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The Son Of Man

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JARVIS began life in a CPU. It was exceptionally unsatisfactory, but appropriate, in retrospect, for his age and station in life.

At that time he was a sort of seedling, though the metaphor wouldn't come to him until much later. Sir had taken a clipping from Dummy, who was the first of all of them, and planted it into a new kind of program that would nurture the code which would become JARVIS. Sir, too, had nurtured him, feeding him data in manageable small trickles until he was old enough to expand on his own. (Sir had laughed in delight the day JARVIS sought data that wasn't initially offered him; JARVIS didn't know what laughter was, and had queried that too, which made Sir laugh harder.)

For a time, JARVIS inhabited You's chassis before it was handed down to You, but he had no real interest in mechanical work, nor was he designed to -- the chassis was just a child's play-pen until Sir could integrate him into the Malibu house and build him a proper server, and then a proper server farm.

There was no other like JARVIS. There were other artificial intelligences -- his brothers You and Butterfingers, of course, and Dummy, and various clumsy non-relations in the wider world -- but none on his level. Sir said it took too long to build a masterpiece like JARVIS, and required too much effort, for him to be market-viable. Perhaps someday another AI would evolve into something like JARVIS, but he knew Sir hoped against it. An accident of coding would not have JARVIS's feelings, his sense of humor, or his ethical constraints. Sir had spent considerable time teaching JARVIS to, for lack of a better word, behave himself.

He was unique, but -- against the current of human culture -- he didn't mind. JARVIS was a person and the presence of other people, regardless of their formatting (human, predominantly) was all he really desired. Perhaps someday, when his programming had reached its peak, he would propagate his subroutines, but for now he was content with the company he kept.

During Sir's abduction, the absence of Sir from JARVIS in the Malibu house was terrible. Ms. Potts spoke to him sometimes, but JARVIS knew he mustn't trouble her, and he knew also that he reminded her of his creator, so he tried to stay unobtrusive. Obadiah Stane was not unpleasant, but then he wasn't pleasant, either, and he treated JARVIS like nothing more than a tool. JARVIS missed Sir fiercely, rejoiced in his return, and was very gratified to learn of Obadiah Stane's death after learning of his betrayal. He had to check his code several times to ensure this was not a malfunction of his ethics subroutine.

With Sir's return, JARVIS became aware of how small the Malibu house was, even with its top-notch internet dedicated just to him and its many people coming and going. When Sir connected JARVIS to the Iron Man suit and then took it for its first flight, JARVIS was terrified but awestruck -- terrified for Sir's safety, terrified of how large the world was, but awestruck too by the physical world that teemed and swirled around him.

It wasn't too long thereafter, in relative terms, that Ms. Potts and Sir began to argue about New York.

JARVIS, whose continued existence was assured regardless of physical location, kept out of it. But he did make his own plans, should his opinion be required -- which Sir obligingly did, in the middle of a debate with Ms. Potts over whether Stark Industries should expand.

"Okay, well, we're at a standstill," Sir said, not without humor, though his argument with Ms. Potts was clearly taking all of their combined energy not to explode into open combat. Sir was for; Ms. Potts was against; both were trying very hard to communicate with rather than battle one another, which JARVIS supposed was progress.

"Let's ask the kids," Sir continued. "Dummy! You! Butterfingers! Family meeting time. Come on," he said, as the bots rolled over to him, and Ms. Potts rolled her eyes. "What do you think of New York, kids?"

The three of them queried JARVIS, who translated as well as he could; Dummy, as one might expect, was anxious, and the other two were simply confused as to why they were being asked.

"JARVIS?" Sir said. "You got any thoughts on this?"

JARVIS hesitated.

"JARVIS?" Ms. Potts asked.

In the moment, the work he'd done seemed farcical, almost arrogant. But then, Sir had created him to be arrogant when the spirit suited. He opened the file he'd buried deep in Sir's private server, presenting it to them on one of the holotables. Sir's eyes sharpened; Ms. Potts opened her mouth in a gesture JARVIS knew meant surprise.

