“I will not do it.”
Sam whirled around, taken aback by Tron’s refusal. “What?”
“I don’t think reiteration is necessary. You heard me.” Tron kept his back to him as he leaned on the balcony railing and looked out over the city below. Reconstruction promised to be a long and tedious process, but even so, the streets glittered with programs and towering structures gleaming against the black sky. His eyes were hard in the face of that glory; he no longer held any pride for the metropolis built in his name.
“I don’t get it,” Sam murmured, folding his arms. “Dad said you would always jump on any chance to help. I can’t rebuild this place on my own.”
Tron had locked up almost immediately after he’d broken free of his reprogramming, after sabotaging Clu’s plans, watching with misery from beneath the waves of the Sea as Flynn and Clu reintegrated and the portal disappeared, bathing his world in darkness. When Sam returned, he knew Tron wouldn’t be the same as he used to be. But he hadn’t expected obstinance. It had been difficult since he’d gotten here.
“Why?” Sam asked finally.
“You’re a User. You have infinite power here. I am only a fraction of it.” His response was clipped, and not quite Tron.
“Okay, but you’re still strong. Hell, you’re the whole Grid’s hero—”
“You still are to me. Guess that’s not much of a motivator.”
Tron dipped his head with a short sigh, turning his head away from where Sam was now trying to look him in the eye. “I am expected to do everything you ask. And I am compelled. I don’t—” I don’t like it.
Sam put a tentative hand on his shoulder. “Look, man, I know… that… it reminds you. Of him. But this is your function, what you were born with. It’s okay. This is what you’re supposed to do.”
Tron turned to look at him this time, his brow furrowed. “So you’re telling me I am programmed to fulfill the wishes of the Users.”
“To—to protect the system—”
“Because the Users desire it be protected.”
“Tron, you’re a program, you—”
“Are you trying to imply something, Sam Flynn?”
Sam averted his eyes. This was going in a completely opposite direction from what he’d intended. He tried to shut up long enough to think over his reply, but the words tumbled out unbidden in his desperation to help the tortured program understand. “No, I meant—you’re—you’re programmed with a function, you know that, a directive to—”
The slow slide of Tron’s gaze from hurt to anger told him he’d only dug himself into a deeper hole.
“To what, Sam. To obey? To serve?” He was suddenly confrontationally close, close enough for Sam to feel the heat from the warrior’s pinpoint circuits, burning bright blue with fury. “I served. Since my creation I’ve served, I fought, for the Users, for you. Then I served what took their place for hundreds of cycles—”
“That was different! Tron, you know that was different—”
“Was it?” Tron leaned closer. The dark circles under his eyes, the constant grimace, told of the toll of his years serving in Clu’s regime. “Weren’t you just explaining to me how I am programmed to fulfill my directive? Tell me, Sam, does that sound like a choice?”
Sam swallowed hard and took a deep breath. This was a fight he would not win, especially with Tron like this. “Look, your code… it’s still being sorted around. I know you’re confused. There’s a lot of Rinzler’s code I haven’t worked out yet. It’s only inevitable that you’ll experience some scrambling—”
“No.” Tron’s voice was sharp, underscored by the faint purr that faded in and out between modifications. “I put my faith in the Users. I protected them, fought for them. Why wasn’t that faith returned?”
“Tron would never say that.”
Tron seized him by the throat. Sam felt his head crack against the back of the wall, and in his dizziness felt Rinzler’s distinctive rumble reverberating up through the fingers clenched around the delicate bones in his neck.
“No—” Sam clawed at the cage of fingers beneath his chin. “He didn’t. He tried—”
The rumble deepened into a snarl and Tron’s grip tightened, but his face strained with uncertainty at his own words. “I tried.”
Sam sipped at the air through his teeth, forcing himself to relax beneath the pressure on his throat. Struggling would likely coax whatever killer instincts remained from Tron’s reprogramming. For once he kept his mouth shut, and let the security program work out his own thoughts. It was quiet for longer than he felt comfortable with a death grip on his throat, listening to nothing but the unnerving rumble emanating from his friend’s chest, until eyes so much like Alan’s returned to his.
“I did everything he ever asked.”
Sam knew he wasn’t just talking about Flynn. He flinched at the connection and tried for a different approach. “Rinzler—”
He was dropped abruptly and Tron turned away. “That is not my name.”
“Then who are you?”
Tron did not immediately respond, keeping his back turned to the User. “I don’t know.”
Sam pulled himself up to his feet, rubbing at his sore neck. He was out of things to say, and out of solutions. He had come here first and foremost to see to Tron; everything else had come later. But if he couldn’t help rebuild Tron, then how on earth did he expect to rebuild the Grid? He couldn’t do this by himself. He needed Tron. He should have just said so, and maybe the program would’ve reacted differently, but he couldn’t bring himself to do it. Something told him Tron wasn’t ready to be needed.
Sam blinked, jarred from his thoughts. “What?”
He stepped forward hesitantly, peering around Tron’s shoulder. His eyes were squeezed shut; it pained him to say it. There was a brief silence, as if he were waiting for Sam to say something else, and his fists balled at his sides.
“Order me. I’ll do it.”
Sam gaped, unable to come up with a feasible response.
“It’s the only thing that’s going to work until I’m fixed.” Tron turned to face him again, brows knitted in frustration. “It’s hard to know what feelings are real, which ones are programmed. What if I never really wanted to serve the Users? I was programmed that way. Just like I was reprogrammed to—”
He cut himself off and Sam caught that frantic look in his eye reminiscent of Rinzler’s wild fury, the kind of look he’d given Sam the first time his reprogramming took over since he’d returned to the Grid. Sam reached forward slowly, and laid his hand on Tron’s shoulder. The program flinched, as if he had first planned to jerk away, then stilled.
Sam waited a minute to ensure Tron had time to come back to reality. Then: “There won’t be any orders.” He gave his shoulder a careful squeeze. “I wouldn’t do that to you.”
Tron remained quiet, confusion etched into his battle-hardened features.
“Just because you’re a program doesn’t mean you do everything your programming tells you to do. You’ve surpassed it, Tron. So many programs have. You are more than your coding.” He took a deep breath, trying hard to choose his words carefully. It was another moment before he spoke. “Your will to fight and defend; it wasn’t and isn’t just for the Users. It’s for you, and your freedom. And you were denied that for so long. So—so it’s… I understand. You’re confused. I understand.”
Something in Tron relaxed, some of the stress disappearing from around his eyes. Encouraged, Sam continued. “I promise you, you will always have your freedom now. I won’t do anything to take it away. I promise.”
Tron’s insistent growl slowly spun out into a quiet, almost inaudible patter. He nodded. “Okay.”
Sam sighed and offered a weak smile. “Come on. I think we both need a drink. This place isn’t going anywhere without us, anyway.”
He slung an arm around Tron’s shoulder as they headed for the elevator, and the beginnings of hope began to flicker to life in Tron’s circuitry. The confusion remained, but somewhere, the first stitch began to mend his divide together again.