Hudson River, early morning. Joan Milligan strolls along its banks, just doing her job. Her job being her volunteer work for the 'Adopt-A-River' Program. Each week, she and other volunteers came down to this historic river to try to clean it up to the best of their abilities. So far today, it has been hard, tedious work. Already filling her 4th trash bag of the morning, Joan has had about enough when she steps in yet another unidentified gooey substance. "Ewww!" she said in contempt. "Why can't people just put it in a trash can? Or better yet, why do I continue to do this job?" Finally managing to remove the goo with a stick, she begins to stand when she notices something black and gray. Picking it up, she realizes it is a wallet. Upon opening it, she finds Brian Rhodes' student id card and a pair of twenty dollar bills. Now these would certainly brighten my day she thinks as she takes the money out in a smooth motion. He probably doesn't even know it's gone. I'll just--. She let out a long sigh. No Joan. Be the good samaritan and take the wallet AND the money back. Placing the money back inside, she tucked the wallet away in her bra, deciding to return it when she finished up here.
Across town in a Empire State University dorm room, the aforementioned Brain Rhodes finally comes out of his bed. He has not slept all night. Stumbling to the bathroom with crust in his eyes, he somehow manages not to pass out before plopping down on the toilet. The grizzly scene keeps repeating over and over in his head. Armada holding his gauntlet to Michelle Gomez's head. His clumsy leap to push Michelle out harm's way. The sound of the blast ripping through Michelle's body and her resulting scream. Then the rage. Brian massaged his temples in an effort to relax the vision away, but to no avail. Dammit! he thought. Why can't I get her out of my head? I know it's my fault she died, but why do I have to be tortured? Why did I have to take that armor in the first place? He stood and flushed the toilet and walked to the sink. 5 facefuls of water later, he did feel some relief. Walking back towards his bed, he falls face first. 9:41. I got to study sometime today for my Physics exam, but I don't see why I can't sleep for another few hours. He rolled over and pulled his blanket over his head. For once, the outside world was peaceful, unlike the jackhammer he frequently awoke to during the week. He could feel the sleep coming on.
"Sonuva..." Brian muttered as he reached for his phone. He was surprised to hear who was on the other end. "Hello?"
"Brian? It's Tony. If I called at a bad time, too bad. We need to talk." Brian sat up abruptly.
"I know you helped Rhodey clean out one of his old apartments yesterday. He didn't have anything peculiar did he?"
"Yesterday, War Machine showed up in Manhattan with Armada, and I was hoping it was Rhodey."
"No, he went home after we finished. It was me Tony."
"Whoa. That was you? From the film I saw, you looked pretty good out there.
"Not like someone didn't leave instructions. Tony laughed a bit at this remark then turned somber.
"I saw the news coverage of the woman, Brian. What happened?"
"Armada knocked out my accessory systems and I had to go without." Brian said in a whisper. "I should've saved her."
"Look Brian, if I beat myself up every time I couldn't save someone, then I wouldn't be in this business. For your first time, you took out a major menace and saved other people's lives in the process. Her death may haunt you for awhile, but it comes with the territory. Just look at the bright side."
"That's easy for you to say."
"You'll get the point. But speaking of which, where's the armor now?"
"The armor? Um...ahh..." Brian sighed. "It's in the bottom of the Hudson."
"The bottom of the Hudson! What did you do that for?"
"I thought it wouldn't cause anymore trouble down there." Brian could hear Tony's breathing quicken, as if he was about to explode. But just as suddenly, he let out a deep breath.
"That's alright Brian. I'll just zip over there and get it. I still want to know if Rhodey wants it."
"If you want Tony."
"Remember what I said Brian. I'll see you around."
"I will Tony. Later." He hung up the phone and looked at his clock again. 10:15. So much for sleeping now. He stretched one last time and rolled out of bed onto the floor.
To ESU's immediate south, there lies a string of adult entertainment establishments. One of these is known as Tequila Vodka. And within the Vodka, lies the next part of our story.
