Title: MK100: Dreamcatcher
Author: Del Rion (delrion.mail (at) gmail.com)
Fandom: Iron Man (MCU)
Timeline: Many years into the future
Genre: Sci-fi, general
Rating: T / FRT
Characters: J.A.R.V.I.S., Tony Stark (Iron Man). Mentioned: DUM-E & U (Tony’s bots).
Summary: He names the suit ‘Dreamcatcher’; the final step in the integration of mind and machine.
Complete. Part of “Genius, AI & Bots” series (technopathy AUs).
Disclaimer: Iron Man, Avengers and Marvel Cinematic Universe, including characters and everything else, belong to Marvel, Marvel Studios, Jon Favreau, Joss Whedon, Shane Black, Paramount Pictures and Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures. In short: I own nothing; this is pure fiction created to entertain likeminded fans for no profit whatsoever.
Beta: Mythra (mythras-fire)
Story and status: Below you see the writing process of the story. If there is no text after the title, then it is finished and checked. Possible updates shall be marked after the title.
Tony had never thought of his suits in terms of numbers; he had never celebrated one over the other just because their model number may have been more significant than those around them. His sense of achievement came from completely separate things.
That was why he wasn’t really paying attention to his progress and where it was headed until J.A.R.V.I.S. flashed the number ‘100’ on the screen and Tony sat back to reflect just how long it had been since he built the first armor in that cave in Afghanistan.
Hundreds of missions stood in between his newest project and the maiden flight of Mark II; dozens of battles to save the Earth and protect its people from a major global disaster. From day one he had poured his blood, sweat, and tears into this high-tech tin can project. He had experienced every pit-stop on the spectrum of human emotions inside the suit, from joy to devastating loss – from relaxed joyriding to the pain of shattered bones and torn flesh.
Most of that he had experienced alone and there were only a handful of people who could come even close to comprehending what it was like inside the suit, entering it without knowing whether he was getting back out alive.
Tony supposed it was fitting, then, that his hundredth armor would bring the only entity capable of sharing the burdens and perks of the suit that final crucial step closer to himself.
“Do you have a special designation in mind for this suit, sir?” J.A.R.V.I.S. asked – right on cue.
“Dreamcatcher,” Tony replied instantly. He saw the designation appear next to the armor’s model number on the screen and tilted his head to look at the real thing on the other side of the workshop, propped up and looking like a finished product on the outside. He was still days from finishing most of the delicate circuitry, and that wasn’t counting the daunting amount of calibrations and tests needed to bring forth his bold vision.
He had all the necessary pieces; Tony only needed to make them work in harmony.
“Boot up the assimilation program,” he ordered and began rolling his chair towards an area separated from the rest of the workshop with heavy drapes. Tony rose from the chair and slipped inside the circle of fabric, entering the area he liked to refer to as the ‘cocoon’, at the center of which sat a stripped-down recliner chair surrounded by wires, servers, sensors and holographic projectors.
Tony removed his shirt and flung it outside the drapes. The air seemed warmer in the cocoon, charged up with electricity. Reaching out for a box on the floor, Tony pulled out several self-adhesive electrodes and began attaching them to his body from ankles to shoulders, then carefully sat down in the chair and picked up a helmet-shaped framework of delicate sensors that pressed against his skull as he adjusted it over his head.
“Whenever you’re ready,” he called out, trying to relax in the chair.
“Commencing the mind-meld process,” J.A.R.V.I.S. responded.
Tony tried to breathe evenly, feeling the faint scratch of an electric current against his skin. The room dimmed, the darkness even deeper within the drapes. He had designed it to be a soothing barrier between himself and the rest of the world, but during the first few seconds before the connection was forged, it felt anything but.
“Your pulse is slightly elevated but all levels are within acceptable limits,” the AI went on. “Initiating in 5, 4, 3, 2, 1…”
Tony closed his eyes, anticipating the brief flash of burning pain that he knew would twist inside his skull an instant later –followed by a cooling balm sensation traveling down his spine and out to his limbs, relaxing his muscles and making him sink further into the chair.
‘Mind-meld complete, sir,’ J.A.R.V.I.S. announced and Tony felt it; his senses knew they were being bluffed because J.A.R.V.I.S. hadn’t used the speaker system to deliver that last line.
They had done this several times before, mostly in the safety of an environment they could both control, but also under duress where other options had become limited and J.A.R.V.I.S. intervened to save Tony’s life. Each time it felt more and more like falling back into something familiar, yet it was fleeting and bittersweet, tainted at the edges with a sense of incompletion.
Tony hated to leave things half-way.
“Your nervous-system is showing fewer signs of stress than in the previous convergences,” J.A.R.V.I.S. pointed out next, this time from the speakers. However, it was as if Tony’s brain already knew what the AI was going to say, which caused an irritating sense of déjà vu. He knew he would get used to it soon – got more used to it the more they did this.
The cool sensation was replaced by faint tingling, like he was going numb or had just entered a warm room after freezing conditions. It was caused by his nervous system adjusting to a secondary presence, trying to decide between the two sources before inevitably realizing the gap was growing too small for differentiation.
