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Toccata for User and Program

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It wasn’t the fighting - it was the waiting that (metaphorically) bugged Tron the most. It wasn’t the first time that Tron regretted being rounded up by the MCP’s drones and it wouldn’t be the last either.

He had been so *careful*. Obeyed all of Alan One’s commands, guarded against intrusion, regulated each sector with zeal and precision. His User had created him to be all of those things and he took pride in actioning his sub-routines; ensuring that the system was safe for all programs to go about their business efficiently.

Then the MCP program overwrote everything.

He had run for as long as he could before he was rounded up, just like the other programs. While others had capitulated to the demands of Sark and the MCP to renounce their belief in their Users, Tron had stayed strong. He knew that Alan One was real. He had created Tron, and Tron was created in his image to do his work.

Anything else was false and untrue.

Sitting in his cell, watching the guards walk above him, the lights of their electro-staffs fracturing into spectral light above, Tron considered the matter. He could not fulfill his primary objective, so he would have to find another way to achieve the same goal.

At first the thought felt alien to him. He had his routines and objectives, to work against them was anathema. Yet there was always another subroutine to exploit. He would fight for the Users. They were there - despite the words mouthed by Sark and his minions. He needed to have faith and be ready for Alan One’s call.

It should have surprised Tron that the call came in the form of another Program calling him by his User’s name. It didn’t; instead it made him uneasy and suspicious. Especially when this new program, who called himself ‘Flynn,’ started talking about how his User wanted him to go after the MCP and take him out. Could this be a trap that would lead to him being derezzed?

His logic circuits counselled patience. This Flynn program did want the MCP destroyed as he said he did - then if he, Flynn and Ram worked together - Tron’s chances for success improved by a factor of at least 10. Alan One had not coded a fool, Tron would give this new program a few millicyles to prove himself one way or another. Actions spoke a lot louder than words.

Running Sark’s goons into bytes around the Game Grid was sweet. Though it wasn’t as sweet as hearing Flynn’s gleeful voice calling out over the comms that he was busting out and that Ram and Tron were welcome to join him. For a microsecond something that Tron hadn’t felt for quite a few cycles flared deep within his coding. It felt a lot like hope.

***

They had a plan, they had power and Tron, to his delight, had heard Alan One calling for him. Logically, something went wrong.

In his coding Tron knew that the probability of escaping the tanks was next to zero. So it should have been no surprise when the bridge was shot out before any of them could cross it to evade their pursuers.

Tron knew that the probability that he hadn’t derezzed with the first shot was astronomical. He went still, curling up against a piece of wall code, the better to hide from the tank’s periscope vision. He couldn’t see either Flynn or Ram from where he lay. All he could remember was the blast of the tank’s guns and the dizzying, code scrambling sensation of being thrown across a wide space. The longer he lay there, the more persistent the sensations he could feel from his code became.

Surely Alan One would allow him a microcycle or two to reboot himself, he thought muzzily as his eyes closed and the grid went away.

The next thing Tron knew someone was shouting at him - there was... something on his shoulder, he was being violently shaken, that was certain. He wasn’t quite sure if these things that were happening to him were all connected.

“C’mon Tron, ol’ buddy!” the voice said. “Wake up for me, man!” he shaking continued. “Alan is going to be annoyed as all hell at me if I broke his program too. He’s got enough to be pissed at me about-”

Tron eased his eyes open. Not the best decision he’d made in this cycle, but he had a job to do and lying around wasn’t getting it done.

“Hey man! you’re awake!” Flynn exclaimed; his expression a mix of delight, worry and a few other emotions that Tron didn’t want to know the reasoning for. Glancing down, Tron saw that it was Flynn’s hand he could feel on his shoulder.

“It’s good to see you!” Tron exclaimed, “When the blast hit I thought that we were all-” he shook his head. What ifs were not part of his programming. Only the here and now. “Where’s Ram?” he asked, his voice sounded more scratched than usual as he eased himself up into a sitting position. Every part of him ached in a way he didn’t think he was actually programmed to ache.

