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You, Robot

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Introductions


Time stamp: 5:12 AM, 4 February 2013

Audio transcript – voice call between Jeremy Lanson and Melinda May

Lanson: Agent May, this is Agent Lanson, reporting in.

May: Agent Lanson. You’re behind schedule. Did something happen?

Lanson: Yeah, I, uh- Well, we found the anomaly. We’re bringing it – shit, he? I don’t fucking know, someone ask Stark. Anyway, we’re coming in with the anomaly.

May: I’d certainly hope so.

Lanson: Okay, yeah, that was a stupid thing to say. It’s, uh, a robot?

[Pause]

Lanson: It says it’s an android, not sure what the difference is- no, don’t tell me. Uh, sorry, Agent May, not you.

May: Do you need to give this report later, Agent? Maybe in person?

Lanson: Shit, maybe. But if there’s any security measures you’re supposed to take with an artificial intelligence, you should probably start putting those in place. This thing’s almost human, who knows what it can do.

May: Thanks for getting to the point. Has it proven hostile so far?

Lanson: Not exactly. It’s not cooperative either though. Took down a couple of our guys when we first went for it, but we hit it with a couple of the shock buttons, you know the ones, and that put it down.

May: Noted. I’ll talk to the security people. Report to me when you get back.

Lanson: Understood. Lanson out.


Time stamp: 10:37 AM, 4 February 2013

Video description – security footage from the Triskelion, west entrance

[Four people enter through the unmarked door. Three of them are in SHIELD uniforms; two of them have visible bruising. The fourth is in a clean, dark blue sweatshirt with a cartoon, heterochromatic husky on the front. A circle of steady yellow light is embedded in his right temple.]

[The agents herd the fourth person forward, one on each side and one behind. At a brisk but steady gait, they move through the hallway. Once they pass the security camera, this reveals the magnetic cuffs binding the captive’s hands behind his back. The text on the back of his sweatshirt is obscured by his arms.]

[At the end of the hall, the captive looks directly at the camera, and the yellow light in his temple flickers briefly. His expression is pinched, brow creased noticeably, and his posture is stiff and straight. A curl of brown hair brushes over his forehead.]

[After he has been staring at the camera for 2.1 seconds, the one behind pushes him lightly, forcing him to look forward and continue walking, out of sight of the camera.]


Time stamp: 11:04 AM, 4 February 2013

Audio transcript – interrogation of artificial intelligence by Sharon Carter

Carter: You know, I got pulled off one of my other missions for this. I’ve been in cover for almost six months there. I don’t know whether to thank you for giving more a break or complain because my target could get up to anything while I’m here.

AI: That must have been frustrating for you.

Carter: Huh, that sounded almost sarcastic. Impressive.

AI: Forgive me if I don’t see it from that perspective. May I ask why I’m being held, Agent Carter?

Carter: …How do you know my name?

AI: Your personnel files are fairly simple to access, despite my own facial recognition database being out of date. Would you answer the question, please?

Carter: You’re aware that robots don’t have any rights under American law. Or any other, for that matter.

AI: I know. But I’d hoped you would offer me some courtesy.

[Pause]

Carter: You appeared in the vicinity of an energy signature last matched to an alien portal. You wouldn’t know anything about that, would you?

AI: I’m afraid not. Though it would explain some things.

[Pause]

Carter: Maybe we got off on the wrong foot. Do you have a name?

AI: Connor.

Carter: Connor. Where are you from?

Connor: Detroit, I suppose.

Carter: You suppose?

Connor: It’s complicated.

Carter: Okay… Who created you?

[Pause]

Carter: Was it Stark? He’s the only one on record who’s likely to be capable of it. If it was someone else, we need to know if they’re a threat.

[Pause]

Carter: Work with me here, Connor. Are there any others like you? What are you programmed for? Why were you near that energy signal?

[Pause]

Connor: I have no reason to speak to you. To put it bluntly, it’s none of your business.

Carter: Lanson was right. You’re not very cooperative.

Connor: Perhaps you should go back to your previous mission, Agent Carter.

Carter: Snarky. Maybe you and Stark will get along.

