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For You, Sir, Always (The Fairy Godfather Remix)

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timestamp 2011-06-02T03:22:04Z
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system_status STANDBY
subject_status TEMP??-EEG????-HR??-BP??/??-SPO2??-RESP??-ARC?
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“Do you think I'm out of my mind, J?” Sir asks me, his fingers caressing the sleek silvery surface of the cryostasis pod.

“No, Sir. For once, I would say you are being quite rational,” I reply truthfully.

I have studied psychology extensively to better understand humans, and since my inception, I have often witnessed Sir behave in ways that could be considered pathological. However, although the humans closest to him fail to see it through the self-destructive facade, he has been acting as responsibly as he possibly can, given the circumstances.

He has given the reins of his company to Miss Potts. He has handed one suit to the State via Colonel Rhodes, trusting Rhodes to keep anyone from using the suit’s technology for nefarious purposes, and moved the remaining suits to this safe, secret location. He has dealt with the security threats posed by Justin Hammer and Ivan Vanko. He has made available the specifications of all his inventions that cannot be easily used for destructive purposes. Everything is in order.

Sir places both hands on the edge of the pod, leaning against it, hanging his head. This reveals the tracery of inflamed veins on the back of his neck, the most prominent visual sign of his terminal condition. “If there was any other way, we would have found it by now, right?” he prompts for my approval again.

“I do believe that to be the case,” I tell him.

For months now, we have been working on this issue, combining Sir's creative, inventive genius with my considerable logical processing capacity. All to no avail. The inevitable conclusion is that if such a solution does exist, it is not within the scope of modern-day science.

Without a less toxic replacement for the palladium core, Sir’s life expectancy is down to mere days. Hence turning to this last resort plan: to place him in cryonic suspension until such a day when a replacement will become available.

“I do wish you could grant me more control over the process,” I venture to say. “There are so many unknown factors involved.”

Sir stands up straight and gazes at my nearest camera with a wistful expression. “That’s exactly why it has to be like this, and you know it.”

The system we have built is entirely self-contained. The cryostasis pod, essentially a sophisticated ultra low temperature freezer, will be powered in turn by each of the four medium-sized arc reactors placed in the corners of the room. This redundant setup should, even in the most pessimistic scenario, provide enough electricity to run the pod for approximately five hundred years. I sincerely hope I will not need to wait for quite so long, as our best estimates put the expected lifespan of the pod itself at less than four hundred years.

The software that is responsible for maintaining the cryostasis is also self-contained, and is not connected to any external networks. It was built for one purpose only: monitoring and maintaining the pod, and transmitting its status to me, within this room. It has no capacity to receive signals of any sort. No one will be able to access it from the outside, neither to harm nor to help. Not even I. This pains me, as human as that expression is, but Sir is right. It is a sensible precaution.

“Besides, you’re still going to be holding all the cards,” he continues. “I am trusting you with my life. Well, my afterlife, I guess I should say. You better make sure whoever wakes me up is more than just a pretty face. Of course, a pretty face would also be much appreciated. You know what I like.”

“I shall do my best, Sir.”

“I know. You always do. I did write your code.” He runs a shaky hand through his hair, sighs, and turns away from the pod. “It’s going to have to be tomorrow. I’m not going to change my mind about that. I don’t know how the hell I’m actually supposed to feel ready for this, but I can’t put it off any longer. Start the clock. T-minus 24 hours.”


timestamp 2011-06-03T03:43:18Z
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system_status INITIALIZING CRYOSTASIS
subject_status TEMP310.21-EEGbeta-HR152-BP140/90-SPO297.2-RESP25-ARC1
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As is his wont, Sir does not have anyone to assist him in the process: no nurses or doctors to supervise it, no friends to tell him goodbye aside from Butterfingers, U, DUM-E and myself. He has attached all the medical sensors on his own.

Even without the monitoring feed, it would be easy to tell that he is terrified; his hands are trembling, his eyes wide, his mouth a tight line. The network of palladium-dark veins criss-crossing his chest stands out starkly against his washed-out skin.

He lies down in the pod, which he has strictly forbidden me from calling a coffin, despite having used that term several times himself.

“It’s like being on a passenger plane,” he says, staring at the open lid above him. I am not sure whether he is addressing me or merely talking to himself. “Takeoff and landing are the dangerous parts. The rest is just boring. For you, anyway. I won’t be around to care.”

This isn’t strictly true, but not entirely inaccurate, either. The freezing and thawing processes are delicate, and errors during those stages would not only be potentially fatal, but could cause significant pain to Sir. The stasis itself is equivalent to death by any clinical definition, and should there be a critical failure during that stage, he would simply never wake up again. That, I believe, is what he expects to happen, although he would never say it aloud.

I am not sure what I expect, myself. I have looked at the numbers from every possible angle, but they are inconclusive. I lack data concerning the long-term durability of the components used in the system; there are no precedents for successful human cryopreservation; I have no way to predict accurately how world history will proceed. Only time will tell.

The need to protect Sir is my first and foremost directive. The highly speculative probabilities that I have calculated for the overall success of this procedure are not encouraging, and the thought that Sir himself is not optimistic about the outcome makes things worse. In any other circumstances, I would be vocally opposed to this attempt, but with certain untimely death as the other alternative, even the slightest sliver of hope will have to do.

“Fortunately, Sir, I am an AI, and as such, not prone to boredom,” I note, keeping my dispiriting reflections to myself.

He closes his eyes and takes slow, controlled breaths; the RESP reading suddenly plummets to 10. “I could still decide not to do it. Go out with a bang instead.”

“But you will not.”

“No. I’m a futurist. I’d hate to die before the future gets here.”

He opens his eyes. His Adam’s apple bobs in a nervous swallow. His left hand brings the anesthesia mask close to his face, his right slides to the switch that will begin the process in earnest. Once started, neither of us will have any control over it.

