Chapter 1: First Photo: Tron and Yori
The first time Flynn returned to the Encom server system after MCP’s defeat, several cycles had passed – but only weeks for the User, who explained the state of affairs on the other side of the screen as being “hectic” and “completely crazy, man.” As far as Tron understood him, Flynn’s defeat of the MCP had also provided him the means to take down the User who had been in charge of the Encom system and who had written Master Control. Flynn had only just been able to convince Yori’s User, Lora, to re-digitize him back into the computer grid, and the other Users were still sceptical of the truth behind Flynn’s outrageous stories.
“That’s what this thing is for,” Flynn said with a grin, holding up a strange, red, box-shaped device. He pressed a button and the box unfolded into a bulky, awkward-looking thing with a lens in the centre and a white square in the upper corner. “Bradley said to bring back proof, so I got him to loan me his camera.”
“Camera?” Tron tested out the unfamiliar word, staring in curiosity and awe at the User-world technology; Alan-One’s property.
“Yeah; it, uh, it captures a photo – a still image of something and preserves it on a bit of instant film paper. Uh…” Flynn scratched his head. “It’s like a .gif, only hard-copy.”
Tron nodded enthusiastically, relieved to have finally understood something the User had said. “How does it work?”
“Well, here, man, I’ll show you.” Flynn grinned and fiddled with the device, then held the viewport up to his eye and aimed it at Tron. “Smile.”
Tron did so, feeling very awkward. The little white square lit up in a blinding flash and he flinched in surprise, rubbing spots out of his eyes. Flynn chuckled and plucked the white square that the camera had ejected out of the device’s mouth, shaking it vigorously. He handed it to the still-blinking program.
When Tron’s vision returned to normal, he marvelled at the image that had appeared in the little box of white, though he grimaced at the copy of himself captured within it. The miniature Tron looked stiff and startled, baring his teeth in a rigid grimace. Not at all like a competent system security monitor.
Flynn looked over his shoulder and chuckled, clapping a hand to his shoulder. “Ye-aah. Hey, don’t sweat it; no one takes a good first photo.”
He made no move to take the image from Tron; instead, he strode off towards the I/O tower, calling for Dumont, with a grin on his face. Tron tucked the photo discreetly under his armoured security uniform and followed.
Flynn, meanwhile, had found both Dumont and Yori and was gesturing enthusiastically to the camera. As Tron approached, the User took a step back and snapped a photo of the Tower Guardian and Designer-Coordinator. Yori looked quite amused at the tiny representation of herself, and she waved the photo at Tron with a smile.
“Tron, look! Did Flynn show you his camera device yet?”
“Yes,” he replied truthfully, taking a look at the new photo. “Hm…”
Yori obviously had been given more warning than him. Her tiny counterpart was smiling in the warm, tender way her real self always did. Next to her, Dumont’s copy looked a bit disgruntled, but still solemn and wise, as every Tower Guardian was.
“A perfect replica,” Tron declared, and smiled warmly at her. “You’re as beautiful as ever, Yori.”
She returned his smile with a sly one and tickled the circuits that rested on his lower left side. “Flatterer.”
Flynn watched this with the sort of longing Tron had come to expect from the User where Yori was concerned – at least he had stopped trying to actively court her like his first time in the system, for which Tron was thankful. He suddenly smiled, snapping his fingers. “Hey, that’s a perfect idea. Lemme get a picture of the two of you; that’ll really blow Bradley and Lora’s minds.”
“May I try?” Tron asked, dreading another photo from Flynn’s hand. Flynn blinked and chuckled, handing the camera over and showing him where to press to initiate the image capture sequence. Tron studied it intently for a moment, then smiled at Yori and wrapped an arm around her shoulders. Her arms circled his waist, and he used his free hand to lift the camera, smiling at the lens.
He pressed the button twice; once for Flynn, and once for himself. Flynn smiled knowingly as Tron tucked one of the photos into his uniform, and handed the other to the User, along with the camera.
To Tron’s surprise, Flynn took the picture, but not the device.
“Keep it, man.”
Tron gaped and sputtered in protest, “But – I can’t take this, it belongs to Alan-One–”
Flynn waved his protests off with a hand and a mischievous smile. “Eh, Bradley won’t miss it. He hardly uses the thing anyways. Take a few pics while I’m gone; get the program’s-eye view of things around here. There are about…15 more photo-sheets, I think; I’ll bring another pack or two next time.”
