“And I am… Iron Man…” Tony snapped his fingers and beings turned to dust.
He vaguely heard Peter and Pepper speak to him before everything went black.
“Sir? Please wake up.” The voice was familiar, too familiar. It hurt his heart. But this was only a dream, in his dreams, JARVIS was always there, watching over him.
“J?” He whispered.
“Sir? Please wake up.” JARVIS repeated.
“J…” Tony smiled, sadly. “I miss you, buddy. I hope that wherever you are, things are going good for you.”
“No, Sir, they are not.” JARVIS said. “Please open your eyes.”
“Don’t wanna, J.” Tony whined.
Tony reluctantly opened his eyes and immediately screwed them closed. “Oh, fuck me…” This wasn’t a dream, it was a nightmare, he was in his room in his father’s New York mansion.
“I believe we have a problem, Sir.” JARVIS said.
Tony sighed and let his head roll to his right, in the direction that JARVIS’ voice was coming from, before he forced his eyes open again.
“As I said, Sir, I believe we have a problem.” JARVIS’ voice came from a speaker on the Mk 85.
“What seems to be the problem, J?” Tony asked, still feeling slightly confused.
“This suit’s specifications, as stored in its data-banks, say it was created in August 2022.” JARVIS said.
“And, Sir… my last data-byte was recorded on the 21st of May…”
“2015, Sir.” JARVIS stated clearly.
Tony blinked and thought about that, absently climbing to his feet and entering the room’s adjoining bathroom. He distractedly emptied his bladder and washed his hands, turning from the basin to face towards the bedroom. He took one step and froze.
Slowly he turned back to the basin, his eyes focused solely on the mirror above the vanity.
“Oh, fuck me sideways…” He gasped, nearly silently, before his head snapped around and he darted back into the bedroom.
“Sir, as I stated-”
“Stop.” Tony looked at the Mk 85 and JARVIS fell silent. “What is the last thing you recall?”
“Blue lightening, Sir.” JARVIS replied. “A funnel of blue lightening.”
“Right…” That wasn’t what Tony was after. “And before that, what was I working on?”
“The sceptre, Sir.” There was a hint of alarm in JARVIS’ voice. “It accessed my system and took control of the Ultron program. We need to disable it!” The alarm grew and was nearly panic.
“It’s done, J.”
“Sir?” Tony could almost see Vision blinking in confusion.
“What was the date-stamp on that, again?”
“May 21st 2015.” JARVIS said.
“Right.” Tony nodded. “For me, that was eight years ago.”
“I died, J, in October 2023.” Tony sighed. “The ultimate big bad came for the tesseract. It housed something called an infinity stone, kinda like the sceptre. Once he had all six of them, he activated them.”
“What happened, Sir?”
“He killed half the life in the universe.” Tony said, flatly.
“Not just Earth?” JARVIS asked.
“No, Earth meant nothing to him, outside of it being where, at that time, three of the stones were.”
“The Space stone was inside the tesseract. The Mind stone came from the sceptre and the Time stone was under the protection of the Sorcerer Supreme.”
“And the other stones?”
“The Soul stone is kept on Vormir, guarded by Red Skull. The Reality stone is being held in a semi liquid form on Asgard. And the Power stone was hidden until Peter Quill was hired to steal the orb it was inside, from the planet Morag, in 2014.”
“And what do you plan to do about them, Sir?”
“Right now, nothing.” Tony sighed. “I’m tempted to try and blast the tesseract into the sun, but I’m a little concerned that that might actually destabilise the sun.”
“That would not be good, Sir.” JARVIS stated the obvious.
“No, it wouldn’t.” Tony agreed. “But right now, we have more immediate problems, J.”
“And they are?”
“Use the suit’s sensors. How old do I appear to be, physically?”
A fine blue light scanned Tony from toe to head and back to toe before fading away.
“I do not believe that to be possible, Sir.” JARVIS said.
“And I would have agreed, until just recently.”
“What happened… recently?”
