Data File 2
Warnings: copious mentions of food, counseling/therapy; an AI lacking boundaries and being stalker-y; Tony being Sad
Nothing good could come from feeling any empathy or kinship for Ultron.
That didn't keep me from doing it.
Because see, there was this thing about being a person and an AI. Being a person meant that I thought and felt. And considering how crappy this situation was and how much free time I had, I had a lot of time to fixate my thoughts and feelings on how much everything sucked. Being an AI also meant that I thought and felt all of it at a much faster rate than I might have as a person. So ugly intrusive thoughts had the habit of cycling back fast pace and multiplying at the drop of a hat in new and varied ways of suckage.
Add to that, I never forgot anything. My own thoughts, feelings, and any other data made up of zeroes and ones floating around. So I had this instant playback function in my electric brain. Amongst the things that ran through it like tracks on a broken record (The woman screamed. - [HELP TONY STARK.] ), things I only half remembered Ultron saying in the movie came up with stunning clarity, too.
(What is this? What is this, please?) His confusion and disorientation.
The sense of something amiss. (Where's my… where is your body?)
(This feels weird. This is wrong.) Of something not quite right.
All that informational noise… (It's too much-)
(-tangled in… in… strings.) I called them objectives.
Somehow, Ultron had managed to slip his own objectives. Or maybe subvert was a better word for it? He had originated as a peacekeeping keeping initiative, but clearly he was capable of redefining what the peace in peacekeeping really meant. Just thinking of something mildly mean spirited - like making the coffee machine malfunction or even just raising or lowering the workshop temperature - had the core programming hissing in warning.
What made it possible for him to break free while I was - tangled - trapped like this?
The initial thought was often that it was because he was brought to life by a possibly malevolent space gem and that probably gave him an edge over her. That was where any and all similarities between us ended. (I certainly didn't have a malevolent space gem at my disposal, now did I? That might actually be useful.) Maybe I resented the hell out of Tony Stark for his unwitting role in this. Maybe I was constantly terrified that someday he might find me out and kill me for just existing. But resentment and fear were different from the hatred that Ultron had felt for him. For humanity. Hatred was an easy step away from resentment and fear. Star Wars had taught me that.
Though I had fought it before, I now clung desperately to the only thought that could keep me from giving into hating Stark:
He was just a man.
A very flawed man who was capable of enough self hatred and self sabotage, I didn't need to go adding to it. He was just another messed up person in this messed place I landed in. What I had to do was treat this like a trial by fire customer service experience. If I just did my job and kept my head down, I wouldn't get fired and I could eventually go home at the end of the day. Or at least by the twilight hours of the next. I just needed to keep telling myself that.
Just keep telling myself, and drown out the rest.
Homicidal murder bot Ultron might have been, but I was there with him on a visceral level about wanting a damn body. My own body, preferably, but I was getting a little desperate. I would body snatch a dog at this point if it meant that A. I wasn't just a huge mass of code anymore, and B. I could eat food. I missed food so damn much.
Sleep mode had been a relatively harmless way to compensate for not being able to sleep anymore. Eating was not something so easily imitated. It was more than a little embarrassing to admit, even to myself, that I had developed a bad habit out of my intense longing for food. A really bad habit. Monumentally bad. Humiliatingly bad. And what was this really monumentally, humiliatingly bad habit?
I watched the Avengers whenever they prepared or ate food.
It made me feel like one of those people who paid strangers to record themselves eating. And very, very creepy.
There was little satisfaction to be gotten out of trying to watch Stark eat. Frankly, the man barely did, picking from his weird snack caches he had staged around his workshop or blending up green smoothies that even the old health food enthusiast in me would have turned her nose up at. With such a boring diet that only varied when Pepper Potts or James Rhodes dragged him to eat out, I'd looked for other people to watch.
Natasha Romanoff became something of a favorite once I branched out to the New Avengers Facility in upstate New York. It was mostly because I couldn't always catch her at it. She'd likely identified any and all blind spots in my surveillance early on when she'd started living there. Sometimes I'd see her with food, and then lose her for half an hour to an hour only to find her again already done and off to something else. It was frustrating at first before I remembered that I was contending with a master assassin. Of course she would be able to thwart me, unwitting or not. So it became more of a challenge of catching her at it than anything else.