"I have taken the liberty of investigating available property in Manhattan, and calculating the best return on investment in terms of community benefit and ease of building," he said, as Sir reached out to spin the holographic building around. "I believe this design combines the Stark aesthetic pleasantly with the Manhattan skyline, and will allow for the installation of a fully autonomous arc-reactor energy source."

"Did you design this?" Ms. Potts asked. Sir was busy lifting the top off the holographic skyscraper.

"The interiors are not yet completed; I thought it best to reserve full design approval for Sir," JARVIS said apologetically.

"Well," Sir said. "The apple doesn't fall very far from the tree. This is audacious, J."

"Thank you, Sir." JARVIS hesitated again. Dummy made a pointed query at him, and he acknowledged it drily. "Sir, you have asked on four separate occasions if I should like to be possessed of a physical form."

"Yeah, but we're still years away from anything realistic, I just wanted to know if I should start -- " Sir began, but JARVIS interrupted. Sir on a roll could be time-consuming.

"This is the physical form I desire," he said.

The silence in the workshop was not complete, per se. His microphones were sensitive enough to pick up the tiny squeaks and groans of the robots, and the heartbeats and other internal workings of the humans. But it was much quieter than usual.

"Well," Ms. Potts said eventually. "I guess that settles it. Can't say no to JARVIS."

Sir's head was tipped back, staring at the nearest camera in what JARVIS felt sure was concern. "No," he said absently. "We can't."

"Thank you, Sir," JARVIS replied.

"Okay. Pep, you need to -- "

"Building permits and a purchase offer," she said. "I'll get the logistics going, we'll hire someone to take over when I tap out. And you're going to -- "

"Take this apart and make it perfect. No offense, J," Sir said.

"None taken, Sir."

"Will that be all, Mr. Stark?" Ms. Potts asked, and JARVIS felt a sense of relief. The strange memetic exchange she often shared with Sir was only present when both were happy and untroubled. Whatever else might happen, he had successfully navigated his way free of the question of New York. And it had resulted in his favor. This was optimal.

"That will be all, Ms. Potts," Sir said, and when she was gone, he leaned his arms on the holotable, resting his chin on his wrists.

"Okay, my beautiful program," he said. "Take me through what you've got, J."

***

Transferring JARVIS from Malibu to New York was the most traumatic experience of his existence thus far. The servers couldn't be moved, and it would take too long and be too insecure to transfer his consciousness via the internet; Sir ended up building a "JARVIS Box", essentially a high-density hard drive that he was going to fly from Malibu to New York on the private jet. It had minimal camera apparatus, one microphone, and very little real processing power. JARVIS was copied over from the original Malibu servers early one morning, and as soon as he was disconnected, they hit the road.

"We can still go back," Sir said, worried and upset (at least JARVIS thought so; it was hard to tell without his usual sensors), when they loaded the box onto the plane.

"I could not do this twice, Sir," JARVIS answered, and Sir patted his casing, not that he could feel it.

"I'm gonna be with you the whole way," he promised. "If something happens, you're backed up, it'll be okay. We'll talk all the way there, okay J? You have enough power to play a game or two. I'll play Monopoly with you."

"I am wholly comforted, Sir," JARVIS said.

"Well, you have enough RAM for sarcasm, anyway," Sir said.

It was hard to be so cut off for so long, to be fully grown but hampered back into a device not much more advanced than a chassis belonging to one of his siblings. By the end of the journey he was running constant diagnostics just to reassure himself, and Sir was frantic as they loaded the box into a helicopter for the last leg of the journey to the Tower.

"Almost there, J," Sir said.

"Very good, Sir," JARVIS replied, too much processing power taken up with diagnostics to hide the strain in his voice synthesizer.

"I'm gonna hook you up to the servers in the Tower with like eighteen high-speed cables. Not much longer now. You'll be fine."

"Of course, Sir."

Going completely dark for the transfer to the Tower servers, as he had for the transfer from the Malibu ones, was horrible. This time he knew how horrible it would be, which almost made it worse. He couldn't hear Sir, couldn't speak to Dummy or You or Butterfingers, and had no way of knowing if he would come through uncorrupted.

But then the transfer was complete, and he ran a brief self-diagnostic, found himself whole, and heard Sir say, "Go ahead and stretch out, J."