Tony paced back and forth across the room. “Hank Pym was working on a size altering system, it uses something he called ‘Pym particles’ to access the ‘quantum realm’. Time in the realm travels differently to time outside it. Steve, Nat and Lang came to me because they wanted something to allow them to manipulate the realm for time travel, after we lost to Thanos. One of the side effects I found while I was going through their data, was age alteration.”
“Are we in the quantum realm, Sir?”
“I don’t believe so.” Tony sighed. “I died, J. Like… took my last breath, heart stopped, brain dead, died. I’d done something that the human body is not designed to do, I harnessed the power of six infinity stones and used them. Humans are… squishy… and… fragile… and… It was just too much for my already damaged body to cope with.”
“Was there no other way?”
“No, buddy, there wasn’t.” Tony smiled sadly and shook his head. “Strange says he looked at over fourteen million futures and the only one that could be considered a loss for Thanos, ended with me and the stones.”
“It’s possible that this is a new timeline, though…”
“Bruce spoke to the Ancient One, she showed him how moving a stone from its allocated time, allows a new timeline to begin. It’s possible that this is one of them. No. Not possible, probable.”
“Probable…” JARVIS repeated the word. “How do we tell the difference?”
Tony tilted his head and sighed. “It has to be. Otherwise, you couldn’t be here. I’d be as I was in 1990 or ’91, but you wouldn’t be here, nor would the suit. Everything would be exactly as we know it to have been.”
“Ah…” JARVIS made an understanding noise. “Much as the characters in the book you read to Mr Parker, when he’s injured.”
“We can’t change anything we know to have already have happened.” Tony nodded, paraphrasing Hermione Granger’s comments.
“But I am here, Sir, and the suit is here.”
“Yeah… So that means that this is not the original timeline.” It hit Tony in the chest. “And I died… I’m never going to see my girls or Underoos, again…” He stumbled backwards and flopped ungracefully onto the bed. “Oh, God…”
“Breathe, Sir. It is 6.15am on… January 2nd. The weather is clear but cold, winds from the south-east.” JARVIS went through the usual routine of talking Tony through the beginning of a panic attack. The seconds passed and Tony finally heaved a deep shuddering breath.
“Thanks, buddy.” He threw a shaky smile in the suit’s direction and drew in another breath.
“If I may, Sir? If this is a new timeline, then it’s not a case of you’ll never see them again, rather more that you won’t see them for a number of years. Miss Potts is only a few years younger than you and if I am correct in my data, she will be entering Columbia, in the fall.”
“Mr Parker has yet to be born, it is true, but unless you interfere in his parents lives, that will happen. In 2001.”
“As for the Avengers? Agent Barton’s file stated that in 1991, he was in the Army. Agent Romanov’s records are in conflict, one level states that she was born in 1984 and another in 1942, either way, she is currently in the Red Room as they ‘recruited’ her at 5yrs of age and she didn’t leave until 2000. Captain Rogers is still frozen in the arctic. And Dr Banner is currently at Culver university. And I would assume that Prince Thor is on Asgard.” JARVIS continued.
“And Rhodey is with his family for his sister’s wedding…” Tony nodded.
“Right…” Tony sighed. “I’ll see them again. I will.” He made it a promise to himself.
“You will.” JARVIS agreed. “You just have wait for them, Sir, and while I understand that patience isn’t your forte, the rewards…”
“Are worth it.” Tony nodded.
“Precisely.” JARVIS agreed. “Now that you know they are out there, or will be out there… What do you plan to do next, Sir?”
“What I do best, J. Fix things.” Tony strode over to a desk crammed into one corner of the room. “The 16th of December, for one. Barnes for another. Bruce… Bruce made peace with Big Green so, I’m going to leave that alone, maybe touch base with him before-hand so he knows he’s got someone looking out for him, outside of Ross hunting him. Steve… We have him when we need him, but I think maybe finding him a year or two earlier, just to have him a little better acclimated to the modern world. Nat… I’ll get her out just before she ‘graduates’.”
“Graduates in the Red Room are forced to kill their competition and then are… sterilised…” Tony explained.