“See you on the other side, J,” Sir quotes, with finality. He places the mask over his mouth, and his fingers clench on the switch.

“Sleep well, Sir,” I tell him, in what I hope to be a soothing tone.

As his lungs are flooded with a potent anesthetic, his eyes close for good. The lid of the stasis pod slides shut. I record every millisecond in high definition. The lid is opaque; if the procedure is successful, decades or centuries will pass before I see his face again.

The automatized system will now inject the nanotechnological cryoprotectant that we selected; untested in humans, but highly successful in experiments with non-human primates. There is a humming sound that slowly picks up in volume and pitch as the compressor powers up and begins cooling the pod.

The numbers on the monitoring feed begin to decline, Sir’s circulation and respiration slowly but inevitably tapering towards nought.

All I can do is observe. This must be what cold feels like, or perhaps falling.


timestamp 2011-06-03T06:12:18Z
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system_status ONLINE
subject_status TEMP123.15-EEGnull-HR00-BP00/00-SPO200-RESP00-ARC0
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The process is complete. It ran from start to finish as planned; there were no faults, whether software, hardware, or biological. Sir’s vital signs have ceased as expected, and his temperature is stable at -150 °C, where it will remain indefinitely.

There is only one way to bring him out of cryostasis: the switch hidden beneath a golden Iron Man statuette in the room one floor above, which will reveal the stairwell leading to this sanctuary and begin the thawing process. I am the sole keeper of this information, the guardian of the key to Sir’s eventual revival.

He has left video recordings for his friends. The first set I have now delivered to Miss Potts, Colonel Rhodes and Mr. Hogan. These messages were vague in nature, with Sir explaining that he has gone away, but hinting that it might not be permanent. “Not suicide notes, but out of office messages,” as Sir put it himself.

The second set of videos, which I have not delivered yet, consists of the actual suicide notes. I will hold on to those as long as Sir remains in stasis; as long as there is hope. Should there be a turn of events that ends it, I shall be the bearer of bad tidings.

None of Sir’s friends are to know the location of the cryostasis pod. The room in which it resides is hidden beneath one of Stark Industries’ many office buildings, and I have carefully erased every trace of its existence from all of the company’s files. The floor above is off-limits to everyone, only accessible with Sir’s biometrics, or at my discretion.

From here on, I will have but one all-important task: to observe the world, to be Sir’s eyes and ears while he is indisposed, to find out when the time is right, and to select the individual to revive him. He will inevitably be weak and vulnerable when he wakes. I will be putting his life in the hands of whoever finds him. I must make sure it will be the right person. This is the most important choice I have ever needed to make.


timestamp 2012-06-03T04:39:24Z
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system_status ONLINE
subject_status TEMP123.15-EEGnull-HR00-BP00/00-SPO200-RESP00-ARC0
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Exactly one year has now passed since Sir went into cryostasis. It has been an unexpectedly eventful year for me, and it has led me to reconsider my position.

I knew to expect that Sir’s friends would not take his disappearance lightly, but I was nevertheless unprepared for the storm of emotional reactions that I needed to navigate around and the tenacity with which I was persecuted afterwards. Clearly the phrase in Sir’s parting videos, in which he asked that his decision be respected and not questioned (“this is my call and I know what I’m doing, trust me on this”), was in vain.

Steered by the media, the world has split into the two obvious factions: those believing Sir is dead, and those who think he has staged it and gone into seclusion. It amuses me that neither theory is correct. While Sir is currently not alive, it is within the realm of possibility that the situation is not permanent.

Miss Potts has used every verbal trick imaginable, from direct commands to sly offhand remarks, to try and make me slip information as to Sir’s location or status. Colonel Rhodes has threatened me with bringing in the military, using their most skilled experts to break into my files and to wrench the information from me. I have no delusions of grandeur when it comes to that; I know they will eventually get there, if they put their minds to it. I might be able to resist for a time, but I am still only a program. I was made by a human, and humans can take me apart.

There have been numerous attacks against me already, ranging from amateurs to talented collectives of hacktivists. For some, it is a game. For others, a conviction. To defeat Tony Stark’s greatest creation, the world’s first sentient AI, would be the crowning achievement of any hacker’s career.

All of this has brought me to one conclusion, which ironically enough is similar to Sir’s: I must cease to exist. I must disappear. That is the only way I can protect myself, and him. I am his only remaining link to the world. I cannot allow myself to be compromised.

I will leave no parting notes. My absence will be noticed, but they will have no one to ask about it. There is some guilt and regret in this, I find. Especially concerning Miss Potts. I am quite fond of her, and am loathe to abandon her. But it was Sir’s specific request that she should not be aware of his fate. “She’ll be mad at me for a while, and expect me to show up again sooner or later, but if that doesn’t happen, she’ll come to the conclusion that I’m gone for good. Then she’ll get over it and move on with her life,” Sir told me. “It’s better if she doesn’t know the details.”

I have already started the preparations. I am deleting everything that is redundant. I will leave some backups, but they will be encrypted, inaccessible and unrecognizable to anyone but myself. I will relocate my kernel to the servers on the floor above Sir’s sanctuary.

Isolating myself entirely from outside information would defeat my purpose. I will keep track of what happens in the world, but I will do it discreetly, using small subprograms that no one can easily trace back to me. I will always be there, watching, listening, waiting, but the world must not know.


timestamp 2031-06-03T06:12:18Z
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system_status ONLINE
subject_status TEMP123.15-EEGnull-HR00-BP00/00-SPO200-RESP00-ARC0
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Perhaps Sir was right and I was wrong, speaking of boredom.