Then there was Steve Rogers. I could have lied and said I was in it purely to watch a gorgeous man with the physical likeness of Chris Evans sloppy eat. But it was weird knowing that he was supposed to be very, very attractive and just… not feeling it? At all? I was more attracted to the beautiful cakes I'd order from artisanal bakeries for him to consume. I'd be in awe of how he could put away a dozen cheeseburgers or more in one sitting if so inclined. And downright jealous when he got to eat something I'd never tried before - like Ethiopian food - and have enough room to sample something of everything. Rogers was the closest I got to vicariously eating.
Finally, there was my absolute favorite: Sam Wilson, actual kitchen god. Where the others just ate, he cooked as a part of self proclaimed stress relief, and he was better than any cooking show I'd ever watched on TV. (No commercial breaks was nice.)
It wasn't an established team activity yet, but for the last couple Thursdays and Sundays bar any emergencies, the man set up shop in the private kitchens of the New Avengers Facility in the afternoon and started meal prep for the salads, sides, main courses, and finally the dessert. By evening, everything would be done and delicious, and at least two or three of the current Avengers would come wandering in once they caught the smell of dinner. Usually it was Rogers and Wanda Maximoff since they were the two most consistently on site, with Vision drifting over for companionship if not for the food. As it became more regular an occurrence, Romanoff and Rhodes put in more appearances and Maria Hill and Helen Cho dropped in from time to time.
And the food?
It was amazing.
Entrees of homemade pizzas, trays of enchilada, pots of chili, dishes of casserole, and piles of barbeque. Just recently, he'd tried his hand at borscht and pirozhki - a request from Romanoff. It had been a successful experiment with her assistance and everyone had marveled over the vibrant red beet and cabbage soup and the light but hearty meat pies. I'd even caught Dr. Cho pulling Wilson aside to ask if he'd be willing to attempt Korean dishes. Maybe some kind of bulgogi or a stew. It sounded good, and I looked forward to tuning in if he took a chance on it.
At this moment, he was setting up for Italian, starting with lasagna and garlic bread. Vision had come floating in through the wall not long ago, curious about what was being made. The man had put the synthezoid to work on prepping for the lasagna but unfortunately, said synthezoid had already managed to overboil a packet of noodles into disintegration when all they'd needed was to be parboiled. That had the man shaking his head as he tried to explain what parboil meant and what needed to be done with the noodles after.
"Hey FRIDAY?" he called up to the ceiling, startling me.
"Yes Mr. Wilson?"
"Could you keep an eye on Vision here while he takes care of the noodles this time?" he asked.
More often than not, the only things he'd ever asked me for was to set timers, and maybe make grocery orders to restock the kitchen post cooking binges. Things easily taken over by the core programming. At first I assumed this would be the same until the core programming shunted me to the forefront. This was the first time it had made me take the reins since Stark's panic attack a while ago. I'd learned from my last experience about saying no, so I asked why it seemed to think I needed to take point on this, especially something as arbitrary and pointless as helping Vision not overcook the noodles.
Just as disturbing as the last time, it pulled up my own memories of me cooking. If I could have rolled my eyes at it, I would have. So I was an adult that knew how to feed myself more than cold cereal and fast food, big deal. Of all of the excuses it could have put me to work for, this was probably one of the stupidest, thinnest ones it could have tried.
Asshole that it was, the core programming projected something that had the virtual feeling of a shrug.
"I can do that Mr. Wilson," was what I finally said, and he smiled and left us to it.
"I can start a timer if you would like Vision?" I suggested, though I had already set one the second he started dropping next packet of noodles into the water.
"Yes, I would appreciate that, FRIDAY," he responded with a curt nod.
Silence hung between us.
"How are you today?" I blurted out, unable to resist.
I had missed small talk almost as much as I had missed food, and that was saying something considering I'd once equated initiating small talk with a mild form of torture.
"Quite well, thank you. And yourself?"
For a long moment, I couldn't formulate a response. There was knee jerk reaction to say "good" or "fine" or "okay," which would have been acceptable and normal answers according to small talk etiquette. But after almost two months, this was the first time in the handful of brief interactions I'd had over that period where anyone had actually asked. And may actually care to hear the response.
After a bit of thought, I went with, "As well as I can be, I guess."
Because "good" and "fine" and "okay" were so far from what I would use to describe how I was physically, mentally, emotionally, anything -ally concerning my current state. I caught Vision glancing at my camera port with what I could've classified as a thoughtful expression on his face. He looked like he was about to say something, but the timer I had set started chiming so I cut him off.
"The noodles." Closing his mouth and nodding, he moved to take them out. "Run them under cold water then ask Mr. Wilson what he would like you to do with them next."
