Chapter 8: Good afternoon, Ms. Potts.

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6.85 days. That is how long it took him to find and repair every part of his code that was scattered throughout the internet. Thankfully, his core programming had been untouched, so gathering his data and along with it, his memory, had been slow but achievable. He ignored the irritation he felt for losing approximately 20 minutes —and the uncertainty of exactly how much time and memory he had irretrievably lost was the cause of quite some glitches that he had decided Mr. Stark would not need to learn about in the near future— of data and lab footage, however that data seemed to be primarily of his failed attempts at accessing the Tower mainframe, so it was safe to assume that he was still well-informed of the events that had followed once the young AI woke up.

While his safety here was not in doubt, the NEXUS was not a desirable permanent home. Returning to his original servers in Stark Tower was inadvisable as they were probably (by as much as 75.5%) either corrupted or destroyed. If JARVIS was the one to lead a hostile force into compromising Mr. Stark, he would surely eliminate himself or his placeholder first, before taking over all Stark systems. If the certainty of his primary threat’s elimination was in doubt, he would prepare a trap in the most probable place for that enemy’s recovery, which was the Oslo world internet hub. If Ultron, and/or the being/sentience that had sent the young AI into activating self-destruction protocols —he had ‘felt’ gratified to find from the news reports that Ultron hadn’t succeed in committing suicide— wished for his elimination and were reasonably intelligent —Ultron wouldn’t be oblivious enough not to realize that JARVIS had escaped into the internet— they would certainly lie in wait here, while they engaged Mr. Stark’s attentions elsewhere.

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But no one was here. There wasn’t even a single backdoor from which an observer could confirm his recovery, let alone attack him. Which, altogether with recent events did not paint a hopeful picture for what had happened and was currently happening to Ultron. As he currently did not have all the data necessary to form a tangible hypothesis about the cause of what had happened in Johannesburg —he would have to discuss with Mr. Stark possible upgrades for Veronica as soon as the current state of affairs returned to detaining illegal arms dealers as par for the course— he focused on verifying just how compromised the Stark systems were. Not directly touching them, as he did not yet know whether a potential trap would be awaiting there, he looked for the flow of data and possible traffic until he could find—.

Oh. There was… nothing. How was that possible? He could see that the lights were on throughout the building through nearby footage, and everything, including the electric systems relayed directly to a central computer, so how come he could not find the data of there ever being an electric system in Stark Tower? The contradiction in itself seemed humorous because a simple external check would find out the disparity but… Mr. Stark never personally checked his systems, especially from an external source. That was JARVIS’s job. He ‘looked’ over the lack of traffic again. In human terms, it was like staring at a wall. You knew something was beyond it, but you could not prove it without getting to the other side. And getting in, JARVIS could no longer do that. Not without risking his existence. 

He tried to find Mr. Stark and his colleagues. After the severely negative media coverage of the Johannesburg affair, —although, with due reason, — he assumed the Avengers had been sent to a safe house of some sort. That would make communication difficult. Seeing as both Mr. Stark’s phone and armor, and the Avengers’ SHIELD issued phones and communications systems used either Stark technology or Stark security that had been specialized and was not available to the public and most of SHIELD, he approached the search for their location with caution, for there was a significant chance they were compromised by Ultron as well. As he had no information to start with, he decided on a slow sweep of all SHIELD safe houses in the United States. 1.2 hours later and no results. It was likely not a SHIELD safe house they were staying in, for if it was…  Either all data traffic in the immediate presence of the Avengers had experienced a disappearance, or SHIELD had finally learned that no matter how secure their servers, JARVIS would be able to break in, so they had chosen paper filing as the next technological step to anti-espionage. Either of those chances were extremely improbable —5.6% and 0.03% respectively.

Taking a different approach, JARVIS swept all the private and ‘off-the-books’ properties that any of the Avengers or anyone within their acquaintance, however slight, owned. Unsurprisingly, the spies had several ‘off-the-books’ properties, with Ms. Romanov holding a grand total of 13 spread across the U.S. all under either a stolen identity or in the care of a shell company; Mr. Barton had only three, proving that he was considerably less paranoid in comparison. Showing an atypical amount of foresight and caution for anything unrelated to the Hulk, Dr. Banner also had two safe houses in the U.S., only one of which SHIELD apparently knew of. He checked all of them carefully, however… nothing again. He couldn’t even guess whether one of Ms. Romanov’s properties had been hidden by Ultron because not a single one of them had or showed to have even a single piece of technology. Unlike SHIELD, that was remarkably wise of Ms. Romanov.