Flynn turned to glance over his shoulder. Tron could see the lines of worry etched in his face. “He made it but he doesn’t look so good.”

Tron glanced past Flynn to see Ram lying up against a nearby wall. “Tron!” the younger program weakly exclaimed waving at him. “You’re okay!”

“Yeah,” Tron replied, his throat closing up over any other words of encouragement he might have for the other program. Flynn was right; Ram didn’t look so good. If he could hold out until they could get to another part of the Grid, to the I/O tower, surely there were programs who’d be able to help there?

“C’mon guys, we gotta get outta here before more of those tanks turn up,” Flynn said, scrambling to his feet, going over to Ram to help him up. Tron pushed himself back onto his feet as well, frowning as his memory reminded him of a pattern he’d heard before. Something about tanks? It would come to him in a few cycles. Right now, he had other things to compute.

Between them, they were able to carry the now quiet Ram down narrow Sector passages. He could hear Flynn encouraging Ram to stay with them as they traversed too quiet alleyways. Telling Ram that they’d find a place, out of the way, where the three of them could rest and plan their next move. Tron wondered as they staggered along whether the words were for Ram’s benefit or for him and Flynn. The plan was a good one. They needed to make it across sectors of Grid and in their current position, it did not compute.

What they needed, Tron thought as they took shelter in a broken down control room, was a User sent miracle.

All it took for the control panel room to spring back to life was for Flynn to idly hit a panel. If Tron hadn’t seen it with his own eyes, he would have thought it a bug or bad coding.

“You shouldn’t be able to do that,” Ram commented from his prone position as power flowed through control panels, lighting up terminals as it went. Tron could only look on agape as Flynn stood up, his expression one of surprised delight, as everything around them responded to Flynn’s command.

Then Flynn was standing in front of the controls, muttering something about ‘Arcade grips,’ before they were moving again.

No program should be able to do the things that Flynn was doing - so how could he? As Tron thought about what was happening in front of him, he could see that Ram was slipping away from them. He knelt down beside the prostrate program, taking Ram’s hand in his as paroxysms of agony ran through the other program’s code.

“Hey, you okay? You don’t look so good,” Flynn asked, turning his attention from flying the Recogniser to where the two of them were on the floor. Quickly, he knelt beside them, taking Ram’s other hand. Ram was slipping away. There was not a thing Tron could do to save him. Not even the Users could help him now.

“Oh my User,” Ram hissed as another spasm of pain wracked him. His grip on Tron’s hand was almost unbearable but Tron toughened it out. Ram needed him. As such, Tron nearly didn’t read the gentle touch of Flynn taking his free hand until their entwined hands hove into his eyeline.

Then something stranger happened. Ram flickered with new power. It shouldn’t be happening; like a lot of things that had happened to Tron recently. The look of surprise on Ram’s face was quickly overwritten by something akin to awe.
“Are you a User?” he asked breathlessly, eyes wide, staring at Flynn. Tron stared at Flynn. Belief was one thing, having living, visceral proof before him was another. Too many good Programs had been derezzed for one such as Flynn. A User.

“Yes,” Flynn replied, partially laughing while processing a thousand other emotions at the same time. Watching him, it all made sense to Tron. Many of the things Flynn had professed now computed. His inability to remember his ‘programming’, his words regarding the tanks and his confusion as to how things were on ‘this side of the screen’.

Flynn was possibly the most powerful being on the entire Grid more powerful than the MCP itself… but Tron knew there was nothing Flynn could do to stop Ram’s slide into derezzing.

“Flynn, Tron, help each other,” Ram whispered as the pinks of power loss flashed over him.

“We will,” Tron swore softly, squeezing the program’s hand for one final time as Ram slid into derezz.

“Ram!” Flynn cried out as their fellow program vanished into nothingness. Tron bowed his head, silently thankful that he had the opportunity to know the other Program, even for a short time. He would carry his memory for the duration of his run time.

