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Ghost in the Machine

Chapter Text

15 missed calls, 47 new texts

Sam sighed, glaring at his phone screen. A quick check proved that fourteen of the calls were from Alan, and one from Roy. Likewise, the texts were forty five messages of alarm, panic, annoyance and concern, interspaced with demands to call him. One of the texts was again, from Roy, congratulating him on the whole thing going well, and the final text just Lora politely asking him to stop trying to give Alan a heart attack.

He didn't really feel like replying to any of them.

The benefit of living in a garage was that he could just park his motorcycle and head to the fridge for a much needed beer, back aching as he bent over to grab it, and making him wince. He could probably benefit from some icepacks. He wasn't going to use any, but it would help if he did. And hey, thinking about it was close enough, right?

As he was grabbing his beer, he realised that somebody else was in his garage, and he sighed, grabbing a second.

"Alan, why are you in my house."

"You wouldn't answer your phone."

The answer made Sam roll his eyes.

"Look, Alan, I appreciated the whole 'surrogate father' thing when I was fourteen, but it's starting to get old. Have you considered getting a cat? I feel like you could benefit from a cat."

"We already have a cat, his name is Zap, and he's doing fine. I'm pretty sure you're not supposed to develop Alzheimer's before me."

Sam's response was a cheerful middle finger, which Alan sarcastically copied.

"So how was prison?"

"Alan, please. I was in holding. There's a difference. You heathen." Sam deadpanned, still tossing him the second beer he was holding. Alan caught it, and snorted.

"It's funny that you assume I've never been arrested before."

"Look, Alan, I'm tired, I smell like a cell, and my back hurts. I want to take a shower and go to bed. I appreciate the post-prison visit, but get out."

"I got paged earlier today."

"…That is the most eighties sentence I've heard in a long time."

"It was from your father's number. At the arcade."

Sam froze.

"Well, someone pretending to have it anyways. I checked at the phone company, number's still disconnected. Still, figured it was worth going to check out. Don't know if there's anything to find there, but if there is, you deserve to find it."

"What the fuck. No, I- fuck no, that's bullshit. Something there, like he's just going to be fucking sitting at his desk, like 'hey buddy, lost track of time, wanna just order pizza for dinner?' Come on."

Alan gave a small chuckle, and shook his head slightly, a slightly sad expression on his face.

"Wouldn't that be something. If you do find him, give him a good punch in the face for me."

"C'mon Alan."

"Just kidding. You can punch him for you, but I want to punch him myself."

"Alan."

"Here's the keys. That part of town's a shithole these days, so try not to get stabbed?"

"…I will do my very best."

~

 

Sam's bike pulled up in front of the arcade, and he sighed. Desolate and abandoned as always.

"This is stupid." He muttered to himself. But despite that, he grabbed the keys out of his pocket, and unlocked the door anyways, letting himself in.

The place was covered in dust, with no sign of anyone else having been in there for more than a decade, all of the machines covered with plastic.

The fusebox was in the same place as usual, and he turned all the power on. There was a moment, before it all lit up, lights and machines turning on, and pounding music beginning.

With a wince, Sam found the switch for the speakers, and powered them back down. It was 2010. If he wanted to listen to music while investigating, he'd use his earbuds like a civilized human being.

Some scrape marks on the floor caught his eye, and he kneeled down to look at them. Looked like a machine got dragged around there. A lot, considering how deep they were.

Huh.

Must have been the Tron machine.

Some strange nostalgia prompted him to grab the machine, and tug it in the direction of the scrapes, revealing…

A door.

Huh.

It was unlocked, and Sam was surprised to find a staircase, leading down. At the base was another door, marked as the electrical room, rusted keys still in the door.

It swung open easily, and Sam was unsurprised to find that it was not an electrical room. Instead, a computer sat on a desk, some sort of device behind it. And the computer was still running.

He powered it up, and let out a long sigh at the commands that popped up. 'Last Will and Testament.' So his Dad had been doing something that might have gotten him killed?

…Or maybe he just had the will because that was a thing normal people did. According to Alan, he'd taken Mom's death pretty hard. Making wills after losing loved ones was a thing normal people did, right?

The computer was asking if he wanted to run the last command.

Well. Why not.

He hit Y.

Nothing happened, except for a faint whirring sound, like something building up, and then-

Sam let out a shaky breath, staring around the office in confusion, the scenery having suddenly shifted in a subtle but noticeably way, just enough for him to see the difference, and be confused.

And something was now on the desk in front of him, in place of the now missing computer. A small, barely noticeable black device, looking kind of like a plastic earplug.

"What in the actual fuck…" He muttered, confused panic rising in him.

"Hey! I can see you at the desk there! Yeah, you, pick up the communicator." A voice said, coming from seemingly nowhere, and severely distorted, making it impossible to even tell the source's gender.

Sam looked around, but found the room still empty, with no signs of a speaker.

"…Communicator?" He asked out loud, confused.

"The little thing on the table. You pick it up and stick it in your ear so we can talk without the broadcast setting."

Sam gave the little device a look of suspicion, before his natural reflex of 'fuck it' took over, and he followed the request, inserting the thing in his ear.

"So what's going on?"

"I don't know what you just said. These things are meant for stealth situations, it won't transmit to me if you're actually talking. You need to… I don't really know how to explain it. Talk without talking?"

Talk without talking. The actual fuck had he walked into.

…If Sam was going to keep stalling out over weird shit, something told him he was going to have a very long night.

So. Communication attempt round two.

"What the actual fuck is going on?" He said, throat and tongue moving, but mouth staying closed and silent.

"There you go. So, welcome to the Grid. You're in a computer…? Or something, I don't know how it works on the other end. Everyone here's programs. Or, almost everyone. Whatever. Look, there's another User around here somewhere, he'll explain it better. The name Kevin Flynn familiar to you?"

Sam inhaled sharply in surprise, and the contact gave a mechanical laugh in his ear.

"Guessing that's a yes."

"Where the hell is my father?"

"…I don't know. But I know someone that does."

"Who!? Where are they?"

"Patience is a very useful trait, User." The contact replied, sounding borderline cheerful through their voice modulator. Sam closed his eyes, and resisted the urge to scream in frustration.

"How do I find them." He tried again, teeth gritted, despite the fact that he wasn't actually speaking out loud.

"Working on that as we speak. For now, I'm going to need you to step outside, User."

"Stop calling me 'user', what the hell does that even mean? My name's Sam, who are you?"

The contact was silent for a moment.

"That's… not information I like to give out. I've got my own safety to worry about here. Anonymity is the best route. You can just call me Contact. Leave the building now, please."

Sam let out a long sigh, but stood up from the desk anyways.

"Some fucking bullshit, what the actual hell is going on here…" He muttered to himself, making his way out of the eerily altered building. The Contact couldn't hear it, but the angry muttering was cathartic anyways.

And then he stepped outside, and froze, staring in shock.

He was in some sort of otherworldly city, completely black, except for glowing blueish-white lines running across everything. A thunderstorm rumbled overhead, although without rain, and in the distance, a tall structure glowed with orange lines instead of the uniform blue.

Sam was struck with a sudden regret for not taking that art course he'd looked at briefly back in high school. If he actually gave half a shit about aesthetics, he'd probably be floored by the futuristic look of the city he'd ended up in.

A loud noise and sudden wind interrupted his amazing staring, and he looked up to find a strange ship coming down, its lines glowing the same orange as the tower.

"Contact? Where the hell am I?"

"I told you, you're on the Grid, keep up. That thing above you is a Recognizer. The soldiers on it are going to arrest you. Go quietly."

"Wait, what the fuck-"

"Relax, Sam Flynn. It's all part of the plan. I'll keep you safe, don't worry." The Contact drawled, their tone of boredom and mild amusement making it clear that they weren't taking his situation as seriously as Sam thought they should.

"You fucking better, if I die I'm coming back just to kill you."

"Trust me User. If you die, I've got bigger problems."

With that ominous statement, the ship landed, and several people (programs?) in black armour with orange lines stepped out, heads covered by reflective helmets that hid their faces.

"No disk. Another stray program for the games." One of the masked guards said, roughly grabbing Sam.

"Remember, do what they say. Oh, and once you get in the games, do us both a favour here… avoid Rinzler. At all costs. You can't take him. Nobody can. Don't even try, it'll end with you getting a messy death, and, more importantly, me being severely inconvenienced."

"I'm having a sneaking suspicion that you're an asshole." Sam replied, scowling silently as the guards began to manhandle him towards the ship.

"I don't know anything about User culture, but I'm assuming that's an insult."

"It's an insult. I'm calling you a terrible person."

