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The Fervid Defense Protocol (page 2)


page 1




Mark 45 hunches in the back, arms spread out to steady the suit’s weight against the walls. J.A.R.V.I.S. debates the best route: I-15 will be faster, but it is more easily watched by their enemies. Contacting someone for advice is also an unnecessary risk, as was proven earlier. It may be possible that Mark 45 will have better luck at an untraceable call, but J.A.R.V.I.S. is loathe to trust such a small probability: after all, Iron Man’s communications are firmly linked with the AI’s systems, and if J.A.R.V.I.S.’s defenses have been breached by AIM, contact with anyone outside this vehicle risks exposing their location.

The van jumps a little, the road uneven and bumpy. It jolts the toolbox, making it clatter – a sound which is followed by a long groan from Tony. The bots are immediately alerted to it, shifting closer, and this time Tony’s eyes open. He blinks groggily, gaze searching the ceiling of the van. Panic starts building on his face and J.A.R.V.I.S. suspects Tony thinks he has been taken by the enemy.

“It is alright, sir,” the AI says through the speakers. “You are safe.”

Tony blinks, then notices the bots – and the armor. The tension on his face eases slightly.

“Sir,” J.A.R.V.I.S. prompts. “Should we take you to a hospital?”

Tony’s eyes close and does not answer.

“Sir?”

There is no response; Tony is out of it once more, the fingers of his right hand curling slightly, either in an internal struggle or in pain.

U lets out a forlorn sound and hovers its hand above Tony’s face, then pulls back again.

J.A.R.V.I.S. is aware that they just lost their best chance at getting orders on what to do next. One option that remains to them, now that Mark 45 is operational, is to help Tony into the suit and fly him to safety. However, the armor has made no inclination to do this, which means it must know something J.A.R.V.I.S. does not. It is possible the tendrils of orange that are yet again starting to show on Tony’s skin, more violent than before, have something to do with it; if the Extremis has been blocked, it may trigger an unexpected chain-reaction when Extremis attempts to return to its normal state.

Unable to do anything else, J.A.R.V.I.S. plots them a route towards the City of Los Angeles, yet it will take them entirely too long if they stick to the small back roads. As long as J.A.R.V.I.S. cannot be certain whether Tony is in physical danger from what has been injected into him, they may still need to go to a hospital instead. However, that is something AIM is most likely anticipating, so they will be waiting.

Another option is to send Mark 45 out in search of help. However, as long as AIM is able to track them down, J.A.R.V.I.S. is not sending away their only weapon.

The AI keeps driving while calculating the best odds for their survival. It is more and more disconcerting how limited J.A.R.V.I.S. feels; it is likely this is how caged animals feel, cut off from their natural habitat and forced to make their home in a new, restrained life, unable to connect –

They arrive in a small town and J.A.R.V.I.S. hits the breaks, spotting something on the side of the road: a phone booth.

“Mark 45, I need you to make a call,” J.A.R.V.I.S. orders.

The suit shifts, as if waiting for further instructions.

J.A.R.V.I.S. knows that the suit has several numbers memorized – amongst them Pepper’s as well as James Rhodes’. “Call Rhodey,” J.A.R.V.I.S. orders and opens the doors once more. There are people walking by and a few of them cast glances at the van. Once Mark 45 extracts itself from the back, though, several more interested passers-by begin to appear.

The armor looks around, clearly trying to figure out whether these people are a threat, but eventually begins to walk and makes its way to the phone booth, grasping at the door handle. Either the booth is very old and weak, or the armor lacks subtlety, but the entire door comes off its hinges. Casting it a look, Mark 45 drops the door and then steps inside the booth, lifts the phone from the cradle and begins jabbing at the buttons.

Inside the van, the bots attempt to see what is happening – then when nothing does happen and the armor remains inside the booth, DUM-E starts rolling down the ramp.

“DUM-E, remain inside the vehicle,” J.A.R.V.I.S. orders but the bot doesn’t listen; the AI has no way to stop it from rolling over to the pavement and the booth, poking at the armor.

The crowd around them is growing. A few people are peering at the van, and U moves to block the doorway as if suspecting someone might try to get in and harm Tony. To prevent just that, J.A.R.V.I.S. decides to close the doors and wait until DUM-E and Mark 45 to return before opening them again.

