Things were starting to appear to return to normal.
Whatever that meant.
Lora had finished running all of the diagnostics on the Shiva laser, and everything had checked out okay; everything was within parameters. As soon as she had reassembled and tested the digitizing laser, Alan had practically bowled Lora over to get into the Grid.
Alan had some ideas he wanted to try, and it required his physical presence on the Grid to make them work.
Not to mention how he wanted to see how his godson was faring. Alan had got him stuck there when he tried to patch up his injured, hemorrhaging body with Grid program code. It had worked, but when they tried to bring Sam back from the Grid, the code tried to stay and the laser would hang.
Alan had saved Sam’s life, but the cost was hard to fathom. And Alan felt incredibly guilty for that.
And handling Sam’s absence from Encom was still being played out on a day-by-day basis.
But for now, it was Friday night, just after work, and Lora and Alan had decided to spend the entire weekend working on the Grid. From the inside.
Lora had determined the laser to be stable enough to leave alone over the weekend. Quorra was tasked with activating the laser’s portal from the outside at a set time on Sunday evening, and if any unforeseen circumstance came up, the Users could send a text to Quorra or Roy Kleinberg (whom they had filled in on the entire situation).
This was going to be the longest time the Bradleys were on the Grid, for better or worse.
Once they had made sure Sam was okay (he did seem to have some adventure he was itching to tell them about, however), the Bradleys went to work.
Ever determined to find a way to get Sam out of the Grid, Lora was working with the laser control programs; she wanted to better understand how the laser handled human biology. She had also started studying emergency medical care, to better understand what is critical in making the human body work.
Alan, on the other hand, had been inspired by the previous work he had done on Sam. If the work he had done patching up Sam on the Grid could be brought into the real world, the advance in medicine would be simply revolutionary. That vein of thought, though, had yet to come to fruition. What was bearing fruit already was the new User Interface that Alan had nearly completed. The inspiration had come when Alan considered whether it was possible to overlay Grid code directly over a User’s skin, in the same manner as he had done with Sam. The possibilities of directly linking Grid code and User together at the near telepathic level were too tempting for Alan to pass up. Especially since, unlike in Sam’s case, the Grid code of the Interface could be removed by simply derezzing it. It only required a few more rounds of beta testing before Alan would be confident he could take the experiment out of the Lab and into the surrounding Grid.
Lora had been fussing that Alan was taking too much time and that he was working over the same probabilities of error too many times. She had helped Alan design the Interface, after all. Alan suspected that she just wanted him to get the work over with so he would work with her on the laser.
I just want to be sure nothing goes wrong.
Alan was in the Lab putting finishing touches on the User Interface 3.0 utility, when he heard the noise of a large number of lightcycles passing by outside. Lost in the process of creating, he ignored them as he set the Interface disk into the cutout in the control console. He set the timer on the control console for 1 microcycle and stepped around the console and up the two steps to the center of one of the Lab’s two pedestals. Alan turned around to face the control console, hands by his side, and waited. A moment later, the timer beeped once and two Sirens appeared out of slots in the Lab walls directly opposite the control console.
Well, here goes.
An overhead speaker announced, “Warning. User Interface Installation in progress.”
Outside, Alan knew that the Lab doors would automatically lock and a warning sign would also appear.
The two Sirens walked towards Alan and paused a moment, as if getting their bearings. Calibration. The first Siren removed his disk and set it into the nearby holder prepared for it. The second Siren removed his visor and set it on a small table near his disk. The Sirens came to Alan’s front and quietly cut off his Grid lab clothing down to a jock strap, which had a waistband with conductive metal fiber woven into it. The clothing disappeared into holes in the pedestal.
I’ll never get used to that, Alan thought. Then he looked at the two Sirens more closely.
Sapphire and Jade this time; interesting.
“Pause Process,” Alan commanded. The two Sirens stopped and stood at attention.
“Where are Ruby and Sarra?” Alan asked.
“They are at the Games,” the one called Sapphire replied. “Would you like them to take our place?”
“No,” Alan said, perplexed.
I wasn’t aware any Games were scheduled.
Alan thought he detected a look of disappointment on Sapphire’s and Jade’s faces.
