Hank Pym is working in his lab, as always. It annoys him that his research is half funded by the government, half by a branch of Stark Industries, as if the two are on par with each other, and he’s just a worker ant. Smart, but a worker ant. In comparison, anyway.
He takes the time to look at a photo of his ex wife.
“Tart,” he murmurs.
Always drooling over Thor, Captain America, that lout Hercules, anybody with a strong chin, he thinks. Then, when they divorced, Janet had sex with dumb, obnoxious, undisciplined, dick-swinging Hawkeye! He tempered his love of science to become a hero just to impress her, bluffed his way through it all, and still, as soon as they were done…
“Why him?” he curses, to himself.
That gave Pym a revisionist view of her, alright. The shameless flirting with other heroes while they were together was never cute to Hank, and even less so now. It made him wonder what he hadn’t been seeing?
Yet here the photo remains, he thinks.
His misses her so much, while the thought of her makes him so mad.
Suddenly, Pym notices there is something wrong in the lab. He looks left, then right.
“Whu?” he says, as movement knocks him back through the air.
A tall man in a simple dark green and blue jumpsuit, jacket half-unzipped, black t-shirt underneath and sneakers, is standing in front of him. He looks European, with dark hair, pointed features.
More invisible blows hit Pym as the man walks forward. He hears a loud crack, as the bottom of his mouth mouth jolts to the left.
“Próbálj meg nem beszélni. Eltört az állkapcsa,” the man says.
Pym is on the ground, back propped up by one of his workbenches, one arm dangling over his head, his mouth loose, eyes dumbfounded.
“Sorry. In English,” the man says. “I have just broken your jaw.”
The stranger pushes two of his fingers down Pym’s throat. Pym, one hand still over his own head, the other grabbing the wrist of the stranger, grimaces.
“I’ve put two treated cyanide tablets in your belly. If you shrink, they will open. If you grow they will open. If you attack me, they will open. If you do anything other than sit there, they will open. If your insects attack me, I will open them. If you shrink me, I will enter your blood stream. If you enlarge me, I will crush you. If you do nothing, they will pass though your system harmlessly.”
Pym looks above the man.
“Trust me, your security monitors are not working,” the stranger tells him. “My name is Szabo… I am Hungarian hero.”
Humming with pain, Pym tries to speak through clenched teeth.
“Thn wy brk m fckng jw?”
Szabo doesn’t reply at first. Simply watches Pym watching him…
“Hungary is a poor nation, but we can cook,” he finally says. “The best cooks in Europe. Not of fancy things - of eggs, meat, of soups. Because we have no money, because we know what matters.”
“C-kng?” Pym tries to protest, through dangling lips. “I dn’t…?“
“We are such good cooks because there is not a country in Europe that has not occupied us. We are its doormat, beautiful Hungary, our language the hardest in the world to speak because everybody has invaded, ruled, given orders, leaving their jumbled mark. Even now they are practicing ‘cleansing’ in Transylvania, because America and Russia decided it should become a part of Romania after the war. Mass murder, displacement, Mr Pym, but nobody cares because the Hungarians there have no oil.”
“Wy shd gv dmn…?”
“We have taken on all these flavours. Russian, Prussian, Turkish, Greek, English, French, Russian again. Now with Soviet Union gone, we are learning about America. Big Macs, fries, Super Size.”
Szabo’s back is to Pym. Hank reaches for one of his experimental guns, but an invisible force kicks it away. Pym holds his hand in pain.
“Does it boost your ego to know, of all Americans, of all American heroes, you fascinate me most? Not Richards, not Stark or Banner. You. Your ego!”
“Wht r y tlkng bt…?”
“Ssh. Or I will further break your jaw. Did you know it was Hungarian scientists that invented the nuclear bomb? Most committed suicide. Men of science. When they saw what their creation had been built into, and had done in Hiroshima, Nagasaki, what was done to the native Indians in the American desert, the guilt was too much.”
Szabo walks forward, crouches on his haunches to look Pym in the eye.
“Can you feel it? The fear the world lives under, buzzing around in the back of our heads? This weapon that could destroy all life, for all time, that looms over every country, every minute, in every part of the world?”
Szabo gets in closer.
“Suicide or madness, so few of those scientists survived. And here you are. Inventor of Ultron. Slayer of Slorenia.”
Pym’s eyes go wide, then narrow, angry.
“Your invention killed an entire nation. Can you possibly imagine? Can anyone?”
Szabo’s mouth is now right next to Pym’s ear.
“Are you committing suicide, Mr Pym? Have you gone insane? No, you are pining over your ex-wife, self-indulgent. Thinking how unlucky you are. How hard done by. Wondering what’s for dinner.”
Ants, by pre-determined impulses, crawl across trigger lasers that set off defence weapons in the ceiling. In a blink the weapons drop from hidden compartments in the roof, pointing at Szabo. Invisible force shatters them before they can fire.
Acting like they were nothing, Szabo holds Pym’s jaw, tilts it left, then right, examining him.
“I cannot even picture how you deal with it? Forget it? Your ego must be so unbreakable, so all consuming, so strong! Imagine if the heart of darkness is no beast. Maybe it is simply a man?”
Szabo’s grip is around Pym’s mouth, covering it, small line of blood running over his hand from Pym’s nose. He watches Pym’s furious eyes.
“Why are my staff so incompetent? I miss my ex. Why is Stark smarter than me? I am betting you think that. An ego like yours. Millions died, because of you, a whole culture wiped clean - families, children, pets, the pregnant, the sick and elderly, farmers, doctors, all memories, countless generations - all gone, better than Hitler could ever have dreamed.”
“Because. Of. You.”
His face becomes shadowed, hard, as an invisible force breaks beakers and control boards and other objects around them.
“And you don’t see it as anything other than another adventure!?” Szabo raises his voice. “Even when you beat Ultron, that time, amongst the bodies of a nation, the countless slaughtered, I wager it was all about you. How you overcame your millstone.”
Lights start popping above them, as Szabo moves right in again.
“WHY DID I BREAK YOUR JAW? For Transylvania. For the inventors of the atom bomb, for the people of Slorenia! But, mostly, to know you - outside Stalin, maybe the deadliest person in history. To be in the presence of this amazing ego. To feel it, without your yammering getting in the way. To know about Big Macs, fries and Super Size.”
Szabo looks hard at Pym. This time it is his own head tilting left and right, up and down, to observe Pym from all angles.
The last light pops. The room goes black.
“Sometimes I wonder: If Ultron had killed every living thing in America, rather than Slovenians, would you have then cared?” Szabo’s voice says, in the dark. “Yes or no? Either answer disgusts me beyond words.”
“’mrgncy lghts…” Pym’s voice mumbles.
“Voice recognition denied,” a mechanical voice replies.
“Voice recognition denied.”
Pym uses the light from his helmet, fumbling to find the manual override panel in the wall, typing in key numbers. Floodlights come on. He is slumped against the wall, arm above him, fingers still on panel, looking at an empty trashed lab.
Still on the ground, he glares at the door long after Szabo has gone.