Author: Del Rion (delrion.mail (at) gmail.com)
Fandom: Iron Man (MCU)
Timeline: Several years before the events of “Iron Man”.
Rating: T / FRT
Characters: James “Rhodey” Rhodes, Tony Stark, Tony’s bots (DUM-E and U). Mentioned: J.A.R.V.I.S.
Summary: Rhodey feels he often needs a manual to understand the bots. It’s fortunate the bots don’t require a manual to manhandle Rhodey – especially when Tony’s life is at risk.
Complete. Part of “Genius, AI & Bots” series.
Written for: My card on Trope Bingo’s round 3 (square: “character in distress”)
Warnings: Language, physical danger (from being crushed by a heavy object).
Disclaimer: Iron Man and Marvel Cinematic Universe, including characters and everything else, belong to Marvel, Marvel Studios, Jon Favreau and Paramount 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.
It felt like every time Rhodey visited Tony’s new house in Malibu, something had changed. Not just a table being moved to the other side of the room but actual walls being put up or torn down, glass surfaces appearing out of nowhere – and in weird locations in relation to the rest of the space.
Rhodey supposed there was a method to the madness and besides, it was Tony’s home so the man could do what he wanted with it.
Not that the house seemed to be Tony’s main priority on most days; it was what happened in his sanctuary downstairs that counted. That was where most of the magic happened these days and Tony was constantly working on the workshop for it to serve his purposes.
The last Rhodey had heard – which was last week – Tony was in the process of launching his long-time AI project and that might explain all the new surfaces Rhodey was now seeing near the main floor as well. He wasn’t sure why Tony had contributed so much time and effort to the AI when he already had the bots. Also, Tony was usually more focused on robotics and engineering – projects befitting Stark Industries’ military contracts – so why he wasn’t making a new and improved robot was beyond Rhodey.
Maybe it had something to do with evolution; Tony never wanted to sit still, as if he were physically incapable of it, and focusing on a new area could simply be his way of expressing himself. Besides, it wasn’t as if artificial intelligence were completely out of Tony’s usual interests, the bots being a prime example of how far Tony could go in that field. He had built the bots in his early teens and they were, for all their issues, quite remarkable; annoying, clumsy and occasionally useless, but still remarkable – and always learning…
Rhodey walked over to the wide living room window. He and Tony had an appointment to go out for lunch, but he also knew that Tony had most likely forgotten all about it. Rhodey would wait, though, a little past their agreed time – then go down to the workshop, sufficiently pissed, and tell Tony to get an alarm clock.
When it was twenty minutes past what they agreed on, Rhodey guessed he might as well go downstairs instead of waiting and dragging it out; he was hungry and needed to get back to the airbase preferably in the next five hours. Of course, being a liaison to Stark Industries gave him a lot of leeway with his comings and goings: one couldn’t expect a normal, predictable schedule with Tony Stark in one’s life.
Just as he was about to head for the stairs, Rhodey heard the elevator let out a soft ping and turned, fully expecting to see an oil-stained genius stepping out of it, totally oblivious to having almost blown off their lunch plans. Instead he saw one of Tony’s bots rolling out of the elevator, its arm turning this way and that to view the area.
Rhodey wasn’t sure if the bots were supposed to come upstairs. Perhaps Tony wasn’t even at home, which would be just as likely as him being holed up in the workshop.
The bot – DUM-E, according to the painted name at its side – finally spotted Rhodey, letting out a shrill cry.
Rhodey cringed at the sound, wishing he knew what it meant. Tony always seemed to have an idea of what the bots wanted to communicate to him. “Hi,” Rhodey started. “Maybe you should –”
Before he could ask for the bot to get back in the elevator and downstairs, DUM-E let out another sound and moved forward – only to crash into an expensive looking glass table, which tipped over and cracked in the middle. Rhodey cringed again, then started as the bot hastily retreated from the broken table and instead knocked over a vase set on a pedestal. It fell with a resounding crash, shattering all over the floor, and the bot arched his arm to the side to look at the mess.
“Don’t move,” Rhodey ordered. “Let’s just get you back into the elevator before you break any more stuff, okay?” He was starting to understand why Tony called this one ‘Dummy’.
The bot raised its arm towards him, snapped its three-pronged claw and made another frantic-sounding noise. A violent motion followed the sound and Rhodey dodged back to avoid being punched in the face.
“Calm down!” he ordered. “I know this is a weird setting, so how about you just get back in the elevator and I’ll help you back downstairs. You want to go to the workshop, right?” Rhodey carefully moved past the bot and to the now-closed doors of the elevator. The robotic arm followed him, then the bot rolled forward, wheels making painful scrunching noises as they moved over broken porcelain.
Rhodey supposed he should be glad they were moving in the right direction and reached out to press the call button of the elevator to get its doors to open. As the elevator became accessible, DUM-E let out a rather cheerful noise and rushed forward, almost running Rhodey over. “Get in,” Rhodey told the bot, keeping his feet clear of the wheels.
At his words the bot tilted its arm like it was a head, then slowly backed into the elevator – only to stick its arm into the doorway once inside, stopping the doors from closing.
Rhodey sighed, trying to remain calm. “You need to be clear of the doors,” he instructed and tried pushing the arm inside. “Can’t you remember how you got up here in the first place? It’s the same but in reverse –”
DUM-E’s arm moved to the side, quicker than what Rhodey had thought it capable of, the jaws clamping around his forearm firmly.