Too bad. This is more important.
The one called Sapphire produced a mouth guard and placed it in Alan’s open mouth. The two Sirens then lifted Alan’s arms up until they were horizontal, palms facing forward. When they were satisfied that Alan would hold his arms up, they walked backwards four steps and waited.
“Warning,” the overhead speaker announced. “Overlay of User Interface cannot be cancelled or paused once started. Would Alan_1 like to continue?”
“Yes,” replied Alan. Now the real fun begins.
Alan hadn’t been able to completely remove the pain from the process of the overlay, no matter how hard he tried. So he did his level best to calm his mind and body in the nano he had before the process began.
From the ceiling a door opened and a mechanical arm appeared, articulated in so many places that it resembled a rectangular snake. Simultaneously, a gimbaled arm appeared from the wall. The gimbaled arm separated into smooth metal pinschers that attached to points around Alan’s waist, shoulders, arms, legs, and head. When all points had been secured, the gimbaled arm rotated Alan until he was prone, face down. The snake arm then began its work. It slowly scanned Alan less than an inch from his body, articulating itself to match the profile of his body so that its multifaceted ‘eyes’ could detect every nuance of his shape. When it finished scanning his back, the gimbal rotated Alan over and the snake arm scanned his front. The gimbal rotated Alan four more times in various directions and the snake arm paid particular attention to the irregular surfaces of his hands, arms, legs, and feet. Then, Alan was turned prone once more. Alan tried not to wince in anticipation. The snake arm oddly straightened a few of its sections as it reset itself for the electroplating process. The high pitched whine of the hot applicators in the arm let Alan know there was no turning back.
Alan had discovered that fast and intense pain was easier to endure than slow and lower intensity pain, so he had the settings set as fast as he could while still maintaining the integrity of the Interface. Even so, it took 15 microcycles (About 7 or so minutes when Alan wasn’t in pain; it seemed more like hours when he subjected himself to this torture) for the process to finish, with all of the rotating the gimbaled arm and the snake arm had to do to get a perfect overlay. Alan had thought he had done a fair job of blocking out the pain this time until he realized what was dripping from his face was tears, not blood. He hoped the tears wouldn’t interfere with the process. They didn’t. When the process was finished, the snake arm retracted into the ceiling and the gimbaled arm set him back onto the platform, still holding him. To the Sirens, it looked like Alan was finally a program, and not just a bare protoform. To Alan, who’d had a chance to look at himself the last time he’d had the overlay installed, it looked like he’d turned into a microprocessor in human form: gold colored, glowing printed circuitry overlaid his entire skin except his face, the upper part of his neck and his groin. The circuitry seemed most intense between the base of the back of his neck and the skin on his back where the new docking port would be placed. Before the gimbaled arm let Alan go, the two Sirens walked up to the platform and grabbed Alan under the armpits. Sensing the slight change in weight, the gimbaled arm opened the pinschers holding Alan and retracted into the wall. The Sirens then had to support a weakened, nearly passed out Alan while fresh black Grid clothing rezzed into place on his body. The Sirens walked a hunched over Alan to a stool near the side wall and sat him on it. While holding onto Alan’s arm, Sapphire pressed a button on the wall and a table with Grid equipment slid out. Jade took a new disk port from it and placed it on Alan’s back. Sapphire walked over to the other table and retrieved Alan’s disk. While the disk port was attaching itself to Alan’s back, Jade took a wet square cloth from the equipment table and used it to wipe Alan’s tear soaked face.
“Thank you,” Alan huffed out with effort. His voice seemed a little different.
“Expressions of gratitude are not required, User,” came Jade’s electronic reply.
Or desired? Alan wondered.
After placing the used cloth back on the equipment table, Jade moved Alan’s arms until the palms of his hands rested on his knees. When she was satisfied that Alan could sit on his own, she walked over to the now unlit control console, which had raised the Interface disk out of the cutout in the console a few inches via a cylindrical pedestal. Jade took the disk and went to meet Sapphire, who held onto Alan’s disk with both hands. Using the palms of their hands, the two Sirens pressed the two differently colored disks together and twisted them against each other to get them to lock. Sapphire then took the conjoined disk and placed it on the newly attached disk port on Alan’s back.
