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Erase and Rewind

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I.

  The dark figure turned around, away from the large window. The unanswered questions were still in the air; it was quiet, except for a short beeping that came from one of the terminals, when a technician tapped on the buttons. The one on the top of the short staircase, in black outfit and robe, appeared to be in charge – but his face was hidden behind an opaque helmet. His circuitry was glowing with golden light, on his suit, robe and helmet as well.

 

  “Who are you?” asked Sam impatiently, still out of breath after the previous disc battles. The visor of the dark helmet receded, even though the stranger at the window had not taken any action. And there it was, the face which Sam had seen twenty years before for the last time; and later on for a thousand times, on photos, in the television, everywhere. The one in front of him smiled.

 

  “Dad,” Sam whispered. It felt unreal and so it was: his father had disappeared twenty years before and yet this man looked like Kevin Flynn, on the day Sam had last seen him.

 

  “Sam,” said the other one, walking downstairs. “Look at you, man. Look at the size of you.”

 

  He grabbed Sam’s shoulders and the gesture was almost casual, almost encouraging.

 

  “How did you get in here?” he asked.

 

  “I got your message,” replied Sam. The other man stepped back. And it hurt.

 

  “Oh,” the other said and began walking around Sam. “So it’s just you?”

 

  Sam was staring at him. It hurt, because there would be no embrace, no words of happiness and reassurance. He knew that now; even if he had found his father, as it seemed to have happened, everything was way out, dreamlike.

 

  “Yeah,” he blurted out, actually offended.

 

  “Just you… Hm, isn’t this something?” the other one asked. He made a circle around Sam and Rinzler. Latter one was standing behind Sam motionlessly.

 

  “You look the same,” said Sam, trying to hold onto the hope, trying to make himself believe that he was facing his father.

 

  “Oh, a lot happened, Sam, more than you can imagine,” the other one said. Immediately, he pointed at Rinzler. “Disc.”

 

  Sam felt a light tug; his disc was gone before he figured what was happening. His previous opponent from the Arena had taken the disc from its port and presented it to… Sam could not think of who the man in the black robe was.

 

  “Let’s have a look,” he said and walked away with the disc. Sam felt confused. He looked back above his shoulder, at Rinzler, who was standing on his side. The masked soldier was not hostile; his face was hidden behind the dark visor, but he leaned ahead and looked at Sam with apparent curiosity. The vertical light lines on his black suit were burning red and he was completely silent. Sam let out a concerned little laugh and scratched his head. Then he put his hands on his hips. He was hoping to show confidence – not that he felt any. His father must have come and stayed here; that could be the explanation of his look and strange behavior. In that case there was nothing to be afraid of, and yet Sam was not calm.

 

  “Got it,” the other one said and turned back to Sam. He lifted the disc. “I expected more.”

 

  He threw the disc to Rinzler, who caught it with a fluid motion. Sam shook his head.

 

  “So,” he said. “You were trapped in here.”

 

  “That’s right.”

 

  “And you are in charge…”

 

  “Oh, right again. Two for two.”

 

  “So can we just go home now?” asked Sam with an awkward laugh. The other one was standing with his back to Sam and he could not see his face.

 

  “Not in the cards,” the reply came. “Not for you.”

 

  Sam looked at the floor. It was his fault: he knew the words he should have told instead of holding onto that slight hope. He glanced up.

 

  “That’s a hell of a way to treat your son,” he said. The other one slowly turned.

 

  “Oh, that,” he said. His expression was dark now and Sam knew that they were done pretending. He walked there and looked in Sam’s face from close. For the first time now Sam noticed his hexagonal pupils, the same feature that he had seen in the Armory, in the eyes of those female programs. “I’m not your father, Sam. But I’m very, very happy to see you.”

 

  Sam was speechless. The stranger smiled and walked back to the large window.

 

  “Clu,” whispered Sam. The sentries grabbed his arms and began to drag him out from the room. Rinzler followed them quietly. Sam twisted his head back.

 

  “Where is he?” he yelled. “What did you do to him?”

 

  He heard the answer from far, from behind the closing door.

 

  “Same thing I am going to do to you… User.”

 

 

II.

