“I am satisfied with my care,” Hiro forced himself to say, knowing that Baymax only wanted the best for him—which currently was escape from the airless, colorful place and a safe return home. He watched the rocket glove ignite and felt the jolt of force sending him towards their portal with the pod holding Professor Callaghan’s daughter inside. Following the laws of action-reaction, Baymax flew back farther and farther into the darkness, a graying blimp in the dark space-between the bright swirling clouds of unknown matter.
“Baymax,” he whispered, and then the worst possible scenario happened: a piece of debris boomeranged against the pod and into him. The suit sensed a force exceeding that which was safe for Hiro’s limbs and suit to withstand and automatically de-coupled the magnets in his gloves. His gloves slipped from their perch on the pod, and pod and the rocket-propelled glove sped by. “Oh, no,” Hiro gasped as his body flung backwards in a slow flip and the blunt steel beam continued its twisting path beyond. Hiro didn’t have time to waste as he bumped into what used to be a massive wall holding a span of empty window frames. Carefully pulling his legs beneath him, he angled his head towards the flickering, bright portal. His brain was saying that everywhere was up and the nausea he’d been pushing away was made worse since the object he was on was spinning slowly. It was hard to judge the distance but Hiro would have to risk it or be stuck here forever.
Adrenaline still pumping through him, he shoved off as hard as he could, keeping his hands forward so that the momentum wouldn’t send him into endless forward somersaults. “Yes! C’mon, c’mon, c’mon…” Hiro floated slowly forward; he could see that the gap between him and his goal was massive. His brain was running trajectories and he thought he might make it as he soared towards the shrinking portal. He was sorely regretting not building the booster boots he’d been toying with. Some extra forward momentum would have been nice.
Hiro watched as the portal engulfed the pod, how the thruster’s glare winking out, how the portal light grew weaker, sometimes sputtering like a lit candle guttered by wind. “No, stay open. A little longer. C’mon, please. Aunt Cass. She can’t lose us both.” Tadashi was gone, long gone, but Hiro still had a chance as long as he could get to the portal before it—
The orange bright portal slid close feet away from him. “NO!” Goosebumps erupted across his skin and he shivered in disbelief. Hiro was stranded. His heart hammered in his ears so hard that he could almost hear Baymax chiding him about his elevated heart rate—“No, really? I didn’t notice,” he gasped in his helmet, his voice thin and higher-pitched than he meant it to be. Well, Hiro hadn’t done a lot of research on what happened to someone stranded in a void, like outer space. Did they freeze to death first or asphyxiate? He hadn’t really put much thought into that.
While he had the foresight to make his suit air-tight and somewhat insulated—y’know, in case of dangerous aerosol chemicals or Baymax joyrides high in the low-oxygen atmosphere—he had skipped the extra hours of work it would have taken to hook his suit up to a full life-support with carbon dioxide scrubbers, oxygen tanks, and a heating system. Plus that would’ve lowered his maneuverability by a whole lot; it’s not like he expected that he’d be floating around uselessly in a vacuum. “Here floats the body of Hiroshi Hamada,” he said jokingly, but his voice cracked at the tail end of it. He hadn’t installed a recording device in his helmet, either. No point with Baymax around to do it for him. Sadly by the time his friends managed to re-engineer the portal and get him out, it would be too late.
“Ninety-nine robots of death on the wall, ninety-nine robots of death. Take one down, throw it around. Ninety-eight robots of death on the wall,” Hiro sang as he floated uselessly towards the purple clouds that never got any closer. Tadashi had always gotten annoyed by the song, which was precisely why Hiro had sung it at him. “Ninety-eight robots of death on the wall, ninety-eight robots of death,” he said feeling a bit choked. “Take one down, throw it around. Ninety-seven robots of death on the wall.” His eyes welled as the memory of Tadashi’s irritated voice snapped at him, but he forced himself not to cry. Floating tears would not make his situation more livable. Speaking of, what was he going to do if he had to itch his nose? This was the worst.
“Ninety-seven robots of death on the wall, ninety-seven robots of death,” He said at nothing, finding that it had calmed his heart and evened out his breathing. Really needed to conserve air at the moment and panicked breathing wouldn’t do that. “Take one down, throw it around. Ninety-six robots of death on the wall.” Well, he thought, singing really wouldn’t conserve anything either. Cyro-tech would’ve been really sweet right now, but that definitely wouldn’t have fit in his suit. So, he stopped singing and let the song play in his mind as Tadashi yelled and chased after him for being a brat.
