11. End of the Line
End of the Line
End of the Line
by Drake Pendragon
Chapter 11 of the Genius Curse
Disclaimer: I own nothing. Everything (meaning AtS) that is Joss Whedon’s is Joss Whedon’s. Everything (meaning Iron Man) that is Marvel’s is Marvel’s. I just tinker like a mad scientist.
Posting: I have only posted this story to Twisting the Hellmouth, nowhere else.
A/N: This is it, people! Two years in the running and I am finally done with this story. But fear not, readers that enjoy my story, I’m writing sequels! (Yay, sequels!) that affect the Marvel Movie-Verse and beyond! This is my mission and I chose to accept it.
Dirt, dust, and black smoke filled the air and my lungs. I tried to cough it up but the tremendous pressure on my chest wasn’t letting me. Hell, I could barely breathe. I tried out each of my muscles and found them in the same state: unusable. I cracked open my eyes and felt the caustic burn of the hot toxic smoke. I clenched them right away again as the tears tried to flush it out. This must be hell. I must have finally died and gone straight to hell.
Metal creaked and the pressure on my spine and leg increased exponentially. Not hell! Still alive! I grimaced and pushed the power through me, turning blue and calling on my dark side. I pushed as hard as I could and forced the hot metal on my back to flex upward as I moved to a crouching position. I grabbed the metal above me and pushed again, throwing some debris aside. The smoke started to clear out and the air didn’t feel so incendiary on my lungs.
I started coughing uncontrollably as I broke free of my tomb, falling to my knees and spitting out the black tar that had started to coat my mouth. My eyes opened and I realized that even though I wasn’t dead, I was at the next door neighbor to hell. I started moving around on my hands and knees to stay underneath the smoke cloud and to avoid the low hanging pieces of the broken ceiling beams.
My hands came across what I thought was a hand but it pulled free of the rubble without being connected to anything else. And it was metal. I checked it and saw it was red metal. Iron Man’s arm. I tossed the burnt scrap aside and kept moving. The smoking seemed to be moving steadily in this direction so I figured it was escaping the warehouse. I found the fractured remains of a silver suit of armor and James’ repulsor cannon along the way.
“Doctor Burkle! Can you hear me?” Nick Fury called out from somewhere down my path. This way was the exit.
“I’m here!” I called back. I started tearing away at the rubble faster and faster to get out of there. Finally I broke free and found Nick Fury crouching down in the rubble with a handful of SHIELD soldiers behind him.
In his hands was a piece of Tony’s armor. “I found three more like it,” he said.
“Any other survivors?” I asked.
“You’re the only one to come out of the rubble,” he replied. He dropped the piece of Tony’s armor and extended his hand to me. I took it and he pulled me out of the burning pit. I didn’t even realize I was headed upwards the entire time. I glanced back behind me at the blown up remains of the warehouse.
“Damn,” I replied.
“Agreed,” he said.
We finally tracked down Ivan Venko to a warehouse complex near the Port of Los Angeles. It was one of ours from before I joined. Tony had closed it when moved Stark out of the weapons industry. Venko was hiding right underneath our noses. Angel and company already took care of the legal end of things. As far as the world knew Venko had been dead for years in Siberia, completely penniless. Convenient, since we were planning on killing him. We met them outside the gates to the warehouse complex.
The plan was simple. I would quietly lead Tasha and our two new SHIELD friends Clint Barton and Bobbi Morse into the facility while Angel, Spike, Wesley, and Gunn took down Hammer’s private army. Once inside we’d disable all security so Tony and James could land undetected. They we would breach the central warehouse and take out Venko. Simple.I ran my safe-cracker through the front gate’s security system again and it came up red. Venko had put in some severe software upgrades after squatting here. I frowned and told the device to run in again.
“What’s wrong? You said the front gate wouldn’t be an issue,” Angel hissed at me. I leveled a blue glare at him and he took a few steps back.
“Venko is crafty,” I replied. Even if I did hack through it, he’d know we were here. We needed to step this up.
“Hold on a minute. Fred, what does crafty mean to you? Cause crafty to me means this is a trap,” Clint said. I glanced at him oddly. He wasn’t this…uncertain the last time we met.