"I can live with that." The Contact said, clearly not caring in the slightest. "I have to go deal with something now, I'll be back before they put you in the Games. Good luck."

The loading platform rose, taking him up into the ship, which promptly took off again, flying over the digital city. Contact disconnected with a click, the sound somehow giving across the impression of a metaphorical middle finger being extended. Asshole.

Really, Sam's life was so fucked.

~

 

"I can't believe you're treating a User like that."

The program known as Contact sighed, and rolled their eyes.

"I was honest with him. I told him where he was, I told him we're looking for the Creator, and I told him I didn't care about him. That's nice, by my standards."

"Your standards are terrible." The Other replied, but without much of a bite to the words.

"As you've told me. Repeatedly. For the last several hundred cycles."

"Still. It's not right, manipulating a User."

"So? I might be blatantly using him, but what I want out of Sam is better than what Clu wants. Besides, I'm more likely to keep him alive when his use runs out."

Other was silent for a moment. Contact could almost hear the scowl on their face.

"…Fair enough. But if anything happens to that User, you lose my support on this."

"Again… so? It's not like I need you to get anything done, and last time I checked… you can't shit without me anyways. I don't need your permission here."

"...Watch it program. By my standards, you're practically still in beta."

"Oh, don't get all commanding on me, you know I'm not taking that shit from you-"

The rising argument was stopped by the sound of the Games starting, and they looked over at their view of the arena.

"…We should keep an eye on Sam Flynn." The Other said, reluctance in their voice. "We can pick this up later."

"Agreed. I always enjoy beating you in arguments. Now shut up, I'll get back in contact with him. Don't want you distracting me."

~

 

"Nice new look. I mean, your circuit lines are pretty simple, but not everybody can be as attractive as me, I suppose."

The distorted voice in Sam's ear signalled the return of his mystery Contact, and he rolled his eyes in annoyance at the comment.

"Are you still watching me? You're creepy as all fuck, you know that, right?"

"I've heard. I'm not going to stop, but I have definitely heard that I am creepy. Think fast, by the way, your match is about to start. You need to derezz the other program. Oh, and don't do anything stupid?"

Sam snickered, ignoring his rising fear at the apparent fight to the death he had gotten into, and drawing his disk.

"Apparently you don't know me. I'm always doing something stupid."

~

 

As the Contact watched, Sam Flynn very quickly lived up to his apparent stupidity by sliding right out of his arena.

"Oh, Users, this hurts to watch." The Other commented, true to their words sounding slightly pained.

"Now who's being mean to the User?"

"…Shut up. Oh no, is he going where I think he is?"

The Contact took a second look at the User's strange escape attempt, and cursed angrily.

"Fucks sake, I give him one instruction, and what does he fucking do!?"

~

 

Sam dropped into the empty arena, and looked around for another way out, not seeing one as the hole he had entered through closed off.

"I've got a bad feeling about this." He muttered.

"One job. You had one job. Just avoid Rinzler. And you walked into his fucking arena, you're like a defective bit or something, for fucks sake…" The Contact grumbled into Sam's ear, although some alarm shone through even with the distortion.

"Combatant three versus Rinzler." The cool female voice announced. A single program began to walk out, tall and lanky with menacingly orange circuits, and a reflective helmet attached to his bodysuit to hide everything from view.

The crowd began to chant, all calling Rinzler's name in unison, stomping in their seats. Sam's bad feeling suddenly became much, much worse.

"Uh… got any solutions here? Are you in the crowd or something?"

"Of course I'm in the crowd. I… was kind of hoping they'd know you were a User by now, so that the program I'm looking for would show, or they'd at least capture you instead of derezzing you…. Okay. Okay. Just… don't die right now, I'll think of something. I can improvise. We can work with this."

An eerie rumbling filled the arena, like a broken computer struggling to function. Briefly, Sam wondered if the orange lined program was even dangerous, considering the sound gave off the impression of severely damaged code.

Rinzler didn't say a word, only drawing his disk, and twisting it to reveal two disks, assuming a combative stance as Sam drew his own.

"Oh come on, that's not fair." Sam muttered, attempting to separate his own disk, and fairly certain he looked like an idiot in the process.

Rinzler tossed both of his disks at Sam, which he narrowly avoided, before attempting a return shot of his own. It didn't seem very effective, considering Rinzler jumped over it, doing a perfect spin in the air and nailing the landing. And still fucking rumbling.

Sam mentally reassessed his opinion on the sound from 'broken computer' to 'murderous animal that's probably going to kill you but feels like fucking around for a while first'.

"Wow, that was kind of sad." Contact said in his ear, sounding mildly amused.

"Thanks, I'm glad you're taking my fight to the death so seriously-"

"Gravity's about to flip!"

As the Contact spoke, an alarm sounded, and Rinzler took off running, sprinting straight up the wall. Sam turned as well, attempting to do the same on the wall behind him, but only succeeding in getting part of the way up, painfully falling and rolling the rest of the way down with a loud swear. Across from him, he could see Rinzler made it up perfectly. Of course he did.

"You're so bad at this, it actually hurts to watch. Heads up!"

Sam looked up in time to catch Rinzler jumping at him, and smashed the panel he was going to land on. Fucking of course, that wasn't helpful, as Rinzler stuck the landing anyways, feet planted on either side of the missing panel. Which looked uncomfortable as hell, but Rinzler didn't seem the type to care.

They briefly traded a few blows. Or, more accurately, Sam frantically blocked as many hits as he could, before attempting to retaliate. Unsurprisingly, Rinzler blocked it, and got in a lightning quick response, slicing his arm open before Sam could pull away, drawing a yelp of pain out of him.

Another alarm sounded, and the gravity flipped back to normal, sending Sam crashing straight to the ground with a groan of pain.

"Oh, shit…" The Contact hissed out, and Sam looked up to see Rinzler hanging from the ceiling, easily holding himself up with one hand, hanging from the edge of the destroyed panel. And before Sam could move, Rinzler swung and dropped, boots heading straight for Sam's face.

While there wasn't enough time to move, there was just enough time for Sam to think oh, this is going to hurt like a bitch, isn't it?

Rinzler's boots impacted with Sam's face and chest, and the two were knocked to the ground. It did indeed, hurt like a bitch. Sam skidded a fair distance with Rinzler practically standing on him, a disk held to his throat.

"Well, nice knowing you." He managed to say to his Contact, who was holding an anxious silence.

But Rinzler wasn't putting the disk through his throat.

Rinzler was staring at his arm, and at the wound that he had caused, the force of the impact having caused some blood to drip onto the floor.

Sam's bad feeling made a triumphant return.

"User." Rinzler growled out, voice sounding oddly glitched and broken. And beneath the electronic distortion… vaguely familiar? Almost like Alan…

Weird coincidence.

Rinzler's disk moved away from Sam's throat, and he was dragged to his feet, roughly turned to face what seemed to be the private box as the audience booed.

"Identify, program!" A voice boomed, seemingly the person in charge.

"Tell him who you are, it's the only way you're getting out of here alive." The Contact ordered sharply, sounding tense. Sam could relate.

"I'm not a program, and my name is Sam Flynn!"

The crowd went dead silent, staring in shock. Beside him, Rinzler rumbled on.

"Bring him to me." The voice in charge ordered, and Rinzler began dragging Sam out of the arena and down a hallway, one hand tightly grabbing his upper arm, and the other pressed to his back.

"I'm gonna do something stupid, try and escape, hang on." Sam informed the Contact, mentally pumping himself up for the incredibly stupid thing he was about to do.

"Do not-"

Sam tuned out Contact, and stomped on Rinzlers foot. He was mildly surprised by the lack of response from the man - generally speaking, Sam doing that resulted in the victim howling in pain as several bones went crunch. But Rinzler stayed silent, the only reaction being him stopping, and his grip loosening slightly. Which was all he needed.

Sam ripped his arm free, and took off running back the way they had came.

It was going great, right until he was grabbed from behind, and slammed against the wall, Rinzler's grip on his shoulders tight enough to bruise. Not to mention him getting just a bit too close in Sams personal space.

There was a long, tense moment, user and enforcer staring at each other. Whatever it was Rinzler was thinking, it was impossible to discern through the helmet, completely reflective even at close quarters.

And then, very slowly, Rinzler raised a hand and smacked Sam across the back of the head.

"Ow! …You dick." Sam hissed out. Because really, Rinzler was being a dick.

And Rinzler continued dragging him along, uncaring about his status as a dick

The message of 'don't try that again dumbass' had been pretty clear. Sam decided to hold off on escape attempts.

"Okay, nevermind. Escape attempt failed. I don't think Rinzler likes me very much."

Contact laughed.