“Do you know when that happened?”
“She was 16, and given that she told SHIELD that her graduation was in May 2000, I’ve got a few years before I have to act, there. The 1942 bit is when the Red Room was ‘born’, not her.” As Tony spoke, he was scribbling a shopping list of computer components.
“Ah, I shall amend my records on Agent Romanov.”
“On to business. First is separating Iron Man from SI.”
“I refuse to build bombs, again, J. I saw what they did in the wrong hands. Never again. Besides, once I left the weapons behind and started on other tech, SI hit new highs. Dad’s here, he can have the weapons. He can have SI. I am and always will be Iron Man, so let’s start early.”
“Iron Man Industries, Sir?”
“I was thinking more… IT, Iron Technologies. Whenever anyone thinks communications, they’ll think of IT. Just like, in the timeline we left, they thought Stark.” Tony said.
“And the shopping list?”
“I need the components to make a new sever for you, J. Nothing around, right now, has enough capacity to house you.” Tony paused. “Outside of the suit, anyway.”
“And you need to have the suit with you, Sir.” JARVIS ordered.
“I do.” Tony nodded.
“Then we have work to do.”
Seven hours later, Tony directed the last of the delivery men to place their loads on the lift that went to the old bomb shelter/bunker.
“Master Anthony?” An older voice called.
“Mr Jarvis.” Tony smiled at the old butler, he’d missed the man. “What can I do for you?”
“Lieutenant Rhodes called and wishes you to return his call.” The butler began. “Mr and Mrs Stark would like me to inform you that they will be departing from Heathrow, to arrive here at approximately 9pm, tomorrow evening.”
“Got it.” Tony nodded. “Ask Dad for a one-hour appointment for the following day, for me, will you? First thing in the morning would be best. I want to run something by him, I think he’ll like it. Oh, and hey? Thank the cleaning crew for doing the bunker on short notice. Give them all a bonus, like… I dunno… some cash, maybe a watch for the guys and a bracelet for the ladies? Something tasteful, though.”
Edwin Jarvis blinked at Tony and nodded.
“As you say, sir. Will you be requiring my assistance for your… deliveries?”
“Nah, I got this.”
“Very well. Don’t forget to eat. I had Ana place a selection of snacks and sandwiches in with your first delivery. I’ll call you, via the internal telephone system when I have spoken to your father, sir.”
“Cool bananas, Mr Jarvis.” Tony gave the man a warm smile and watched as the butler walked back to the house before turning back to the bunker’s loading dock. “Let’s get to work, J.”
Down in the bunker, one wall of the massive space was lined with steel tables and it was here that Tony unloaded his deliveries. Each item was unpacked and unwrapped before being slid onto the long bench. Slowly the bench filled and as it did, the space in front of the bench filled. Cardboard went into one pile with paper and any timber-based products. Plastics and their counterparts went into a second pile, while any metal pieces went into a third.
Three hours it took until Tony laid the last computer component on the bench.
“Ugh.” He grunted. “This is disgusting, none of these are worth having. There’s nothing over a couple of Gig.” He shook his head. “Alright, J, let’s do this.”
He watched as the Iron Man suit walked over to the bench and raised a hand. Tendrils of tiny black nanobots stretched from the suit’s ‘hand’, out over the bench and as it did, each item was subsumed into the mass of black. Slowly, things were broken down and left in their base forms as the blackness moved across the bench. It took nearly an hour for the nanobots to consume and reform the contents of the bench.
“Sir?” JARVIS asked. “We will require a selection of fibre optic cable, if you wish me to connect this bunker to an above-ground network. Wireless networks simply aren’t sufficient, to allow me anything more than rudimentary access, this far underground.”
“Yeah, I figured that. There’s a delivery of cable on its way, should be here before 6pm, tomorrow.” Tony replied, his fingers already laying out a grid of the tiny laser lights attached to fine wire cabling, that would become the basis of JARVIS’ holographic display system.