“Yes, this is probably a trap. Your point?” I asked.
“My point? My point is this isn’t a trap laid by a two-bit mafia thug. This is Ivan Venko we’re dealing with. 190 IQ, spent fifteen years in a Siberian Prison, and has the same technological expertise as you and Tony Stark. The same guy that managed to alter a human’s genetic structure so severely that he created a person akin to a Hindu goddess of destruction,” Clint retorted.
“I was hoping for more of an Old One demon that ruled the world before mankind existed, but I’ll go for the Kali reference,” I said glibly.
“You’re fixating! If Venko knows we’re here, then that means there is a good chance he’s ready for us. It means there is a good chance he’s ready for you! That was the whole rational behind our assault, wasn’t it? That he wouldn’t be ready for you?” he demanded.
The light went green and I slid aside the metal gate. I gave Clint a determined look before stepping out of the way. Angel, Spike, Gunn, and Wesley funneled in through the gate and went to work on the array of private soldiers that Venko had acquired after Justin’s death. The sounds of swords and axes and crossbows killing people filled the air. Tasha stepped up beside me while triple-checking her Black Widow equipment. She gave me a pensive frown which I returned.
“He knows we’re here,” she stated.
“He does,” I replied.
“Change of plans?” Clint asked.
“No, grab Bobbi. We’re moving now,” I replied. We moved past the gate and across the darkened parking lots. I could make out the shapes of the giant industrial tanks from what used to be an oil refinery before Stark bought it up. The four of us made it to the first two-story building of the complex when the security lights went on and lit up the entire area. I cussed under my breath and started hacking again.
“Tony, Rhodey, come in now,” Tasha said. I managed to shut down the security lighting as our two armored friends landed on the grounds.
“What happened?” Tony demanded.
“Trap,” Clint responded bluntly. He notched an arrow and took out a sniper on top of one of the refinery tanks.
“What’s the plan?” James asked.
“Nothing changes! We keep moving!” I ordered. I shifted blue and tore off the security door, tossing it aside. The six of us filed in and left our four friends outside to continue clearing the perimeter. The abandoned research and development complex was unnervingly silent. We entered the main reactor room with the only large scale arc reactor ever built. The only light we could see was the pale blue light coming off the now active reactor.
“That shouldn’t be functional,” Tony said.
“Be alert, I don’t like this,” James said.
“Tasha, Clint, and Bobbi take the perimeter. Tony, James, follow me,” I said. The three SHIELD assassins spread out around the edges, moving carefully and quietly. My team stepped out into the open to attract attention.
“C’mon, Venko. We really don’t have all day for your delusional grudge match!” Tony called out. Out of the shadows stepped Venko in a lighter silver version of Tony’s armor, more akin to mine actually. You know what they say, great minds think alike.
“I suggest you make the time, Tony, because this will take however long I deem necessary. You shall answer for your father’s crimes,” Venko said. He dropped two large coils onto the ground, stemming from his wrists. They turned bright blue with repulsor energy. Great. Plasma whips. He lashed out with one of them straight at Tony.
I shifted into Illyria and brought time to a halt. I stepped in front of the frozen whip and gripped it in my armored hand. I wrapped it around my wrist and prepared to throw him. Time sped back up and gave him a dispassionate grin.
“Nice try,” I said. I started to tug on the whip but Venko beat me to it. He pulled hard and threw me across the warehouse. I crashed through some machinery and landed inside some kind of chamber.
“Fred!” Tony yelled in horror.
“Now, I will undo the affront to god that I had so foolishly made,” Venko said. The chamber doors sealed shut. I charged forward, slamming my body into the door. Deep spider-web cracks formed on the durasteel. I rammed it again and the cracks spread.
Above me, the ceiling opened and what looked like a cannon or a turret emerged. I started hitting the door with my fists to speed it up. The cannon fired and filled the chamber with a bright white light. It burned and hurt just as badly as the experiment that made me. I kept hitting the door but I was doing less and less damage. I slumped against it as the beam drained me.
Fury looked at me strangely and I bristled under his gaze. “Correct me if I’m wrong, but you’re way too blue to be showing that kind of emotion,” he said skeptically. Some of the soldiers reflexively turned their guns on me.
