The ‘Hide and the ‘Man
Chapter 4: The ‘Hide and the ‘Man
With all the things that had happened since he’d set foot back on American soil – assuring Pepper and Obediah he was fine, talking to numerous government agents, holding a press conference announcing the immediate halt to all weapon production, having a shouting match with Obediah about it, scheduling surgery for his arm, and a thousand other little things – Tony had almost managed to forget the talk he had coming up now.
Almost, but not quite. He doubted there was anything in the world that could make him completely forget about an upcoming talk with an alien robot.
Rhodey had arranged for him to buy the Humvee in question and had it delivered to the doorstep of his California beach house. Knowing his friend, he’d probably written it down to Tony’s eccentricity and thought little else of it. Right now he was probably up to his ears in paper work, both because of the rescue and the upcoming termination of all Stark weapon contracts. He didn’t envy his friend.
Right now, though, he had other things on his mind. Walking into the basement level of his home, which doubled as both garage and private laboratory, he tried to imagine what revelations the next few minutes would bring. He couldn’t, not for the life of him.
The Humvee was parked on the far end of his row of classic cars, looking somewhat out of place, but still just like a normal car. Oh, his hands were itching to take a look under that hood, but he figured that might just be a bit rude, considering that this car was... intelligent, at least. He wouldn’t start debating the whole alive-and-aware-thing until he knew a whole lot more.
“Ironhide?” he asked.
A moment later the image he had seen on the cargo plane flickered into existence next to him, once again perfectly simulating a middle-aged soldier.
“Took your time,” he grumbled.
“Sorry, but the bureaucratic hoops were... plentiful.”
The image shrugged.
“Yeah, I watched your press conference. Caused a lot of hubbub, too. News have been full of it.”
Tony gave him a look. “You watched TV?”
“Mostly Internet. Haven’t processed datastreams this slow in ages, but with a little patience it was workable. Also talked to your little helper friend for a while.”
“Helper friend? Oh, you mean Jarvis?”
“Yeah. Not a bad piece of code, considering your tech level. You people might just manage a fully aware AI in the next century or so.”
Tony paused, reminding himself that Ironhide probably didn’t intend to sound condescending about what was probably the greatest programming feat in human history thus far. Judging by the technology he’d already seen, this robot was at least a millennium ahead of humanity, possibly more.
“You didn’t damage him, did you?” Tony asked instead, referring to Jarvis.
“On the contrary, sir,” Jarvis said, coming online. “Talking to Mr. Ironhide was a very interesting experience. The rate of information exchange is at least ten times as fast as with any other computer in the world and for once I find myself to be the bottleneck, so to speak, instead of having to wait for the other one to catch up. Truly fascinating.”
“Well, I’m glad for you,” Tony just said.
Drawing up a chair, he sat down tiredly. “But we had other things to talk about, don’t we? So, considering that I’m about thirty hours overdue for some sleep, how about you start with telling me where you’re from? Not from around here, I’d wager.”
Ironhide laughed. “Man, must be that genius of yours at work again, right? Yeah, I’m not from these parts. Home planet’s called Cybertron and it’s several thousand light years in that direction.” He pointed toward the ceiling at an angle, making Tony wonder whether he was just pointing towards the sky in general or had actually calculated the exact direction.
A moment later he blinked. He was talking to an actual alien visitor and wondered about vectors? Was he brain damaged after all?
“So... what brought you here then? As far as I know Earth isn’t exactly a tourist Mecca for aliens.”
Ironhide smiled. “And how would you know that? But yeah, you’re right; I didn’t come here for the fruity drinks and beaches. Didn’t come here by choice, either. Me and my crew, we were just passing through, when we ran afoul of some Decepticreeps!”
Ironhide’s avatar sat down in another chair and gave a good impression of sighing.
“Okay, just the cliff-notes here, Tony. I’m a soldier and for most of my life I’ve been fighting in this big civil war that’s torn our planet apart. The bad guys are the Decepticons – again, loosely translated – who figure that us Cybertronians should take over the universe on account of being better than everyone else. We, that’s the Autonomous Robots, or Autobots for short, didn’t quite see optic to optic with them on that, and we’ve been fighting it out ever since. You with me so far?”
Tony just nodded, too stunned for words once again. Just imagining a war where a robot such as this was just one of however many foot soldiers... it would probably dwarf any conflict ever fought on Earth.
“Thing is, the war was eating up all our resources, so our Boss Bot, Optimus Prime, took a group of us into space to seek out new sources of energy. We were just passing through this system when a Decepticon cruiser attacked us. Long story short, both our ships ended up heavily damaged and tumbled down into your planet’s atmosphere.”
Tony was about to ask how exactly it was that no one had noticed two alien space ships falling from the sky, but caught himself. He remembered the laser gun in the cave, how worn and ancient it had looked. Odds were that battle Ironhide was talking about had happened long before anyone had started watching the skies in this place. So he focused on the next question that came to mind instead.
“You’re telling me there is an alien space ship buried somewhere in Afghanistan?”
