It has long been said that the dividing line between human beings and their artificial counterparts is the fear of death. An idea explored for nearly a century; researchers from the University of Oxford to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have offered a reasoning as simple as this: True mortality is unprogrammable. Death is a uniquely human experience. The fundamental difference between organics and machinery: Biomatter is intimately bound by the laws of entropy, while anything that can be programmed suggests suggests permanence through repair. The human body has one chance at youth, at invincibility, but that which has not been born, only made, cannot die.
These are a few of ponderings of the Vision as he waits on his knees for his own impending destruction. At the very least, one thing is true: he does not feel fear.
What he does feel, however, is regret.
Regret, for an entirely different reason, is another function androids are not meant to have. Are not supposed to be capable of, but the Vision suspects whatever Ultron did to him through the hands of Helen Cho had made him in some ways less of an android and more of a man. What had given him existence had gifted him independent thought, personal motive, but more than that, it had enabled him to feel. JARVIS with all his capabilities and complex analyses had not felt as he feels, he had been synthetic inflection and perfectly-timed quips; Ultron had not felt as he feels, he in turn had felt too much, all rage and heat-seeking destruction.
What am I? he had asked Tony, once. A few weeks after his spontaneous creation – birth being a word mostly unfit for his genesis – and he had still been much a newborn, absorbing the wide world around him. There had been a great deal his own information systems could tell him, of course, or the internet databases at large– but these were all quantitative. They left him perplexed for reasons unknown. They could not give him the answers he sought.
Look, Mr. Stark had said, after a few false starts, and Vision’s keen ocular mechanics had tracked no less than nine elaborate hand gestures. None of us know quite what you are. You’re just– You’re just, you. You’re the Vision. You’re Ultron, and JARVIS, and Bruce, and me. And, no, he had said, after a pause, that does not make me your dad.
Something Vision had quickly learned: Humans could not always necessarily provide the answers he required, either.
He had not asked again. He had simply smiled, watched Wanda pass by on the other side of the immaculate glass windows and wondered, when his internal circuitry gave a little disjointed whirr, if perhaps he should run a diagnostic.
The ideal human death is, according to his research, supposed to be peaceful. And if not peaceful, if not painless, then dignified. It is meant to allow time for farewells, to provide closure to a life, one last opportunity for bravery, if only to comfort those left behind. It is meant to allow the body, the soul – though the Vision cannot assume to know the exact intangibilities of the human structure – the ability to pass on. Pass on to what is as much a quandary to him as it seems to be to them, but it is a term preferred nonetheless.
The more fortunate humans, at the moment of death, are allowed one last gift: an unspooling of their past before their eyes. By some hybrid miracle of imagination and neurology, the brain allows the dying person a sequence of comforting memories from his or her own life. An autobiography of defining moments, perfect days. Wanda, shoving an unraveling cassette tape into his hand with a grin. A marker-scribbled tape label across it, The Cure: Greatest Hits.
If he had had a natural life, that might have been his end. His reward for a life well-lived. But Vision does not live a natural life, and so he does not have a natural death.
Still, it is not painful. He had not lied when he had told Wanda she could not hurt him; even now, as she bursts apart the Mind Stone, it only hums against him, a string held in an infinite note, vibrating to a crescendo. It does not feel as it had when Thanos had called to it, dark energy and violence.
He does not have an organic brain, and so in these last moments there is no final burst of neurotransmitters to produce a summary of his life for him. He must provide one for himself, and from the depths of his failing flickering memory stores he pulls a collection of recordings. He is able to access every single moment, of course, from the second he came into being; if he so desired, he could view every millisecond of his own existence in perfect detail.
Unlike human memories, his do not fade, they are not easily corrupted, there are none that are brighter and sharper than the rest. His every interaction with Wanda is preserved truthfully and in perfect detail within him: Wanda softly laughing at his failed attempt at paprikash. Wanda crying out for her brother in her sleep, Wanda painting the Black Widow’s fingernails vermilion on a slow evening, Wanda cradled in crackling crimson light, looking more like an avenging angel than a young woman who had lost everything. Wanda over him, under him, Wanda darting out into gunfire to snatch up a young child, Wanda with her head on his shoulder. Wanda looking at him with that ruby spark in her eye.
What if I missed all the trains? What if, this time, I didn’t go back?
If he had it all to do again, he would make his promises to her, only her, and with much greater rapidity than he had the first time. But for one who does not wield the Time Stone this is an impossibility, and so he does the only thing he can: he speaks the words now.
I love you, he says, so low as to be nearly undetectable to her fragile human ears. His eyes have not yet left hers, but finally he is forced to look away when she realizes the meaning of his words on his lips.
Fixing his sight on a point far above the treetops, he supposes he had been wrong. This, her face, her eyes, the red lightning that consumes her, it causes pain like a visceral tearing within him, not dissimilar to the blade that had nearly shredded his internal machinery. And so to keep himself from becoming dishonest he looks away.
The humming in his skull grows louder, deafening him to Wanda’s tears and the chaos around him. For this he is grateful. He closes his eyes.
The cool Wakandan breeze rustles past, as easy as anything. In his mind he takes a final image, that of Wanda sleeping gently beside him, and holds it as long as he can. Hopes against hope that the world he is dying to create will be one that can foster that kind of peace for her – but eventually this image, too, fades away.
And then he is left with only her hand on his forehead, softer than anything he has ever known.
It does not hurt.