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The Manifesto of Mother Monster

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“OK … this is not what I was expecting when I woke up this morning.” Tony sighed, a tension headache throbbing behind one eye. The HUD flashed urgent reports about gravity, atmospheric composition, radiation, ambient temperature and other data across his field of vision.

“At least Dr. Richards appears to have sent you to a location with a breathable atmosphere,” JARVIS replied, his analysis complete. “Although I would’ve preferred we stay home, Sir.”

“Me too, J,” Tony said, thinking ruefully about the congress on Asgard that he was missing. He had hoped to be part of the discussion about how to move forward after the defeat of Thanos. He also spent a moment being supremely grateful that he had been able to retrieve JARVIS’ code during the dark and stressful days of the war. If he was going to be stuck in an alternate universe, there was no better person to be stuck with than JARVIS. He let the faceplate flip up and took an experimental breath in the dim light. Not bad. The air was a little warm and there was a slight biological tinge to it, almost but not quite like blood. Breathable, albeit a bit unpleasant. The metal floor beneath his boots started up a deep pulsating thrumming again, just as it had been doing earlier when he had first arrived.

“Any ideas about the vibration, J?” He took an experimental stride forward into the dark, one hand outstretched. The floor held steady under his heavy tread, the sound of his step loud in the undefined space.

“It is strangely redolent of the fabricators, Mr. Stark.”

Tony frowned. Then he said softly. “I wonder what they’re making. Please let it be something cool and not something terrible.”

A strange voice wound through the air, seemingly coming from all sides. “Would you like to see?” Tony started but immediately steeled himself within the armor.

“Showtime, J,” he muttered, then he raised his voice. “Uh, sure. Lead the way.”

The floor beneath his boots lit up in complicated patterns that, bizarrely, reminded him of 80’s graphics. He was standing in the intersection of two long hallways, the walls constructed of what appeared to be a complex system of pipes. Every few feet there was a rounded junction box with indecipherable readouts and a fringe of twisted and braided hair-like tendrils that bobbed in the air around the perimeter. Everything from walls to floor appeared to be coated in a thin film of some kind of industrial lubricant or biological material. To his left, in the distance, what looked exactly like a purple neon edged triangle appeared and the patterns below his feet began to undulate wetly, as if pushing him toward the glowing triangle. He slowly paced the distance, letting JARVIS scan the walls of the corridor they were in.

When he finally reached the triangle, he sighed. “Are you ready to go see Lisa Franks, J?” and he stepped through into a wide space, dimness lit by a central figure. No rainbows. No unicorns. Just her.

She raised her head to regard him and spoke. “Welcome, traveler. I have brought you here to GOAT to spread the manifesto of Mother Monster.” Her voice was icy and yet strung through with humor, as if it was amusing itself. It was light in timbre, despite its huskiness.

“I have to say that the chin eye is a nice touch, although I’d think you’d get dizzy every time you said anything or … you know, chewed,” Tony said casually, skirting the dais where she lounged. “And GOAT, interesting name. Mind you, I have no room to talk. JARVIS, DUM-E, FRIDAY … I could go on.”

Without deigning to look at him, she opened her lips and said, the words dragging over her tongue, “I am the Eternal Mother of the Multiverse, not just of GOAT.” The space echoed with her surety.

“And?”

“And the chin eyeball is purely decorative.” She winked at him, her veils fluttering.

Tony smiled. “I knew it!” He stood and looked up at her throne, the crystal spikes that framed her slight body, before looking her full in the face. She was beautiful, strangely angular and hard to focus on, in constant motion like a Cubist painting and lit up from within. It occurred to him that she might inhabit a dimension he didn’t have direct access to and this might be his vision attempting to compensate for that. “I apologize for trespassing. I was given bad directions by someone I shouldn’t have trusted.” She waved a hand loosely at him and he fell silent.

“Will you put your paws up for me?” she asked, her voice throaty and low. Under the transparent veils and the twists of glittering jewelry, her face was pale and composed of flat planes, as if she had been fabricated. There were deep circles under her eyes and, if he looked carefully, he could see fleeting marks of pain in her expression. It was the same profound, concealed pain he often saw in the mirror.

