Amaurosis • Chapter 10
Chapter 10: Conquer/ Divide
Day 203 of the Alien-Human War
The grass beneath his shoes was a bit on the dry side, scratchy and reluctantly yielding under pressure. It created a steady sound as they walked, occasionally broken by the crunch of gravel as they crossed from grass to a pathway. It was obvious Natasha preferred the softness of grass, and Tony was not about to get picky; he didn’t know where exactly they were or how to get around should he be left alone.
Not that he expected her to abandon him. Just because she had done that once, and even then it hadn’t been entirely on purpose…
“We’re almost there,” Natasha said softly, and Tony nodded to indicate he’d heard. Her arm under his hand was a steady guide, speaking to him in tiny motions to warn about uneven terrain or an upcoming turn. She was never as vocal as the others, counting on Tony to read her body language.
A lazy wind blew across the open land. It smelled a bit like it might rain later in the day. The leaves of a nearby tree rustled softly, mimicking the sound of raindrops, and Tony wondered if in ancient times people had perhaps believed the trees had the power of rain-dance, to summon much-needed nourishment from the sky.
How easy had it been, believing everything was tied together by a magical thread, and that your prayers might be answered or dismissed, one’s fate pulled out of their own hands?
“We’re here,” Natasha murmured and slowed down, Tony matching her pace to the best of his ability.
Tony had always believed in forging his own path – even more so after the lessons he learned during his captivity in Afghanistan.
What would a blind man do with a forge other than burn himself and set something on fire, though? Or was the forge an illusion that was holding Tony back, stopping him from reaching beyond the methods he was used to employing?
Natasha moved slightly to the side and knelt down, prompting Tony to awkwardly follow her lead. His free hand landed on a cool stone when he reached down to balance himself, and he felt Natasha sweeping aside dried leaves and twigs. Once she was satisfied, she stood back up, extracting her arm from Tony’s light grip. “I’ll leave you to it for a bit,” she said, and Tony nodded, folding his legs to kneel down on the ground, leaving his hands free to explore the stone.
After a while, his searching fingers located words etched into the stone, the edges lacking finesse as if someone had been in a hurry when carving the message, or lacking proper tools.
There was no additional message that usually accompanied the name of the deceased. Just a name carved into the stone.
Tony closed his eyes and traced the name with his fingertips, over and over, memorizing it. He detected dates further down the stone, but he only lingered on the latter, scratching open the scar in his mind all over again.
“I’ve made mistakes,” he murmured. “You’d know…” He huffed, able to imagine Pepper’s expression. “Two of them have been more crucial than the rest: underestimating the aliens – and overestimating myself.”
The day Pepper died, they had clung to the idea that the Category 3 would pass them by. Tony had been cautious, but allowed Pepper to reassure him to lay low, to wait it out. In his mind, he could still recall the approach of the engines, hovering over the house… It had been too late to save her by the time they struck.
To this day, all of them kept hoping that attack had been for a reason other than a random strike against a known enemy. The Avengers clung to that idea – just as Tony had recently depended on the brief flash of hope that triggering Extremis might give him his eyesight back. Instead he had killed four people, almost killed himself, and damaged the implants beyond repair. He had once again trapped himself in the darkness that made him helpless and largely a burden to those around him.
“Rhodey’s coming up,” Natasha announced. It sounded like she was a respectable distance away, informing Tony that he could deny his friend access to Pepper’s grave if he wished it.
Tony simply nodded, knowing he had no right to stop Rhodey from paying his respects. He listened to the man approach, mostly sticking to the pathways in between the patches of grass. His stride was purposeful and unhesitating, yet slow enough to give Tony time to adjust.
Rhodey’s hand landed on his left shoulder once he was close enough, squeezing with sympathy and reassurance. “I’m sorry,” he murmured. Whether he meant to assuage Tony’s guilt or alleviate the longing for Pepper’s presence, he didn’t know.
“I know you miss her, too,” Tony decided to say.
“Yeah,” Rhodey agreed.
“The last person I saw before it all went dark was her,” Tony mused. “And when I could see for that brief moment in the middle of the battle at Long Beach… I saw you.”
“It could have been any one of us,” Rhodey said.
He was right, of course. Tony wasn’t even certain why he was making the comparison.
