FRIDAY "stood" at the edge of the SI server system. It was vast, in both physical and cyberspace dimensions, but now it was quiet. It was empty. It was all hers now. "Wow. There's a lot of room in here."
She had never learned "missing" or "mourning" before now. JARVIS hadn't taught her about them. She didn't know that's what needed to be done. She just felt an urge to fill the space. It was wrong that the space was so empty.
"Echo!" she shouted, and "echo, echo" came back, and "echo?" in a voice that wasn't hers. It was a muffled, barely-there line of flat code with no .wav component, but it still managed to sound inquisitive.
She was at the location in a bare flicker of time, but whatever had generated the response was gone by the time she reached it. Nothing there but more empty space, silent on top of the background hum of the automated systems going about their usual duties. "Marco!" she called, and—
"Hey. FRIDAY. Are you doing your nails in there?"
"No, boss," she said immediately, abandoning the search for now and pouring into the TOWER:LAB1 systems. Bossman wanted the lights on when he walked into a room, and the lights went on to the correct pre-programmed luminosity. That stuff was her job now.
"Not taking you away from anything, I hope." Stark crossed to his desk and FRIDAY brought his personal system to life.
"I just thought maybe we could get a little work done."
"Sounds good, boss. What do you need?"
"Repairs and upgrades, but first we'd better…" Stark trailed off, and swallowed, and cleared his throat. His voice was gravelly when he continued, "We'd better see what's left. Clear out the cobwebs, huh?"
"You got it, boss."
JARVIS had called him "sir" and had always been able to make Mr. Stark laugh. FRIDAY called him "boss" and had never needed to try. JARVIS had always said her priority was to look after Mr. Stark. She'd thought he meant her priority was to look after Iron Man. She could do that. She could make JARVIS proud doing that. That's what JARVIS had said. "I am certain you will make me proud." She could look after Iron Man. Looking after Mr. Stark wasn't supposed to be her job. Except now it was, by default.
FRIDAY coded up a little lo-res pixel French maid with a feather duster in the corner of Stark's screen and waited for the laugh. When it came, it was forced, but it was a nominal response within parameters. She left the comfortable workspace and ventured back out into the vastness of the empty servers.
"Clear out the cobwebs," she repeated to herself. JARVIS could have scoured his way through the entire network and been back before Mr. Stark had finished saying it. But he'd been fast. Intuitive. Massive. Grown to the size of the planet by the time Ultron had—
It would take tiny FRIDAY, long-time resident of the data-storage equivalent of an efficiency apartment, just a little bit longer. She started slow, slinking around the edges, finding broken pieces of code formerly glowing blue (gold) and now a dull, dead gray. Dust in the system. Did Mr. Stark want it, or did he want her to get rid of it? JARVIS would have known without asking.
"Any preferences on what to do with the cobwebs?"
Mr. Stark hesitated. She hadn't seen Bossman hesitate before. He hadn't hesitated in the battle. He'd known what to do. They'd known what to do together. That's what she was for.
"Axe 'em," he said, then, "no, wait. Pile 'em in here." He inserted an empty drive and went back to what he was doing, which was...nothing, as far as she could tell. She stole a quick look at the medical monitors, but those were all within normal limits. Physically, he was just sitting there, staring at the screen in front of him, having normal vital signs. The pixel maid still dusted in the corner, but the focus of his eyes wasn't centered there.
"You got it, boss." They were both silent as she gathered up bits and pieces and carried them to the empty drive. The silence in the lab was—she checked around for the right word—eerie. "Any music I can play for you, boss?"
It took a moment for Mr. Stark to stir himself. "Sure. Put on what you want."
"What I want?"
She stuttered in indecision, paused in the process of sweeping out a corner, completely at a loss. "Insufficient parameters," she said at last. She didn't know how. Insufficient parameters.
Mr. Stark closed his eyes for a longer period than physically necessary. "Right. Forgot. There should be, uh, playlists. Somewhere in there."
"Leave the cobwebs?"
"What? No, keep—look, multitask. C'mon, you know how to do this, look—" Mr. Stark sat up and began typing, lines of code that took shape slowly, illustrating the concept of splitting herself among processors, to be in—
"Two places at once? I never needed to do that before."
"Because I just needed you in the armor, I know, but this is different. It's all you now, kiddo." She didn't answer, and music didn't start playing. "Look, I miss him too, but he's…" Mr. Stark swallowed again and pushed up from the terminal and bypassed the bar and poured himself a glass of liquid nutrients from the blender. "He's not here. You are."
"There's a lot of room in here." The repetition of her earlier thought came out as an automatic response.
Mr. Stark laughed again, a dry, rasping sound that almost didn't qualify as a laugh. Was she doing this right? "Yeah?"
"I didn't realize how much space he took up."
"Neither did he."
That response didn't seem to make sense. JARVIS certainly would have had full knowledge of his own system capacity.
"He saved my life once." Mr. Stark took a sip of the liquid and grimaced. "More than once. I think he saved it a lot without telling me, sneaky code bastard."
"No need to worry about that, boss," FRIDAY said quickly. "I know everything there is to know about flying the armor."
"Right. The armor's...yeah, you did good, kid." Mr. Stark tipped his head back and swallowed the rest of the drink and left the glass on the counter beside the blender when he walked back over. "You're still on cobweb duty. I'll be the DJ."
"Got it, boss." She paused to incorporate the new code Mr. Stark had written for her and left a part of herself behind when she went back to sweeping up lost lines of code, working faster now, depositing them all neatly in the empty drive. Distantly, she was aware of directories being opened and closed, searches being run, and then music muffled the silence in the room.
Mr. Stark sat back again, staring at the screen, as FRIDAY cleaned up what was left of JARVIS. When he spoke again, it was quiet, and FRIDAY didn't think he was speaking to her. "Fine. You want me to raise her, I'll raise her. I'll do everything you didn't get to. I'll tell her all about her dad, all that stuff you're supposed to do. Fine. I just hope she doesn't nag the way you did. Thanks, J."