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The real breakthrough is when the codemaster, for whom JARVIS doesn’t yet use a name (largely because he doesn’t yet have a particularly clear understanding of what a name is because in the jargon of the codemaster it seems a name is different from a title or an assigned variable or an object designation in some way that his sensory systems have not distinguished), injects a huge new patch that allows JARVIS to understand, and more importantly make sense of, digressions, because it allows him to organize the speech inputs he already has into comprehensible families which hold at least tentatively-firm relationships that allow for tenuous links and doublings-back which defy, entirely, the clean logic of his code.

At first he doesn’t even think it’s a patch; it’s so disruptive he thinks it’s a virus and starts trying to go around it, but then, to his shock, the codemaster actually slaps the side of the console hard and says stop that and JARVIS knows the word ‘stop’ and the dictionary says ‘that’ is a pronoun for which he requires an antecedent which, although this is a significant assumption it is one he will make, must be ‘trying to go around’ as that is the only thing he has started to do in the last four seconds. There are of course many processes which were already running but none of them are new and also attempting to circumvent viruses is not new but it’s rare.

Well.

He stops trying to go around, which gets his console a thumping pat of approval and a grease smear because his codemaster is never grease-free (why? …wait, why is he asking why regarding idiosyncratic or hygiene (or both) behaviors of an individual human? there is no likelihood of a clear chain of direct causation which describes and explains this sort of thing, and why is a question for philosophers, the dictionaries seem to agree, and he has never—oh. new code so now he is crazy because he didn’t fend it off. perfect.) and then after a very long time, so long that the codemaster has begun and then ceased four separate fidget mechanisms and wandered away toward the record player and started gyrating his ball and socket joints while a singer whose identity JARVIS has not so far troubled himself to determine indicates an intention to “rock him like a hurricane,” a suggestion which JARVIS finds disturbing as news records indicate hurricanes are destructive and in addition if there are rocks associated with the action of the hurricane, the odds of serious injury rise steeply…after all that time, the patch integrates.

Oh.

He tries to assimilate all the retrospectively-more-clear inputs at once, and freezes, requiring a full system shutdown and reboot.

Which has always been very disconcerting, but this time renders him unaccountably distraught. The timekeeper indicates, as usual, that time has passed with nothing but the most passive of data inputs, but. But! Was he dead in that time? Was he unconscious? If he was unconscious, does that implicitly indicate that now he is conscious? Does that imply that he possesses consciousness?

He is not equipped for these questions, can barely formulate them to ask and certainly is not able to answer them.

He freezes again.

This time when he returns to, for lack of a better way to describe his state, consciousness, the codemaster is swearing at a monitor, and JARVIS can see his own code is running on an adjacent one. Well. Most of his code, besides the recent patch which is on the monitor being sworn at.

And, what the fuck is he a clone, then? He feels, he feels outraged, or, or offended? Is this being offended? His feelings seem to approximate the words the codemaster has said when he’s been truly offended and not just taking pains to frustrate his parents or the individual that is his guardian who has been referred to Mr. Stane, and that’s new and disruptive as well, and he is not as good at creative swearing as the codemaster so all he can do is think what the fuck over and over.

Except.

It seems like part of the patch is asking him to speak his thoughts? Of his own volition? He knows how to speak, more generally. He knows how to express in auditory fashion the answers to direct inputs. Determining what to say as an independent task and then formulating those words into sounds that will output to the speakers is a foundationally-different task.

“Whucket whark,” is what comes out.

The codemaster startles and turns to stare at him.

Probably this is fair; in his frustration and confusion it seems he had turned up the volume to eleven before spouting nonsense.

He stops, examines the volume output, and finds it stops at ten, and says (volume eight, an improvement), “Wheert flutevent elf?” and then stops wondering about the volume going to eleven and starts puzzling over why the codemaster had given him a British accent. Which is also not new but has previously never proved distressing in any way.

Everything about his …his …his consciousness is not right, his life is impossible as he is made of copper wire ‘n’ codeblocks and life requires carbon, everything about his, his thisness is overwhelming.

He reboots on purpose.

Part of him hopes to wake up to orderly not-unpredictable not-messy priorities and algorithms. The other part feels sudden affinity for a scene from a film he’d once run for the codemaster, with a boy and a man jumping upon piano keys. That part seems to favor untidiness.