“He’s gone isn’t he?” Flynn asked, staring at the space, not moving.
“Not unless we forget him, he’s not,” Tron said, not looking at Flynn. His mind was overloading with questions. “And unless we get to that I/O tower, his loss may be for nothing,”

Tron wondered what Flynn would do now that his secret was out. Was this all a test? Would he re-write the program so that they could transpose themselves from being in this busted Recogniser to the tower in a microsecond? Could he take out the MCP with a wave of his hand? What could he do?

The other man simply stood up and planted his feet firmly on the deck in front of the Recogniser’s controls, his back towards Tron.

“Okay,” Flynn said, his voice trying for some of the lightness it had before. “Next stop the I/O Tower.”

Tron stood up slowly, his gaze not leaving Flynn. He could feel shock stuttering through his code. Users cared when a program derezzed and yet (a dark voice inside his head murmured) did nothing to stop it.

“Could you have done anything?” Torn asked, his voice sounding more regulated than it had any right to be.

“For Ram?” Flynn asked, not turning his attention away from the path ahead. He swerved the controls wildly, making the Recogniser veer from side to side like a program on a power surge, Tron thought. “What could I have done?” he asked, real curiosity in his tone.

“You’re a User,” Tron snapped, anger threatening to override his programming. “You can do anything you wish.”

“Not within the confines of the system, I can’t!” Flynn barked back, turning his face towards Tron, his hands sure against the Recogniser’s grips. “If I could, do you think we would be having this conversation right now?”

Tron shook his head, Flynn was right. “I spoke out of turn,” he admitted after a number of microcycles of uneasy silence passed between them.

“Hey, I’ll miss him too,” Flynn confided quietly, “and no, you didn’t.” He stretched out a hand behind him to Tron. “Let’s go take down the MCP.”
Taking Flynn’s hand in his, Tron nodded. “For Ram,”

“For Ram,”

***

The Recogniser got them as close to the I/O tower as possible. Landing among a group of redundant programs, Tron and Flynn tried to blend in as they began the rest of their journey on foot.

“So, tell me about yourself, Tron.” Flynn said as they traversed down a deserted corridor.

Tron frowned as he turned towards the other Prog- User. He was a User and Tron had to remember that. To think of Flynn as a program would bring nothing but confusion and yes, heartache, to his code. The revelation should have been a surprise, yet it wasn’t. It felt to Tron that he had known all along. When he had time, perhaps when the MCP was no more, he would take a cycle or two to rationalize why that was.

“You know who I am,” Tron began, bemused by the question. “You know who the User is who created me-”

Flynn laughed. To Tron’s ear it was not a happy sound.

“Yeah, I know Alan Bradley.” He began, “Not in the way that...” he trailed off, glancing towards Tron in a way that the program could not decipher. If he didn’t know any better, he would say that Flynn looked guilty but for what? “Forget I said anything,” Flynn stated before lapsing into silence.

Tron took him at his word.

“So is there a special program for you?” Flynn asked after they had traversed towers and slid down walls to escape the Recognisers searching for them.

Tron glanced around, looking out for the tell-tale strobe of the searching ships. So far nothing. “Pardon?” he asked, not quite having heard the question. Or at least it hadn’t registered.

“Do you have someone special?” Flynn asked as he jogged ahead of Tron, his attention on the way ahead and not on Tron himself.
Tron considered the question carefully before answering. Before the MCP had overwritten his sector and sublimated all into it’s program - there had been Yori. He had not seen neither bit nor byte of her since he’d been thrown into the Game Grid. If she was still a running program, then he was happy.

“There was someone,” Tron began, wondering what Flynn’s buggy behaviour meant. “Her name was Yori,”

“The MCP?” Flynn asked, his voice gentle. Tron nodded, a new sensation being written into his code whenever he looked at Flynn.

Tron nodded, it was as good an answer as any other, given his lack of information.

