“I don’t like it.” Alan Bradley glared at Sam.
“I know you don’t, but I have to try. Don’t you see that? Dad might be gone, but that would be easy.”
“No, it wouldn’t,” Quorra said quietly.
“For the rest of us, Sam has a point,” Lora said. “We mourned Kevin Flynn a long time ago, and, unlike Sam, we haven’t seen him to feel the loss anew.”
Quorra nodded and went back to watching the conversation.
Sam said, “If Dad’s gone, Clu’s gone, too. It may not be winning, but Dad will have gone on his own terms. And like Lora said, we thought we’d lost him years ago.” He turned to Alan, “But what if he’s not gone? A user on the grid changes everything, you know that. And if he’s still there, somewhere, then we can bring him out or, you might have cousins, Quorra, new ISOs who’ve emerged from the code.”
“As long as Rinzler’s there, I won’t go back,” Quorra said. “Your father, Flynn, wanted his creations to see the world.”
“I wouldn’t ask you to go back, Quorra. At least not until we know how the grid’s looking these days. But you, Alan, you could come. And Lora, wouldn’t you like to see what you helped to create?”
Alan and Lora looked at each other and Sam thought he could see an entire silent conversation taking place. “Lora and I will draw straws to see which of us is your companion on the grid. The other one will monitor everything from the arcade. Quorra, if we keep you away from the laser, would you be willing to help?”
“Of course, Alan Bradley. Flynn spoke highly of you and your creations.” She turned to Lora and said confidentially, “He admitted more than once that nothing could have happened without your research.”
“I’m glad that he remembered it wasn’t just a boy’s club. Before anyone goes back in, I’d like to have Quorra tell us anything she can think of that might be a problem and, if she feels up to reviewing some of the code -- old and new -- then that would make me feel better about this project.”
“I hear you, Lora,” Sam said. “In spite of my reputation, I’m not reckless.”
Alan made a scoffing noise and Sam amended it to, “The grid taught me to be less reckless.”
“Now that I can believe.” Alan thought for a moment. “No one goes to Flynn’s arcade alone for the next couple of weeks. That machine seems to have a mind of it’s own, and now that I know about Quorra and the other ISOs, that could be a real possibility. Since Encom has requested that I retire, I’ll have plenty of time to work on this project.”
“Don’t retire, Alan,” Sam said. “I mean, not if you don’t want to. I have enough shares to keep you right where you are if you want to stay. Hell, I’ve been hoping you’d take the CIO/CTO position for years.”
“Been there and done that and have a maid to wash all the t-shirts,” Alan said. “But I won’t fully retire. As long as the three of us own 66% of the shares, there’s not much the board can do to get rid of me. Still, I don’t have to look at their faces every day, and working on this seems damned important.”
Lora said, “It’s damned important that you stay out of my hair while I’m working, too. This is the right thing to do, but Sam? You understand that if we deem it too risky…”
Sam nodded. “I know. I’m not going to go in without backup. Dad wouldn’t want it all to have been in vain.”
“Good,” Alan said, “Now, who wants pizza?”
It took three months before the other three deemed the project “as safe as it’s ever going to get.”
They met for a late lunch at a quiet restaurant not far from Flynn’s arcade. Quorra, who was fascinated by games of chance, begged to be the one to flip the coin.
Lora said, “At least that way I can be certain you haven’t found a two headed coin somewhere.”
Alan’s eye went wide with mock innocence. “Would I do something like that?”
Quorra asked, “Would such a mistake be legal tender?”
Sam chuckled and said, “No, but back when things were less automated, a few would get through and conmen found them very helpful.”
“And would Alan be a conman?”
Alan said, “No, I wouldn’t, but Lora’s teasing me because she knows I want to go in with Sam. See it all. But Lora wants to go just as much, so I wouldn’t cheat, however tempting it might be.”
Quorra nodded solemnly. “I understand.”
She took the fifty cent piece from Sam and carefully examined both sides. The others bit their lips so as not to laugh. She turned to Lora and said, “Call it in the air,” as she flipped it.
They all waited for Quorra to lift her hand from over the coin. It showed heads.
Lora gave her husband a half-smile, “Well, then.”
“I have to say, honey, I’m happier with you monitoring the laser and possibly adapting its programs. You’re the expert.”
Lora said, “You’re positive that what the three of you have come up with will get us Kevin back, clean?”
Sam said, “As sure as we can be, but the laser’s imprint of him… Alan’s right. I’m relieved that you’ll be the one monitoring, not because you wouldn’t be good on the grid, but because you’re the expert here.”
“Let’s pay the tab and get to the arcade.”
Once at Flynn’s, Sam and Quorra went ahead to the back room and began the final checks. When Quorra looked toward the door, she saw the older couple kissing passionately.
Sam elbowed her and said, “Eyes down. They deserve some privacy.”
Quorra looked puzzled.
Sam said, “They’ve been together nearly forty years. This could go wrong. They’re saying goodbye, just in case.”
“I understand, Sam.”