Jezzebel Ramos has been working here for a year and a half. She's seen it all, from fights, to wives barging in and dragging their husbands out, to drunken men stripping in between numbers, lapdances, cocaine, heroin, ecstasy, pot, LSD...the list goes on. She's only here this morning because the main morning headliner has the flu and the double shifts will help. As much as she'd rather be with her 7-year-old son, Julius, this is what pays the bills. And paying the bills is of the utmost importance when you're a single mom.
Jezzi, as her friends called her, grinded and gyrated to the background music, showing why she was a headliner at the club. She watched the men closely as she went along. Only 4 of them were present, but this was before the lunch hour and the club wasn't normally that packed in the morning. One pudgy man was happy as a lark just to be there as he sipped his Coors Light and tossed random bills at her. Another was the most fit, appearing to be in his mid-twenties, and also the most attractive to Jezzi. She spent the most time playfully brushing him with her whip and caressing his face. He was giving up the most money. His friend seemed to be enjoying himself, but seemed apprehensive, like he was expecting his wife. He threw the random dollar when his friend nudged him.
And then there was the scruffy looking one. Skinny as pole, and looking as healthy as a man of 100. He merely sat and watched. And there was Roy, the bodyguard. And somewhere around was her boss, Nigel M. Kerr. Jezzi let the whip brush against the younger man more suggestively. He's not that bad. Maybe I should talk to him after the show, he seems like he could be fun. She whipped hard at the more plump fellow when he took a free grope of her mid-thigh. The man drew his hand back in pain, but was soon smiling again. Jezzi liked being the headline dominatrix dancer. When she first started she had been the girl-next-door act, and even though she enjoyed it, things didn't quite work out with it. When the previous house dominatrix hand quit to take a better paying job, Jezzi jumped at the chance. Always in control, she smirked to herself as she watched the friend's hand retract slowly after she caught him about to squeeze her butt.
Her music was halfway through, which brought her closer to returning to home to her son. She had promised to take him to the park today. I'll just finish up with these three, since they're paying the most, she thought as she stole a glance at the frail, cheapskate of a man. It was the first time she saw that he was staring with a glint of madness now. Jezzi quickly dismissed the thought. No sooner did she begin to let her bottom bounce frantically in front of the three customers, a hundred dollar bill slid toward her. Quickly realizing that the man had suddenly become interested, she turned away from the bill, now more worried. At least Roy seems to be paying attention today. As she began another teasing of the other three once again, yet another bill slid into view. Seeing how the men eyed it, she picked it up and tucked it into her g-string. Maybe he'll leave me alone now. After a few more minutes passed, it seemed he had returned to his vacant stare again. Jezzi went ahead and gave the 2 remaining men(she had been right about the friend's wife)her full attention and breathed a sigh of relief when the song ended.
"Let's hear it for the Dominatrix!" the DJ announced as Jezzi picked up the remaining money. She backed up and bumped into something. Seeing that the pole was a good 3 feet behind her didn't help. Because there was a pair of legs right behind her. Jezzi stood up quickly and tried to run but the strange man grabbed her and held her tight. His hand immediately tore roughly at her breast while the other covered her mouth.
"I paid good money for you," he said in a gravely drunken voice. "And I'm expecting to get the goods." Jezzi wanted to puke and to top it off, she looked out a Roy and he was just standing there! Not again! she screamed silently. Too many times this has happened. She frequently had a dance end only to jump right into a rape by drunks. There had been more at first, fewer when she became Dominatrix. This would be her 5th. The man removed his hand from her mouth and let it slide lower toward her panties. Jezzi squirmed and wiggled, but the man's grip was strong. She was screaming at the top of her lungs with her mouth free, but her cries fell on deaf ears, since the other two had split at the first sign of trouble. Then just as suddenly, she stopped her screams. "I see you've come around," the man hissed with a crooked smile. He turned her to face him. Jezzi smiled at him and placed her hand on his stomach, causing the man to close his eyes in anticipation. He'd wish he hadn't. Her eyes glowed a mysterious green now, and her hand soon achieved the same look.
The Vodka was filled with blinding light of the same color for a few scant seconds. Then the man looked down at his chest, gasping for air while looking at the basketball size hole in his chest. He then crumpled. Oh my God, Jezzi thought. What have I done?
