a blissful afterlife) and some of the best trained soldiers in the free world.
Except Tony knew it wasn’t SEALs behind that hatch. It was a rag tag group of three: a middle-aged oceanography buff named Bob, who was definitely getting way more than he bargained for, the sub pilot whom Pepper had obstinately refused to let drown, and Pepper herself, the woman these guys had kidnapped. The only one who could possibly have a weapon was Bob, and what were the chances he’d brought anything on his research sub-marine, besides maybe a spear gun? He’d come out here with War Machine, who was a one-man arsenal by himself. Why would Bob need anything else?
Still, Tony was encouraged by his captors’ fear of the false SEALs. Playing the human shield was not a bad gig when one knew the attackers were not armed and it put him in the very spot he wanted, which was close to that hatch. If Pepper threw the suitcase down now, all he had to do was get to it before any of the gun-toting terrorists did. If he could manage to break free of Translator Guy holding onto him, and if he didn’t fall flat on his face because he had his hands tied, and if he didn’t get shot in the back, it might work.
He felt like Bill Murray in Ghostbusters. Great plan! I’m excited to be part of it! Knowing the odds were really crappy and not wanting to do it at all. But just like the movie, he had very little choice. The hatch resounded like a gong. They’d thrown the suitcase down first, just to make noise and create fear. Good. Fear would work in his favor... maybe. The wheel that opened the hatch turned slowly.
Translator Guy wrapped his left arm around Tony’s shoulders and locked him in a deathgrip. He wasn’t going to let go of his shield very easily. “Stop!” he yelled at the still-closed hatch. Tony heard a slight tremor in his voice, but it could have been adrenalin. “We kill Stark if you no leave.”
How many times did they seriously think SEALs would be willing to play that game? These goons had been lucky the SEALs had left the first time. Tony really wished they hadn’t gone. He might have died sooner, but at least Bob and Pepper wouldn’t be taking this crazy risk right now and possibly end up dead too.
He had very little time to reflect on the matter because the hatch’s round door swung down on squeaky hinges, followed by a flash of red and gold. The Mark VI! It landed on both feet with a metallic thud. Bob must have put it on, which was actually pretty smart. No arc reactor, so there would be no weapons or head’s up display, but who cared? His defense was perfect. The terrorists didn’t have rocket launchers, just bullets, and not even very large caliber. Best of all, he was carrying the Mark V suitcase.
Tony’s lips curled slightly. The Mark VI moved forward. Multiple weapons opened fire. The sound was deafening, both of the weapons’ discharge and the ricochets. A stray bullet hit one of the terrorists, but his scream of pain was lost in the chaos.
Tony winced. They weren’t near any windows, but it really, really wasn’t smart to be firing high-speed projectiles inside a pressurized can. And with all these ricochets in the narrow hall, he didn’t feel safe at all. At least Translator Guy freaked out enough to redirect his gun from Tony’s head to the advancing Mark VI. Unfortunately, he didn’t loosen the hold around his shoulders.
“Let him go!” called an electronically altered voice from the armor. It didn’t sound like Bob had sounded over the phone. A red metal hand extended, pointing at Translator Guy. The Mark VI moved steadily after the initial astonishment of finding oneself bulletproof.
“JARVIS, sound on,” Tony shouted over the din of gunfire. It occurred to him he could have done that much sooner. Losing the earbud was no longer a big deal.
“Put your foot out, Tony!” Pepper’s voice urged through heavy breathing.
Pepper? The clues coalesced in his mind. She was in the Mark VI. It was hard to resist the urge to deliver a snarky comeback, but bullets were flying literally everywhere and he would be stupid to ignore her urgent instruction. He thrust his left leg out so it was ahead of his right.
Bullets pinged off the armor, sending sparks in a cloud. The poor Mark VI still looked banged up from its last conflict with Whiplash, as Tony had spent all his time fixing War Machine first. The armored rescuer swung the suitcase back and launched it like a bowling ball. It slid smoothly across the metal floor and straight to his extended foot.
“Strike!” he declared, although not really to anyone else. The impact did rather sting his toe, but the armor formed so fast, he didn’t have time to process the pain. It was a good thing he’d reprogrammed it to form without needing anything but a single touch. He’d done that to give it a chance to protect Pepper, who didn’t know how to grab the gauntlets, or likely wouldn’t have been able to. How brilliant did he look now, as it ended up making it possible for him to suit up with his hands tied behind his back and his upper body held tight by a terrorist?
The Mark VI stopped its trek as soon as the suitcase was in motion, just like a bowler stopping at the foul line. Tony felt the Mark V form like a second skin, its cool metallic embrace traveling up his leg like stepping into a swimming pool, oblivious to his strained posture and restraints. The zip-tie snapped when the metal came between it and his wrists. In another half-second, the red and silver titanium alloy slithered effortlessly between his back and the chest of the terrorist trying to hold him. Hands now free, and shoulders encased in impermeable shell, he heard the hum as the arc reactor connected and powered everything up. He threw off the arms of his captor.