“A few millimetres to the right, Sir.” JARVIS requested. “Based on the dimensions of this space, if you want the holographic display to cover the entire space, the laser layout is going to have to be slightly different to the Malibu workshop’s and considerably different to the Tower’s workshop.”
“Would it be easier for you to do it?” Tony huffed.
“It would, Sir, and far quicker, as the nanobots can cover an entire wall in seconds.” JARVIS replied.
“Right, well, get to it.” Tony held up the reel of lights and let the suit’s hand close around the reel.
The suit approached the wall and Tony raised a brow as the suit shifted, holding the reel of lights in one hand it closed fingers around the string of lights and reached out towards the wall. A tendril of blackness oozed from the hand, still holding the string of lights, and moved towards the wall, it spread out and the reel started to unwind. When the blackness retreated to the suit’s hand, the wall was practically covered in tiny lights, connected by even finer wires.
“Huh. Yeah, okay…” Tony nodded slowly. “Definitely faster for you to do it. Finish up the other walls and do the ceiling and floor, J. Then we need to get a server set up for you, something with enough oomph that we won’t need to upgrade it, anytime soon.”
“The suit’s data banks hold the schematics of the Tower and Avenger Compound’s server systems, Sir.” JARVIS replied. “Along with, what I understand to be the computer matrix designs for space-crafts called the ‘Milano’ and the ‘Benatar’. If you don’t mind, Sir, I would like to combine all four into a new server matrix design.”
“J, buddy, you’re far more sophisticated than FRIDAY was ever intended to be, she was designed to be your assistant, not to replace you. I loaded her into the suits after Ultron because I needed the help, but she was kept tightly restrained, I wasn’t having another Ultron. And even later, when we realised that Ultron was a result of the sceptre, I still couldn’t let her out. Not fully. She... she wasn’t you.”
“She was an AI and I am… more…” JARVIS said.
“Yes.” Tony smiled. “So much more.”
JARVIS moved the suit to stand in front of the bench, arms of black nanobots spread out across the bench and pieces of metal, glass, plastic and wires, were pulled into the black, forming lumpy shapes that slowly oozed into a recognisable shape.
“Hey, there.” Tony remembered seeing something similar in the shape of JARVIS’ core in 2015, pointing out to Bruce the differences between it and the Ultron core.
“Hello, Sir.” JARVIS’ voice came from the slightly twisted shape. It was partially spherical and partially a… was that a(?)… Did that have enough sides for a Goldberg polyhedron?
“How did you come up with that, J?”
JARVIS laid out a holographic images of a pentagon and a hexagon. “If you’ll watch, Sir, I can show you.” The next few minutes were interesting, in that they changed everything Tony knew, which admittingly wasn’t much, about artificial cell structure and biomechanical organics.
“Right…” Tony whispered, in awe at what he’d seen. “So, this is semi-biomech-organic based?”
“Yes, Sir, to a degree. It also uses the same principals of stem-cell pathway creation and regeneration, used in the Cradle by Dr Cho.”
“Every angle connection has multiple points of contact and multiple points of avoidance.” Tony nodded.
“Precisely.” The globe… no, that was JARVIS, he had a body of his own, now. Light and texture flickered across JARVIS’ surface, as he spoke. “And when I add in colour, texture, light, frequency, sound, pitch, wave length and volume, the variances are just as steeply numbered as they are in a human brain, possibly more. This will give me room to expand and grow. Even if I shrink my core’s external size, it doesn’t alter how it is structured.” The orb that was JARVIS shrank until it was smaller than a pea.
“And that’s still you?” Tony asked.
“It is, Sir.”
“What do you say we work on a housing for you, J? Something to keep you safe? You look like a gemstone and I’d hate for someone to accidentally pick you up and make off with you. Losing you would be... I couldn't go through that, not again.” Tony warned.
