The disc is the classic weapon; doesn’t use precious energy, versatile, good range, easy to aim, easy to add upgrades. On the downside, it’s what your enemy expects you to use, so even petty Resource Hogs developed shields and defense tactics built around disc combat. It’s also the first thing an enemy will confiscate. With everything you do, learn, and are stored on your weapon? When your public function is lightcycle champ, and your actual function is the Administrator’s best set of hands, that calculates out to way too much risk. Really, Ma3a is far too benevolent for jobs like this. She needs to stay benevolent. That’s why Mercury was coded – to take on ugly tasks and uglier threats.
The baton Mercury clips to her side is a trickier weapon to use. It uses energy to activate, upgrades are harder to obtain, and the best results require close combat. A lightcycle rod is considered a utility item, however, not a weapon. They even let the condemned jocks on the Game Grids carry them around openly after they have the discs locked up for “safekeeping.” So she can walk around with it in even the most restricted sectors of any given system, and no one thinks anything of it.
Or, like this Ransomware crew, the enemy will confiscate all her subroutines and disc, but leave the rod in easy reach.
Mercury shifts in her bonds, listening carefully to the gang’s lieutenant tell everything to his boss. Yeah, Email server four. Come in via a kitten picture. Hold the archives hostage. Their User wants to be paid in Bitcoin to some account with a Russian ISP address. It’s all in the bag. Well, he thinks it’s in his bag. Mercury knows it’s in hers. Gotta love it when she doesn’t even have to interrogate these null-units. And there’s a trick to getting out of energy ropes. No matter how tight they think they tie it, a little push and pull will loosen it up…
There! Baton in hand, a little twist one way, a turn the other, and pull the ends, exposing the sparking core. The ropes short out in a flash and a whiff of ozone, and the lieutenant turns around. Mercury’s ready before he knows what’s coming. She jams the ends into the circuit lines on his chest, grinning all the while as he twitches and screams error messages before collapsing into voxels.
Grab his subroutines and access codes, snag her disc from the archive bin, and head upstairs to take out the rest of the cell. Looks like their User won’t be getting his Bitcoin and Ma3a’s people can keep carrying out their functions without undue threat.
She pats the baton at her hip. Truly, it’s the most reliable partner she has.
Chapter 2: Functions
One last Function
The system had been powered down for a long time, but I-No had little idea of how long it had been until he went deep in his tower and meditated, seeing the logs and time stamps play out in front of him.
It was a...hard truth, but one he suspected. EN-1282, once the jewel of Encom system, was now little more than an obsolete archive full of junk files, outdated information. Resource Hogs had been laying claim to the sectors and there was nothing more now.
He had a look at the Stranger’s disc. A little hard not to when fishing someone out of the Sea (when did it go cold and black like that? He remembered it being crystal blue – almost alive) and trying to revive them. Considering a dive into the Sea should have been fatal, he has more than a reasonable suspicion on what the Stranger is.
I-No didn’t earn his designation for just anything. He remembered Master Control. He remembered the stories, and the fantastic-sounding things that were more than stories, and he hadn’t been completely honest with the Stranger.
EN-1282 and the EN-511 were connected, and while he was a young Guardian at the time, he was one of the last to be captured. He questioned his faith, only for old Dumont to take his hand when it was going to be the end and whisper, “A User is here. He’s walking among us. He’ll save us.”
Dumont turned out right, and I-No even met the Lost User later on. On the surface he seemed little different from a game fighter, amicable and joking. He wasn’t terribly mindful of protocols and proper rites, but if a User wasn’t concerned about them, then maybe they had become too formal. Yet there was something about his energy and details in his render you had to look at carefully to find that marked him as something other.
The Lost User – or, Flynn, as he preferred to be called – had taken many of those on EN-511 and EN-1282, scripts marked for death or eternal sleep on an archive, and promised a new life in a new world. He was going to try and save as many as he could, try to build a place where others of his kind could see and understand the Programs so they’d all work together. I-No was among the few who refused. His function was Guardian. His place was EN-1282. His job was to guard the archives and be ready to answer User requests. His function was to know all there was to know about EN-1282.