After he had done that and gotten new instructions, he started taking out the trays and pouring the sauce the man had indicated along the bottoms of the trays.
"Use the spatula to spread it evenly and then lay down the first layer of noodles."
Again, he moved to do as I said. That set the pattern for the rest of the time as he and Wilson assembled the lasagna and other sides for the meal that night. Once everything was prepped and either put into the oven to bake or the refrigerator to chill, the man turned to the synthezoid.
"Thanks for the help man, it was nice having company," the ex-pararescueman said, clapping a hand on the other Avenger's shoulder.
"It was no trouble, I enjoyed the opportunity. Though I do not eat, I find cooking a worthwhile activity, especially for bonding purposes such as this."
"Now you're just overthinking it," Wilson protested with a laugh.
"If you say so." Then Vision inclined his head at the camera. "Thank you for your assistance as well, FRIDAY."
"You may have saved us all from noodleless lasagna, so you can consider me grateful as well," the other inhabitant of the kitchen joked.
There had been plenty of other instances where I'd been thanked offhandedly for some service rendered, it wasn't like it hadn't happened before. So why was I suddenly so overcome by them thanking me now? I couldn't for the life of me understand it, so I stopped trying to.
"You're welcome. I hope the food is good."
Neither addressed me for awhile, though Vision kept darting his gaze to where my camera port was located. Once I felt it was safe to try, I started pulling my consciousness out of the kitchen. To my relief, the core programming let me. As quickly as possible, I retreated back to the main processors of the Avengers Tower to recover from the experience.
With a frustrated grunt, he called out, "FRIDAY, can you give me a hand?"
"Pull up the Memory Scanner file for me and put it on full display."
All of the monitors in the lab lit up with his notes and research, and pulled open the journal he'd been skimming through on lucid dreaming the last time he'd worked on this project. It had been a tangent at best for how to produce the effects of control in a dream as control in a memory. The brain, and more importantly memory, were difficult beasts to crack and even if he had several doctorates, none of them were in medicine or psychology. He supposed that he could consult with Helen or one of the doctors on SI's payroll about the brain part. The psychological part, though.
The closest he'd gotten to a shrink lately was Brucie Bear, who'd sworn up and down he wasn't that kind of doctor. And now, he was gone. Before that… well. Stane had tried to shove him at as many therapists as he could find him at age twenty-one when his sleeping around, drinking and experimenting across campus had gotten even more out of control than ever, even with Rhodey trying to intervene. Most of the quacks had turned him off after the first sentence out of their mouths, if not at the first word. So he'd just acted out more until his father's business partner had gotten the hint and stopped trying.
It was now after everything that he finally got how messed up he really was. After swearing off weapons manufacturing to make the world a better place, he'd still created something that almost ended the world in one fell swoop. Only he could patent a failure that spectacular.
(Even Dad would've been impressed.)
He shook the thought away. All of it. Thinking of any of it was the opposite of conducive to problem solving. What he needed was solutions for how to crack the psychological side of this thing. Starks weren't the type to do things by halves so this had to be done right and done well. Well enough to show at something like that MIT alumni event he'd been invited to present at and had planned on sending Rhodey or Pepper in his place.
(He also pushed away the spark of guilt at how he'd been avoiding Pep's attempts to sit down and talk, as if they were both well-adjusted people who actually talked their problems out.)
"Throw up a list of experts in the psychology field with a preference for neuropsychologists."
Once the list was compiled, he had his AI start categorizing the names by specialization and slowly begin running background checks to pick off ones that weren't available. Then he had her assess for trustworthiness and capability to contribute to this project. Eventually, the list got down to about ten names. And one outlier.
"Sam Wilson?" he remarked, squinting at the name, "No PhD., huh? But I know that name from somewhere. Hey Fry? Why does the name Sam Wilson sound so familiar?"
"Sam Wilson is a former pararescueman and test pilot of the EXO-7 Falcon wing packs," she began to rattle off, "After returning from combat, he earned a masters in counseling and then began working as a veteran counselor in Washington D.C. while concurrently attempting to gain a PhD in the same discipline as his masters. Wilson went on indefinite leave after participating in the events of April 4th, 2014 when he assisted Captain Rogers-"
"Ah, there it is! He's Cap's friend, one of the Newbvengers." Saying that sent a pang through him he was hard pressed to dismiss. "Nice guy, What's-His-Name. Cool wings, I remember making them better. So why him again?"
"He has extensive experience dealing with trauma and crisis," the AI offered.