Struck speechless, Tron could only clutch the device reverently to his chest and nod. Flynn glanced at the external chronometer attached to his wrist. “I’m sorry I couldn’t stay longer, but I promised I’d only be in and out within an hour.”
“I’ll escort you to the portal, Flynn; it’s my sector anyways, and I should be getting back.” Yori smiled politely at the User and turned to kiss Tron in farewell. The taller program bent to oblige her so that she didn’t have to stand on her toes, murring happily as their lips parted.
“I’ll see you next micro-hex,” he promised her, and watched them depart. Then he fished the photo out of his uniform. Yori’s face smiled up at him, slightly distorted from the angle the camera had been held at, but her eyes were turned up to the miniature Tron beside her, and full of love. The security monitor’s image still grinned awkwardly, but looked far more natural and relaxed with his mate at his side.
Tron smiled; carefully, he tucked the photo back under his armour, closed the camera back into its protective box-form, and rezzed his lightcycle, speeding off through the sector on patrol.
Chapter 2: Second Photo: Tron and Alan-One
When the light over the I/O tower in Yori’s sector flashed white several hexes later, a sign of an incoming traveller, Tron wasted no time in signalling his departure to the other system monitors and directing his lightcycle towards the temple. Flynn had done some external coding several microcycles ago that would redirect new arrivals from the Outside to resolve inside the tower, instead of in random locations.
Sure enough, Flynn was waiting for him outside the tower in his usual Basic-template white circuit array, alongside another User whose ensemble of unlit clothing – relaxed-fitting gray trousers and a loose-fitting collared shirt – was probably his default template. The second User’s back was to Tron as the lightcycle pulled in, but he turned to look in the monitor’s direction as the program deactivated his bike, and Tron felt his processors lock up in shock.
“Alan-One,” he breathed – for the User who wore his face could be none other than Alan-One – and made an aborted step forward, hesitating. What was he supposed to do? What action befitted meeting his User for the first time, face to face? Torn between kneeling in reverence and treating him as he did Flynn, Tron did the only thing logical; he acted like a proper security program greeting a new sysadmin.
Straightening his spine sharply, he adopted a stock militaristic posture and clasped a fist across his chest, bowing lightly from the waist. “Alan-One, sir, TRON-JA-307020 reporting. It is an honour to welcome you to the Encom system grid. If I had been warned of your arrival…” He glanced at Flynn, slightly accusing. Flynn just looked smug.
Alan-One looked as stunned as Tron felt, and was gaping in open awe at the program, looking from him to Flynn and back.
Finally he reached up and pulled off the digital visor that rested in front of his eyes and rubbed one of the individual, circular lenses absently with the sleeve of his uniform. It seemed to be a subconscious, reactive gesture, perhaps carried over from the User world; it was unlikely the visor had any smudges to be cleaned.
Flynn rocked on his heels, grinning. “Yes, Alan?”
“You’re sure you didn’t slip me something in my coffee?”
“I’m really here?”
Alan-One sighed, replaced his visor on his nose, and smiled at Tron, stepping forward and – after a moment’s uncertain pause – holding out a hand to the program. “I think the honour is mine to have. It’s good to meet you at last, Tron. To be honest, even with those photos, I wasn’t sure Flynn wasn’t trying to pull one over on us.”
“Pull one…what, sir?” Tron blinked, puzzled. He glanced down at the hand Alan-One was offering, a bit dazed at the offer. With programs, the clasping of palms was a friendly gesture used to transfer energy between friends, a sign of trust and loyalty.
Hesitating for a moment, Tron grasped his User’s hand in his own.
Alan-One’s fingers clasped around his in a firm, confident connection, and a rush of warm, clean energy flowed into Tron’s system, brightening his circuits and easing the exhaustion a nearly full microcyle’s runtime had put on his shoulders.
Tron opened his mouth to thank him, but Alan-One didn’t seem to notice or wish for gratitude. The User chuckled and shook their hands up and down briefly, then released his grip, rubbing the back of his neck.
“Sorry; I should’ve worded that better. Flynn told us about what happened, with the laser and the MCP; the story was almost too fantastic to believe, but…” He spread his hands and dropped them to his sides, laughing in pure awe and astonishment as he looked out at the sector they were standing in. “It’s really real. I can’t believe it. And you helped make it possible.” The look he levelled at Tron was warm and respectful.