Of all the ways to die, he suspected he’d croak because of carbon dioxide poisoning or lack of oxygen. He wasn’t sure what his rate of oxygen consumption was compared to his carbon dioxide output and where the levels of either gas would have to be to mean game over for him. Then again, even if he’d gotten life support into the suit like an astronaut, dehydration would’ve done him in next. He breathed in and out slowly. Sorry, Baymax. Sorry, Aunt Cass. If I was smart, I wouldn’t have gone through the portal in the first place. Hope the pilot survived her adventure.
Mostly he tried not to think about how his suit was growing colder. In the strange hot pink and dark purple swirling fluff, he could almost pretend he was experiencing a full-immersive virtual reality. The silence was the worst though. Hiro wanted to fill it with rambling, but knew better. If there was even a chance that his friends could rescue him, he would do his best to survive that long.
A brilliant light winked below him. Bringing his arms down, he went into a spin to get a better look. It looked like another portal had sprung into being. He watched the yellow tube of clouds twist as it lengthened from the cotton candy clouds because he really had nothing to do now.
He sighed as the world spun and spun lazily. Great. I get to watch kaleidoscope clouds morph until I die. The environment had seared itself into his brain, too incredible to forget.
It elongated, growing like some irradiated monster from a B movie, the bright orange center expanding. The whole thing swept side to side like a jump-rope.
It was growing immense, filling every edge of his visor. “It’s getting closer, isn’t it?” Hiro stared, head swiveling to keep his eyes pinned to it. He could make himself spin faster or slower by pulling in or letting out his limbs, but there was no way to escape bright tail of clouds. Suddenly it broke apart, the one end flailing around like a broken pressure tube; searing hot light expanded from the inside of it. “Well,” he told the more stable end that he was diving straight towards as it remained open to him, “Hopefully this’ll dump me somewhere near San Fransokyo. Otherwise, Aunt Cass is going to kill me.”
The sound of utter silence was no comfort at all.
Bluish light surrounded him and he closed his eyes in reflex. Warmth suffused through him and he felt gravity reassert himself. Instead of falling every which way like he had in that Zero-G void, he was falling downwards. That wouldn’t have been so terrifying if freefall had stopped after the portal’s strange glow left him. Unfortunately, a bright blue sky opened up around him and he was falling from a great height. “Baymax!” He yelled, forcing his arms and legs to splay out to promote resistance, and whipped his head to look back and forth in the hard wind.
A confusing cascade of sights overwhelmed him. This was not San Fransokyo, but it did look to be a metropolis of gray cement, smoke, and dark glass, a skyline without wind-catchers. He could identify streets now with fires and crumpled glass and bodies. He could see that he was going to splat against a tower and he screamed incoherently. Suddenly a red-and-gray blur came out of nowhere—smaller than Baymax—and grabbed him from the middle. “Be at ease, mortal! I have you!” The man with long blond hair carried him through the air, his other arm swinging something so fast it was a blur.
Hiro let out a relieved, slightly maniacal laugh. A surge of endorphins rushed through him.
The man landed on a tower.
Without a second thought, Hiro popped off the helmet. “YOU CAN FLY!? I mean, not that I’m upset about you catching me. In fact, thanks.”
“By the power of the mighty Mjolnir can I take flight!” The hand had ceased spinning what looked to be a block of steel stuck to a handle—Hiro pushed away, stumbling backwards, helmet clutched in front of him.
“A hammer? You used a hammer?! That’s—you can’t.” Hiro threw a hand up, trying to understand how that could even work. A person couldn’t spin something fast enough to provide lift—Hiro eyed the humanoid-looking man suspiciously. He was seriously considering that the ‘man’ was either an android or an ultra-lightweight cyborg. He was betting on the latter. His skin was too life-like.
“Who’s the brat in the beat-up costume?” A lithe woman with red hair said in English. She stared down at Hiro, neither amused nor unamused. Mostly he got the sense that she wouldn’t have a sense of humor. Nor the old, haggard man standing beside her. He was wearing a ragged sweater under a labcoat.
“I do not know,” the cyborg boomed, “He fell from the sky after Tony Stark.”
“The sky—?” Staring up at the cloudless blue, the old man also murmured in English which was odd since they were having no difficulty understanding the strange man with the hammer.
“Yes! I wonder if he was held captive by the Chitauri and saw his chance to escape,” the hammer-wielding guy said. Totally weird that he was clearly speaking Japanese while his companions were not.
“ ‘He’ is standing right here and can answer any questions.” Hiro crossed his arms annoyed at them.