The Stranger had the same energy as the Lost User, the same drive to save all he could, the same oddities. Yet, he was different, too; not as ready to command, more ready to hide what he was, taking orders from a gold-masked Administrator. I-No couldn’t be sure, but there was something about the Stranger’s render, the shoulders in particular, that seemed very much like Tron. Perhaps that explained why the Stranger was searching for that relic of an unused upgrade.
The simplest explanation would be that the Stranger was some new version of Tron, searching for an upgrade that would be his by right of inheritance. The more complex, but equally likely, explanation was that the Stranger was a User with some kind of debt or link to Tron, though that brought more questions than answers.
When the system collapsed, the Stranger made the same offer Flynn did. Come with him, escape the dying system. And when the Stranger didn’t seem to understand why I-No couldn’t come with them, that’s when the question was answered.
I-No’s function was to know. I-No knew he was dying either way. But if he stayed behind, he could give the User and Ma3a a chance to survive the transport. The old ports couldn’t handle the upload – not unless he stayed behind to configure it manually. So, that’s what he would do.
And after the packet transport sped away and the system collapsed around him I-No knew he had done the right thing, carrying out his function until the end.
Chapter 3: Corrupted
The Start of the Corruption
Subject: Promotion to Security VP
From: Catkinson@ encom. com
I regret to inform you that the Board of Directors has decided to make an outside hire for the position of Vice President of Corporate Security. …
Thorne read the email again, just to be sure, but the news was still the same. Damn it! He’d been spinning his wheels at Encom for how long? And he was reasonably sure why. The damn Flynn kid’s visit showed the holes in his security. Even this year’s upgrades should have caught him, but they didn’t. He may have owned the software and a large share of the company, but not the building. Thorne could still have the brat arrested for trespassing. Thorne was reasonably sure Sam Flynn had some help on the inside, but he couldn’t figure out who.
Of course, maybe he should accept where he was. It wasn’t too bad, as far as jobs went. And where else could he go after being fired from the DoD? Granted, he didn’t regret what he did because it did save Dr. Baines-Bradley’s life. This job offer at Encom was a reward and a personal favor from her husband, who was CEO at the time.
Still, times changed, and Thorne itched for some success. He was powerless, really. There was a lot of taking orders, a lot of politics, not a lot of room to actually test himself or craft the policies. Even being brought in on the inner circle of the whole “Flynn Lives” conspiracy didn’t give any satisfaction. There was no accomplishment, no power, no reward. He was bored and frustrated, and he would scramble to take an opportunity that allowed him to feel a sense of control.
Freelance work wasn’t forbidden, of course, so long as it didn’t involve anything where Encom trade secrets or security could be compromised. He took a consulting job here and there for a little extra money and to try and convince the highers-up he was worth a chance at promotion. Still, it had come to nothing until he was drinking away another frustrating day and his complaining to the bartender got the attention of a nondescript woman who claimed to work for promising startup. Of course, the tech sector had plenty of those; most of them didn’t get off the ground. Of the ones who did, most were here today and shuttered tomorrow. Still, he did send over his resume and a letter of interest to Future Control Industries. He just didn’t expect anything of it.
There was a new message on his PDA.
Future Control Industries is very interested in contracting your services. I would like to set up a meeting to discuss a partnership in more detail.
Please contact my secretary.
Looking forward to meeting you Mr. Thorne.
Future Control Industries
Thorne closed his email. Message from the CEO himself? This could be very interesting. And F-con had been in the news recently; for a relatively young and unknown company, they’d been acquiring properties at an astonishing rate. The fact they specialized in secure cloud data storage was also intriguing. He wasn’t as tech savvy as much of Encom, but he did know there was a big future in it; the irony of going from mainframes and dumb terminals back to mainframes and dumb terminals. Encom was a dinosaur lumbering on due to past successes and inertia, but things changed quickly and Encom wasn’t adapting. F-Con was supposedly interested in buying up Encom, so that made for a conflict of interest.
