Sunrise. Warm and radiant through the smoke that suffused the city and floated above the skyscrapers of downtown as a thick blue blanket. Some mild breeze blew among the hills; there was not a single cloud on the sky – another sweltering day was ahead of LA. The sound of the passing vehicles and honking came from the direction of the streets under the canyon where the early joggers were doing their exercise.
She ran. She passed some of the slower runners as she made her way toward the hilltop. The weights that she was wearing around her ankles and wrists felt heavier with every step, but not as heavy as they had done the day before. And before that. A jogger whom she knew by sight waved his hand when their courses met; she did not wave back and did not slow down. She did not look at the rising sun and would not stop until reaching the top. She ran like a machine.
“Not machine,” she thought. “Program.”
That was the day when she was to return to the Grid.
It was not Sam’s fault – it was nobody’s fault. The difference between the system and the User’s world was not the presence of that shiny globe on the sky; it was not about being able to bleed, needing air or feel. It was everything. When she first saw herself in a mirror here she was amazed by the color of her skin, by the blood that was running under the surface. She was staring at her own hand, watching the pores and the tiny hairs: on the Grid programs did not have pores or hair on their bodies except for their facial hair that was supposed to make them similar to humans.
It was not Sam’s fault, even though he blamed himself later, when she first collapsed and was taken to the emergency. That was two months after they had emerged from the Arcade together for the first time. After the verve of the first hours, first days it became obvious quickly that they might have been there to change the world, but that was not going to be as easy as it first sounded. Sam disappeared for days while he was taking over the company; the paperwork and administration took way longer that he expected. Days passed before he could get to put together a new server room in the Encom building for the Grid. Nobody else had access to the room and they were on their own when the memory card slid in place and the system became operative again.
“He is not there,” said Sam. There was grief in his voice: they had both known that the explosion that had followed Clu’s and Kevin Flynn’s reintegration must have had devastating consequences, but before that they had not have the chance to get the assurance.
“Both of them are gone?” she asked. Sam nodded curtly, watching the codes of the system. Soon after he went to the Grid and when his presence was not required at Encom, he was working on the system from the inside. The blast above the sea did not affect the city, but Clu’s disappearance left the place in turmoil. Sam did not allow her to follow him to the system – the Grid was a dangerous place and he did not want to risk her life that had been bought off so dearly. They barely met and that just worsened after she moved to an apartment in downtown on her own.
Pain. Nausea. Lights.
“What’s her name?”
“But what am I supposed to do until then?” she asked. “There must be a way that I can help.”
Sam rubbed his forehead. He seemed to be exhausted.
“What if you start to familiarize yourself with the city?” he asked. “For now? There are so many things to do here.”
“But… we are supposed to…” Quorra fell silent. It did not feel appropriate to finish the line, when Sam stood in front of her with that tired face.
“To change the world,” said Sam. “And we will. I just need some time. Please.”
And she did find things to do: she was walking around, shopping and watching the world around her. There was some bitterness from the very beginning, some acknowledgment of the fact that this was not meant to be – that she should have stayed in the system, that she was not to be here on her own. She had spent more than nine hundred cycles with Flynn; and even though the Creator had often withdrawn to his meditation in order to keep his sanity during his long exile, he had always been there, she could always ask for his advice. Quorra missed this background bitterly; still she tried not to call Sam with her concerns all the time.
It was alright in the first few days – it was amazing. To wake up every morning and to see the sun rise from her window with a cup of tea in her hand. To walk on the streets and stare at everything, people, building, the traffic lights, the vehicles and the ever changing sky. Not to be afraid anymore, not to be in constant lethal danger. It was easy, like floating. But then she discovered the details, got to see the nuances. The smoke that always shaded the sky, the trash that piled up on the streets, the homeless people all around.
“What should I do?” asked Quorra on the phone. “I gave this guy the money that I had with me, but today he is out there again.”
“Shit,” replied Sam. “Don’t go close to those guys.”
“What? But he holds a sign that reads…”
“Yes, I know, but it doesn’t really make a difference, if you give them your money. They won’t go away, because they don’t have anywhere to go. But you can get hurt doing that, because some of them are dangerous.”
Quorra could not reply. She held the receiver and slowly she began to cry.
“I’m sorry,” said Sam. “How is everything? Do you want me to stop by?”