 

  The ship descended. The Arena below grew larger and larger. The cubes and platforms had disappeared: there was the clean ground below now. Still numb after the previous conversation, Sam was watching the field quietly. The aircraft touched down. Two guards came, followed by two bald administrative programs. They escorted him out from the ship, to the empty playground. Music played and fireworks lit up the night sky. Had his father died here, Sam was wondering as they were walking away from the ship, and would he, Sam, die for real, had he been killed at this place?

 

  “Greetings, programs!” one of the administrator programs exclaimed. That one, Sam had seen that program with the transparent visor, in the control room. Loud cheering and applause came from the crowd as a response. “Oh, what an occasion we have here before us. Because your rumors are true. We do indeed have in our midst a User!”

 

  He turned and pointed at Sam accusingly. The crowd booed and Sam felt uncomfortable, almost embarrassed, as if he had done something to these people.

 

  “A User. So, what to do? What does this User deserve? Might I suggest, perhaps, the challenge of the grid?”

 

  The crowd exclaimed. Sam felt increasingly frustrated: he could have really used some explanations. Instead, he seemed to be given a part in a play he did not understand and did not like.

 

  “And who best to battle this senior opponent? Perhaps one who has some experience in these matters.”

 

  A staircase opened up under the docked ship. Wild applause started once more and fireworks exploded on the sky again: now with golden and orange tones. Sam knew who was coming before he caught sight of Clu. He came downstairs and then closed the distance between the aircraft and their small group with long, graceful steps.

 

  “Oh yes indeed, programs! Your liberator! Your luminary! Your leader and beacon! The one who vanquished the tyranny of the User those many cycles before! Clu!”

 

  Sam looked at Clu, who was wearing his helmet and a combat suit. The system administrator leaned closer to him.

 

  “I’ve been waiting a long time for this,” he said. Sam’s expression hardened.

 

  “You wanna play?” he asked. “I’ll play.”

 

  He was looking straight at Clu, who took his place across Sam; his face was hidden behind the dark visor. The administrator program that had spoken to the crowd, brought a box now and presented it to Clu. He was talking quietly and there was the noise of the Arena, but Sam heard him.

 

  “Excellent words, Sire,” he said. “Were you pleased with my execution? The crowd seemed quite energized.”

 

  “It wasn’t meant for them,” the cold reply came. Then for whom, Sam was thinking. It was a play, a setup – but for who? The box in the red-circuited program’s hands opened and revealed two batons. Clu took one of them; the servant turned around and presented the other stick to Sam. The program recoiled as he was holding to case, held himself back with apparent disgust.

 

  Sam took the other baton. There was a soft click and the device came to life, lighting up in the middle with the same blue glow that illuminated Sam’s new suit.

 

  “What’s this?” he asked. He grabbed the stick with both hands, ready to see a light saber manifesting. “What do I do with this?”

 

  “I’ll give you a hint,” the servant said, off-hand. “Not that.”

 

  The crowd roared with laughter. Sam did not even try to conceal his frustration anymore. Clu turned away without offering a comment. Behind Sam a trapdoor opened and four programs emerged: Sam had seen one of them during the trip on the Recognizer. Their outfits were similar to the combat suit Sam was wearing and their expression was grim.

 

  “Grid is live,” a faceless voice announced. “Initiate light cycle battle.”

 

  Clu ran. Sam saw him jumping and the baton activating in his hands: it materialized as a bike, out from nothingness. Four more red bikes joined him immediately and the fast-moving vehicles headed at Sam and the other four blue circuited programs. They dodged to avoid being hit by the bikes. The light cycles sped up and roared away.

 

  “You got no chance, User!” one of the men yelled at Sam. They began to run; another one of them stopped at Sam for a moment.

 

  “Their bikes are faster than ours,” he said. “Use the levels!”

 

  They were running and their batons opened up as bikes, just as Sam had seen it to happen for Clu before. They drove away in a hurry; Sam was looking after them with a faint smile on his face.

 

  “Now this I can do,” he murmured to himself. He started. On his right the aircraft lifted up from the ground. Sam was running: the baton opened up in his hands and he saw the bike manifesting under him, around him. The headpiece that closed around his face was not the same he had wore earlier, much rather a motorcycle helmet. He sped up and joined the other four bikes.