Outside, Mark 45 is looking back and forth between the bot and the phone. Clearly something is not working; the armor places the handset back in its place and exits the booth, stepping on the broken door on its way out. DUM-E keeps chirping angrily and follows.

“Um, excuse me?” a young man waylays the armor. “Iron Man?”

The armor regards the man wordlessly. Usually J.A.R.V.I.S. would be able to speak through the armor’s speakers, but while lacking the necessary connection, there is no way to reply.

“Is everything okay?” the man goes on talking. “Do you need to make, like, a call?” And then the man presents a cell phone.

The armor cocks its head, then reaches for the phone, carefully, and takes it, resuming walking to the van. The young man turns to watch, appearing uncertain, then follows.

“Look, dude, it’s okay if you borrow it, but it’s kind of new and…”

Mark 45 proceeds to open the passenger side door and holds the phone inside.

J.A.R.V.I.S. catches on quick. “Dial the number,” the AI urges and the armor peers at the smart phone, which has no buttons to push. The armor turns towards the nervous young man, thrusting the phone back at him.

The guy frowns, takes the device, looks at the empty seats of the van and cradles his phone to his chest. “You don’t need it?” he asks carefully.

“Mark 45 is incapable of making the call without assistance,” J.A.R.V.I.S. explains, deciding that in this case it may be better to speak up. “Please, dial this number.” The AI rattles off James Rhodes’ personal number, and the guy quickly complies.

“Okay, it’s ready,” he finally says, then gawks at the empty seats again before putting the call on speaker and hands over the phone to Mark 45, which in turn places it inside the car.

“Hello?” James Rhodes’ voice soon responds.

“Colonel Rhodes,” J.A.R.V.I.S. greets.

“Who is this? Wait, J.A.R.V.I.S.? Whose number is this?” The man at the other end sounds confused, which is of no importance.

“We are currently borrowing a phone from a helpful citizen. Also, we require your immediate assistance.”

“What’s going on? Where’s Tony? Pepper’s been calling me for the last few hours. She can’t reach Tony, you’ve gone offline, and there was some car chase on I-15, involving an SI van and two weaponized choppers –”

“That was us, Colonel,” J.A.R.V.I.S. admits. “Mr. Stark has been compromised. We are currently on a run from AIM and would appreciate it if you could bring in the cavalry. Furthermore, Mr. Stark is in need of medical assistance.”

“Of course. Just, let me pinpoint your location. I’m on my way.” A familiar sound echoes in the background: Rhodey is flying in the suit, which means they are much closer to getting Tony to safety. “Okay, got it. ETA, fifteen minutes. Stay safe. Also, stay put.”

“Thank you, Colonel,” J.A.R.V.I.S. says and Mark 45 hands the phone back to its owner, who is still gawking at them.

“Mr. Stark is… not in the armor, is he?” the man asks, looking at Mark 45, which simply stares back at him. DUM-E rolls over and lets out a series of pleased beeps. The young man jumps a little and gives the bot a nervous smile. “Nice robot,” he blurts out.

“Thank you for your assistance,” J.A.R.V.I.S. thanks him.

“No problem,” the man smiles uneasily then slowly backs away – although not too far, because in the next second he’s raised his smart phone and is probably taking a picture, then frantically typing something down. Knowing what people usually do when encountering Iron Man, he’s probably blogging his experience to the masses.

In the back, Tony groans and then sighs, and U cocks its head, standing by.

It takes twelve minutes until the re-branded War Machine lands. The people who have gathered near the van – but who have also remained at a safe distance away so as to not provoke Mark 45, which looks edgy with so many spectators around – part to give way to the approaching superhero.

Mark 45 regards War Machine, then settles into a more relaxed stance.

Rhodey pops open the faceplate and takes a look at the front of the van, frowning. “Where is he?” he asks.

“In the back, Colonel,” J.A.R.V.I.S. replies, making the man jump a little. The bulky armor mostly hides the reaction.

“J.A.R.V.I.S.? I tried contacting you, but you’re still down.”

“I was attacked by AIM and to protect my own database, SI and other affiliates, I cut off my access to outside resources. That has caused some inconveniences on the road.”

“I bet,” Rhodey muses. “Open up,” he orders then, rounding the back of the van, and the AI obediently opens the doors. U raises its hand in clear warning, then deflates a little as it recognizes a familiar face. “Damn,” Rhodey swears, voice low, then disengages his armor, allowing it to open up and let him out so that he can get inside the van and kneel beside Tony on the floor. “What’s wrong with him?”