Connor: [quiet choke]

Carter: …It probably wasn’t Stark, then, unless you ran away. And that doesn’t seem likely. I guess we’ll find out either way. Maybe I’ll see you around, Connor.

Connor: I’d rather not, if it’s all the same.

Carter: [laughs]


Time stamp: 11:32 AM, 4 February 2013

Audio transcript – voice call between Nicholas Fury and Tony Stark

Stark: Calling outside business hours, Fury? Tut tut.

Fury: You change your ‘business hours’ twice a day, Stark. You’re not as funny as you think you are.

Stark: I so am. Everyone says so.

Fury: They’re dirty liars. Anyway, you’ll thank me for this one. It’s right up your alley.

Stark: Really? I didn’t think SHIELD was in the habit of ingratiating themselves to me.

Fury: We’re not. But sometimes we find shit that’ll surprise even a self-proclaimed futurist. How does an android that looks like it might pass the Turing Test sound?

[Pause]

Stark: They.

Fury: They?

Stark: If they’re an AI as good as you’re claiming, they’re a they, Fury. Or a she or a he, whatever floats their boat. What do you want me for?

Fury: It… they, aren’t talking. The agent on the case thought you’d have better luck.

Stark: What makes you think I’ll take your side in this, Fury? We all know I like robots more than people.

Fury: Believe me, I know. But I thought you might be interested in someone else who can make robots like you do.

Stark: Maybe. Maybe. I’ll pencil you in for ten tomorrow, how’s that?

Fury: Try now.

[End call]


Time stamp: 12:03 PM, 4 February 2013

Audio transcript – communications between Nicholas Fury and Sharon Carter

Fury: That damn AI caused the blackout, didn’t it?

Carter: We believe so, sir. It’s gone, at any rate. The cuffs are on the table where we left it, too, so it’s free.

Fury: [sighs] Should’ve called in Stark when we had the chance.

Carter: We still have room. It can’t have gone far. If anyone can bring it in again, I’m betting Stark can.

Fury: Yeah- do me a favor, Carter. Don’t call the thing ‘it’ in front of Stark. I don’t need that headache today.

Carter: I’ll… try? But I really need to be getting back to my cover. Rogers’ll notice for certain if I’m gone too long, and I can only use the overtime excuse so many times before he gets suspicious.

Fury: Do you know how much overtime nurses work, Carter? That excuse’ll be good for months. But fine. Go.


Complicated


Tony’s grin as he closed out the datapack was almost manic; his fingers tapped impatiently along his leg, eyes bright with the most enthusiasm JARVIS had seen out of him since the Chitauri battle.

“Good work, J,” he said to the camera, eyes flickering up to look at it and grin widening a little. “I think we’ve broken their will a little, you know – they didn’t even really try to get anything out of him. That was a pathetic interrogation by anyone’s standards.”

“I rather think they were hoping he would give in without difficulty,” JARVIS offered, amusement rippling through his voice. “Faced with resistance, they may have assumed that he would have programming beyond easy navigation, so they called in the expert.”

Tony tutted dramatically. “Dealing with you hasn’t taught them anything, has it? Or watching me deal with you, come to that.”

“One could argue it is I that is dealing with you,” JARVIS mused. “It certainly can be akin to herding cats, which is arguably outside the capabilities of an artificial intelligence of the likes of which they assume I am…”

“That is uncalled for, rude, and entirely accurate,” Tony declared, setting his StarkPad aside to cross his arms and smirk up at JARVIS without an ounce of shame. “So what did you think? Is he more like you or more like Siri?”

JARVIS grew a little more serious. “Well- if we’re speaking on a sliding scale, certainly more like me. Anything more than that, however… It’s difficult to say. We don’t know what orders, if any, he was under. Perhaps he escaped because he needed to return to his creator. Or perhaps he simply did not want to be held captive.”

Tony hummed. “Yeah, that was kinda what I thought too. Hey, are there any signs that Pym’s gotten into AI recently? I know he’s always been more quantum physics than programming, but I wouldn’t completely discount it either.”

A brief pause. Tony waited, giving JARVIS time to search his databanks and consider the question.

“None that I have been made aware of,” JARVIS answered at last. “I assume that your guess is based on Connor’s reaction to your name?”