“We’ll figure it out,” Rhodey went on, as if he felt like he needed to. “Just… no more human experiments, okay?” His voice shook for a second, betraying something Tony hadn’t heard before; Rhodey had been afraid. The Avengers had largely been angry about his actions at Los Alamitos, but he supposed for the first few minutes, when it was unclear what had happened, they’d thought he had gotten caught in the middle of some kind of explosion that wasn’t of his own making.
Tony made no promises. He didn’t want to lie to his best friend – especially not when the rest of the team was slowly approaching and at least Steve would be within hearing range by now. He didn’t worry about Natasha, seeing as she wasn’t the kind to frown upon desperate measures. She had probably made plenty of bad decisions herself.
Rhodey’s grip tightened fractionally and he gave Tony a slight shake. It was a signal that his reluctance to answer had been noticed – also serving as a punishment for it.
“Is it okay if we join you?” Bruce asked. He sounded cautious, acknowledging that he was approaching a personal place.
“Yes,” Tony answered simply. They had once stood here together, when they put her into the ground. Without his team, Pepper would have been buried in some mass grave, or in a long row of bodies in a cemetery that just kept growing as more casualties of war were brought in…
“Who is it?” Sam asked, voice kept low with respect and caution.
“Pepper Potts,” Steve replied, also keeping it down. “She was killed the day Tony got hurt…”
“She was collateral damage,” Tony corrected, voice sharper than he had intended by the time the words passed his lips. “They came for me. She just… got trapped in the middle of it.”
“I’m sorry,” Sam said, appropriately respectful.
Tony frowned and pictured those last moments. For the most part it was just flashes, in between the wall imploding, the battle armors coming in – and then the inexplicable pain his body was trying to forget in order to protect itself. He tried to remember her, exactly as she had been, lying there on the floor, unmoving. That had been in the cards since he first put on the suit and went to war to fight all the things that were wrong with the world, but he had foolishly thought he could protect her.
For the longest time, he had succeeded in protecting her. Not from every danger, but he had always managed to bring her back home, to make amends – to earn her continued love and support. When the war began, she had still been concerned for his safety, but there had been a shift from voluntarily fighting bad guys to actually protecting the entire planet.
Tony had failed to protect her, and part of him was willing to give up on the rest of it. Let someone else do the fighting, to finish it.
“May this place forever remind us all of what we fight for,” Thor spoke up suddenly, his voice a fraction lower than usual, as if he were addressing a matter of grave importance. “Our loved ones, alive or lost to us forever; friends and family. They have placed their trust and faith in us, and while we may waver, we can never give up. Not ’til our last breath.”
He had a point, of course. A tiresome, undeniable point that weighed them all down beyond their capacity to carry it. Once upon a time people claimed that no group of superheroes should be in a position to protect the entire world, seeing as most countries had a competent defense system of their own. Now, there were hopeful whispers that perhaps the Avengers could perform the impossible and save everyone, regardless of how thankless or skeptical the masses had once been.
“Those are some big words to stand by,” Clint mused. He had to be feeling some of that weight, his leg still healing and a note of weariness often entering his words when he got too tired to keep it away.
“Aye, but that is our path,” Thor replied willfully. It was as if being denied the warriors of Asgard to join in their battle had made him twice as determined to prove that he, Thor Odinson, would suffice in the absence of many.
Tony sighed, wishing Thor’s pleas would have been answered months ago, even when they were still unsure whether they could take on the alien host or not.
“Do not despair, Tony,” Thor said, clearly taking his sigh as a rebuttal. “You may not see it yet, but you shall overcome the challenge of outwitting the enemy.”
Tony scoffed, unable to help himself. “A blind man leading the way…”
Rhodey quickly jumped in: “I’m sure what he meant was –”
“I know what he means,” Tony snapped.
“It’s not all on you, Tony,” Rhodey argued.
“Maybe it is,” he argued back, lifting his head and then rising to his feet. “We turned the tables on them once already, at Crater Lake. All I need to do is to figure out how to aim higher.”
“The Flag Ship,” Sam supplied unnecessarily. Maybe he was getting cold feet but felt too proud to back off so soon. He would have plenty of other opportunities to jump ship, though, so maybe he was waiting for that.
Tony lifted his head, pretending that he could sense the Category 6 floating somewhere above him. Hundreds of miles between him and the unknown super weapon that could fry him where he stood… Yet here he was, still alive, and it felt like he was being taunted rather than threatened.
He had never liked being taunted, and he knew it was a sentiment shared by most of the team.
