The shopkeeper looks at him like he’s asked to see the display of fine severed hands. Tron could be anyone under that mask, seeking any perversity or pleasure. Beck feels like an auxiliary program, a weak lurker in white among all these black surfaces. Of course he uses his fear to act, because that is what he has always done: Beck is not capable of acting out of cowardice, and he implores the shopkeeper again.
“If you know anything, you have to tell us.”
Then the shopkeeper starts feeling sorry for him, looking at Beck and Tron both like amputees, and because of that, Beck believes him when he implies, just implies, he can be trusted.
Then the glitch hits.
The physical loss of his disk unbalanced Beck, making him feel like he's going to fall over at the slightest touch. Fighting is possible but difficult, and when the thugs attack them he is just starting to get his balance back, his feet feeling solid against the ground even as the disgusted look of the salesman is forgotten in the rush of the fight. Then, his memory topples over backwards.
Beck's surroundings blur, his dazzled eyes picking out individual pixels. The world is large and dark and he has one...[zero]...one place in it: he is a mechanic. Correct? Correct? Verify. Verification impossible.
He can not think, only see: seven blurry programs in masks, two fighting with short punches and hunched shoulders and the other sleeker, all thin hips and high kicks. Mechanic. Beck looks around for something to fix but nothing is broken. There’s a woman fighting too, her white cape almost blinding. Beck’s back is scraping against the floor, his suit bunching up around his shoulders as he crawls away from the combatants [unauthorized combat outside the arena: this is illegal, these programs are criminals]. There's a feeling missing; he should feel metal between his suit and the floor but it's not there. The plastic prosthetic bends.
The thinner program and the woman derezz some of the others and grab Beck’s hands, one on either side. He’s running, eyes open but no idea where he’s going.
"Who are you?" Beck shouts at the people around him. He wracks his memory for the silhouettes of clients at the garage but he can't even remember what he does there, for some reason, and the program in the mask is still running, pulling him along toward a ladder, but asking if he's all right. Beck runs diagnostics. His higher functions are intact. He could do a job if he was asked too, and he'd like one put in front of him right now, because everything else is just too confusing.
The problem with sentience is that you can't express the errors in your processes if you've forgotten the words. He might as well be a bit now, yes/nos bouncing around his thoughts without words to back them
And then Tron speaks again, still running, pounding along toward a ladder, and Beck remembers that he's got a job, although it's not mechanic work. He's bucking his programming. He's lost his disk because of it. That memory brings back a sense of sickness; the data on the floor in the alley looking almost more like discarded gems than like a murder scene doesn’t help.
Tron hauls him up the ladder by the arm, pinching a little.
"Thanks," Beck says at the top, still blinking back pixels. “I think I just had my first glitch.”
There's no answer from behind the curved surface of Tron's mask, and with the return of his memory Beck gets back another little sense of wrongness too, the little words his mentor said when Beck made the mistake of allowing his disk to be stolen. He swipes his hand over his shoulders to pinch the pliable fake disk between his fingers. It’s just a placeholder; without his real disk, his memories keep bubbling up in disjointed pieces.
We're not friends. Not not not zero zero zero.
Tron says, “We should keep moving.”
Beck rallies enough to be angry. “But I’m glad you care.”
It must be difficult to be friends with someone who isn’t whole. Someone likely to forget you in a moment anyway.
Beck is a soldier. Lux and Kobol told him so it must be true. He doesn’t have much else to go on so he must always have been a soldier. He is not a very good one - he's missing some specializations - but he makes up for it in brashness. That he has, right down to his smallest bits of data, and that brashness means that there is very little time between his being told his purpose and his believing in that purpose. He repeats it to himself - I am a soldier - and becomes his own inimitable proof.
It is not difficult to lie to a program when its fundamental pathways are open to be rewritten, and because of his nature of wanting things to be black and white it is not difficult to lie to Beck personally either.
A masked program is trying to tell him otherwise. "Listen to me, Beck, you're not who you think you are. They took your disk."
He flinches. "That's disgusting. No one would do that."
"You can look, right there. They want mine."
He sees a black disk turn slightly in Kobol's hand.
"You're an enemy of the state," Beck says to the masked captive, and he is certain of this more than anything else. "They're my friends."
Tron folds his mask back. Beck sees the vicious scars climbing up his neck toward his eyes and remembers that when they first met he wondered why Tron had not had them healed.
The other memories pile on after that one.
They stand at the edge of the wild energy pool, Beck's disk secured to his back and Lux’s entire self dissolving. One part fixed and one part broken. Mechanically, the day evens out. Beck's shoulders itch and jump, the disk feeling more uncomfortable than he ever thought it would after its long absence. He had never known before what it was like to live without his life/weapon, but he had been without it enough that he stopped checking whether it was there.
"I'll be more careful in the future," he says.
Tron’s reply is typically blunt. "What was it like?"
"Having my memory erased? It was horrible!"
"I feel that it is a tactic the army will only continue to use in the future. If we can bring programs back from that state, we could take away some of Tessler's advantage."
"Rehabilitate programs without disks? Not even Flynn could do that."
"You're right," said Tron, and looked back into the bright white light of the pool. Beck wondered whether he was thinking about Flynn, but knowing a User was beyond Beck's comprehension. He thought of them moving around without disks on their backs.
“You were friends with Flynn, weren’t you?”
“Flynn knew my User.”
“And you re-created me today. So thank you.”
“It’s not the same. But for what it’s worth, you’re welcome.”
Beck voiced the concern that had struck him back in the alley. “Did you say we weren’t friends because you didn’t think I’d last long? No use being friends with someone who isn’t there.”
“It wasn’t that. I’m your mentor.”
“So what was it?”
“You’re too old to be begging for friends. And I’m too old to think someone stops being a important to you when they’re not there.” He kept the same tone throughout, snappish, staring into the pool.
Beck followed his gaze. Tron could be talking about Flynn, Lux, Beck - it didn’t matter.
One thing broken, another thing fixed. Mechanical equality. But a bike with corrupted code on one side and no damage on the other didn’t count as fixed. Beck rolled his shoulders, feeling his shoulder blades brush against the heavy, natural disk mounted to his spine. No one said that being the next Tron would be easy. You had to get along with the old one, first of all, and that wasn’t at all like what Beck had expected from the rumors about his hero.
His disk was still itchy. Maybe something had died inside it while it was separate from him, some fading pieces of data now matched again to their core energies but still flagging. He flexed his hands. This too would take adjustment.