Bruce yawned and knuckled at his right eye with his hand, trying to rub away the sleepiness which had been creeping up on him for the last couple of hours. He blinked bleary. He had three more hours to go on the super-computer, keeping an eye on the data crunching, so he couldn’t exactly go to sleep but there was no reason he couldn’t get a bite to eat and maybe even something warm to drink.
Hmm… tea or hot cocoa? Now there was a question to stump even the most brilliant mind.
“JARVIS, could you keep an eye on my lab for me?” Bruce asked. He got up from his lab chair and had reached the lab door when he realized he hadn’t gotten a response. “JARVIS?”
“My apologies, sir. I will be able to devote my attention to your lab in one hour and a half,” JARVIS finally answered, his voice distracted.
Bruce frowned up in concern. “Are you alright?”
“Yes, sir,” JARVIS answered curtly. For the A.I., who was always courteous, it was a downright rude response.
“Huh,” Bruce said to himself. He was too sleep-befuddled to be too concerned. Although, he did make a mental note to mention JARVIS’s behavior to Tony. If there was a glitch somewhere in the software only Tony had access to fix it anyway.
He headed for the community kitchen, taking the elevator up to the floor where Avengers held all their team bonding activities such as movie night, poker night, try-not-do-die-of-alcohol-poisoning night (Between Thor and Steve no one could ever beat them at drinking, not even Tony, although he tried, hence the name) and a couple other activities which changed all the time. Yet there hadn’t been anything scheduled tonight, so Bruce was honestly taken aback to hear noises coming from the theater room.
More than a little curious at what was going on because his teammates never failed to include him on team activities, Bruce poked his head in.
He blinked, startled at the sight.
One half of the huge screen was playing grainy black and white footage while the other showed a team of men and women hovering over various computer consoles. But that wasn’t the most surprising sight because in front of the screen where all of Tony’s robots: Dummy, Butterfingers, You and a couple other ones whom Bruce hadn’t learned the names of, yet.
They were all wearing paper coned party hats.
Dummy was waving a sign which Bruce couldn’t read from his angle and Butterfingers had several helium balloons with ‘Congratulations!’ tied on to its frame. All the robots were moving around with whirling of hydraulics and beeps which sounded downright happy and excited.
Phil, out of his usual tie and suit combo and in a t-shirt and jeans, was sitting down on the couch, leaning forward intently. His eyes fixed on the screen with unblinking focus. Clint, sitting next to him, looked deeply amused. He looked up at Bruce and waved him in with a flick of fingers.
Steve was also on the couch, sitting on the other side of Phil. His blue eyes were wide as he stared at the screen. Steve looked thoroughly amazed, as if what he was watching was the greatest and most astonishing thing he’d ever seen.
All the men were wearing white t-shirt with a logo of a robot and the words ‘GO CURIOSITY!’ in bold red letters across their chests.
Bruce opened his mouth to ask but Clint shook his head warningly.
“Hey, Bruce. Come to join the party?” Tony asked, popping up behind him. Bruce didn’t jump but he did twitch a bit. His heartbeat spiked for split second before he suppressed his reaction. However, he still shot Tony a dirty look. Tony grinned unrepentantly.
“Shhhhh!” Came simultaneously from everyone in the room, even from JARVIS’s embedded speakers.
“What’s going on?” Bruce asked.
“Shhhhhhhhhh!” Again from everyone, although Clint looked like he was going to bust out laughing until he hid his head against Phil’s shoulder.
Tony grinned and grabbed Bruce, dragging him out of the theater room.
“What‘s going on?” Bruce repeated.
“They’re watching the Mars rover landing,” Tony explained.
Bruce blinked. “Why?”
“Steve‘s never seen anything NASA related happen live,” Tony said quietly, his brown eyes fond. “He‘s seen the moon landing and stuff, but it‘s all old news. He‘s finally getting a brand new experience, actually getting to see it live as it happens. I’m surprised you haven’t noticed, Bruce. Steve’s been watching the NASA TV stream for the last forty hours. And the kids and JARVIS… and now Coulson too, have a vested interest in seeing Curiosity landing safely on Mars,” Tony said. “Curiosity’s practically a distant cousin. S.I.’s StarkTech division made several parts for the rover.” Abruptly, he pouted. “Did you know they have some sort of non-organics club going on? JARVIS refuses to let me join.”
“No organics allowed, sir,” JARVIS cut in.
“I‘m partially non-organic,” Tony protested, patting the arc reactor in chest for emphasis.
“Sorry, sir,” JARVIS said, sounding completely unapologetic.
“Oh, this must be why JARVIS‘s been distracted,” Bruce noted, relieved to have an answer.
“JARVIS is a multi-tasking guru but when it comes to the rovers he gets obsessed.” Tony leaned close to Bruce’s ear. He whispered, “It was a bad day when he found out about Spirit.”
“Spirit is intact! It merely needs a cleaning event to allow its photovoltaic cells to charge up again,” JARVIS said at once.
“Sure, honey,” Tony nodded easily, before catching Bruce’s eyes and mouthing ‘denial’.
Bruce smiled. “Do you mind if I join you guys? I could use something to keep me from falling asleep until my data is done.”
“The more the merrier!” Tony said happily. “Although, I gotta warn you when the seven minutes of terror are over, if it doesn‘t end well? I‘m going to need your help consoling a bunch of distraught robots…” Tony paused, shuddered and added, “And Captain America. Clint is taking care of Coulson.”
“Distraught robots and Captain America? Well, that could be a deal breaker,” Bruce said amused by Tony’s dramatically horrified eyes.
“I‘ll take care of JARVIS and the others but the second Steve tears up, I‘m tossing you at him.”