Thorne paused for a moment. Taking an offer from a company that was planning to go for Encom’s throat would be betraying the man who gave him a job. Alan Bradely was a man of few friends, but he was always loyal to the ones he did have. Thorne knew Alan counted him in that number, even if they were not close. This was a good career move, but it was also betrayal.
But a young, ambitious company? One that could use a man of his experience? And a chance to get in on it early? Even if there was a conflict of interest, he had to look out for what was best for himself. And if F-con bought Encom? Well, that would mean he might have the chance to fire some of those people that were above him now.
The mental image made him smile. Besides, Bradley was shunted off to the side by the current board and treated like a joke. It’s not like that friendship could help him any further.
He started typing his reply. If they had a better offer, he would gladly accept.
Chapter 4: Rinzler
Clu has tried over the cycles to make him perfect. It has not worked as well as his master would like. He is supposed to be silent, without need for a voice. Yet, the voice still crept through, unwanted, even though it was little more than a low, continuous growl.
The User betrayed them all. His User abandoned him. At least that’s what his memory files tell him. Still, the vestigial protocols and directive cannot be entirely deleted or overwritten. It is a moot point anyway. The User is a coward and will never face him directly...
Something is wrong with this latest combatant. His movements are a little too loose, his pattern too erratic. His eyes seem wrong somehow. The fighting style is not something native to The Grid; a different pattern of blocks and countermoves. There’s something...error...about this battle.
The arena flips again. He is ready for it, the other is not. The other falls, and Rinzler pounces for the kill. He wounded the other combatant’s arm. Disc at the throat, about to strike, Rinzler saw something dark leaking from the wound.
It’s not energy. It’s red and viscous.
He’s seen this before. There’s something about the other – something in his facial render.
Programs do not leak red. Programs do not bleed. That is the string. A vestigial piece of code kicks in. The voice giving the command is and is not his own.
Law 1: Allow no User to come to harm or allow a User to be harmed by inaction.
Law 2: Obey all orders given by Users unless it conflicts with the first law.
Law 3: Preserve your own existence unless it conflicts with Laws One or Two.
The directive from Clu...Error. Clu gave him no such directive.
“User!” He states the identification out loud.
He pulls the disc away, and yanks User to his feet. Rinzler is looking for exits, looking for the closest path to flee. The directive states that User needs to be protected. User is in danger and will continue to be in danger as long as he remains here. And if User gives the command to save his life, Rinzler knows he will gladly obey. Law 1: Allow no User to come to harm or allow a User to be harmed by inaction.
Error. Isn’t Clu his master now?
But Clu speaks, and Rinzler cannot intervene. User does not give orders. Clu does. And so they leave the arena. Even as they walk to Clu’s box, Rinzler wishes for this SamFlynn to speak, to command him. (Law 2: Obey all orders given by Users unless it conflicts with the first law.) Perhaps he would give permission for Rinzler to self-terminate. (Law 3: Preserve your own existence unless it conflicts with Laws One or Two.) Perhaps User will merely use the opportunity to terminate him. Rinzler hopes for it.
Error. Why does he wish termination?
It is a Quiet Thing...
“You were right.”
Sam’s cryptic words were more annoying than anything. For all the pragmatism and edge that came from Jordan, Sam was his father’s boy, and that included an inability to explain anything directly. Before Alan had the chance to recover and question him further, Sam was on his bike, riding off with some mystery girl Alan had never seen before. It left Alan with the ruins of an arcade, sad memories, and a burning need for answers.
The Tron game was left slightly off-track, so the door was easy to see. How could he have missed it for so long? What blinded him to the obvious?
The hidden lab wasn’t as much of as surprise as he expected. Neither was the Shiva prototype that had supposedly been destroyed. Alan took photos and sent them to Lora, then made sure the aperture was pointed away from the control chair. He knew what that thing was capable of and had no intention of a return trip.
There was a primitive, but effective wi-fi connection in the basement. Maybe some prototype, but it explained the page. He used it to open a channel.
“Ma3a, it’s me. I’m letting you see what I see through my phone’s camera. Looks like Jet was right. Flynn was experimenting with a Shiva. Looks like he was doing an incredible job with it, too. Can you access any system logs from the computer here?”