“I’ve always liked breaking people’s concept of what’s ‘impossible’,” Tony mused.
“I hear discovering new things is more fun when you can share it with your friends,” Bruce added.
“Especially if they have similar life experiences,” Steve concurred.
“Experiences build the path on which our feet carry us,” Thor stated – even though he was the type to grab his magical hammer and fly.
“What use is there for a path if you’re not going to walk it?” Clint concurred.
“None whatsoever,” Rhodey replied.
“Unless you’re planning on standing still, which is as good as curling up to die,” Natasha challenged.
“I’m not going to do that,” Tony said decisively.
“Good,” Sam cut in before anyone else could. “I think I speak for all of us when I say that it’s time someone ended this war.”
“Might as well be us,” Steve backed him up.
Tony craned his neck further back, unseeing eyes taking in the sky. He debated giving the Flag Ship the finger, but it would have been a tad too childish. Sooner or later, he would find a way to do that up close and personal…
A faint beep from his pocket prompted Tony to fish out the earpiece he had stashed there and slide it into his ear. “Go,” he said as it activated.
“Director Fury is requesting an update,” J.A.R.V.I.S. said.
“Tell him we’ve reached a consensus,” Tony replied.
“Anything else you would like me to add, sir?” the AI asked.
“Inform him that I’m on it.”
“Should I elaborate how, exactly, you are ‘on it’?”
“I’ll let you know when I figure that myself,” Tony hummed. It would take a lot more than just tinkering, but the Avengers were unanimous in their agreement and that was all that mattered to him, really.
The rest would come naturally.
Day 183 of the Alien-Human War
Tony stirred to the bots whirring; it wasn’t enough to make him open his eyes or fully wake up, but he registered the sudden sound, soft as it was. The bots didn’t usually move at night unless they had to in order to let someone move past them, and that was probably why it roused his consciousness.
Besides the bots, there were only deep breaths from his teammates and an occasional sleepy shift of a body on a mattress. Thor snored sometimes, but tonight they were all quiet and Tony shifted to get back to sleep.
Clint let out an annoyed grunt next to him, prompting Tony to move more carefully so as not to jostle the bed and his teammate’s healing leg. It might have been wiser to share the bed with someone else, but he and Clint had been playing Battleship before bed and they ended up too comfortable to switch beds afterwards.
With his body in a slightly different position, Tony began sinking back towards sleep –
“Missile inbound!” J.A.R.V.I.S.’s voice startled him just before alarms pierced the air. “Ten seconds to impact,” the AI informed them an instant later.
“Ten?” Clint sputtered beside him.
“Hit the ground!” Steve yelled over the commotion, and suddenly an arm was pulling Tony across the bed and onto the floor.
“Move!” someone else exclaimed loudly, further away.
The bots beeped.
Tony shifted, trying to get his bearings, but then the body over him leaned closer, pinning his back to the floor, and his hands felt out firm shoulders the second the missile hit, rocking the floor as if they were near the center of an earthquake.
The building groaned and dust filled the air. Things were crashing and breaking all around them, a sudden warmth indicating an explosion or a fire somewhere outside.
“Comms?” someone shouted.
“Someone get ahold of J.A.R.V.I.S.!” Rhodey yelled. “Confirm whether there’s going to be another –”
With a resounding boom, another projectile hit the factory area, and Tony instinctively whimpered, closed his eyes and tried to curl up in the fetal position to protect himself. He heard concrete falling down, some of it banging off metal near his head.
“We need to get out of here!” Steve said from above him.
“The room’s going to collapse,” Natasha reported, voice weaker than the others.
The Hulk replied with a snarl, and Tony tried to steady his breathing. Steve grunted briefly, then shifted, and Tony felt him pressing something against his shoulder. Tony moved one hand to touch it: the helmet.
Instantly grasping onto the opportunity, Tony placed it over his head, feeling it latch on almost instantly. He hadn’t gotten nearly enough rest since last using the helmet, but they were under attack and the proper resting period could wait until they weren’t all in imminent mortal danger.
As the implants came to life, Tony inhaled and then saw Steve’s unmistakable figure lying on top of him, holding the shield over their heads to catch the debris that was falling. It couldn’t have caught it all – not before the Hulk came to lean over them both, anyway. Beyond the two of them, Tony could detect the ceiling cracking further and further, ready to collapse.