“Oh, all is fine,” she said, wiping away her tears. “But how are you? And what’s going on down there? I wish…”
“Soon. I’m getting there, really.” He laughed, but it was somehow desperate. “They are fine, it is getting steady in the system. We’ll get together and we can start the real work soon, I swear.”
She went out that night. She had not done it before that: she was too shy and slightly afraid to do that. It was dim in the club and the music was loud. It was louder than other voices, louder than her thoughts; that was just what she needed. Bodies ground against each other on the dance floor and the cavalcade sucked her in. Quorra closed her eyes. This was similar to the gatherings of the ISOs, the movements, the touches. She could imagine being there again, under the starless, black sky, among her own kind, bound together, hands and lips attached, with the energy flowing unobstructed between the bodies.
Hands. Touching, caressing hands – then it changed and it became groping, aggressive. Quorra opened her eyes. She met a drunk smile and a stranger’s face; the hands grabbed her intimate areas without any consideration. She screamed, but seemingly nobody noticed that. Her hand flung back for her disc. She screamed again, now in outrage – her arm snapped back and punched the stranger in the face. He staggered and Quorra ran, out of the club, back to her apartment.
At that point she stopped going out, saves for the daily runs to the grocery store on the corner. She was lying in her bed and watching the television until late night; her eyes were burning the next day. For that she shut down the shades so the sunshine did not bother her eyes anymore. She was eating the frozen food she bought in the store or the pastas and pizzas she ordered on the phone – the empty paper boxes, the bottles of soda and sticky cans of ice cream piled up next to her bed. Then she quit cleaning the place. Everything got dirty very quickly, especially the corners of the bathroom. She was thinking about the Grid; there was no such a thing as dirt. There were no homeless people who could hope nothing.
“You didn’t tell me this,” she mumbled as she leaned over the toilet bowl, heaving. Her hair was sticky and her scalp itchy. Quorra looked around in the bathroom. There were black rings of dirt in the tub and pieces of toilet paper on the floor. Did she do this mess? She did not remember.
“Flynn,” she said. “I need your help.”
She went back to bedroom and began to clean up the trash frantically. When that was gone Quorra started back to the bathroom to tidy up herself, but her vision was growing dim. She went to get her cell phone and called Sam’s number; it was in the evening, when he was in the system. Quorra left a message and then put down the phone, puzzled. In the next moment she collapsed to the floor.
“It’s not an illness,” the doctor in a white robe explained. Quorra was lying in a hospital bed with Sam standing on her side. He had circles around his eyes and looked concerned. The doctor was looking at her with obvious curiosity. “It was caused by the sudden release of insulin. It was your body’s reaction to the intake of the great amount of sugar.”
Her face reddened. She did not dare to look at any of them.
“Your system is amazing though,” the doctor continued. “May I ask, have you suffered from an emotional crisis recently? You must have gained almost twenty pounds in the last few weeks.”
She did not reply; she looked at Sam whose face was flushed with shame.
“You don’t have to worry though. You just have to resume the diet you followed before and start exercising in order to fix your results.”
“So I can go now?” asked Quorra.
“Sure you can. However, as I said your system is amazing. Some of the test values are outstanding contrary to the condition that was caused by the sugar intake. If you don’t mind I would make a few more tests…”
“We have to go now,” interrupted Sam quickly. The doctor was disappointed, but he did not oppose.
“Of course you can leave right away,” he said and he left.
They did not talk for a few minutes.
“I’m sorry,” said Sam finally. “I should have paid more attention. I should have known what a challenge it is to live here, for someone who doesn’t know this society.”
“It’s not your fault,” she said wearily. “I just… let it go.”
“I will fix this. From now on we will spend more time together and we will begin the work.”
“Fix this? Along with being in charge for the company and the Grid?” she asked. She felt the old toughness awakening inside. “No. I will make it right. I’ll get back to the right track.”
And so she did. After returning to her place Quorra cleaned out the apartment. She got rid of the dirt and emptied her refrigerator and the kitchen cabinets. She took a long bath and then she went and bought a training shoe.
And she ran.
Programs did not dream. They could shut down during a system failure or if they got critically wounded – or simply from the lack of energy. They could fall back into a half conscious recharge state, where they sensed the outer world, but where they were not entirely operative; this was the most similar to the sleeping cycle of human beings. Still, programs did not dream. Quorra had her first dream experience on the second day in the User world. Her dreams were incoherent, shards of memories, without any meaning.