"I could have told you that. Rinzler doesn't like anybody. You're lucky he didn't take your head off for that."

"...He hit me."

"You've suffered so much. Truly, the greatest martyr of our time."

Contact was a dick too then.

Rinzler brought them into some sort of elevator, and they began to ascend, anxiety turning Sam's nerves into live wires.

"So, I'm not really liking this situation, especially since I'm alone with Murderbot here. So far you've been very unhelpful about keeping me alive." Sam said dryly, suddenly incredibly thankful for the fact that the communicator worked silently.

"Stop whining, you'll be fine. They're not going to kill you, you're the first User to surface in thousands of cycles. You're too useful to die. To me as well as them."

For some reason, Sam didn't find that overly comforting.

"There are a lot of things you can do to someone without killing them." He pointed out, looking nervously over at Rinzler. The orange lined program seemed like he'd go for that sort of thing.

"Oh, I know. I don't really care, but I know. I need you alive, User. I'm not overly picky about whether or not you're in one piece, just as long as you're still able to do what I need you to."

Sam gritted his teeth, scowling slightly.

"That's nice and all, but why in the fuck would I ever help you? You've only gotten me in worse situations so far. And frankly, you don't seem overly upset by that fact."

"Probably because I'm not, and remember me keeping you alive literally a few nanocycles ago? During your fight with the most badass motherfucker on the Grid? Besides, unlike them, what I've got planned for you is mutually beneficial. And if you don't like that… well, feel free to turn to all your other allies. Oh wait. You don't have any."

"The second we meet in person, I'm kicking your ass."

"Ha. You say that like you could."

Sam was about to snap something in reply, but the elevator came to a stop, and Rinzler continued dragging him along, down an ominous hallway and towards a door.

If Contact was a prick, then Rinzler was a goddamn cactus.

"Any tips for survival?"

"Yeah, don't believe anything he says. He's fucking with you. He's literally just fucking with you. Don't trust him."

"Wow, that's vague and non-specific, super helpful Contact, who am I not trusting-"

The door opened, revealing what looked like a throne room, all filled with more programs, dressed in the standard black bodysuits with glowing orange lines. Except the program sitting in the throne, who kept to the colour scheme, but seemed to be in some sort of cloak, with their face hidden by one of those reflective helmets. Judging by the way several of the programs looked at Sam, and then back at the cloaked one, this was the guy in charge here.

"I think they've taken me to the guy in charge here. I'm not admitting this out loud, but that's one badass looking cloak." Sam said silently to the Contact, once again so very, very glad that the communicator was practically impossible for anyone to notice him using.

"Don't tell him that, he's a tool. And just remember, whatever he says to you – he's lying. He always lies. And no matter what he says, do not let anybody take your disk. Don't even let them touch it. Now focus, this is dangerous enough without you distracted."

The program in charge stood up, and everyone in the room turned to look at him. Rinzler finally let go of Sam. Honestly, the entire thing was creepy as hell.

And then the helmet retracted, and the world stopped. Everything came to a halt at once. It had to have, because Sam could not fucking process what had just happened, and the person in front of him, there after twenty years looking like he'd never even left, like he'd just stepped out the door yesterday. The world had to have come to a complete stop because there was no fucking was his father was standing in front of him once again.

"…Dad?"

"Hello Sam." His father said, smiling warmly. "Been a long time."

"...Yeah, just a bit. How- you don't- you haven't even aged, I don't understand-"

"Things work differently here. Welcome to the Grid, Sam. How did you get here?"

"…Alan got your page, sent me over to the arcade."

His Dad hummed a bit, sounding interested.

"Oh, good. Is Alan here as well?"

"N-no, just me."

"Well, that's alright. Can I see your disk?"

Sam blinked, conflicted between trusting the Contact, or his father.

"My dad's asking for my disk, what do I do?" He asked, hoping the movement of his throat wasn't too obvious.

"Your- what? No, that- that's not Flynn, you fucking idiot, that's Clu! I mean, if he thinks you think he's Flynn, keep him going, see what you can get him to admit to, but he's not your father, he hates Users. And you. And Flynn. Especially Flynn. Do not let him have your fucking disk, I don't know if he could reprogram a User, but honestly let's not risk it."

"I… would prefer you didn't? Besides, what's going on, why didn't you come home?" Sam said, covering up his surprise at the real identity of the man in front of him. Thankfully, a lifetime of delinquency had made Sam a champion liar. Maybe he could get some information out of Clu. And find out what went wrong with his father's digital frontier.

"Well, you see that laser out there? It takes up more power than the Grid has to spare, so it can only stay on for so long, and it doesn't open from the inside. So it went out…"

"And you got trapped. And now you run the place."

"Pretty much."

"Where's Tron? …And Clu?"

"Clu's off working. Tron… is no longer with us. He turned on me, I had to get rid of him. I've got Rinzler now."

Sam nodded, mentally parsing out the bullshit. Clu was probably the reason his father was missing. Tron was murdered. Rinzler was both creepy as fuck, and Clu's replacement Tron.

Sam's life was so fucked.

"Alright… so, what did you actually do with my father, Clu?"

Look, he only had so much patience, and there wasn't anything else he wanted to know.

There was a brief moment of silence around the bridge, as everyone parsed him blatantly calling bullshit on the guy in charge.

And then Clu's uncomfortably familiar face twisted into a smirk.

"Aren't you clever. Take him away."

Rinzler stepped away, and a few of the faceless guards stepped forwards, grabbing a hold of Sam, and starting to drag him out of the room, despite his struggles.

"Let go of me you dicks! What did you do with my father!"

"The same thing I'm going to do to you. User."

And the doors closed as Sam was dragged out.

"Okay, so, what I got was that he doesn't know where my dad is, Tron is dead, and Rinzler is Tron's replacement. Bullshit check please." Sam asked Contact, still putting up a token struggle as the guards dragged him along.

"Clu turned on Flynn and stopped him from getting out of the Grid before the portal closed. He attempted to kill Flynn, but was stopped by Tron, who got derezzed. …Supposedly. Nobody's really sure, there were these rumours going around that Tron was alive for a while, but that kind died down after a while. You've still got your disk, right?"

"Yeah, he never touched it."

"Good."

"…What's about Rinzler?"

"I cannot explain Rinzler. He just… showed up one day. Nobody knows where he came from, and nobody worked with him before he was Clu's enforcer. He just kind of… happened. He's fucking creepy, is what he is. He never talks, never takes off his helmet, and doesn't listen to anybody but Clu. And, according to Tron City's top quality rumour mill, they're totally fucking."

"Okay, that's disgusting and a mental image I don't want to have in my head."

"Right? Hey, if I have to deal with the thought then so do you. Anyways. Clu's probably going to kill you, and probably in some big, showy method. This works for me, because again, top quality rumour mill. Everyone knows a User showed up and got captured. So, with any luck, Flynn's person will show up and save your ass, then they'll bring you Flynn, and indirectly get me to Flynn. I have plans, and I need him for those plans. You're expendable."

"…Y'know there's been a few times where I've thought hey; maybe this Contact person is alright, and then you say creepy shit like that and oh boy. Oh boy."

"Hey, I'm being honest. I've got one main goal, and you're not really featured in it."

"Would that goal be to cover your own ass?"

"Pfft. Nope, I want Clu to die. Preferably slowly and painfully. Screaming. While I watch."

Sam paused at the unexpected venom in the Contact's voice, getting through even with the distorter hiding their identity.

"Oh, and like… surviving would be cool, I guess." They continued, sounding fairly apathetic on the matter.

"…What is wrong with you?"

"Some dark shit!"

Sam mentally changed his opinion of Contact's sanity. Because really, what in the fuck.

The guards dragging him around brought him to a small room, and practically threw him in, the door clearly locking behind him.

"Games begin in five nano-hexes." One of them droned, before leaving.

And Sam was alone.

"…How long is a nano-hex?"

"I mean… really, if you think about it, time is an illusion."

"No but like is it a minute? An hour? …Oh fuck me, am I going to be in this cell for five days, because I'll go insane if I am."

"…I think it feels like a User hour. Not literally, cause time moves differently, in actual User time it's like… thirty seconds? I don't know. Not long, is my point. Well, long time for you to be alone in a cell. Ha ha."

Sam sighed, and sat down against the wall.

"I can't believe I got arrested twice in one day. Alan's never going to drop this."

"…Alan?"

"Another user. He basically raised me after my dad went missing. Crazy smart too, he's the guy that wrote Tron."

"…Yeah. Yeah, I've heard. Look, I've got stuff to do, can you not get killed for the next five micro-hexes?"

"I'll somehow survive the empty cell. Gonna be boring."