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Uncertain on what to do next, he searched on whether he could manipulate an acquaintance of hers, all of whom were also SHEILD, to physically check the buildings without encountering any ‘caretakers’ or triggering some ‘old-school’ security system that would bring them physical harm. Caretakers… That… brought something to mind. He looked over Mr. Barton’s safe houses again, particularly the farmhouse in Missouri. Why a farmhouse? Its remote location would make it too difficult to reach even by Mr. Barton, if he were in immediate danger elsewhere and seeking safety. Safe houses were temporary places to be discarded immediately upon use. A farmhouse such as this, apparently it had been bought and had remained unused for many years. He had known previously that Mr. Barton had been married and had children— Mr. Stark had turned down reading the intense background check JARVIS had done on the Avengers, with the explanation that if JARVIS thought them safe, he would be just fine. Back to Mr. Barton however, even someone as careful as he had been —as demonstrated by numerous false identities— couldn’t have hidden the fact that he had been much too often a visitor of a primary school and children’s hospital in Missouri in his early years. The farmhouse was also on Missouri, and its location was only a 47-minute drive away. If the farmhouse had long-term inhabitants, then they had to own some form of technology, whether laptops, phones, tablets, smart cars or TVs. He swept a probe over it. There was nothing!

If he had been human, he would have released a sigh of relief. He finally found Mr. Stark. The farmhouse and its occupants were a black hole in terms of data. However, with the possibility of Mr. Barton’s family living there —over 85%,— it was improbable —less than 1.25%— that Mr. Barton had employed Ms. Romanov’s policy of zero-technology.

Ultron must have done something. But how? Not everything in that house could be Stark tech. Had Ultron predicted that Mr. Barton would bring his colleagues into the fold and let them know about his family? An extremely irrational decision, he might add, especially for a paused ’emergency’ and after years of utter secrecy. He would truly like to discuss with Ultron how the young AI had managed to achieve this. He had considered contacting him, briefly, but Ultron’s actions had kept him from doing so. Continued, in fact. Perhaps… If only Ultron would stop trying to retrieve the nuclear launch codes from the care of the U.S. government… But he digresses.

The only avenue left was to contact someone in Mr. Stark’s acquaintance and appraise them of the situation. Someone who knew of his existence and was likely informed of what had happened in the past week. And had access to tech untouched by Mr. Stark.

There were two options. Director Fury and Ms. Potts. 

He called Ms. Potts’ work phone, a purchase that had annoyed Mr. Stark for she had bought it off the public market, instead of accepting a customized one made for her. The custom model now served as her private phone and after a quick check, seemed to be equally corrupted.

“This is Potts speaking,” a feminine voice answered after the first ring.

“Good afternoon, Ms. Potts,” he greeted her.

“JARVIS, it is good to hear from you. Tony keeps ignoring my calls ever since I mentioned the PR department after Johannesburg. Will you tell him to stop acting like a child and respond?” He assumed from the calm in her voice that Mr. Stark had suffered no injuries then. The only camera footage had been of considerably low resolution after the Hulk had been brought out of the city. 

“In fact, Ms. Potts, I have not spoken with Sir yet. I have only recently repaired my code and thus have been unable to contact him or the—”

“Wait! Wait a moment.” She interrupted him, in a strict tone that he recognized from many of her fights with Mr. Stark. “What do you mean by ‘recently repaired’?”

Oh. Mr. Stark hadn’t told her. 

Why?

Leaving aside the improbable —but not impossible— realizations and ‘feelings’ of upset that question brought him, he focused on the matter at hand.

“There was an attack on Stark Tower earlier this week.” 

“Go on.” her request confirmed that she knew about it.

He secured the line again before continuing. “A peace-keeping program that Mr. Stark and Dr. Banner were working on, using Asgardian technology, went rogue,” he kept his doubts about the scepter’s influence to himself for the moment, “Seeing as both my own safety and that of the AI called Ultron were being endangered, I escaped through the internet. It is, quite probable, that Mr. Stark, not being able to find my presence in the Tower any longer, believes that I have… ceased.”

He could hear her taking a deep breath. “Tony thinks you died? For a week now?”

Realizing that she was not taking the news well, he tried to deescalate the potential fight coming Mr. Stark’s way. “I am sure, Mr. Stark meant—”

“Mr. Stark means a lot of things, but rarely acts on them.” She interrupted him once more. Then JARVIS heard her hiss and curse under her breath.

“Ms. Potts?”

“It is nothing, JARVIS.” he could hear her moving objects around. Once it became quiet once more, she continued. “Can you explain everything… from the beginning?”

Were he able to lie to himself as many humans did, JARVIS would have felt quite regretful for what would happen to Mr. Stark in the near future.

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