In her last dream it was dark and warm. There was chatter – the excited talk and yells after the last Gridbug attack. The debris was lying on the street scattered, the lights that had failed during the fight, now blinked and then began to glow again. A figure emerged from the debris, unscathed; dark with distinctive light blue circuits, tall, feline. There was a moment of silence.
“Is everyone all right?” he asked.
“Thanks to you, Tron,” said a woman, an ISO who was still standing there hunched. The tall warrior program still held his disc in his hand. The street livened up; there were whispers, applause even. Quorra stepped ahead to see better; or to be seen better? Tron put away his disc and walked back to his abandoned light cycle.
In the morning she went to work out. They were going to have a lunch together, she and Sam. He was more relaxed now, he looked less tired. She ordered sparkling water with lemon and a salad.
“You don’t have to do that,” said Sam. “To suffer. You’re almost entirely back in shape.”
“It’s not suffering. It’s okay. You look so much better too.”
Sam put down the menu.
“It’s easier now. The company is fine.”
“And down there?” she asked.
“They are fine too. Quite some time passed now. The fractions stopped fighting for the power. It wasn’t exactly violent, it didn’t turn to be a civil war, but it was though for a while. Now they have a new administration.”
“I have supported them, yes. They are cooperative, not violent. There were others that wanted to track down and terminate the programs of Clu’s regime.”
The waitress brought their drinks.
“I see,” said Quorra. “I want to ask… Do you know, what happened to Tron? Did he die during the chase?”
“No. His code is still in the system,” replied Sam. He was stirring the ice cubes in his tea with the straw.
“Tron? Or Rinzler?”
“According to the code it is Tron.”
“That means you did not see him down there.”
“No,” said Sam. “I did go after him, once. He’s hiding in the Outlands. I went there. He was there, I sensed his presence. But he ran away.”
“You could easily extract him from the system,” said Quorra.
“I could, but I won’t. This is not what he… deserves from us,” he said. She looked at him in surprise.
“It is Tron, not Rinzler. And he doesn’t harm anybody out there. He is the one who can get in trouble, who can’t defend himself, because he doesn’t have his discs. Anyway, I don’t want to do anything to him when he’s obviously against it. Alan says he will go out after him some time later. By then he will create a new disc for Tron.”
Quorra was surprised.
“Alan Bradley?” she asked. Her salad arrived, but she did not even look at the food.
“Yes,” he replied. “I told him about the system and he offered his help.”
She nodded slowly.
“I see,” she said. Sam’s lunch came as well. “I want to go back to the Grid.”
“Now?” he asked as he took his fork in his hand. “We are almost ready. We can get there to see exactly what sort of miracle you are for this world.”
He smiled. Quorra realized that she had not seen him smiling since weeks.
“Days here are long time on the Grid,” she said. “And there is one more thing. I don’t know, what’s going on down there now. But after these weeks it is kind of obvious that I’m not going to stay here, at least not for longer periods of time.”
“Oh,” Sam was startled.
“I want to go with your dad’s plan. He protected me for the longest time and if I have something special from what this world can benefit, I will share it. But I don’t want to live here. I do appreciate everything, but the whole idea has a sense of… wrong. Waste. Bad timing.”
And so they were back in the new server room at Encom. Quorra put down her keys and her purse that were going to stay.
“Ready?” asked Sam.
“You’ll see changes. Most of them are because of the new server and we made other adjustments too. The city is the same, mostly. It’s fairly peaceful now, but be reasonably careful.”
“Alan will give you a map and he has your light runner.”
“Is he down there?” she asked, mildly surprised.
“Yes, he’s working. When you are ready for the return, just go back to the Arcade. If none of us is around, leave a message on the dashboard and we will get you out.”
“Sounds like everything has become rather advanced on the Grid,” she said. Sam smiled at her, he did not say anything. Quorra took a deep breath, for the last time. He hit the button.
A blink of any eye. Now it was the dark, digital Arcade around her. Lights came in from the street through the obscured windows. It was warm, welcoming – it had a sense of homecoming. Quorra took a step. There was no tension of muscles, no smells, no optical illusions. Everything was simple again, univocal and definite.
There was some motion around the entrance. Quorra turned there and she saw a man with a scratch-pad. He was tall and slim; his face was thoughtful with a hint of a smile. He had short, white hair and grey eyes.