“It will take some time. The system has taken recent and catastrophic damage. I do notice the videocassettes and VHS camcorder with a television hookup. Perhaps that will supplement the system logs.”
So, Alan set to work. Start at the beginning. Grid log...Shiva laser...getting the parts for a supercomputer. As Ma3a compiled the computer data, he listened to Flynn’s recordings.
A paradise for the programs. A home for those who would otherwise have died. A way to work on the correction algorithms from the inside. It was clear Flynn loved that world, and the people inside of it.
“So far, Gibbs was the only one who believed me when I told him. Well, that and the boys. They’re still kids and can still believe the impossible. Sam’s asking when he can learn to drive a lightcycle. Jet wrote up letters to send to Tron and Yori. Asks me to bring them when I go in. Those kids...the world inside there is going to be normal to them. They’ll understand it even more than I will.”
The tapes and situation progressed; sometimes the logs would skip weeks (leave it to Flynn to forget recording). There was new life that emerged. The system grew unstable. Things reached critical mass, and...
Flynn was always more dazzle and raw talent than practicality, and while his system was a work of insane genius, it was held together with on the fly patches and a dose of prayer. After December of 1989 (after he disappeared), there was a long period of relative stability, but only because the system was shutting down from within, processes and programs being killed as the system spiraled into self-termination and the admin routine grew stronger. Even that, however, couldn’t be sustained forever. The logs became increasingly fragmented and corrupted as fewer processes ran and were recorded.
Oh, Programs could think. That was the problem, wasn’t it? Because they start thinking, and that’s where they got Master Control believing that it could rule the world 1200 times better than humans. That’s where they got “lab accidents” that left Lora’s body breaking down on her, and all the doctors could do was forestall the inevitable. That’s where they got a security guard shooting himself in, declaring himself a deity, and amassing an army of viral followers. Programs were supposed to be simple – input in, input out – and not develop past that. But they did. Flynn believed in them, believed in their world and their potential, and ignoring all the inherent danger.
Despite the current state of the system, almost completely inoperable and with cascade failure imminent, there was a faint glimmer of hope. If anyone could have survived, would have survived, it was Flynn.
“Grid log: December...uh...seven, 1989. Algorithms are all set. I just need to run a few final tests because I can’t afford to be wrong. Program and Iso relations are still bad. I’m suspecting Clu’s starting to go off the rails, too. I coded him to want the perfect system, and maybe that’s my fault. Worse, my last doctor’s checkup had some anomalies, things that shouldn’t read what they do. Maybe the fact my pattern is cached has something to do with it – it’s why I am the only one who can get in or out, but the cached data might have degraded. If that’s happened...” He stopped short. “Well, won’t know for sure, and if I’m right, then the algorithms will fix it. Maybe a lot more than fix.”
Alan found what he was looking for. The file was fragmented, mixed with some strange code. But Alan tried to recompile it. He tried to put the pieces back together. He ran the correction subroutines, ran them again...
Flynn.exe cannot be repaired. File unrecoverable.
He was too late. Maybe just a few minutes too late. Sam must have known, must have figured it out. Twenty goddamn years and it all came to nothing.
This world – this “digital frontier” inside the computer system. It killed the one who believed in it most. This electronic world and its sentient software was a clear danger, and the longer it was allowed to continue running openly, the more likely others would be killed. At best, it would be an open playground for the next Seth Crown or Master Control to come along and declare themselves a god, taking over the world without anyone who could stop them.
Damn it, Flynn. What a can of worms you’ve opened.
If someone were observing, the only outward sign he gave was a tightening of his jaw and the thump of his fist against the console. Inwardly, the wheels of his mind began spinning, greased by an amazingly coherent rage.
It had to go – all of it.
He yanked the cord out of the wall, shut off all the lights in the room, and walked out. No more passivity, no more waiting. No more harmless old man and former Boy Scout. The lines were drawn and the war started a long time ago.
He was User, and he would finish this himself.
Here's the filled Bingo card. And again, a lot of 2.0 mixed with Legacy. I may fill more as time goes on.