“I know. But I’m still able bend those rifles into pretzels if you’d like. It just might take me more effort than previous demonstrations,” I replied. I flexed my cerulean hand but none of my chronopathy would activate.
“Venko was ready for you then?” he asked. He knelt down and picked up another piece of metal before tossing it aside. We were really just burning time at this point.
“He was. After all, I was his creation,” I said. The hard ‘c’ made me hack and cough for a second. My lungs still weren’t clearing of that toxic smoke. I spit out more tar onto the ground. Fury just grimaced at the color.
“Do you know how he did it?” he asked. I looked at him dumbfounded.
“Excuse me?” I demanded.
“Do you know how he did it, Doctor Burkle? After all, making something like that is pretty much your job at Stark,” he replied.
“Why do you want to know?”
“Because if we recreate it, we can finish the job and make you normal again!”
“The was no normal at the end of that tunnel! It would have killed me! Just like he planned!”
“Could you alter it to make you normal?” Fury demanded.
I sputtered indignantly. “I’m a hero! An asset to the world if you remember? You’re actually considering removing a powerful chess piece from your side of the board?” I demanded in return.
“Doctor Burkle is an asset. Illyria is proving to be a liability,” he responded coldly.
“We are one in the same!” I shouted.
“No, you’re not. This is the second major SHIELD incident Illyria has caused. Had Venko not turned you into a modern day Stevenson novel, I doubt any of this would have happened,” he said.
“I am not Doctor Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Fury. I am in complete control over my actions at all times,” I stated.
“So you’re freely admitting that you, Doctor Winifred Amelia Burkle, murdered Justin Hammer?”
“I might not be a lawyer, but I have good ones and the brains not to answer that question,” I said coldly.
“How did you survive the process?” Fury demanded. I raised my hand in front of me and flexed it, feeling the decreased power flow through me.
“I eat my Wheaties,” I replied drolly.
“James saved me,” I replied honestly this time, letting my arm drop back to my side.
“Did he now?” Fury mused.
“Yes, he did,” I saidThe chamber blew apart, knocking me backwards against the wall. I gasped in pain and pushed myself to my feet. White hot anger flowed through me and it was all directed at Venko. Then it hit me. I was furious but I was still blue. I had a non-stunted emotion while I was blue. I stumbled out of the chamber and muttered a few choice curses to myself. I think they were in Sumerian and Etruscan. James was standing across the room from the chamber with smoke still billowing out of his respulsor cannon. I took another unsteady step forward and Bobbi hurried from the shadows to catch me before I fell.
Venko lashed out with his whip again, wrapping around James’ cannon and ripping it off of him, forcing James to stumble and hit the ground. He wrapped the whip around James’ throat and pulled it tight. Tony flew through the air with a mighty war cry. His fist was raised to strike Venko with all he got. Instead, Venko lashed a whip around his neck, making him crash hard into the ground.
I waved my hand fiercely through the air to stop time but I couldn’t. I tried again and nothing came to me. Venko started laughing ominously.
“I see you’re feeling the effects of the blast. If you had just stayed in there longer, Dr. Burkle, you would have died like nature had intended you to the first time,” he said. Venko pulled the whips violently in opposite directions, pulling both of my friends off their feet and crashed them into each other.
James’ suit started falling apart without the functioning reactor holding everything together. I knew there was a major downside to that feature I was developing. The energy coming off the reactor actually bonded the plating together in a way that encouraged mobility and flexibility. This, however was the downside.
Tony pushed himself to his feet and tried to lung against but Venko lashed out against and struck him across the chest. We all had to look away from the bright flash of light as the two energy sources collided. Tony’s suit shattered. He flipped backwards and landed in a head against the wall. He started ripping molten pieces of his suit off of him.
Bobbi helped me to my feet and pointed at Venko’s back. “Go now, his suit is weakening between the shoulder blades. Two good hits will disrupt the mechanism,” she said. I could see all the data feeds running over the yellow lenses of her glasses.