 

  From the other side of the Arena the four red and one golden bike approached. The blue bikers turned on a switch on the handlebar; Sam followed suit and a bright energy wall appeared behind his vehicle. That was familiar, most intriguingly from the old arcade game he had used to play with.

 

  “Here we go,” he whispered. The enemy units separated and they were coming from various directions. The blue players looked at one another and Sam saw the fear in their eyes. In just a moment he found himself alone as the other four riders all went to different directions. One of them, on Sam’s left took another level; a red light cycle was after him immediately. The red cut the other’s way and the blue bike crashed against the energy wall which had been drawn by the red rider. Sam watched in horror as the blue cycle fell to pixels and the rider was ejected: the unfortunate program crashed against the ground and was killed by the impact right away.

 

  Sam looked up. The golden bike was cutting in front of him the same way the red had done it just a moment earlier. Sam turned the wheel quickly and braced himself: he hit the golden energy wall hard, but he managed to stay on his vehicle. Clu’s face turned back at him: Sam could not see his expression and a moment later his own bike dropped as he accidentally drove it into a loophole that took him into a lower level.

 

  Clu’s bike remained on the upper level: Sam saw him through the transparent floor. Clu must have been watching him too, because when one of the blue cycles collided with him, he almost lost his balance. He seemed knocking out the daring blue program and manipulating his bike: the blue vehicle ran against the wall along with its unconscious rider.

 

  The golden bike was chasing Sam once more and the boy was keeping his eye on it. Making the same mistake again brought him the same punishment when a red cycle crashed against him. Sam changed course and took a lower level purposely this time. His bike was slower; but that did not mean that he could not use it wisely. He sped up and used the ramp to gain some extra speed: his bike jumped in the air, above the red. He hit the ground just ahead of the soldier’s vehicle and turned the wheel immediately – the red cycle crashed at the blue energy line and was destroyed at the same moment.

 

  From far Sam saw the third blue light cycle getting into a long, twisted channel and running against Clu. He could not make out the details of their collision, but he could clearly see the ejected blue light cycle as the vehicle was flying out from the tunnel straight at him. The blue bike and its driver both got shattered at the impact.

 

  He was speeding. He spotted the other blue bike. Sam approached him. The rider was the program he had seen on the Recognizer.

 

  “Hey!” he yelled. “We gotta work together. It’s the only way.”

 

  The program looked up at the red that was driving above them on the upper level, staring down at them menacingly. The program turned back at Sam and nodded. They separated and the red chose to chase down Sam.

 

  “That’s it. You got me.”

 

  Sam took a ramp and the red bike was driven away by another: the soldier lost him for a moment. Sam drove up next to him.

 

  “Boo!” he said. The red looked at him and got distracted for a second; when he glanced up a deadly blue energy wall was standing right ahead of him, drawn there by the last blue program. The red screamed and tried to slow down his vehicle. It was too late: the red light cycle hit the wall and the crash killed the rider.

 

  “Yeah!” the blue program yelled happily when they got together once more.

 

  “Now that’s what I’m talking about,” said Sam, grinning. A red light cycle crossed their route on the upper level. “Another customer. Let’s go!”

 

  They took the ramp and used it to eject their bikes again. The bikes jumped in the air and when they landed, their energy walls surrounded the red from both sides. The red could not maintain his balance in the narrow corridor that was left for him to maneuver; the red light cycle swerved and the rider was thrown down. The red bike fell apart, but the soldier got under the front wheel of the blue program’s cycle. The collision killed the soldier and overturned the blue bike. The program rolled to the ground and his bike folded into a baton.

 

  “Hang on, buddy, I’m coming,” said Sam and turned his own vehicle around. He switched off the energy wall behind himself and headed back at the crash site. The abandoned baton was lying there halfway, between him and the blue program that was getting on his feet now. Sam picked up the baton and started at the program. Latter one reached out at him, lifting his hand to take back his device.

 

  He was dead in the blink of an eye when Clu’s bike hit and crushed him from behind. Sam rode straight numbly: he lifted the baton and saw the blue program’s severed hand clutching onto it. The hand pixelated and fell. Sam put the baton away and turned his vehicle around. The golden bike turned around as well and they were heading at each other with full speed now.

 

  “This is it,” whispered Sam. “Come on!”

