Despite Tony’s own experience in the dregs of high society, the executive suite of Un Hotel felt huge on a different scale of metrics entirely. It spanned the entire expanse of the top floor of the building, a labyrinthine complex of interconnected hallways and rooms. A women of southeast Asian descent dressed in a sleeveless black pullover stalked her way into the lounge and placed a pot of coffee onto the table. It took Tony a moment to notice that her arms were in fact cybernetic replacements, trained eyes catching the seems on the synthetic flesh.
“The coffee may be in your best interest.” Ms. Frost commented off-handedly as she sat down in a cube shaped chair, lines aggressively straight. Her attention turning away from Tony as she pressed a button on the side of the chair, holographic display flickering to life as she typed away on a hard light keyboard. She seemed perfectly at ease in her current environment blending in perfectly with the spotless walls and polished wooden floors that squealed with every shifting sole.
“Mister Stark.” Tony looked up, seeing the man across from him for the first time. “My name is Sunderland. You may have heard of me.” He wore a navy blue yukata open to the waist, broad chest splashed with specks of white hair, the stomach flat and rigid. Green eyes dark as the depths of the Schwarzwald.
“Avery Carlton Sunderland, President and CEO of the Sunderland Corporation, former four-star general and Supreme Allied Commander of NATO.” Tony listed in an unamused monotone as he poured some coffee into an unremarkable periwinkle coffee mug. “Ties to several criminal organizations including the Dai-Ichi Doku, Solntsevskaya Bratva, and Lucky Hand Triads among others.”
“Alleged connections Mister Stark.” Sunderland insisted running a large hand through his phantom white hair. “Such allegations were never proven.”
“Oh I remember now.” Tony started as he took a sip of the coffee limbs feeling like they were moving underwater. “The lead prosecutor died. Car accident wasn’t it? Wonder how much money it took for the police to look the other way?” As he felt the tension begin to increase Tony took another swig from his coffee to hide the smirk cracking across his face.
Sunderland smiled. “Business is business Mister Stark. Some of us fly around ‘saving the world’ and the rest of us try and make an honest living.”
“And your business now involves me?” Tony stated behind the rim of his mug.
“Something like that.” He snapped his fingers and Ms. Frost typed something into her holographic display as the lights in the room began to dim. Another display flickered to life showing a flickering satellite picture of large facility. “What you are currently looking at is one of our production houses in Kyoto. Last night at zero one hundred hours, an assailant destroyed a large section of our facility and made out with material sensitive to our corporation.”
“Still don’t see where I come in Sunderland. Call the police, or maybe one of your alleged associates. I’m sure they'd be willing to help you.” Tony suggested, though he already knew there was more there was always something more.
“I’d love to Mister Stark but if I did then we’d be forced to release this footage to the public.”
The still image transformed into recording taken from a security camera. It showed what Tony assumed to be a research floor consumed by fire and smoke. A group of scientist were running away, the camera automatically tracking their motion as they came to a locked door. Pounding on the glass they looked back in horror as a figure dressed in what appeared to be an advanced form of the his own armor stepped out of the smoke. Casually the ‘iron man’ raised his right hand and a bolt of energy was released slamming into the nearest scientist causing him to explode in a violent display of viscera. Tony fixated on the mouth’s of the scientist watching the silent screams as the short clip played on repeat
Sunderland face broke into one of unbridle amusement as the shift of power fell straight into his lap. “We know his name.”
Tony looked up at him without speaking.
“Ezekiel Stane, we hired him as a consultant on one of our projects. I’m told you were associates with his father Obadiah.”
Nine Years Prior
The wall behind him shattered drywall kicking up into the air as he smashed his way through several rows of cubicles. He dug his fingers hard into the ground creating inch deep divots as he drag himself to a halt. His vision tilted and blurred as he looked down, the face of a poodle on a puppy calendar looking back up at him. His ears rang and he closed his eyes to block out the pain if only for a moment. Warnings flashed across his heads up display as the suit voiced its protest at the beating it was receiving.
╪ Armor compromised.
╪ Internal energy system failing
╪ Right thruster fifty percent.
He flicked the warnings away and pushed himself to his feet. He watched as a colossal silhouette step through the hole that he created. Plates of metal forged and pounded together far flung from the seamless design of his own suit. Glowing eyes of white like the high beams of a car peered down at him. A voice came from within the machine distorted and impossibly loud - a slow moving rockslide.