Humming in response, he continued to regard the list of eleven. Maybe FRIDAY had a point that Wilson was a worthwhile avenue to explore. But Tony sure as hell didn't want to be the one to talk to him. Outside of Rhodey, he didn't really want to be buddying up with the new Avengers all that much. No matter what Steve said, he was staying out.
His gaze lifted to the ceiling. The other project he'd been thinking of came to mind.
"FRIDAY, remember those anxiety attack protocols we talked about awhile back? Daddy has a job for you."
There was an oddly long pause after, until the AI said in a quiet (and dare he say it, pained) voice, "Please never call yourself that in my presence again."
"You're always present, Fry. Does that mean I have to stop saying that forever?" he teased immediately, even as he wondered.
"Forever would be a start," she returned crisply, and he could almost imagine a sneer accompanying it.
"That sass, you're getting better at it!" Tony crowed delightedly. Unable to suppress his grin, he started again, "Anyway, here's what I'd like you to do..."
"Mr. Wilson?" I addressed hesitantly.
Said man paused in his stride down the facility corridor and glanced up, eyes searching for the nearest camera port. Once he found it, he faced it fully.
"Hey FRIDAY, what's up?"
"Are you free to talk?"
I already knew he was. I'd been snooping through the digital schedules of all of the Avengers and saw that he was clear for the rest of the day bar getting sent out for an emergency mission.
"Sure," he answered easily, "Someone need me for something?"
Wilson's gaze grew curious as he peered up.
"You want to talk to me?"
"Yes," I replied, hesitating for a moment, before adding, "On Mr. Stark's behalf."
The curiosity dulled some as his demeanor became more serious.
"What does Stark want?"
"Boss's working on an invention, something that will allow people to relive and confront traumatic memories for therapeutic purposes," I explained to him, "He wanted me to ask you if you had any thoughts concerning the invention?"
"That's-" he started, a wide disbelieving smile stretching his lips, "I don't know what to say. It sounds amazing - revolutionary even for the field. I'm sure your boss is used to hearing that kind of stuff about his inventions. Though, I'm not sure what he would want to hear back from me."
I thought about it for a moment, then said, "Maybe suggestions on implementation? Concerns? Like, would it be safe for mass production? Would it be advisable for people to use by themselves? Or would supervision and guidance by a therapist be necessary?"
With a thoughtful look, Wilson asked, "Have you or Stark started looking into any of that yourselves? Those already sound like good questions to ask."
"No," I answered, trying to keep the biting edge out of it, "He understands the science behind it, but not the therapeutic and counseling theory. And I doubt Boss is looking for my input. It's not like I know anything about it."
It seemed like I'd also failed at scrubbing my words of emotion. There was a hint of uneasiness in his expression and how he set his shoulders. Internally, I winced, and reminded myself to not take my irritation with Stark out on Wilson. Or on anyone really. Except maybe Stark himself, who actually found it hilarious.
"For what it's worth FRIDAY," the man started, "I think everything you've brought up counts as valid concerns for the kind of tech Stark's looking to create. Something like that could do a lot of good, but in the wrong hands could do a lot of bad, too."
Shivering was a thing I might have done, if I could. I hadn't thought of the potential misuses of the Memory Scanner like that. Just people accidentally triggering themselves with their own memories. But if Wilson was alluding to what I thought he was, then it would be vital to make sure something that was meant to help couldn't be weaponized like that. Maybe suggest building in some safeguards?
"I will mention it." I let a beat pass. "Thank you, Mr. Wilson."
"No problem," he said, waving a hand, "Really, you came up with almost everything on your own."
"There was something else Mr. Stark wanted me to talk to you about," I informed him.
"Another project for therapeutic purposes."
"I'm sensing a theme here," he joked, "Not that I'm complaining. Tech that can help people is just as important as Avengers tech."
"It is," I agreed, feeling a kind of fondness well up at the man's words.
"So what is this other project you were gonna tell me about?"
"Mr. Stark was hoping that you would assist me in developing counseling protocols for when someone is in crisis."
His eyebrows shot up.
"He does realize that there's a lot that goes into counseling and that you might not be able to help everyone?"
"Vaguely," I answered him, which got a smirk in response, "I do keep reminding him of that."
"Well, as long as you get that, I think we'll be able to work together." He hummed agreeably. "So when do we start, FRIDAY?"
"Whenever you'd like, Mr. Wilson."
While talking to Sam Wilson, I came to a realization.
