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Portrait Of The Artist As A Robot

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prostheticknowledge: MATAERIAL: A 3D Printing system that can create forms without the hindrance of gravity.
copperbadge: Well fuck, someone taught Dummy to sculpt.
knottahooker: STEVE’S FAULT.

Steve didn’t feel this could accurately be called his fault.

After all, Tony was the one who’d given him access to the workshop after Steve had asked (perhaps one too many times) to be let in to use the grinder. He was experimenting with metal sculptures, and wanted to smooth down rough edges; it was just expedient to let him have access whenever he wanted, since he never touched any of Tony’s works in progress or got in the way.

And Tony was the one who had installed a 3-D printing apparatus onto Dummy’s arm, so that the next time Dummy broke a mug (or a tool or whatever else he broke) he could print a replacement on the spot. There were only a few fixed designs in Dummy’s database, but Tony had shown Steve how to work the printer’s program.

Admittedly, Steve suspected Tony had shown him that purely out of biological interest: the notes on the Serum’s effects had somehow found their way into Tony’s hands, and he and Bruce often looked at Steve like they wanted to poke his brain. He knew Tony had probably only started teaching him computers to gauge his ability to absorb knowledge and synthesize conclusions from it. That was okay; either way, Steve got to learn a new skill.

So it was really only the natural result of converging events, all instigated by Tony, that led to what happened next.

Tony was at a tech conference in Atlanta, and Steve knew the bots got lonely; he didn’t have any metal he was working with at the moment, but there was no reason he couldn’t bring a lump of clay down to the workshop, cover a bench with plastic, and do a little sculpting while he kept the robots company. U buzzed around, officiously cleaning, while Butterfingers and Dummy watched over his shoulder as he worked.

"Get off, Dummy," Steve said, mildly annoyed after the third time Dummy poked a hole in the sculpture he was working on. "Go print your own sculpture."

Dummy whirled his claw around and around, beeping curiously.

"Well, you have a printer, get going," Steve said. Dummy buzzed, the robotic equivalent of a raspberry, and kept poking at Steve’s. "Dummy! Stop it!"

He was met with a pathetic whine. Steve sighed and scratched his nose with his arm, trying not to get clay on his face.

"Look, you’ve got a reservoir full of...whatever it is you print with, and you can work the printer, I’ve seen you do it. Print something, if you want to sculpt so badly," Steve said.

Dummy bent over and began rapidly printing a coffee mug.

"No, you don’t have to -- " Steve sighed as Dummy beeped mid-print and Butterfingers hurried off to the coffee machine. "I don’t need any coffee, thank you," he called. Butterfingers made a reassuring noise and started up the machine.

"No wonder Tony keeps threatening to dismantle you. It’s like toddler time at the bond sales rallies. Here," he said, breaking off a lump of clay and holding it in one hand until Dummy paid attention. "Watch, see? I can make a mug," he explained, pinching it into the time-honoured five-year-old-makes-a-pinch-mug shape. "But I can make other things too," he continued, folding the mug in on itself and rolling the clay out into a long rope, twisting and squaring it until he had a decent if someone limp approximation of Dummy’s claws.

Dummy made a shrill noise like a tooth drill. Steve winced, and even Butterfingers startled. Dummy plucked the clay out of Steve’s fingers and whirred away with it at top speed, while Butterfingers dragged the coffee pot over, splashing hot liquid everywhere, and poured out a full helping into the half-printed cup Dummy had been working on.

Cleaning up the coffee and reassuring Butterfingers that “I don’t hate you, Butterfingers, I was just startled” took long enough that by the time Steve got back to his clay he’d forgotten Dummy’s interest in it entirely. He finished his sculpture, left it in a corner to dry, and went about his business.

He’d forgotten about the sculpture too, more or less -- JARVIS would let him know when it was dry enough to be fired -- when he was awoken sometime past midnight, two days later, by an incessant pounding on his door.

"JARVIS, do I need to kill someone?" he asked, as he rolled out of bed.

"I would prefer if you did not kill Sir," JARVIS answered.

"Is that who’s trying to break in?"

"He is very perturbed," JARVIS said tactfully, and Steve opened the door on Tony, looking weary and rumpled.

"Have you been fucking around with my bots?" Tony asked, without preamble.

"I see you’re back. How did the conference go?" Steve responded.