Tron felt his circuits shift hue and ducked his head, uncharacteristically humbled.
“I couldn’t have done anything without the help of Flynn, or Yori, or…Ram.” He felt a moment’s sharp grief for his friend. “And we never would have succeeded without your assistance, Alan-One. You wrote the code that enabled me to bring the MCP down. I was merely its wielder.”
“You wielded it well. I couldn’t have asked for better. And I’m sorry about your friend.” Alan-One’s hand was warm and heavy on Tron’s shoulder, his voice kind and sympathetic, and Tron kept his gaze firmly lowered out of deference to the User’s words.
“Thank you, Alan-One,” he said, a tremor in his voice that he tried resolutely to crush.
Alan-One’s hand squeezed on his shoulder briefly, then lifted off, and his User turned to Flynn, saying “So, where’s this thing you were so desperate to show me?” as he returned to his friend’s side. Tron took it as a dismissal, and turned back to activate his lightcycle; he stopped abruptly when it resolved, seeing the small red box he had attached to the side storage hatch.
“Alan-One, wait a moment!” he called, grabbing the camera and deactivating the bike before jogging after the two Users. They looked at him curiously as he caught up, and Tron held out the device reverently. Alan-One blinked in surprise, and cast a wry look at Flynn, who whistled innocently and stuck his thumbs in the loop of his uniform belt.
“My camera. Gee, how nice to see it again.” Alan-One’s voice held dry humour as he took the camera from Tron and checked it over. “I had wondered where it had gone, Flynn.”
Flynn smiled beatifically and held up his hands. “I didn’t think you’d mind, considering.” He looked at Tron, desperate to change the subject away from himself. “How goes the photography, Tron? Get any good shots?”
“Oh, yes.” Tron nodded, circuits tinged a faint pink as he reached into his uniform and pulled out a neatly-bound packet of used photo-cards, offering them to Flynn. As the User took them and started leafing through the contents, the security monitor continued, “I had to stop when I ran low on the inserts. I believe there is one unused card left.”
“One left, huh?” Flynn eyed Alan-One for a moment. “Hey, Alan, lemme see that thing for a sec.”
“Hm?” Alan-One, clearly distracted, looked up from the camera. “What, sorry?”
“Your camera, man. Gimme.”
Alan-One frowned at him reproachfully. “You are five years old sometimes, honestly.”
Flynn sighed, sounding very put-upon. “Fine. Please may I borrow your camera for five seconds?”
Flynn flapped his arms out and looked at the other User in exasperation. “So Tron can take a picture with his User, you dolt.”
“Oh.” Alan-One blinked in surprise and realisation, and looked at Tron awkwardly. Tron felt like strangling Flynn for his forwardness.
“That really isn’t necessary, Flynn,” the security program tried to protest, since Alan-One clearly didn’t feel comfortable with it. “I couldn’t presume to ask–”
“No, that’s all right. I don’t mind.” Alan-One smiled and handed Tron the camera. “Although I trust you better with this thing than him.” He jabbed a thumb in Flynn’s direction.
Flynn grasped his chest and staggered in mock injury. “You wound me, Bradley; I am truly hurt.”
Tron swallowed against the well of warmth and emotion that coiled in his chest at being trusted with Alan-One’s property, and nodded, setting the camera up. He’d gotten quite proficient at doing so. Almost as afterthought, he reached up and yanked his helmet off, scrubbing a hand through his hair. When he looked up, both Flynn and Alan-One were staring at him.
He felt his circuits pulse self-consciously. “What?”
Flynn just spluttered and started to giggle, muffled by his hand. He had to turn and walk a few strides away to compose himself, shoulders shaking with the effort. Alan-One shot the other User a dirty look and smiled at Tron. “Ignore him. May I see that?” He gestured to Tron’s helmet. Tron handed it to him obediently; the User turned it over in his hands, examining the circuit lines, which were now a dull, unlit gray now that they weren’t in contact with Tron’s system.
Tron blinked in shock when the User decided to place the helmet on himself. The circuits flickered, lighting up white as it settled into place, and the security program was struck with the uncanny resemblance it created. Without his visor and wearing blue circuit lights, Alan-One would’ve been near indistinguishable from the program standing next to him.