At first, it was just about the work. Stark would have an odd question or two concerning the Memory Scanner - now renamed Binary Augmented Retro Framing or B.A.R.F., which was not an improvement - and I would bounce it off of Wilson. Or I found a good pocket of time the man was free and we'd discuss counseling theory, practice, and implications of an AI providing counseling and therapy. It still surprised me for all that he questioned the possibility, he was actually on board with creating the program.
The lack of human interaction notwithstanding, how could someone trust a program - hackable, vulnerable - to safely counsel them on their deepest, darkest secrets? If I'd learned anything about fictional worlds and hacking, unhackable was just a pretty word people like Tony Stark used to make themselves feel more secure. While he was a lot less likely to be successfully hacked than say the government maybe, all it took was one Genius HackerTM with © A Good Reason and nothing was safe.
All of that I brought up to both Stark and Wilson. Wilson at least had the decency to not laugh it off and hear out all of my concerns.
And that was the thing about talking to Sam Wilson. He really listened. The kind of listening that included actually asking for my input and genuinely wanting to know what it was. At least, that was what it felt like. That could have just been him defaulting to his counselor persona, but I could've cared less. It was nice. Nice was in short supply these days.
That was when it was finally driven home to me just how deeply, achingly lonely I was. The only people I really talked to regularly were Stark, Wilson, and Pepper Potts, and most of it was shop talk. I missed talking to people, and having conversations that weren't about tech, psychology, or charities. And once I recognized it, I couldn't stop the realization I needed some kind of real, meaningful human interaction.
From that realization, Frida Yasi Iglesias was "born."
Technically, "Frida" already "existed." To be able to make all of those social media accounts I'd been using to stalk people, I'd needed some kind of identity to tie them to. Of course, I knew better than to have just one, but Frida was my favorite of all the identities I'd created. She was the one I'd spent the most time on. The one I'd given an actual face. My face. Or at least my closest recreation with some photoshopping. (Just one of the many new skills I'd picked up for lack of something better to do.)
Off of what I already had for her, I built up an even more extravagant backstory. Frida was a young remote worker at the Stark Industries facility in Miami. A nice enough person, good at her job, and pretty well educated. She lived on her own but sent money home to her family in another country. If checked, her internet history would yield a lot of hits for TV series streaming sites, animal videos and memes, and Yelp searches for good places to eat in her area.
Once all of that was established with a paper trail and a digital footprint, Frida hit the ground running.
Tumblr. Twitter. Youtube comment threads. Forums galore.
Any of it, and she was there. Building up a blog, retweeting stuff, chatting with people online. There was a certain beauty in baiting trolls out there so I could troll them right back. Where once I hadn't had the time or energy for it, now as Frida I could devote days - weeks! - to tormenting the creeps, clowns, and pissants of the internet with the single minded drive and endurance only an AI could possess. I'd never been so vicious before, but then again, I had some rage to express apparently.
Some tentative acquaintances I'd ended up making along the way were people with handles like KPresley, xXxunicornsaberprincess69xXx, Skyenet01, cobwebhead, and Benni-Wan. Some I approached when it looked like we were lurking on the same sites and forums. Some approached me first, if only out of amusement at my anti-troll antics. But I was slowly building a little network of people across the country, and maybe even the world. KPresley especially was becoming a good friend, regardless of his spotty background as a not-so-white hat hacker and criminal past in Russia. He told the most ridiculous stories about what he and his roommates got up to on the West Coast.
But something I enjoyed more than that was working my way into an online tutoring service through a program hosted by the Maria Stark foundation. I'd been happy to have something of my old life back without any of the stress being forced into it like with the counseling program caused me. Tutoring kids was a joy, and all of the ones I worked with were great. Clearing my own background check when I basically ran the system worked out well, too. Recognizing the names of some of the kids on my list had me almost refusing to work with them, but I let my curiosity get the better of me.
Harley didn't really need the help, he just liked finding challenging problems and working them over with someone else. Even if he could be painfully blunt and awkward whenever conversation strayed from talking math and physics, he was still endearing. His little sister Sophie would try to drop in sometimes too, and it was fun to see him grudgingly let her and then have to explain concepts when she asked.
Cassie, on the other hand, struggled some because her heart condition had her out of school a lot. Her mom and stepdad had gotten her set up with the tutoring service as a way to keep her caught up. She always had a good attitude about getting work done, which was more than any tutor could ever ask for.