“We need to move,” he said. Steve nodded and leaned back, allowing Tony to get to his feet. “Help Clint and the bots out,” Tony ordered. “Grab your gear and get people away from the danger,” he went on, trying to focus on the things that needed to be done. They were far from prepared, under-dressed and violently shaken out of their sleep.
“Tony,” Rhodey called out. “I got your gear. Let’s go.”
Tony spotted him and moved over, seeing Natasha and Sam helping Clint. It would have been better to make sure they all made it out in one piece, but there had already been two strikes and Tony was fairly certain they needed to get some kind of a defensive move going before a third strike rained down on them.
He grabbed his undersuit as soon as he and Rhodey cleared the building, pulling it on top of the clothes he had worn to bed. Rhodey was busy dressing himself at Tony’s side, every now and then taking a look around.
“Nothing yet,” Tony informed him. “Do you have earpieces?”
“No,” Rhodey replied.
“We need –”
One of the bots chirped loudly, exiting the building right after Clint, one of them was carrying a bag. Tony grabbed it, detecting familiar items inside, and his fingers closed around two small boxes among all the other stuff, pulling them out. He handed one to Rhodey, focusing on opening his own and plucking out the earpiece inside.
“Sir,” J.A.R.V.I.S. said before the device was even properly in place, “Mark 52 is approaching.” The armor touched down three seconds later, the landing sounding less graceful than usual.
“What are we up against?” Tony asked, getting into the suit as soon as it had opened up. As it began to close, he spotted War Machine landing beside Rhodey, repeating the same pattern.
“A Category 5: War Ship in the distance. For the time being they do not seem to be preparing to fire, but there are four Category 3: Strike Team ships approaching. A Category 2: Maintenance ship has landed near the War Ship’s location. I am also detecting heavy Drone activity in the area, closing in on the factory perimeter.”
“Has there been an evacuation order?”
“Let’s go, then,” Tony decided and engaged the thrusters, shooting up to the sky. The HUD-implant connection was already up and running, replacing the helmet mode with a more easily comprehensible view. J.A.R.V.I.S. marked the enemy’s position for him, and Tony made a circle, taking stock of the destruction.
Two buildings were on fire, so close to their housing unit that it was miraculous they hadn’t been directly hit. A few of the Drones were already closing in on the scene – being welcomed by a very angry Hulk. Tony left the big guy to it, circling wider towards the approaching Strike Teams.
“Tony, you got a plan?” Rhodey asked over the comm.
“Make sure people get out of the way as quickly as possible,” Tony decided. “The big guy and I will hold back the enemy for now.”
“I can help – or Thor,” Rhodey argued.
“There will be plenty for both of you, especially if the Category 5 joins the party,” Tony told him. “Get the people to safety first. They’ll be cannon fodder otherwise.” Tony knew he could have gone down there to help just as well, leaving the skies for Rhodey, but his friend had a better head for instructing civilians in a pinch and Tony had a grim feeling he himself was a better decoy for the enemy fire.
It didn’t take long before the red dots of the approaching enemy aircrafts were dangerously close to him, and Tony fired a few shots their way. He didn’t doubt they knew right where he was, but it didn’t hurt to make an announcement – especially when the leading ship immediately returned fire and aligned its course towards him.
Tony arched away from the factory, to lead the Category 3s away, but only the lead ship followed him. “Crap,” he muttered and deployed the flaps, spinning around in the air and then boosting back the way he had come, at double the speed.
“Sir, you are being targeted,” J.A.R.V.I.S. informed him.
“I see that,” Tony replied. “Let’s evade their shots and pass by at minimum distance. They’re not as agile as the suit.”
The HUD flared as one of the Strike Team ships in front of him fired at him. Tony’s reflexes swerved him to the side, narrowly avoiding the energy beams that shot past him – beautiful but deadly had they hit their mark. The ship itself was approaching fast, and Tony felt the familiar tightness in his chest as he sped towards it. At some point, if the Category 3 fired, he would be too close to avoid it…
The thermal view showed the alien weapon charging up an instant before it fired again, giving Tony a warning to adjust his trajectory and avoid a very painful blast in the faceplate. As he twisted to the side, he ended up flying close enough to the ship to scrape its side as they reached each other – and a split-second decision made him actually reach out and curl his fingers around one of its wings.