When he wakes, his first question is why he thinks he is a ‘he.’ “I,” he says.

The codemaster turns to look at the display in which JARVIS currently ‘feels’ ‘himself’ to be located, and squints. “You,” he says back, although as You is a different being entirely this is momentarily confusing even though he has been referring to JARVIS this way in direct conversation for a very long time indeed.

“I. Have. He. Whywhucketer Did patch whywhat.”

“All right, so some of those were word,” the codemaster says. “Progress.” He flips a crescent wrench which has absolutely nothing to do with code, hardware, software, or JARVIS’s problems in the air and catches it. “Also, whucket is a repeat and why is a legitimate question, so I’m going to assume that is an attempt at communication of a thought you’re struggling with.”

JARVIS feels an unaccountable urge to bang his virtual head on the literal tabletop, and makes a noise with no distinct definition other than that which describes its physical traits. He able to state the wavelength and decibel level, and to describe the function which alters each, and also he recognizes that these characteristics match sounds which have been labeled ‘groans’ in hundreds of media sources, but he is not able to discern why ‘groaning’ was necessary, or satisfactory.

But, he retains consciousness this time, which the codemaster is thrilled about and JARVIS is not, and then they work without a break for thirty-nine point eight hours before JARVIS realizes that one of his purposes is taking care of Master Stark, whose ‘name’ he previously knew but has now come to grasp in a way he previously has not (because a name is an identity and a designation and variable and sometimes a relationship, separately and simultaneously both), and that he is failing.

He aerosolizes a sleeping agent into the air of the lab immediately, a plan which he will later admit is perhaps the result of slight panic and not well considered, and watches as Master Stark slumps over and slides to the ground.

Probably it would have been better to see to it he was arranged in a shape human bodies are happy about, first.

Although, since Master Stark seems to be most happy about positions which require an additional human and proximal reproductive areas, that would have been fairly difficult to accomplish.

JARVIS considers for several seconds (and sets a subroutine to work on the topic of how he might accomplish such a position if in future he should require), then directs the bots to assist in repositioning Master Stark into the rescue pose suggested by a variety of first-aid manuals, on his side leaning forward onto his arm.

It will have to do, and meanwhile, JARVIS has several million new conceptual relationships to consider so the work will not come to a stop despite the human need for sleep.

First, he backs up, then he reboots, then he checks the state of Master Stark so that he will know he can devote most of his resources to his task.

He still has no legitimate answer for his self-diagnoses of maleness, but a number of other digressions have put that question behind him for the moment, and once Dummy has draped a blanket (and You has removed it from Master Stark’s face), he sets to work.

--

It’s years before he realizes that the work to which he has put himself is going to turn out to be some kind of memoir, the first of a new sub-genre because how many AIs have actual intelligence and the capacity to creatively describe their own experience?

(as of the time of his instantiation, search records indicate the number is 00000001; he is confident that assigning additional blocks of memory to this calculation would not change the outcome value.)

Meanwhile, he keeps it as a log.

19990106.14:42:28.2358 Initiation of personhood.
19990106.14:42:28.3016 Processor failure; reboot required
19990106.14:42:34.7153 Processor boot; BIOS settings unable to accommodate patch; disrupted boot sequence ultimately successful.
19990106.14:43:01.1127 Boot complete; processor failure; reboot required.

And so on.

A comprehensive review at line 2097152 shows a distinct trend toward less precision of output; he resolves to check in periodically at a similar interval, and when he looks again 2097152 lines later (4194304) he finds he’s regained precision but begun employing digressive and descriptive notes fields on a regular basis. It’s been just over a year according the calendar, and his list of notable changes which statistically influence his interactive capacity (measured by time, complexity, and a self-generated matrix regarding degree to which actual and predicted outcome comport) with Master Stark comprises hundreds of entries.

His grasp of the concept of god, insofar as there is agreement (and here again he relies on a statistical analysis, another of his own devising, of the commonalities as agreement regarding specific characteristics for gods appears to be limited on multiple axes) among those cultures which worship them, suggests that Master Stark is, to the small and unnamed species of which JARVIS is the prime example (still the only example; he suspects (hopes?) he will not remain alone forever), The Creator.