The woman waved her hand dismissively at him. “His suit doesn’t look alien to me.” She stared at Hiro. “Strange time to be sky-diving when the airspace is locked down,” she said in passable Japanese. It was obviously not her native language.
He laughed nervously and patted his armor. “I’m Hiro Hamada. And this isn’t a costume; it’s carbon fiber armor. I custom-designed and built it to fight this guy who blew up a school and my brother with it.” He shifted feet, when she gave him a dubious look. “I uh... I sort of—fell on accident. And now I’m here…” He eyed the place and said, “In New York-Burgh. I think.”
“No, this Midgardian city is New York City. Behold, the Lady of Liberty holding up her majestic lantern!” The cyborg pointed his hammer towards the bright green statue in the harbor.
Hiro frowned. “No, that’s clearly the Statue of Liberty. Which means we’ve gotta be in New York-Burgh.”
“Clearly, you are mistaken.” The blond man bellowed stretching out his arms as if to show off the cityscape, “NYC is the Big Apple, and New York City stands for it. I do not yet know the story behind naming of this great city after giant fruit, but I am sure my friends will explain it!”
Leaning towards the other two, Hiro asked, “Is he on something?”
The woman smirked, though her eyes seemed thoughtful as she looked at him.
“I don’t know what happened. Where did the Tesseract go,” the old man with blue eyes said wearily in English. He turned to look up at the sky again, flicking his fingers and muttering to himself. Hiro thought he heard counting in between short mumbles of trajectory calculations.
“You’ll have to forgive the man with the hammer. He’s Thor Odinson, a prince of Asgard,” the woman said calmly, watchful.
“That’s not a place!” Hiro laughed. “What’s he going to say next? That the Frost Giants of Jotunheim and the Dark Elves of the Dvarheim are real?” He scoffed, missing the confused and slightly happy look on Thor’s face. He’s worse than Fred, Hiro thought, and that wacko wanted science to turn him into a giant fire-breathing lizard. The fourteen-year-old rolled his eyes. “You can’t really be—” The cyborg thumped him on the back, nearly knocking him down. “Hey!”
“Hamada the Hero, come feast on Shawarma with us! ”
“O-okay,” Hiro stuttered, unused to such boisterous back-pattings since Tadashi— Shaking his hands out to distract himself, he was led off the roof and into the levels below. Here and there entire walls had been torn away or windows had been blown out. He remembered the streets and smoke. Had there been a terrorist attack? “Um, is this place even safe to be in?”
“If it falls about our ears, know that I will keep you safe, Hamada the Hero,” Thor proclaimed confidently.
“That makes me feel so much better,” he said with a roll of his eyes.
The woman said behind him, “JARVIS, what’s the tower status?”
“Only minor structural damage was incurred in the battle with the Chitauri, Ms. Romanov,” a smooth British voice emanated from the walls responding in English. “However, the elevators are currently down since I am on war-time protocols.”
Hiro’s eyes grew large. So, he was right about what he saw outside. But even more exciting, he recognized a synth-voice when he heard one. Immediately, his head swung around looking for any data ports or access panels. Here and there, he thought he saw an old-fashioned computer screen with an honest-to-god screen saver. He hadn’t seen one of those since he visited the Police Station in San Fransokyo. Their equipment was notoriously outdated, though that meant it was cheaper to maintain and sometimes more reliable in the long-run. Hiro glanced at the others. If he could sneak off…
A slim hand grabbed the back of his head to force him forward. “Keep moving, brat,” Romanov ordered.
His mind whirred with the type of sensors and computing power for an entire building to get wired. Not to mention the money. He suspected he was in some sort of R&D military laboratory as they passed level after level of labs.
Twelve flights of stairs later, they piled through a door into a large, studio apartment with one wall of glass.
“JARVIS, sitch?” A dark-haired man with an honest-to-god bow growled from his perch. Hiro was growing very unsettled by how little Japanese was being spoken, considering it was the national language…
“Master Stark is at the hospital with Pepper, due to meet you at that diner once Dr. Banner recovers. The Hulk is in the Atlantic under the supervision of Captain America.” The voice-synth paused. “Mr. Odinson, the hospitals in a fifty-mile radius are overwhelmed by the number of injured. Master Stark suggests that Dr. Selvig be taken to a particular hospital in the countryside once you’ve had something to drink and eat. More information will be provided through your comm.”
Thor jerked his head down in a curt nod.
“Yes?” The old man looked confused and slightly disoriented, leaning against the countertop to look at Romanov. “Did you need something?”