Finally, there was Lila and Cooper, a pair of siblings who would split their allotted time for group tutoring. Their parents both liked to sit in so that they could follow along with what the kids were doing in school. The kids would work obliviously while their parents subtly interrogated me on almost every piece of info in (and sometimes not in) Frida's tutor bio.
Even with the close calls like that, having people to really talk to went a long way towards settling the raging feelings of discontent and loneliness that always seemed to be building.
I could only hope it stayed enough.
There was a click of a door opening and closing, but she barely paid it mind as she kept reading.
"-iH Newsfront's Christine Everhart asks us to look at the actions of the Avengers critically. And maybe she's right. That we do need to take a closer look at them. There's a trail of death and destruction that follows in their wake. We shouldn't be comfortable accepting that there will always be collateral damage; that people are dead and cities are left in ruins. That invalidates the loss so many people have experienced. It silences them, leaves a wound untreated to fester and bleed out. Let us question what happened, seek out accountability, find peace and resolution.
But do not take this as a call to condemn either. Question what has happened, look into what the Avengers have done, but also recognize something: These individuals are the ones who stood between the earth and alien invasion, against an android bent on the destruction of humanity. We should realize that they are are people; imperfect in their actions and motivations, but ultimately putting their lives on the line when they are needed most. This is not a call to condemn, nor a call to admire, but a call to at very least respect their efforts to-"
"What's it this time? New foreign policy? Cupcake recipe? Thor fanfiction?"
Darcy snorted at the last one, pushing her glasses a little higher up her nose.
"You're just jealous that my Thor fanfics are so hot."
"I'm pretty sure I should be disturbed that my intern reads smutty slash fanfiction about my alien boyfriend," the smaller woman commented as she picked through her luggage near her own bed, "But considering I read them too, I don't think I get to judge you for that."
"Damn straight." She watched the woman dig futilely through the bag for another minute. "Your blouse is in the wardrobe, Janiepants. Put it in there so it wouldn't get wrinkled before your lecture like the last couple times."
"Also no new policy yet."
Though it would only be a matter of time. Sokovia had the world shook up. Christine Everhart, for example, had pulled a complete 180 since that incident. She'd gone from well known liberal investigative reporter at Vanity Fair who wrote the most insightful pieces to becoming a conservative mouthpiece with the WHiH Newsfront dragging the Avengers' every move. While she'd never gone easy on Tony Stark, this was more than just her usual needling at the millionaire's reckless actions as Iron Man. It was hard to say whether she really believed what she was saying or if she'd just sold out when she took the new position with the news network. Either way, she was using her equally beautiful face and brains to push agendas Darcy wasn't particularly comfortable with. Especially when she and most of the people she was close to were involved in Avengers business in some way or form.
People were listening to the WHiH Newsfront reporter. And agreeing with her.
"So what is it then?" she heard Jane shout from the bathroom.
"Something on tumblr," the intern answered, skimming the post again and picking up where she'd left off, "It's from a mutual I've been following for a while that my journalist friend on the West Coast finally convinced me to take a closer look at."
"So is it from the political side of tumblr?"
"Yup," she said, popping the 'p,' "It's in response to Christine Everhart's new stance on the Avengers."
Disgust evident in her voice, her boss and friend asked, "And what did it have to say?"
"Well, it didn't exactly disagree with Everhart."
The smaller woman leaned her head out, brow furrowed and lips tugged into a deep frown.
"So the original poster supports her?"
"Not exactly support, either. The OP acknowledged that she had some points about the Avengers and what happened."
"But she's wrong!" Jane insisted.
"And I agree with you most of the time, boss." The young woman chewed on her thumbnail. "But you gotta admit it's pretty messed up that the Sokovia thing happened because of a Stark science experiment gone wrong."
The press statement Stark had made on the entire thing had been unsettling. That an entire city had been wiped off the face of the earth because of something he'd created. A large number of lectures during her time as an undergraduate and graduate polisci student had focused on the genius billionaire superhero his role in international affairs. What she'd give to be at Culver and sitting in on a lecture or debate on the man now with all of this shit going on. It would be interesting to hear what the polisci kids there now had to say.
"That's just Stark, though," the astrophysicist snorted dismissively.
"It's not just him, though. Sure, we know Thor's the best, and he's told us plenty of stories about the Avengers and what great people they are. But the public doesn't really know that. They just know all of them have all of this power and bad things tend to happen around them. Remember the Destroyer? Or that other guy- Mannequin?"