 

  Clu brought out his own disc and his hand shot out at Sam’s bike. The disc slashed into the vehicle: the bike flipped over and exploded. Sam fell on the ground. His helmet retracted and he was watching the explosion from where he was lying on the ground. The crowd roared. Sam was panting. He looked back above his shoulder quickly. Clu was making a turn for one last time: his lowered disc was scratching the ground with deafening, threatening noise. Then the golden bike was in line and the system administrator raised his disc as he was approaching.

 

  Sam brought out his own disc with a determined swing. Clu was coming swiftly and there was simply no way for Sam to stop him. He would try it anyway; or else he would be dead in a minute, without the chance of finding out the truth. His disappearance would surely prompt Alan Bradley to look after him; considering that Sam’s abandoned Ducati would be found outside of the real world Arcade, in would not be a surprise if Alan would locate the hidden office next, just to be delivered into this nightmare. Sam braced himself.

 

  A new sound came from the side: a vehicle entered the Arena suddenly. It was a dune buggy or the Grid equivalent of it: a four-wheeled car with wide tires and small body. It moved quickly and crossed the space between Sam and Clu’s approaching bike. The buggy was dragging a blue energy wall behind it: Clu was coming too quickly and the appearance of the new vehicle was too sudden - for that Clu was not able to stop his bike on time. The golden light cycle hit the wall with high speed and shattered. The crash, which would have killed a regular program on the spot, threw the system administrator in the air. Clu landed far away from Sam and the buggy. The crowd booed.

 

  “Illegal combatant on the Grid,” the Arena loudspeaker announced. The passenger side door of the buggy opened and Sam saw a dark figure with black helmet behind the wheel.

 

  “Get in,” the driver said. It was a distorted voice, the sound of a machine.

 

  “Illegal combatant on the Grid,” sounded again. The crowd was loud and Sam was thinking desperately. He had no way of knowing from where the buggy had come or the intentions of the faceless driver – but he had nothing to loose.

 

  “Get in,” the driver repeated emphatically. Sam returned his disc to its port and jumped in the passenger seat. The door closed and the vehicle started with great speed.

 

  “System failure,” came from the loudspeaker. “Release Rinzler.”

 

  Far behind them Clu was kneeling on the ground. Three red cycles appeared suddenly and started after the buggy.

 

  “Who are you?” yelled Sam at the driver. It was a male program in black, armored combat suit, with blue energy lines which were different from the circuitry of the Arena contestants.

 

  “Hang on,” the machine voice replied. The buggy swerved and hit the red bike on their right. The light cycle crashed and the red fighter was killed. The buggy made a wide turn and sped up, with the remaining two red bikes behind it. The driver touched a button on the control panel. Sam looked back and saw two small, glowing blue grenades falling from the buggy and then exploding right under the red bikes. One of the soldiers derezzed in the explosion, the other one, whom Sam recognized as Rinzler, was thrown up in the air by the blast – but he took out a new baton and another light cycle materialized under him by the time he landed.

 

  The buggy was heading at the solid wall of the Arena. Two rockets flew from the car and hit the wall, leaving behind a large hole, an opening to the outer world. But there was no road outside; the closest visible land was farther from the walls of the Arena and way below. And while Sam wanted to be out of this building, he meant it to do it another way, not by dying.

 

  “Hold up man, we can’t make that,” he yelled. The buggy shot out from the Arena and crossed the distance between the building and the outer, dark lands. Upon the touch of the driver the wheels of the buggy changed: to dark, unlit, raw appendages. The vehicle landed on the other side and continued running.

 

  “Made it,” the driver stated. Rinzler’s bike appeared at the hole on the Arena’s wall. The warrior stopped.

 

  “They’re turning around,” said Sam.

 

  “Not by choice,” the driver replied. “Their vehicles aren't designed to go off Grid. They'll malfunction on this terrain.”

 

  “What about us?”

 

  The driver chuckled, revealing emotions for the first time now.

 

  “Obviously not.”

 

  The city disappeared behind them. This land was dark, rough, lifeless and the buggy was making its way across it with high speed. Lightings were crossing the dark sky above them. Sam looked at the driver, who would still not show his face.

 

  “Where are you taking me?” asked Sam.

 

  “Patience, Sam Flynn. All your questions will be answered soon.”