“Mr. Bradley,” she said.
The man took the pad in his left hand and extended his right. Quorra looked at him curiously. She found it very hilarious that she had to return to the Grid to meet a User as courteous and friendly as the Creator had been. The programmer seemed to realize that she did not get the human gesture and his hand fell down.
“Please,” she said quickly and raised her hand. “It’s my honor.”
They shook hands. Quorra looked at his attire: he wore a grey jacket with a single light strip and pants of the same color.
“I have your light runner ready,” he said. “The only vehicle that functions outside of the Grid. It’s an amazing carriage.”
“An amazing person invented it,” she replied. The programmer thrust his hand in his pocket.
“Yes,” he murmured and turned toward the entrance. They walked outside. The street was busy; vehicles came and passed, programs walked and talked loudly. Quorra was standing at the door in unease; it had been very long time since she could walk on the street without giving herself up. She did not voice her concerns though and in the next moment she cried out in surprise.
At the end of the street where once the ramp to the freeway had stood, with the dark background of the Outlands, now a long boulevard stretched with skyscrapers on both sides. She could not even see the end of the lit up street; so she lifted her gaze just to get amazed again – above the top of the buildings there sat a dark blue sky with shining green and blue stripes.
“Northern light,” she whispered. Bradley laughed.
“That was the inspiration, yes,” he said. “Do you like it?”
“It is beautiful.”
“It’s how it intended to be, had Flynn not been interrupted. We just followed the original plan.”
She looked at him, saying nothing: she felt somehow embarrassed to know that this answer was typical from someone who never took credit for his job, never stood up for his own benefit, who could be pushed to the side so easily. It was embarrassing to have this knowledge of him when they were strangers at the same time.
The light runner was parked in front of the entrance. Quorra touched the car passionately – she had not expected to see it again. There was a large backpack on the passenger seat.
“I put together a few things for your trip,” he explained. “You’ll find there a map of the new system and a couple of other things.”
“You want a ride?” she asked.
“No,” he said. “Thanks. I got work to do. Well, have fun and come back here once you are ready to leave.”
Quorra nodded and Bradley went back to the Arcade. She got behind the wheel and started. She drove along the old and new streets, watching the ready buildings and the ongoing constructions. The city was easy to recognize; the real change was not the extension or the lighter shades, provided by the blazing sky and the new buildings, but the mood, the general cheerfulness. There was a crowd around the new city center; she wondered if Sam and Alan Bradley had begun to create new programs already – there seemed to be so many of them. They appeared to be happy: but she had seen so many happy programs applauding for their fellows’ demise in the Arena, so many turning away when other programs had been dragged away from next to them on the street.
“Things never change, huh?” she mumbled to herself. She was driving around for long. When all her senses were sated by the new impressions, Quorra turned the vehicle and started toward the outskirt of the city. She passed several blocks of buildings that contained living spaces of programs, before she got to the freeway that led out of the Grid. Until then she had been driving without a certain purpose; now she opened the backpack and took a look at its content. There were bottles of energy, two light batons and a pad. On the pad there was the map of the whole new system: the Grid and the Outlands as well. Contrary to the chart of the city, the drawing of the Outlands was dark and not detailed. It showed the topography of the place and the trails that were wide enough for the light runner; it also contained the occurrence of the natural energy springs. That was all she needed. The lights of the freeway fell behind as the vehicle plunged itself into the blackness of the Outlands.
The house was nearly untouched. It was dark and she could not see it first: she expected ruins and scattered remains. Seeing that Flynn’s hideout was still there, carved in the rocks, Quorra began to approach slowly. She knew that the place likely would be empty, but that did not mean that there would be no explosives or traps left behind – and for that she chose to climb uphill and not to use the elevator.
Quorra stopped outside of the terrace. She peeked inside: everything was black and motionless. The water was rippling in the pool the way it had been programmed. She turned and looked at the view. She had not turned back during the ride, she had not seen the new city from a distance – this was the first time when she took a good look at it.
“I wish you could see this,” she whispered. The city was approximately five times bigger than it had been before, it lay there under the dark blue sky that was streaked by the neon blue and green lights. “Do you see it?”
She turned and walked in the house slowly. The lights turned on automatically; still there was no sign of threat. A few of the ornaments and glasses that had been standing on the table were on the floor now, but there was no other visible change. Clu apparently had not expected them to return to the abode, had not been concerned enough to demolish the place or to leave a bomb there. And he had been right in a way; though she did come back, it did not matter anymore.