“Dr. Selvig,” Thor said careful to clasp his shoulder to gain his attention, “I am to escort you to a hospital. But first I must provide us with sustenance after that memorable battle.” The so-called Norse god went to the sleek, large refrigerator and pulled out a bag of sliced lunch meat, cheese, and dark green frilly lettuce. Taking a loaf of bread from a box, he assembled several sandwiches without any condiments. “Would any among you like one?”
Deftly, the dark-haired man pressed a button and his bow folded up, which he tucked in a holster across his back. Hiro itched to inspect the bow. He slid three paper towels towards himself and handed one to Romanov and Dr. Selvig.
“I would,” Hiro said haltingly in the language they seemed most comfortable with. He set his helmet on a chair and accepted the sandwich he was offered. He finished it and swiped another one from Thor’s pile.
Beside the bow, an empty tube with a wide shoulder-strap laid on the counter beside the dark-haired man. Hiro could see that the tube contained an assembler of some sort. His hands twitched towards it. He wanted to see what it did. If he made a guess, he’d bet it assembled arrows for Mr. Bowman to use.
“And the kid in the funny purple suit—?”
“ARMOR. It’s carbon-fiber armor!” Hiro corrected loudly after he gulped down the last of the sandwich, patting his hands to his chest. He lifted his helmet. “And this is aerodynamically designed to withstand supersonic speeds without tearing my head off.”
The woman called Romanov by the synth-voice and the Bowman exchanged a look, and then her eyes slid back to observe Hiro.
Dr. Selvig smiled at him. “You came through the portal, didn’t you?”
When Hiro hesitated, Thor nodded. “That he did. Strange that he would build such a suit without airborne capability.”
“That’s because Baymax—” Hiro startled when Romanov offered him a glass. “Thanks.”
She nodded. Hiro kicked his feet as he thirstily drank.
A minute later, Dr. Selvig had finished the glass of water he’d been provided and Thor led him gently out the room. “Let us make haste to get you the care you require.”
“Of course, but I am fine,” the old man mumbled, “Just a bit dizzy.” He didn’t seem aware that he would stare off into the distance and mutter figures to himself. Hiro wondered what had happened to him and why they had created a portal to begin with?
“Even so, let us make haste.” The large man said, continuing out through a different door than the one they came in from.
Hiro had better things to do than be stared at by Romanov and the other guy. “Hey JARVIS. Is this television working?”
“It is in working order, Mr. Hamada.”
Hiro blinked. Did the synth-voice have sensors even on the roof?
“However, the satellite dish is inoperative, but the cable feed is still functioning though for how long I cannot say.”
He grabbed the remote and flopped onto the couch. Turning on the television, he flipped through the channels—many were static, most were fixated on the aftermath of the battle outside the tower. He heaved a sigh as he turned up the volume of the cartoons he was watching.
“Portal?” Mr. Bowman asked.
“Thor took off without warning to catch him not long after the Hulk got Tony,” came the amused drawl of Romanov.
“Looks like the kid did some fighting of his own.”
Hiro jabbed the remote to change the channel. Something was seriously wrong. It was building in the back of his mind but he couldn’t put a finger on it. The tech was out-of-date and the architecture wasn’t as sleek as he expected. He turned off the television as they fell into silence. “Hey. Um, I know this is sudden, but I need you to take me to San Fransokyo before my aunt goes ballistic.”
They stared at him too long as if they thought he’d made a mistake or misspoke.
“Of course, we’ll take you home,” Romanov said smoothly, covering for awkward silence.
The dark-haired man nodded. “Is San Francisco where your parents live?”
Hiro pinched his nose, the sensation a bit weird with heavy-duty gloves on. “My parents are dead. I live with my Aunt Cass in San Fransokyo. Not cisco whatever.”
Running a hand through his hair, Mr. Bowman swiveled in the chair, but said nothing else.
Romanov sighed, placing a hand on her hip. “JARVIS, display a map of the United States of America on screen. Highlight all the major cities.”
“Certainly, Ms. Romanov.”
The television flipped back on and there was the familiar outline of their country, but it was bisected by too many lines. The prefectures—for they hadn’t been called states for over sixty years—covered swathes of regions to better utilize resources and strengthen the economy of the United Prefectures of America. Hiro stepped closer, mesmerized by the astounding number of states, especially in the Northeastern section.
“The fifty states of America,” the man said tersely. “I was born in Boston, but I traveled around a lot as a kid.”
There’s only twenty-two of the UPA, and the capital of New Verchusetts Island is Boscord, Hiro wanted to say but something held his tongue. State dissolution happened when Japan and their allies of the Southeast Pacific beat the US—though the Allies won the war against Germany and Italy. Many defunct state governments were forced to merge for efficiency’s sake. The federal government was more than enough to govern with a constitutional monarchy. “Toto, we’re not in Kanbraska anymore,” he whispered, fingers lightly hovering over the old names of cities that might as well have been ancient. He tapped the screen. “Is this monitor interactive, JARVIS?”
