A TRANSFICTION Project presents:
Issue One: "Conspiracy in Red and Gold"
Written by Bryan Richard Shipp
Tony Stark: entrepreneur, playboy, millionaire, alcoholic, genius. These are all the labels Tony Stark has had to live with through his life, the names that the public calls him. But there is one label that Tony Stark wears that the public is not aware of--that of the Invincible IRON MAN, warrior and chamipion. For in a world of mutants, superheroes and villains, nothing is as it seems. And in this transformed universe, Tony Stark finds that even that which he thought was the truth is not. For Tony Stark has founded his empire on technology he knows nothing of, and now there is a price to pay. . .
"Well, now, what have we here?"
Shellhead flew up behind the red, black and silver robotic condor perched atop one of the main laboratories at Stark Enterprises, the company the man inside the armor, Tony Stark, had been in control of up until he "died" killing Onslaught in New York a year and some-odd months before. The metal bird turned its head to glare at Iron Man with one glowing, golden eye, then took off from the sunroof of the lab to dart past Iron Man and fly away.
"Oh, no you don’t! I’m going to get to the bottom of this right now!" Iron Man took off after the bird, trying to match it in speed. He switched his optical enhancers on to get a better look at his fleeing quarry, and thought back to how he got involved in this in the first place.
He was relaxing, taking a much-needed break after the recent debacle with the Mandarin, when his cousin Morgan called. "Tony, this is Morgan. There’s been trouble here for the past several weeks, and we have no idea how to stop it. Our advanced research project labs keep getting broken into, and security insists that nothing’s been triggering the alarms. Can you help? Maybe send Iron Man over, or something?"
Tony had smiled. Family’s family, after all. "I’ll do my best, Morgan."
And now here he was, chasing after a robot bird at nearly the speed of sound--as fast as his armor could go. He was in range, now, for his disruptors to work--he turned his arm over, fired two green bolts from the twin cannon mounted on his forearm. The bird must have heard him fire, or had uncanny reflexes, because it dodged both shots and swung around. Tony realized that the bird was armed an instant to late--
--the robot fired, twin bolts of yellow energy striking Iron Man dead in the chest. Tony felt the wind get knocked out of his lungs, felt the pull of gravity as he spun out of control toward the ground. He had to struggle with himself to get his lungs and the armor back under control--but regain control he did, and as he turned to look at where the robot had been, it was already flying several miles away.
"You pack a seriously unpleasant punch, bird!" Tony started flying after it, activating the additional boosters in the thrusters on his legs. He almost broke the speed of sound, trying to catch up with his attacker--but this time, he wouldn’t miss. He brought up the targeting systems in his helmet, activated the photon rifle he had connected to the hardpoint over his right shoulder. The targeting grid and the robot started lining up. . .
Now! Tony fired, and a red bolt shot out from his photon cannon, striking the bird-robot cleanly in its afterburners. It began spinning out of control, falling toward the ground--and the shopping mall down there built upon it.
Tony dove, reaching out with his arms to catch the robot before it fell on someone. With his jets on full propulsion, he was able to catch up to the falling robot and grab it. It glared at him and fired two beams with its eyes that hit Iron Man in the face, scarring across his golden faceplate. Tony, stunned, released the bird--which flew off, then circled around for the kill.
Tony, dazed, tried to see the bird through blinded eyes. He finally set his armor’s defenses on automatic--the cannon on his back targeted the bird and fired several times, all striking the robot and smashing it nearly to pieces. It crashed into the Wal-Mart on the edge of the shopping center below.
Inside the armor, Tony Stark could finally see again. He flew down to pick up the bird--now too badly damaged to put up much of a fight, the glow in its eyes had died to a glassy gray. Iron Man picked up the body, looked around to see a bunch of Wal-Mart employees and customers staring at him in disbelief.
"Don’t worry, folks, all clear! Send the repair bill to Stark Enterprises--they’ll be more than happy to pay for any damages!" With that, he flew off, bird in hand.
In the lab underneath the administrative building for Stark Solutions, Tony Stark stared at the smashed robotic condor as his machines got to work on it, analyzing its structure, components and the like. What are you? Who built you? And what do you want with Stark Enterprises?
