Meetings with Sam were different than any meetings Alan was used to in the recent past at ENCOM. They reminded him of the old days, of being in a room with Kevin Flynn and Lora and a dozen other programmers, banging out the most exciting new code ever to hit the industry. Back then, everything was free and nothing was guarded. They could afford to take chances. They were young and creative, and they were nothing like the ones who had gone before them. They would have killed themselves before they'd let what they were doing become obsolete.
There were days now Alan felt like the dinosaurs he had once replaced.
Sam made it clear to all the old power players that Alan was his right hand, that he was valued and protected. As the balance of power shifted back in his direction, Alan made sure to do everything he could to protect Kevin's legacy. ENCOM once had been nothing but an impersonal code factory, but now it could be what it was meant to be. What Kevin had envisioned.
"I know," Sam told him, "that you have always been loyal to my father. Always. And I appreciate it." And then he sat Alan down, and told him an incredible story, something Alan was hardwired to believe because he'd been there the first time Kevin went off the grid.
He looked in Sam's eyes, and he knew: it was all true, every word of it. Sam had been in there. Sam had been in, and Kevin...Flynn was dead. Alan had been mourning him for a long time, but now the grief seemed more present. More real.
At night, he stood on the deck and watched the lights in the canyon below, and thought about the lost chances, missed opportunities. All the potential this world had to offer, and all the potential he would never realize. He wasn't much more than a corporate cog.
"Alan," Sam said, over coffee in the morning meeting. "I'd like you to take a look at the AI programs in Research. Not the ones in development, but the experimental and theoretical - anything pertaining to the generation of spontaneous life forms, here or outside of the company. Can you do that for me, and prepare a report?" His hands were moving over the console Alan had developed, changing pages at a speed Alan could barely follow. The information he absorbed seemed to flow through him and return to the world in forms Alan could barely imagine, much less keep up with.
"Why, sure," Alan said. He doodled a candle flame on his grid pad, the sides lopsided and bent, at odd angles to the perfect lines on the page. Two-dimensional and without life, but he could imagine it, see it rising from the page, animated and warm.
In his office, he accessed the mainframe and sat for a moment, lost in memory. Then he opened an interface and, after a moment's hesitation, typed the commands.
Z:\>REQUEST: TRON JA 307020
PRIORITY 7 ACCESS
The screen stayed silent for a moment, and then the response came back, startling white in a black sea.
TRON PROGRAM UNAVAILABLE
Alan tapped his finger on the desk a second, thinking back to ancient protocols, and typed:
ACCESS TO FLYNN PROGRAM
LAST LOCATION: HIGH CLEARANCE MEMORY
The response was immediate.
FLYNN PROGRAM UNKNOWN
Z:\> REQUEST: STATUS OF MISSING PROGRAMS
And the response, immediate again:
CORRUPTED CODE PURGED FROM SYSTEM
He frowned and opened up a code port.*** *** ***
scp abradley@encom:ai/src/Tron/Tron* .*** *** ***
The sea is dark, and cold, and it has been so for an eternity.
Sometimes, he floats; sometimes, he is anchored to the bottom, unable to rise, unable to fight. Punishment, perhaps, for being unable to resist the degradation of his core mandate. Fitting, his user would say - his user, whose trust was betrayed. He's forgotten his user's name, forgotten everything except the incessant games and the slaughter of innocent programs.
He knows only that he has become what he once swore to defeat.
If there was a will to fight, he has lost it now. The sea is dark, and cold, and it will absorb him soon, strip him and analyze the bits worth saving.
Something...there was something else. An interruption to the pattern.
He flinches, seeping code, and tries to remember, but the malware still permeates his deepest levels. He twitches, hands flexing in the dark embrace of the sea as its power floods through him, cleansing, pushing away the corruption.
He is rising, drawn to the surface by forces he can't control. When he breaks into the world above, a ship is waiting.
Damaged and broken, he is of no use, even as salvage, but they will have none of it. The programs pull him aboard, anxious and hovering, but they keep their distance.
"Tron," one of them says, calling him by the old name, the one his user chose for him. "You fight for the user."
"Once," he says, not words, just an image of what he once was.
"The user has need of you. We have come to fetch you."
It is more than he would ever have hoped for, after serving another master. He lets them take him, and waits for his commands.*** *** ***
mv TronNew.h Tron.h
It takes some time, but while she mends his broken code, Tron puts the shapes of her name together. Eventually, he looks up and says, "Yori."
Pleasure crosses her matrix, communicates itself in the code she's sharing with him. "You know me?"
"I did once."
"That was another version of this program. I am not what I once was."
"None of us are."
The pattern has been broken.
Above, the sky is no longer angry and black, as it has been for longer than Tron's memory can process. He was only ever good at retaining game play. His user
designed him to be the best on the grid. He fulfilled that promise. But Flynn...Flynn wanted him to build. To do more than his basic programming. Flynn shaped him, gave him an idea of what this world should be.