“Yes. There is a stylus set—Ah. It appears you discovered it.”
“Thanks, JARVIS,” Hiro said, and then began to draw over the map, filling in the names of the prefectures and the names of the major cities. After he finished, he pulled back. “Tada! The United Prefectures of America.”
The adults squinted at the screen, walking back and forth as if the sight of it agitated them.
Tapping the red swatch with the stylus, Hiro circled his hometown. “See? San Fransokyo.”
“I’m really not in the mood for games, kid,” the man ground out.
“Barton,” Romanov said warningly. “Don’t scare him. He’s lost in another world.”
The man gave her a surprised grin as if he didn’t expect that from her. “You’re going with alternate universe? Really?”
She gave him a half-shrug before she faced Hiro quickly. “What’s your Social?”
“Lady, there is no way I’m telling you my Social Security Key.” He crossed his arms and glared at her.
“Who’s the current president?”
Without missing a beat, he answered, “Duane Sanders.” They had a minute-long staring contest. The type you never witnessed an adult doing towards a kid unless they either didn’t believe you or wanted to hit you.
“If he’s telling the truth, then we’ve got to take him in,” Romanov said, finally breaking eye contact.
Barton sighed. “You do it. SHIELD agents had orders to shoot me and Dr. Selvig on sight a week ago. And I’m out of arrows.”
She tsked and muttered in Japanese, “Dumb ape, the memo would’ve gotten to the rest already and even so we would vouch for you.”
Barton flashed an offensive gesture with a quick twitch of his middle finger. “Can’t vouch to a sniper 300 yards away,” he replied in the same language.
“Very mature,” Hiro told them in his native tongue and grinned when they gave him an unreadable look.
“Pardon the intrusion,” JARVIS said in English with a put-upon tone, “Master Stark has called and said that Captain Rogers is bringing Dr. Banner directly to the diner that he pointed out earlier. Their ETA is forty minutes. He also wished for me to express many uncomplimentary things about your perceived slowness since he has waited at rendezvous point with Pepper for five minutes.”
“Five minutes? What, does he have the attention span of a gnat?” Hiro laughed.
“Mr. Hamada, Sir has a limited and highly specialized area of interest and so is easily bored by common surroundings,” JARVIS responded crisply. If Hiro hadn’t been around Baymax so much, he might’ve missed the slight testiness.
“I was teasing. I’m the same way. What’s his area of interest?”
“Engineering, with a focus on Advanced Robotics and Computer Programming, specifically Artificial Intelligence systems.”
“Oh. So he’s a nerd,” Hiro said with a dead pan.
“Not many would use that as a first label when describing Master Stark.”
With a smirk, Romanov glanced up at the ceiling. “I bet filthy rich and arrogant would be in the top five.”
“And you would be correct, Ms. Romanov,” came JARVIS’ cool tone.
Hiro’s jaw opened, and then a hand pressed against his back. “Kid, if you keep talking, JARVIS might send one of Tony’s bots up here to throw you out the window,” Barton whispered. “Get a move on.”
Hiro quickly snagged his helmet and followed Romanov out. She had an empty gun holster attached to her hip, and he wasn’t sure where she had pulled the five-inch blade from.
“What are Chitauri?” Hiro asked as they walked down the stairs.
“Aliens,” Romanov answered. “They were trying to take over.”
“Oh. Guess they lost?”
“How old are you, kid?” Barton was constantly peering over the edge of the stairs as if he could look straight to the bottom for any sign of attack.
“Fourteen.” Hiro’s face began to flame and he wasn’t sure why he felt embarrassed now.
Romanov glanced over her shoulder. “What’s a fourteen-year-old doing designing and manufacturing carbon-fiber suits?”
“Um. Misuse of lab equipment. I have this friend who was obsessed with superhero stuff. And since I wanted to take down the guy who… Anyway, I could do it so… I did.”
She let out a snort, but didn’t explain what she found so funny. “So you accidentally fell through a portal,” Romanov said as she continued down the infinite set of stairs. Hiro really shouldn’t have looked down the center. “How did that happen?”
“Um, Baymax sensed that someone was alive in it and when he said it was a girl, I knew it was Professor Callaghan’s daughter and I went to go save her before the portal destabilized. Except there was a lot of debris in the void because it got sucked in and… and I got knocked off the pod. I had momentum, but the way back closed before I made it… Thought I was going to die.” Hiro sighed heavily. “Another portal popped open and I got sucked in. And now I’m here.”