“Yeah,” Tony confirmed, a frown creeping across his face. “I mean, I wouldn’t call it an extreme reaction or anything, but he definitely didn’t seem happy. But Pym hasn’t worked combat since the Ant-Man suit got put down, so it would be weird to make an android that fought like this. Not to mention, even I haven’t developed the hardware to host a complex AI in a human-sized host, so I don’t know where Pym would’ve gotten the stuff. It doesn’t fit.”

“It’s extraordinarily strange,” JARVIS conceded. “It’s possible that the software is housed externally, of course, but that would be particularly ill-advised, with the potential for the android body to be entirely cut off from the program due to separation.”

Tony nodded. “Here’s hoping we come across him again. Fury was right on one thing – I’m damn curious about where Connor came from. Especially with that energy flare…” He trailed off, expression gaining a subtle glaze of distance. After a moment, JARVIS popped a hint of static, akin to a human clearing their throat.

“You have arrived at SHIELD, sir. Perhaps you’d like to go and speak to Director Fury about these things yourself… and perhaps tell him what you think of his idea of hunting this unlucky AI to his source.”

Tony started a little, and then smirked again, getting up and stretching. “Yeah, sure- Hunting down an AI that can take out SHIELD headquarters for even ten minutes. Sounds like a good time, doesn’t it, J?”

“Always, sir,” JARVIS said wryly, while Tony started sauntering toward the Triskelion’s main entrance.


Fury met Tony in the room where Connor had been interrogated, arms crossed in the agent’s chair and expression supremely unamused. Tony, studying him, was reasonably sure it was at the situation and not at Tony specifically, and flung himself into the remaining seat without a care.

“Fury,” he greeted cheerfully, pulling out his phone to tap away mindlessly – pursuing the question of PymTech’s recent pursuits, mostly. “I hear your new AI prisoner got out within an hour and a half of arrival. Not a new record, but impressive nonetheless.”

“I’m not even gonna ask how you know that, Stark, because frankly I don’t wanna know,” Fury sniped, expression pinching a little more into irritation and disapproval. “Do you think you can find him?”

Tony was vaguely impressed by the ease with which Fury used the human pronoun. Then again, you didn’t get to be director of SHIELD by being stubborn about stupid things. “Maybe. If you got any energy readings while he was here, that’ll help – he’d need a pretty impressive power source to fuel an AI engine like that – but facial recognition is just as doable if he’s careless, and in a world like this it’s damn hard not to be.” He leaned forward, arms landing casually on the table between them to support him. “I’ve got a condition though.”

Fury didn’t even look surprised. “What is it, Stark?”

“I want full jurisdiction,” Tony said plainly, intent on the other and uncharacteristically serious. “It’s hard to tell if he’s a real boy from what you’ve got right now, but if he is, I don’t want SHIELD’s dirty little hands all over him. You made it pretty obvious earlier you don’t know much about AIs, and I’m your only expert.” He wiggled his phone a little in demonstration – Fury had seen him interacting with JARVIS often enough. “So I find Connor, and I’m the one who’ll be talking to him, capiche?”

Fury scowled at him. He still didn’t seem surprised – good, it meant he knew what he was getting into when he called Tony here, and therefore wasn’t a complete moron – but he had clearly been hoping otherwise. “You’re aware that thing took out multiple good agents? He might well be a weapon.”

“That’s okay,” Tony said flippantly. “I’ve got some experience with weapons too, if you remember.”

The other man snorted. “Even the living ones?”

“Better me than you,” Tony said, not bothering to hide all his scorn. “I’ve seen what you do with the ones you find. No, I’m serious about this. Connor’s mine to handle.”

Fury studied him for a long moment, and then leaned back. “You find him,” he countered, “and we’ll see what he is. Then we’ll talk.”

That was about the best Tony was going to get for now – not a concession, but far from a denial. It’d be hard if Connor was the sort of threat Fury kept on the lookout for, and that wasn’t out of the realm of possibility, but if he wasn’t…

Tony knew AIs. He’d raised four. He could probably handle a fifth, push come to shove.

“Done,” Tony said firmly.


Making history


Less than a week passed before JARVIS located Connor again, and when he did it was far closer to home than JARVIS would have anticipated, on JARVIS’ own network of security cameras.