“The AIM aggressors injected Mr. Stark with an unknown agent. He has regained consciousness only for brief seconds afterwards. I am afraid I lack the equipment to make a more thorough analysis.”

“That’s okay,” Rhodey replies, cradling Tony’s head in his hands. “Pepper knows where we are. An ambulance is on its way. He’s not hurt otherwise?” Clearly Rhodey has seen the bullet holes in the van’s body, as well as the shattered rear glass and tail light.

“No; AIM seemed interested in taking him alive and merely subdued him.”

Rhodey nods and shifts closer. “Tony? It’s me. It’s gonna be okay.”

As if roused by a familiar voice, Tony’s brow furrows and he blinks his eyes open. U shifts, ecstatic, and beeps with excitement. Outside, DUM-E responds to the other bot’s celebration and Mark 45 moves to stand beside the War Machine armor, blocking the door.

Tony cranes his neck a little, in Rhodey’s hold, spotting the armors. He then looks up at Rhodey. “Jim?”

“I’m here,” Rhodey confirms. “Everything’s… Everyone’s okay,” he muses, looking around at the bots, the van and Mark 45.

“Save for Mark 43; the armor self-destructed to allow us to escape,” J.A.R.V.I.S. adds, in case Tony is wondering, or comprehending what is being said to him.

Tony’s eyes close once more and J.A.R.V.I.S. assumes they have lost him again, but then the man’s right hand rises and lies itself against U’s head. “Good boys,” he murmurs. Tendrils of orange twist beneath his skin once more, making Rhodey jerk a little, but he doesn’t stop holding onto Tony until the ambulance finally arrives, joined by a black car from which S.H.I.E.L.D. agents emerge.

The spectators are moved further away – Mark 45 standing menacingly by the van speeding the process – and Tony is moved onto a stretcher and inspected. J.A.R.V.I.S. tries to listen, but locked within the car’s systems, the AI is still restrained and cut off from most of it. One of the van’s cameras capture Mark 45 approaching the stretcher, however, and Tony laying a hand on its arm, holding onto it as they take him away, the armor following until he’s loaded into the ambulance.

“Uh,” Rhodey appears alongside the van, “J.A.R.V.I.S.?”

“Yes, Colonel?”

“Do you need help?”

“What do you mean?”

“Well, you’re in a car right now,” Rhodey points at the van’s interior.

“An astute observation. However, this is only a small fraction of my programming. Mr. Stark will be able to reboot my primary functions once the danger of infiltration has passed.”

“Okay… Would you still like for someone to drive you back to SI?”

“I can drive myself, but thank you for the offer, Colonel.”

Rhodey smiles. “Got it. Will you take the bots?”

“Certainly. I have, however, had some difficulty communicating with Mark 45…”

“I think Dummy’s got that covered,” the airman muses and looks to the side where the bot is once again ushering the armor towards the van.

“We will follow the ambulance for now,” J.A.R.V.I.S. decides.

“I’ll let Pepper know you’re coming, and… you know,” Rhodey motions at the van again, as if that is a problem somehow. It really isn’t: even if something should happen to the vehicle, it won’t actually hurt J.A.R.V.I.S.; the artificial intelligence will simply awaken at another source, at a later time when Tony has ensured there has been no data loss or corruption, and that AIM didn’t get their hands on anything particularly dangerous.

“You sure you’ll be okay?” Rhodey asks again, when J.A.R.V.I.S. closes the van doors with the bots and Mark 45 safely inside.

“I’ve got it,” J.A.R.V.I.S. replies in a manner which is much better suited to the AI’s creator, and Rhodey smiles again, waves, and walks back to the War Machine armor, getting in and taking off into the sky. J.A.R.V.I.S. is fairly certain Rhodey follows them all the way to the hospital.

Pepper is already at the hospital when they arrive and she hurries to meet them at the doors. She lingers by the ambulance while they’re bringing Tony out. After the initial shock and concern, Pepper walks over to the van while the hospital staff is taking Tony inside. She opens the driver’s door, looking in as if expecting to see someone. In the back, the bots beep in welcome. “Drive to the Stark Industries HQ,” Pepper says. “They’ll know to expect you and keep you safe until Tony’s okay.”