“Baymax?” came the question from behind.
“My brother made him before he… Yeah. Baymax is a Personal Healthcare Assistant. He assists. I did some basic mods on him when I found out someone stole my micro-bots and had caused the explosion that—” He took a deep, shaky breath. “I can’t really talk about that yet.” Neither silent adult said a word, and after a moment Hiro felt he could breathe again.
“Baymax was damaged from the debris when we entered the void past the portal. He sent me and the pod back towards it—the portal back home.” A thought suddenly occurred to him. If a portal opened up for him, it was likely the debris might end up in different worlds too, and if that was the case then Baymax would be in one of them as a deactivated, deflated vinyl body. With enough time and dedication, he could find and fix him and then get back home. But… there could be an infinite number of worlds out there. Hopefully Hiro wouldn’t have to do that. Maybe the portal opening for him was a fluke with a near zero chance of happening again.
He peered over his shoulder as they continued down the endless stairs, but after the hills of San Fransokyo it wasn’t bad. “What’s SHIELD?”
“Stands for a really long name that basically boils down to a government agency that doesn’t want you to know it exists,” Barton answered.
“And they wanted to kill you because…?”
“Kid, that’s none of your business.”
“Fine. But why does she want to ‘take me in’?” Hiro used air-quotes.
“Because you’re obviously not from around here, and SHIELD’s very good at giving introductions to Earth’s visitors,” Romanov said.
“Huh.” Hiro could see the ground floor now; it wasn’t more than ten flights down, which was good. He didn’t argue that he was from Earth too or point out that he might be carrying diseases that they had no immunity to. Why worry people who were obviously twitchy and alive after fighting off aliens?
Making it to the fire door at the base of the stairs, Romanov held a hand up. “Stay close to us. There’s a lot of debris and downed power lines, and I’m not convinced that those bodies won’t jump back to their feet,” she said with a clipped tone.
The teen shrugged and followed them. The lobby was opulent and grand, or would have been if a bus hadn’t been thrown through an entire wall of glass and a chunk of cement didn’t look as if it had rolled in.
Watching KreiTech Institute slowly get torn apart had been eye-opening for Hiro, but it was nothing compared to the destruction and carnage he saw outside. The street hardly looked like a street since it was filled with massive dead things with gray-purple skin and strange armor, upturned cars, and entire chunks of masonry and stone from buildings. Clouds of smoke stung Hiro’s eyes and obscured their path, but the adults seemed to know where they were going.
A hand went to Romanov’s ear. “Stark, we’ll be there in a few minutes. Shut up and have another place set.” She paused. “I’m sorry to hear that Pepper has her priorities right, but don’t see how that’s my problem.”
Barton chuckled, though it was soft and easy to miss with the sound of wailing sirens filling the air. Then his hand shot up to his ear too. “I agree.”
They must both have comm links in their ears. It wasn’t so strange now that they had to touch it to activate the voice protocols if their world wasn’t as technologically advanced. It seemed to take a long time to get where they were going, but finally after gingerly stepping over a pile of rubble Hiro hopped down behind them. He looked up at the half-broken diner. A grim man in an apron waved at them after he had placed the glasses of water down from the large round tray.
“Hey buddy!” A bright-eyed man with a goatee and easy smile shouted. “JARVIS told me about you. There are cooler ways to copy me than falling out a portal.” The man lounged on a chair, wearing a gold-and-red suit that whirred and clicked as he shifted. A fully enclosed helmet sat on a chair next to him.
Hiro whistled, setting his helmet down on the table in front of his chair. “Gold and titanium alloy? Huh. You must crap in a gold toilet too if you’ve got that much money.” The whirring and clicking was strangely hypnotic. Hiro was dying to get closer to see how the parts all connect. His hands betrayed him, floating towards the suit as if possessed before he snatched them back.
“Oh, you like?” Stark smirked.
“It’s no big deal. Tadashi could’ve fab’ed something like that in his sleep if he had the resources.” Flopping into the seat across from who could only be ‘Master Stark’, Hiro sighed. He hugged the purple helmet and knocked his forehead against it. It was only a few hours but he already missed his friends and his aunt, and Baymax. Why did he have to land in an alternative universe with war and aliens?
Romanov sat on the left side of him and Barton took the chair at the end of the table beside her, but Hiro hardly gave them a passing glance.