I wonder if I’ll purr like a cat, part of Alan’s half conscious mind thought.
Sapphire and Jade glanced at Alan when he chuckled out loud, but otherwise said nothing.
I didn’t the last two times; why should I now? answered another part of Alan’s mind.
The disk slowly rebooted, taking longer than usual since the two disks had to sync to each other before syncing to Alan. He could feel the presence of the other disk in his mind as it went through its diagnostic checks. Alan forced himself to stay calm and let the Interface disk do its work, knowing that fighting it made the sync take longer. When the sync finished and both disks came fully online, Alan was rewarded for his patience as his strength quickly returned full force. That and … something more.
What a rush!
Alan could feel his mental processes speeding up, his reflexes aligning with the speed of the upgraded Grid, his muscles tensing and relaxing under the influence of the Interface’s net-like overlay. It was as if he had left a smoke filled room to come out for fresh air, and discovered pure sunlight in the process.
I feel 20 years younger. Make that 30. Man, I forgot how good it feels to wear the Interface! Biodigital jazz indeed! Hah! This’ll turn programming on its head!
During the sync, Jade had left Alan to pick up his visor on the other table. Jade now installed Alan’s visor on his face. Alan would have to recalibrate it in a moment.
When Alan stood up from the stool, he heard the Sirens begin to walk backwards towards their places in the wall.
“ARMOR,” Alan demanded, his strengthened voice now decidedly electronic.
The two Sirens stopped and looked at each other.
Alan cleared his throat and his voice returned to normal.
“Excuse me. Grid armor and batons, please.”
“Acknowledged,” Sapphire said.
While Sapphire and Jade were walking back over to the equipment table, Alan recalibrated his visor to NO PRESCRIPTION and FULL DATA DISPLAY. Sapphire pressed a button on one side of the table and it retracted into the wall. Jade, who was on the other side of the table, pressed another button and a second table slid out from underneath the opening for the first. Sapphire retrieved the breastplate while Jade removed the stool. After Sapphire had installed the breastplate, she went back to the equipment table. Jade installed shin guards, shoulder pads and elbow guards. Sapphire returned to Alan and presented him with a tray of batons. He took all four of them and placed them on his thighs.
“Armor installation complete. Any other commands?” Sapphire asked.
“No. End of Line.” Did the electronic edge to his voice return?
As the Sirens made their way towards their cubby holes, Jade pressed the button on the wall, returning the table into its place.
Alan was alone again.
Well, time to test this out for real. Outlands, here I come!
Alan checked the clock readout on the wall near the control console.
Where is Sam, anyway? I pinged him before I started this; he should have been here by now.
The sound of lightcycles and vehicles passing in front of the Lab drew Alan’s attention to the world outside.
As Alan turned toward the double doors to the Lab to go outside, he thought to grab the hand sized icon off the control console and placed it on his chest; a black robe rezzed into place over his armor.
No need to let anyone see me dressed like Security.
Alan noted the white glow to his suit before he attached his robe.
At least the Interface didn’t turn me neon red this time.
When he opened the Lab’s doors, he was met with the sight of Jade flying off in a lightcycle, in the same direction as all the rest of the off duty programs.
Sapphire was preparing to leave in the same way, baton in hand.
“Where is everyone going?” Alan asked.
“To the Games,” Sapphire replied.
“SamFlynn is at the Games.”
“I pinged him earlier; he should have at least responded by now.”
“He may be otherwise preoccupied.”
After a moment, an irritated smirk came over Alan’s face.
“Show me how to get there,” Alan said, peeved that Sam had ditched him and his project for … recreation.
Sapphire jumped slightly at the electronic edge to Alan’s voice.
“You do not know your way to the Arena?”
“Not from the Lab.”
Not waiting for Alan to respond, Sapphire rezzed her lightcycle into being and sped off.
One of Sam’s designs, Alan noted.
Alan took one of the lightcycle batons off his leg and rezzed it up. He looked for a moment at the open doors of the empty Lab, now devoid of activity. Alan pressed the CLOSE button near the double doors. He didn’t wait for the doors to shut and lock before he sped after Sapphire. He caught up to her, using his visor (which had meshed with his opaque helmet) to track her and his ability as a User to give his older design lightcycle a power boost.
