Tony Stark gives a briefing to members of S.H.I.E.L.D. on board a helicarrier. He shows them video footage of Madame Hydra, also known as the Viper, Leona Hiss, Merriem Drew and Ophelia Sarkissian, which might actually be her real name. The footage is of the time she hijacked their helicarrier and tried to crash it into congress during a presidential address. That she almost succeeded, he adds, tells them something about her threat level. As they see images of her engaging S.H.I.E.L.D. agents in hand-to-hand combat, he informs them that she commands the most dangerous cell of the deadliest terrorist organization on Earth. They know exactly where she is and they know that she is actively planning Hydra operations that would result in the deaths of thousands. And… they can’t lay a finger on her.
Tony explains that this is because she is also the ruler of the principality of Madripoor; a sovereign island nation. This means she can do pretty much what she pleases and, unless they catch her personally engaged in provable terrorist activities, there’s not a darn thing they can do about it. Maria Hill points out that he hasn’t mentioned anything a sniper rifle can’t fix. Gaffer adds that Maria has a point. Given Madame Hydra’s history, they certainly have defensible grounds for going in openly and deposing her.
Tony replies that it’s a delicate situation. S.H.I.E.L.D. may get most of its funding from the U.S., but they’re a global peacekeeping organization. Most member nations would frown on them toppling a sovereign government without a U.N. resolution and they’ll never get that. Given Madripoor’s notorious laissez-faire attitude towards international law, extradition and taxation. He adds that nearly every country in the world has interests there; dirty little secrets that they wouldn’t want jeopardized or exposed. Maria Hill asks why they need to wait for Madame Hydra to slip up. That’s a dangerous game. Tony assures her that he’s not saying that. They need a regime change in Madripoor but, as they’ve seen, when an outside force topples a nation’s ruler, they become responsible for that nation. Winning the peace is always harder than winning the war. They need change, he accepts, but it needs to come from within.
Maria thinks that would be ideal. Unfortunately, there is no resistance movement that she’s aware of in Madripoor. Stark informs her that they had Agent Huang undercover there for several months and he says the locals aren’t happy with Madame Hydra’s rule, especially the high percentages she skims off their profits to fund Hydra ops. But, there is no homegrown leader for them to rally around. They need to find them one, picked by and supported by them. Maria doesn’t think Huang can pull that off. He hasn’t been there long enough to have earned the local’s trust. Tony smiles and replies that Huang won’t be doing this. He will. Everyone at the table appears surprised. Maria then asks if he’s insane. A colleague concurs. They got used to hands-on directors under Nick Fury, but he is a world-famous celebrity. Hell, he adds, he is Iron Man! Tony asks who said anything about being unnoticed. Madripoor is a playground for the idle rich, in case he’d forgotten, and he is a billionaire playboy.
(later, Madripoor harbor)
Tony’s yacht is moored in the harbor and he enjoys sunbathing whilst being waited on by three female S.H.I.E.L.D. agents in bikinis. He asks Agent Tamara Jones not to forget putting sun cream on his ears and nose. There’s nothing worse than a sunburned nose. To this, she sarcastically asks if he realizes she has three PhD’s.
(Gaffer’s workroom, the night before)
Gaffer is seated at his computer. He informs Tony that, given the mission, his resources will be extremely limited. Of course, he adds, on the surface this can’t be a S.H.I.E.L.D. operation at all. They can’t have a helicarrier within five hundred miles. He points out that Madame Hydra’s men will search him and his possessions thoroughly, so the closest place they can position his armor will be in geosynchronous orbit and then only with all cloaking devices engaged. Tony tells him that the armor is for emergencies only. Hopefully he won’t have to use it, because, if he knows Gaffer as well as he thinks, he’s got some other nifty gadgets that he can smuggle past the gatekeepers. Gaffer smiles and asks him to feast his eyes on what he’s got.
One of Madame Hydra’s officials asks Stark the purpose of his trip. He replies that he’s on vacation. He informs Tony that his men will have to search his yacht for prohibited items, to which Tony jokes that he didn’t know there was such a thing. Tony heads to his hotel where he asks if the Imperial Suite is available. The receptionist replies that it’s been reserved for the king of Jordan, but Madame Hydra makes an appearance and says the king will be fine in the standard suite. What Director Stark wants, he gets. Tony informs her that he’s not there in his official capacity and she can call him Tony. “And you,” she replies, “Can call me Princess.