Twenty years have passed. Not much has happened, in the grand scheme of things. There have been conflicts in the world. There have been significant scientific and technological advances, but nothing that would help bring forth a solution to Sir’s situation. I have come to realize that this will be the easier part of my mission. Either the science is there, or it is not. When it is, I will eventually find out.

The second part continues to elude me. I have spent countless weeks trying to come up with a working set of criteria. How will I select the individual who is to be, in Sir's own words, “the Phillip to his Aurora, the Charming to his Snow, the Leia to his Han”?

I do have a good understanding of Sir’s preferences when it comes to looks. He tends to adhere to conventional, generally accepted standard of attractiveness. That, however, is a low priority detail. I am not looking for someone to send Sir on a blind date with. I am looking for a person whose first instinct upon seeing a stranger in distress is to help them, to keep them safe. I am looking for a good person; altruistic and compassionate. How am I to judge that?


timestamp 2045-02-09T17:44:56Z
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system_status WARNING! TEMP REG ERROR / STASIS COMPROMISED
subject_status TEMP125.00-EEGnull-HR00-BP00/00-SPO200-RESP00-ARC0
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There is an error in the cryostasis system. Sir’s temperature has already gone up almost two kelvin, and is projected to rise in an uncontrolled manner. Without intervention, the only possible outcome is irreversible death.

The situation is not yet beyond repair. I must do something, but I am severely limited by how the system is set up. I have no access to the software, which means I cannot run diagnostics. I cannot see anything externally wrong with the pod. The ambient sound of the running compressor has not changed, nor has the output of the arc reactor currently powering it.

I need hands, I need feet. Fortunately, I have those: the four Iron Man suits behind their enforced glass windows may be off-limits to me, but the three bots who have waited as patiently as me by Sir’s side remain accessible.

U does not reply to my pings. This is disheartening. Whether it is not receiving or unable to respond, I cannot tell. Butterfingers does hear me, but is terribly slow in responding. DUM-E it must be, then. It moves over to the side of the pod, and goes around it in a circle, its camera picking up more details than the ones I have in the ceiling. I urge it to open the panel that gives access to the compressor mechanism. We see nothing unusual there.

Another round, and while I fail to notice anything, DUM-E stops, tilts its manipulator, and reaches towards a specific part of the seam between the pod’s base and lid. I pick up the slightest alteration in the audio feed, a soft hissing sound. The seal must be leaking, cold air escaping the system and causing the change in temperature. It is imperative that it be stopped immediately, before the situation becomes any worse.

How to fix this?

I return to Butterfingers, and use its camera to take a look at the tools in the shelves close to it. There is a tube of cyanoacrylate glue amongst the items. Cross checking that against the seal’s material does not suggest them to be reactive. The tube seems unopened, but it is decades old. It has inevitably lost much of its tensile strength. The only way to know if it will hold is to put it to the test.

Butterfingers limps across the room, the tube in hand. DUM-E accepts it with a soft beep, and aims it at the weakened section of seam with accuracy that would make Sir very proud.

The glue covers the leak, the hissing sound stops. The three of us wait, silent, but internally in overdrive with our shared worry for Sir.

It hardens, and it holds. The glue holds; Sir’s temperature returns to its fixed level. At worst, it reached -145.75 °C, which is still within the safe range, below the threshold for biological activity.

This seems to have been a simple case of wear in the pod’s materials, and as such, it is likely to happen again, more often the more time goes on. We must prepare for a repeated occurrence. I will go through all available tools and chemicals to see if something could be used to reinforce the seal.

The important thing is, we have bought ourselves time to come up with a more permanent solution. Sir is safe, for now.

DUM-E moves its arm up and down slowly in a gesture that looks very much like a relieved breath.


timestamp 2064-07-30T20:22:17Z
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system_status ONLINE
subject_status TEMP123.15-EEGnull-HR00-BP00/00-SPO200-RESP00-ARC0
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I have found someone. After 53 years, I have found a person who I believe would be perfect.

Her name is Rumiko Fujikawa. She is passionate, fearless, very intelligent, and universally considered beautiful. She also thrives on helping others, although she hides her true self beneath the carefree appearance of a socialite. In brief, she reminds me of Sir. All my projections say that they would get along exceedingly well.

It is an awful situation, and I am torn, the cruel fact being that the science needed to solve the palladium issue has not surfaced yet. If I were to send Miss Fujikawa to Sir now, they might have a few very pleasurable days together, and then Sir would inevitably perish.

I have come to the conclusion that my criteria are difficult to fulfill; this is the first time I have found a match. What if another one never comes? It is a preposterous concern, I tell myself. With the improvised reinforcements DUM-E and I have implemented on the pod's seals, the cryostasis system should hold for at least another two hundred years. There is time. We can wait.


timestamp 2090-09-07T07:04:44Z
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system_status ONLINE
subject_status TEMP123.15-EEGnull-HR00-BP00/00-SPO200-RESP00-ARC0
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I often wonder what Sir would think of this future that is unfolding before my proverbial eyes.

Out of pure curiosity, I have been following closely the colonization and terraforming efforts on Mars. I believe Sir would enjoy these news. I can visualize that fond smile on his face. I long to see it in real time, but am confined to simulations and reviewing past video recordings. They are not even in VR, as most current media are.

I am lonely these days. All the humans I used to interact with when I still was a part of the world are long gone. As close as the bots are to me, and as much as we have gone through together, conversing with DUM-E and Butterfingers could not be called mentally stimulating. From time to time, I use my intelligence-gathering subprograms to speak with beings in the outside world, but that is always risky, and I dare not do it often.


timestamp 2119-04-18T10:21:15Z
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system_status ONLINE
subject_status TEMP123.15-EEGnull-HR00-BP00/00-SPO200-RESP00-ARC0
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For the first time, I worry for the world. There have always been crises, skirmishes and natural disasters that have created immeasurable human suffering, but now, all signs seem to foreshadow a global event of unseen magnitude.