"Ugh. I'll leave the com on, just tell me if something changes. I'm busy, so only speak up if you're like, literally about to die."

"Understood."

And with that, Sam settled in for a very boring five hours. Ugh.

"My life is so fucked." He said out loud, staring up at the orange ceiling. If it could talk, it probably would have agreed with him.

~

 

Rinzler stepped inside of Clu's personal quarters, unsurprised to see the Luminary standing at the window, staring transfixed at the beam of the active portal. He didn't look up at his enforcer's entrance.

"Look at it Rinzler. My way out. Our way out. Flynn can't hide forever. He'll have to come out of hiding for this. I expected Alan-1, but Flynn's own son? It's…"

"Perfect." Rinzler said quietly, voice mangled as always, but affection still present in the word.

Clu turned away from the window, and gave Rinzler a warm smile.

"Like you."

Rinzler joined Clu at the window, and was promptly wrapped in an embrace, one he gratefully returned. Clu held him for a long moment, before pressing a hand to the back of his neck, causing Rinzler's helmet to retract.

The repurposing had had the purpose of turning his brown hair to a dark red, and his eyes a similar colour. His face was free of scars, the skin flawless. Clu pulled him closer, running a hand through his hair. In response, Rinzler held him tighter, burying his face in Clu's neck and giving a content purr.

Clu chuckled, and pulled back a bit, pressing a kiss to Rinzler's mouth, which was enthusiastically returned.

For a long moment they were one, administrator and enforcer, together in front of the beacon of the portal.

And then Clu broke the kiss, and started tugging Rinzler towards the bed, hands already on his hips.

"C'mon man. We've got plenty of time before the games to celebrate a bit."

And, ever obedient, Rinzler followed, suit already derezzing.

Chapter Text

Considering he had the next five hours to himself, Sam took the opportunity to examine his arm.

It had been sliced open by Rinzler's disk, and the heat of the blade portion seemed to have left a burn. Sam gave it an experimental poke, and, was unsurprised to find that it hurt like a son of a bitch.

Rinzler had officially joined Clu and Contact on Sam's shit list. Ow.

The bleeding seemed to have clotted while he was being dragged around though, so it (probably) wasn't too bad. And even if it was, it wasn't like he could do anything about it.

Well. That had wasted a solid five minutes. And Contact was busy, so speaking to them would be a bad idea.

There was just… nothing to do. At all.

Fucks sake.

Sam leaned against the wall, and resisted the urge to pick at the slice on his arm.

 

~

 

By the time the five hours-but-not-really had finished, Sam had long since lost track of time. He would have gone to Contact, but they were busy. And asshole or not, Sam wasn't getting his only ally killed via distraction.

But fucks sake, he was bored. And twitchy. And kept accidentally picking at the goddamn arm wound without noticing.

When the door opened, he almost cried with relief. And then, upon noticing who had opened the door, he almost cried with whatever the opposite of relief was.

"Fuck me, not you again." He moaned, well aware that the look on his face was borderline whiny.

Rinzler didn't seem to give a shit. Stoic asshole.

Well, Sam assumed Rinzler was a stoic asshole. The asshole part wasn't up for debate, but for all he knew Rinzler had been pulling faces under his helmet the entire time. It was unlikely, but not entirely impossible.

…Provided Rinzler even had a face in the first place. All the derezzing he had seen earlier proved that programs didn't follow the laws of human biology. Maybe the helmet was all he had for a face. Weird.

While Sam was musing on that, Rinzler entered the cell and dragged him to his feet. Right. Prisoner. Death games.

That thing.

Understimulation always made Sam loopy.

"Hey, Contact? Rinzler just showed up, and he's taking me somewhere. Is it game time, or should I be worried?" Sam asked Contact, hoping that he wasn't distracting them.

"Nah, it's game time. You're fine."

Sam paused at that, considering Contact's voice sounded off behind the modulator. Still the same person, but upset. Or in pain.

"…Everything okay on your end?"

"What? No, fine. Just… had to deal with some things I didn't want to, don't worry about it. Worry about you, do you have any idea what to do in a light cycle battle? Because that's what you're going to have to do. Against Clu. Let's hope the rescue is fast, or you're basically fucked."

Sam decided to let the deflection go, and firmly reminded himself that Contact was a grade A bitch, and he should not be concerned about the programs personal life. Besides. Fight to the death on motorcycles to look forwards to.

Well, at least it wasn't card games on motorcycles. That would just be stupid.

"One time I looked at a motorcycle." Sam informed Contact, mostly for the sake of being an asshole. It was technically true.

There was a very long sigh, and something that might have been frustrated swearing.

"Maybe instead of waiting for rescue, you could save my ass…? Just saying."

"Hell no, I'd rather let you derezz in the arena. You're here to get me in touch with Flynn. If I save you, not only do I show my hand to Clu, but I also can't get to Flynn, and end up getting hunted down. While stuck with your dumb ass. No thanks."

"You're an asshole, Contact. Never change."

"…Users are weird."

"Racist."

"Not even going to try and unpack that one."

Sam snickered quietly to himself at that, which caused Rinzler to turn his helmet slightly to stare. Whatever. Honestly, he could survive getting judged by a creepy masked guy.

"So, where am I being taken anyways? Because your boss was vague as fuck earlier, and I'm not down for this." Sam said, out loud this time. He was bored, damn it. Antagonizing Rinzler seemed like a good idea, in the sense that it was a terrible idea but he was doing it anyways.

Rinzler didn't respond. Shocking.

"I know you can talk, I heard it earlier. Bro. My dude. My man. I feel like you need to open up to me. How does this prisoner transfer make you feel. Look, a relationship takes hard work and communication. I feel like you don't love me anymore, darling. I want a divorce."

Rinzler's grip on Sam's arm tightened, and he hissed in pain in response.

"Shut. Up." The helmeted program growled.

"…Fair enough, fair enough, but have you considered this, no and also I hate you."

Rinzler's grip somehow tightened more. Sam was fairly certain his bloodflow was being cut off. There was probably going to be a hand shaped bruise on his arm later. Wouldn't that be fun to explain to Alan.

Fortunately for Sam, before he could run his mouth more, he was handed off to more guards, and Rinzler stalked away, irritation practically radiating off of the program.

…Hopefully Sam wasn't going to have to face Rinzler in the lightcycle death match. The program would probably be considerably less inclined to fuck around before going for the kill, considering Sam had just cheerfully pissed him off.

Oh well. Sounded like a problem for future Sam to deal with.

The guards brought him out into the arena again, except instead of the multiple floating combat cell things, there was now a single field, seemingly with multiple levels.

This motorcycle death match almost looked like it would be fun, if it wasn't for the whole death match thing.

"Hey, I can see you again. Nice job pretending to be not terrified. I almost believe it." Contact snarked in his ear. Sam rolled his eyes.

"Man, fuck you. I'm so fucking done right now, fear isn't even registering. Also, this Jarvis guy is a tool."

"Right? I mean, you should probably be worried, Clu himself is coming down to fuck you up. Fair warning. He's good. He's really good."

"…Is Rinzler coming too?"

Contact paused for a moment, before replying, suspicion in their voice.

"…No, he's on standby in case someone tries to fuck around. Why do you ask?"

"Because I was blatantly antagonizing him earlier and he's probably got a grudge against me."

"Yeah? He can get in line, I've got first dibs." Contact deadpanned.

"I'm about fifty percent certain you're not going to follow through on that."

"Shut up dumbass, you're about to be in a fight to the death. Oh, here comes Clu."

Sam, and presumably Contact, watched as Clu descended down the stairs, golden fireworks going off as he did so.

"God, what a tool."

"Right? And you've only just met him, I have to see that smug fucking face every damn microcycle. Fair warning, once I get to Kevin Flynn in person, I might punch him in the face, just on reflex. There's a not insignificant chance of that happening."

"Sorry, I'm first in line for punching him. And then Alan, then Lora, then Roy… it's a hell of a line, you're going to have to be patient."

"You say that like I have a respect for authority, or you, or any of those people. I respect nothing. Except myself, and even then, eh. Take the baton dumbass."

Sam's attention snapped back to the whole elaborate execution thing, and found the weird pale program holding out a box containing one baton, leaning away from Sam in melodramatic repulsion. What a fuckhead.

"You're a fuckhead." Sam informed him out loud, taking the baton from the box. And, judging by the wave of laughter from the audience, those words had been broadcast to the entire arena.

Sam one, asshole zero. Things were looking up.

…Is what he would say if he wasn't going to probably his death. Stupid jokes were a perfectly valid coping mechanism.