She offers to show Tony to his room, to make sure he’s satisfied. He says that’s very kind, but that’s what his companions are for. Madame Hydra takes a quick look and tells him he’ll definitely need her personal attention. She walks with him through the grand hotel and informs him that just one small formality remains. She understands that he has certain… abilities; the power to communicate with machinery using his mind. He replies that this information is classified. Madame Hydra pulls out a small gun and says that Madripoor is home to many financial institutions, not to mention casinos. It’s her responsibility to ensure they remain uncompromised. The compound in the gun, once it gets into his bloodstream, will hypothetically jam any technology-manipulating talents he might have. He must subject himself to her injecting it or she would have to ask him to leave.
(the night before)
Gaffer informs Tony that Madame Hydra is probably the world’s leading authority on poisons. He advises Tony doesn’t eat, drink or otherwise ingest anything he isn’t 100% certain is safe. Tony replies that he’s not an idiot.
“I understand completely,” Tony replies. “Go ahead.” Madame Hydra injects the serum into Tony’s neck. He rubs the puncture, but tells her that her hypodermic gun is a machine and his hypothetical abilities could easily confirm what is inside it. He adds that he knows she wouldn’t mind if, while he still had them, he used those theoretical abilities to disable the GPS tracking device she also injected into him. After all, he would like some of the things he does to remain private. Madame Hydra places her arms around Tony’s neck and tells him he doesn’t have to go very far to sample Madripoor’s greatest treasures, as he will find out if he comes to her palace that evening. Tony doesn’t doubt it, but he informs her that, as director of S.H.I.E.L.D., he cannot fraternize with heads of state. It would be a conflict of interests.
Madame Hydra asks him to enjoy his stay but, because he disabled the tracking system they gave him to ensure his safety, she must offer him a warning. She asks him to confine his activities to Hightown. The criminal element makes Lowtown quite dangerous for tourists. As she departs, she tells him it’s his loss and kisses the bus boy. The doors to his room close and the guy collapses, foaming at the mouth. Madame Hydra tells her men to throw him to the piranhas and see that Stark doesn’t survive the night.
Stark’s trio of agents check the room for bugs. Jones figured she would block his extremis powers, but not from the inside. Stark tells her he’ll be fine. He already used them to shut off the bugs and hidden cameras before she injected him. He figures they’ll have five minutes before they get them back online. She asks if he’s still in touch with his armor, to which Stark asks her to relax. All he needs to communicate with it is his cell phone. The response isn’t as fast but it’ll do.
He then asks Agent Tia Senyaka if they’re wired into their monitoring devices. She replies that it’s done. All they’ll see and hear is their pre-programmed computer-generated scenario of what’s occurring there. Jones looks at the monitor and reckons the CGI is really lifelike. Stark thinks it’s sad when his computer simulations have more fun than him. It’s so lonely at the top. Agent Joan Eaton, otherwise known as Nails, tells him it’ll be even lonelier on the couch. “Ouch,” he replies.
He tells the agents that one of them should remain in the room at all times to coordinate. That will be Agent Senyaka. Jones and Nails can accompany him in meeting Agent Huang so she should prepare herself for a night on the town… Lowtown.
(later that night)
Inside the club, Stark orders mineral water for himself and Dom Perignon for the ladies. The barman hasn’t even heard of Dom Perignon. A muscular bruiser immediately grabs Nails by the arm and tells Stark he’s going to borrow his woman. It’s up to Stark whether he kills him first. Stark replies that she’s not his. She’s not anyone’s. Nails knees the guy in the groin, dropping him to the floor. As a big fight breaks out, the barman tells them that, if they break anything, they pay for it. Stark quickly grabs hold of Agent Huang and they begin fighting, though not for real.
As he strangles Huang, Stark asks what he’s got. Huang informs him that there are two people that the locals will follow in a revolt. One is called Patch but he’s not been around for a while. The other is a crime boss called Tyger Tiger. She owns the club but she doesn’t hang out there. Something about bad memories. He smacks Stark in the mouth, drawing blood. He asks where he can find her. Before he can answer, a huge bearded guy named Roughhouse rips up a hunk of concrete that one of the poles is set into and tells everyone that it’s rude to start a bar fight and not invite him.