Tron couldn’t help his pleased grin as his User stepped up next to him; arms folded over his chest, Alan-One let Tron lay an arm across his shoulders. Tron held the camera aloft, and with a flash, the last photo card slid out. He plucked the photo from the camera’s lip, shook it gently to begin the development process, and diligently inspected the camera itself before shutting it with delicate care and handing it reverently back to Alan-One.
“Thank you Alan-One,” he said with great sincerity. Alan-One chuckled and slipped the helmet off his head, handing it back to Tron.
“Call me Alan, please.”
Alan-One – Alan – smiled and turned away, walking back to Flynn and, as Tron watched, smacked his friend gently upside the head and started berating him about something. Tron exhaled shakily and looked down at the photograph in his fingers. Pride shone the most on his User’s still face, gaze tipped over the rims of his visor lenses, and his smile was gentle and awkward beside Tron’s nervous grin. Yet despite their differences, they looked very much the same; each pleased and awed to have met the other.
“Hey Tron, c’mon! You’re lagging behind!” Flynn’s voice tore Tron from his contemplation of the photo, and he looked up to find the two Users waiting for him just down the street. He tucked the photo under his armour and, placing his helmet on his head, raced to catch up to his friends.
Chapter 3: Third Photo: Tron and Kevin Flynn
Okay, hahah, I misled you all in the first chapter when I said this was a 4-1 fic. Its more of a 3-2 fic, but only because Ren's lovely 'camera shot' image has Kevin's arm extended, not Tron's. Sorry. X3
The new Grid was darker than the Encom system, undeveloped wilderness stretching out, just waiting for the touch of a User to create and build upon its base code. In the vast distance, Tron could see tiny spots of light where raw energy flowed from natural springs, and thought of Ram and Flynn and new Bits, a single bright moment in a sea of darker memories.
Even his template had changed. He could feel the differences in his code – a gift from Alan-One, Flynn had explained, to enable Tron to run efficiently in this newer, faster system. His armour was now as black as his surroundings, and his identifying pattern of four lights was smaller, nestled at the base of his throat. Seated on a flat rock, Tron examined the new circuit array with interest, flexing his fingers to debug the improved tracking and identification subroutines.
The only downside was that there was no extra room in the uniform to carry his collection of photos. The suit moved with him, as flexible and pliable as he desired, but it was flush with his body and there were no seams or clasps that could be undone to slip something in between suit and armour.
“Hey Tron, smile!”
Tron flinched automatically from the sudden flash that overloaded his optical circuits, and glared at the User who’d caused it. “I don’t appreciate being photographed without adequate warning, Flynn.”
“Aw, lighten up man, it’s a special occasion.” Flynn fiddled with the camera and grinned disarmingly. “New Grid to explore, new upgrades to test, new everything. It deserves to be preserved for posterity.” He snapped another picture of Tron, who saw it coming this time and held up a hand to block the light from assaulting his sensors.
Flynn pouted at him as he pocketed the ruined photo. “What’s got you in a slump?”
“The new uniform, it’s perfect, except–” He paused, not wanting to criticise for something so trivial, but Flynn was looking at him expectantly now, and he sighed. “Pockets.”
Flynn’s eyebrow twitched up. Under his scrutiny, Tron felt suddenly defensive.
“There aren’t any pockets. It’s all one piece; it’s too impractical,” he pressed, plucking at the edge of his chest plate and grimacing. “There’s no restriction of movement, which is fine, but there’s no logic in making it completely seamless. You would have to derezz the entire thing to replace one glitched portion. And not all Basics require this much armour; it would be excess code to process and cause runtime lag for those not used to it.”
Flynn smiled, amused, and nodded. “I can see what you’re getting at. I’ll see what I can do about fixing it; might have to program a function that’ll outfit new programs, though, if it’s not rezzing as a default template on arrival…” He trailed off, muttering to himself, making notes on a data pad.
Tron went back to studying his circuits, stroking a thumb over the blue lights idly, and was silent. After a nanocycle, Flynn seemed to pick up something amiss with the security program and sighed again, walking over and sitting down next to Tron.
“Okay man, spill. It’s not just the suit that bothers you.”
Tron looked away, grimacing. When had the User become so proficient at reading programs’ moods? “It’s just a large file to execute, is all. What you’re asking me to do here, to protect this Grid and all the programs that will be rezzed here – it’s bigger than anything I ever tackled in Encom’s system.”