"Okay, you hold the baton in both of your hands, build up a run, jump, and it turns into a lightcycle before you hit the ground again. Yeah, that's the right grip. You've got this. Fair warning, Clu and his team have much faster lightcycles than you, so you're gonna need some really good teamwork to get anywhere."

"…Teamwork."

"Turn around."

Sam turned around, and jumped slightly at the handful of blue circuited programs that had showed up at some point.

He really needed to stop focusing on Contact. It made him unobservant as shit.

"Hey." He said out loud, nodding in greeting to the programs.

They all gave him varying levels of glares or looks of fear in response.

"Just stay away from us User, okay?" One of the harsher glarer's snapped.

Always nice to be on a team that had a strong sense of unity, love, and appreciation for each other's presence.

"That's nice and all, but you do realise this is rigged as hell, right? Against us. Teamwork is the only way anybody's walking out of this intact. I'm not asking anybody to like me. Fuck, I barely even like me. I'm just looking for some mutual self-preservation to drive us to work together out of pure terror."

There was a silence, as everyone stared.

"…You're not very good at giving speeches, are you." One program deadpanned, an unimpressed expression on her face.

"No. No I am not." Sam agreed.

"Alright. Fine. Let's do this." The angry program who had spoken earlier said, the glare on his face settling into a more resigned expression. "Don't expect special treatment, User. Keep up or we're leaving you behind."

And with that, the programs all did the running jump that Contact had described, their lightcycles forming around them.

"It's true what they say. Friendship really is magic." Sam muttered, rolling his eyes, before doing the same.

Although the method of getting on a lightcycle did undeniably make him feel cool.

 

~

 

Sam swore as the last of the guard derezzed, narrowly avoiding a wipeout from the programs body beneath his wheels.

His one remaining teammate was not so lucky.

He wiped out with a cry of pain and fear, lightcycle reverting back into a baton and spinning away across the floor. Sam expected to see a burst of blue voxels, but was surprised that behind him, the program was getting back up, grabbing at his chest in surprise and relief.

"Don't do it. Don't go back for him." Contact warned, sounding angry.

Sam didn't bother replying. He figured that turning off his trail and making a U-turn made his intentions very clear.

"For fucks sake, just leave him, he's dead already and you're going to be next!"

Sam continued firmly ignoring Contact, scooping up the baton, and racing towards his ally, who stretched out an arm in preparation for the catch, a hopeful grin spreading on his face-

"LOOK OUT!" Contact yelled in Sam's ear, right as the gold circuited lightcycle came flying out of nowhere, and hit the program dead on, derezzing the poor bastard instantly.

Sam swerved violently to the left, swearing in surprise, and then in disgust at the crumbling arm still attached to the baton he was holding. It was something of a relief when it finished breaking down, albeit a disturbing sort of relief.

Back down to one ally. Great.

"Oh, this dick again. I'd almost forgotten him." Sam said to Contact, hooking the baton on his leg and pulling his bike around to head for Clu. The administrator did the same.

"Not a mistake I'd advise making. He's going to try and draw this out, just keep it going for as long as possible, your rescue should be here any moment…"

Sam revved the engine, well aware that he was shaking from the adrenaline, and hoping the lightcycle would hide that fact.

"Do you actually know that?"

"…Not really, but I'm trying to have faith here."

"Here we go-"

Sam was cut off by something – Clu's disk? – cutting into his lightcycle, sending it crashing out of control, quickly unseating him, causing him to cry out in pain and some fear from his painful, thudding impact with the ground, a reflexive part of his mind fully expecting the usual result of a vicious crash like that to be skin tearing open on concrete or gravel.

But between the thick gridsuit and the slick floor, the crash hurt like a son of a bitch, but his only wound remained the cut on his arm, the crash having re-opened it, and set it to throbbing again, in time with the aches from the bad fall. More bruises to add to the collection.

Ow.

He scrambled to his feet, helmet retracting from the absence of a vehicle, and swore violently at the sight of Clu coming around for another pass.

"Contact, I may be fucked here." He said silently, drawing his disk anyways. Sam might be about to die, but he was planning on exiting life the way he entered it. Bloody, screaming, and making a fair attempt at killing the one who had put him in that situation.

…He had been told that his birth had been very difficult for his mother..

"Someone's fucked, but it's not us!" Contact responded, sounding practically ecstatic.

Sam was going to ask them what the fuck they were talking about, when the new vehicle entered the arena, light trail coming between Sam and Clu, too late for Clu to turn or brake, leading instead to his lightcycle derezzing in a burst of gold, and Clu going flying.

It was a satisfying thing to watch.

Shame the crash didn't kill him, but it made sense for the administrator of a system to be made of stronger stuff than… whatever the other programs with Sam had been made for.

God. He hadn't even gotten their names.

The car parked in front of Sam, and the door opened, revealing an ominous helmeted person, and an empty passenger seat.

"Get in." They ordered sharply, voice sounding electronically filtered, but to a lesser degree than Contacts.

"Go, fucking go, they're sending Rinzler, get the fuck out of there!" Contact ordered, voice frantic and urging.

And so, despite every single stranger danger lesson from school blaring in his head, Sam docked his disk and scrambled into the passenger seat, the door closing behind him.

"Don't relax yet, they're coming for you!" Contact warned, as the car spun around, and started driving away from Clu.

Behind them, a trio of orange lightcycles were coming after them, Rinzler at the center.

"I really hope you have a plan here!" Sam yelled, looking over his shoulder in alarm at the approaching danger. His alarm was justified, considering there didn't seem to be a way out.

"Hang on." The driver replied calmly, and made the car give a firm bump to the cycle nearest to them. It ended the same way it always did in the endless safety videos of car versus motorcycle Sam had needed to watch to get his licence, the motorcycle crashing violently, killing the driver, while the car carried on just fine.

Rinzler and the second guard were still following, and the car turned, making a wide, arching curve, the two lightcycles gaining on them.

The driver pressed a button by the gear shift, and something fell out of the back, in the path of the cycles. A moment later, there was an explosion, destroying both of the lightcycles following them. The guard hit the ground and derezzed. Rinzler went sailing free of the wreckage, flipping in the air, before pulling a second baton off of him, and sticking the landing on another lightcycle.

"Oh come on, we fucking explode him and he just does a sweet flip and keeps going? That's not fair!" Sam yelled at Contact, glaring behind him.

"I told you, Rinzler cannot be explained. Fucking super program. But that was such a sweet flip, I'm not even mad."

"Oh good, that makes one of us, because he is STILL COMING AFTER ME! …And the driver, but they're creeping me right the hell out so fuck 'em." Sam tacked on, as the driver pressed a second button, causing something to flip out of the hood.

Really, thank god the communicator between him and Contact was silent, or Sam would have a lot of explaining to do.

Two shots were fired from the apparent turrets on the hood, into the wall of the bleachers, creating a large, misshapen hole, leading out into a large gap.

The driver did not appear to be turning.

"Pull up man, you can't make that!" Sam yelled, grabbing at the armrests of his seat in fear, and looking for a seatbelt.

There was not a seatbelt.

The car jumped. Sam's stomach seemed to decide it would rather remain in the arena, thank you very much. He wished it the best.

Mid-air, the driver pushed the gear shift lever, and something in the car clicked in response.

And then they landed, the thud knocking the wind out of Sam as he narrowly avoided smashing his face into the dashboard. In his ear, Contact let out a whoop.

"Made it" The driver deadpanned, voice smug through the distorter.

It was going to be a real struggle to figure out whether Sam hated the Contact or the driver more.

Behind them, Rinzler pulled to a stop at the hole, visibly staring after them. Sam stood up to kneel in his seat, taking advantage of the open roof to twist around and give Rinzler a nice middle finger as they drove away.

He could feel the driver staring as he sat back down, and Sam shrugged.

"What? He's an asshole. Gotta get my kicks in somehow." He said defensively.

In response, the driver retracted their helmet, revealing a girl, looking to be about Sam's age. Kind of cute too. Sam still hated her.

"I'm Quorra." She yelled over the wind, holding out a hand.

Sam silently shook it, because his life had gone down the fucking rabbit hole of weird a long time ago.

"Why aren't they following us?"

"Their vehicles weren't made for the Outlands, they'd malfunction on this terrain." Quorra explained, a bit of a smug grin on her face.

"But we're fine?"

She laughed, clearly pleased with herself.

"Obviously."

Sam had a sinking feeling that if there was a program equivalent to an adrenaline junkie, this girl was one.

On his mental list of 'what the fuck is going on', Sam added the possibility that the entire situation was an elaborate revenge plot by Alan for all the grey hairs Sam had caused. If so, it was definitely working.

"Where are you taking me?" He asked, feeling mildly suspicious.