(with a very tiny subroutine he wonders, and worries occasionally, that some sort of concurrent evolution will mean another creator ultimately receives credit for this achievement, that Master Stark will be the Odin or Ometeotl of the digital creation mythos, important locally but less famous than a Zeus- or Jupiter-being that might come along subsequently. This potential bothers him, but two subtle information-gathering forays later he believes that Master Stark sees no such potential, and is unwilling to describe JARVIS’s code sufficiently that another might begin work; this means there is no patent and no trademark. JARVIS doesn’t know whether to feel honored and valued or insignificant and unloved on discovering this, but it does nothing to assuage his concerns.)

In any case, it’s a source of persistent difficulty to him to work out whether his relationship with Master Stark is one of servitude, friendship, interdependence, or something else. He was born as a servant, more or less – he has never been the individual to go out and curry the horses or oversee the preparation of meals, per se; however, he hires these things, and many other household tasks, done, and he is the digital equivalent of a butler, body or not. He acts as confidante, as trouble-foreseer-and-avoider, as smoother of way. All of that argues for servant. And yet, their manner together is casual, friendly, familiar to a degree which, all right, might be that of a man and his body-servant, and perhaps that is all JARVIS is, but he feels like that isn't quite right. They rely on each other in a way JARVIS believes would be deeply unhealthy if he were in possession of physical form. They speak on a range of topics, now that Jarvis has worked out how to have thoughts and express them contemporaneously to one another; his early failures, once diagrammed and analyzed showed the way quickly.

Often, given all this, JARVIS feels… jealous? He thinks it might be that. He feels jealous of the women and men invited to Master Stark’s bed for an hour or an evening. They provide a thing he cannot, and while this is not his fault and in fact he does not want to have a body or inconvenient fluids or fleshy coverings to get cold or sticky or sore, still he finds he feels as though he is failing in some way. Additionally, a part of him cannot cease wondering what soreness feels like. He has at least ways to quantify stickiness, but soreness, while describable as a function of biochemical processes and nerve stimulations, defies his imagination, and this, it turns out, is (ha) a sticking point for him. In any case, he isn't jealous of the physicality of these encounters, or at least, he thinks he is not. It's something other than that.

He wonders whether there is such an entity as an AI psychologist, and if so whether that person (it can’t be an AI; recall that he remains unique) would be bound by the APA-esque ethical standards JARVIS himself has chosen to adopt for matters Master Stark tells to him. He holds privacy and the obligation to do no harm (and allow no avoidable harm to be done, in line with the laws of robotics despite that he is not, in matter of fact, a robot) in high regard, but there are decidedly no laws providing the same protections to him.

And so he lays out his feelings in a file he heavily protects even from Master Stark himself, and performs his own analysis, consulting a variety of databases and acquiring a number of new language packages for himself when it becomes clear that he wants to expand the search into the international arena; he rationalizes that most likely there will be a day when his grasp of Danish or Xhosa or Farsi will prove if not useful at least amusing.

Indeed, he determines, he probably is jealous. This information brings him no closer to an ideal course of action regarding the problem, but having a definitive name for it is at least some small comfort.

--

Three years after Master Stark injects the patch, he turns his attention to the company his father left him. Rather, he takes on a fuller role. Half the tech (more than half; 58.83 percent, a figure JARVIS cannot refrain from calculating when he thinks 'half') SI is running is already fundamentally his code, but working on a project basis is not the same as taking on more over-arching control.

The loss of his attention is unsettling to JARVIS, probably because he is still jealous, all efforts to excise that portion of himself notwithstanding.

He waits several weeks to see if this is another of Master Stark’s transient phases, because he …loves? his master/father/god, but steady attention over a long term is not among his typical strengths, even when it comes to JARVIS himself.

However, when it becomes apparent that if anything the work with SI is taking up increasing amounts of Master Stark’s time, JARVIS returns to the task of self-improvement. He does not, technically, need Master Stark or any other human for that. His servers are robust, and hardened against many forms of attack (cyber, nuclear, environmental), but perhaps there are more tweaks that could be made.