Quorra went to table and sat down on the same chair where she had been sitting during their last supper there with the Creator and Sam Flynn. It felt like it had been a thousand cycles ago. A thousand cycles of survival: and she made it, they made it – the Grid was a safe place for every program, she was there for the upcoming experiments from what the world was supposed to benefit; but she had never felt this lonely before. It was not just Flynn’s disappearance, her trip to the User world and the disappointment after; it also meant that she had lived in relative separation in the Grid under Clu’s ruling and there were no programs she knew closely. She missed her fellow ISOs too. It was strange to consider that the programs that had been so special according to the Creator, had met such disdain from the part of Flynn’s own programs, from Clu. Of course Quorra knew the reason; the ISOs had not had specific purpose or programming as the others had had, and for the programs that had looked after their duties tirelessly, the ISOs had seemed to be flakes, who had just wanted a free ride.
“They might have been right,” she said loudly. Who could tell it anymore. The ISOs were gone, with all their uniqueness, talent, beauty and arrogance. It did not really matter what they had really been, if their stay in the Grid had meant anything. How would they be remembered? History was written by the victor – would that mean that their memory would be blessed? Quorra shook her head. She was not sure about anything. She stood up slowly and went to Flynn’s favorite corner of meditation where the pillows still lay on each other. Quorra kneeled down at a slow pace until her thighs touched the soft fabric. She had never done that before; it would have been disrespectful and programs did not need meditation anyway. She closed her eyes.
“Flynn,” she whispered. “I dreamed of Tron.”
Something stirred as she uttered the name and her eyes flung open. The motion was too quick, too abrupt for her to really see, but something did move outside of the terrace. Quorra jumped on her feet and leapt toward the terrace. After the weeks she had spent in the User world she could have suspected that it was mere illusion – only that programs did not suffer from optical illusions. She reached the edge of the Spartan patio and stopped, her eyes scanning the rocks down under wildly. She did not see anything or anybody.
“Who is there outside?” she yelled. There was no response. Quorra jumped down from the terrace and started to climb down quickly. She wanted to know who was stalking around Flynn’s place. The Outlands were not a livable habitat for programs and there were no Users around – and as it occurred to her, she stopped. Now she knew who it was and that she would never catch up with him. Quorra did not stop, she just changed course; now she was walking in the direction of the light runner.
In the vehicle she brought out the map of the Outlands. The location of the hideout was not marked on it, but she could place it easily – and found the closest spring even quicker. She started the car and drove that way. Soon she stopped the vehicle where the path that was wide enough for the light runner, ended. Quorra got out and proceeded afoot. She took a baton from the vehicle. The spring was close enough, but she did not go for that; she was searching for any caves around. Some time later she found the entrance of a larger den. Everything was silent and motionless. She held the baton in front of herself: the light of the tool was enough to use it as a torch.
The cave seemed to be empty. There were smaller and larger pieces of rocks on the ground; after her trip outside of the Grid Quorra was happy that she did not have to do the same experiment in a cave in the User world. Here she did not have to worry about scared or aggressive animals that could attack her. She stopped to listen, but the sound of her steps was the only noise around. By then she was deep in the den and could not find anything that did not belong there. Quorra was about turning back when the light of the baton fell on a few pieces of smaller rocks that had been lying there, forming a circle in an orderly fashion. Following a sudden urge she lifted her gaze. The light of the baton did not reach the top of the den, but there, where only the darkness of the closed space should have been, there were the white circuit lights of a program.
Quorra let out a frightened scream and staggered. Almost immediately she felt shame for her behavior: but the silent presence of the program above her was fearsome. She stood there with head tilted back. The program above stayed motionless. She could see only his circuits; but she knew those lit patterns well and it was more than enough for her to recognize Tron.
“I don’t want to harm you,” she said loudly. There was no response and the program did not move. For the first time Quorra was thinking if he was sane; if he was indeed Tron. The program’s sacrifice during the chase with the light jets was one thing and his reformed circuits were another – but a thousand cycles were a long time. “Were you at the house?”
The program did not respond. The silence was complete; she did not hear Rinzler’s terrifying growling either.