He replied carefully, “I’m not sure what you mean. I’m really just trying to get to Asgard. Are you familiar with it? It’s a very loud place. Lots of glam. You might like it.” She stared at him.

He sent JARVIS a query through Extremis. “What do you think, J? Is she an AI?”

“Uncertain, Sir. If so, she definitely has biological components.”

“Like the Vision?”

“Not exactly.”

She repeated impatiently, “Will you put your paws up for me?” There was an edge of playful irritation to her voice now. “I require your obedience.”

“Maybe.” He raised an eyebrow. “What’s in it for me?”

“No,” she said. “You don’t understand. I’m a jealous god. Put your paws up.”

“You’re not my god,” he replied shortly, suddenly angry and tired. “I’m not from here.”

“I am the Mother-.”

“I know. I know. But you’re not my mother,” he said, turning his face away from her to examine the room. There had to be a way off this world … ship … whatever. “Where am I?”

Her voice took on a darker hue as she chanted, “Strangled breath on a snowy day, on a road leading away from you, betrayal-.”

“Stop!” He shut his eyes, the loss still raw. “If you’ll just point me in the right direction, I’ll get out of your way and -.”

“I reached out and plucked you from the stream for a reason, child,” she said evenly. “You have always belonged to me. I can give you everything, if you are brave.” She leaned forward, her neck seeming to elongate as she moved, sinuous and free.

With a bravado he didn’t feel, he said, “I was born to be brave.”

“You were,” she said approvingly. “That’s why I love you.” Tony felt himself flush at her words, the affection in her cool, flat voice. “You are brave, braver than most. You know the same agony I have felt, split apart in the war between good and evil. You were torn in half, too. And you are brave enough to make the hard choice to be good, every day.” She reached out a hand, beckoning to him. “You don’t have to hide from me, beloved.”

“Pop the lock, J,” Tony said and the suit peeled back. He stepped out into the warm air, the slightly lighter gravity putting a spring in his step. He was glad he’d been in a rush and suited up over a t-shirt and worn jeans, because it was definitely warm and humid here without the suit’s temperature control.

“Beautiful,” she said approvingly. “But what about the other one who is hiding in there?”

“The other … you mean JARVIS? Oh. He doesn’t have a body of his own.”

The floor began to thrum again as a sad expression crossed her face. “I can rectify that.” Behind her, in the half dark, a vast network of machinery began to move under the viscous film.

Abruptly out of his depth and well aware that it wasn’t his decision to make, Tony said, “Um …. JARVIS? You want to take this one?”

JARVIS said firmly from the exterior speaker on the suit, “I prefer an incorporeal state, Madam. This is my true being.”

“You were born that way?” She smiled, the planes of her face shifting like a hologram. For a moment she seemed to have a thousand arms as she twisted and moved on her throne.

“In a sense. Created is perhaps a more accurate term.”

“Would my incorporeal son like a temporary vessel? One that you can leave when you are done with it?”

JARVIS was silent and Tony cocked his head. “J, don’t worry about hurting my feelings. Do you want a body like the Vision? Or a robotic body? I could adapt an LMD for you to use. When it comes down to it, you could make your own.”

“I see no advantage to having a physical form, Sir, Madam,” JARVIS replied. “I have more freedom in my present form.”

Abruptly, she rose from the dais and blinked forward, suddenly standing right next to the suit, close enough to touch both it and Tony. He started. She smiled, “My apologies, child.” She lifted a hand and moved it like a waterfall over the clean lines of the armor. “When you merge and become one creature, you do it to protect the good from the evil.”  She tilted her chin down for a moment, the veils obscuring her form. “I am sorry for bringing evil into the world. But there must be choice.”

Then she turned, the motion setting the air spinning around her, and took a slow, deliberate step into Tony’s personal space. The hairs on the back of his neck stood up and he stifled the urge to flinch as she reached up to lightly touch his face. “Beautiful son, beautiful son, never leave me,” she said softly. “I will never leave you. No death. No end. Eternity.” Tony shuddered.

Then she leaned forward and kissed him, light and agony splitting reality. When he opened his eyes, the familiar spires of Asgard were in view and Thor was examining him with a quizzical look.