Stark asks Huang to get out of there. He can’t risk compromising him. Huang informs Stark that the guy is Roughhouse, a local assassin for hire. He’s trouble. Agent Jones informs Stark that it gets worse. Her guess is that he’s just a distraction for his partner; a master killer who goes by the name of Bloodscream. Right on cue, Bloodscream attacks but Jones punches him in the neck. This doesn’t slow him down much and he places his hand on her chest. The touch burns and Jones shrieks in pain.
Stark pulls him off her, but he gets his chest sliced for his trouble. Bloodscream places his hand on Stark’s chest but, instead of burning his flesh, his hand hits the undersheath of Stark’s armor. Stark tells him that he stores the armor in the hollows of his bones and extrudes it at will. Call him old-fashioned, but he doesn’t like men touching him, especially ones as ugly as him. Bloodscream distorts his face and his mouth opens wide, his fangs bared. He tells Stark that it’s true. Sometimes the old-fashioned ways are best.
Stark holds him at bay for a second and tosses a small object into his gaping mouth. It’s a Freon capsule which was disguised as a button, and it explodes in Bloodscream’s mouth. Roughhouse warns Stark that he’s gone and done it now. It should have been quick and clean but now it’s gonna get nasty. He hurls the concrete block at them and the whole place shakes when it lands.
Tony asks if everyone’s all right, to which Agent Jones replies that she’s fine but Nails is still weak. Suddenly, Madame Hydra appears with the police and tells Tony that she sees he chose to ignore her warning and nearly paid the price. Fortunately, her officers have captured the man who tried to kill him. Tony looks down and sees Agent Huang on his knees. Tony tries to say it wasn’t him, but Madame Hydra cuts him off. Surrounded by salty-looking bruisers, she says he can’t be expected to be clearheaded about this. She has numerous witnesses attesting to his guilt and, on Madripoor, they are tough on crime.
When Madame Hydra then pulls a sword from its sheath, Tony doesn’t hesitate to call his armor from space. Damn the consequences. Unfortunately, he knows it won’t get there in time and Agent Huang, he can see, doesn’t care that he’s about to die. His eyes tell Tony to stick to the plan. It makes Tony want to tear the place apart even more… to make them pay for killing this brave man who gave his life so their plan could succeed. Out of respect, he turns the armor away before it’s spotted, even though the thought of doing so makes him want to vomit.
A moment later, Madame Hydra wipes the blood from her sword. “Perhaps your president would have more respect in the world if he performed executions himself, maybe,” she smiles. She asks him to enjoy the rest of his evening. Stark vows internally that this will be her last act as ruler of the island.
Back at the hotel, Agent Jones reckons it’ll take plastic surgery to sort out Nails. No more low-cut gowns for a while. She jokes that she doesn’t have the rack for ‘em anyway. Tony fully expects Madame Hydra to make another move before the night is out. Agent Senyaka thinks they should call for backup, but Tony disagrees. If they take her out openly it’s an act of overt aggression against a sovereign nation ruler. She’d be back on the throne in a week. “Not if she’s dead,” replies Senyaka. Tony replies that her hand-picked successor would step in or another Hydra stooge. Agent Huang died to make this plan work and he’s going to see it does.
Senyaka checks her computer and notices some hostiles approaching and they’re dressed in Hydra uniforms. Tony expected this. Madame Hydra can call it a terrorist attack and deny all involvement. He tells them to execute contingency plan alpha and he’ll cover for them. Nails points out that they are in Madripoor to protect him, but Stark tells her forcefully that he’s not going to lose another agent tonight. She will follow his orders.
Agents Jones, Senyaka and Eaton don suits made from memory fabric which come complete with wings under each armpit. Tony informs them that the fabric is bullet resistant but only to an extent. The bogeys are almost upon them. Senyaka sets a timer on her computer, which means it will explode in one minute, and Tony shoots out the windows. As bullets hit the glass, the three agents leap from the building and Tony covers them by shooting back at their assailants.
