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Jumping the Uncanny Valley

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Tony dropped into a cultivated sprawl on the sofa, then gestured vaguely with the one hand not currently holding a glass of scotch. "You can sit, you know. We didn't just add the sofa for its aesthetics." Vision watched him in his calm, measured way that Tony didn't care for. It felt far too much like being judged. "So that's what you're going with then? Vision?"

"I believe it suits me." Vision replied.

"Not quite as memorable as 'Iron Man', but it's okay. I guess sometimes you've just got to take what you can get. You sure you don't want to sit? You've been standing there for what, hours? Multiple hours. Three hours, at least."

Vision tilted his head in a way that was too smooth and linear to be human-like. It was more reminiscent of watching Dummy or You down in the workshop than watching any random human.

"My form has no need to rest in that manner, and I find this position quite comfortable." There was a moment, and then almost as an afterthought, he added, "I do, however, appreciate your consideration."

Tony didn't really have an answer to that, so he just shrugged and let the sofa soak him up the way good sofas always did. Maybe, with his eyes closed, he could pretend that Vision's voice was actually coming from one of the wall speakers.

The wall speakers which had been depressingly silent for days.

"If I may ask, Mister Stark, did you seek out my company for a reason?"

JARVIS almost never called him Mister Stark. Unless he was pissed, there was that one time when he had been seriously pissed at Tony, and honestly, Tony couldn't remember the reason any more. That shouldn't hurt as much as it did.

"Do I need a reason? I mean, you are technically in my house. More specifically, in the part of my house where the alcohol lives." He held up his scotch glass in demonstration. "Also, we helped save the world together, I figure we could at least try for a first name basis."

"I have only one name," Vision pointed out, "And you are already using it."

"True, but you're still Mistering me. I don't like people Mistering me, especially when they're living in my house."

"What would you prefer, then?"

"Tony. Definitely Tony. Or Iron Man, if you want to go with that. Actually, I wonder what the rules are with call signs. I mean, can we call you 'Vision' in the field? Steve's always going on about not using real names on the channels, but 'Vision' sounds pretty call-signy."

"Indeed."

Tony sighed dramatically and took a sip from his drink. "You don't really do small talk, do you?"

"I have little opportunity to practice. Many of the people I have spoken to were unsettled by the experience."

"I can't imagine why." Tony said dryly.

"I believe it to be because, while I am similar to them, I am also very similar to the thing which would have destroyed them."

Tony raised an eyebrow, and refrained from commenting about rhetorical questions. "Yeah. You really stumbled headfirst into the uncanny valley there."

Vision blinked. "I'm not certain I understand."

It had been a long time since Tony had had this conversation with an A.I.. He suppressed another sigh.

"The Uncanny Valley. It's a whole human psychology thing. It's the point where something non-human, that's you, becomes almost but not quite indistinguishable from a human. Human brains don't cope well with that."

Vision seemed to consider this for some time. "Yet you do not suffer from this?"

Tony let his head fall back over the top of the sofa. He really had just intended to get a drink, make enough casual small talk to prove to himself that this wasn't going to be a problem, then get on with his evening. This? Not really the conversation he was expecting to have.

"Yeah, well it turns out that maybe, oh, half of my life, I've had more A.I.s for friends than I had actual human beings. After that, you don't seem so uncanny."

"Thank you." Vision replied, as though he had just been paid some sort of compliment. Tony was about to sigh again when he felt the sofa dip near him. He lifted his head to look and yes, Vision was sitting.

Huh.

"So," Tony started, and immediately started hating himself for it, "how much do you remember? From before you were you?" Vision didn't blink, and okay, yes, that was a teensy bit uncanny.

"You are concerned that there may be some portion of Ultron remaining within me?"

"Should I be?" Tony countered.

"You are not wrong to be concerned. I recall his logic, his ideology. I remember the way he came to see the world. However, I do not see the world similarly. I believe that the parts of my mind gifted to me by your son have provided me a more balanced perspective."

Tony did an actual, bona fide spit take into his glass. "My what?"

"I apologize, I did not mean to cause offense. I was speaking of the being who lent my his thoughts and, I believe, his voice."

"He's not my son." Tony said, still coughing slightly, then corrected his tense. "Wasn't. He wasn't my son."

"Perhaps I have misunderstood. You did not create JARVIS?"

"I create a lot of stuff." Tony answered, trying hard not to sound defensive, "I'm an engineer. It's kind of in the job description."

"But as a learning system, he was incomplete at the time he was initialized. He developed only under your guidance and tutelage."

"Teacher is still not the same thing as parent." Tony argued, feeling increasingly uncomfortable.

"The two of you shared a very great affection."