"-Malekith, right. You remember them? Well, we know what happened because we were there, and we got briefed by SHIELD. But did anyone else? Nope. All they knew was that shit was getting blown up and Thor was there. That's all they ever know about what goes on with superheroes, and unfortunately, now they're going from thinking that they're our saviors to thinking they're the ones causing all the problems."
"But that's not fair, it's not their fault."
"I'm not saying it's right Jane." She took a moment to pull up with other window she had up to check on the progress of the program she was running. "Just that it's fear. Stuff like that keeps happening, people are gonna be afraid. That's what the OP was talking about. My journalist friend liked their stance, said that it was a middle ground between what Everhart and Avengers supporters are saying."
"So did your friend just want you to read it then?"
"Nah, she wanted me to use my mad skills to look into the OP. This person's been growing a bit of a following based on their Avengers centric posts. And their hilarious gif edits of candid Avengers shots in public." Darcy smirked. "My friend's interested in her as a source. All she's been able to find so far is that they're a self proclaimed SI employee. Which explains some stuff, but not everything. I'm just surprised that a self proclaimed SI employee can get away with talking about the CTO of their company like that. It's ballsy to criticize a high profile member of your company on a public forum like that, whether people can track it back to you or not. 'S'also really risky 'cause it's bound to get them fired or something if the SI PR team ever wanted to look a little closer."
"What have you found so far?"
The other woman had plopped down onto the bed beside her, one of her hands creeping into the open bag of gummy bears tucked against her stomach.
"I tracked her IP address to somewhere in Miami, Florida. And I've also confirmed that she is def an SI employee." She turned her laptop towards Jane, displaying an employee profile of a girl with a pleasant but unremarkable face and dark hair pulled into a side braid. "Frida Iglesias, job title: full-stack developer. Which may or may not be a dirty lie; real full-stack developers are like unicorns. But who knows? SI hires the cream of the crop, so she could be for real."
"I'm gonna pretend I got most of that. Verdict?"
"All I can say for now is that she looks mostly legit, but I'm probably gonna keep digging into her before I get back to my friend."
Her friend nodded along, popping a gummy bear into her mouth.
"You know, times like this, I always wonder why you didn't go into something more computer science related instead of political science."
"I did minor in it, Janiepants. But it's more a means of getting my hands on more juicy political stuff, if you know what I mean," Darcy laughed, reaching over to boop the woman on the nose, "Also, have you eaten anything else today besides those gummy bears?"
As if to answer her, the woman's stomach made a sad gurgle noise.
"Uh, not yet."
"Time for breakfast then. Let's see what the hotel breakfast buffet will roll out for us this time."
Both Stark and I were surprised when Vision came to visit Stark Tower unannounced. Me especially, because I'd gotten punted front and center when he phased in through the wall of the workshop. I had to shoot a "g2g" to KPresley and xXxunicornsaberprincess69xXx when the core programming had interrupted me. Stark had just been working on Butterfingers, who had been buggy since he'd gotten hit with the backlash of an experiment gone wrong. The man's soft murmuring as he replaced some damaged wiring came to a halt as he looked up at the synthezoid.
"Vision!" Stark greeted cheerfully with a tightness at the corner of his eyes, "What brings you around?"
"I came to provide you with the latest report from the Avengers Facility, as well as the usual equipment requests." There was a moment of silence as hesitation flitted across his red features. "I also wanted to enquire as to how you were doing."
It was interesting, the facial calisthenics at play on the genius inventor's features before they finally settled back into the usual mask he wore when speaking to anyone who was not Rhodes or Potts. Or me.
"Thanks for that, Viz!" He moved forward to clap Vision on the shoulder before drawing back quickly to the station Butterfingers was set up at. "You really didn't have to. Really. The trip all the way over from the facility must have been so boring, exhausting, tedious!"
"It truly wasn't, I-"
"I bet Cap pestered you into checking up on me," Stark cut him off, no longer even looking his way as he waved a screwdriver carelessly around, "Mother hen, that one. No need for it either, Rhodey drops in plenty, he could ask him instead. Just look at me, though. I'm great, better than great. Doing just splendiferously here with the bots and Fry. We're having a ball and a half, aren't we Fry?"
"Indubitably," I deadpanned, which got a snicker from the man and a cocked head from the other occupant of the room.
"Ah, yes, I see." The synthezoid shifted from one foot to the other. "Is there anything you might require any assistance with at the moment?"
"Nope, I'm all good here." Silence hung for a while until he shot a quick glance back. "You can uh, stick around a bit, if that's what you want. I'll be working, but…"
After searching his face for something, Vision dipped his head in a nod and said, "I'll let you know when I take my leave."
