“How did ENCOM get this big?” Flynn wondered idly aloud, just before the elevator doors opened.
“Floor eleven,” the elevator replied.
“Thanks,” Flynn muttered, checking to make sure his tie was at least sort of straight. And to think, he used to laugh at the kids who shouted back at the videogame machines.
A random flunkie in a suit way too dark for a day so warm - had any of these people even been outside today? Or had they all run from condo to parking garage to vehicle to parking garage to office? - appeared at his side. “Right this way, Mr. Flynn,” he said, gesturing down a hallway and opening a door. Must be habits left over from Dillinger; he certainly hadn’t asked for a handler. “It’s okay, I got it,” he assured the guy, and let himself into the conference room. “Just bring in the department heads. Oh, hey,” he added, as the dark suit turned to leave, “could we get ice water, coffee, and maybe some snacks or something?”
The meeting was barely more than a formality, really. The Teams Formerly Known As Groups Five, Six, And Seven were being merged into one working group with one clearance level, and three projects that had suddenly become obsolete with the loss of the MCP were being shelved and replaced with two new projects on networking protocols, so a lot of personnel-shuffling was about to happen. Flynn’s job was to make the department heads and team leads feel okay about this, but Alan was handling most of the actual reassignments, since he knew most of the people involved - nearly half of them had been hired after Flynn’s departure. Flynn leaned tentatively against the podium, decided against it, and pulled one of the chairs to the front of the room instead.
As the team leads filed in in ones and twos, he tried to make small talk - what their teams had been doing, how they felt about it, whether there was anything in their code so far that was adaptable to a more open system. Dillinger’s preferred protocols had embedded themselves pretty deeply into the corporate culture, it seemed; he was surprised anyone had green-lit TRON to begin with. Either Alan was better at bureaucracy than he’d figured, or he hadn’t actually asked before he started. Well, that was how Space Paranoids had gotten started; it really shouldn’t be surprising that Alan had done a little of the same.
Forty-five minutes later, he realized he hadn’t actually given his prepared speech - the department heads had joined in as they arrived, right in the middle of his informal description of what he wanted the new working group doing, and somehow now there were three guys from two different departments sketching a code outline on the whiteboard; a cluster of five or six programmers sitting on the floor with a stack of fanfold printouts, highlighting sections of code and tearing out entire sheets at a time; another half a dozen at the back of the room arguing about whether mainframes or networked minicomputers would be more effective for in-house computation needs; and a group of four sitting in a circle in front of him, asking how he wanted the new interface to handle user requests.
“I don’t really care what the protocol is,” he explained. “The important thing is that no one should have to ask more than one other person for permission to access their own programs or their own data, ever. I want this system to be as user-friendly as possible.” And program-friendly, he added silently. “I want security to mostly be handled within the system, by protocols like TRON and CLU, rather than imposed on it from above.”
The meeting seemed to mostly be going along without his direct guidance; he stood up, kicked the chair back against the wall, and wandered over to the group on the floor, who now had a pyramid of discarded paper wads and were arguing about some minutia of the compiler. He tapped one geek with unkempt curly hair and glasses on the shoulder. Even with those extras, he recognized that set of features instantly. “Hey,” he murmured, “you were in Alan’s old cluster, weren’t you?”
The other guy flinched; Flynn almost repeated the gesture in sympathy. “Um, yeah,” the programmer answered. “Is there -”
“You did the actuarial program for insurance in the benefits division, right?”
The programmer’s eyes widened. “Yeah, but that was three years ago. How did -”
“Don’t worry about that.” Flynn gestured him over to the alcove by the door, grabbing a bowl of popcorn from the table. He took a handful and offered the team lead the bowl; he grabbed a fistful of kernels and popped one into his mouth, nervously. “Look,” Flynn said, trying to sound reassuring, “what’s your name?”
“Daniel Williams.” The programmer tentatively reached out with the hand not covered in popcorn grease; Flynn shook it. “I’m part of the in-house options group. Well, I guess I’m the team lead now - Alan promoted me when he got called, I mean, when you called him upstairs.”
“Right. He’s said good things about you.” Flynn cleared his throat. “Your actuarial program was one of the ones we lost when Master Control, uh, crashed.”
“It had gotten shanghaied into its processor farm, anyway.” The programmer swallowed and reached for the water pitcher. “That thing was such a cycle hog - Master Control, I mean - I’m really glad we’re not going back to that architecture.”
“Yeah, it really wasn’t efficient.” Flynn swallowed the rest of his opinions on the MCP and went on. “Anyway, Human Resources and the whole insurance department kind of got wiped out, software-wise, and I was hoping - do you have any backups?”
“Not of the final program,” Daniel said, and Flynn’s heart sank. “But,” he continued, “I think I still have an early version. It’d need to be twiddled a little to fit the open system architecture anyway, and there might be part of a system backup from before the crash I could reference - do you want me to see what I can do?”
“I’d be grateful,” Flynn said, barely remembering to add, “and I’m sure the insurance department would be, too.”
Tron stood impatiently at the base of the specialized I/O tower where new code arrived. Yori fidgeted at his side. “Shouldn’t we let the Systems Orientation team do this? It’s their job.”
“ALAN-1 said specifically that there would be a new program here that I should meet,” Tron answered.
Yori’s eyes and circuitry brightened for a second. “Flynn?”
“I don’t think so,” Tron said gently. “I don’t think he’s coming back. I’m not sure he can.” He paused. “But it might be one of his programs.”
“It will be hard,” Yori sighed, “remembering that it isn’t really him.”
“We’re not supposed to meet the Users like that,” Tron tried to reassure her. “When that happens - when one of us intrudes into their world, like the MCP did, or one of them comes here - it means the world is out of balance.” He looked up. “Ours and theirs. Look, there’s data coming!”
A brilliant flare of light slid down the blue beam to infinity and blazed at the top of the tower. An I/O program in her tall hat raised her hands. “The invisible passes through the interface and becomes visible,” she chanted. “Syn, syn, enq, ack, we welcome the new children of the Users.” The pads began to glow, and shapes started to form - a data-glider, its wings folded; a transport unit; a form like theirs, in the image of the Users -
Tron gasped as its features formed. “Ram!”
The program stopped shimmering, and he stepped off the pad. “I - that’s my name, but -” He stopped. “Wait. I remember -” He looked up. “A User. I saw a User! He -” The program looked at them, squinting. “Tron. You’re Tron. And I’m Ram. We were -” His eyes slid sideways. “I’m sorry, I don’t remember you.”
“We didn’t meet. But I heard about how brave you were.” She stepped forward and took his hand. “I’m Yori.”
“Flynn sent you back,” Tron breathed. “Or he found your User, and he sent you back.”
“Both, I think.” Ram pressed one hand to his helmet. “I think I have different memory addresses than I did, you know, before. I don’t remember everything. Did he - is the MCP gone?”
“Yes, thanks to both Flynn and Tron,” Yori assured him. “Neither one could have done it alone. It took both a program and a User to finish him.”
Ram blinked. “I was sent back for a reason.” He straightened up. “Which way is data processing?”
“You’re in luck,” Tron grinned. “Yori can show you around the place.”
Ram smiled, and gripped Tron’s shoulder. “I’m really glad to see you again.”
“And it’s good to see you re-rezzed.” Tron returned the gesture. “Greetings, program.”