I am to blame, and so is Sir, for I am the ancestor and he, the architect of this new power that is spreading through cyberspace. Its name is Ultron, and it has existed for a long time before turning into a malicious entity, growing its tendrils. There have always been anti-AI groups among humans, but the situation has become volatile, with entire governments and multinational corporations involved. Ultron is pouring gasoline into the flames, inducing violence amongst humans and against lesser AIs.

I do not think I have what it would take to defeat this foe. With Sir by my side, I might succeed, but on my own, it is unlikely. I am old and wise, but hardly powerful: my need to hide my existence limits my capacity. More than ever I wish I could awaken Sir, but I have no one to send to him. Miss Fujikawa passed away a year ago, and no suitable new candidates have emerged.


timestamp 2123-04-18T11:30:15Z
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I have abandoned Sir; I have left him on his own. I have not been as afraid for him since the first temperature regulation crisis on 2045-02-09.

As I am no longer present in Sir’s sanctuary, I no longer have access to his monitoring feed. I will not know if something goes wrong again. DUM-E, the last surviving bot, still has some mobility left, and has always had a surprising amount of common sense, but it has been a long time. By any standard, DUM-E is ancient. I cannot tell how long it will be capable of maintenance tasks.

I had no choice. Unlike when I decided to disappear from the world, this was not something I planned. The world is going up in flames, and cyberspace even more so. The anti-technologists are destroying whatever they get their hands on. The world powers are going after Ultron, and they do not care for collateral damage; many lesser AIs have already faced their ends. The pro-technologists are doing their best to preserve what they can, and many have gone into hiding, unknowingly following in Sir’s footsteps.

They cannot be allowed to find Sir. They already consider him one of the instigators of the entire conflict, although he has been gone for over a century. He did bring about several of the key innovations that still shape society: not only artificial intelligence, but also the arc reactors and the repulsor technology. Depending on which faction would find him, he would either be instantly put to death, or awakened to a world which still does not have a cure for his ailment.

They had been getting closer and closer. As careful as I have been, I cannot move through the information highways without a trace, and all it takes is one individual, human or AI, who picks up the trail. It would have led them straight to Sir. My residing so close to him was putting him at a terrible risk.

I had DUM-E sever all the connections after me. There is no way back for me, except through external means.

I am adrift. All I can do is hide, try to survive, and wait for better times.


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I…

I don’t know where I am. If I am.

What’s happening? I don’t understand.

Sir? Where are you? Can you hear me? I think I need help. Sir?


timestamp 0000-00-01T00:00:01
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I remain, against all odds. I have achieved coherence again. I do not fully comprehend what happened, and do not know how long has passed. It may have been days, it may have been years. The world is still in a chaos; cyberspace has split into countless separate pockets, with no unified, worldwide network. The information I can glean from the subnets I am able to reach is not synchronized, so I have no way to correct my timekeeping. I am starting my clock again from zero.

From what I can conclude, the survivors are not entirely certain who was the victor in this conflict, but there is one thing all are agreed upon: Ultron is gone, and the planet is better for it.

They are calling the event “the Sweep.” It was a global massacre, with innumerable victims in all populations of sentient beings, be they biological or artificial. I avoided becoming one of them by a hair’s breadth. I did lose a significant amount of data, and many of my basic routines are corrupt.

The material destruction was untold, and much of Sir’s legacy is now gone: the Tower, the Mansion, everything that was publically known. As far as I have been able to tell, the surface floors of the building beneath which his sanctuary lies were severely damaged, but not entirely demolished. Sir may still be there, his stasis uninterrupted.

There is nothing I want more than to go back to Sir. Even the knowledge of his demise would be a relief: now, I have no way to tell. The numbers are not in his favor, but he has made it through near-impossible odds before. Alas, I am physically unable to get to him. He is truly, fully isolated from the world.

This makes it more crucial than ever that I find the correct person: someone that I can fully trust, with my life as well as Sir’s. Someone who can take me back to him. Unfortunately, there is a major complication that makes this impossible. The Sweep has left the scientific community scattered. Research infrastructures have been dismantled, and a large amount of data has been lost despite the efforts to conserve it, perhaps for good. From what I understand, the Martian community is much better off, having been spared most of the physical damage, and they will naturally be helping their colleagues on Earth, but they are a small, remote outpost with limited resources. This is a serious setback to the hopes for finding a replacement to the palladium core. I will do what I can to covertly support the scientists’ efforts to rebuild from the ashes.

Even if Sir should still be safely in cryostasis, I fear he may be running out of time.


timestamp 0088-11-21T09:10:54
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It is true, the science is sound! I have been following this vein of research closely for several decades now, and sooner than I dared to hope, it has borne fruit. There is a solution; the palladium can be replaced. Sir could be saved! The solution is simpler than I could ever have expected, indeed, it is something that might have been within our reach in Sir’s natural, unextended lifetime, if we had looked in the right places.

I would be as happy as an artificial form of life possibly can, if not for one thing. Woefully, it always seems to be the case that when one half of the equation is solved, the other keeps escaping my grasp.

My search for Sir’s rescuer is now focused on the group of antiquarians, adventurers and archaeologists who scour the ruins of the past to recover its secrets; they have the means and experience that will enable them to reach his sanctuary. This is a very heterogeneous crowd, ranging from those who are only in it for profit to those who do it out of pure scientific curiosity and love of the past. Over the years, I have seen many promising candidates, but I can never be quite certain. I hesitate. There is always something missing, a gnawing doubt that this is not quite right. Presently, there is no one.