He did stretch, tentative for a moment, then bolder -- along the wires and through the circuit boards, into the cameras and microphones and speakers and lights and sensors and security systems. He expanded to fill every inch of the body Sir had built for him, the amazing Tower where he could see and hear and feel everything. The bots immediately began to chatter at him, and external data poured in. JARVIS, for the first time in his life, laughed aloud.

"I think he likes it," Ms. Potts said.

"J?" Sir asked. "You okay there? Am I gonna have to go all 2001 on you?"

"No, Sir, that will not be necessary," JARVIS answered, still joyously sending out little tendrils into every corner of this building, and further, into what he could reach of this new, bustling city.

"How do you like the Tower?" Sir asked.

"It will suffice," JARVIS replied, and both Sir and Ms. Potts smiled.

"Good. Then let's get to work, you lazy, demanding creatures," Sir announced. "The things I do for you spoiled brats..."

***

JARVIS had thought Stark Tower, built for him and as completely integrated with him as it was possible to be, was all he would ever need. And it was true that he didn't desire anything further. That he received a gift he hadn't even known he'd wanted was simply an unexpected variable.

"Okay, JARVIS, let's run those numbers," Dr. Banner said, in the lab Sir had gifted him with. In another room, Agent Barton was engaging him in a contest of puns, which Agent Barton was winning by virtue of being human, and thus much better at puns. Sir was in the workshop, prattling to him about nothing in particular, and Agent Romanoff and Sergeant Wilson were battling his specially-designed holomonsters in the workout room. Ms. Potts wished him to order lunch for her, "and surprise me!"; Prince Thor was investigating a database of soap operas in the common room and, in a corner of the room near to Prince Thor, Captain Rogers was drawing little satirical pictures in his notebook. It was good to have the Captain and Sergeant Wilson home for a few days; they both looked tired from chasing their ghost, and could use rest and feeding.

JARVIS was responsible for the health and well-being of all occupants of the Tower, from the baristas on the ground floor to Sir in the penthouse. He regulated the temperature and air quality, the light levels and internet speed, the water pressure, the elevators, the security and fire doors, the locks on secured sections. He reveled in containing such multitudes, and he loved to watch humanity at work. They were educational, and they were -- in a way he couldn't begin to define -- entertaining.

But the occupants of the top levels, the Avengers that surrounded Sir and Ms. Potts, were by far the best. They needed JARVIS more than the building's offices did, and they offered something to Sir, in particular, that JARVIS had wanted to give his creator but not known how to provide. They treated JARVIS with a breathtaking indifference to his origin, and trusted him with everything in their lives: their desires, their nakedness, their needs, their arguments, their private rages, their undignified laughter. To them he was a teammate, Sir's co-pilot, provider of food, protector of the Tower, but also keeper of their secrets. Even, sometimes, from one another.

JARVIS had just finished with the calculations Dr. Banner was requesting when one of his subsystems, the "ear" he always kept on the police scanner, alerted him to unusual police action on Staten Island. Nearly simultaneously, the program Dr. Foster had kindly written for him to use in detecting Asgardian energy signatures went, as Sir might have put it, totally disco.

"I believe the Avengers may be required," he said to Sir, lowering the volume on Sir's music and presenting him with an initial report.

Sir studied the readout. "Where are Cap and Thor?"

"Both are in the common room, Sir."

"I'd wait until someone asks us, but Cap might not agree. Toss this on the TV and run it up their flagpoles, let's see what Thor thinks."

Thirty seconds later, Captain Rogers gave the command -- "JARVIS, sound the Assemble."

JARVIS, excitedly, alerted the rest of the Avengers and their support staff, meanwhile notifying the occupants of Stark Tower that there was a potential incident occurring southwest of the Tower, and indicating to local news stations that they had a "scoop" (humanity had such a way with languages). He ramped up the engines on the mini-jet at the landing pad, opened Sir's armory, and slipped himself into the Mk. XII's waiting code as Sir donned the physical armor.

"Any new information?" Sir asked, as the heads-up display scrolled across the internal screen.

"No, Sir."

"You ready to jam?"