"Jezzebel!" Roy yelled as he approached the stage. "Look what the hell you did to him, you killed him!"
"I know, I know, it just happened, I was trying to get away, and you wouldn't help, and I was so scared..." Roy took Jezzi into his arms.
"It's okay baby," Roy said, feigning tenderness. "You just come to the back with Roy, and I'll make it all..oof!" Roy found that her punch to his gut knocked the wind out of him. "What the hell is up with you bitch?" Roy asked ready to hit back. Jezzi's eyes glowed green again, and Roy turned tail and ran out yelling his head off. Oh my God. What is up with me? I need to get out of here, clear my head. She turned to run for the dressing room.
"And where are you going Jezzebel?" Nigel asked, blowing cigar smoke into her face. "You think you can run? You killed a paying customer for no reason, scared off the other patrons, and made the bodyguard piss himself. What am I going to do with you?"
"But Nigel," Jezzi pleaded. "He was trying..."
"I don't care!" he screamed. "The customer is always right, which means if he wants sex, you give him sex!" He then smacked her, sending her to the floor where she began to cry. Nigel sighed and moved toward her. "Look, I'm sorry Jez...it's just I'm scared. I don't want to lose you." He knelt down and his hand fell right to her behind. A nano second later, he found himself flung against the wall. Jezzi's whole body had a green aura to it now, her eyes losing all humanity. She threw a table at him and watched it splinter over his head. "No, please don't kill me! We'll make a deal. Come on Jez honey!" She stepped closer and he could feel the aura's heat.
"You hurt me." she said through gritted teeth.
"I know, I know, and I'm sooooo sorry Jez...Ms. Ramos! Really! I know I let all those men have their way with and I know me and Roy even got some action at your expense, but we can work it out! No more men will be allowed to touch, how's that? Huh?" She didn't answer him. She strided closer. Nigel tried to run but his pant leg was caught on a loose nail that he never took the time to fix. Now it would be his end.
"No deals," Jezzi said. "You will die!" She raised a hand at his head.
"No! Please don't--" It was too late. His head rolled and stopped at her feet.
"Oh my God," she said panicked as she returned to her normal state. Seeing the bodies she almost puked again. "I got to get out of here." Grabbing and putting on her clothes was a task, but one she easily accomplished with the adrenaline she was kicking out. She started up the sidewalk which was surprisingly clear. What do I do now? What do I tell Julius? And Even more important: what have I become? She picked up her pace and continued the trek home.
"Aww come on!" Brian yelled in disgust. "That was a foul ref! Quit daydreaming and do your damn job." He sat back and watched Kobe Bryant go in for a layup. He covered his eyes.
"That makes it the L.A. Lakers 105, the Philadelphia 76ers 100 with a minute and forty-two seconds to go..." the TV blared out it's last words before Brian turned it off. He stared at his Physics book and his blank paper. "And my report is going nowhere," he groaned. "It's hard to write about this stuff when you know you're directly responsible for someone's death." He pounded his head on the book, turning the TV back on beforehand. He was only stopped by a knocking at the door.
"Hi," Joan said as he opened the door. "I was down at the Hudson this morning doing some...thinking," she covered. "And I came across your wallet and I thought you might want it back." She handed it to Brian who looked it over.
"Wow. I didn't even know. Thanks a lot ma'am." He then closed the door. He didn't even reward me? I knew I should of kept it. Joan thought as she headed toward the elevator. Back inside Brian tossed his wallet on the bed, only to be surprised to hear the weight of it's impact. He picked it up and looked it over more thoroughly, now noticing the mix of silver with the black. On a hunch he whispered, "Detach." The wallet raised into the air and the War Machine armor separated from his wallet. "It must of bonded with the wallet before I threw it last night!" The armor seemed to be sneering at him. "Just can't get rid of you can I? Dis-engage." The armor compacted and fell beside the wallet. "Guess I better call Tony." Brian muttered as he reached for the phone. It was then he heard the television again.