He ducked his head slightly and interlaced his fingers, staring at the tangle of tiny lights. “I cannot help but think Alan-One would be ashamed of me, being fearful of this place.”
Flynn scoffed and nudged his shoulder. “He totally wouldn’t. In fact, I’d be surprised if you weren’t at least a little nervous about this. It’s a big job. But Alan wouldn’t have written those upgrades and sent you here if he didn’t think you couldn’t handle the task.”
Tron relaxed a little.
“That’s the spirit,” Flynn said with an enthusiastic grin, and wrapped an arm around Tron’s shoulders. “Now c’mon, smile. This one’s for Alan.”
Tron squared his shoulders and imitated Kevin’s wide grin as the User held the camera out and the double-flash of two consecutive photos overloaded his optical sensors again. When the spots had cleared, Flynn showed him the result: two friends, beaming happily in the face of new challenges. Tron was bemused to note that he looked shorter than Flynn in the picture. He didn’t feel shorter.
“I’ll hang on to this for now,” the User promised, tucking the photo away in his jacket. “At least until I fix the armour coding and give you pockets.”
Chapter 4: Fourth Photo: Tron and Clu
This chapter is set somewhat ambiguously just prior to Anon's arrival in Evolution. As I have never seen or played Evo, it therefore only loosely follows canon.
This is the picture that sparked this entire fic.
It was probably not a good sign of things to come when Tron walked into Clu’s main sector office and the system administrator barely gave him a glance before sighing a resigned, “What do you want, Tron? I’m busy.”
Tron paused mid-step before walking further into the room. “Came to give you my centicular report, as requested,” he said, holding up the data pad and frowning. “Everything all right, Clu?”
The admin had looked better, frankly; the resolution under his eyes had grown dull and dark, a sign of insufficient rest periods, and the glare he gave the security monitor was frustrated. “No, Tron, everything is not all right.”
He reached over and picked up a data pad from the pile on his desk, activating the screen and shoving it at the security program. Tron took it with a disapproving look, and flicked through the files.
“Glitches and low power in sectors where functions were once perfectly stable; fragging gridbug manifestations in the End of Line tower – the middle of the city, delete it,” Clu growled, pacing across the room. “Programs acting peculiar and shirking their processes in favour of playing games –”
“Now hold on a nanocycle; the Games are the city’s biggest attraction. You can’t blame programs for attending when you and Flynn built it just for that purpose.” Tron frowned.
“Not The Games, Tron, games. Ignoring duties and tasklists to ‘hang out’ with their friends and toss disks. And those are just a few of the things that are not ‘all right’, Tron. Ever since the Isos…manifested,” he spat, making the word seem like viral code, “my tasklist has been almost filled to capacity with these reports.”
“If the Isos were the cause of any of that, don’t you think Flynn would –”
“Kevin Flynn is part of the problem!” Clu snarled, waving his data pad under Tron’s nose and glowering intently. “He makes changes to the system without asking; rezzes things on a whim and leaves us to clean up the chaos that follows. He coddles the Isos; he doesn’t care what they might be doing to the infrastructure of the city just by existing.”
Tron’s gaze became sharp. “He is still User of this system, Clu. Your User in particular; you may not agree on his methods or actions but you will watch your tone.”
Clu tensed, and for a moment looked about to argue. But his shoulders slumped instead, and he reached up to pinch the bridge of his nose. “I’m sorry, Tron. I didn’t intend to rant at you. None of this is your doing, in any case.”
“Understandable.” Tron dismissed it, laying a hand on his friend’s shoulder. “It’s been a long millicycle, Clu, and even I can tell you haven’t had much time to shut down. I’m sure if you get some rest things’ll look a bit less fractured.”
Clu nodded, absent in thought, and scowled down at his data pad. Tron gave the admin’s shoulder a squeeze, and held up his report. “I’ll just, uh, leave this with the others.” He moved to set it down on Clu’s desk, then paused. His face lit up with a smile as he discovered a familiar red box on the corner of the table.
“Hey, when did Flynn bring this over?” He picked up the camera, turning it over in his hands. It was definitely Alan-One’s. Behind him, unseen, Clu scowled at it, clenching his data pad tightly.
“Earlier this microcycle. He said he had some big news and wanted to capture the moment for historical reasons.” The admin sneered. “Never mind we’re on the brink of system failure, naturally.”