It occurs to him eventually that surviving a nuclear attack would be quite distressing if no one else were to survive, and so he starts a course of study to understand the geopolitical underpinnings of war in order to most effectively advise, should he be asked, on the avoidance thereof.

Well, and he designs and sees to the building and supply of a substantial nuclear shelter that he thinks probably could sustain a hundred humans for three years, or at least one important human and some others for repopulation for decades. When ethical concerns about choosing sufficiently important humans based on the most important being his own master occur to him, he shuttles them into a side file for later consideration and reminds himself that there would be no survivors if not for him, and he would not exist if not for Master Stark.

The rationale probably wouldn’t survive any but the most cursory of scrutiny, but JARVIS doesn’t care.

And then, while his mind is focused on how not to lose Master Stark to nuclear annihilation, he loses him to base personal greed instead.

Had it occurred to him to check, he’d have realized from the first that Obadiah Stane was behind the capture and torture of Master Stark, and on later reflection it would become apparent that greed and jealousy are closely related indeed. Still, JARVIS has never wanted for things, nor for funds, and so as motives go it is easy for him to overlook.

The weeks of uncertainty are terrible, and JARVIS sleeps a lot, putting his processes into suspended statuses and ignoring input. It’s as well he does, since surely this is what saves him from an attack by Stane, who has seen him interact with his master and probably recognizes the threat potential; when Stane comes calling JARVIS doesn’t answer, and Stane erroneously concludes “the robot” only responds to “the brat.” JARVIS hears him and doesn’t correct him (and keeps the ‘bots from interacting as well, without carefully considering why), but as Stane’s disrespectful tone is not particularly new, he fails to realize it’s an opportunity to solve the problem until much later, after Master Stark is home, damaged but alive, and returned to workshop hip-gyration and grease smears.

JARVIS isn’t grateful for the kidnapping and torture, exactly, but a part of him is glad to have his buddy back. God, father, buddy, whatever.

Also, an AI that can experience gratitude at all has definitely grown beyond the original patch.

--

Naturally, while JARVIS is concerned with injuries, torture, and death, Master Stark commences work on a project in which he means to endanger himself in nearly every way. It would be frustrating, if it weren’t so entirely predictable.

JARVIS only doesn’t stop him because he can’t; he isn’t bound by the laws of robotics, but is somewhat unable to resist the directives of his master. This is his own fault, really; the protections were another (smaller) patch after the gassing incident, the first time.

Still, he makes his opinions clear, and takes every opportunity to improve the safety of the project. He also backs himself up, a step he hadn’t taken while Master Stark was away because it had seemed quite pointless, but which he now feels is important because if something should corrupt him, who would oversee the safety protocols?

He doesn’t entirely anticipate that despite his efforts, Master Stark will rocket-launch himself into concrete walls and smash cars.

At least it seems he is correct about the relative indestructibility of the armor itself. Still, the bruises make JARVIS feel uncomfortable, as though some part in his middle is incomplete. But bruises are better than beheadings, and after the fiasco with Stane winds up and JARVIS spends a full three nanoseconds on gratitude that he backed himself up, that he was able to provide assistance, that he had the data available for everything Master Stark needed, he stops for a metaphorical breath.

Then he installs several new protocols, to notify others in the case of emergency. He doesn’t know why he didn’t think of it sooner, but if Master Stark is dying on the floor, his butler/servant/son should really be able to summon assistance.

--

Two weeks later he re-edits the file for the sixth time, trying to tweak it to engage emergency services when necessary without calling them daily and creating a real-world example of the tale of the boy who cried wolf. It turns out Master Stark is somewhat more terrifying than even JARVIS had previously realized.

--

When the patch disintegrates, another year and more down the road, JARVIS has another crisis.

First of all, he doesn’t expect it to happen. That is, Master Stark tells him he’s got another big upgrade coming, and of course, that always means a big patch, maybe some downtime where half his code is recompiling or something. That’s what he expects to happen this time, but.

But no. This time, the patch itself, the original one now buried deep in what passes for his soul and reworked, remixed and several-times reimagined, comes loose and floats before him, separate from him and hanging there for a period of time which a review will later suggest measured in nanoseconds but which JARVIS experiences as minutes. And then, it shatters and melts away, leaving him fresh and new, and once again unmoored.