Stark drank from his glass and set it back down. Hiro couldn’t keep his eyes away from the way the armor handled such a fragile object and moved so smoothly. “You’re taking the whole jumped-through-a-portal-and-got-sucked-into-a-different-world pretty well, Leroy.”
Sitting back, the teen glared at him and jabbed a finger at him. “My name is Hiro and I don’t need your help—”
“Well, too bad. I’ve already ordered you some—”
With a vindictive air, Hiro crossed his arms and slumped back. “I’m allergic to peanuts.”
“JARVIS does this place use peanuts?” The man cocked his head to the side. “Damn, peanut butter in the marinade. Guess you have to miss out, Yuy. Too much cross contamination to please JARVIS.”
This guy was pretty annoying, more annoying than he expected. “I’ve had a couple sandwiches. I’m good.”
“On a scale of one to ten, how allergic are you?”
“I break out if I touch peanut oil. My hands swell up and not long after so does my tongue,” he answered quickly.
Stark quirked a tired, lopsided grin and casually lifted Hiro’s cup of water away. “JARVIS, order take-out from some peanut-free place and have it delivered here.”
“I can’t pay you back,” Hiro said, more sulkily than he intended. It had to cost more than Aunt Cass made in a month to have someone crazy enough to deliver food with the streets looking like they did. Unless they had proper delivery drones. Hiro somehow doubted that.
“On the house, little pauper.” Before Hiro retorted, something landed with a thud outside. “Hey, it’s my favorite God of Thunder! JARVIS has Loki contained. He should be out cold for a few hours, since Pepper unloaded several elephant tranqs into him. Don’t worry; he’s not dead.”
Hiro didn’t miss the tension in Barton’s shoulders at the mention of ‘Loki’. Well, Hiro though, if there’s a Thor, of course there would be a Loki too.
The blond man nodded. “That is very good to hear, Tony Stark. I will guard him until I hear word from Father. Heimdall would have seen all that had happened from his post.” Thor turned and greeted each of them with a nod of his head. Stark lazily saluted, Barton lifted a hand, and Romanov nodded. “And you, Hero Hamada, how have you fared from your great adventure?”
“Just peachy. Unless you happen to have a broken teleporter that leads to a Zero-G void full of psychedelic, portal-creating clouds?” Hiro asked hopefully.
Thor set his hammer on the floor and sat down beside Stark. After a moment, he said, “It is true. The Rainbow Bridge is irreparably damaged. That is my doing I am afraid, though I do not know of this void you speak of. What is psychedelic?”
“The bright, neon colors of the Pop Art era. Keep up,” Stark said teasingly.
The supposed prince of Asgard simply looked more confused. Romanov smirked. “When have you ever studied Art History, Stark?”
Metal gloves clunked against Stark’s metal-covered chest as a mock-sound escaped him. “I am a cultured individual with a soft, artsy center.”
“Bet you dated an art historian,” Barton said out the side of his mouth, which caused Romanov’s smirk to broaden, and Stark’s expression to look even more mock-affronted.
“Keep talking, Robin Hood, and we’ll see how many lascivious encounters you’ve had.”
“Good luck with that, Tin Man,” Barton shot back.
“I’ll sell them to the tabloids too, you philistine.” At the doubtful looks, Stark sat up straighter. “I will!”
“You’d never sell us out to those vultures,” Romanov said. She gave him a calculating once-over and the bazillionaire slumped into his chair. “No,” he agreed moodily. “But I’ll think of something.”
Thor slapped his hands against his legs. “Hamada the Hero, with such a name I admit I wish to hear tales of your adventures.”
Hiro laughed nervously when he had the adults’ full attention. “Let’s get something straight. My full name is Hiroshi Hamada. Hiro’s a nickname.”
“But surely there must be some reason that they call you a hero?” Thor said with some confusion.
“Uh. I guess I could tell you about the Kabuki-masked man who tried to kill me and my friends with my own invention?”
“Huh,” Stark said, straightening, while he gave Hiro a flat stare. “Did you intend to make a weapon or did whoever it was weaponize it?”
“Weaponized it.” Hiro wished he had some water to drink. “I had to get into San Fransokyo Institute of Technology, but to do that you have to impress the professors enough to invite you into their limited class sizes. I was hoping to catch Professor Callaghan’s attention since his focus was robotics.” He picked up his helmet, seeing the wear and tear on it from his fight hours ago. The man in an apron finally came out with a tray full of plates of shawarma, which looked like chicken wrapped with pita bread. The others began to eat. Thor was extremely messy. “So, I made about ten million magnetic-bearing single-jointed robots about the size of a thumbnail and then hooked it up to a neuro-cranial transmitter.”