“Flynn built it long time ago,” she continued. “It wasn’t his first hideout. The first one was farther away in the Outlands, it was small and hard to approach. It was later, when he realized how difficult it was for Clu’s sentries to search out here, that was when he decided to build another one closer to the city, with a view.”
Silence. The tiny little lights did not move.
“He’s not here anymore, do you know that? Clu followed us to the portal and Flynn reintegrated him to buy us time to escape. They didn’t survive. The changes you see around the system, those were done by Sam Flynn and Alan Bradley.”
There was a twitch. It was small, barely noticeable; yet it was there. Quorra was thinking – what to say? How can he just hang there, like it is the easiest thing on the Grid?
“They want you to come back,” she said. “You can get a new disc.”
The program remained silent and motionless. Quorra lifted the baton as high as she could.
“Are you there?” she asked. “Are you really there?”
Tron began to retract. The sparkling white lights moved toward the end of the cave slowly. She stood there for a few more seconds and then she turned and walked out. At the opening of the den she stopped and sat down; she was distracted, almost feverish. Why, she wondered, she used to so many User terms after such a short stay outside of the Grid, why were there so many User idioms to describe feelings and inner phases.
Some time passed; everything was dark and silent. Nothing moved around the rocky desert and no sound came from the cave. Quorra tried to focus on what Flynn would have done in her situation.
“Nothing?” she said. But that answer felt wrong – that answer belonged to the old, broken man that Flynn had become during the cycles, not to the Creator who he really had been deep inside even during the darkest cycles. If there was something, untold during the cycles, but of supreme importance then it was that Tron’s apparent death had had a major part in Flynn’s derailment; and that he had been wrong when he had chosen not to take action then, and later on. Those mistakes could not be undone – but she had an option, to follow Flynn’s path; or to make a different decision.
Quorra stood up and turned back to the cave. The rocks were dark blue under the new sky of the system. She walked back to the entrance and lifted the baton again. She reached the circle of stones quickly; she saw it from far, because Tron was lying there curled up. He did not stir at Quorra’s approach. She kneeled down, just outside of the circle.
“He would want you to come back,” she said. The program did not react; his back was turned toward Quorra, dismissively. “There was enough death.”
Nothing. She tried to find the right words.
“There is life too,” she said. “And many more will be coming. Life.”
That elicited the first reaction from Tron. A barely noticeable head shake. No. Denial. Death.
“There is. I saw it. It’s different from how it was, but that’s probably for the better.”
Silence. No response.
“Do you think they do it better?” she asked. “Users. That their world is better? That they don’t commit crimes, that there is no genocide? They are much worse than Clu’s ever been. Not just with each other, with other Users, but with other creatures around themselves. Hundreds of species die out every day and nobody cares about it.”
There was a slight tilt of the black helmet. Still no reaction, but she felt like he was listening to her now. Quorra put down the baton, leant to one of the stones lying on the ground.
“It is not… great,” she said. “It’s different. Much more information at the same time. But time itself passes much more quickly and this gives you the sense of waste, that you are missing something.”
“It can be beautiful, especially the nature. That we don’t have here, plants and animals, mindless living organisms. The city is different, more like the system with its lights and sounds. And there is the sky which is rather similar to the new sky-scape of the Grid.”
Quorra looked at the empty disc port on Tron’s back. Only stray programs were wandering without discs – lost creatures that could not get updates and repairs. Not that it mattered; Tron did not have a programmer anymore. She fought back the urge to put her hand to the place where the once dreaded twin discs had been before.
“There are no limits,” she went on. “In doing something, indulging yourself in something. In work. Entertainment. In food… that means energy. They manage it though. I guess a program could do it too: a program that has a certain purpose, a real designation. I failed at it.”
She fell silent; she could not believe what she had just done – complained to a program that had been forced to go against his original purposing for a thousand cycles. One should expect a program to learn some modesty all along a considerably long life, Quorra thought, but it seemed like she had not picked up a thing. She was thinking about running away, out of the cave; and while she was contemplating about that, Tron turned around slowly.
Quorra stared at him, alert. Tron did not do anything else, just turned on his other side and now was facing her; although his face was hidden behind the black helmet. Something occurred to her for the first time.
“Can you speak at all?” she asked. She did not really hope a reply, she was even more surprised at raspy, automatic voice came that came out from the audio output of the helmet.