Alan came over and said, “Quorra, you stand next Lora. Or, you can go outside the room if you prefer.”
“I’ll stay, Alan Bradley.” She went to the very back of the room behind Lora who was checking to make certain the lens was spotless.
The two men stood in front of it, and Lora hit a ‘Y’ on the keyboard to start the program. Both women watched as Sam and Alan, rather than being burned through by the beam, slowly disappeared. When they were gone, they both looked at the screen and saw where the bits preserving their pattern had filled the two hard drives attached. “They’re on the grid,” Lora said.
“And we start trying to get them back in twelve hours.”
Alan looked around.
Sam said, “It’s really changed.”
“What do you mean?”
“It was bare, more organized, this is almost… organic.” He looked up and saw one of the light beam transports. “Follow me.”
Alan was surprised at how easily he moved on the grid. None of the problems of age seemed to have followed him into the system. Following Sam in a quick climb and what appeared to be a death defying leap made him a bit nervous, but he managed it.
“Greetings, programs,” Sam said.
“You’re users,” one of the smaller programs said.
“Nonsense, they can’t be,” said another.
“Yeah, we can,” Sam said.
“You’re not Flynn.”
“A Flynn, but not the Flynn. Speaking of which, have you seen him, my Dad, I mean Flynn?”
“None knows what happened that night,” said an older program. “Perhaps we are better off for it, but there is a legend that once Flynn the User merged with Clu, he went back to his retreat. As he passed a pool of pure data, he saw a program, nearly derezzed, in the blue of a user. That program went with him, but none goes out so far as to find the truth of it.”
Alan said, “Does that make any sense to you?”
“Yeah, actually. If I can find a lightcycle or, better, a car, we can be out at Dad’s place pretty quickly. The problem is getting back.”
“Quorra and Lora are planning to keep trying if we miss the first check-in.”
“I know, but I think Quorra’s really scared.” He turned back to the programs, who’d huddled in a corner of the transport. “Anyone know where I can pick up a light vehicle?”
“When we get to the tower, there will be some who can help you,” the oldest program said. “If you see Flynn, tell him Laru remembers him.”
“Laru?” Alan said, “Wasn’t he one of the earliest parts of “
“Space Maniacs? Yeah,” Sam said.
They settled down and watched the approach to the tower.
Alan kept looking around at the buildings and people in the tower. “They’re all programs.”
“Other than us and Dad.” Sam seemed to be looking at the pillars around the square. “This was interior last time. I wonder if…”
“Welcome,” Gem’s head popped out of the pillar Sam touched. The rest of it retracted and she stepped out. “I see you’ve been with us before. How may I help?”
“Last time, she suited me up for the game grid,” he told Alan under his breath.
“If you’d like to compete in the games, it is now strictly voluntary.”
Sam smiled. “Not risking it again. Not risking Rinzler again. But I would like one of those cool sticks.”
“Only volunteers for the game grid are able to use the sticks,” Gem said.
“Not even a user?”
Gem’s head cocked and a smile appeared on her previously impassive face. “A user has access to everything within his security rating. May I?”
She separated Sam’s disk from his back as he looked on warily. “You’re authorized.” She locked it into place and examined Alan’s in turn. “As are you.” She walked to her pillar and took two sticks out and handed them to Sam and Alan. “Enjoy your stay.” She faded back until the pillar was whole.
“That was creepy,” Sam said.
“Not exactly lifelike, I’ll admit, but creepy?”
“Gem betrayed us when I was here before. Since Dad’s -- I don’t know, apotheosis? -- with Clu, I suppose she’s back to her original programming as a helper. But seeing someone who doesn’t recognize you at all? Yeah, creepy.” He walked them out to an open area and showed Alan how the sticks worked. Their lightcycles surrounded them, Sam’s leaving a silver trail and Alan’s an intense blue. Sam took the lead following the path as best he could remember it from his time with Quorra.
They left the smooth grid and came across chunks of rock. Sam stopped and they parked their bikes.
“What are the rocks?”
“When’s the last time we defragged this disk? It’s the manifestation of discarded programs or half-finished ones, or at least that’s my theory. Dad may have a better one.”
Alan nodded and saw the entrance in the rock. The field let them both through and they took the elevator up to Flynn’s home inside the grid.
“You just don’t know how to keep away, do you, son?” Flynn’s back was to them as he sat in zen meditation.
“Well, some of us have missed you, Kevin.”
Flynn rose, a smile of surprise and delight on his face. He hugged Alan to him and said, “Finally, someone else who’s aged.”
“You strain soup with that thing?” Alan asked.
“Hard to find a good barber here.”
“We’ve come to take you home Dad.”
“I’m not certain I can go home, son. Besides, I’m needed here. We’re rebuilding again, and its much more sophisticated. You can have a more delicate touch inside the system.”
Another person -- program -- came out from Quorra’s old room. Sam said, “He looks like you, Alan. I mean, much younger, of course.”
“Of course,” Alan said dryly. He looked at their new companion more closely. “Actually, that’s very similar to how I looked thirty or more years ago.”