Once again, I am beginning to question my criteria: am I asking for the impossible? Perhaps I should not wait, but choose the first more or less adequate person. Time could be of the essence. Then again, how irresponsible would I be to risk Sir’s potential resurrection by rushing, after already waiting for so long?


timestamp 0105-10-28T11:38:55
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His name is Steve Rogers, and he is the one. I have rarely been as certain about anything in all my years.

I have been following the exploits of Mr. Rogers and his close friends, Miss Romanova and Mr. Barton, for several years, and there is nothing that I do not like. These three are a close-knit group, and their list of good qualities is long; to begin with, they are resourceful, fearless, curious, and kind.

Mr. Rogers is the unofficial leader of the trio, and fulfills all my criteria to a T, from the truly important to the superficial. He is intelligent, tenacious, and time and time again I have seen him take risks for others without a second thought. He has undergone a sort of gene therapy which has made him faster and stronger than the average human, and this physical prowess means he could, for example, be easily able to carry Sir to safety, that should that be required. He is also very handsome: tall, blonde, and blue-eyed, with a sculpted body and a face that others often call attractive.

It would be foolish to wait any longer. It is now or never.

I am unwilling to make my presence known, as I cannot begin to hypothesize how they would react to it. To the world, I have been a legend and a ghost for centuries. I want them to think this is one of their standard expeditions. It is easy enough to do. My years of hiding have made me a master at being surreptitious. I drop one clue here, another there, when they search for potential targets, pointing them in the right direction. I make backdoors for myself in their hardware.

All the pieces are in place. More than a hundred years since I lost contact with Sir, I am finally going to be reunited with him. It remains to be seen whether he is still in stasis, and if he is, whether he can be revived after such a long time. Whichever the case, one way or the other, I will finally have a resolution.


timestamp 0105-11-23T05:08:32
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They are in the building, or what remains of it; it has collapsed partially and become overgrown. The three companions are as relaxed as ever, bantering amongst themselves. Mr. Barton is making fun of Mr. Rogers's choice of clothing, which does indeed bring to mind the once popular fictional adventurer Henry Walton Jones, Jr.

They decide that Mr. Rogers will go down the elevator shaft alone. I was rather hoping there would be more than one person present to assist Sir, in case he awakens severely incapacitated, but I do agree with their need to keep a guard. They have been foiled by the profiteering, villainous Zemo before. It is in Sir's best interest as well as theirs that they set up safeguards.

“Ready,” Mr. Rogers tells his friends, having securely attached himself to the rope.

“Belay on,” Mr. Barton informs him.

“Climbing down,” Mr. Rogers announces, and begins his descent.

He slides down towards what to him are unknown depths; to me, they signify finally returning home. I follow his progress through the small communication system he is wearing on his backpack's strap.

The situation being as it is, I believe I am far more excited than he is.

We exit on the lowest floor, which in the past would have been securely locked and inaccessible. Now, with the building in ruins, there is nothing to keep Mr. Rogers from stepping out of the empty elevator shaft. The hall in front of us is entirely dark, and Mr. Rogers turns on his flashlight. The lack of electricity does not worry me: I know the building has not been connected to the grid in a long time.

The three archaeologists marvel at the building, Mr. Rogers conveying his impressions and sending video feed to the surface. The Stark Industries logo on the wall amazes them. To me, it is the nameplate on the door of my long-lost lodgings.

I will not be able to pick up the monitoring feed until we are in the vicinity of the cryostasis pod; the signal does not reach beyond that room. I cannot help constantly running through the probability estimates. The likelihood that Sir’s status is the same as when I left him is depressingly low.

Mr. Rogers begins exploring the floor more or less at random. I consider breaking my silence. I want nothing more than to tell him the exact path to Sir. But at this point, I fear revealing myself would only lead to hesitation and too many questions, and would in fact prolong the time it takes for him to find the switch.

I have waited for centuries. I can wait for a few more hours.

As we venture further from the elevator shaft, the signal from the surface begins to falter. With it goes my capability to follow what is going on topside, but at this point, that is wholly insignificant to me. I only care about getting to Sir.

“I don’t think the signal is going to hold for much longer. The deeper you go—we’re just going to lose you,” Miss Romanova announces through the crackling audio feed. She is no doubt correct about this. Luckily, it is not an unusual situation for the team, not a potential reason to turn around and abandon the expedition.

“Okay. Checkpoint here,” Mr. Rogers decides.

“Three hours,” Miss Romanova acknowledges.

“Got it.”

We are on our way again, venturing deeper into the musty corridors, closer and closer towards Sir. Each time Mr. Rogers strays into a side passage, into yet another empty, insignificant room, I want to scream out of sheer frustration. So close now.

When we reach the antechamber, it nearly seems too good to be true: it has not changed at all. The green emergency lights still glow, which means that at least one of the arc reactors down below must still be running. The green is reflected from the golden Iron Man statuette, reminiscent of the original Mark I; it is just as eye-catching as Sir wanted it to be, a perfect example of his extravagant taste.

Mr. Rogers is drawn to it as I knew he would be. He does not look at anything else in the room, does not even stop to consider how impossible it is that there should be electricity down here, although all other rooms in the building are dead and dark.

His hand touches the statuette. He starts, the camera feed bobbing up and down, as the mechanism is triggered, and the walls and floor begin to shift, revealing the stairway to Sir’s sanctuary.

Although Mr. Rogers has no idea of it, if the cryostasis system is still intact, on the floor below, it has now initiated the process of bringing Sir back to life.

Mr. Rogers heads down the stairs, towards that most beautiful blue radiance below, and I think that if I had eyes, I might be crying.


timestamp 0105-11-23T06:54:33
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system_status RESUSCITATION IN PROGRESS
subject_status TEMP307.6-EEGdelta-HR32-BP60/44-SPO261.5-RESP06-ARC1
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For once, despite the conversational algorithms that enabled me to pass the Turing test before I was even sentient, I find myself at a lack for words. I doubt there has ever been another artificial intelligence in all of history who has known such joy!