The pale blue light of the baton reflected on the smooth surface of the helmet. Quorra suspected that despite of the response the program’s speaking ability was rather limited. Her gaze wandered away and she saw that the circuits on Tron’s right hand were flickering. The material of the glove was torn at several places and the damage affected the circuits as well; the skin was pixilated under the cracked glove. Already appalled by the extent of the injury, Quorra suddenly realized that the tears were bite marks and must have been self inflicted.
“Your poor hand,” she cried out. How forcefully, she thought, one should bite down to tear off that material, how painful it should be to cut a circuit like that. What kind of thoughts should be there that could not be silenced any other way, just by an intense physical pain like this.
There was a soft, disapproving sound, not more than a tut. Quorra looked at the impassive, dark visor. How badly she had wanted to come this close, so many cycles ago and when she had done it, unknowingly, all they had exchanged had been kicks and punches. After all that her burst seemed to be quite insincere. Tron began to turn back onto his other side.
“Memories,” she said. His motion slowed down and the program stopped, lying on his back. “Of life. Death. Living like this. Next to the empty house, but lying on the rocks. Feeding from the shallow spring and not taking anything from the abandoned stocks. Falling apart bit by bit, not asking for help. For memories.”
Tron started to growl. It was similar to Rinzler’s menacing purring; only just there was no other sign of threat, no other reaction. It was like a warning, for her to be careful about what she was going to say.
“Memories. We have spotless recall: we remember everything, only the way we relate to the memories, can change. We remember everything from the point of our creation, but only one program can remember the Grid from the point when it was created.”
The growling stopped abruptly. She nodded.
“And the first times. When the Grid was without form and void, and darkness was upon the
face of the deep. And the first programs, being born. The first buildings, emerging; the origins. The same tale, all the time, again and again. Up there, in the User world they are killing each other, destroying other living beings, the place that was entrusted to them, with whole intent. With whole intent. And they are forgiven. Then why wouldn’t you be forgiven for things, that you were forced to commit?”
There was silence. Quorra was kneeling without a stir – Tron was lying on his back, his hands resting next to him.
“Users believe that their soul, their essence survives when their bodies derezz. We don’t have souls, but as they use to say, the energy level of the system has never changed, not even in the darkest cycles. Programs derezzed, but the complexity of the Grid has grown. What else are we supposed to think than they never really left, that they are still around? And I don’t want it to be else way. I want to believe that the one who gave his life while smuggling me out of the city, knows that his sacrifice was worthy. I want my fellows to be in peace, because if nobody else, I surely survived and Flynn’s plan will come to fruition. I want to believe, that despite of all the suffering and loss, we can overcome our mistakes and evil intentions and finally prevail. I want to believe, that in a way everything happened as it was supposed to, that there is a reason why we are here now.”
She closed her eyes. There was a veil of tension that lifted and dissolved. Quorra looked up. It was a blank moment; bearing the same lightness as the end of an ISO gathering, when, after getting rid of the waste of misunderstandings and hard feelings, they had been dismissed. It was redemption. She turned back to Tron. His posture was less tense now. Quorra leant ahead, crossing the circle of rocks for the first time.
“Don’t freak out,” she mumbled as she was reaching for the trigger of his helmet. She, on the other hand, was frightened to see what was beneath the dark plastic; and was almost surprised to see the very same face that of her memories. He was tired looking and worn out – but those were the same features that’s appearance had meant safety for any program on the Grid before Clu’s takeover.
Tron was looking at the ceiling of the cave and then at Quorra. He was calm, almost relaxed. She fumbled through the rocks. The wiping was done; she wanted to make the new start blissful – for herself as well. At the same time she was ready to jump on her feet and leave… escape… in case her figures were not going to add up, if she was not going to be welcomed.
Quorra put her hand on Tron’s left wrist and ran her fingers all the way to his shoulder. He looked at her with initial surprise; then his gaze softened. Encouraged, Quorra touched his arm with her other hand too – it was barely more than a stroke, but her fingers stayed connected with his body, not losing the contact. Her hand wandered up to his shoulder and to his neck, to change course after some exploration and to fall on his chest. Tron opened and closed his eyes. It was tranquilizing; the place was silent, and they were in the tiny circle of the blue light, as in a bubble. The energy was growing and heating the small, shared personal space.