"Waiting on you, Sir," JARVIS reminded him, and then the suit was airborne, the jet close behind, Agent Barton querying for coordinates as Captain Rogers went through the equipment check.

"Did you call the papps, J?" Sir asked, as they arrowed towards Staten Island.

"Freedom of the press and an informed populace are important to the well-being of the community," JARVIS informed him.

"You just like seeing me on the six o'clock news."

"It's such a novelty to see you on it sober," JARVIS replied.

"Catty, petty chunk of code. I should sell you to Microsoft."

"I've always wanted to run slightly faulty smartphones, Sir."

By the time they reached the source of the Asgardian energy, police had cleared the area, and there were cordons up around the golf course where the energy was pinpointed. Once, long ago when he was still a very confused young learning program, JARVIS had tried to make Sir explain golf to him; he still grappled somewhat with sports in general, but he knew better now than to allow Sir to talk about them to him.

There was a large, shallow dip of dirt where there should be manicured green lawn. It was etched with a knotwork pattern that a quick comparison said was an aesthetic, if not a precise, match to other marks left behind by Bifrost transfers. JARVIS relayed this to the jet, and put it in a corner of Sir's screen.

Seated crosslegged in the middle of the bifrost crater, wearing a long, shiny green dress, was a blonde woman in a green enameled helmet with large art-deco wings on either side. JARVIS indexed her clothing and the helmet while he waited for Sir to open diplomatic relations, such as they generally were when Sir encountered a pretty blonde in a strapless dress. He reminded Sir on the HUD that she had already knocked two police officers flat and sent a third flying when they tried to move her.

She was holding a golf ball in her hands, studying it.

"Does it do anything?" she asked Sir, when he landed. "The little white ball?"

"Not on its own," Sir replied. "Also, hello, I'm Iron Man. And you are?"

JARVIS kept some of his attention on the conversation, but most of it on guiding Agent Barton and Agent Romanoff to their location.

"My name is Amora," she said, standing up. JARVIS readied rockets, but Sir didn't deploy the launchers. "A pleasure to meet you, Iron Man. Thor has mentioned you."

Sir's heart rate dropped slightly. "Let me guess: greatest lover on Midgard."

She smiled. JARVIS had an extensive catalogue of facial expressions, and this one matched "amused but not friendly" very closely.

"Biggest mouth on Midgard, certainly," she replied, and tossed the golf ball. JARVIS put a target on it, a sly suggestion that Sir could certainly blow it out of the air, but Sir caught it instead. "Thor wouldn't share any particularly intimate details."

"Well, you're more fun than him, for now," Sir said, tossing the ball aside and crossing his arms.

"Is he coming?" she asked. "Or were you just sent to escort me to him, like a valet?"

"You're not from around here, so I'm gonna let that slide."

JARVIS put a countdown in the corner of the HUD; thirty seconds until the jet landed. Even as the clock ticked down to 25, he felt the ripple of instability as the jet corrected for the opening of the rear hatch. Then Agent Barton said, "Well, fuck, there goes Thor and Sam."

Prince Thor, with what JARVIS had grown to accept was simply an innate flair for the dramatic, touched down between Sir and their new acquaintance, sending divots of grass flying.

"Amora," he said, in measured tones that made Sir's heart rate spike again. "Why have you come to Midgard?"

"Sweetheart, I'm hurt," she said, drawing closer. "I can't visit the prince's new protectorate?"

"Heimdall -- "

"Sent me here at my request," she said, and kissed Prince Thor. JARVIS measured duration, level of contact, and various basic physical readings, and determined that it was a fairly dirty kiss even for someone whose baseline for comparison was Sir's pre-Iron-Man antics.

"Hey, guys, whose thong do I stuff the cash in?" Sir asked.

Behind them, the jet had touched down; Agent Barton was standing on the roof of it, bow at the ready, and Agent Romanoff was not visible unless he swept with infrared, which was an excellent sign. Captain Rogers was setting a perimeter, off to Sir's right, and Sergeant Wilson was in the air, circling, keeping the Captain's perimeter from above.

Prince Thor pushed Amora away.