“Right,” I replied. I started running, a little off balance, but I built up some serious momentum. I lunged at Venko from behind and drove my fist into the mechanics between his shoulder blades just like Bobbi said before striking him against with both fists to the back of the neck. Venko was forced to take a knee as he cried out in pain.
The whips started to short out intermittently. He swung backwards at me but I fell back to avoid the hit. I landed on the ground hard and scooted backwards until I reached a wall in the shadows. Clint struck one of Venko’s wrists with an electrical arrow, destroying the mechanism. Bobbi exploited the chaos and stomped hard on his other wrist, breaking that whip as well. He struck out at her and it knocked her aside.
James’ suit had repaired itself enough for one last strike and he took it. He ignited the plasma blade I had built into his right wrist and charged Venko on foot. He tackled him to the ground and drove the faulty blade deep into the armor plating and gouged out a thick hole. His suit finally gave out and the blade failed, letting Venko throw James across the room.
Tasha stepped out of the shadows and hit Venko in the spine with one of her Widow’s Bites. The electricity forced Venko to arc backward and spasm, exposing the new hole to Clint. He lined up the laser sight on the gap in the plating and fired a single arrow, piercing Venko through the heart. His body fell backwards with a thud.
“Do svindanya, Dr. Venko,” I said while spitting blood out of my mouth.
“And who killed Venko?” Fury asked. I snorted a laugh. Rather inappropriate judging by the looks I was getting.
“What?” I asked.
“Something amusing you, Doctor?” he asked.
“Who didn’t kill him? What are you asking? It was kinda a group thing,” I replied.
“We’ll start with who landed the fatal blow,” he said.
“Agent Barton landed the fatal blow from across the room. I got the cinematic parting line though,” I replied.
“You’re taking pride in that?” he asked.
“I just said what he said to me just before he turned me into Illyria. It was poignant and poetic. Blame Tony for the influence of making quips like that but I did hold a deep respect for Ivan Venko,” I said.
“I find that hard to believe,” he replied.
“All of this could have been avoided if Venko wasn’t on some vengeance kick to kill Tony,” I said.
“Look what he turned you into,” he pointed out.
“The original experiment was intended to kill me right out. Hammer wanted to torture me for as long as it would take to perfect the experiment but Venko would not let a fellow scientist suffer that way. He was offering me mercy. I just happened to survive,” I said.
“And that means something to you?” Fury asked, studying my face for my reaction. I turned my crystalline blue eyes onto him and to his credit he didn’t flinch.
“It means everything to me. It means that under different circumstances Ivan Venko would have been a tremendous ASSET to the world. It means that if things were different he and I could have been working side by side in a lab solving the world’s problems. The fact that he’s DEAD saddens me greatly. What could have been weighs so heavy on my heart. I mourn the loss of what could have been under different circumstance,” I said with steel in my voice and ice in my veins.
“A waste of potential,” Fury added gruffly with an accepting nod. I believe we were finally on the same page.
“A complete waste,” I said.
“Killing him was the only option?” he asked.
“At that moment, yes,” I replied.
“Did you even give him the chance to surrender?”
“No.”Everything was eerily silent after Venko died. We all started climbing to our feet and looking around for any other surprises. Venko didn’t let us down. All the screens came to life with Venko’s laughing face on them. “You lose! Vy proigrali!” he declared over and over in Russian and English. A high pitch whine filled the air, coming from underneath our feet.
“Move!” Tony yelled. We ran to the edges of the room. A pinprick of blue light formed in the center of the concrete floor. Everything started to shake as the light grew into a circle and kept expanding, crumbing the concrete as it grew.
Finally a giant metal hand reached up and gripped the remaining flooring, pulling itself up. A thirty foot tall version of the original Iron Man armor rose out of the ground with glowing blue eyes and a large reactor in its chest.
“Oh, hell no. Not right now, please?” Bobbi complained. The giant robot turned at the sound of Bobbi’s voice. It took a swing at her but she dodged. The metal fist blew a hole through the side of building.
“Go! Get out of here!” I yelled. Tony and James lead everyone else out of the building. The robot brought its hand down onto me but I caught it with all my strength. It kept pushing harder and harder, forcing me to take a knee. The blue circle in the center of its palm started to glow brightly and I hung my head in defeat. What a way to go, huh?