Translator Guy sprawled on the floor, looking back at Tony with shock painted on his face. He turned the gun straight between Tony’s eyes just as the faceplate snapped shut.
“Give it your best shot, Threepio.” Tony had meant it as a commentary on his insipidness and the fact he was acting as the translator, but once he said it, he had to grin because Iron Man looked a lot more like the sci-fi robot than the cowering terrorist. Tony turned his palms to hide his charging repulsors, truly offering a freebie, though it would not be without consequence.
Shouts from the other terrorists distracted them both. A retreating combatant almost trampled the downed translator. Tony grew tired of waiting for him to shoot and simply grabbed his gun and bent it in half.
The bad guys continued their stampede, although where they thought they could go, Tony couldn’t fathom. He targeted all their weapons, and let the Mark VI laser them too hot to handle before they made it out of the corridor. No one even tried to pick up what they dropped.
Now confident in his superior tactical position, Tony surveyed the room and figured out why everyone was in such a hurry to leave. Water spurted from a wall at fire-hose-like pressure. “JARVIS, is that a hull breach?”
His HUD zoomed in on a broken pipe behind the gushing. “No, sir. It appears to be plumbing damaged by gunfire. By the way, welcome back.”
“Thanks.” A quick laser solder sealed the leak. He turned to his rescuer. “Pepper?”
“Yeah,” she sighed, panting heavily. ‘Night on Bald Mountain’ played in the background. Although the eye slits were dark, he knew behind the faceplate, she was glaring in that ‘my nerves are shattered and don’t you ever make me do that again’ way of hers.
“You’re not going to quit again, are you? I mean, I told you to stay put and wait for Rhodey.”
Thanks would come later, when they were alone. He motioned her toward the docking hatch with a sweep of his arm. “Not a bad pass back there. Hurt my toe though.”
“Carry your own luggage and I won’t drop it on your foot.”
“You guys done playing around down there?” Rhodey’s voice cut in.
“Why, do you need help?” Tony’s arms were terribly stiff and his face still hurt, but he was pumped and ready to go kick butt on some Mi-24s.
“Nope. Three targets splashed. But Captain Mason wants to know what to do with Hammer and I’ve gotta get back to Bagram.”
“He’s willing to hand him over?”
“Well, probably not if you intend to kill him, but he’s open to other ideas. What do you think?”
Tony had promised not to kill him, but even if he hadn’t, Hammer wasn’t worth it. He was a sniveling coward and currently stripped of everything he’d ever counted on. So what did they do with his sorry butt? “There’s no reason we have to take him back to New York, is there?”
“The Virginia is headed to Portsmouth, but we’re in international waters right now. If you’ve got other ideas, we have to take care of it out here.”
“I think you should take him with you.”
“With me? I’m headed to Afghanistan!”
“Exactly.” Ten Rings was probably headquartered there and Hammer had just earned their undying hate with his failure.
“They’ll just send him back here,” Rhodey complained. Evidently, he still held a grudge over the Expo. He also knew military protocol pretty well.
“Hammer doesn’t know that. Tell him where you’re headed. When he begs you to take him ‘anywhere but there’ then you might get a sudden urge for a snack right over Monaco.”
“He’s wanted for murder there, from when he conspired to break Vanko out of prison.” Rhodey’s ‘aha’ was unspoken, but he understood.
“Yep. They petitioned for extradition, but his lawyers blocked it. Monaco needs their day in court.”
“But no fancy lawyers and no Club Fed. I like it.”
“Thought you might.”
Tony and Pepper arrived at the ladder leading up to the docking hatch. Someone was looking down from above. Tony retracted his faceplate and smiled back. “Bob?”
“No, Mr. Stark, Bob’s at the helm.” He thumbed over his shoulder. “I’m Mike. I was driving the mini-sub before some idiot fired a gun inside. Pepper saved me.”
“Hey, Mike, I think they’ve finally got the idea not to shoot guns in a submarine. I’m gonna go round up all the bad guys and lock them up. Will you come drive us home?”
“Depends. Did you destroy the navigational sonar so I have to rely on the fish finder?”
“I think they would have been suspicious if I bashed it in.” Not to mention, he never had the tools to do it. “It’s just turned off.”
Mike grinned. “On my way down.”
Tony turned to Pepper. “You wanna go with Bob, or stay with us? I can’t leave Mike alone with terrorists, even unarmed and locked up.” He really wanted her to stay, but he could understand how she might feel about being on the sub where she’d been held hostage.
“I’ll stay on one condition.”
“Get me out of this thing.”
He found himself a bit conflicted because the thought of her in his armor was actually kind of sexy. He put his arm around waist and leaned in. “You look great.”
She scoffed. “Only because I look like you.”
He quirked a brow. “Fair point.” But he was already considering his-and-hers armor for the future. Well, after fixing up the Mark VI and working on some innovations for the Mark VII. He’d already decided he needed his suit to be capable of coming to him, maybe with a dog whistle or a tracking wristwatch or something. But someday he’d get around to that... someday.