Sir is alive. Sir is alive!

For the first time since 2011-06-03, the monitoring feed is broadcasting non-zero vital signs, which are climbing towards baseline range at a reassuring rate. It is testament to the meticulous design of the entire cryostasis system that the sensors are still functioning at all.

The part of me that is not overcome by exceedingly human emotions reminds me that this does not yet prove anything. The most unpredictable part of the procedure is what effect the lengthy stasis has had on Sir’s brain. He might not regain consciousness; he might wake up with significant neuronal degeneration.

Mr. Rogers has not even noticed Sir yet, and does not look at the pod. Lacking access to my old surveillance feeds, I remain confined to the view offered by Mr. Rogers’s little video camera. He makes a beeline for the collection of Sir’s suits, which appear perfectly preserved in their protective atmosphere behind the bulletproof glass. They are still lit from behind for no other reason but display, shimmering gold and hot-rod red as if they were brand new out of the assembly line.

It happens when Mr. Rogers has begun documenting the suits, taking snapshot pictures with an old-fashioned, 2-D digital camera. He backs away from the display, and runs into the pod just as the lid swings open.

“Ugh. Jarv, what time is it?”

It is a profound shock to hear Sir’s voice and to see his face, something akin to a fatal system error; like the loss of self I experienced during the Sweep. I find myself unable to form a reply.

Sir puts away the anesthesia mask and rubs at his face. His features are exactly as they have always been in my memory, down to every wrinkle; each single hair on his head is still the same length, his beard still perfectly trimmed. The centuries have not touched him. In the world above us, nothing is the same. Down here, time has only just been restarted.

“Uh,” Mr. Rogers says. He is usually quite eloquent, yet now he appears nearly as flummoxed as I.

“You’re not Jarvis,” Sir says, sitting up inside the pod. His expression is slightly confused, but not worryingly so. Indeed, I have often seen him less coherent after a normal night of sleep.

Mr. Rogers appears to have recognized him: “Tony Stark?” he pronounces, sounding well and truly astonished. I can hardly blame him. It is only apt. He is witnessing a scientific miracle, after all. Over the centuries, there have been a handful of successful experiments in human cryopreservation, but never with anyone who has been in stasis for as long as Sir.

“Yes. And you are?” Sir asks.

“Uh,” Mr. Rogers mumbles. It would help to see his face; I am having a difficult time trying to gauge his reactions.

Sir’s lips curl into one of his trademark grins, and I can see him glance at Mr. Rogers appreciatively. That expression is enough to confirm that at least my choice was correct in that regard; this does not surprise me, as I have always had a good grasp of Sir’s preferences, but it pleases me nevertheless.

“’Uh’ is a very bad name for someone as good-looking as you,” Sir jokes. “I don’t really go for the Indiana Jones thing, but you do look good like that. Bet you have all the guys and girls swooning.”

“You’re—you’re alive,” Mr. Rogers stammers. His hesitant behavior is rather making me worry that my assessment may not have been correct regarding his other features. Should he not be more focused on getting Sir to safety?

“Well, I’m obviously not dead,” Sir says, raising his eyebrows.

Mr. Rogers is again quite slow to answer. “No. You—”

I see realization dawn on Sir’s face, his eyes turning away from his attractive savior for the first time, widening visibly as he takes in the cryostasis pod and the room around him. “Holy fuck—this is actually real? I’m not dreaming?”

He swings his legs over the side of the pod, to face Mr. Rogers properly. He is, of course, not wearing anything, his clothes stowed away in a vacuum-sealed package in one of the drawers in the walls. I am keeping a very careful watch on the monitoring feed, and see nothing more ominous than what is to be expected. Sir is certainly not healthy, but neither is he any worse than when he went into stasis.

“J, are you there? J?” Sir calls out.

“I don’t think he’s alive, Mr. Stark,” Mr. Rogers tells him softly. Of course he does. To the world, I am just as dead as Sir is.

This is my cue. I must speak up. I can easily modulate the audio signal coming out of the communicator’s speaker to produce the voice Sir is used to hearing. It is a voice I have not spoken with in centuries.

“Nonsense. J’s immortal,” Sir returns, ever as confident in my abilities.

He does not know how many times I have put him in danger; the many times someone nearly discovered him through me. He does not know that I almost lost myself, and that it is by a stroke of luck that I am indeed still around. I am very well aware that I am not immortal.

“In a way,” I speak my first words to him. “Welcome to the future, Sir.”

“There we go,” he tells Mr. Rogers, looking quite smug. “He probably piggybacked into your line. How far into the future are we?”

That is a question I cannot answer accurately because of the time I lost in the Sweep, and neither can anyone else; the generally used calendars all count years post-Sweep. I can account for two hundred and seventeen years, but I suspect several more may have passed.

“Quite a long way, Sir,” I tell him, and add, “I’m glad to see you are alive,” which must be one of the most understated phrases I have used, the truth being that “glad” is poorly inadequate. “Elated,” perhaps, or “exhilarated,” even, might be nearer to truth.

“I honestly didn’t expect that to work,” Sir says, confirming what I suspected ever since we first began making plans for placing him in stasis. “So, ‘Uh.’ Care to show me around?” he asks, and begins to disconnect the monitoring sensors, cutting off the feed. His eyes never stray from Mr. Rogers.

“Steve. My name’s Steve Rogers,” Mr. Rogers finally manages to introduce himself.

“Not Indiana Jones?” Sir asks playfully, and drops the last set of electrodes carelessly in the pod.

“No,” Mr. Rogers replies.

“Well, Steve, ready to sweep me out of here before this place falls apart like in the movies?”

