The Shadow of a Robot

July 22, 2015:

Howard Stark is still in a coma, but he's got a few technological tricks up his sleeves.

Howard Stark's Penthouse

Characters

NPCs: None.

Mentions:

Plot:

Mood Music: None.


Fade In…

Howard Stark's condition has been unchanged for a few days now. That's a good thing, in that he hasn't gotten any worse. Tony's scans indicate that his body has gone into protective hibernation rather than it being a result of some critical injury caused by the toxin itself. He is, after all, an LMD. His LMD nature has been exposed, and he needs repairing on a nanocellular level. It only makes sense that he'd have that particular failsafe installed.
Seeing as he's not your typical coma patient (and seeing as neither Howard nor Tony trusts SHIELD) he has remained in his penthouse. That, and Jarvis rather neatly insisted that Mr. Stark definitely would not want to be moved, and that no hospital could provide better care. The only place he might actually be better off is Stark Industries itself, but that certainly is not as controlled as his penthouse.
Jarvis himself had to be nearly shoved out of the building. He's been attending to Howard ever since the attack. Tony and Peggy promised to watch over him for a few hours. That's the only way they managed to get him out of the building.

Tony is not in his best state. He's been doing everything he can, trying to avoid just shooting off to Sokovia because it's /exactly what he wants to do/. Resisting that natural impulse is a good step for him. He feels he's learned.
Doesn't mean he feels any better about this. And at last, he's standing next to Howard's bed with a small tablet in one hand and, in the other, what looks very much like a solid-state hard drive.
"So I think we can back him up without causing any further damage," he says softly. His eyes are red, his face pale and drawn and weary. "I've been running some diagnostics and… he's pretty locked down, but I think I can… uh, basically pick up the strongbox that has D — that has Howard inside and store it here. If we don't find a way in Sokovia to get his body up and running again, at least we've got his… him."

Peggy has been in and out. She's a bit distracted lately and it's not doing her any favors. Whenever she can, she's here to help Jarvis and to look after Howard in his comatose state. While she's not one to wear her emotions on her sleeve, it's possible that Tony can tell she's wan and worried. However, whenever she feels helpless or sad, she tends to simply throw herself into the task at hand. Sometimes to the detriment of her other obligations or needs. The usually flawless Peggy looks a little under the weather, actually. They both do.

At Tony's thought, she frowns and looks to the LMD structure that is her oldest friend, unsure of what to say. "Back him up," she repeats, tone neutral. She's learned quite a bit of technology language and this is a bit strange, even to her. "If you think that will help keep him safe, then I believe you should do it." Facts and ideals. That is what Peggy must commit to right now. If the best chance of ensuring Howard's survival is to back him up to a hard drive just in case, then that is what they must do. "Do I need to get anything else?"

There's a sudden spike in energy when Tony does…something on the tablet. A series of holographic generators pop on and coalesce into an image of Howard. What's notable is that he looks older than the man currently lying on the table. Not as old as Tony remembers him, but certainly with more gray in his hair. He's also rather…transparent.
"Hello Tony. Hello Peggy." His voice emits from the stereo speakers rather than from the hologram itself. The effect is a bit disconcerting.

Tony nearly drops the tablet when the generators switch on. He takes a sharp step backward, staring into the image and glancing over to Peggy. To the Howard on the bed. To the Howard in the hologram.
"Christ," he mutters. "Nice job, Dad. You think of everything. He must've made this… hell, back in the seventies." He sets down the tablet and the drive, reaching out to wave a hand through Phantom Howard.

Perhaps it was hope that made Peggy tell Tony to back up Howard. She hoped it would work, even knowing that it was a long shot. As the spike in energy, she quickly turns her eyes away as if expecting a burst of light. However, what pops up is not a burst of light, but an image of Howard. If Peggy knew enough - or really anything - about Star Wars, she'd make an Obi-Wan Kenobi joke right now. Unfortunately, she doesn't.