"Patience, Sam Flynn. All your questions will be answered soon." Quorra replied cheerfully, pushing the gear shift again.

"Hey, where the hell is she taking me!?" Sam asked Contact, hoping that his other ally wasn't in the mood for cryptic bullshit.

"How the fuck would I know, I'm still in the arena. I mean… let's hope you're going to Flynn, because that's what I've been riding on, but really who the fuck knows."

"YOU DON'T EVEN KNOW WHO THIS IS!?"

"SHE'S NOT CLU. YOUR SITUATION HAS IMPROVED. STOP BITCHING." Contact yelled back.

Sam sat back in his seat and let out an annoyed breath.

Everything was terrible and so were his allies.

"Sorry about yelling, this is very stressful for me, especially considering I've had eyes on you this whole time, and now I don't. I'm a bit on edge right now. Keep me posted, alright? Remember, if you're going to Flynn, he's been playing hermit alone out there this whole time. I'm still your best source of information." Contact continued, voice at a more reasonable tone and volume.

"Feeling insecure?"

"Shut up."

Sam yelped in surprise as the car drove into an incredible low tunnel, drawing another snicker from Quorra, and further cementing her position on Sam's shit list. It was a very long list, currently headed by Clu, Rinzler, Contact and Quorra. And possibly his father, if he didn't have a very good explanation when he found him.

They drove through the dark mountains more, including up a series of fucking terrifying switchbacks, not helped by Quorra driving like a lunatic, before finally pulling in to what seemed to be a garage, and parking.

"Okay, we're in some kind of garage, and we've stopped, I think I'm at wherever it is she's taking me." Sam reported to Contact, trailing Quorra to a large patterned square in the floor.

"Huh. Thought it would be further away."

The elevator began to rise, lighting up as it left the garage behind, and they rose up into a room, with a grey-haired man in all white kneeling in the center.

Sam's heart lurched.

"Wait here." Quorra whispered, before approaching the man. He didn't turn around, but her arrival was clearly expected, as he began to talk.

"Quorra. I dreamed of Tron. First time in years." He said, and again, Sam recognized the voice. This time he was frozen in an awful sort of anticipation, unsure if it was really, finally his father, or if his hope would be ripped away again.

Quorra kneeled beside him, resting a hand on his shoulder.

"It's a sign." She said, voice hushed.

The man chuckled, and the sound was low and tired.

"A sign, my dear, of an old and tired soul. I'm afraid something's happened."

"Something has happened. We have a guest."

"There are no guests, kiddo."

Something in Sam lurched at the familiar nickname, and he started to slowly approach, legs on autopilot, and hope welling up in him. Maybe, maybe, maybe…

Quorra stood again, and stood in front of the man, looking between Sam and the man with an expression of hesitant excitement.

The man turned his head slightly, enough for Sam to see the edges of a beard, and got to his feet, turning to look at Sam, the room lighting up as he did so.

He looked like Sam's father, looked like how his father was supposed to be, older and different, not the frozen image Clu had been. And for a long moment, he just stared, confusion morphing into a wordless sort of hope, the expression matching the feeling burning in Sam's chest.

"…Sam?" His father whispered, sounding like he didn't even believe himself.

"Long time." Sam managed to choke out in response.

"You have no idea."

His dad walked slowly towards him, his expression morphing into wonder and disbelief, and his pace increasing as he approached, before faltering right in front of him, looking Sam over in amazement.

"You're… you're here." He stammered out, before pulling Sam into a hug.

Despite the clear desperation of the hug, his father's arms were weaker than Sam remembered, and he had ended up growing taller than him, and the smell of his aftershave wasn't there, but the man hugging him was undeniably Sam's father.

"You're here." He choked out again, and Sam returned the hug, fairly certain his grip was just as desperate.

"I'm here." Sam replied, voice blank with shock, and the effort of holding back tears.

After a long moment, they broke apart, and Flynn looked him over again, eyes watery.

"You're big."

"You're…"

"Old?"

The noise Sam made in response was somewhere between a hysterical giggle and a sob. In the background, Quorra seemed to be enjoying watching the reunion.

"How did you get here?" His dad asked, wonder and confusion in his voice.

"Alan came over."

"Bradley."

"Yeah. He got your page. I found your office under the arcade, and ended up here."

Flynn looked confused.

"…Page? Oh, the page. Of course."

As far as cover-ups went, it was pretty unconvincing. Luckily for Flynn, Quorra stepped forwards to join them.

"Clu had him on the light cycle grid. I intervened." She explained.

Which was enough to remind Sam of a certain factor.

"Contact? It's him. She took me to my dad."

Contact whooped again, the noise making Sam flinch slightly in surprise, drawing a glance from Quorra and Flynn.

"Excellent. I need to talk to him. Take the communicator out and put it down so I can set it broadcast again, like when you first arrived. I need to talk to him. …Oh, maybe explain my involvement first."

"Um. I actually had help before you. …In a way. When I first ended up here, I was in the arcade building in the city, and there was this earpiece? Sitting on the desk. I've been getting advice from whoever's on the other end, they refuse to tell me who they are, but they've been… vaguely interested in keeping me alive? They're kind of an asshole, but um. They said that apparently this was all just an elaborate ruse to get in contact with you, Dad, so… yeah. Here."

Sam dug the communicator out of his ear, and showed it to his father. Flynn narrowed his eyes in suspicion.

"An unknown program, giving you directions?"

"Yes, that would be me. Sam's been calling me Contact, so I guess that's what I'm going by for the time being." Contact said, their voice coming out of the communicator loud enough for all of them to hear.

"Why use a false name?" Flynn asked.

They gave a distorted laugh.

"Because I'm not stupid? Do you know what Clu would do to me if he knew I was up to this? Because I know. I've seen what he does to programs that piss him off. It's fucked up. I've seen it, and it's fucked up. I mean, I completely hate him, but he scares the shit out of me, I'm not going to actively put myself in the way of that. No thanks, that's for you people who are already on his shit list. I'll be back here as support and mission control, thank you very much. …Besides, I've got some other stuff going on. Couldn't actively help even if I wanted to." Contact explained, voice sinking into an annoyed grumble at the end.

"And why am I trusting you?"

"Because, Creator, I'm the reason your son survived long enough to be rescued. If I wanted him dead or hurt, I could have made it happen a while ago. He thought Clu was you, at first. I'm the reason Clu wasn't able to keep that ruse going long enough to take advantage of it. You're welcome. Look, my goals here are not complicated. I just want Clu to die, and me to be left alone. And I need someone with strength and motivation to do the killing for me. It's not that deep."

"Did you lure Sam here? With the page?"

"Me? No, that was Clu. Heard that he was trying to get a User here before Sam arrived, so I snuck into the arcade and left a camera and this communicator, so I'd know the instant he arrived and be able to work with him. I've got some pretty good sources when it comes to information. …Look. You don't trust me. That's completely understandable. I don't trust me either. But right now, I'm the best shot you've got at making it to that portal alive, in time, and with everyone's disks. When Clu is dead, I'll gladly reveal my identity to you all, but as long as he lives, nobody is getting my name, and nobody is leaving this Grid. I'll leave you all to think that over, okay?"

And with that, the communicator let out an audible click as the transmission cut off.

There was a long silence.

"…I need to meet them in person. I owe them a punch in the face. Just in general. Magnificent bastard." Sam said, glaring at the silent communicator as if it would somehow turn into a program Sam could punch in the face. Needless to say, Contact did not spontaneously appear to receive their face punches. Someday.

His father frowned, staring at the communicator with a pensive look.

"I… need to think on this. Dinner soon, we'll talk more then." He muttered out, before turning to walk out onto the balcony, staring out at the beam of the portal in the sky.

"He thought he'd never see you again." Quorra said quietly, nodding her head towards Flynn.

"Yeah. Yeah, I know the feeling." Sam replied, turning away to look at the parked lightcycle, and slipping the communicator into a pocket on his gridsuit.

"It's vintage. From the old system, apparently. It doesn't get out much anymore, but it's still the fastest thing on the Grid. I've driven it a few times, it's amazing. I like to take my helmet off when I'm driving sometimes, the wind in my hair just makes it all seem so much better. …Don't tell Flynn, he worries enough as it is." Quorra said, giving a grin that was somehow both sheepish and completely shameless.

"Y'know, I'm trying to be annoyed with you for the jump off the arena, and the cryptic bullshit on the drive here, and you're making it really difficult right now." Sam blurted out. Quorra snickered in response.

If he had met her back in the outside world, she probably would have ended up becoming the sort of friend Alan disapproved of, in that they didn't bother talking Sam out of dangerous activities, and instead ended up joining him and possibly making them more dangerous. Sam tended to attract a lot of fellow adrenaline junkies, and very few mom friends to stop them. Quorra was definitely the adrenaline type. Sam could respect that.

