July 10, 1982
Seven-thirty AM saw Roy stationed in his cube.
Normally, he’d still be in bed, but he hadn’t been able to sleep a wink after Alan called him at stupid o’clock to jubilantly inform him that the MCP had crashed and he had full access to Tron again. There was a promise of fireworks come nine, something about Kevin and the game data he’d been trying to get, and considering what Dillinger had been putting his section through Roy kind of wanted to see it.
More importantly, though, he wanted to see Ram safe in his private partition again.
The cube farm was dead quiet aside from the constant subliminal hum of computer fans. Nobody worked overtime if they could help it, especially after the rumors had started flying during Kevin’s ejection from company property. Really, Roy would have pulled Ram from the system when that started, but he’d promised Alan. Tron was supposed to be a new breed of security program, so what better way to test it than with a whole new breed of hacking program? The kind with a legitimate function to perform so it wouldn’t trip antivirus countermeasures, but which could also package and send back all sorts of interesting information. Sort of like a Trojan Horse, only a lot more adaptable.
That setting Ram loose on the ENCOM system might also put some truth up against those rumors about Space Paranoids was a bonus. He couldn’t see Dillinger having enough sense of fun to be able to write a halfway-decent video game, let alone a good one… but Roy also hadn’t thought a dude supposedly as smart as Kevin would be dumb enough to write something that explosively awesome on company machines without a contract.
Whatever. He had to get Ram before he could acquire the data.
Two cups of shitty coffee and several hours later, Roy was starting to half-consider giving up and just joining the party that broke out after the news that had been shouted through the cube farm at nine-thirty. Dillinger was out, which was cool beans, and Kevin had been vindicated which was great for Alan’s friend and all, but Ram was missing.
Every query brought back file not found errors, every sift through system logs said that Ram had been deleted at some point last night, which was weird since the whole idea behind the beta test was to see if Tron could tag Ram, not delete it out of hand. Roy combed through the other access groups, taking advantage of the chaos happening outside his cube to make use of the hacked passwords he’d been saving for a rainy day. Lots of nothing, but something kept him looking for the program. A hunch, the same kind of hunch that had kept him from attracting police attention for his “extracurricular” activities for a while now. Roy had learned to listen to those hunches, and he wasn’t about to break such a lucky pattern now. Even if he had to turn off half the user interface and comb through raw code looking for his program.
Finally, littered among the junk data, he spotted a familiar line of code. And then another. And another. A string of variables here, a fragment of an if/then statement there, a do loop in another spot entirely. Ram was in pieces, and its familiar lines were interspersed with the parameters of a freakin’ Recognizer as if something had stuck Ram and Space Paranoids in a blender and hit frappe. Roy only recognized it at all thanks to his habit of giving variables quirky names, a dangerous fingerprint on his work that he’d never quite been able to give up. The broken code had an eerie quality, almost like staring at a picture of a car wreck on the evening news, and Roy had to take a bracing hit of his cold coffee before he could think clearly.
“Man, Ram. You don’t do anything halfway, do you?” Roy murmured as he slid a floppy into the drive and started scraping the code back together again, bit by bit. This was gonna eat the rest of his day… but honestly going by the news buzzing out loud from the break room and the fact Alan still hadn’t drifted by his cube, Roy was pretty sure that nobody was going to care anytime soon. They were too busy celebrating their liberation from corporate overlordship.
That was all right. It wasn’t really time to party until everyone was home safe anyway.
The world glowed.
Laughing softly, Ram reached for the smeared lights in his vision and pouted when he couldn’t catch them.
He had been doing something. What was it?
Playing tag? That was a fun game that wasn’t a Game, and the security program running after him hadn’t ever caught him, so his User was going to be so proud. Ram didn’t think he’d mind being caught, though, after he met Tron. Tron was nice, for a security program, and there was something about his faith and kindness, new and bright and focused, that lent Ram the strength to push himself and live through everything Sark threw at him.
Sark. Oh yeah. Sark and the MCP, who was a gigantic bit-face. Tron was going to kick him in the subroutine. Ram was going to help, wasn’t he? And there was that other program-thing. Flynn! His name was Flynn and he wasn’t a program at all. He was a User and he made a broken recognizer fly.
Then what happened?
Ram wanted to get an army. Three wasn’t really much of an army. And then the recognizer was flying and he was fading out and fading out; the lightcycle crash had disrupted vital loops and priority trees and by the time he realized his diagnostics were glitched it was too late. Help Tron. He’d wanted to, he liked Tron and the MCP was the exact kind of thing his User wrote him to fight against, with brains and knowledge and sneaky. Ram hadn’t been meant to fight in a real confrontation but he’d learned anyway and his User was going to be proud that he learned so well, but wait, wasn’t he supposed to be dead?
With a squeak, Ram bolted upright and almost fell over again as a wave of dizzy glowed through his circuits.
Nope, not dead. Very not dead. In fact, he felt a little overcharged like taking that last sip at the energy spring they’d found in the Encom system. Ram stared at his hands in surprise, seeing healthy blue circuits winking brightly back at him. Diagnostic routines pinged normal, though he’d lost several hexes’ worth of millicycles if the system clock was to be believed.
He had been dead. And now he wasn’t, his User calling across time and space and systems and through deresolution itself. It was a miracle, impossible, but the insistent pull pinging through Ram’s processes said that it was true. He was being summoned, the siren call of his User beckoning him already. Status, he needed to communicate his status, worry and care in the summons a warmth that glowed to his very core.
Laughing, unrestrained and joyous, Ram tottered to his feet and went looking for an I/O tower.
It was almost the witching hour, eleven-thirty, when Alan padded back to his cube to check on things. He hadn’t logged in since stupid o’clock that morning, and he had the irrational urge to check in on Tron before he collected Lora from the laser bay and went home.
The whole farm was dark, which made it easy to pick out a light on in the cube next to his. Roy was at his desk, flopped over with his head pillowed on his arms and fast asleep before his terminal. Alan gently shook his shoulder to wake him.
“Mrph? Ram?” Roy said muzzily, blinking up at Alan for a few moments before he shook his head and turned to the terminal. There was a program called up, cursor blinking expectantly.
“Long day? I didn’t see you out and about,” Alan said as Roy carefully tapped in a last command to transfer the program to floppy and exit.
“Had to do something,” Roy said, yawning, “Data recovery… stupid MCP crashing took out one of my best programs. Gave me the weirdest dream, though. Guess I should learn to stop living off nothing but coffee.”
“Living off popcorn and coffee is just as bad, you know,” Alan said with a laugh as Roy pottered about, gathering his things.
“Yeah yeah. Mother hen. Say… can I bum a ride? The last bus went through here half an hour ago.”
“Sure thing. C’mon, let’s get Lora and bust out of here.”
Roy paused on his way out, looking back at the terminal and then the floppy he had in hand. Alan was about to repeat himself when Roy blinked and grinned at some internal joke. Pocketing the floppy, Roy punched Alan playfully in the shoulder and led the way out of the cube farm.