His own body suit envelops him and he too leaps from the window. Hydra troops storm the room but then notice the timer counting down to two seconds. It’s too late for them and the computer explodes, taking out the entire floor with it. Gliding in the air, Agent Jones informs Stark that they’re losing altitude, so Stark asks them to head for the jungle. If they land anywhere with paved road they’ll be dead within seconds.
Once they land, the foursome revert to civvies and Tony asks them to bury their suits. They can’t leave a trail. Agent Senyaka asks Tamara if she still has her kit. She replies that she does. She can alter their appearances. Nothing fancy, just basic disguises. Tony is pleased about that. They need to get back to the city. Unfortunately, he adds, they’re running out of time and Huang never got to tell him how to get hold of Tyger Tiger. “No need to worry about that any longer,” comes a voice from nearby. Tony turns to see Tiger herself with some of her soldiers. He tells Stark, “The Tiger finds you.”
After introductions and an explanation, Tiger tells Tony that what he’s suggesting is suicide. “Not if you have the people of Madripoor behind you,” replies Tony. Tiger replies that the people of Madripoor think only of themselves, but Tony adds that they also care about their profits. Legal or illegal. Madame Hydra’s bad for both. He feels that the debate is academic. Madame Hydra’s probably figured out by now that she’s reaching out to her which makes Tiger a threat. She’s already marked for death. Tiger tells Tony that she could give her his corpse as a peace offering and Tony admits that this might buy her time, but she knows how Madame Hydra thinks. It won’t be long.
Tiger admits that she hates what that witch has done to Madripoor, but she has no wish to see S.H.I.E.L.D. or America running her country either. Tony tells her that’s not his intention. They just want a ruler who isn’t subsidizing terrorism. He gives her his word on that. Tiger, though, still has doubts as to whether they can overthrow Madame Hydra without military intervention. Tony feels that if the people of Madripoor call for change, S.H.I.E.L.D. can justify providing aid and she knows the type of aid he’s capable of calling on. Tiger replies that she needs to think about this. He will have his answer by nightfall.
Agent Jones asks Tony what her decision was. He tells her, adding that they don’t have time for that. However, he might be able to expedite the process. Madame Hydra’s injection, he explains, is blocking his ability to control technology. But he can still sense it and he’s sensing something big nearby. He asks Tiger is she can accompany him. He thinks he can help her with the decision. One of her guards tells Stark that she’s going nowhere, but Stark tells him he can escort her if he likes. He assures them that it’s important.
After a long walk through the jungle, they come to a waterfall. Tiger hopes it was worth the energy, but Stark shows her that it was. They peer through a grating and see Hydra agents down below, working on what appears to be a huge biological weapon. Stark reckons that, knowing Hydra, it’s just the tip of the iceberg. The weapon has a long turret attached to a tangle of pink cabling which is in turn attached to something that looks like a big brain. Tiger asks what she has to do.
(The Royal Palace of Madripoor)
Tony approaches two guards who are standing outside the building. He asks if Madame Hydra is home and the guards lead him inside. Everyone has their guns trained on Tony as he stands before Madame Hydra and tells her he is shocked – shocked – to see Hydra agents in her royal palace. She asks what it is about Madripoor that makes everyone use the same tired Casablanca references. She decides she has a better question. She informs him that they have scanned the area and there are no S.H.I.E.L.D. agents, crafts or weapons nearby. What suddenly made him suicidal? Tony rips off his shirt and tells her he got tired of her sending others to try kill him. He figures she isn’t the type that can resist a challenge. Is she woman enough to do the job herself?
Madame Hydra leaps immediately and Tony’s undersheath emerges from within his body forming a protective layer. Bloodscream told her about it. “You think that’s something…” replies Tony. “You should see my oversheath.” He looks upwards but sees nothing. Madame Hydra lunges at him asking if perhaps he was expecting his armor? The suit he’s had in geosynchronous orbit all this time? The one that lost the control signal you’re sending the moment it hit the disruption field they’re projecting over the city?
Tony blocks her attack and replies that this sucks. He kicks her in the stomach and she tells him that he fights well. She recognizes the style as coming from a mutual star-spangled friend. She asks a teasing question. “Just between us, it was you who had him assassinated, wasn’t it?” She adds that he can tell her. She’s impressed… and jealous. Tony hits out but misses and she connects with a kick of her own. She pulls out a pistol and aims it right at him. She gives him a final lesson. His failure has ensured that Hydra will feed off Madripoor and its people for years to come without fear of further intrusion. “Goodbye Director Stark.”