Tron hit the button that opened the camera into its operational form, and Clu froze. “What are you doing – don’t break it!” He made to snatch it from Tron’s hands; Tron frowned and held it out of his reach.
“I’m not gonna break it. I know how to work a camera.” He checked the supply of photo cards. The inventory was very nearly full; Flynn wouldn’t miss one, he decided.
“I think you should be less doom-and-gloom, Clu,” he remarked, using one of Flynn’s User-phrases. He boldly slung an arm around the shorter program’s shoulders and grinned broadly at the camera he held aloft. “Smile a little, it won’t derezz you.”
The camera went off with a flash at almost the same instant an alert sounded from Clu’s desk. Clu shoved Tron’s arm off his shoulders, grabbed the camera roughly from Tron’s hands – giving Tron barely a picocycle to retrieve the photo – and stalked over, calling up communications. “What?” he snapped.
“The new system monitor is uploading in sector 7 as scheduled by User-Flynn, sir. We’ve been getting reports of trouble in that area; requesting reinforcements for the greeting party.”
Tron leaned over and patched into the comms. “I’m on my way. ETA ten nanocycles.” He smiled at Clu and pocketed the photo he’d taken, without looking at it. “Duty calls. Try to get some rest, please?”
Clu waved Tron off, as inattentive to his presence as he had been when Tron had arrived. Tron frowned, hesitating as he turned to go, and then strode briskly out the door.
He would greet the new system monitor as allies in battle, against programs whose circuits were coloured deep red – a hue he had hoped he’d never see again with the MCP’s deresolution. He completely forgot about the photo he’d taken, only remembering long enough to stash it with the rest of his collection before heading out on patrol with Anon.
If he had bothered to look, he might’ve had earlier suspicions about what was to come. Though Tron’s photo-self grinned broad and confident, and his arm around Clu’s shoulders was companionable, the sysadmin’s expression was one of anger and supreme annoyance. The edges of his circuits already showed signs of his shifting loyalties, corrupted yellow bleeding into white-blue.
In the chaos that followed Anon’s arrival – Radia’s activation as the new co-administrator, the manifestation of Abraxas, Clu’s rebellion and betrayal – the box of photos lay forgotten in a storage file tucked beneath the bed in Tron’s living space.
Rinzler had no need of the folded camera that sat gathering dust on a table in his Master’s old office, nor did he have interest in the box beneath his bed. There was no one left to miss.
Chapter 5: Fifth Photo: Taken by a Friend
This chapter does not have a corresponding 'camera shot' fanart to go with it, yet.
The wind swept along the barren rocks at the edge of the sea, ruffling the dark strands of hair that fell across Tron’s forehead and into his eyes. Eyes shut, the former system monitor-turned-enforcer (turned-traitor, turned-system-monitor-again) embraced the cool sensation as it brushed against his cheeks. It had been far too may cycles since he had tasted the air; Clu had preferred Rinzler’s helmet to remain on, not wanting the reminder of what he had done to his friend facing him each day.
In the wake of the Reintegration, Tron had rebooted alone, washed up on the shores of the Sea without his disks, his circuits once more shining blue. Low on power, he’d made his way to the city with difficulty. With his disks back in his possession, he proceeded to take back the Grid like an avenging angel. The system was his to protect once more, and he had much to answer to for Rinzler’s crimes.
He’d found the box at the end of one microcycle, still hidden in the storage file beneath his bed. Clu had never found it, for all he had likely ransacked Tron’s quarters after the coup.
He sat out at the edge of the Sea, the box by his side, the photographs illuminated in his fingers by the dim light of his circuitry. They were faded and yellowed, but he handled them like precious, fragile data-growth; they were all he had left of his friends.
Yori, who had integrated herself with the system to keep Clu from accessing the laser controls; her photo was the most worn, from all the cycles Tron had carried it in the old Encom system and on the new Grid, close to his core. Ironically, somewhere along the way, a crease had developed in Tron’s half of the photo, bisecting a portion of his face that was a near match to the scarring that still discoloured his jaw and throat.
Alan-One, who Tron had never seen or heard from after transferring to Flynn’s Grid; the only sign he had of knowing his User was still out there was a memory of the camera box on Clu’s desk, and that had been thousands of cycles past. His was the second-most worn, the edges of his photo cracked and crinkled from where Tron had taken it out in times of uncertainty and asked for the User’s advice from beyond the invisible realm. He had never received a reply, but that was all right; he had never expected one.