“For her and for Ram then,” Flynn noted, glancing back towards Tron with a determined nod as they ran towards the raised dais upon which the Tower Guardian sat in repose. The Tower Guardian’s expression changed to something more querulous upon seeing them approaching. “Is this where we need to be?”

Tron nodded, “Dumont!” he called out. “I wish to communicate with my User!”

Dumont tried to put up a counter-argument, which both Flynn and Tron batted to one side with ease. With a sigh, Dumont allowed Tron to communicate with Alan One.

The communication felt different this time to Tron. He would be hard pressed to explain the why of it; simply that it was. Alan One was troubled by something. The sensation was similar to that which was coursing through Tron. He could not tell what was troubling his User. Though Tron knew that which troubled him was standing outside, waiting for him.

Instructions in his head and the disc in his hand, Tron quickly left the tower with Dumont’s good wishes for success and Flynn by his side.

***

By either luck or judgement, Tron spotted the Solar Sailor being coded into existence. “C’mon, this way,” he said, grabbing Flynn’s hand, dragging him towards the sleek vessel above them.

“Okay, I didn’t write the program for that,” Flynn muttered, lacing his fingers through Tron’s. The program tried to keep the thrill of how good Flynn’s touch felt from affecting him; it was a battle he was losing. “Would like to meet whomever did.”

“It will allow us to get from this sector to the MCP’s sector the quickest,” Tron noted as they jumped into the Sailor’s cockpit. He studied the control panel intently; he certainly was not studying Flynn who had wandered ahead, idly glancing around, trying to get a better look at the craft.

“Has it got any armaments?” Flynn asked, peering over the side. Tron tried not to notice how well coded he was. Quite what was happening to him, he wasn’t sure. He’d never felt like this about anyone before. Not even Yori made him feel like this.

“No, it only has speed,” Tron replied, not taking his gaze from his hands as they darted over the panel. The sooner he was able to achieve his mission, the sooner that he’d be able to apply all of his processing power to the equation of the User before him.

What Flynn made Tron feel was nothing that Alan One’s programming had ever prepared him for. His programming allowed him to ‘care’ for other programs and for Users, true. It was his reason for existing, to work for the Users and their programs; to ensure that they were able to go about their systems in peace. What he was feeling for Flynn was very different than those generalised feelings of affection.

Tron diverted those feelings into a subroutine to allow him to concentrate on piloting the Solar Sailor away from the grid bugs towards the the MCP’s tower. If he could avoid the bugs and any altercations with Sark’s carrier, there was a reasonable probability that he would be able to run his program and communicate with Alan
One once again. Perhaps Alan One would be able to shed light on these feelings.

(Later Tron would also add a request to clarify ‘Murphy’s Law’ to the list of things he would communicate with Alan One about.)

“I could get to like this,” Flynn began as he walked back to the main cockpit, standing a little too close to Tron for the program’s liking. He needed to concentrate on flying in a straight line and not on the User standing right next to him.

“Don’t you wish to return to, as you put it, ‘the other side of the screen’?” Tron asked curiously, sparing a quick glance at Flynn. His ‘coding’ (if it could be called that, given that he was only a simulacrum of a program) was very elegant and beautiful, Tron had to agree.

Flynn gave the question some thought before replying with a shrug of his shoulders. “While I didn’t choose to come here, I still find that there are a few things I would be loath to leave behind if-” he stared straight at Tron as he spoke, “and when - a way out became available to me,” Flynn turned his attention to the beam of light stretching out across the Grid, his attention caught by something in the distance.

The words piqued Tron’s curiosity. “Such as?” he asked. He put the strange feeling of wanting Flynn’s answer to be about him down to the disc on his back. Alan One had modified his coding somewhat during their communication. That had to be it. Flynn was a User, he was a program. What he felt was what all programs felt for Users, whether they were ‘their’ Users or not. Respect, admiration and loyalty. They did not feel whatever it was that was that was currently coursing through Tron’s coding.