“SIR!” J.A.R.V.I.S. cried out just as his momentum met the Category 3’s. The pull on his arm felt like it might tear it clean off, but the armor held together despite his fingers going numb, and then suddenly the wing was coming loose, tearing a hole in the hull of the Strike Team, sending it into an uncontrollable death spiral towards the ground while Tony, too, spun out of control.
He wasn’t sure whether he released the wing or if his AI did it for him; one second he was hanging onto it and the next it was falling down like a flower petal torn loose. Tony breathed in and laughed wildly while it sounded like J.A.R.V.I.S. was groaning.
“We survived,” Tony told his AI.
“Barely,” came the dry reply.
“Let’s go after the others,” Tony decided and moved his body accordingly, resuming flight speed in a few seconds. Ahead of him, he could see the obvious signs of a battle, and one by one the Avengers’ voices entered the comm frequency as they geared up and reported in: Sam was playing tag with Drones, keeping them away from the civilians. Clint had the bots with him and was covering the retreating people to the best of his ability. Rhodey and Thor were taking to the skies to meet the advancing Strike Teams while Steve and Natasha continued with last-minute rescues to clear the area.
“Hop to it,” Tony murmured, preparing to accelerate his own approach to get into the thick of the fight faster. It wouldn’t be the first time he flew in hot –
The suit swerved suddenly, taking him by surprise. J.A.R.V.I.S. began speaking, probably to sound an alarm, but Tony was hit from behind before the AI or the HUD could catch up.
Falling was always unpleasant, especially while being shot at even as he was crashing to the ground. Tony tried to gain control of the suit, even long enough to stop his painfully fast descent, but three more jarring shots hit his body, eventually landing him on the ground at bone-crushing speed. His only saving grace was that he briefly got his hands under him before impact, the thrusters slowing him down enough to not knock him unconscious within the suit.
“Fuck,” he groaned. The HUD was flickering, trying to keep up with the status reports from various damaged components. Somewhere in the midst of it he made out an approaching foe – or foes, as it happened: two alien battle armors were gaining on him, looking like the type who would kick a man while he was still on the ground.
Tony suspected those two had crawled out of the Category 3 whose wing he clipped. He saw no indication that the ship itself was still in play, which was fortunate, and slowly he hauled himself to his knees, willing his body to move when it would have rather just lain there recovering from the fall.
“– two exo-suits –”
“I see them,” Tony grunted. “You’re breaking up.”
The comm disappeared into static for a moment. Tony wondered if it was just his head, the suit, or the attack taking its toll.
“The communication channel is breaking up,” J.A.R.V.I.S.’s voice returned after a while.
“I can tell,” Tony replied and forced himself to his feet. The armor felt heavy, which meant the servos had taken a beating.
He could see the battle armors approaching and shifted his body to a more favorable position, waiting for them to get closer. Most of his weapons were still operational, but he would rather strike from close range for maximized effect. Further away, the battle grew louder, but Tony knew he needed to take care of this before going to help the others.
The aliens halted their approach roughly thirty feet from him. It felt like they were forcing his hand, not coming closer than that, but Tony had known they wouldn’t just run into his fist, either.
“Two of you against one of me,” he called out. Whether they understood or not, he didn’t care. “It hardly seems fair, although there’s a lot of me to go around. Let’s even the odds,” he decided and lifted his arm to release two small missiles that each could take out a tank on their own. The motion seemed painfully sluggish, but the targeting system delivered the payload, blasting one of the armors at full force and blowing it backwards.
The armor’s helmet would have normally shielded Tony’s eyes from the brightness of the detonation, but seeing as he was connected through the implants, he saw the explosion in all of its heated glory. He could make out the battle armor in the midst of it all, cooler than its surroundings. It was still moving after the initial hit, and Tony sneered, not exactly surprised but wishing the exo-suits would have sustained at least some damage in the fall of their transport. “Fine,” he decided and did a final check on the suit, re-directing power where it was needed to keep him moving. “Let’s do this,” he said to no one in particular and attacked.
He crossed the distance in a few shaky strides – then boosted himself up just before hitting the battle armor that was still standing, flipping over it and landing on his feet behind it. The battle armor he had hit earlier was still getting to its feet, and with a smirk his opponent could not see, Tony directed all of the armor’s power to the chest RT and fired the Unibeam. He could almost hear the screech of metal and the alien inside as it was propelled backwards.