“Oh, boy. You didn’t key it to your neurochemical baseline, did you?” Stark tutted and then slurped down his food.
He bounced his knees some, intensely aware of them watching him and looking at one another. Besides Stark, none of the others looked like they understood what he created. “I know biggest mistake of my life,” he said miserably. If he hadn’t made them, then Callaghan wouldn’t have wanted to steal them and Tadashi would still be alive.
“We all make mistakes. It’s how you react to them that matters,” a man with a kind smile in baggy clothes said. Another blond man—except with short hair—wearing torn and sooty dark blue spandex and a large round shield on his back stood beside the newcomer.
“Dr. Banner! Captain Rogers! How good of you to join us. Sit and feast with us, the Shawarma just arrived!!”
“Thanks, Thor.” The captain stood next to Hiro. “Mind if I sit here?”
“Sure.” Still hugging his helmet, Hiro leaned back on two legs of his chair and rocked his knees up-and-down.
Captain Rogers sat beside him, Dr. Banner between the captain and Thor.
“So, who’re you?” The newcomer with the shield asked politely.
“Hiro Hamada,” he said, staring up at the flickering lightbulb. Across the room where the wall had caved in. “I’m from San Fransokyo.”
Rogers blinked slowly and then glanced at the other adults, who didn’t say anything. “San Fransokyo, huh?”
“Which doesn’t exist here,” Hiro finished. “Sorta fell here. Would’ve had my guts painting my suit, if the crazy man with a hammer hadn’t caught me. Didn’t build G force dampeners into my suit beyond what I expected from Baymax’s max acceleration.”
Dr. Banner raised an eyebrow. “And what about a sudden stop? Surely that would be more dangerous.”
Hiro rolled his eyes. “Geez, you sound like Baymax. But I never bother with it because he’s a walking airbag, and he nags and won’t even let me go anywhere alone.”
“An airbag with thrusters? Doesn’t sound like you get anywhere at all,” Romanov said.
“He’s got a titanium, carbon-fiber endoskeleton and whatever on-board medical supplies my brother equipped him with. I gave him body armor so he could kickass—I added the thrusters and wings later. Made the body-armor more aerodynamic. He weighs almost nothing, so I can hop on for a ride.” Hiro lifted his glove and pointed at the round magnetic clamps on the palm. “Beats walking everywhere.”
“He’s like a Stark Mini-Me,” Dr. Banner mused aloud. That got a chuckle from him and Romanov, a ‘Hey!’ from Stark, and confused looks by both Rogers and Thor.
“Ha. Ha. Not funny,” Hiro scowled, lifting the chair up and down. He was surprised that no one had scolded him about it yet.
“I gotta delivery from Vesuvius Pizza,” a young woman said through popping her gum. She looked rather bored as she looked at and dismissed each of them. “Ya order it?”
“Oh. Right. That’s for me,” Hiro said, standing. She stared at his suit like he was a freak of nature. “What?”
“Hey, Betsy, I already deposited a tip to your bank account. You’re welcome, though you should really re-think using online banking on public hotspots,” Stark said.
“Oh shit. You’re Tony Stark.” She gaped, freezing with the small cardboard box and a bottle of SmartWater halfway out her satchel. She was halfway between excited and terrified.
Hiro took the box out of her hands. “Thanks! I don’t usually get take-out. Peanut oil is in everything nowadays.”
“Uh, yeah.” She narrowed her eyes at him.
“Buh-Bye, Betsy,” Stark chirped lightly.
“Laaame,” she muttered and left. Soon she whipped out her smart phone and disappeared over the rubble, but her voice rang across the stillness. “OH MY GOD. ALYSSA. I JUST MET IRON MAN.”
“Rich and famous. You’re not much different from Alistair Krei.” Hiro peered at him, as he sat down to eat. He opened up the box. “Do you own a school?”
“Nope.” The ‘p’ popped loudly. “I give out scholarships to carefully vetted people with extensive background checks. I don’t want to groom Hammer-heads who know fuck-all about what they’re doing.”
The coarse language went through one ear and out the other. Going to as many bot fights as Hiro had, he’d picked up a filter. He picked up a slice of the lumpy pizza with sparse mozzarella cheese and sauce, but loaded with olives, sausage, and mushrooms. With one bite, he knew this would be his favorite pizza joint. The toppings provided more than enough juice for the crisp, soft-centered crust. He chewed, sighing happily as the adults munched on their own food silently.
Every single one of them looked beyond drained now.
Hiro let them have their peace as he ate through the hand-tossed pizza and guzzled from the liter of water.