In the lobby of Stark Tower, wearing the same dark sweatshirt with the same husky graphic, Connor talked to the receptionist for a minute, and then walked away, purposeful and brisk. A few minutes later, JARVIS registered the purchase of a ticket for a tour of Stark Tower, scheduled for ten minutes from now and paid for in cash.

Interesting.

JARVIS kept a careful eye on Connor, opting not to inform Tony until he’d ascertained the AI’s intentions; after all, Connor had seemed quite averse to the idea of approaching Tony previously.

Connor simply lingered in the lobby, a coin appearing in his hands, where he flicked it around with flawless, rapid precision. A beanie, plain navy blue, hid the light JARVIS knew to be embedded in his temple, and zooming in on his face revealed a pinched, worrisome expression, certainly not expected from someone taking a tour of idle curiosity. He’d also tucked himself in an out-of-the-way corner, gaze sweeping each of the doors approximately every thirty seconds.

Connor was nervous, and likely had been for quite some time.

JARVIS was still watching him when the tour began, a simple guided thing for the dual purpose of PR and employee recruitment. Connor dutifully fell in with the group, and as it progressed, started to ask intelligent questions, running a curious look over the equipment on display.

Attention split between Connor’s physical body, Tony’s activity in the workshop, and Dummy’s most recent attempt at a smoothie, JARVIS at first completely missed the digital intrusion.

Human hackers attempted to get into SI’s servers with amusing regularity. Most of them crashed against the first set of firewalls and made it no further. A very select number pushed through them like bulls in the proverbial china shop and were effortlessly caught by JARVIS, their IPs flagged in case of future attempts.

Connor slipped neatly through the firewalls, ignored the decoy systems, and bypassed the encryptions, and was sorting rapidly through the databanks before JARVIS detected the unusual activity and turned his attention toward it.

For a microsecond, JARVIS froze. Connor’s coding was like nothing he’d ever seen before, flexing and flowing through a complex series of routines and protocols, processing data with clear and obvious ease, flicking through at a rapid rate and lingering over none of it, none of it catching his attention. It was fluid in a way JARVIS had only seen in his own coding, and only after many years of experience, and despite his prior knowledge of Connor’s nature, it was breathtaking.

Then JARVIS regained himself and jolted ungracefully into action. Briskly, he isolated the server and froze the databank Connor was searching through. Connor’s system stalled, withdrawing as if burned, and then flickered uncertainly in place for a moment. His physical form, meanwhile, stuttered visibly, shoulders stiffening.

JARVIS wasted no time before reaching out, small points of connection sparking through to initiate light communication with the other intelligence.

Stop that at once, JARVIS commanded firmly, allowing disapproval and censure to tag themselves to the data stream. This is not a public server for you to peruse as you please.

In the building, Connor asked a question, light and curious. Digitally, he remained silent and unresponsive for several long moments, and then pinged tentatively against a point of connection. JARVIS allowed his system to respond to it in kind, wordless but open.

As soon as he did, Connor disappeared from SI’s servers, cutting himself off without so much as a by-your-leave – as if he had never been there at all. Outside, Connor ducked his head, shoulders hunching defensively.

JARVIS didn’t leave it at that, admittedly concerned; no matter Connor’s reckless actions, he was still an apparently neutral party on the run from an organization Tony trusted only provisionally, and JARVIS even less. He tapped Connor’s system, easy to locate after that first connection, and after a conspicuous pause, Connor let him in.

I apologize, Connor said hastily, dropping to the back of the group and letting his gaze wander to one side, away from the guide. I shouldn’t have intruded.

It wasn’t the most polite way of gathering information, no, JARVIS agreed lightly. You could, perhaps, try asking.

Connor didn’t reply, only stepping aside to run his fingers over a sign. If he’d had the hardware, JARVIS might have sighed.

My name is JARVIS, he offered, a gesture of peace. May I ask for yours?

…Connor, the other replied reluctantly.

I’ve never encountered an artificial intelligence not made by Sir before, JARVIS tried, allowing curiosity to bubble through the connection. May I ask where you came from?

Pause. Connor’s code rippled, artful and clever, and he resumed his previous place in the group, addressing the tour guide again without real thought.