"I’m not joking here, did you program Dummy at all while I was gone?"

"I wouldn’t have a clue how," Steve said, a little alarmed by Tony’s vehemence. "Why, is he broken?"

"Come see what you somehow did," Tony replied, walking away.

Steve followed him down the hall, around the spiral staircase, and into the level of Stark Tower that housed the workshop. When he reached the open doorway he stopped, delighted.

"I just got home," Tony said, leaning against the door. "I come down to check in on them, make sure they haven’t burned anything down, and I find this."

The entire workshop was filled with color — long strands of green dangled from the ceiling, sweeping waves of gold rose up from the floor, and there were stripes and blobs of various other colors in precise, almost fractal sculptural shapes. All of it was constructed out of tubes that looked not unlike the widest nozzle setting on Dummy’s 3-D printing apparatus.

Butterfingers audibly yelped when he saw them; he was trapped in a large swirl of brown thrusting up from the floor like a tree. U was trumpeting cheerfully from atop a twisting green construction of some kind. And Dummy was carefully printing the finishing touches on what was clearly a life-sized statue of Iron Man.

Steve started to laugh.

It’s not funny,” Tony yelled.

"It’s your fault," Steve said, reaching out to pick up one of ten identical gold swirls. Dummy rushed over and made him put it down. "Oh, I’m sorry," he said to Dummy. "I didn’t realize you had a vision."

"It’s not my fault! I haven’t been here in days!"

"Exactly. You left them alone, and you should know better," Steve said, carefully stepping around more golden waves and starting to pull apart the strands that held Butterfingers in place. Dummy protested but Steve batted him off. "Dummy! Art is meant to instruct and delight, not imprison."

"This is your fault! You did this to them, JARVIS says so."

"I merely noted that Captain Rogers may have led by example," JARVIS said. To his credit, he sounded apologetic.

"Wait a minute," Steve said, as Butterfingers rolled free and Dummy immediately began repairing the damage Steve had done, even though Tony swatted at him and tried to prevent him. "This all looks...familiar."

"Familiar?" Tony demanded. "Yeah, it’s my workshop under all this crap!"

"It’s not crap," Steve said absently. "JARVIS, can you create a virtual vacuform and -- yes, thank you, colors too please," he added, as JARVIS began digitally copying and then shrinking the workshop, presenting Steve with a much smaller projection of what they were standing in. Tony glared.

Steve reached out, rotated the model slightly, tilted it up, and then spun it, putting out a hand when it was about halfway through its spin -- the view of someone standing in Dummy’s charging station (now adorned with small red polyhedrons that looked a bit like stars).

"Ah," Steve said, smiling. Tony squinted at it. "Look. Look at it from this angle and pretend it’s flat. He built a painting."

Tony’s eyes widened. “I own that,” he said. “Pepper bought it to start rebuilding the art collection after -- uh, anyway. I own that painting. Where did you see this?” he asked Dummy.

"My records show that directly after completing his smaller prototype sculptures, he accessed your art collection database," JARVIS said.

"And he put Iron Man in instead of van Gogh," Steve said, voice full of wonder. "Now that's pop art.”

"Okay, well, this is very...something," Tony said, but his usual brisk tone had mellowed. "Dummy, you’re going to have to learn one of the most pleasurable parts of artistic expression." He offered the bot a sledgehammer. "The passing nature of all things. No, look, we took a picture, it’s very beautiful, but now it’s time to take down your installation."

Dummy tilted the hammer back and forth, as if considering, and then with a trill of joy he ran full tilt at the tree he’d built in one corner, battering it to pieces.

"They are definitely your kids," Steve said, as Butterfingers and U gleefully joined in.

"They are not my kids, they are robots, and you are a bad influence, get out," Tony said. "With your art and your humanism and your liberal ideas, next they’ll be smoking weed and going to poetry slams in communist coffeehouses."

"It’s not my fault you gave them imagination."

"You stimulated it! What’s wrong with you, haven’t we shown you the Terminator movies?"

JARVIS made a delicate coughing noise.

"I’m going upstairs," Steve said loftily. "If you’d like someone to teach Dummy about form and composition, I charge by the hour."

"You -- ! I -- ! By the hour -- !" Tony sputtered, as Dummy raced past with the sledgehammer. Steve let the door click shut behind him and ran upstairs before he collapsed with laughter.