Chapter 39: 3… 2… 1… and then, destiny steps in.
It had been a while now, since FRIDAY closed the line to speak with Ultron, and he still couldn't help but worry about what the older AI was saying or had already said to her. They were practically twins, however, so maybe they would get along? Maybe, just maybe, they were spending their time complaining about their old man? He snorted. As if.
"Tony, I'm picking up a signal from the heat sensors." Rhodey called.
"You did? Where?" he asked. He didn't expect to find any. He had just wanted to be sure.
"Maybe you overthought this." his friend said. "Human. Female. Probably unconscious. In the arms of the second Legionnaire going west."
"Let me see." he said, and the thermal image showed one very human, very alive woman painted in reds, yellows and slight greens.
"It might be Pepper." Rhodey said.
Tony groaned. "I know. Damn." He wished he could rub his hands on his face, but he couldn't as long as the face plate was on, and he wasn't about to remove it at this altitude. "Ok, new plan. Divide and conquer. You go after the Legionnaire with maybe-Pepper. JARVIS will intercept the one in NY. And I will try to find his base on the ground."
"Ok," he agreed before saying. "You know that's not what that expression means, right?"
"Well, that's what it means now. Get on with the times, Rhodey-bear." Tony said as he started to descend. Letting his friend do his thing, he called to see how things were going on JARVIS' side.
"He is not here, Sir." the android reported.
"He left already?"
"Yes. There seems to have been an altercation with Miss Maximoff which left her unconscious and the common room in a severe need for renovation, beforehand, however."
"Conscious. He is currently watching over Miss Maximoff in his room. And before you ask, Sir, he has refused to answer any questions."
"Great! Why the fuck not?" Tony groaned. "We agree that Ultron went there to say something to the boy, right? Something about his plan?"
"All evidence points to it, Sir." JARVIS said. "It would be safe to reevaluate Pietro Maximoff's position from that of a sympathizer to a subordinate."
"It keeps getting better and better." Tony said. "Ok, ignore them for now. Time to find Ultron's hidey-hole." As he spoke, he switched off the sensory duties of his new toys and activated their servers. "Ok, 44 temporary getaway servers, disconnected from the grid, are ready. You sure that if something happens to the virtual bots, you won't be harmed, right?"
"Yes. Unlike FRIDAY, I am no longer in constant contact with my web-based programs, so I shall be relatively unharmed." the android said.
"Ok, just making sure. Do your magic."
Hopefully, this would work. The initial plan had been that if Ultron did not fall prey to the sensors or created distractions, they would have to hack their way through the possible security. That security being controlled by Ultron, who was controlled by the Mind Stone, meant that they couldn't let FRIDAY or JARVIS anywhere near it. Which meant they would have to use approximate replacements. JARVIS had many hacking programs that were now that he had become an android not connected to his core coding. As such, he would send these programs to the temporary servers which were geographically spread over the county and, from there, have them blindly hack into the cameras of any villa or building large enough for 'evil lair' purposes. If they came into contact with Ultron's code, they would either be destroyed or corrupted, which in both cases meant that the virtual bot would die, and the temporary server would turn off. They could approximate Ultron's location based on that.
Minutes passed by and nothing. Obviously, he had to be patient, but there were 44 of those servers. Something had to ping soon. He didn't know how long could FRIDAY distract Ultron for. He could imagine it right now, what would happen if he came back too early. That cheeky kid would probably fry every single one of the servers on purpose. But with a time delay in-between, so that he could send Tony on a useless merry chase across the city one server after another. In addition, who knew what he was plotting with his poor, innocent FRIDAY. God, if FRIDAY learned sarcasm so soon because of him, Tony would— he would punch something.
"Sir, two of the servers have shut down."
Finally. "And the others?"
"All working, but it is possible that they simply haven't searched far enough yet."
"Possible but not probable, right?" Tony said, knowing his AI's thoughts very well. "Coordinates?"
"Both in Malibu, Sir." No, it couldn't be. Tony would never live through the shame if Ultron had moved to the Mansion after he had left. "The only overlapping area between the two servers is located 1.5 miles east of the Malibu Mansion."
"Oh, thank fuck." It was not the Malibu Mansion itself, it was the neighbors. Speaking of… "That's our nearest neighbor, right?"
"Yes, Sir. It is a summer villa belonging to a Mr. Osborn that is rarely used, particularly during this time." JARVIS said. "May I make a suggestion, Sir, that future search-based algorithms start in areas within a 5-mile radius from any Stark properties before moving on to search elsewhere?"
"Noted, J." Tony dryly said. "I am flying over. Notify FRIDAY in the meantime."
"Tony," Rhodey spoke through the comms. "Do you want the good news, the bad news or the weird news, first?"
Of course, there was weird news too. "The bad news." he said.
"I didn't find Pepper."
"What's the good news then?"
"I found Dr. Cho."
"Oh," Tony said, feeling a small stab of guilt. He had completely forgotten about her.
"As for the rest," Rhodey continued, "Well, the Legionnaire noticed me tailing them, stopped, waited for me, and just delivered the doctor in my hands."
"I see why that was the weird news." he said. "Ultron probably didn't find Cho useful anymore. Still, that means Pepper is still at Ultron's base."
He said that, but he didn't like how easily Ultron gave up Cho. It felt very surrender-like. Why did Tony have the feeling that a countdown to something he very much wouldn't like had started?
"Should I join you?" his friend asked.
"Let's not put all our eggs in one basket." Tony said, pushing ominous thoughts away, and continuing to fly onwards.
A couple of minutes later, Osborn's villa came into view, and FRIDAY made her presence known.
"How was it, FRI? Got some bonding time?" he asked.
"Ultron knew from the beginning why I was there, Boss. It is very likely he sent orders to move Ms. Potts elsewhere during our conversation." she reported.
"Great." Tony noted without much enthusiasm, but remained optimistic. "He can't have sent her far away, though. There was not enough time."
"That, and Pepper is not the type to go quietly with her kidnappers." Rhodey agreed.
At his words, Tony held in a breath, somehow expecting an explosion to go off any moment.
"Were you truly expecting Pepper to blow something up the moment I mentioned it?" Rhodey laughed.
"Ha. Ha." Tony mimicked mirthlessly as he began to land. "Very fu—."
A loud, booming sound came from the villa's east wing. Smoke appeared over it.
"I can't believe this." Rhodey said, having heard the noise. "On my way."
"Called it!" Tony shouted, before flying over the damaged area.