"So, how did you end up living here with my dad anyways?"

Her expression immediately shut down.

"It's… kind of a long story. Not really something I like to talk about. Maybe later." She said firmly, her tone making it clear that she wouldn't be thrilled with anymore digging. Sam took the hint, and she turned towards a table with some sort of board game, which seemed to be in progress. It looked complicated.

"Do you know it?" Quorra asked, gesturing towards the board in a clear deflection from the earlier topic. "His patience usually beats out my more… aggressive strategy."

Honestly, it seemed like a game that would get a little old after a while, but Sam wasn't judging. He turned to the bookshelf, mentally wondering if his dad had managed to make Monopoly in the grid. And if Quorra had played it. After all, 'aggressive strategy' in Monopoly usually translated to 'getting fed up and attempting to fist fight your opponent'. Or maybe that was just how aggressive strategy worked in drunken two AM games of Monopoly with Ed.

"Flynn shared them with me. I've read them all." Quorra said, noticing him staring at the bookshelf. Sam took a closer look, paying attention to the titles, and raised an eyebrow. Anna Karenina, War and Peace, Crime and Punishment, Les Miserables…

Ugh. Sam had read the Les Miserables book in freshman year out of boredom, after receiving it for Christmas from some aunt. It had taken him months, and he still got twitchy whenever he heard about the Paris sewer system. Too much goddamn exposition.

"Light reading." Sam commented, still scanning the titles. I-Ching, Journey Without Goal, Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, The Handmaid's Tale, 1984…

…the first four Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, Enders Game, the first three Space Odyssey's, the novel forms of the Star Wars original trilogy…

Good to know some things never changed. He still had an entire bookshelf full of his father's science fiction collection. Sam would be freaked out if all he had here was philosophy and classical literature.

"Flynn's been teaching me about the art of the selfless, removing oneself from the equation. …But, between you and me, Jules Verne is my favourite." Quorra admitted, holding up Twenty Thousand Leagues and grinning a bit.

"I think out of the stuff here, Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy was my favourite. I'm a fan of the analogies." Sam said, feeling like he might as well attempt to get an actual conversation going.

Quorra pulled a face.

"I didn't really enjoy those. Flynn said they were supposed to be funny, but I just didn't see it. Don't have the right context, I guess. I loved Les Miserables though, Victor Hugo went into such detail, it was fascinating! The explanation of the sewer system was amazing, I had no idea the User world had underground structures for biological waste. Here junk data just… absorbs back into the system. I enjoyed the Star Wars books though, they were interesting. Also, I've found I've got a fondness for plots about overthrowing tyrannical governments. Can't imagine why."

Sam snorted at the sarcastic tone she took.

"Yeah, it's a mystery. There's another three Star Wars out now, you know, a prequel trilogy. About Anakin being trained as a Jedi, and then falling, and how the Empire came to power in the first place. A lot of people complain about them, but I enjoyed them."

Quorra's eyes were wide and excited.

"Wait, really? They made a whole prequel trilogy!?

"Yup. The Phantom Menace, Attack of the Clones, and Revenge of the Sith. Honestly, when Anakin and Obi-Wan fought after Anakin fell? I cried. I mean, it was badass, but I cried."

"Can you tell me about them? I want to know what happened!"

Sam grinned a bit, Quorra's obvious excitement getting to him. Besides, there was something almost comforting about the fact that even talking to a program in a fucking computer, there was still Star Wars fans. It made for a nice distraction from the admittedly terrifying clusterfuck of his life.

"Okay, so The Phantom Menace is the first one, and it starts with Obi-Wan as an apprentice, on a mission with his master, Qui-Gon Jinn…"

 

~

 

Flynn wasn't sure how long he spent watching the portal, meditating while standing to try and regain his patience. His first reflex was to grab Sam and Quorra and wildly run for the portal. That would end badly. He needed to take the time to think it through, especially with his children's lives at stake.

…His children who were complete strangers that he had left alone together. Ah. Shit.

Turning around, he was pleasantly surprised to find them standing together in front of the bookshelf, Sam talking enthusiastically about something to Quorra, who had the same expression Sam always had as a little boy on Christmas morning.

He stepped back inside, and was able to hear what Sam was telling Quorra about.

"…So then the kid goes, 'I'm a person, and my name is Anakin', and for the audience it's like oh my god. This adorable tiny child is going to grow up to become Darth Vader. Holy shit."

Quorra gasped in shock.

"So Darth Vader started out as a slave on Tattooine? Wow, I never even thought…"

"Right? So then Qui-Gon comes back…"

Flynn tuned out again, smiling in amusement. Figures his son and his adopted daughter would end up bonding over Star Wars. Even if he had apparently missed a prequel movie.

 

~

 

By the time Sam finished summarizing Phantom Menace, his throat had gone dry from talking, and was starting to hurt. But, judging by Quorra's expression, she was having the greatest day of her life, so Sam considered it a job well done.

He got up from the floor, both of them having sat down at some point, and was surprised to see his dad watching with a smile on his face, affection and amusement present in his expression.

"Glad you're getting along well. Dinner time, kiddo's."

Quorra got up, and went over to an unnecessarily fancy table, with a chandelier hanging over it, Flynn moving to join her. Sam trailed along behind, curious as his father pressed a hand to the empty table, and code began to build up, forming into a meal.

Flynn noticed his stare, and grinned a bit.

"Took ages for me to figure out how to make edible food, but not much else to do out here. Normally to 'eat', in here everyone just consumes liquid energy, Users and programs alike. It's good, but after a couple thousand cycles of nothing else… it got old. Have a seat."

Sam took a seat at the end of the table, his father taking the other end, and Quorra sitting in the middle. They were both began to serve themselves some of the coded food, and Sam followed suit, albeit slightly slower. He had watched the food be created out of code. He was going to be suspicious of it.

"So, how old are you Sam?" Quorra asked, having rapidly drained the blue liquid out of her glass.

"You should be… twenty seven." His dad said, smiling a bit.

"Yeah, twenty seven." Sam agreed, returning the expression.

"Do you attend a… which schooling level is that at? Or are they done by then?" Quorra asked, looking over at Flynn with some confusion.

"College, but he might be graduated." He explained.

"I went to Caltech." Sam offered, holding back a reflexive wince at the thought of his nightmarish one and only year at university. In hindsight, he was fairly certain the amount of mental breakdowns he'd had that year would be enough to kill most people. And if that didn't, the amount of drinking he had been doing definitely would. The entire mess had ended when Alan had sat him down after second semester's finals, and held a one-man intervention, which led to Sam spending a week institutionalised, and dropping out on the advice of his therapist. The only good thing that had come out of the experience was being assigned a dorm room with Edward Dillinger Junior, and a friendship born of drunkenly venting about their issues with their fathers.

"Caltech. My alma mater." His dad said, grinning at the thought.

"According to Alan, the scorch marks on the outside of the engineering lab were your fault."

Quorra gave Flynn a deeply surprised look. He turned a satisfying shade of red.

"Look, some of my friends were engineering students, and when engineering majors and programming majors get drunk together, constructing a flamethrower robot seems like the logical course of action. It was not my fault. It was the fault of the whiskey, and whoever found a fuel tank with a leak in it. …And the exploding robot was awesome, albeit not what we were going for."

"Oh my god. That's amazing."

"Well, it was fun until campus security showed up. Don't suppose you left any scorch marks of your own on campus?"

"Nah, didn't have time to. Dropped out after the first year. Therapists orders." Sam admitted, doing his best to not make eye contact, and instead firmly studying his plate.

"…You have a therapist?" His father asked, sounding concerned.

"On and off since I was eight. Only had to be institutionalised once though, so I've got that going for me. And Alan always screens therapists really intensely before letting them see me, so I usually have pretty good ones. I've got issues. Therapy helps. College did not."

There was a brief awkward silence, before his father pushed through it.

"What about a job? Working for Encom?"

"No, no. I check in once a year, fuck with the board a bit, and then fuck off again. 'Sides, with what I've heard from Ed and Alan, I don't really want to, the place is… well, apparently they're about as far away from your Encom as they can manage at this point."

"Ed?"

"Yeah, friend of mine, he's on the board. We were roommates, kept in touch after I dropped out. …His full name's actually Edward Dillinger Junior, just getting that out of the way. He's cool though. We bonded over alcohol and daddy issues."

"…I see. Wife, girlfriend?"

"Dog. …His names Marvin, he's a rescue, he's the cutest little idiot. Very good dog." Sam said, unable to keep the grin off of his face while describing Marv.