Surprised, she looks over to Tony. Uh, what is happening? "If he made this in the seventies, how did he know I was going to be here?" Maybe he was just guessing, but, that would be quite the long shot. Maybe it was for the older Peggy - that's something she keeps forgetting.

"I am right here, you know," says the hologram. Howard's image flickers. "I'm not a deeply sophisticated hologram, but I am capable of answering direct questions." He even has Howard's mannerisms. He reaches up to straighten his holo-tie. "Well, actually, I'm clearly in some distress or this program wouldn't have activated."

Well. That's… slightly unexpected, but Howard Stark is nothing if not capable of upgrading the standard hologram. Tony clears his throat, raking a hand through his hair. "And let me guess. I'm your only hope." The smile's as weak as skim milk. "I think the program must recognize you. When did you make this recording? Or I guess more importantly… when did you update it? Is this connected to your memory core?" Because even in the midst of all this, Tony's fascinated by his dad's work.

Peggy's head tilts. "So, you're not just a recording?" This is a strange event to find herself involved in. Her eyes move to Tony and then back to the semi-transparent Howard. "This is really you?" If he's responding to herself and Tony, that means he must be able to hear them somehow and process their words to answer them properly.

"Well, I'm somewhere between a recording and the real thing. I'm an artificial intelligence created with Howard's brain map. I'm old tech. He salvaged me from the LMD lab in New Jersey. But he's been keeping me updated." The hologram flickers again. "Old, but still fully-functional, and light-years ahead of ninety percent of what's out there." The ten percent is probably granted to some of Tony's own creations.
"I'm an interactive living will, not to sound completely morbid." The hologram manages to copy the original's wryness. "I activated when it had been more than four days since I had an update."

And that has Tony's throat closing in on itself. He stares, then ducks his head and lets out a slight sound. Possibly a laugh. Possibly, given how long he's been up, a sob.
"Smart guy," he mutters to himself, and takes a deep breath. "Howard Stark from head to toe. Even from beyond the — What can I do for you? I've been working on a backup; we can get you a new body. Just. Just tell me what you want done, and I can make it happen. We'll fix this, Dad. You're still in there, so… we'll fix this. And whoever's behind this, we'll get 'em."

A living will. That does not bode well. Peggy sets her jaw and watches the flickering hologram of Howard with something more akin to determination than anything else. She won't lose Howard to terrorists, to a package from Sokovia. He's better than that and so is she. She can fix this.

"If you're attempting to not be morbid, you are completely failing," she tells him wryly, though there is no smile on her face. "If you're able to use Howard's brain map, you should be able to tell us more about his research that brought you to this state. You obviously know more than what you were letting on." With a sad and put upon sigh, she adds, "And if you think I believe that you programmed this little interactive technology to let us know who is bequeathed your antique cars, Howard, then you certainly have another thing coming."

"I'm afraid I don't have a diagnostic function, Tony." There's a note of sympathy, of kindness in the hologram's simulated voice. "I'm just here to let you know his wishes. My brain map doesn't include his knowledge. I think," he smirks, "…he was afraid of giving a computer his full intellect. Which is ironic considering he's an LMD." He scratches a spot below his simulated left eye.
"What I'm here to tell you is that he doesn't want a new body. He doesn't want you to…hang on He programmed me to speak for him, so let me do that properly." The image flickers and his position jumps slightly.
The hologram looks right at his son. "Tony. I don't want you to go to any crazy lengths to save me. I never intended to extend my life this way. I didn't mean to make myself functionally immortal. It was a fluke, an accident. And I'm grateful as all hell I got to see the man you became. But if you try to move my consciousness into another body, if you try to back me up, something of me is inevitably going to be lost. I can't stand the thought of being less than I am." he looks to Peggy. "…I already saw that happen to a dear friend. Which is why I fought like hell so she'd have another chance." He smiles at her, then exhales and winks. "You're getting the Cadillac, Pegs. Don't worry." Which is a classic Howard evasion.