"We interrupt this program for some breaking news. This morning in lower Manhattan, two men have been left murdered by a young woman identified as Jezzebel Ramos at this exotic dance club behind me, the Tequila Vodka. The club bodyguard said the she is apparently a mutant gone mad. Police are scouring the city for her now. If you see this woman, please stay away from her. She is very dangerous..." Brian could only stare at the armor now as the phone dangled in his hand.
Across town, Jezzebel was running into the front door of her apartment as a police cruiser passed seconds after. She immediately closed her door and ran to Julius.
"Mommy, me and Anna saw the news," the little boy said in his mother's arms. "What happened?"
"That's what I'd like to know." her babysitter Anna asked.
"I can't explain it," Jezzi said. "This man tried to.." she looked at Anna with a telling look, for not wanting Julius' young ears to hear. "And next thing I know, there's a hole in his chest. Then the bodyguard got scared when I looked at him and then the boss tried to stop me...and he ended up with no head. I'm just so scared..." she began to cry.
"It's okay mommy. You can have my teddy bear." Julius said unknowingly.
"Thank you baby," Jezzi said wiping her eyes. "The police are probably on there way here now. I don't know if they'll believe my story, I don't want to go to prison." As if on cue, the pounding sounded on her door.
"Jezzebel Ramos, come out with your hands up!" Jezzi handed Julius, who began to cry, to Anna and opened the door. The police quickly cuffed her and read her her rights. Next thing she knew she was being shoved into a cruiser. And the last thing she saw was Julius chasing after the car until Anna finally caught a hold of him.
"We now return to 'Who Wants To Be A Millionaire' Daytime Soaps Edition". the TV was nothing but an underlying tone to Brian now. The studying was coming in waves now, as he soaked in every piece of information his eyes ran across. Satisfied, he closed the book. 2:58. Tony would be here at 7:30 to pick up the armor, and with how well his studying went after that, it had obviously relieved some tension. Brian walked over to his dresser drawer and peered under his underwear. He saw that he had over a half a bag of marijuana left. He hadn't smoked for about 2 weeks now, telling his dorm friends that he couldn't mess up these exams. Maybe I should just smoke a bit now as a little reward... he thought fingering his bowl. But I don't want to hear Tony's substance abuse speech if he catches me. Maybe afterwards. Now that I think about it though...I wonder what happened to that girl that killed those men? His eyes fell upon the armor again but he quickly turned to the TV when another bulletin came across.
"An update on the young lady that murdered 2 men this morning has just arrived. She was apprehended by the police at approximately 2:05 pm at her apartment a few blocks away from the club. She is currently being taken to Attica, where she will be held until she is arraigned later this evening." Brian sat back onto his bed with a smile, glancing at the armor. "Hah! See! I don't need you! Hell, the FF or the Avengers didn't even have to step in! Hah! Maybe I don't have to be a hero after all." Only the phone stopped his celebration.
" Brian, change of plans," Tony's voice boomed through the phone. "I'm gonna be there at 4, because I have a gala to attend later. Any problems?"
"No, I'll be here." Brain responded.
"Good. See you in sixty." And the phone clicked off. Hanging up, Brian looked at the armor and smiled again. The sooner, the better.
At that same moment, the police car containing Jezzebel was at a stand still in early New York traffic.
"Dammit!" Joey McHale said as he pounded his fist against the wheel. "Every fucking time." His partner, Rob Parish, tried to calm him.
"It's okay Joey," he said in his Brooklyn accent. "Ms. Thang back there isn't going anywhere, so forget about it!" He chomped into another donut.
"Easy for you to say, you're contented as long as you have a box of filled donuts. I thought you was watching your cholesterol."
"Only around the wife." he said with a snicker. In the back, Jezzi squirmed uncomfortably in her cuffs. They definitely weren't taking any chances with her. She looked out the window, hoping for some kind of view, but only found more angry drivers. Plus, she really had to use the bathroom.
"Ummm...excuse me?" she said in a firm tone. Parish turned around and glared menacingly, which he might of pulled off if he didn't have donut crumbs on his mouth and chin. "I have to use the bathroom." Parish and McHale began to laugh.
"What do ya wanna do girlie?" McHale growled. "Take a piss off this bridge?"