“Fred!” I heard Charles scream. I looked up sharply and saw him lunging through the air and burying his favorite battle axe into the back of the robot’s head. It flailed and gripped down on my so tight I screamed in pain. The arm flew wildly and put me through the roof of the building. I hit the concrete with a roll, bringing me to the edge. I glanced down and saw my friends either still fighting off Hammer’s soldiers or staring up at me in horror.
I pushed myself to my feet and looked for a way down. Angel seemed to be yelling something but I couldn’t quite hear him over the chaos. Spike, being his usual self, did something no one else saw coming. He pulled out his phone and started typing. I didn’t know why as mine was slagged from the fight and I couldn’t see the phone text itself from up here. Instead, he gave it a hard throw right up to me.
“It’s not dead,” was what the message said. I turned around and saw that giant robotic hand reach up and grab the edge of the hole I made. The roof sagged a little under the pressure. If that thing fell it would land right into the giant arc reactor. Then the idea came to me. I typed out a message and threw the phone back down to Tasha.
“Overload the reactor and run,” I said to her. She dashed into the crumbling warehouse while everyone started to run away. Angel wasn’t happy about leaving me on the rooftop with thing coming up after me, but Wesley managed to drag him away. Tony was carrying Charles over his shoulder. He didn’t look too good, suggesting that his interference cost him.
The robot tried pulling itself up again, causing more of the roof to buckle. I waited for it to try one more time. The light output of the reactor doubled and then tripled rapidly. As the robot came up again I sprinted towards it, crashing into its peeking out head. The roof gave way completely and we tumbled into the exploding reactor.
Footsteps fell behind us and we turned around to face them. Tony was standing there, stretching out his sore muscles and dressed in a SHIELD agent’s jacket over his torn up jumpsuit. Behind him was a shirtless James with some of the medical tape I had invented adhered to his neck. He gave a small half-salute.
“Fred, you said you had designed a new under suit for me a while back?” Tony asked.
“Yeah, I did. Top Secret, though,” I said thumbing my finger at Fury.
“Can you lose the blue?” James asked.
I concentrated and rolled my shoulder muscles. The blue fell away and I felt my knees buckle. Crap, my normal body was not holding up right now. I shifted back immediately and stood back up straight. “Yeah, but not right now,” I said.
“I know how that feels,” he said.
“Everyone else doing fine?” I asked.
“Everyone’s getting by. Legolas is fine. He’s taking care of Gunn,” Tony said glibly.
“Would someone tell me what caused this?” Fury demanded, gesturing to the burnt out and collapsed warehouse.
“Venko did it,” Tony replied immediately.
“He did this to? How? How did you not notice a self-destruct sequence?” Fury demanded.
“It wasn’t. It was a thirty foot drone he created. I took care of it," I said.
“We’d all be dead if Fred hadn’t reacted so quickly and rushed us out of there,” Tony said.
“I wasn’t sure if everyone would be clear of the blast,” I admitted.
“Nope, you did good. Besides the whole not getting out yourself thing. Don’t do that again,” Tony said.
“I’ll try not,” I replied.
“So, let me get this straight. Venko is dead,” Fury said.
“Yep,” Tony replied.
“Doctor Burkle is significantly depowered.”
“Yep,” I replied.
“And we had no friendly casualties.”
“Yep,” Tony and I said, both popping the ‘p’ on the word.
“I’ll take it as a win. Now, everyone get out of here before LAPD decides that SHIELD is to be ignored and starts finding witnesses,” Fury said.
“Yes, sir,” Tony said with a grin.
“We goin’ home?” I asked.
“Could be. Anything you want to do first?” he asked.
“The only thing I want to do right now, Tony, is sleep,” I said.
“You did good, today,” he said.
“Thanks, Tony,” I replied with a smile.
“Bet you didn’t expect any of this to happen when you signed on with me,” he said wryly.
“Nah, but I wouldn’t have discounted it, either. Red and gold metal men falling from the sky are a sign of fate after all,” I said.
“That just sounded crazy,” he replied.
“It’s a curse,” I said glibly.
End of Chapter 11
End of the Genius Curse