“What’s that?” Flynn asked, pointing towards a courscating light that was bearing down the beam the Solar Sailor was balancing on.

“Power surge,” Tron replied tightly. The nearest junction was too far away to allow them to jump tracks, meaning this was not going to end well for them. Quickly he turned his attention to the board in front of him. There had to be a way for him to coax more power out of the Sailor, some way of outrunning-

The surge hit hard enough to send Tron crashing to the floor. As he picked himself up, he noticed that Flynn was nowhere to be seen and that somehow a junction had appeared out of nowhere.

Tron didn’t question; his fingers flew over the board, making the adjustments needed. With a jolt, the Sailor made the jump and the surge flowed straight on through.

“Flynn!” Tron called out, relieved that the danger was past. “Flynn?” glancing around, Tron could see no sign of the other man - except by the prow of the vessel, a slumped body.

For a microcycle all processing stopped, then Tron was throwing himself towards Flynn. He had to be alive, he had to be. The alternative was too terrible to contemplate. He had just gotten to know Flynn and yet it felt to Tron that he had known this crazy, illogical User all of his life. He was as important and needed as Alan One was. Deep in his coding, Tron knew that should have scared him... yet it felt like an axiom to him.

Flynn, for his part, hadn’t moved. His light seemed to be phasing, or it could have been a trick of the light, fooling the senses. Tron hoped to Alan One that it was the latter rather than anything else. Ram had been loss enough.

Kneeling beside Flynn’s prone body, Tron placed both hands on his chest. Then something happened, which if Tron had not seen with his own eyes, he would have doubted. Flynn seemed to pulsate, glowing brightly. Tron could feel the pulses under his hands, firmly pressed on the other man.

For a moment, nothing seemed to happen, then the pulsating light dimmed and Flynn opened his eyes.

“Wow,” Flynn croaked, “Remind me never to do that again!”

“You’re alive!” Tron cried out, his voice cracking with relief. Without thought he threw himself forward, embracing Flynn. It was only as he felt Flynn’s arms go around him and the soft chuff of the other man’s laugh against his cheek that Tron second guessed his reaction.

“Well, hello there,” Flynn replied, grinning up at Tron, “this is nice,”

“I thought you were going to derezz!” Tron replied, trying to push himself up from Flynn. He looked away, embarrassed by his outburst. “You looked like you were going to derezz,” he added. “What did you do?”

“Simple physics,” Flynn gingerly pushed himself into a sitting position. Tron gently eased him up against the Sailor’s hull. Though the danger of derezzing had passed, Flynn still looked as if he had been knocked over by a Recognizer. Or three. “Are we there yet?” he asked plaintively. Tron laughed.

“So, you were worried about me?” Flynn asked, pinning Tron with a searching glance. Tron felt naked under that gaze.

“Yeah, I was.” There was no lying to a User. Tron couldn’t have done it even if he had wanted to.

For his part, Flynn glanced down and through his lashes at Tron. “Um, that’s really...” he began before trailing off. “No one has ever said that to me before.”

“Well, I think they should more often,” Tron replied, keeping his gaze firmly on Flynn, lest he start to do something stupid again. There had been enough of that this cycle. It struck him that he felt things for Flynn that he’d never felt for anyone. Not even Yori. Glancing over his shoulder, he could see Sark’s carrier bearing onwards. The MCP’s tower was growing ever closer. The endgame was about to begin. He might be derezzed himself, there was a possibility that he might never be able to sit like this with Flynn ever again, let alone express what he knew to be true.

“Look, I know you haven’t known me for very long and that I’m a program and you’re a User and who knows what’s going to happen with the MCP-”

The next thing Tron was aware of was that Flynn was in his personal space and that his lips were touching Tron’s.
It felt good, very, very good in fact. So much so that Tron didn’t want the feeling to stop. He felt Flynn place his hands on his shoulders, pushing him gently away, losing that feeling in the process.

