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Tony Stark stared up at the explosion.

That should have worked. The math worked out, the science worked out, and the logic worked out. Why, then, was an entire crowd of onlookers fleeing from burning debris as the security tried to move them more safely. Tony looked back down at the ground level and looked around. The engineers in charge of this project were even scrabbling to find out what had gone wrong. What could have happened?

Suddenly, Tony caught sight of an African man in dark clothes. There was nothing really remarkable about him. That was, except for the fact that he appeared to be speaking into his wristwatch. He wasn’t just looking at it, his watch was lifted right to his mouth and his lips were moving: he was quite literally speaking into it like a walkie-talkie.

Tony’s eyes narrowed.

***

2 Days Later
Howard glanced up as his teenage son strolled into his office. ‘Hey, dad. I thought Wakanda was supposed to be isolated.’

‘It is,’ Howard said without looking up.

Tony lifted some papers. ‘Well, apparently, they think isolation only counts with people coming in to their country.’

‘Huh?’ The remark was what got his attention. Howard lifted his head. The data Tony had found and collected was right in front of him and Howard’s mind immediately latched onto it – and onto all the implications. He lurched forward. ‘Let me see!’ Tony released the file into his hand and Howard read through it.

‘Shit!’

Five minutes later, Howard was tearing out of the driveway and heading for the Pentagon. The CIA were already apprehending the guys in his company that Tony had narrowed down. It wasn’t just SI, though. These jokers had been controlling the technological development of the entire goddamn world.

It kind of make Howard wonder if the failure of his flying car, back in the 40s, really had been his design flaws.

***

‘The discovery was made, yesterday, that while the isolated nation of Wakanda refuses access to its borders, it frequently sends its own people out into the rest of the world. These Wakandans come out as spies. They accumulate the knowledge that the rest of civilisation acquires and takes that knowledge back home. The spies also systematically sabotage and hinder our progress in a presumed attempt to keep us from catching up to them.’

*CLICK*

‘It’s a disgrace, really. So we can’t go and see what their country’s like, but they can come out here, see what we’ve got and just take it home? Makes you wonder how much of their “technological advancement” is built on stolen patents and ideas.’

*CLICK*

‘Already, 54 people have been arrested and found to be Wakandan spies.’

*CLICK*

‘The technological advancement is no lie. The Pentagon, with the help of child prodigy, Tony Stark, have discovered that Wakanda has both radar and satellite-jamming technology and there is a legitimate force-field around their country.’

*CLICK*

‘I wonder, if they can afford to send so many people; if they can afford to maintain these defences, why do they do nothing about the suffering of their neighbours?’

‘That’s right, an official statement from the Pentagon was released. They managed to get their first satellite images of Wakanda. They show clear signs of wealth. These people have clearly been sitting on a goldmine, so to speak, and what do they do? Do they extend any consideration or compassion towards their neighbours? Do they offer to help them with war? With famine? With disease? No! They pretend to be just as poverty-stricken and just ignore them.’

‘And how do they pay for anything either? We don’t know what their currency is, and all the universities that these people went to have stated that those individuals paid their fees upfront. How did they get that money?’

*CLICK*

‘I became aware of the issue,’ Howard Stark said to a panel of reporters, ‘when my son dug them up. Stark Industries prides itself on excellence in all aspects of our business. Just as our weapons are the best in the market, we do not allow moles in our ranks. We, along with every other company, and every branch of government, are currently going through our ranks with a fine-toothed comb. No rock will be left unturned and no traitors will remain in our midst.

***

Obadiah Stane looked at the cuffs on his wrists. Fucking Wakandans.

When Tony had found out about them and Howard had begun cleaning house, Obie hadn’t been worried. But he hadn’t been expecting Howard to start going through every single cent that went through the company in the past year – and notice the discrepancy. He hadn’t expected Howard to grow suspicious of him despite their long-standing friendship and to have a raid done on his office.

He hadn’t expected to be caught red-handed

He hadn’t expected to have two intelligence agents knock on his door to arrest him.

He hadn’t expected, a few days later, to receive a visitor in the form of a young Tony Stark, accompanied by his mother. He hadn’t expected Tony to have grown immune to his manipulations practically overnight. And he certainly hadn’t expected Tony to look him dead in the eye and denounce him.

‘Rhodey’s out there every day. Our weapons are supposed to keep him and the other guys safe. Because of you, they were also being used to attack them.’

Obadiah Stane certainly didn’t expect to be stood up in a public trial and found guilty of treason and embezzlement and sentenced to a lengthy prison sentence.

***

Howard walked into the living room and smiled lightly when he saw his son fast asleep on the sofa with a knitted blanket thrown over him. Howard moved over and turned up the heater to make sure the kid didn’t get too cold. The winter chill was already setting in. He smiled as his wife walked into the living room to greet him. He could forget the problems for just a moment.

‘How’d it go?’ Maria asked.

Just a moment.

‘Not too well, really.’ Howard shook his head in exasperation. ‘Peg’s determined that no one could have infiltrated her.’ His voice dripped with sarcasm. ‘I’m thinking of pulling back from S.H.I.E.L.D., really. If she’s not willing to accept that she got infiltrated when everyone else did, that’s a ticking time bomb right there. Best to get out from the blast zone.’

‘Probably, yes.’ Maria checked on Tony, who was still lightly snoring. ‘Did you find out how Tony found out about the Wakandans?’

‘Yeah. Tony went to see a demo for some new computer system. He’d done the reading, of course, so he knew everything was perfect. It should have worked. Instead, it blew up. Blast radius wasn’t very big so the most the onlookers got was a bit of a scare. But Tony saw one of those sanctimonious assholes talking into a wrist communicators.’

‘Wrist communicator? You mean like they have in spy movies?’

‘Apparently, the Wakandans really have them.’

‘And Tony worked it out from there.’

‘Yeah.’ Howard walked back over and smiled at him. ‘He worked it out from there. To tell you the truth,’ he ruffled his son’s hair, ‘I couldn’t be prouder of him.’

Maria smiled. ‘Me neither.’