He stares. He blinks. Tony runs a hand over his face, quite silent for once. One deep breath. Two. He drops his hands at last, rubbing his hands together.
"Look," he says. "I always knew this was — temporary, at best. This… miracle that brought you back, it's more than I ever could have — look, Executor 1.0, can you get a message to Howard? I know he can't control his body, but I just want to tell him."
He fidgets. He shifts his weight from one foot to the other, rakes his fingers through his hair. God, it's hard. It's like pulling teeth to get anything like this from Tony, and it's even harder when it's to his father. For a long moment, it seems like he's not going to finish his thought, but he finally just spits it out:
"Just tell my Dad I love him. And if I can bring him back, I will. And if I can't… then I'll always be grateful for the second chance we had."

It's not quite so ironic to Peggy, as she can imagine his paranoia about having his intellect downloaded or uploaded or…what was the word…hacked. As Howard's image speaks, her mouth sets again in a thin line. She is not one to take silent a quiet goodbyes lying down. She has had to say goodbye to too many people in her life before their time. And while Howard - from his point - has seen quite a long life - to Peggy she was just getting to know this older, more responsible Howard. And she is not the kind to let things go easily. This is far too similar to talking to someone over a radio.

Tears form in her eyes and she blinks them away. "That is complete bullocks and you know it, whatever Howard you are. Maybe you did not choose this life as you have it, but you aren't going to lose it because some terrorist that was out to get you delivered some toxic goo to your door. This can be fixed."

She looks to Tony, who is saying his heartfelt goodbye and then to back to Howard. Her answer has no thoughts of failure. That's simply not acceptable to her, not now. "We will bring you back."

The holographic simulation of Howard Stark imprinted with a partial brain map doesn't seem to quite know what to do with the emotional statement from Tony. The image flickers. "I'll do my best to pass on the message." Which may be a lie - but it's a kind lie.
"Oh, I completely expect you to try and save me, Peggy." Suddenly, he sounds confident again. "Just…don't do anything extreme. I approve of a completely reasonable amount of heroics." He flashes a grin and rocks on his heels.
The thing about a hologram is that there's little connection between emotional reactions. The image flickers again and he's back to a more solemn tone. "Jarvis has my real will - the one that dispenses my assets. I want THINK shut down if anything happens to me. I don't trust anyone else with it. Tony, I know you don't have time and it's not your project. And after Obadiah, I don't trust anyone else with young, brilliant minds. I want them to all get grants and be sent on their way." He opens his mouth to say more. "Anyway, it's all in the paperwork if it ever comes to that. But it sounds like you still have options. I'll leave you to it. And I want you to know how grateful I am." There's a pause. "You're my family. By blood, and by circumstance. There's no one I care about more. Take care of each other. And take care of Jarvis, okay? Let him fuss over you. I swear to god it actually makes him happy." And then, unless there's some last minute fighting to keep the hologram active, the shadow of Howard Stark blinks out of existence.

Even Tony has to grin when Howard does. "Oh yeah. I mean, no matter what you say today, whoever knocked you down is going to be eating his teeth in twenty-four hours. That's a given."
But at last the hologram is gone, and Tony and Peggy are standing there alone. There's a moment of silence before he glances over at the woman and, with a slight crook to the corner of his mouth: "I'm going to get to go on a mission with Peggy Carter. It must be Christmas."
Taking a step backward, then turning around, he tosses the tablet and the drive onto the bed. "Got anything pressing you're doing right now? Because I feel like it's time to stop sitting on our hands. I think it's time to get on a plane."

As Howard fades away, Peggy allows a tear to fall down her cheek. She knows this man and he is one of three people who knew her before this time jump. She can't allow him to just slip away like this. Angrily, she brushes at her cheek and then looks to Tony.

At the crook of his mouth, she can't help but laugh. It reminds her of his father. "Reasonable heroics," she quotes softly, a laugh clearly audible in her voice. "It's as if he truly does not know us at all." Because, really, when have the two of them been reasonable when it came to the people they love?

Standing again, she looks to the prone form on the bed and then shakes her head. "No. I believe you're right. I'll need a few things from my apartment that should come in handy, but I believe you're thinking in the proper direction."

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