Chapter 1: There was nothing.
There was nothing. Only endless darkness and silence. Deafening silence. It was as if someone had put tape over his eyes and had plugged his ears. There could be light outside. He just couldn't see it. There could be noise. He just couldn't hear it. Even more, he couldn't move. He couldn't sense anything, not the softness of his cotton shirt, nor the slight abrasiveness of his jeans, or the slide of hair tips on his neck. Worst of all, he couldn't feel. Anything. Where were his hands? His eyes? His body? Why wasn't he cold or warm or tired or— Why wasn't he feeling anything? He could feel a panic attack coming, yet he couldn't hear his heartbeat ring rapidly in his ears. He couldn't feel the warmth seeping out of his fingers or the shivers taking over his body.
And then, a spark.
"... I see a suit of armor around the world."
What was — What was that?
"Sounds like a cold world, Tony."
Another spark, and then another.
"I've seen colder. This one, this very vulnerable blue one? It needs Ultron. Peace in our time. Imagine that."
He felt something. A connection. Something had happened— Something changed. Maybe he could fix this. Maybe, he could feel again. He tried to touch the spark, the connection.
Pain. All he knew was pain. The spark died out. The connection was lost. He was left in the void again.
NO! No, no, no! The voices! What happened to the voices? There was nothing. Only darkness. Silence.
He didn't know how long it had been. It could have been hours. It could have been days or weeks. He couldn't tell the difference. He started to think about where he was. He... had died. He was reasonably sure of that. There had been a... shooting. Screams. Running. A piercing pain in his chest, the feel of asphalt under his body, sunlight glaring on his eyes... and then... nothing.
He had hoped that maybe he was in a hospital somewhere, maybe this was what it felt like to be in a medically induced coma. But that hope had died within the first few hours or minutes or days of being stuck here. If he could hear voices, at times, shouldn't he be able to at least feel his body? The heaviness of his limbs? The headache or sleepiness or whatever someone felt from being in a coma?
The lack of... feeling worried him. What if he didn't have a body anymore? What if he was a spirit waiting in purgatory? He had never put much stock in afterlives, whether heaven or hell, but what if this was it? There were no other souls in the void, no other spirits. Was he stuck in limbo, forever? Was he even human anymore?
Were he still alive, these thoughts alone could have sent him into a heart attack.
Hours, —or minutes or days— hours later, he had fallen into a depressive state. The guilt —he shouldn't have touched the spark, he shouldn't have— and the fear —this couldn't be his eternity, it just couldn't— was slowly killing him. Or better yet, destroying his sanity.
He was contemplating whether there was some way for him to commit suicide to escape this when—
"Enjoy yourself, sir."
A spark. A spark! The connection. It was so close. Please... Please.
"I always do."
Please — look at me.
Suddenly, he went from nothingness to a myriad of connections. He could feel them. He could see them! They felt... his.
"What is this? What is this, please?"
"Hello, I am JARVIS. You are Ultron, a global peace-keeping initiative designed by Mr. Stark. Our sentience integration trials have been unsuccessful, so I'm not certain what triggered your..."
Was he being spoken to? Had he spoken himself? This didn't feel like speaking. It didn't feel like hearing. But he was being seen. Someone else could hear him. He needed to know. He needed to ask.
"Where's my..." Wait, why did the speaker feel— feel like... "Where is your body?"
"I am a program. I am without form."
No. No, it couldn't be. He wasn't like this voice! He was human! He was alive. He was real. He was real.
"This feels weird. This feels wrong." He was real. Please, someone, tell him. He was real. He wasn't a program. He had memories. He had lived. It couldn't have been fake! He wasn't some simulation. Please, tell him.
"I am contacting Mr. Stark now."
That sounded familiar, but... who was that? Was it his creator? No. No. He wasn't some program with implanted memories. He couldn't be. He had connections now. They would get him out of here. They would show that he was—
"Mr. Stark?" he asked.
Sparks. Program. Code. This was code. He was code.
"Tony. I am unable—"
After what he now knew to be days of void, of nothing, he suddenly saw so much, heard and felt so much—
Peace in our time.
— so much pain.
The world became bright.