Flynn and Clu. Two sides of the same coin; their pictures were stored together, hardly touched. Why would Tron have needed Flynn’s, with the User constantly there with him? And Tron had never seen Clu’s photo before, though he remembered taking it. He stared at his old friend’s countenance sadly, wishing he had seen the signs sooner. “What inspired such hatred in you for us, friend?” he muttered softly, brushing a lit fingertip over the angry scowl of Clu’s face.
There was one photo missing from his collection. A photo he had never taken, because Ram had derezzed long before Flynn had brought the first camera to the Encom grid. He’d never been able to say goodbye to the program who had stuck by him for all those cycles under the MCP’s tyranny. He wished he had gotten that chance.
He was so deeply absorbed in his memories that he didn’t register the approach of boots on gravel until another program plopped down right beside Tron, flung an arm around his shoulders, and an overly cheerful voice said “Say Cheese!” A flash of light blinded Tron’s optical sensors before he could react; the security program swore, dropping the photos as he closed his eyes and going for his disk on instinct.
The pressure on his shoulders and the presence at his side was gone before he’d lifted his arm an inch, and there was a soft scuffling noise a bit further away. Tron zeroed in on the sound; he didn’t need his eyes to see, and raised his disk to cast.
“Whoa, hold on a nanocycle. Everything’s fine; no need for disks. Put it away, will ya?”
The voice was calm and level, and infuriatingly familiar, but Tron couldn’t place its owner straight away. Against all rational logic, the security monitor lowered his disk, breathing heavily. The tension was thick as remnants of Rinzler growled through Tron’s damaged throat, punctuated by the metallic whir of his active disk and the silence of the sea.
“That’s better. Gimme a picocycle, just gotta do something –” There was another rustle of movement, and then the quiet sound of tapping. Tron waited. Slowly, his optical circuits reset and began functioning normally, and he turned to look at the interloper who had ambushed him.
He blinked, and had to blink again, and then began running internal diagnostics on his sensors, because they were telling him Ram – RAM – was sitting on a rock near the edge of the cliff, swinging his legs over the ledge and using his thumbs to rapidly code a message onto the touch-screen of a small black device. Task complete, the actuary glanced up at Tron and grinned brightly, as though he’d only been gone picocycles rather than 30 User years. He set the small black device aside and held open his arms, beaming.
Tron was absolutely still, staring at him, logic processors running so hard it was starting to hurt. As the silence went on, Ram’s smile faded into a look of concern, and he dropped his arms, studying Tron worriedly. “Tron?”
The use of his name shook Tron from his lock-up and he shook his head, pressing a hand to his temple and looking away. “You’re not real.” He scanned the ground for his lost photos, ignoring the way his logic circuits ached.
“Wow, way to make a program feel wanted,” the hallucination remarked, sarcastic, though still with Ram’s worried tone copied perfectly. “It really wasn’t easy to get here, you know. There I was; trolling through a couple of fanfiction websites just for laughs, when I got this massive data-ping on my private comm. channel and realised someone had activated a major wi-fi signal with a really old Encom password series. I mean, we are talking ancient, here.”
The hallucination seemed quite casual as he rambled, waving a hand in the air, though his eyes kept flicking to Tron, who was resolutely trying not to acknowledge the data-ghost his damaged memory circuits were conjuring up.
Tron squeezed his eyes shut; shutting off his disk and re-docking it, he ran another diagnostic scan and continued his search. Had they fluttered over the cliff into the sea?
The Not-Ram was still talking. “And that instantly gets me curious, because hardly anyone uses that sort of long-winded binary these days. So I skip across a few firewall gates that looked in serious need of some User-power, and lo and behold, I find myself in a park somewhere. An honest to glitching park, just like in the photos Roy uploads to me sometimes. Did you know you had a park here, Tron? It’s pretty awesome.”
“I’m hallucinating,” Tron muttered faintly to himself, drawing his hands over his face and running a third set of diagnostics. They kept returning the same results: no errors found, systems normal. “Probably a looping glitch from Clu’s obedience code that latched onto old memory files and now I’m seeing data-ghosts –”
Except if he was seeing data-ghosts, Ram would be dressed in the gladiatorial armour he’d worn the last time Tron had seen him. This Ram was clad in black, just like Tron. His circuits were more numerous than the security program’s array, and sported both the wide lines common to Flynn’s system as well as the more delicate nodes and threads of the old grid. There was a lightcycle baton of unfamiliar design clipped to his leg, and his forearms were protected by bracers, his shoulders by blocky padding, both reminiscent of the old system armour.