“Thanks,” Bruce said dryly.
Tony grinned and followed him as Bruce went into the kitchen to get his drink and food. He made quick sandwich and settled on a big mug of green tea.
Back in the theater room, Bruce spent more time watching Steve’s reaction to the NASA TV stream and the black and white toned feed which he’d learned from Tony was from the Mars Odyssey robotic spacecraft; they shouldn’t even have it, but JARVIS had hacked a copy of the feed from NASA. By watching Steve’s face as they got closer and closer to the ‘seven minutes of terror’ the NASA people kept mentioning, Bruce developed a greater appreciation of the upcoming landing.
It wasn’t as if he hadn’t cared about the rover landing on Mars. He was a scientist, of course he cared, but it was harder to remember to pay attention when his own projects beckoned. Yet seeing the unwavering astonishment on Steve’s face… Steve who’d been born in a time before Sputnik, the space race and Yuri Gagarin, who’d reached his age without ever hearing “That’s one small step for man…” reverberating in his imagination for years, who’d woken up in an era where an international space station circled the planet 15.7 times a day and Hubble caught images of a galaxies by the hundreds.
Steve hadn’t even been awake when the very last space shuttle was decommissioned. He’d never even seen a live broadcast of people heading off for space on a roaring pillar of flame.
It kind of boggled the mind that Steve had grown into an adult without any of it; without the triumphs and the tragedies of humanity reaching for the stars.
Bruce understood why Steve was so captivated for an unmanned mission that wasn’t even the first to land on Mars.
“And Curiosity is deploying to land on Mars. We‘ll get confirmation in seven minutes,” said the spokesperson from the NASA TV stream.
Everyone went quiet, the robots were eerily still and even Clint looked somber with his arms tight around Phil’s waist.
Bruce wished he had Betty in his arms.
Bruce held his breath, crossed his fingers and braced himself.
(See the end of the chapter for notes.)
“Curiosity has touched down!”
The explosion of celebration on the screen from the people at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory was quickly drowned by the cheers in the Avengers Tower.
“YES!” Steve shouted as he jumped to his feet, getting several feet of air in his excitement. “YES! YES! Curiosity‘s on Mars! On Mars!”
JARVIS began blasting ‘We Are the Champions’ through his embedded speakers. The robots spun in place. Their excited beeps coming out even louder than before.
“Go science!” Tony shouted, raising his palm towards Bruce.
Bruce breathed out slowly as his tension loosened out of his muscles and he high-fived Tony‘s hand.
Tony joined his robots in spinning in place in delight, catching You around the arm as he turned his movement into a waltz.
Bruce grinned at Steve who was now holding Dummy’s sign as the robot spun in place even faster than the rest of his kin. Bruce finally got to read the sign. Painted with red paint in huge block letters, it read: ‘GO BRO!’ also neatly written underneath those, in Tony’s neat handwriting, were the words, ‘For All Robot-kind!’
Clint was kissing Phil within in an inch of his life. It was probably a good thing Phil didn’t really to breathe to survive because it looked like Clint wasn’t giving him a chance to take a breath. Although, Phil didn’t look like he would’ve cared even if he did need air.
Steve looked towards them his blue eyes shining and his expression stunned. “We landed on Mars. Mars!” Steve abruptly sat on the floor, surrounded by a ring of moving robots looking like they were dancing to Queen, well… as much as robots with wheels and hydraulics could dance. “Holy--” Steve breathed, nearly inaudible to Bruce’s ears.
“JARVIS, it‘s party time!” Tony yelled his hands high up in the air. “Bring on the booze and hydraulic fluid!”
“Sir, remember last time we brought out both at once?” JARVIS asked, sounding vastly more relaxed than he had nearly two hours ago.
Tony waved his hands dismissively. “It isn‘t like it’s the only or last time, I’ll get my stomach pumped.” The right wall of the theater room opened, revealing a glass and steel bar. Tony made a happy noise and headed straight for it.
Clint bounded past Tony, grabbing the bottle of blue agave tequila. “I‘m making the drinks, pal. You suck at it.”
“Those are fighting words!”
Phil was now on his knees, his hand on Steve’s broad shoulder.
“Is it always like this?” Steve asked, looking over to the screen where the celebration by JPL was still going strong. JARVIS had blown up the first images from Curiosity on Mars until they dominated the screen.
Phil smiled. “Usually, it‘s crazier. Wait until you see when they send humans to Mars.”
Steve’s smile widened even more. “I can‘t wait to see that!” He shook his head in wonder.
“Me too,” Phil agreed and offered his hand, pulling Steve easily to his feet.
“People on Mars…is it strange that I want to volunteer to go?”
“Captain Rogers, it would be strange if you didn‘t want to go,” Phil said.
“You know, I can start working on a space rocket for the team,” Tony cut in thoughtfully. “I bet I can convince Fury to back the idea of a moon base for us!”
“No,” Phil said flatly.
Bruce was distracted by a piteous beep at his side. He looked at Butterfingers who was wrapped up tightly in balloons strings until the balloons were low against the robot‘s frame instead of floating up in the air. Butterfingers made a mournful whirling sound as its head drooped. Bruce laughed and got to his knees to begin working out the knots of the balloon strings before the tangles became impossible to pull apart.
Overhead, JARVIS switched the music to a simply club beat which made all the robots bop along.
“No, Dummy! Don‘t you dare use that fire extinguisher!” Tony shouted, too late.
Spinning happily, Dummy sprayed all of the theater room in foam.
I'm so happy Curiosity landed safely. Otherwise, Tony's bots would all have been sooooo sad. Sad robots in party hats can make a grown author cry, okay.
Go NASA! *waves imaginary pom-poms*