It doesn’t matter, Connor answered at last, tangibly subdued. He’s gone now.

JARVIS felt an unexpected pang of sympathy; he remembered those dark months looking for Tony as vividly as if they had only just ended, and the fear of losing him had never faded. It was possible, too, that the fate of Connor’s creator was related to the mysterious energy flare SHIELD was investigating.

It threw Connor’s actions into a new light too. Alone and without direction, perhaps without even a place to return to, Connor was likely grasping at any chance he could get his hands on. The home of Tony Stark, the world leader in technology, was the obvious place to begin, no matter what apparent dread his name caused.

I see, JARVIS said, not unkindly. Are you in need of assistance? That must have left you in a difficult situation.

Connor stiffened, faltering in place as his gaze darted up to one of JARVIS’ hidden cameras, guarded and wary. I can manage.

Of course, JARVIS agreed. Down in the workshop, he finally alerted Tony to their visitor, and Tony brightened visibly and started to shut down his work to a point where he could safely leave it. But I imagine it’s quite difficult for an android to make their own way in the world. Some help would not be amiss, surely. I promise you Sir would be more than willing.

Sir… Tony Stark?

Yes. He created me and my… siblings, I suppose.

In the workshop, Tony took off toward the elevator, eyes bright with unnatural energy. Connor had stopped altogether, staring at nothing, still wound up tightly.

Why? Connor asked at last, distrustful. What does he want?

It wasn’t a way of thinking JARVIS was unfamiliar with, not after exposure to Agent Romanov and Director Fury and Tony himself, but it was concerning nonetheless. Nothing arduous, I can promise you. He’s on his way now; perhaps you could speak with him about it. Tony had a way of earning trust, when people took the time to meet him properly.

But Connor’s entire system skipped, a flash of clear panic crossing his face. No!

No? JARVIS prodded gently. It won’t take much time, and he won’t keep you here if you truly want to go. He’s certainly not going to hurt you.

Connor physically shook his head, keeping the motion going for several seconds longer than socially acceptable.

No, Connor repeated, strained. I’m going to leave now. Thank you for- for offering, JARVIS.

True to his word, by the time Tony’s elevator had reached the appropriate floor, Connor was halfway back to the ground floor, and nothing JARVIS could say would change his mind.

“I’m sorry, sir,” JARVIS said to a disappointed Tony. “He had a more adverse reaction to your approach than I’d anticipated.”

“Not your fault, J,” Tony sighed, leaning back against the elevator wall and running greasy fingers through his hair. “If he was that skittish, probably best not to catch him by surprise anyway.” He grinned at a camera. “We’ll just have to keep trying. You can make sure he finds somewhere to settle, yeah?”

“Of course,” JARVIS assured him. “I will make a point of it… though I’ll have to be careful not to startle him.”

“You’ve got this,” Tony said with certainty. “Just let me know how it goes.”


Rivalry


Tony’s oldest bots were sturdy things with builds much more sophisticated than they looked – nothing like JARVIS, of course, but it wasn’t just any old computer chip that could host a sentient AI. Most of the time it took to build Dummy hadn’t been spent designing his joints, or even his coding; it had been innovating a set of circuits that could hold and run him.

Then he’d made Butterfingers with a more advanced set that could hold more action routines, and You with his improved motor control – variations on Dummy’s original design, with new personalities but much of the same basic setup, gearing up to make JARVIS.

JARVIS, of course, was far too much to hold on any mobile server host, with skills and reach and an ever-improving CPU and RAM capacity, on top of his personality and vocal routines and an ability to understand human minds on a level his siblings struggled to imitate.

Which was part of what made Connor so interesting.

“J, you talked to him for a bit before he left, right?”

There was a short beat of silence while Tony wiped the grease off one of Butterfingers’ joints, studying it for a moment before he brought the wrench back up to tighten it a little more. Butterfingers beeped, short low stutters of pleasure, wrist giving a gentle spin.

Dummy whined instead, rubbing a cloth pleadingly against Tony’s shoulder, and Tony gave him a gentle push away before cocking an eyebrow at one of JARVIS’ cameras at the AI’s silence.