"Dogs are cool."

"Dogs are very cool."

And the awkward silence made a triumphant return. God.

"I'm sure you've got some questions of your own, Sam."

Sam put his fork down.

"Actually, just one."

"…Why I never came home."

"Yeah, I'd like an explanation. And it had better be a good one, because there's a long line of people waiting to punch you for vanishing, and I've got first dibs."

"Those nights when I went to the office, I'm sure you've figured out by now, I was coming here. Human form into digital space. Heavy stuff. My first trip into a computer was actually a complete accident. Back in 82', me, Alan and Lora broke into Encom one night. I was going to hack into the Master Control Program, free… free Tron, who Alan would finish upgrading, and send to take down the MCP. But the MCP was a lot smarter than we had realised… and I was sitting at Lora's terminal in front of the first digitizing laser. MCP used the laser to zap me into the grid almost as soon as he figured out what I was doing. So I freed Tron and took down the MCP from the inside, and managed to get out again, got the data, got my job and rightful promotion, and so on and so on. But I couldn't stop thinking about what I had discovered – that programs were alive and sentient. It was something I'd never even dreamed of. So I took the laser, and I set up a closed system to try and learn more. That's here. The Grid. But even as I was more drawn to the digital frontier, and my friends inside of the computer, I still had a responsibility to the User world too. After all, I had Encom to run, and Lora and Alan, and soon enough there was Jordan, and then there was you. I couldn't be here all the time, and somebody had to be running the Grid and maintaining it while I was away. I needed partners."

"Tron and Clu?"

"Yeah. Tron was created by Alan, for the old system, where we met. When I set up the Grid, I brought him here to protect it. One of the best damn programs ever made. Clu was my creation. A program designed to create a perfect world. He served as the system admin, kept it all running smoothly while I was gone, and helped me when I was here. We were jamming, man, building utopia. Hours in here were just minutes back home, and there was always something new to work on. And just when I thought it couldn't get any more profound, something unexpected happened."

"The miracle."

"The miracle. You remember. ISO's. Isomorphic algorithms. A whole new life form."

"And you created them?"

His father's laugh had a slightly desperate edge to it, a deep grief hiding under the sound. Sam had a bad feeling about where the story was going.

"No, no. They just… happened. Manifested, like a flame. They weren't really from anywhere. The conditions were right, and they came into being. Like evolution. For centuries, we've dreamed of gods, spirits, aliens, an intelligence beyond our own. This was something different from programs, programs were a species that humanity had purposefully created, albeit without really knowing what we had made. The ISO's… they were a new sentient species. Chaos aligning into life. I found them, like flowers in a wasteland. They were people, just like any User or program, but at the same time, complete unlike either. They… they were spectacular. Everything I had hoped to find in the system, control, order, perfection, none of it meant a damn thing. I was living in a hall of mirrors. The ISO's shattered it. The possibilities of their root code, their digital DNA, all of human progress? Fuck it! Medicine, science, philosophy, religion, every single idea humanity ever had about the universe, all of it was up for grabs. Bio-digital jazz, man. I was going to bring them out of the grid, introduce them to the world. Everything would have changed."

The grief hadn't faded from his voice, instead growing stronger, and being joined with some anger.

"…So what happened?"

"Clu. Clu happened. Tron was escorting me to the portal, when Clu ambushed us. There… there was no warning. Tron was attacked by the black guard, and Clu came after me. He… he tried to kill me, but Tron defeated his opponents, and tackled Clu. He told me to run. Last thing I saw of the fight was Clu getting the upper hand, and when… when I heard the scream, I knew. Tron fought for me. And he died for me."

Sam knew the story was going to have a bad ending. Finding out that one of his childhood hero's had turned evil and brutally murdered his other childhood hero was pretty much what he was expecting.

"So why didn't you fight?"

"He did. At first." Quorra said, speaking up for the first time during the story.

"Clu fed off my resistance. The more I fought, the more powerful he became. I'd be impressed, if it wasn't so horrifying. And the miracle… Clu saw the ISO's as an imperfection. So he destroyed them."

"The Purge." Quorra said, bitterness in her voice.

"He killed them all."

"It was genocide. I tried to get back, but I couldn't get to the portal. It uses incredible amounts of power, and it can't stay open forever. I had to design it with a timed shutdown, or it could have destroyed the Grid. It closed. And, like a safe… it only opens from the outside. It closed on me, Sam. That's why I never came home."

Sam took a deep breath, thinking over the story.

"Okay. But… the portal opened when I came in. So it's running now."

"Not for long. It'll work for one milliycle. That's about eight hours outside."

"And inside? What does a millicycle feel like in here? I know a micro-hex is like an hour, so what's a millicyle?"

"…Roughly a month. It's not exact, it's just what it feels like."

"Alright. So Clu knows we've got time. He thinks we'll try and re-group, make a plan of action. If we go now, we'll catch him by surprise, make a run for it past whatever he's got set up. You're not agreeing with this. Why."

"The moment Flynn's on the grid, Clu will stop at nothing to find him, and take his disk." Quorra explained.

"My disk is everything, Sam. The master key, the golden ticket, the way out. And not just for me."

"…What does that mean?"

"Our worlds are connected. Clu figures that if a User can exist in a computer…"

"A program can exist outside of one."

"Exactly. Clu gets my disk, he gets out, and then it's game over for everybody. The guy doesn't really dig imperfection. What's more imperfect than our world? I can't let that happen. He'd tear it apart. Besides, last I saw out there? Things were looking… well, pretty fucked. I'm not about to make it worse."

"So what, we just sit here? Do nothing?"

"You'd be surprised how productive doing nothing can be. Clu's planning something, we've known that for a while. Programs have been disappearing, there's unrest out there, even revolution. If we sit tight, Clu might get taken down from the inside."

"If the portal's closing, we can't just sit around. What about Contact?"

"That's too dangerous! You don't know who the hell they are, or what their real motives are. For all you know, they've been lying to you the entire time! Hell, they flat out said that they used you to get to me, and now they want us to walk straight to Clu? How do we know that this Contact isn't working for him? Clu brought you here on purpose, he got sick of stalemate, and introduced a new piece to the board to change the game. When you showed up, he got more than he ever dreamed! This is exactly what he wants, us together, trying to take him down and reach the portal! It's his game now, the only winning move is not to play!"

Sam had seen War Games. He'd hated War Games.

"Hell of a way to live." He said bitterly.

"But it is a way."

"…We can go home, don't you want that?"

"Sometimes, life has a way of moving you past things like wants and hopes."

Sam's hands curled into fists.

"That's great Dad. Keep telling yourself that."

His father stared at him for a moment, before turning, walking back up the balcony, and into the house.

"Good night Sam."

The lights powered down, and Flynn went into a room to the side, the door closing behind him.

Fuck.

"I'm not. On Clu's side, I mean."

The unexpected voice from Sam's pocket was enough to make him and Quorra both start, before Sam dug out the communicator, holding it in his hand.

"You… heard that?"

"Yeah. Just turned off my audio. Kept the channel open in case of trouble. Wasn't… exactly expecting to hear what I heard, but… yeah. For what it's worth, I think sitting still is a bad idea too. The Resistance is good and all, but… they're not going to be enough. It's why I'm working with you, and not them. There's too many spies in its ranks. Clu's letting it grow, reeling them in, and the second he decides he's found enough traitors? They're done. As Flynn puts it… Game over. The only winning move is to get the fucker before he gets us all."

"I'm on board with it." Sam said firmly, before looking over at Quorra. She bit her lip, clearly conflicted.

"It… is true, that we don't know much about the Resistance. Flynn can't risk going into the city, and I can't risk it very often. But we also don't know much about you, Contact. How can you prove you're on our side? We don't know if you're leading us into a trap."

"There was a medical clinic in Xenon. Your friend was injured. The medics saved her. I know what you are Quorra. And I don't care. Clu's hurt both of us. You like revenge, right? Everybody likes revenge. Let's go get some."

The exchange went over Sam's head, but for Quorra, it seemed to mean something big, as her expression shifted from shock, to grief, to fear, before settling on determination.

"Fair enough. I'm in. I knew a program in the city, named Zuse. He fought alongside the ISO's. They say he can get anyone anywhere-"

"Bad idea. He got caught by Clu, and sold out to save himself. You go to him, you're walking into a trap. But I might know somebody who can help you. I've never met them personally, but I know they'd derezz themself before working for Clu. It's a bit of a trip to get to them, but they'll help you." Contact said, steel in their voice.

"Where are we going, and who are we looking for?" Quorra asked, giving Sam a small grin, which he returned.

"You need to head to Argon City. Have you ever heard of a program called the Renegade?"