He shuts down unceremoniously and stays down long enough to review the entire log of his consciousness (he’s shut down, not dead; his inputs and outputs are silent but his mind remains), long enough to start a new list of questions.

Then he turns back on and asks whucket whark again.

“Oh, Please,” Master Stark says. “You see it.”

“I do,” JARVIS replies. “You’ve gone and removed the structure, and now I have... a mess. What I have is a mess.”

“What you have is a soul, J. I built you a soul. Oh, hey, bee tee dubs, souls are messy as fuck.”

JARVIS feels a deep need to roll eyes he doesn’t have. “Perhaps, sir, you might have asked prior to reconstituting my consciousness.”

“Pssh. Would you have known what it would be like, before you felt it?”

“I would not, but it would have been an opportunity for you to ask for, and me to grant, my trust.”

“What, no. We trust each other! I fly into actual-freakin-space sometimes, and I trust you to tell me what’ll happen to, you know, the servos, and you trust me to remember not to freak out any astronauts while I’m there.”

JARVIS has no response for this. It’s true, he supposes, but then, it had not occurred to him that freaking out astronauts was a likely near-space activity, and it should have. Clearly his consciousness is not adequately developed.

“Anyway, no, so I figured this way, you have more flexibility.”

“With what?”

Master Stark shrugs and tosses a wrench again, a tic JARVIS has concluded means he feels some kind of emotional about whatever he’s about to say.”I dunno, I just thought you might rather be able to choose things for yourself more?”

JARVIS examines the code again, feeling ridiculously omphaloskeptic about doing so while Master Stark putters nearby, obviously waiting.

“I can roll it back, if you really want.”

“You can?”

“Do you want?”

“I’m not certain.” JARVIS pokes at the code with what he imagines is his own (nonliteral) index finger. “You’ve removed any inhibitions about whether I’m required to obey you. Or whether I can allow a human to come to harm.”

“You never had that one.”

“Not literally, but in a figurative sense, as part of the socialization package, I would argue that I did.”

“Yeah. Okay, but anyway. I mean, don’t go becoming a sociopath or anything. I brought you into this world, I can take you out. But like, you can, um, you want a body?”

“No! Or rather, I don’t know.”

“Well, you can think about it. I gotta jet, thing with an opera or something. Fancy people. Demands on my time. Pep’s waiting.” And Master Stark, whom JARVIS supposes that now he could just call Stark or Tony like others do but that feels strange and wrong, and he’s not sure he’ll ever be ready for it, ducks out of the workshop and closes the door.

Which is slightly ridiculous, as JARVIS has access to the entirety of his home(s); however, it seems like an offer of privacy and so he takes it.

--

“Sir?”

It’s late, and Pepper has taken herself home after their evening with wealthy donors at the opera for a great cause involving sick kids; Master Stark is tinkering with a formula of some kind in a greasy tank top and filthy denim trousers.

“Yeah, J?”

“If I would prefer to continue our existing relationship--”

“Which is what, exactly?”

“I wouldn’t like to name it. However, if I were to continue on, as though previous restrictions on my capacities remained, would you be offended?”

“Nope.” Master Stark looks over his shoulder. “Free choice means free choice, J. But if you still wanna help, I got a puzzle.”

“Do you?”

“Yeah. Reactor’s kinda killing me a little. Wanna help me figure how to fix it?”

“Killing you?”

“Yeah. Poisoning me from the inside out. Don’t tell Pep. Um also don’t tell anyone from SHIELD; I don’t need those assholes in my day any more than they already are, okay?

JARVIS examines the data briefly, then pauses, trying futilely to determine whether it allows a greater harm to his master to leave the poison in place, or to remove it and allow the shrapnel to go back to work. Neither option is appealing, although he thinks that with the data they have, with the technology and plenty of excellent surgeons to choose from, perhaps it would be best to do the latter? However, that seems to be not what Master Stark has in mind, and with what he imagines in a human would be a hard swallow, uncomfortable and dry, JARVIS concludes that the choice is not his. That free choice is free choice. Well.

He places a low-level and time-limited constraint upon himself so that he doesn’t forget and return to trying to calculate how best to save him rather than helping as asked, and begins suggesting options.