Tony asks if she’s sure she doesn’t want to face the camera. “What?” she gasps. Tony points to a tiny plane behind her with a small camera attached to its undercarriage. He tells her that the great thing about Madripoor is that there are lots of electronic stores. His face appears on television screens the nation over, as he adds that there is that whole ‘genius’ thing in his bio. However, enough about him. “Over to you, Tyger.”
Her face then appears on screen and she addresses the nation. She tells them that they have heard their princess’ own admission of how she views them. They are livestock, chattel, tools for the greater glory of Hydra. She is not worthy to rule them. She informs them that even now she and her men are marching on the palace and she urges them to join her in taking back their country. One of Madame Hydra’s men informs her that they are under attack, but she replies that it’s a mob, not an army. Kill their tramp ringleader and they’ll disperse. She orders her men to go with him and says she will join them in a moment. She pulls the trigger, but finds her bullets bouncing off the Iron Man armor. Tony tells her that television is the ultimate distraction. It gave him time to bounce his command signal off satellites to reach his armor from above.
Stark asks her to take a last look at her palace. Madame Hydra orders Roughhouse to protect her and he steps in, punching the armor which Tony has slipped inside. He blasts him using his chest repulsor and then gets airborne. He hones in on Bloodscream, who tells Iron Man that he is the undying warrior and he is Iron Man’s end. Stark replies that he doubts that. If he’s had a hard time laying his death-touch on him before, he’s really of luck now. Bloodscream calls him a fool. A hundred Hydra agents have willingly fed him their life essence. Their strength is now his. He need not touch his flesh to kill him.
Iron Man replies that it seems he underestimated him. Grabbing his head between his gauntlets, he adds that he won’t do it again. He blasts Bloodscream from both sides, ripping his flesh away leaving a hideous skull in its place. Bloodscream says that it appears he has. He cannot be killed by any weapon forged by mortal man. Tony snikts a blade from his armor and asks, “How about forged by a Stark Enterprises Engineering robot?” He thrusts the blade vertically into Bloodscream’s torso, informing the vampire that he usually uses it to interface with outside systems but, as a 21st century stake, he thinks Van Helsing would approve.
Tony hears one of the Hydra agents shout, “Fire!” and looks over to see the weapon about to blast him. He wondered what it did and now he finds out. His armor is rocked by the blast. He feels it in his gut and his brain and, if not for his shielding, he’d be leaking gray matter from his ears. He finds that he can’t focus or even lock on target, so he only gets one shot. He fires a rocket from his gauntlet and it hits near enough the weapon to destroy it. As he sees it go up in flames, he thinks that there was a time when he’d have wondered if that thing was sentient… aware, or if he’d just killed a new form of life. These days, though, he has other things to worry about. Maybe someday he’ll have the luxury of deciding how that makes him feel.
Tony returns to the palace as the sun sets and tells Tyger Tiger that she has a nice place. She replies that it’s not hers until tomorrow’s coronation. Until then, he can call her Tyger. Tony says that after all they’ve been through, can’t he call her Jessan? Tyger is surprised that he knows her true name. He replies that they are the world’s foremost intelligence agency. Does she think they don’t know about her background or her Harvard M.B.A.? Does she think he backed her as new ruler just because she has a pretty face?
Tyger tells him he can flatter her all he likes, she meant what she said. She’ll never be his puppet. Tony replies that good puppets need their strings pulled and he hasn’t got time for that. He has a world to worry about. What happens in her kingdom is her affair until it affects the safety of the world. Then it becomes his problem and she’s seen how he deals with problems. Tyger replies that she did and she is impressed. She hopes she will continue to be impressed. Her face nears his, but Tony says that he’s pleased her coronation’s not until tomorrow as he has this rule about heads of state…
Unfortunately, he receives a signal and informs her that he has to go to Transia. Mount Wundagore is all lit up and that’s never good. Tyger understands. Tony asks her to call him if Madame Hydra resurfaces. They can pick this up when their lives are less insane. His armor forms around him and he takes off at high speed, leaving Tyger to sigh, “Never it is then.”