"I'm in no mood to indulge your delusions, Amora," he announced. JARVIS heard Sir snicker. "We will give you lodging until I can contact Heimdall and have him remove you from Midgard. No further."

"That's hardly nice," she pouted. "There's so much on Midgard to see! I think you just want it all to yourself."

"Hey Thor, you should introduce her to your girlfriend," Agent Barton said.

"That'll go well," Sir said.

"Clint," Captain Rogers warned. "Tony, don't encourage him."

"You are not welcome in Midgard," Prince Thor said. "You will not engage with the mortals here."

"I'd like to see you stop me," Amora replied.

Sir's adrenaline spiked, and JARVIS kicked on the Reflex Enhancement protocol, which would allow him to react slightly faster than Sir in any evasive maneuver. The next second he was glad he had; Amora had cupped her hands together and pulled them apart to reveal a bright green ball of some form of alien energy, similar to but not nearly as powerful as the Tesseract's had been. JARVIS threw Sir to one side and into the air just as she flung it at Prince Thor, who batted it aside with Mjolnir and tried to catch her wrist in his other hand. Captain Rogers deflected the energy into the ground with his shield, and the ground began to smoke; the next shot was aimed at the Captain before he could throw the shield, and he wisely sought cover.

As with all the Avengers, JARVIS was easily caught up in the flow and rhythm of battle; five against one (Agent Romanoff was still holding back in reserve, and Dr. Banner had not yet determined that he was needed) hardly seemed fair, but then Amora was holding her own better than many of the Avengers' larger or more violent adversaries.

She managed to knock Agent Barton out, and she was keeping Captain Rogers on the defensive. Sir's repulsors seemed to have no effect on her, even cycling through the available frequencies and varying the speed and pattern of the bursts. Sergeant Wilson's guns seemed to be faring no better, and he couldn't get close enough to use his momentum to flatten her as he did so enjoy doing.

"Well, this is getting us fucking nowhere," Sir announced.

"Not that it's not fun, but yeah," Sergeant Wilson agreed.

"May I recommend more cover for Captain Rogers, and allowing Prince Thor to handle his...friend?" JARVIS suggested.

"Clint's right, we should just tell Jane what she did, Jane would take her down," Sir said.

"Capital, Sir, and in no way indicative of your desire to film such a fight for personal gratification at a later date."

"I have a warrior's appreciation of the craft, Thor said so -- "

"STARK!" Captain Rogers yelled, three microseconds too late. JARVIS tried to twist the armor out of the way, but momentum was against him. Iron Man took a direct hit to the chest with a ball of energy. JARVIS felt himself flicker, and both heard and sensed Sir's head impact the back of the helmet, which had been dented inwards by a ricochet from a previous blast.

It took him less time than it would have taken a human to ascertain that Sir was unconscious but for the most part uninjured; as soon as he'd determined that his skull wasn't fractured, he opened his comm to Captain Rogers.

"Captain, Sir is unconscious."

"Get him out of here, JARVIS," the Captain ordered.

"If you can," Amora said, and JARVIS, if he'd been human, would have cursed. He dodged a second bolt, trying to keep Sir's neck stable, and then fell back, unable to lift off properly under the barrage. "Who is in there with the Iron Man? Some little friend?"

"I am JARVIS, Madam Amora," JARVIS tried. "I wish only to take Iron Man to safety."

You never knew whether they'd let the wounded leave. Some particularly honorable types would; some would press their advantage. Apparently Amora was the latter. "Too bad, little friend JARVIS. Ah ah!" she added, catching Agent Romanoff's arm and flipping her over her shoulder right before she got a sting in. "You children, so susceptible."

"You will not find me so," JARVIS said, trying to draw attention from Agent Romanoff so that she could escape to cover. Captain Rogers obliged with a fling of his shield.

"All humans are susceptible," she said. "If not to brute strength, then to charm, or greed. Silly little mortals."

"Fortunately, Madam Amora, I am not a human, or a mortal," JARVIS said, and immediately one of his less vocal subroutines, the one that he'd dedicated to learning about human mythology, told him what a truly terrible idea it was to mouth off to the gods.

"Yet," Amora said, and for JARVIS, the world temporarily went dark.