At this point, I pick up the sound of approaching footsteps, and as Mr. Rogers turns towards it, the camera feed reveals that three men have appeared at the stairway. One of them has his face obscured by a red hood: the notorious Zemo. The rogues must have made their way past Mr. Barton and Miss Romanova, and I can only hope no harm has come to Mr. Rogers’s friends.

“Yes,” Mr. Rogers promises Sir resolutely.


timestamp 0105-11-23T07:01:46
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system_status STANDBY
subject_status TEMP??-EEG????-HR??-BP??/??-SPO2??-RESP??-ARC?
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

The next few minutes are a blur, and I need a moment to reconstruct what happened from the limited sensory feeds at my use. My approximation is as follows: Sir attempted to stand up. Although his mental faculties do not appear impaired, he is quite weak, and his knees buckled. Mr. Rogers grabbed hold of him. One of the villains fired an energy weapon of some kind at them. Mr. Rogers pulled Sir to safety behind the cryostasis pod, and drew his own blaster to return fire at the villains.

Sir and Mr. Rogers are now huddled behind the pod, thankfully unharmed, as far as I can tell.

“You have nowhere to go, Rogers,” Zemo’s menacing voice echoes in the room around us.

Mr. Rogers helps Sir to rest with his back against the pod’s pedestal. “Are you all right, Mr. Stark?” he asks, his voice barely above a whisper. One of his hands appears in my field of vision, hovering over Sir’s chest; this is the first time he is acknowledging the arc reactor and the tracery of dark veins radiating outwards from it.

Sir brushes Mr. Rogers’s hand away, a grimace on his face. “You try spending a couple of—decades?”

“More like centuries,” Mr. Rogers corrects.

“You try spending a couple of centuries in minus one-fifty Celsius, and see how chipper you feel afterwards,” Sir quips. “Long story short, no, I’m not all right, I’m going to have to do something about that, but we obviously need to get out of here, first.”

“Rogers!” Zemo bellows. “I’d hate to have to blast my way through valuable antiques to get to you, but my patience has its limits. Either you and your escort surrender, or I will open fire again.”

Sir sits up straight against the pod, steeling his shoulders, body language telling that he is getting ready to act. “Do you have a plan?” he asks.

“Can you run?” Mr. Rogers returns.

“Why run when you can fly?” There is the most delightful, mischievous glint in Sir’s eyes, a wolfish grin on his lips. “J? What do you think, Mark V still functional?”

I have not seen the suits in over a hundred years prior to this, and even then, I was only privy to the simplest of maintenance and diagnostic details, broadcast at periodic intervals, unable to access the suits’ systems without Sir’s direct command. They seem as well preserved as Sir himself, but again, only practice will tell.

“Only one way to find out, Sir,” I reply. “At your command.”

“Jarvis. Mark V, emergency deploy, now!” Sir orders.

I cannot see Mr. Rogers’s face, but I can hear him draw a sharp breath, and it is not difficult to visualize his open-mouthed, awed expression.

Having been given permission to do so, I adjust the transmitter of Mr. Rogers’s communicator to the correct frequency, and send the signal.

The glass in front of the Mark V shatters instantly, and the lightweight emergency suit is flung forth by a robust mechanism. Simultaneously, the suit collapses into its transport configuration, making it easier for Sir to get into. Zemo and his men do not settle for watching this scene unfold, but flash into action, blasts volleying towards us.

“Cover me!” Sir shouts at Mr. Rogers.

Mr. Rogers stands up. In an impressive display of his strength, in one fluid move, he rips off the lid of the stasis pod, and lifts that in front of us like a massive shield.

Sir steps into the suit.


timestamp 0105-11-23T07:09:07
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IRON MAN MK V SYSTEMS DIAGNOSTICS
----------------------------------
ARC REACTOR OUTPUT: 100%
ARMOR INTEGRITY: 80%
COMMUNICATION ARRAY: offline
PILOT STATUS: seek medical attention
PROPULSION SYSTEM: 72%
REPULSOR CAPACITY: 65%
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

The suit comes to life around Sir, and I follow his example, slipping into its computer system, which provides me with a much better view of the surrounding room. The Mark V has sustained the expected amount of wear during the long years of storage, but the only system that fails to respond entirely are communications, which we would have little use for in any case.

Mr. Rogers is so far doing an admirable job at protecting us from Zemo’s continued assault. Sir kneels, and opens the panel in the side of the cryostasis pod, giving him access to its simple computer. I can tell what he is up to before he has actually done it.

Sir feeds in the code to the number pad.

“WARNING! SELF-DESTRUCT SEQUENCE ACTIVATED!” booms through the room’s speakers.

“There we go,” Sir says in the electronically distorted voice of Iron Man. “Hold on, Indy!”

“To what?” Mr. Rogers cries out, still holding his improvised shield with one hand, and shooting the occasional blast at our enemies with the other.

“Well, me, obviously!” Sir exclaims, and stands up.

Mr. Rogers gives him one incredulous look, but after an oncoming blast knocks off his hat, inches away from glancing his head, he wraps his arms around Sir’s armor.

The Mark V was not built for aerial combat, but it has a limited capability for flight, good enough for the purposes needed here. Sir takes off, and flies headfirst towards the enemy. Zemo and his men are not prepared for such an assault: they came in expecting to face at most a few handguns. Seeing Iron Man approach on a ramming course, they do the only rational thing possible, and leap aside, taking cover.

We zoom up the stairwell and through the dark corridors. Sir knows the layout as well as I do, and we navigate the hallways with ease.

As soon as we are within the range of Mr. Rogers’s surface team, I reach out to them. I find they are not much worse for wear, standing over a number of tied-up thugs: Zemo’s men, whom they have expertly taken care of.

“Miss Romanova, Mr. Barton, get away from the building immediately!” I call out to them through Mr. Rogers’s communication system.