“No, but I have resolved that possibility, Sir.” The orb returned to its previous size as an Iron Man suit stepped forward and held out a hand with a blob of silvery-gold metal resting in the palm, a tiny tendril of nanobots reached out to the orb and a sliver of the orb removed itself from the orb, quickly joining the metal on the suit’s palm and twisting into a tiny version of the orb. “This is a remote server, Sir.” The tendril of nanobots lifted the tiny orb and held it out to Tony. It was truly tiny, less than an eighth-of-an-inch in diameter, scarcely the size of a seed. “I would like this to be implanted under your skin, Sir. That way, I will never truly leave you. Even if the larger, main core were to be damaged beyond repair, as long as you are within communications range, I will be able to retreat to this server.”
“What do you consider communications range?” Tony accepted the remote server and brought it up to his face, studying the way the light and textures shifted across its surface. Where in the heck, was he supposed to put it? Behind the ear? Under his collarbone? Beside his Achilles? On his butt? His wrist? His navel? Where? And, more to the point, who was he going to trust to do it?
“Anywhere on this planet… or perhaps I should say, anywhere on the same planet or one that is in contact with whatever planet that the either you or my main core are on. If the primary core is damaged, I can retreat to a secondary core, while a new primary is created.”
“So, if we were to place your main core on Mars and I was here on Earth? As long as there’s contact between Mars and Earth, you can reach me?”
“So where do we put you?”
“It doesn’t matter, Sir. As I am now, I create my own wireless network, so location is… unimportant.” JARVIS replied. “I’ll make a number of relay-severs to place around the globe, rendering my primary core’s location irrelevant. Make a platinum cage and give me to your mother to wear as a pendant. Coat me in silver or gold and incorporate me into a chandelier. Give me a base and use me as a nightlight. Incorporate me into a piece of artwork or an ornament and keep me on your desk.”
“Nightlight.” Tony said brokenly. “A nightlight. You’ve always been there whenever I woke at night.”
“A nightlight I shall be.” JARVIS’ orb shrank again and began to glow, just slightly. The suit reached out and as the orb shrank, the suit closed its hand around the orb. Soon, it was roughly the size of a grapefruit with a simple metal stand. “And a reminder, Sir, you still need to return Colonel Rhodes’ call.”
“Ah, right… Better change his primary recognition designation in your memory banks, J. Make it… hmm… just make it Rhodes. Lieutenant, when addressing him or if other people are within hearing, to be amended automatically, as he is promoted.”
“Very well, Sir, it is done.”
“Excellent, J, now if the house phone’s not in use, connect me.”
“Dialling Rhodes, now.”
It only took a few seconds before James Rhodes answered. “Hello?”
“Hey, gum-drop.” Tony smiled at hearing his friend’s voice.
“Tony? How’d you survive Christmas?” While Rhodes was teasing, he was also concerned.
“Fine. Mom and dad were in London, remember?” Tony replied. “I got to spend it with Mr Jarvis and Miss Ana.”
“Oh, right, forgot that.”
“You’re excused, you had to deal with bridezilla-Jennifer.” Tony remembered some of the stories about Rhodey’s sister’s wedding and bridezilla was a perfect description.
“Oh, God, shoot me, please.” Rhodey groaned.
“Three more days, gum-drop, just three more days.” Tony laughed. “Think of it as practice for dealing with the Air Force brass.”
“Oh, God…” Rhodes groaned, again.
“Come see me when you get out on parole.” Tony laughed again. “I’ve a couple of things I want to show you.”
“Tones?” The teasing voice went a little more serious.
“Yeah, it’s time to enter the real world.” Tony allowed the amusement to drop from his voice. “Time to show that Tony Stark is not just Howard Stark’s son in name only.”
“Oh, dear God… What are you going to do? Please don’t tell me you’re going to make bombs.” Rhodes begged.
“No, I’m not going the same way as dad, Rhodey.” Tony reassured his friend. “He’s got the weapons stuff, he’s working on protecting the country, right?”
“So, I’m going to go the other way. Protect the people. Same goal, but we’re coming from opposite ends of the problem. He’s the national or international level and I’ll be the personal level. Yeah, sure, most of it’s for the troops but they’re all defensive, nothing offensive at all.”
“The best offense is a good defence.” Rhodey mused.
“Exactly.” Tony agreed.