“You’re not getting away Stark.”
Stane ripped off another child-sized portion of wall and threw it overhand towards Tony. The suit’s targeting computer whirred to life almost immediately upon detecting the projectile. Data began flashing across the screen as it made mathematical calculations at the speed that only a supercomputer could before the reticule around the rock finally flashed green. Seemingly at the last possible moment Tony shot his hand upward and fired a pulse of energy from his gauntlet. The chunk of walls exploded into harmless superheated debris that spattered against and around tony.
Not waiting from the reprise he shot forward thrusters blaring straight towards Stane. Metal slammed against metal like an unholy car wreck as Tony smashed his fist into Stane’s chest plating. The force of the impact combined with the general top-heaviness of the Iron Monger suit, was enough to send the giant colossus onto its back. He landed atop driving a knee further downward as he leveled his gauntlet downward towards Stane’s head. It would of been so easy to just let it go. At this range even with the plating, Tony knew that Stane’s head would splatter like an egg slamming into the pavement.
The rage snaked through his body sinking its fangs in. He could do it. He could kill this man, this man that he had once called a friend. He could kill this man who had brought him only hell and torment, who had tried to kill his friends and family, who had tried to destroy his business. Nobody would care, nobody would mind. It would just be putting down another monster. One flick and it could all be over.
But dammit it all he couldn't.
At the last possible second he moved his hand and the pulse of energy punched a smoldering hole right next to Stane’s head. “Dammit Stane! This can end here. Nobody has to fucking die!”
“It aint that easy Stark.” The distorted voice responded and drove a fist upward knocking Tony away once more.
Tony realized that he had been idly tracing the perimeter of his mug in silence for what had to be at least a few minutes. “You could say that.”
Sunderland paid no mind to the delay as he leaned the light from the projection cast across the crevasses of his worn face. “What would the news think Mister Stark, if a so called ‘Iron Man’ was seen destroying the property and killing the employees of a competitor. We wouldn't want them to get the wrong idea would we? “
Something broke at that moment. Whatever last strand of restraint that was keeping him from flying off the handle broke as Sunderland’s smug grin of perfect white lasted just a fraction of a second too long. As he reached to pour himself another cup of coffee, he jerked his hand towards Sunderland sending a cascade of scalding hot liquid towards Sunderland’s face.
The retired general easily dodged it pivoting his body with ease never losing eye contact as the liquid splashed against the wall and dripped down writing unintelligible messages as it went. Tony was painfully aware that he know had the barrel of an Astra A-60 now pointed directly at his skull. Frost having produced the gun from seemingly out of the ether. As Sunderland readjusted himself in his seat, his gun-toting companion spoke her voice never changing from the smooth bored tones that she had introduced herself with.
“Everything is going to be okay Mister Stark, provided that you stop being an ass.”
He could escape. Nothing more than a sideways glance and he could activate the autopilot on the Suit that he and Happy had stashed in a farmhouse five miles out of town. It would be here within seconds and Happy would be alerted immediately to meet him at the extraction point. Judging by their location within the hotel and the general thickness of the walls, Ms. White would have less than one and a half seconds to react before the suit slammed into her and knocked the gun from her hands, before it deployed a smoke screen to allow him a chance to escape. He could get away and yet he figured they already knew that.
And yet there was something more. Something that was pushing him forward like an itch on an arm that had been entrapped in a fiberglass cast for weeks. Maybe it was the need for closure. Maybe it was some repressed desire for atonement for the past. And maybe it was the challenge, as this child of ghost he thought long since dead killed those with technology so apparently similar to his. As if he was calling him out. As if he was telling him to catch him if he could.
Slowly he placed the coffee pot down the table and looked at Sunderland. “What do you need?”
Sunderland smiled and brought his hands down upon his legs with a loud slap. “It’s simple Mister Stark. You and Miss Frost will be tasked with bringing Stane back to me alive. So that we can recover the research that he stole and then you can hand him over to whatever authority you may like.”
“I don’t need help.” Tony replied as he flicked his head towards the woman who still had a gun pointed at his head.
“Considered it an... insurance policy on my part.
A moment of silence passed and another. Finally Tony shrugged.
“When do I start?”