“That’s Tron, Alan, remember him?”
Tron’s face lit up. “You’re my creator. I remember, though, Creator, I’m sorry, I…”
Sam hadn’t taken his eyes off Tron and nearly leapt back when he watched the program move. “Rinzler?”
Tron’s head dropped, subserviently. “That’s what I needed to tell my creator. My base code was overwritten. I forgot that I fought for the users.”
Flynn said, “Now what did I tell you, Tron. There’s plenty of blame to go around, and yours is the smallest portion. You couldn’t help what Clu did to you.”
“My code is clean now, Creator,” Tron said to Alan.
“I’m sure it is. Will you be staying here off the grid, or fighting for the users again?”
Tron looked between Alan and Flynn. “I should fulfill my purpose.”
Flynn looked at his son and said, “You can blink now, Sam. Alan wasn’t that handsome when he was younger.”
Sam gave his father a lopsided grin. “Yeah, he really was.”
“Tron, why don’t you show Sam around while I talk to Alan.”
“Yes, Flynn.” Tron reached out and took Sam’s hand. “Let me show you.” Sam followed willingly.
“My son’s gay?”
Alan took the glass Flynn proffered and said, “Having walked in on him while he was growing up, I’d say your son likes both. As did we.”
“It’s been so long. I’d forgotten my more experimental stages, well, with anything that’s not a computer.”
“Come home with us. See what the world’s like now. You can always visit.”
“I’ll be honest with you I don’t know if I can -- go home, I mean. Even if the bits are still stored what happens? Do I end up looking like I’m twenty odd years younger? Do I crumble to dust because I haven’t had real sustenance in years? There’s too many questions.”
“Quorra arrived with Sam and she never had anything stored. If you come out looking twenty years younger, though, I’ll be jealous. And I think Quorra’s appearance in the outside may mean that you won’t crumble either. We’re not going to force you to come back with us. Just be prepared for more visitors. Lora wants to see you. I think Quorra’s a bit nervous about coming back to the grid, though.”
“Probably for the best. In another few hundred thousand cycles, this place may produce ISOs again. If they do appear, she should come teach them. But until then, let her enjoy her fear. It’s a very human emotion.”
Alan said, “Then come back and tell her your plan. You don’t have to see anyone you don’t want to, but… you’re missed Flynn, every day, even after twenty years.”
Flynn smiled a little and said, “That’s nice. And I won’t pretend I haven’t missed you, missed knowing what improvements are being made out there in the world, but Tron…”
“Let Sam handle Tron.”
“You saw them. When Tron didn’t look like he was about to kneel and ask my blessing, he was staring at Sam nearly as hard as Sam stared at him. If your argument is that programs should be intuitive, and that it helps them learn their functions, then it’s going to work better with someone that he can see as an equal rather than an elder or a creator.”
Flynn said, “That would mean Sam’d have to stay behind.”
“Not a problem, Dad. And, yes, we’re back. It’s not like this place is very big.”
“A man should learn to live with just the essentials.”
Alan said, “Compared to Sam’s place, this is a mansion.”
Flynn noticed that his son and Tron were still holding hands.
“All right, if you’re willing to stay here for a few months, I’ll go see what the world has come to. And you’ll teach Tron. I hope something more than it looks like you want to teach him.” He was pleased to see his son blush.
“Can I send a message back with you for Quorra?”
“Sure, son. Meantime, Tron, break out the car, I’m sure we need to get back to the i/o port sometime soon.”
“Yes, Flynn.” There was a moment where Sam and Tron just gazed at each other before they were finally able to unentwine their hands.
Flynn walked over and hugged Sam tightly. “Tron’s vulnerable. He was badly corrupted by Clu’s regime, so I expect you to treat him like he was, I don’t know, a crime victim, maybe. You let him set the pace and know that you’re there for him no matter what, got it?”
“Got it, Dad.” Sam looked around. “Is there any way to move this closer to the action? Or does the building where we met Zuse still have apartments?”
“We can probably figure something out once I’m off the grid.”
Alan said, “You know, if we run into anyone, I’m going to say you’re a Jedi.”
“That’s if my clothes come through. Lora might get an eyeful.”
They headed down to the car.
Flynn didn’t look twenty years younger, Alan was pleased to note, but he was wearing something approaching his usual of jeans and a t-shirt. Lora ran up to Alan and kissed him as Quorra came over to hug Flynn.
Quorra asked, “Has Sam derezzed?”
“No, he’s just helping the grid rebuild. Learning how to program from the inside.”
She smiled in relief. “Good. In that case, I’m very glad to see you, Flynn. I want to show you all the best parts of this world.”
Alan chuckled and Lora said, “You haven’t even been out of California yet, Quorra, there’s so much more to 'this world.'”
Back on the grid, Tron watched the i/o interface fade. He turned to Sam, leaned in, and kissed him. “I don’t know why I did that, but I know I wanted to from the beginning.”
Sam pulled him closer and kissed him deeply. “Good, I wanted you to.”