Ironhide shrugged. “Probably not in Afghanistan, no. Me and several other bots made it to the life pods and booked out before impact. Little too late in my case, as the landing was still more of a crash than not. Knocked me straight into stasis lock. Only reason the emergency system risked waking me up was because of the Energon cube you had.”
“Energon?” Tony asked, leaning forward. “You mean that purple fuel?”
“Yeah. It’s our basic fuel. Makes us tick. Powers our weapons, everything. Used to be Cybertron was drenched in the stuff. These days, not so much. Which is why we left home. Which brings me to you.”
Ironhide pointed toward Tony’s chest, where the ARC reactor was humming along.
“Or rather that Energon-powered reactor you’re carrying in your chest.”
They kept talking late into the night until Tony was in danger of toppling out of his chair out of sheer tiredness. In that time, though, Tony learned quite a bit about his newfound alien friend and his people.
The most interesting fact, as was evident by Ironhide’s interest in the ARC reactor, was that for all the Cybertronians’ obvious technological sophistication, they were positively backwards when it came to power generation. Apparently their entire tech base depended on this Energon fuel and they needed enormous amounts of it. Energy conservation, fuel efficiency, regenerative energies, these were all foreign concepts for Ironhide.
Of course that wasn’t entirely surprising. If Ironhide was to be believed, it used to be that one couldn’t got a mile on Cybertron without coming across vast amounts of Energon, which apparently occurred naturally on that planet – that machine planet, so the word ‘naturally’ sounded somewhat strange in context. And boy did Tony ever want to visit a world that was apparently artificially constructed through and through. Anyway, the point was that their society had never wanted for energy until the beginning of the war.
Tony had to admit, of course, that humanity wasn’t really that different. The largest part of his own world’s technology depended – directly or indirectly – on either fossil fuels or radioactive energy, both of which were known to be both limited and toxic. But while human scientists had at least begun working on alternatives - though they weren’t nearly far enough along - the Cybertronians had instead opted to search for new fuel elsewhere. Which, again, probably wasn’t that different from what humanity might have done (or might still do, in fact), if dependable interstellar travel were available to them.
It was also apparent that Ironhide, though possessed of a knowledge base centuries ahead of anything Tony had even imagined so far, was neither scientist nor engineer. He was a soldier, as he had said. He knew enough to fix his own weapons and make field repairs to his own person. He could use the available technology of his own people. He could easily navigate the comparatively primitive data highways of this world, to the point where he picked up the English language, complete with accent, sayings and idioms, in a matter of seconds. He would probably never invent anything new, though. Which made Tony’s ARC reactor all that much more fascinating to him.
As unbelievable as it sounded, especially considering that he had cobbled it together in a cave, Ironhide’s scans had revealed that Tony’s invention used the meager amount of Energon inside it to greater efficiency than just about any Energon-driven technology the Autobot knew of and would keep running for at least another month, maybe more. Another short-sightedness of their technological development, it seemed. With Energon always having been available in huge amounts, they had never bothered to find ways to use it to its absolute maximum potential. Again, much like most car companies in the human world were only just beginning to develop more fuel-efficient engines, having opted for high-powered, fuel-guzzling monstrosities for decades prior.
Talking about Energon and Tony’s ARC reactor had then brought them to the business part of their talk, so to speak. Despite being all starry eyed and slack-jawed about meeting an artificial alien life form (and if Ironhide wasn’t alive, he gave a damn good impression of it), Tony was smart enough to know that this wasn’t “Encounter of the Third Kind”. Ironhide had revealed himself to him because he wanted something. Several things, in fact.
“Okay, first thing,” the alien had said, “that Energon cube you had ain’t gonna last me forever. It’ll keep my basic systems running for quite some time, but if anything comes up, I’ll run out of gas quickly. So I’m gonna need more. Just like you do, I guess, if you want to keep that doohickey in your chest running.”
So first order of business, make more Energon. Apparently the stuff occurred naturally only on Cybertron, but the Cybertronians had developed several methods for creating artificial substitutes from a number of different sources. Ironhide knew how, but lacked the resources to do it. It wouldn’t be as powerful as the real deal, but it would keep them both alive and ticking.
Second item on the list was his comrades. Ironhide, naturally, wanted to find whatever other survivors of his ship might be scattered across Earth and, if possible, reactivate them. For which they would need Energon as well, the first item on their agenda. It also led to a rather worrying thought.
“If I survived,” Ironhide had said, “then some of the Decepticons might have as well. I don’t think your world is in any way ready for that.”
Thoughts of towering metal warriors rampaging across planet Earth went through Tony’s head as he finally lay down in his bed to get some sleep. Escaping from that cave in Afghanistan, he had been driven by the need to put the weapon genie back into the bottle, to stop the spread of the arms he had created among those who would use them for terror and pain. Now, though, it seemed his intended crusade might become a lot bigger than he had ever imagined.
Afghani terrorists had found an alien laser weapon lying around in a cave. God alone knew what other artifacts of Ironhide’s people might yet be found somewhere. And God help them all if someone were to figure out how to use them, or worse, turn one of the Decepticons back on.
Drifting off, he committed himself to helping Ironhide. In return, though, Ironhide would have to help him, too. Such was the way of business, after all.
End Chapter 4