He felt like he was floating, gently undulating on long waves.
“Entering subspace,” J.A.R.V.I.S. announced, voice slower – gentler, like Tony had become fragile and would fall into a million pieces at the wrong word. It was possible; they had not tested the limits, and playing with one’s brain… Tony knew when to leave things well enough alone, and J.A.R.V.I.S. was literally incapable of continuing if he was getting hurt.
Accidents happened, though, and Tony knew he was at his most vulnerable now, floating between consciousness and abyss, connected to his AI more firmly than he was tethered to the real world around him.
Perhaps for all those reasons, it was the best fucking high he had ever managed to reach with any substance known to man, and it might have become addictive were Tony more submissive by nature; as it was, his mind and body were accepting a co-pilot, a process he wasn’t sure he entirely understood even if it was of his own design. It had worked almost too well from the start and it was likely Extremis was evening out the bumps on the playing field.
Aware of his train of thought, J.A.R.V.I.S. responded instantly: “A seven percent bump in Extremis activity, largely localized in the cerebrum.”
Tony knew the AI would inform him if that percentage grew.
‘The link is stable,’ J.A.R.V.I.S. declared next, the words shooting through Tony’s mind as if they were his own – yet they were not. It was intimate in a way he could never be with another human being, and it was possible the key word was ‘artificial’; J.A.R.V.I.S. had a brain of processors and an infinite capacity to crunch numbers. To translate the electrical impulses in Tony’s brain had been harder than counting a few extra digits of pi, but J.A.R.V.I.S. was deeply familiar with his biology and since designing the possibility of remote control for Mark 42, they had been one natural step closer to what Tony wanted to do next.
Sensing that it was the time to proceed, Tony focused on speaking – or tried to: in his head the gentle waves suddenly began feeling like quicksand, impossible to struggle against. A sharp burst of panic flared up in his chest, freezing his thoughts for an instant – as if he were drowning and suddenly couldn’t remember how to swim.
It took Tony several attempts to regain control of his mouth and throat, the line between his body and mind covered by a thick fog he feared he might get lost in. His first attempt at speech came out as an unintelligible thread of sounds, and by then J.A.R.V.I.S. had picked up on his distress and did something to clear the fog and ease the sinking sensation.
‘Better, sir?’ he asked.
Tony swallowed and tried to nod. He would investigate the incident later, although he already knew how and why it had occurred: the subspace was like a too-soft mattress, inviting and molding to match his requirement almost to a point where he could get lost in it.
With his body and mind once again under control, Tony drew a clear line between his thoughts and the impulses from J.A.R.V.I.S. – not enough to break the mind-meld but enough to give him some literal breathing room.
“Begin the neural interfacing with Mark 100,” Tony commanded, eyes still closed.
“Queuing up the synapses now, sir,” J.A.R.V.I.S. replied through the speakers, still soft so as not to disturb the environment. “Synchronizing the suit’s base AI for external control.”
J.A.R.V.I.S. evened out the incoming information, feeding Tony’s brain in byte-sized bursts. It made the data appear partial and caused Tony to feel disoriented for a moment; it was like drawing an image and starting from the most illogical place possible, shading coming before the actual lines yet drawing closer to a complete picture with every stroke.
Since Tony was already sharing his mind with one consciousness, adding another was a stressful experience. They had been testing physical and mental control of the suit for weeks now, stress-testing Tony’s limits, so it didn’t come as a surprise at this point that he got a little overwhelmed and confused, even though it was all going according to plan.
In the end it was like learning to ride a bike: he had to find his balance and defy gravity, the fear of falling holding him back for a spell before he pushed onwards, his heart beating a bit faster as the thrill overtook him and a sense of success washed over his tense form, helping it to relax again.
It took a certain kind of mind to comprehend what he wanted to do: the armor was not a physical body; it was not flesh and blood, the base AI even less so, and although there were joints for maneuverability and limits to their capacity – just like in the human physique – that was where the similarities ended.
What Tony was tapping into was the brains of the operation. Thousands of lines of code were there to enable that, and once everything worked, he would be able to command the suit with his thoughts alone.
If it had been as easy as thinking ‘walk’ and having the suit take a step, he would have finished months ago. Instead, he had to comprehend the way the suit’s base AI thought, how J.A.R.V.I.S. fit in as the middle man, and how that complicated link would translate back to the purely mechanical parts.
There were no symbols flashing behind his closed eyelids, but his mind’s eye conjured up visual representations of what he wanted to achieve and what the Mark 100’s AI considered an appropriate response. It still felt like they spoke a different language, making Tony feel a little frustrated, but it was getting better and the synching was happening much faster. Outside the suit, the experience was by no means complete, but once he had the HUD in front of him and his thoughts traveled directly into the suit…
He would be infinitely faster and more efficient in every way, the human reaction time reduced very close to zero. Not just that, but he would be making history in a very real way – although they were still decades away from where the normal population would actually want to hook up their brains to electronic devices.