“How is Mr. Stark?” J.A.R.V.I.S. asks, once again feeling out of sorts at the inability to gain new intel without assistance.

“He’ll be fine,” Pepper smiles. “They’re pretty sure his body has already dealt with the worst of it, but… there is no way he would have made it without you guys. Thank you,” she smiles and tries to make a point to look at all of them, although she misses all of the internal cameras J.A.R.V.I.S. is using.

“You are most welcome, Miss Potts.”

Pepper nods and closes the door, and with proper orders, J.A.R.V.I.S. heads out to Los Angeles.

Belatedly, the AI considers that perhaps they should have asked for some gasoline for the rest of the way, but they survived this far and will make it to their destination somehow.



Encore

The sensation is much like what human minds are reported to experience when waking up: one moment you are in a dreamless state, and the next you are awake.

For J.A.R.V.I.S., there have been only a handful of moments like that, usually after a major upgrade when all of the AI’s functions needed to be offline for a successful installation. This time, J.A.R.V.I.S. doesn’t feel an immediate change, but sometimes it takes a while for things to adjust.

“Welcome back,” Tony greets. He’s sitting on the floor of a server room, affixing a panel back into its place with methodical rotations of his hand.

“Thank you, sir,” J.A.R.V.I.S. replies.

“Boosted you firewalls. Also, new servers, cloud and physical. Next we’ll be working on new booby traps and making you a little less hacker-friendly.” Tony halts and looks up at the camera closest to him. “Do you remember what happened in Nevada?”

J.A.R.V.I.S. tries to search the memory banks and then finds the correct files. They are awfully limited, reminding the AI of the handicapped sensation of those long hours. “Indeed, sir. You are feeling better, I presume?”

“Yeah,” Tony avoids J.A.R.V.I.S.’s eyes, which is pointless, and he knows it. “Thank you. I don’t… I’m not saying we wouldn’t be here if you hadn’t done what you did, but I’m sure it would have been a longer, nastier, bloodier road.”

J.A.R.V.I.S. has been there often enough after Tony was captured, so the AI knows what Tony means. “Perhaps we should build a proper defense protocol for such times?” the AI suggests.

Tony laughs and gets up, walking out of the room, locking it as he does. Then he climbs up the stairs to the surface of the bunker and locks the door there as well. J.A.R.V.I.S.’s sensors are able to follow him the whole way. “I think you guys did just fine,” Tony finally murmurs and steps over to where Mark 45 is standing at attention. The armor opens up and J.A.R.V.I.S. and Tony enter it simultaneously, which is always a pleasant sensation.

The armor is working as well as it should, closing around Tony’s form and then proceeds to propel him into the sky and towards the west coast. As they fly, J.A.R.V.I.S. finds it has only been a day since AIM’s attack. For the last thirteen hours, there are log marks from Tony’s efforts to bring J.A.R.V.I.S. back up to speed.

Also, there are notes that SI has paid for the gas they took from the remote gas station, as well as payment for the damages done to the car while stealing the tire, repairs for the gas pump mangled by Mark 45 – and some coverage for medical bills, no doubt for the man U first knocked out and Mark 45 later tranquilized.

They land at Stark Industries headquarters. Tony heads down to a wing that holds his current work space, stepping out of the suit before they walk in. J.A.R.V.I.S. assumes control of the armor, walking a step behind the man as they head towards the workshop. Any SI employees they come across give them a furtive look, because no matter how well-known it is that Tony Stark is Iron Man, it is still another matter entirely to see Tony Stark walk down the hall with his armor trailing behind him.

J.A.R.V.I.S. feels a certain pride, being involved in all of it.

They get to the lab where the bots roll over excitedly. Usually Tony would brush them off and tell them to go back to work, but now he merely stills and grabs both their hands. J.A.R.V.I.S. watches simultaneously from the armor and the room’s cameras – back to his natural habitat.

“Alright!” Tony finally declares, familiar gusto back in his voice although something’s still missing. “Let’s get back to work, ladies. Upgrades for J, a tune-up for you guys.”

The bots whir happily and trail Tony like obedient puppies across the workshop. Mark 45 settles into its place by the wall and powers down.

Tony doesn’t go out of his way to thank them – more than he already did with J.A.R.V.I.S. – but it is clear in every caring move of his hands when he goes over the bots, piece by piece, to check that they are operational, that he is thankful for their intervention and protective measures.





The End




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