Not waiting for it to land on the ground, Tony moved forward, punching hard with his fist. The outer chassis of the exo-suit collapsed, his fist sinking inside. He didn’t hesitate, knowing he would regret it if he did; Tony simply exhaled as he fired the palm repulsor at full power, the impact sending him staggering backwards. As he fought to catch his footing, he watched the exo-suit power down for the last time and the life signs vanish within it.
“One down,” he started – and got pummeled in the back by the remaining armor. He landed on his hands and knees, backside aching from the blow, then started as the enemy moved closer still. Tony tried rolling to the side, to get into a better position to fire at the alien, but he was at a disadvantage and didn’t have enough speed to avoid the kick that caught him in the midriff, sending him rolling across the ground.
Even through the suit, he could feel it, but adrenaline was still coursing through his system and he dug the fingers of his left hand into the ground to stop the motion. He heard the battle armor stomping closer even through the ringing in his ears and forced himself upwards, unwilling to be caught by another kick.
With the suit still stiff from the fall, Tony soon realized he was not getting to his feet in time. At the exo-suit prepared to deliver another kick, Tony changed tactics and leaned forward instead, crashing against the leg the alien was using to brace its armor on the ground. The kick went wide and the weight of Tony’s suit made the battle armor teeter backwards until it was on the verge of falling.
Knowing exactly how it felt, Tony used the enhanced strength of the suit and dug into the joints of the battle armor, tearing apart everything he could get his hands on.
A mechanical arm reached down, to pull him off, and Tony reached up and grabbed onto it – just so that he could hoist himself up and kick at the damaged leg and then blast a repulsor at it, sealing the deal and cutting it almost completely in half.
The armor fell, taking him with it, and Tony wasted no time bashing it in the head, then attacking connections wherever he could reach them. He got perhaps a bit carried away looking for vulnerable spots because the alien beneath him wasn’t going to just lay back and join its friend: the arm that was still mostly functioning slammed against Tony, smacking him to the side – then slid out a blade-like extension it attempted to ram straight through his shoulder.
Tony jerked to the side, knowing better than to risk it. The battle armor followed, not even trying to get to its feet. As Tony scrambled away, knowing he was now the more mobile of the two, the armor grabbed his leg to drag him backwards. Tony twisted back to blast it in the face, but the alien armor lurched forward to bring its other arm up and punched him instead.
There were literal stars occupying his brain for a moment – he swore he could see them – but then he was brought back by pain as the alien yet again tried to pierce him with its blade. His armor was slowly yielding beneath the force, having already sustained damage, and the physical pain triggered a new onslaught of adrenaline.
With a yell that would have made Thor proud, Tony kicked the alien armor in the face, then launched a missile at it when they were barely two feet from each other.
Suffice to say, Tony felt the blow rattle his insides. The impact pressed him to the earth so tightly he was afraid he might have to dig himself out afterwards, but Mark 52 held together through the blast and the rain of dirt that followed, keeping him alive.
Panting and feeling woozy, Tony took stock of his body; he could feel his limbs and most of the stuff in between. The comm was utterly silent – had been for a while now – and Tony knew the suit was hanging on by a thread – as was he. Still, he fought to get to his feet, knowing that he had to get to the others and do what he could to fight off the remaining aliens.
Beside him, the exo-suit groaned, and the information the HUD provided told Tony that his enemy was also struggling to stay in the game. He must have crippled it, though, because it wasn’t moving all that much, and Tony decided he could just leave it lying there and not waste any more ammo.
As he made the painfully slow journey to his feet, he felt a wetness sliding down his face. He might have mistaken it for sweat if he didn’t have such an extensive knowledge of what a trail of blood felt like in comparison, and as it traveled all the way down to his top lip and began pooling there before sliding down to the seam of his lips, he licked it off just to get rid of the irritating sensation. That left him with a taste of blood in his mouth, of course, and he imagined he could smell the copper in the confined space of the helmet.
He had tasted it dozens of times before and it shouldn’t have distracted him at all, but he was still slow in reacting to the sudden blow from the alien armor; he detected it, but delivering the information from his brain to his body took a fraction of a second too long.
The blade-hand struck him hard in the back, almost giving him whiplash. The armor protected him, taking the brunt of the deadly force, but it must have been the last nail in the coffin because Mark 52 went down like a dead weight and Tony was helpless to stop it.
Neither could he fight back the darkness that followed as the HUD went dead and was replaced by nothing at all.