Bing, Bing, the lab’s computer’s chimed. "You have 20 minutes until your appointment with Agent Vasher."
Tony frowned. It was convenient, having a computer setup so extensive that he could analyze even the most complicated of technologies, yet not being above announcing his appointments. It was a warm day outside, he would meet Vasher as he was, in a yellow polo shirt and khakis. He grabbed his sunglasses and jumped in the elevator that would take him up to his offices.
As he stepped out of his office door, his executive assistant, Pepper Potts, was speaking exasperatedly to a woman wearing simple beige work clothes, the like of which he had seen only on archaeologists and safaris.
"Mister Stark! I must speak with you!" The woman said, turning to him as soon as he opened the door, trying to move toward him past Pepper.
"And you are--?" He appraised the woman. She was very attractive.
"I’m sorry, Mister Stark, she--" Pepper started to interrupt, and Tony waved her away. He thought it funny that she chose to call him "Mister Stark" in front of others, but "Tony" when they were alone.
"It’s all right, Pepper. Now, you were saying, Miss--?"
"Dr. Sarah McIntyre, Mister Stark."
"Pleasure to meet you, Dr. McIntyre. May I call you Sarah?"
"That’s fine. Anyway, like I was telling your secretary," Tony saw Pepper bristle at the term out of the corner of his eye, "I need to speak with you urgently on a matter of tremendous importance, to the world and you especially."
Tony raised an eyebrow.
Dr. McIntyre glanced at Pepper suspiciously, then leaned in close to Tony and whispered to him, "Your technology is not what you believe it to be. It is alien in origin and you are only being manipulated by the government so they can exploit it."
Tony frowned. "I have an appointment to go to right now." He looked at Pepper. "Do I have any plans for dinner?"
Pepper looked in his appointment book. "Uh, no."
"Give me some." He smiled at Dr. McIntyre, nodded, and left.
"Ah, Mister Stark. It is a pleasure to see you again. Please, sit down." Shield Vasher was a pale man with silver hair and black eyes. Whenever Tony looked at him, he felt as if he were looking at a machine given human form--he had never heard Vasher use a contraction, either, furthering his notion that the SHIELD agent was, at least at heart, mechanical.
"Hello, Shield. How’ve you been?" Vasher and SHIELD were born for each other--when he had first introduced himself as "SHIELD agent Shield Vasher" those many years ago, when he first took control over Stark Industrials, Tony had thought Vasher suffered from a stuttering problem. He hadn’t, of course, but every time he thought of the agent, he thought of that first encounter.
"I have been well. And how have you been, Mister Stark?" Vasher finished typing something into his laptop and closed the cover, folding his hands over the black casing.
"Good, good. Been better, but those’re the times. What’d you want to see me about?"
"We have one final bit of technology to give you, Mister Stark. We will not be able to get any more to you, so we have chosen to give you the perfect example of the technology we have been supplying you throughout the years. It is perfection itself--you will be able to learn much from it."
"‘Technological perfection,’ eh? I’ve been reverse-engineering this stuff since we first met, Shield, and while it’s extraordinary technology, far superior to anything we had on Earth before, I doubt it’s perfection."
"You have not yet been given this item." Vasher opened a drawer in his desk, withdrew a keycard, and stood. "Come, let me take you to it."
They walked through a dizzying array of corridors, working their way ever downward, to what Tony had come to think of as the lab complex underneath the SHIELD building where Vasher worked. The agent swept the keycard through a reader, then placed his hand on a scanner. It read his handprint, and the door opened for them both.
"Wow. What is it?" Tony looked at the object sitting in a special cradle in the center of the antiseptic room. Almost as wide as two men, it was a metal orb encasing some sort of pulsing, crystalline energy, with two large handles coming off the orb.
Vasher stared at Stark for a moment, then looked at the object. "We have no name for it. If you wish, you may call it the Prime Artifact."
"It is. . .first in power." Vasher walked toward it, touched it gently. "We were reluctant to give this to you, but you have come to be trusted. You must find out its source of energy, but you must not damage it in any way."