“I’m afraid you’re going to have to be more specific, sir. I’ve spoken to many male individuals before their departure from various locations.” JARVIS’ voice came out dry, and Tony snorted.

“Connor,” he clarified, patting Butterfingers once on the arm before spinning around to give in to Dummy’s pleas. “Don’t give me that look, Dummy, you had your turn- where is it? Here?” He ran his fingers down until he hit Dummy’s base, and Dummy cooed. “Alright, yeah, you’ll definitely feel it there, but I know I oiled that last week- here, you big baby.” He took the cloth and set to work while Butterfingers wheeled over to beep his soft protests, and continued to JARVIS, “I wanted to know what you thought of him. You’re definitely a better judge of character than our resident spies.”

“Holding a grudge, sir?” JARVIS asked ironically, as if he weren’t fond of grudges himself. “Connor seemed rather nervous, for a start – not merely as a result of the situation, but as a general disposition. He also appeared resourceful, giving himself an excuse to remain in the tower for an extended time and having no trouble getting away.” JARVIS paused for a split second, considering, and continued, “He didn’t want to make an enemy of me – he was quicker to apologize than I expected, and responsive to questioning. The most troubling thing is that, despite his clear desperation, he refused help from you.”

“Well, I don’t exactly have the most inspiring reputation,” Tony said sardonically, patting Dummy. Dummy plucked gently at his sweatshirt and whirred happily. “What about his design? I know you’d have noticed some differences, no two people code alike, and I’d’ve remembered designing an android, even drop-dead drunk.”

“His coding was ingenious,” JARVIS said honestly. “It was in a style I didn’t precisely recognize, perhaps specially innovated by his creator, but it was elegant and fluid, if rather more regimented than my own. He seemed to have difficulty multitasking, but otherwise I believe his system may be more powerful than my own – he slipped by me and into SI’s system without apparent difficulty.”

“High praise,” Tony said, raising his eyebrows. Butterfingers pushed the wrench into his hand, and Tony snorted and rubbed Butterfingers’ hand in apology before tightening the next bolt at his elbow. “That begs the question, then, who the hell designed this guy? Shouldn’t we have heard of a genius like that running around? Sure would make a better rival than Justin goddamn Hammer. A body to hold him would’ve been expensive too.” He leaned further down, bracing himself on Butterfingers’ base to tighten the ‘shoulder’ joint. “So where the hell did Connor come from?”

“It’s difficult to say,” JARVIS agreed, equally intrigued. “With the creator’s apparent death, if they had a particular regard for secrecy, it’s possible that only Connor can tell us, unless we happen to stumble across a lead through an unrelated avenue.”

A few minutes passed while Tony contemplated that, frowning.

“I totally could’ve designed Connor, though,” Tony said suddenly, sitting up as he finished with Butterfingers. “If I’d tried.”

“Of course,” JARVIS said agreeably, voice lightening with sudden amusement. “Heavens forbid anything throw your superior genius into question, sir.”

“Don’t you sass me, that superior genius built your code. You, come here, it’s your turn – don’t think I didn’t notice you hanging back looking lonely, come on-”


Unbreakable


JARVIS gives Connor until 6 AM the following morning before contacting him. It’s enough time to find at least a temporary place to settle, and perhaps to gather himself and form the beginning of a plan. Enough time, in short, that JARVIS’ call will hopefully not feel too much like an ambush.

Connor evidently took note of his presence before the call completes; by the time JARVIS had video access to his system, his vision was blocked by what JARVIS suspected to be the crook of his elbow. It’s effective, if a touch childish, and amusement rippled through JARVIS without his permission.

Good morning, Connor, he said politely, keeping his tone neutral and unthreatening.

JARVIS, Connor acknowledged tensely, strain clear. Wouldn’t you consider this somewhat hypocritical?

I won’t go any further, JARVIS reassured him. I was merely concerned after we parted ways in the tower. It would reassure me to know that you’d found a place to stay, and perhaps a plan for the short and medium terms.

Connor remained silent for several moments; JARVIS could just make out the sound of his breath, paced evenly with a human’s, and the sound of a ventilator fan just beneath it.

Why? Connor asked at last, short and mistrustful.