Flynn left you. He left you to me.
Clu's malevolent, cold logic burns through him. Almost as fast as Yori cleans the code, Clu's program reasserts itself.
"It will take time," Yori says. "Eventually, we will remove all of the broken code."
Above and around him, the grid closes in. The efficient parts of Rinzler break away like pixels, one infinitesimal chunk at a time. Behind them, clean code, rebuilt from the platform Tron was before the darkness. Dark to light, a transformation he believed he could never achieve.
He is almost new again.
Tron looks up at the sky. His hands take the shape of controls, of mechanisms designed to allow flight. He remembers. It was not so long ago. Not so long.
"Where is Clu?" he asks, notices how Yori stills at the mention of their leader's name.
"No more," she answers, which is not an answer Tron can make sense of.
She stares at him. "No more," she answers.
Tron frowns. "The user, Flynn."
"No more," is all she will say. "No more," over, and over, until he feels its truth imprinted in his structures.
"You're changing me," he says, when there is enough cognizance for him to realize how his code has been altered.
"There is a mission," Yori says. "Your mission. We were sent to fetch you."
Clean. Strong. Alive. Tron stands, and for the first time in many thousands of lifetimes, he is free. No longer in thrall to Clu. No more standing to the side, head bowed, waiting to lead the programs to their end, to feed the machine.
There is something more. A logic factor, in addition to his skill factors; his basic mission, but something more.
"The summons." Yori points. "Will you go?"
The knowledge is encoded as deep into him as it's possible for code to penetrate, and he knows the path to travel, how to find the grid again.
Now he recognizes this new protocol. Choice.
With a grin, he leaps into the air and becomes.*** *** ***
scp Tron abradley@encom:/ai/applic/bin*** *** ***
Flynn is at the center of the grid, not at the edge of the wastelands any longer. He is not as Tron remembers him, but so little of what once was is clear in his memory core. This change - even before Tron enters his presence, he knows Flynn is at the heart of everything, now.
"Did you recreate me?" he asks, drawing closer.
Flynn smiles, and in his smile, the resonance of Clu, but without the maliciousness. "I'm afraid not. I believe the assist in that department came from your user."
"Alan Bradley," Tron said, flush with pride.
"Once he found you and restored you, I was able to...add a few creative touches." Flynn's hand lands on his shoulder and Tron's pathways open to --
"What is that," Tron gasps. "That is contrary to my programming."
"Not contrary. Just an addition. How do you like it?"
"I don't," Tron says, from his knees, though it's not an entirely truthful response. He stops, stunned. Choice has manifested without his direct access.
"Welcome to what it's like to be a user, my friend." Flynn kneels in front of him. "Just a little gift for you."
"I don't deserve it. Take it away." Tron shrinks back, but Flynn's hands are steady on his shoulders.
"Well, as I remember it, you gave your life for me twice, right? Once when Clu staged his takeover, and once when my son was trying to make it the hell out of here." Flynn smiles again, something Tron now recognizes as sadness in his eyes. "Looks like you really are an extension of the most loyal user on the planet."
"I betrayed you."
"That wasn't you, Tron. That was only a representation of you, a version. You just forgot who you were, for a while. Who you play for." Flynn threw his arms out. "We're back to square one, you and me. A world to shape, life forms to nurture, and all of it in need of some tender loving care."
Tron considers it. To work with Flynn again, to be at his side, is an active function Clu forced him to eradicate. It is difficult to reassert, but Tron...wants it. "What if I change again? Become like Rinzler. Like Clu."
"I just don't think there's any danger of that." Flynn looks up at the top of the grid. "With a little assistance, that can be prevented. Besides, I'm a hell of a lot older now, and a lot wiser. Some of us can learn from our mistakes."
There's power coursing through Tron. "Where shall we begin?"
"Here," Flynn says, nodding to the grid. "Want to take a little spin?"
Tron grins. Together, they lean forward, shaping themselves and the reality around them, a thousand shades of blue.
He is fast, again. Faster than he has ever been on the grid, or off it. He is free.
*** *** ***
Alan woke with a start. Sam was leaning across the console, a friendly smile on his face. "You like it so much here now, you just can't stand to leave it?"
"No, sorry, I just..." Alan sat up, spine popping, and blinked sleep away. The console was dark. "Just working on salvaging some lost programs."
"Get out of here and get some rest, Alan. You owe me a report, remember?" Sam set a cup of coffee on the console. "Don't crack up driving home, either."
"Sure," Alan said. He moved the coffee off the console and gave Sam a friendly little wave as Sam left the office.
Alan's fingers flew across the keys.
Z:\>REQUEST: TRON JA 307020
PRIORITY 7 ACCESS
"Come on, come on," he muttered.
The screen darkened, then flooded back to life, and a broad grin crossed Alan's face.
SYSTEM ACCESS GRANTED
TRON PROGRAM LOCATED
GOOD MORNING ALAN BRADLEY>