Tony raised his eyebrows at the first inflection he ever heard in Vasher’s voice. "Then how am I supposed to reverse engineer it?"
"You have scanning tools that do not require destruction. Use them."
"There’s only a limited amount of information I can gather using those--"
"You must not damage it. If you cannot do this, then we cannot give this to you."
Stark half-smiled. "If I didn’t know any better, I’d say this is alien technology and you’re just manipulating me to help the government figure out what makes it tick."
Vasher didn’t flinch.
"All right, I’ll see what I can do."
"Excellent. This will be delivered to your private labs shortly."
Tony stared at the artifact, frowning, wondering what secrets he would find in its circuitry.
"This is much fancier than anything I’m used to--"
Tony looked around the Chateau L’Ambience, at the tuxedoed men and jewelry-bedecked women. He knew a lot of the people here, jet-setters and fashion-mongers. They were a crowd he didn’t particularly care to be around--but Dr. Sarah McIntyre was an especially attractive woman, and he knew how to treat especially attractive women.
"You look great. James, my usual table, please." Tony looked over Sarah, in her low-cut black dress and simple jewelry. She looked out-of-place next to the Beautiful People in the dining room, but to Tony that made her even more charming. The host led them to Tony’s table, on the second floor of the restaurant, overlooking the water. They ordered, chatted for a while, and when their food came (in extremely expensive, but ridiculously small, quantities), they finally began talking about why she had gone to his office, why she was so desperate to see him.
"Your father--he was that conspiracy theorist from a while back, wasn’t he--?"
Sarah frowned. "Yes. He was the head of the geology department at the University of Oregon. The government went to him in 1984, because they built a military complex around the base of a volcano. They wanted him to figure out a way to stop the volcano from detonating. He was only able to give them a temporary reprieve of 15 years--Mt. St. Hillary blew its top a week ago."
Tony nodded. "I saw that on the news."
"Anyway, while he was there, he claimed to have seen a crashed spaceship, with enormous robots in it that were either being built or torn apart. He was told to keep silent about them, but he went public, went on the news to let the American people know. He was dismissed as a lunatic, and lost his position at the University. He then started appearing on underground talk shows to talk about the military base--Sector 17, is what it’s called--for several years. He died in a car crash in 1993."
"I’m sorry to hear that."
"It’s because of him that I’ve come to you. After his death, I did some research on Sector 17, and I found out the government’s been funneling technology from that base since World War II, and a lot of that technology has been going to you, Mr. Stark."
"Please, call me Tony."
"Anyway, Tony, I thought you needed to know this. It sounds to me like whatever’s going on at Sector 17, it’s not good."
After Tony dropped Dr. McIntyre off at her two-story Victorian home, he returned to his lab, where he stared at the robotic condor he had captured earlier that day, and the Prime Artifact that Vasher had given him. He frowned at the Iron Man armor, waiting obediently in the corner, waiting to enfold him once more.
Are you made out of my technology, little bird, or am I made out of yours?
After dinner, Sarah eagerly undressed. She hated the only fancy clothing she owned--she felt naked in it. She’d much rather wear jeans, anything with pockets, and she had always been more comfortable sifting through the dirt than she was at dinner parties. She put on a nightshirt and got ready for bed, thinking about Tony Stark. He had humored her well enough, but she doubted he believed her or cared about what she was saying. More like he wanted to go to dinner with a beautiful woman, which she had been told she was on several occasions (although she didn’t see it herself), and maybe, just maybe, if he seemed nice enough she would be making breakfast for him the next day. She knew his type, she’d been with them before. She was glad they were able to keep their dinner date on a business level, even though he paid for the meal. A meal which had left her hungry, at that.
She turned off the lights and slipped under the covers. The house was lonely since her father had died, but she spent very little time there, anyway. Just enough to sleep and eat--most of her life was spent at the University.
Next door, the Hartmans’ dog was barking like a fool again. She pulled the covers over her head and tried to get to sleep.
The door to her room slammed open, and three men wearing SWAT team combat armor ran into the room, wielding military-issue rifles. Sarah jumped up in bed, started to scream--
--and then one of the men slammed the butt of his rifle across her jaw, and all she knew was darkness.