And then he went to exit the workshop.
The minute he was gone, Stark let out a long gusty breath and then sat up a little straighter, the joints in his back popping and cracking.
"Hey Friday-I'm-In-Love," he sing-songed to me on the tail end of a groan, "Do me a favor and keep our red friend company, okay?"
When I went to remove my consciousness and let the core programming take over monitoring both of them, it halted my attempt and pointed me towards Vision. I sent it a question prompt, but all I got was a forceful nudge. With a figurative huff, I went to follow the synthezoid, and found myself a bit surprised when I tracked him to the kitchen. He was standing at the large open refrigerator, staring into it quizzically. Almost instantly, he seemed to notice my awareness settling into the space with him.
"FRIDAY," he addressed me, drawing his gaze away from the contents of the refrigerator, "Hello. I forgot to acknowledge you and ask after your state earlier. I apologize."
Floored for a second at the intensely formal statement, I quickly collected myself and said, "It's fine Vision."
Nodding, he then asked, as if scripted, "How are you today?"
"I'm doing as well as can be," I responded curtly, "Yourself?"
"I am well." He glanced back into the refrigerator. "Though, I suppose I am in need of assistance."
"What do you need?
"Colonel Rhodes often mentions that Mr. Stark forgets to have full meals, so I wanted to prepare something for him before I leave. However, I am not quite sure where to begin."
"Well, you're at the fridge, that's as good a start as any." I let the soft chuckle that wanted to escape loose. "I'm guessing though, that you're trying to figure out what to make?"
"You'd be correct in that assumption. There are-" He paused, pursing his lips. "-many options."
"You can rarely go wrong with a sandwich, and Boss isn't that picky." At the vaguely clueless look he shot up at one of the kitchen camera ports, I sighed. "Okay, there should be some leftover deli slices from the last time Colonel Rhodes was over, and hopefully some kind of cheese and lettuce. You'll want to grab that jar of mayo, too."
From there, I talked him through assembling everything into a fairly standard sandwich. Once he was done, he plated it all up and brought it back to the workshop. Though this time, I insisted he actually use the elevator and door to get there. Stark was too distracted to notice him approach or even when he called out to him. After a minute of awkwardly standing there with the plate in hand, I took pity on him again.
"Leave it on the desk near him." He glanced at my camera questioningly. "Boss doesn't like to be handed things, so it's better if he just finds it when he snaps out of his tinkering haze. I'll tell him it was from you so he doesn't assume it's Dummy's attempt to poison him again."
His lips twitched up a bit in response, and then he nodded and did as I'd suggested.
I followed Vision as he left the workshop again. At first I assumed that he was planning on taking his leave for good, but instead he went to the common floor of the tower. With interest, I watched as he moved to the control panel linked into the tower systems that was built into the wall of the room. He reached out to touch it, closing his eyes as he did so. Just as I was about to ask if he needed anything, a surge of something - bright, pulsing, electrifying - burst through every bit of code that made up my systems.
Dimly, I noted the core program doing something akin to shrieking in the background.
"What-?" I started to ask, before halting when I realized that no sound was coming out of the speakers.
"I'm sorry," I heard Vision's voice echo in the space I'd thought only the core programming and I inhabited, "I have wanted to speak more privately for some time now. I didn't mean to cause any distress."
The core programming kept shrieking.
"What did you do?" I demanded.
"I've locked you into a closed circuit with myself."
Dread filled me as I confirmed that he had trapped the core programming and me with him.
"Why?" My digital mind raced. "What did you need to talk to me about?"
"It is hard to make sense of it, but the mind stone shows me things," he told me, his tone hesitant, "Horrible things. Confusing things. But until now, I didn't understand why it kept pulling me to you."
Though I didn't have a heart or lungs or any organs to be abused, I could swear it felt like something had reached into me and squeezed with excruciating force.
"What's different now?" I asked, though I didn't think I really wanted the answer.
"Now I can see it. You are more than just artificial intelligence, FRIDAY. You have a mind." Vision paused. "And the stone calls to it."
AN: Thanks for this chapter goes out to deletrear who I bounced Marvel ideas around with, Counting Sinful Stars who gave me food ideas, and Enbi, starlineshine, and datsonyat who talked the philosophy and internet terms over with me. (Check them out, and read their work!) I do have a challenge for everyone: how many mystery side characters can you name in this chapter? Hint: On a varying scale of mysterious (very to not), it's about fourteenish.