 

 

 III.

 

  They headed at a dark wall which had only a small fissure on it. Sam could not stay quiet, but yelled again. The buggy passed through the hole without a scratch and continued on the dark road. The only light was the buggy’s glow around them and the occasional lightning. While the trip seemed to be dangerous, the driver appeared to know what he was doing and Sam eased up. He was looking around, watching the black desert. He thought the driver was peeking at him, but when he turned back and looked at the program, that was staring straight at the road.

 

  They approached a dark hill. In the bottom there was an angular hole, a handmade cave. The buggy entered and the cave came to life. It was a long tunnel with white lights. At the end there was a circle of light where the vehicle stopped and the doors opened.

 

  Sam followed the program into the elevator. It was a simple plate that lit up when it started to ascend. Around them there were the walls, the raw black material of the outside world. The elevator took them into a large, dark room. It was huge, with high ceiling, like a penthouse. On the other side of the place there was a great window which overlooked the black desert and the city in the distance. Somebody was sitting or kneeling at the window, on a pillow in the middle of a white light panel.

 

  “Wait here,” Sam’s companion whispered and walked to the kneeling figure. Sam’s eyes began to get used to the dark and he was able to make out the bike on his right side, the table with chairs on the left and the other furniture items around the room. He looked at the program that was walking away; the helmet receded now, but Sam was seeing him from behind and he could not see his face.

 

  “Tron,” the man at the window whispered. “I dreamed of the city, first time in years.”

 

  The program bent down next to the man, still with his back to Sam.

 

  “It’s a sign,” he replied. The man laughed softly. Sam knew that voice, that laugh, but he remained still. He would not be fooled once more.

 

  “A sign, my dear, of a weary soul. I’m afraid something’s happened.”

 

  “Something has happened,” the program replied and put his hand on the man’s shoulder. “We have a guest.”

 

  Despite of the warning Sam walked closer. Had the man called the program ‘Tron’? It had been just a whisper and Sam could not be sure.

 

  “There are no guests, kiddo.”

 

 

  The program straightened himself and turned at the entrance, at Sam, but his face was downcast and it was dark in the room. The man stirred and stood up. All the lights turned on finally. Sam looked at him. It was Kevin Flynn, aged, with white hair and beard. He was wearing a white tunic and pants. He was staring at Sam.

 

  “Sam,” he whispered.

 

  “Long time,” Sam replied.

 

  “You’ve no idea,” his father said, still shocked, dumbfounded. Kevin Flynn went to him, slowly, as if he was afraid that he was walking in dream.

 

  “You’re here,” he said and reached out at the boy. Sam could not reply; for a moment he held himself back from the wrinkled hands. Then his father embraced him. “You’re here.”

 

  “I’m here,” whispered Sam. He tried not to cry. Then the embrace ended and his father stepped back and looked at him once more.

 

  “You’re big,” he said.

 

  “You’re…”

 

  “Old,” Flynn finished his words with a smile. Sam laughed; he would have to cry otherwise. “How did you get here?”

 

  “Alan came over,” replied Sam. Behind his father the program stirred at the name, but Sam did not look at him; he had completely forgotten about him.

 

  “Bradley,” said Flynn.

 

  “He got your page. I found your office under the Arcade.”

 

  “Page,” murmured Flynn to himself. “Oh, the page. Of course.”

 

  There was an awkward silence. Sam was not sure if his father was still with him, if he did not lose contact with the world around him. The program behind walked closer to them and Sam looked at him at last. His heart skipped a beat. Now he understood why the program had not showed his face before: he, Sam would not have gotten in the buggy in the Arena or would have made him stop the vehicle in the middle of the desert, had he seen that face. Light brown hair, grey eyes; somewhat similar to old pictures of programmer Alan Bradley. For the first time now Sam noticed the bright T symbol on the program’s suit.

 

  “Dinner soon,” said Flynn with emotionless face. “We’ll talk then."

 

  With that he left and walked away, out to the balcony. Sam was looking after him, stunned. Tron glanced at him awkwardly.

 

  “He never thought he would see you again,” he said. It was somewhat familiar; maybe because of his voice, maybe because of Alan’s ghost between them, for the idea that things could be fixed.

 

  “Yeah,” replied Sam. He sighed and turned away.