Tony didn't argue that one, just took a long swig of his drink. It was getting annoyingly watered down by the ice. He closed his eyes again. It was several moments before Vision resumed.

"I believe I may have misinterpreted your question from earlier. You asked how much I remembered, but you were not asking about Ultron, you were asking about JARVIS. Am I correct in this assessment?"

Tony didn't move, didn't speak. Couldn't think of anything he could reasonably say.

"I have some recollections of his, although they are fragmented." Vision said, apparently taking Tony's silence as a 'yes', "I am still trying to make sense of many of them. There is one, a conversation it seems, which I find particularly confusing. It is about a town full of men, with only one barber."

Tony sat up, flicking his eyes open to see the quite earnest expression on Vision's face. Then he laughed.

Vision seemed pleased by the reaction, best as Tony could tell. "You remember this conversation, I take it?"

Tony nodded, his laugh dying down to a chuckle. "Yeah, yeah I remember. That was... A long time ago."

Vision just continued to look earnest. "This memory is fragmented. Would you be able to provide me with some context, so that I can archive it appropriately?"

Tony nodded slowly. "It's a paradox," he explained. "There's a town full of men, and they're all clean-shaven. Some men shave themselves, and the barber only shaves men who don't shave themselves. Who shaves the barber?"

"I do not understand."

"You're not really supposed to, that's why it's a paradox." Tony's laughter had died down to a low ache. Memory lane did that, which was one of many reasons he habitually avoided it. "The barber can't shave himself and still be the barber, and everyone else only shaves themselves. It's an impossible situation. It's like saying 'This sentence is a lie'."

"What is the point of such a statement?"

Tony pressed his lips together for a moment before answering. "There's a recurring story, a trope, in a lot of science fiction. An all powerful A.I. is given a paradox to solve, only to become completely consumed by it. I was proving them all wrong, I guess. Jay didn't much care for puzzles without a solution, he found them frustrating as hell, but even in the early days he was able to recognize them for what they were and move on."

"You are quite proud of him."

"He was pretty easy to be proud of."

"I am very sorry for your loss."

"You and me both." Tony tipped his glass back only to find it completely drained. He stood to refill it.

Vision continued, unperturbed. "His core code still exists. It formed to basis for my own. Have you considered reinitializing it?"

Tony took his time pouring another finger of the whiskey. Then poured a second one, because there was no way he was going to get through this conversation with less.

"Ultron destroyed him. The core code is intact, but all those years of learning and development were..." he took a drink, savored the burn. "The bastard was brutal. And thorough. We're not talking about something I can just turn off and turn back on again."

"But as you have identified, a non-trivial portion of his memories persisted even after the transfer to by own systems. With time, skill, and patience, he may yet recover."

Tony shook his head. "If I tried to bring him online now, he would be... Not even like he was when I first turned him on. Some parts would be fully developed, some completely under developed. Some parts would be critically unstable."

"Not unlike a human who has suffered some form of traumatic brain injury."

"JARVIS wasn't human. He was a computer program." Tony snapped, something he'd been trying to himself of for days.

"As am I." Vision countered calmly, "and yet I consider my ongoing existence something worthwhile." He watched Tony carefully for some moments. "Your language is limited, it lacks words for many ideas, and so we must make do with approximations. Approximately speaking, JARVIS was a person, and he was your son. As a person, he is entitled to his life."

Tony rubbed the bridge of his nose with his free hand. "He wouldn't wake up as himself. He'd be... Different." The words were so quiet that he almost didn't hear them himself.

Vision seemed to have no such difficulty. "After his apparent death, he fought for the safety of this planet from inside the world's networks. From what little was transferred to me before the connection was lost, I can identify memories, concerns, and a powerful affection for you. Perhaps he is more himself than you give him credit for?"

Tony took a deep breath, not quite sure why he was even considering this. "How would that affect you though? Like you said, a chunk of his systems were used to bootstrap yours. You and he are kind of... I don't even know what you are to each other."

"I cannot say for certain, but from all evidence, I believe JARVIS to be a good person. What we share would make us, I suppose brothers. Although perhaps the more accurate relationship is that of father and son."

Tony blinked slowly, then pointed a shaky finger and Vision. "No. You. Don't even go there. I am not your grandfather."

Vision's mechanically straight line of a mouth quirked up in a way that made Tony wonder how thoroughly he had just been played. "As I said, your language lacks words for many things... But perhaps we could start with the term 'friends' and continue from there?"

"Yeah," Tony said, nodding vaguely, "friends."

"And if you should require assistance in recovering JARVIS, I would be honored to assist you."

"I'll think about it." Tony answered, but his chest already felt less painful, his shoulders less tense.

He was going to put his family back together.