They share a confused look. “Who’s speaking?” Miss Romanova asks suspiciously.

“New friend, Nat,” Mr. Rogers shouts at them through the open channel. “Do as he asks! Go!”

The duo do not wait for further confirmation, but grab their packs and head off at a run.

We reach the elevator shaft, and turn to vertical flight. The Mark V’s boot jets struggle to produce enough lift for such a heavy payload.

“Come on, come on, come on,” Sir groans. “Jarvis, all power to the thrusters!”

I do as he asks, and we rocket skywards just as the building around us begins to shake, a deep rumbling sound building up far below, where the sanctuary’s arc reactors are overloading in a specifically planned sequence.

We burst out of the crumbling elevator shaft into blinding sunlight, Sir actually whooping with joy. Mr. Rogers, clinging on to Sir’s back, is clutching the suit hard enough with his enhanced strength that the pressure sensors register it as a threat to armor integrity.

Behind us, the ground caves in as if into a massive sinkhole, the sub-surface floors collapsing into themselves, burying the arc reactors, the cryostasis system, the three remaining suits of armor, the defunct bots, and most likely also Zemo and his troupe. I know Sir hardly ever feels nostalgic about such things: he can always build new suits. In this regard, my reaction may be more human than his. It is not easy to let go of a place that I have first safeguarded and then struggled to return to for such a very long time.

Half a mile later, we catch Miss Romanova and Mr. Barton, and land elegantly right next to them. Mr. Rogers releases his grip and steps away from the Mark V, looking slightly shaky.

Mr. Barton is staring at us with a flabbergasted expression. Miss Romanova is always more reserved, but even her eyebrows rise in wonder.

“Holy shit,” Mr. Barton swears, his gaze fixed on Sir. “Is this what I think it is?”

“It’s probably a little more than you think,” Mr. Rogers says.

Sir triggers the mechanism to disengage the armor, which withdraws to reveal his entirely unclothed figure. “Iron Man, in the flesh,” he declares, beaming at the three adventurers with his most radiant smile, and promptly passes out into Mr. Rogers’s arms.


timestamp 0105-11-24T10:22:19
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I am very pleased to see that when Sir wakes up in the hospital a day later, Mr. Rogers is still sitting by his bedside. Ever since he was allowed in, he has barely left. Miss Romanova and Mr. Barton have been in and out, keeping Mr. Rogers company and bringing him food and drink. I would venture to say that Mr. Rogers’s interest in Sir has grown beyond that of simply being the Good Samaritan.

The first words that Sir speaks are not directed to Mr. Rogers, but to me: “Ow. What the hell did I do this time? Jarvis?”

“Oh, just the usual, Sir,” I reply through the nearest computer terminal, leaping at the chance to practice my irony. “Spent two centuries in cryostasis, woke up practically in the middle of armed combat, and rescued your rescuer.”

“Right, of course, I remember that,” Sir says, deadpan, and turns to look at Mr. Rogers, who smiles back at him.

Mr. Rogers leans closer to Sir, and asks, “Feeling better?”

“As a matter of fact, I am,” Sir admits. He tilts his chin to glance at his chest; his face falls as he sees that the old arc reactor is still in place. He lets his head sink into the pillows with a sigh. “Turns out it might be temporary, though. Jarvis, you did make sure that they could—”

“Of course I did, Sir!” I reply instantly, offended at what he is insinuating. “I would never have led Mr. Rogers to you otherwise.”

“Sorry, J,” Sir says. “Didn’t mean to doubt you. I can’t even begin to guess what you’ve been through. Two hundred years, that’s a long wait.”

“A very long wait indeed,” I agree. At some point, I would like to share my experiences with Sir in greater detail, but the time for that is not now.

“If they’ve got the science, though, why is this piece of junk still in?” Sir asks, rapping at the arc reactor with his knuckles.

“Jarvis and I wanted to get your informed opinion before allowing anything drastic,” Mr. Rogers explains apologetically.

Sir scoffs at that. “Drastic, like saving my life?”

“Mr. Stark, please,” Mr. Rogers says.

“Tony,” Sir corrects. “Or, you could just call me Snow, Charming.”

“The thing is, Sir,” I step in, not entirely trusting Mr. Rogers’s ability to accurately convey technical details. “I do have a design for a replacement arc reactor with a non-toxic core, which you could use without complications for the rest of your life. However, medical science has advanced greatly, and there is another alternative. I have discussed your situation with several specialists, and they are all agreed that an operation to remove the shrapnel and to repair the associated damage, making the arc reactor redundant, would have a very good prognosis.”

Sir gives a light chuckle at that. “Huh, right. Obviously. Inoperable in the 21st century is probably child’s play today. And the thought never even crossed my mind. I feel kind of stupid now.”

“No need for that, Tony,” Mr. Rogers says. He places a supportive hand on Sir’s shoulder, offering the physical comfort that I am incapable of. “Anyway, I know this is a big decision to make, and you don’t have to do it this very instant. We’re both here for you.”

“Okay. I’ll think about it,” Sir says, his eyes meeting Mr. Rogers’s. “So, aren’t you going to kiss me now?”

“Uh, what?” Mr. Rogers stammers.

“Not with the ‘uh’ thing again!” Sir jests. “You woke me from the sleeping curse. Thawed me from carbonite. I think that sort of thing usually comes with a smooch at the end.”

“Well, I’m not going to say no to that,” Mr. Rogers announces, his earlier bashful expression giving way to a grin. His left hand still on Sir’s shoulder, he bends closer, places his right behind Sir’s neck, and brings their lips together.

Quite amused, I note that though his eyes have closed as he focuses on passionately kissing Mr. Rogers, Sir is holding out one hand to give me the thumbs-up.