Sapphire seemed a little surprised to see Alan catch up to her so quickly, but made no further attempt to lose him.
They made their way to the Arena shortly. Alan was about to drive towards the main stadium, but Sapphire directed him away from it.
“They’re in Complex B.”
“You’ll see, Alan1.”
As they came to the entrance to the complex, Sapphire derezzed her bike back into a baton. Alan was about to do the same to his lightcycle, when he became aware of the burning ozone smell underneath him. He dismounted the bike and performed a short inspection.
Wonderful. I nearly fried the motivator keeping up with Sapphire. This had better be good, Sam.
Alan derezzed the bike, and was pleased it returned to baton form without incident. A red warning light began flashing regularly on the baton to warn of impending malfunction.
It’s safe in baton form, at least, thought Alan as he placed the baton next to the other lightcycle baton on his leg.
When Alan looked up from his leg, Sapphire was gone.
That’s when Alan noticed the other programs walking past him into the entrance of the Complex. He was wondering why they paid little attention to him when he remembered he still had his helmet on. Still, they should have been able to detect his User registry –
Of course! Alan thought. The User Interface registers as a utility, not a User. It must be masking my presence somehow.
Leaving the helmet in place –why do some programs wear them at all times, anyway??- and checking to make sure his robe still covered the Grid armor, Alan made his way into the Complex. As he came into the smaller stadium, he could hear the crowd inside increasing its volume. When he finally was able to get a clear view of the field, what he saw made him stop in his tracks, nearly causing a few programs to collide into him from behind.
“Hey, watch it! What, are you glitching or something?” an angry program protested.
Alan said nothing. He was too busy fuming.
To Sam, the crowd inside Complex B was raucous. Many were cheering for Tron. A few were cheering for SamFlynn, although Sam suspected that they wanted to see Tron fall more than see him win. Tron was head of System Security, after all, and a fair number of programs in the crowd had recently been released from quarantine.
No matter. He wasn't fighting this grudge match for them. Whether it was out of frustration at his current situation of being stuck on the Grid because ALAN had patched him up with code instead of bandages (never mind that Sam had got himself into that mess in the first place), or out of retribution to what remained of Rinzler in Tron's body, or IRRITATION at being repeatedly BEATEN by a program created over three DECADES ago by his GRAY-HAIRED GODFATHER –
Stop thinking like that, dummy, you nearly distracted yourself face first into Rinzler's disk!
Sam recovered in time to duck under Rinzler's ten percent energized disk, and use his momentum to bring his own partly energized disk in his left hand up towards Rinzler's neck. Rinzler caught Sam's left arm with his free hand, and in one fluid motion twisted it behind Sam's back.
You are NOT pinning me again!
In a move that he'd learned from watching Rinzler, Sam rolled into the twist and jumped, looping his knee over the top of Rinzler's head, forcing Rinzler forward, towards the ground. Rinzler’s arms were prevented from immediately moving forward by the presence of Sam’s body, but that didn’t stop Rinzler from pushing off the ground with his legs and rolling under Sam’s torso so his curved back hit the ground and not his head-
Neither Sam nor Rinzler noticed when the noise from the crowd began to die down. Nor did they notice a lone, black robed figure approaching from the bleachers, slow and determined, disk drawn. And fully energized.
When the crowd finally went silent, Sam and Rinzler were still going at it, two partially energized disks in the air going opposite directions, both having somehow missed their intended targets.
Rinzler still has one disk left! You are NOT pinning me - What are you looking at- oh $&@%-
The trajectories of the two disks' return paths brought them both directly into the path of the intruder, whose unhelmeted gray hair stood out starkly against his black robe, and nearly matched the single white circuit line that traveled from the neck collar to the ankle. Sam and Rinzler had just enough time to witness a blank-faced Alan use his disk to deflect both returning disks clattering onto the ground, one immediately after the other, without taking his unyielding gaze from the two targets in front of him.
"What the HELL do you two think you are doing?" Alan yelled.