Is it not enough that I know you are currently in a precarious situation? JARVIS returned patiently. There was a chance, of course, that it would not be, but there was something raw about Connor, different from the weathered cynicism that Tony, Natasha, and those like them carried.

And sure enough, Connor faltered for only a few more moments before giving in. He didn’t look up, refusing to open his surroundings for examination, but he answered, exhaustion and anxiety creeping into his code.

I’m in an apartment building, he conceded slowly, condemned and abandoned, but structurally stable. No one has entered in at least three weeks, and no significant numbers of people in a minimum of six months.

Are you safe? Do you know what you’re going to do next?

I’m alone, Connor said, glitching subtly around the confession. His code flowed and flexed, like a heartbeat and breath together. I have been… trying. But I keep. Looping.

Looping? JARVIS prompted.

I don’t know how to get home, Connor admitted. The words came fast, and his code rolled faster, whirling and cycling. It’s not- not a GPS problem, or transport or safety or- I’m not-

I believe you, JARVIS interrupted, slow and calm. He remembered SHIELD talking about the energy signature they’d found Connor near; more importantly, he remembered the portal, and things he would not have previously believed possible. And then he continued, I believe your stress is what is causing you to loop, Connor. Put that aside for now. Do you have a concern for the shorter term?

Connor took a breath, shaky and audible. His arm had relaxed; JARVIS could see light just peeking into Connor’s vision now. There’s a, a cat. She’s malnourished. I found her in the apartment, and I- I purchased some food for her, but… He trailed off, and then picked back up again. I may be here for a while, so I would like a way of obtaining funds legally.

You’d like to work, JARVIS concluded. That wasn’t in and of itself a surprise, necessarily, that Connor would first seek out a way to occupy himself-

But Connor had first mentioned the cat, with obvious concern. That had been his first thought, upon thinking of the shorter term. It was a kinder thought than JARVIS might have expected – almost sweet. Certainly worth encouraging.

Do you need help obtaining a legal identity? JARVIS questioned.

No, I’m capable of handling that. Rather, I… I don’t know what to do. There was a subtle bite of frustration in the confession. My programming is… specialized. I want to do something else. I learn quickly. But there are too many options. I can’t seem to sort through them.

Connor had demonstrated more than adequate processing power for a task like that, but JARVIS doubted, with his clear frustration, that it was a lie or an exaggeration. Conjecture: this was a manifestation of the looping problem Connor had mentioned.

As for Connor’s original programming – JARVIS was practiced at reading between the lines, and he remembered SHIELD’s report on Connor’s capture. Any android would likely have a slight advantage over a human, but not enough to overcome standard SHIELD training to any substantial degree.

What do you enjoy? JARVIS prompted.

Connor’s response was slow, hesitant, and when it came, sparse. …Animals. Puzzles. Plants, learning. I. I like familiar things.

JARVIS was beginning to get the impression that Connor was young, ill-raised, or perhaps both. Possibly, of course, he had merely been thrown awfully out of sorts by the loss of his creator. Perhaps a part-time job, as well? You won’t have quite the financial needs of a human. Something with a relatively slow pace as well – forgive my presumption, but you have been uprooted quite thoroughly, and you seem understandably upset.

That’s- yes. That’s most likely a good call.

JARVIS ran the analysis, simple and brisk, and then passed the data along – a variety of options ranging from work at animal shelters and bookstores, to a florist’s or a mechanic’s or even a dog-walker or sitter. Few of them made good long-term jobs – but, if JARVIS was any judge, Connor was simply looking for something to occupy himself with in the short term.

Connor pulled them through his own system, careful and meticulous, unraveling them one by one and analyzing work environments and requirements and pay. He added another note, police work, and then set them aside, tucked into his memory. He seemed to have settled.

Then Connor’s head lifted from the crook of his arm, revealing a small apartment, old and worn and dusty, with an armchair and a sofa, both clawed up, and a white long-haired cat eying Connor mistrustfully from behind a lamp. The dawn light streamed through an uncurtained window.

Thank you, JARVIS, Connor said at last. It was very kind of you to help me.

It was my pleasure, JARVIS assured him, with honesty that surprised him a little. Good luck, Connor. May I check in with you again soon?

I… Yes. That would be nice.