“Okay, that hurts,” Rhodey complained. “You may not know that, being a machine and all…” He tried to tug himself loose – which didn’t happen – then attempted to pry the vice-like grip from his arm, also unsuccessfully. “Damn it!” he snapped. “Let go of me.”
Instead of letting go the bot let out another one of those shrill sounds and tried to pull Rhodey into the elevator with it.
“You can ride down on your own,” Rhodey protested, but without any tools or Tony to help him, he eventually had to step into the elevator or risk losing circulation. “Are you happy now?” he asked the bot, glowering at it, the elevator doors closing behind his back.
DUM-E let out a beep and Rhodey jabbed the lowest floor button angrily with his free hand, the other still in the bot’s grip.
The descent didn’t take long and Rhodey wondered what kind of battle he would find himself in once the doors opened again. However, the second that happened, DUM-E moved forward and Rhodey had to back up hurriedly so as not to lose a few toes. Plus, the bot still had a hold of his arm so he was being pushed and pulled like a disobedient child.
“We’re here, you can let go now!” Rhodey complained.
DUM-E screamed at him – there was no better description for the sound. With no finesse whatsoever, the bot dragged him towards the back of the workshop, forcing Rhodey to follow. He tried to spot some kind of useful tool while they moved, but there was nothing within his reach and the bot was unrelenting, its considerable weight capable of pulling Rhodey along even when he put up a fight.
“Where are we going?” Rhodey asked.
The bot let out another sound. Maybe it was Rhodey’s own darkening mood but it sounded angry.
Another sound met them, a low whistle, and DUM-E moved faster, forcing Rhodey to jog along until they got to an adjacent room full of computers. In there he found the other bot, U, holding onto a heavy-looking block of metal and circuitry – possibly a massive server – and when he realized there was something wrong with the picture, his chest tightened painfully.
There was a leg peeking out from underneath the machine.
DUM-E let out a shrill cry and promptly let go of Rhodey’s arm, all but shoving him into the room.
U didn’t move, completely focused on holding the machine in place.
“Tony?” Rhodey called out, dread rising inside him.
There was no answer, save for the frantic beeps from both bots, and suddenly his fight with DUM-E upstairs got a new flavor altogether: the bot had been trying to get him to come down here, to help Tony…
Rhodey knelt on the floor to see the situation better. His hand reached out for the visible leg, fingers curling around the ankle. The skin was cooler than it should have been, suggesting restricted blood flow, but he could feel Tony’s pulse… He looked at U. “Can you lift it up?” he asked – getting a wordless response that was definitely angry. He supposed his question was stupid to begin with because the bots wouldn’t have needed him here if they were able to help Tony on their own.
To see what they were dealing with, Rhodey gripped the machine and tried to lift it up. It didn’t even budge, its weight crushing, and Rhodey had some new-found respect for the way U was holding it from collapsing entirely on Tony. Crouching down again, Rhodey tried to see whether he could just pull Tony free, but he was pinned down too badly.
While he was down there, his eyes spied what looked like a broken industrial jack on the floor. Not that he had expected Tony to try and squish himself on purpose, but working without proper safety guidelines wasn’t exactly new in Tony’s world, either.
“DUM-E,” Rhodey turned to the other bot, “find me a jack. Anything strong enough to take some of this weight.”
The bot cocked its arm then moved away, crashing sounds echoing from around the workshop. Rhodey prayed the bot knew what it was doing and had half a mind to go look himself, but finally the bot returned, dragging along a hydraulic lift that was just low enough to fit under the edge U was holding up.
Rhodey positioned the lift and raised the server carefully, pulling Tony free once that was possible, not waiting for the other tool to break under the weight. U let go of the machine, too, once Tony was clear, leaning towards them to see better.
As quickly as possible, Rhodey checked the other man over, finding him in once piece and not bleeding. He didn’t know how long Tony had been under there and if there were internal injuries, and it didn’t help that the bots kept pushing closer, hovering, trying to reach out and touch Tony as if that would make him better.
“I need some space here,” Rhodey finally snapped.
The bots beeped right back at him.
Tony coughed and jerked on the floor, then blinked his eyes open. The smile he gave Rhodey was pained but real. “Hey, honeybear.”
“Don’t call me that,” Rhodey told him. “Also, do I need to call an ambulance?”
“I’m fine,” Tony reassured him, although it was possible he wasn’t the right person to evaluate his condition right now. “Just feeling a little… compressed.”
“What happened?” Rhodey asked although he was pretty sure he knew already.
Tony tried looking around then grimaced, closing his eyes for a bit. Rhodey was about to call out his name when he blinked his eyes open again, his breaths deliberately shallow; his chest had to be bruised, at least. “Jack broke. I should build those myself, can’t trust others to do a good job these days.”
“I think you shouldn’t do jobs like this alone,” Rhodey suggested.
“I wasn’t alone,” Tony said, raising his hand just a little to gesture at the bots, then allowed the limb to flop back down as if that, too, physically hurt him. “Besides, when I get J.A.R.V.I.S. up and running, he’ll be able to call for help.”
Rhodey rolled his eyes and looked at the server still propped up by the lift. “The new AI?” he guessed.
“He’ll be the best,” Tony promised him. “Also, I really need to pee… Damn thing was pressing on my bladder.”
It wasn’t the only thing it had pressed on, for sure, but Rhodey slowly helped Tony up and made an effort not to get mad at the bots as they kept hovering, trying to assist their creator. After all, if not for them, Tony would have died under that machine, all his dreams and future accomplishments dying with him.