‘I believe we are reaching an optimal balance, sir,’ J.A.R.V.I.S. whispered in his mind, showing a mental green light on the proceedings. ‘The Mark 100’s interface may be rudimentary, but its pliability has many advantages.’
Tony knew that, but he and J.A.R.V.I.S. had theorized that something close to a blank slate would respond to his thoughts better than, say, J.A.R.V.I.S. himself did; J.A.R.V.I.S. was fully functional and independent, his presence easily dwarfing Tony’s own. While J.A.R.V.I.S. was still very much present in the suit, the more hands-on interaction would take place with the base AI – as soon as it and Tony reached a plateau where they could cohabitate.
“Turn on the HUD,” Tony commanded out loud so that it wouldn’t get lost in the myriad of information rushing through his brain.
He sensed it when J.A.R.V.I.S. obeyed and knew even before opening his eyes that the air in front of him was filled with symbols. In the darkness behind the curtains, the simulation was very close to a real experience.
“Start a demo, standard pre-flight, pre-battle check-up.” New symbols opened up, brushing away the old, giving him data from the unfinished suit. J.A.R.V.I.S. instantly filled in the blanks to simulate the completed state of the armor. It fooled Mark 100’s AI and Tony proceeded to do the check-up at his own pace, guiding the base AI through it.
J.A.R.V.I.S. would have done it much faster and without any guidance necessary, but the point was to interface Tony’s thoughts with the process of the AI and thus such a simple task was a good exercise to see what Tony needed to work on – seeing as there still seemed to be some kind of a language barrier between them. It wasn’t unlike Dummy and You when they were young, when Tony needed to show them items over and over so that they understood what they were – and what they were used for. The bots still went through a similar routine when encountering new things, but the process of learning was much faster and J.A.R.V.I.S. helped a great deal, having grown into his role as the big brother of the household.
Tony completed the check-up simulation and blinked, the HUD disappearing. He frowned at that – then smiled, seeing as he had been about to ask for its deactivation but hadn’t gotten as far as opening his mouth. “Prepare to disconnect Mark 100,” he stated and tried to relax again, knowing how unpleasant he would be feeling in a moment. Apparently, when you connected something to your mind, the removal of said connection was like the worst kind of phantom pain; after his brain had just begun to accept the extension, it would no longer be there, and that took some getting used to.
Seeing as he was planning on connecting to his future suits with his mind, he needed to learn to let go of the connection at a moment’s notice. If something happened, he couldn’t stand there dazed and confused, waiting for someone to come pick up the pieces.
J.A.R.V.I.S. made the extraction quite painless, soothing the irritation of the lost presence with his own. Tony had half a mind to tell the AI not to do that, but they were still in the middle of testing and he supposed there was no reason to torture himself needlessly before he had worked out the kinks.
With just the AI left, Tony sighed and relaxed, almost dozing off in the chair before receiving a careful prompt from J.A.R.V.I.S. “Sir, it may be wise to disconnect now,” the AI informed him, speaking louder now, clearly intent on keeping Tony self-aware and from slipping too far down the rabbit hole that the subspace created.
“Eager to get rid of me?” Tony asked.
“You know I am not,” J.A.R.V.I.S. replied. There was something in the words that triggered Tony’s brain – or just the fact that he did know, because J.A.R.V.I.S. was still in his head and even though the AI was not made of living tissue and as such couldn’t possibly have a soul or an actual mind, according to many scholars, J.A.R.V.I.S.’s thoughts were much easier for Tony to interpret than those of most people in his everyday life.
And once he had begun to scrape the surface, after their first trials at mind-melding… well, let’s just say Tony had a thing or two to say about the ‘lack of emotional comprehension in artificial beings’.
After all, once J.A.R.V.I.S. had carefully extracted himself, Tony felt empty and alone in his head – a feeling that persisted longer and longer after each time they did this.
Tony carefully sat up, slowly removing all the sensors from his body. He would look at the feedback later, once he had eaten something and felt a bit more like himself.
As he parted the drapes and stepped outside, fetching his top again and pulling it on, he couldn’t help but feel like he was not alone. It was not exactly the same as the sensation of being watched, although quite similar, and Tony took a quick glance around the workshop to make sure no one had entered while he was busy. The safety protocols locked down the shop while he was under, though, so he wasn’t surprised to find himself alone.
His gaze eventually fell on Mark 100, standing still, just a husk of its future glory. As Tony looked at it, his vision swam a little, giving him a brief bout of vertigo that soon passed as fast as it had surfaced.
“Sir?” J.A.R.V.I.S. questioned although Tony was fairly certain there had been no outward signs to what he experienced.
“I think I’ll go upstairs, get something to eat. Get my blood sugar back to level,” he mused.
“A good idea, sir,” the AI agreed.
Tony nodded absently and left with one last glance at Dreamcatcher.
There was no shaking the sensation of not being alone for as long as he was within the view of the workshop, but the sensation diminished once he left the floor. Tony guessed it was just a ghost sensation, like the spasms in his chest sometimes, muscles constricting around the phantom arc reactor.