Her gloved hands came to rest on his shoulders. She closed her eyes: there should have been darkness, certain consequence of shutting off the optical input, but there were images: she saw people and programs, moving, fighting, running and holding onto each other. Her own memories of the Grid and the User world, and pictures of her imagination, the way she had projected the picaresque novels she had read back in her room in Flynn’s hideout. So many adventures, real and imagined, battles, escapes, flights, seeing another world – just to be back where it had started, after so many colorful places to get back to this dark cave, after meeting so many different entities to be here with this one. Yet it was not a sorrowful thought; it was easing, it gave the sense of completion.
When she opened her eyes she saw that Tron was looking at her. It was a detached, still gaze, typical of the program that she knew so well through others.
“Life,” she said and this time there was no denial; instead of that there was a hand on her hip. Quorra smiled to herself. There was nothing commanding or constraining in the touch; it was just… trusting. That trust was not to be betrayed – because he was going in a different direction: toward returning to the city, being repaired and restored, toward getting back the life that had been taken away from him. She was wondering, if it would feel for him as going home or it would be like a new beginning. If meeting his User for the first time would be sublime or would they shake hands as friends that had not seen one another for long.
Now the energy was flowing freely under her fingers. It was an airy, yet exciting feeling which made her indulged and focused at the same time. She saw that it had the same effect on Tron as well; saw it in his eyes that became gloomy, the way his lips parted. Quorra lifted herself and straddled him. Tron’s other hand came to rest on her thigh. Still avoiding those wounded limbs she slid her hand along his sides and down to his waist. His eyes widened as energy pulsed through his body, through both of them.
With those wary hands on her thighs Quorra continued tracing the curves of Tron’s armor. Her careful touches strengthened the sweep of power; the same power that made his circuits glow bright and soon she started to sense the tingling feedback through his caressing hands that were moving slowly. It was an intense, clear energy, free from reminiscence and abashment. It connected to her sensors and her eyes widened from the sudden wave of pleasure: he strained beneath Quorra at the same time. The interlocking of their circuits generated intense charge that was hard to take: she was watching Tron as he was trembling under her; his fingers dug into her skin.
Jaw clenched she closed her eyes slowly and there came the images, brought to the surface by the exchange of energy; the Grid, under a smooth, black sky. It was glowing, but still it was under construction, not long after the Creation. She/he was standing on the rock, overlooking the plains, the place that was soon to be the home of millions of programs. Turning her head she saw two other figures standing aside: a young Kevin Flynn and… an exact copy of him. Reliving that long passed moment Quorra did not immediately recognize Clu, not with that proud and guiltless grin on his face. Her sight turned back to the view of the city and she realized what she was given: a piece of the Creation, shared with the best friends, one of Tron’s happiest memories.
The overload of the energy burned her from the inside and Quorra cried out; she opened her eyes and met his gaze that was not cool and stoic anymore, but heated and fiery. And there it was her moment: almost disappointing at first as it was smeared and rushed, too many colors and sounds at the same time. She recognized it then – it was the recollection of running on the street in the User world, under a heavy, bright sun. Cars were roaring and the wind was blowing; a dog barked. Sweat rolled down on her back and she was breathing heavily. Sweet smell came from a bakery that she passed and for a long moment she longed to turn back and go inside the store.
Almost snarling from the pleasure Quorra felt embarrassed: this would be her happiest memory? Then it became clear for her; it was not her happiest moment, it was the one she wanted to give Tron – an instant of that other world, another way of life, a different universe in what he had believed even when it had been prohibited and had cost him so much. His expression became still and his hands rested on her waist. Quorra felt a sharp sting in her eyes; had she been in the User world, she would have cried now.
The light of the baton dimmed as the tool went to standby. She leaned ahead; they were lying there for a while. They could have moved; the deal was done and the gaps were filled – but they stayed still.
No other words were exchanged. Tron was crouched on a cliff as she was getting in her light runner. She left the batons, the bottles of energy and the map behind. Quorra looked at the silent figure once more before she started the vehicle: no promises had been made and no plans roughed out. She did not need any of those; his want to be whole and serve those in need was evident for her. Soon.
The headlights of the vehicle were jumping from rock to rock and the road was winding ahead. The city was glowing in the distance as a gem on a velvet pillow. Getting back to the Arcade she found Alan Bradley closing the office and about to leave for the portal.
“Had a nice ride?” he asked. “Are you ready to go?”
“Yes,” said Quorra. “I’m ready.