"Yeah," Parish chipped in. "Or do you just want my donut box?" The two laughed hysterically.
"No." Jezzi said more harshly. "I just have to piss."
"You should've thought about that before you killed two men this morning," McHale answered. "Then you could piss all you want." The car then fell to deathly silence, aside from the blaring horns and cursing outside of it. Parish fingered his donuts now, as if he had lost his appetite. "Oh, and another thing," McHale added. "Since you must be a mutie, I'll make sure you wait as long as possible." Parish turned to look at Jezzi to backup his partner's ignorant slur but turned just in time to see the blast send Joey's brain against the windshield. When his eyes did lock with Jezzebel's, there was nothing human remaining.
"Look lady," Rob said as he fumbled with his door handle. "I don't believe in anything Joey said. As far as I'm concerned, Joey was an idiot. He deserved to die. Just don't kill me!" His chubby fingers grasped the handle and yanked, only to find it locked. "Hey, if you let me live, I'll even let you go! Won't report it until I'm sure you've skipped town. How's that sound?" Jezzebel looked as if she was contemplating the offer. But the silence was killing Parish. "So what's it gonna be Jezzebel?" She looked at him with an evil sneer, just as he finally managed to unlock the door.
"No deal you fat pig!" Her plasma blast barely missed as Rob flung his door open and fell out. But with traffic surrounding him, and with him not being the most nimble of men, Parish's clumsy leap over a car left him flat on his back. "You want to hunt and treat me like an animal, but as soon as the table's turn, you want to make a deal? Go to hell." Rob tried to crawl away but only found himself backed into a bumper.
"Please...don't..." he barely managed through his trembling lips.
"By the way punk," Jezzi snarled as she lowered her hand to his head. "The name's Dominatrix...and don't you ever forget it!" The shot blew through the top of his head, leaving the remaining half of his brain exposed. Her laughter carried with the wind as she lifted herself into the air with the eyes of bewildered drivers watching. Jezzebel Ramos was dead. Only Dominatrix remained.
Brian paced around the dorm room impatiently. 3:45. 15 minutes until freedom. And he could hardly wait. "Come on Mr. Stark," he said as he looked out his window. "I just hope you don't try to play this one fashionably late." He tried reading a book, but couldn't concentrate. He tried to watch TV, but kept looking out the window. He tried to eat, but he needed to do some grocery shopping pretty badly. So all he could do was pace the next nine hundred minutes. But that didn't last long either. He flopped onto the bed, right onto the armor. "Ow!" he pushed it over, sending it teetering towards a fall. He slid it back with his foot. "Just can't stay out of the way can you?" The armor seemed to shine in response.
"This just in. The woman who murdered two men at an adult club this morning, has escaping, murdering two police officers in the process. She was last seen heading northwest. If you have any information, or see this woman, contact the number below, which is the FBI." Brian's jaw had dropped. He looked at the armor.
"No," he said shaking his head. "Let the FF or the Avengers deal with it. Or Daredevil, or Captain America, hell, I'll tell Tony when he shows. He'll take care of it." He didn't believe a word he was saying. He sighed and looked down at the armor again. Standing up, he stated, "This is the last time. Engage." The armor responded to the command and swirled around him, locking itself. "Let's go." War Machine said as he flung open his window and took off into the late afternoon air.
4:05. There was a slight rapping at Brian's window, followed by the window's opening. "Brian?" Iron Man asked as he entered soundlessly. "I just heard about this woman, and I was gonna head out after her, but I knew how much you wanted to get rid of the armor…Brian?" He looked around to find no armor, readings of no occupants in the last ten minutes and no Brian. "Don't tell me…that hardhead went after that girl." Tony sighed deeply and went back for the window. "I better track him to make sure he stay out of trouble." He closed the window and started northwest but stopped short. "No. Brian's on his own. He needs to do this himself." He started to head back for Stark Solutions. Good luck War Machine. And with that, he went the opposite direction of Machine.
NEXT ISSUE: War Machine goes head to head with Dominatrix. But what's her deal? And why does she keep hitting on Brian? Be here for Round One in "Forbidden Fantasies" Part Two!