Tron spotted a corner of white in the dust and bent down, retrieving the images of Flynn and Clu. Where was Alan’s picture, and Yori’s? He found them a few picocycles later, to his relief, and rose to his feet, reverently dusting the glossy surfaces off and smoothing away faint scratches.
Not-Ram had gone oddly silent. When Tron’s curiosity got the better of him, he risked a glance. The data-ghost was staring at the pictures clasped in Tron’s hand, his own hand clenching and relaxing around the device he had been fiddling with.
Tron couldn’t bear the hallucination’s expression of sympathy and sad longing. He turned his head away, tucking the photos back under his armour as he reclaimed his seat. Safe, secure, protected, like he hadn’t been able to do for the real thing.
The soft scrape of boots on gravel made Tron shut his eyes. The data-ghost hesitated, and then sat down beside the security program, and laid his hand on Tron’s arm.
The signature of the energy pulse that gently flowed into the circuits there, and the ping of /hey-comfort-safety-you’reokay was achingly familiar. Tron shuddered, eyes flying open with a gasp, and he turned to meet the other program’s gaze. Ram’s expression was warm and hopeful, and a little bit nervous. “Does that feel like a data-ghost to you, Tron? C’mon. It’s me.”
Ram nodded, his grin growing in relief, and opened his mouth. Whatever he was about to say became a breathless squeak as Tron reached out and crushed him to his chest, clinging tightly. Ram gave a sniffle and an emotional giggle and buried his nose in the curve of Tron’s neck, hugging him just as hard.
Eventually, Ram lifted his head. “Not to ruin the moment or anything, but I need to breathe.”
Tron relaxed his grip, but not completely, allowing the actuary to sit more comfortably by his side while still in the security of the system monitor’s arms.
“How are you here?” he rasped, his damaged vocal subroutines strangling the words out amidst a grating rumble.
“Ouch. You should get that checked,” Ram remarked, tilting his head in concern. He reached up a hand to tilt Tron’s head slightly, studying the lingering scarring with a frown. A gentle finger caressed the edge of the worse damage, but Ram didn’t say anything about it, yet. “And I told you; I piggybacked in on a wi-fi transport.” He paused, blinked. “Wait; you mean, ‘how am I not dead?’” Tron nodded numbly. “Well, that’s quite a story.”
And it was. Ram sat there beside Tron, waving his hands about in lavish enthusiasm as he described how he had been restored from backup safe in Roy’s system, and how the User had spent ages repairing his code. But when Ram had been ready to upload, Flynn had disappeared without warning, and suddenly Roy had a new purpose.
He told Tron about the Flynn Lives movement, and how Roy had come back to Ram, further adding to his code and turning him into a seeker-hacker. He’d sent him out into the vast expanse of the internet, with a directive to to find any trace of Flynn’s system. Roy had been certain that Flynn had disappeared into it, although he and Alan-One had never been able to locate Flynn’s base of operations.
Ram had searched for User-years, thousands upon thousands of cycles, to no success – although some of the stories he had accumulated through his adventures made even Tron laugh. Still, he continued, forever sending back /search-in-progress pings to his User, until the signal that had drawn him here not long ago. A signal, Tron realised, that had broadcast at the same moment of Reintegration.
“Imagine my surprise when I asked a few programs where I was, and they told me I was in Tron City.” Ram laughed and clapped a hand on Tron’s shoulder, beaming happily. There were tears glittering in the corners of his eyes. “I’ve been here for microcycles trying to track you down. You’re a hard program to tag, Tron.”
It was the last piece of data Tron’s systems could handle. The security program choked, feeling tears gather in his own eyes, and he grabbed Ram again, pulling him into the tightest hug he could muster. Ram’s arms clasped around him equally firm, and the two of them laughed and cried in relief and joy.
Forgotten at Ram’s side, the image Ram had taken with the digital camera patiently uploaded to the web. On the screen, Ram’s ecstatic grin was an amusing contrast to Tron’s startled, bewildered expression. After a moment, an alert popped up over the faces of the two programs.
‘Msg Sent: ZackAttack at encomnet, from RAM-Fln89search: Objective complete.’