“Um,” Flynn began succinctly, “I don’t think I should have done that.”

“I don’t know,” Tron repliedwith a shy smile, “I very much enjoyed it.” Now it was his turn to drop his gaze. “Would enjoy it more if I knew what it was,”

Flynn laughed, a joyful, surprised sound. “You mean you guys don’t know about kissing?” he asked incredulously. “It’s what Users do when they want to show strong affection for people they like a lot. People they’re attracted to.”

“Really,” Tron asked, processing this new data. It made him feel things he never knew were possible. “And if the feelings are returned, is it fair for the person who was kissed to kiss back?”

Now it was Flynn’s turn to smile. “It has been know to work that way,” he said, his hands dropping to his sides, his body language speaking to Tron of waiting for some kind of response.

Tron wasn’t going to make him wait, so he stepped forward and placed his lips on Flynn’s. Who responded by putting his arms around Tron; thereby multiplying the good feelings that were coursing around his coding. All the while continuing to kiss Tron.

Eventually they parted, staying within each other's arms. “If this is all we have together, then I am glad that it’s happened.” Tron said, raising a hand to caress Flynn’s cheek. Part of him hoped that Flynn would decide to stay in the Grid and not return to his world. To stay here with Tron... and yet Tron knew that this could never be.

Flynn leant into the caress, closing his eyes as he did so. “Never say never,” he murmured “I know I’m a User and you’re a Program but who knows what can happen once the MCP has been taken care of.”

The words gave Tron a flicker of hope. “Guess you’re right,” he said, offering up a small smile as he glanced towards the horizon. It would be time to make their move soon enough. And then... who knew what would happen.

“Course I am,” Flynn said, grinning back, “I’m a User.”

Tron laughed.

***

In the end, it all happened so quickly. One microcycle, Flynn was at his side, making jokes about something called ‘Sarkzilla,’ the next he was gone. He’d jumped into the beam of the MCP, distracting it enough for Tron to take his shot. Tron should have been overjoyed that the MCP was overthrown, that the system was open and free once again... and yet the one he wanted to share that joy with was gone.

Time passed. The pain lessened somewhat - being able to communicate with Alan One was a balm. If Tron didn’t know any better, he’d say that something wonderful had happened with his User. What it was, he couldn’t begin to contemplate but he was glad for Alan One.
In the cycles after the MCP’s defeat, as he was working with Dumont to bring his I/O tower back online, he heard a voice calling out his name. Turning, he hoped that it was Flynn returning to him. He hid his disappointment as best he could as he saw Yori running towards him.

It took a few cycles more for her to prise the reason for his reaction out of him. He was never very good at hiding the important things. He told her the tale of Flynn the User and how he’d helped to break the power of the MCP over the Grid. To his surprise, she didn’t seem angry or resigned but happy for him.
“I think that if he feels the same way, a way will be found.” Yori replied. Tron nodded and changed the subject to something less fraught.

Cycles passed. The Grid lit up once again with new programs and connections. It kept Tron busy, too busy to know what that ache in his subroutines really meant. It was as he was working with Dumont on organizing access for new programs that it happened. He was chatting with a new actuary program, talking them through the best routines for his User when he saw Dumont was speaking to someone who had just exited the I/O tower. Tron could not see them but the voice was the one that had been coursing around his programming for the last few cycles.

 

“Greetings Programs!”

“Flynn!” Tron cried out joyfully as he met the new program in an embrace. “You’re back!”

“Told you anything could happen!” the other man replied, returning the embrace.

“It’s you, isn’t it?” Tron asked, stepping back from Flynn, his hands on the other’s elbows.

“Kinda and not,” Flynn explained, grinning at Tron. “The science is going to take some explaining but in short - I’m both here and there too.”

Tron pondered his words, “So you’re with Alan One as well as me?” he asked, Flynn laughed, a delighted sound.

“That’s one way of putting it!” he said, putting his arm around Tron’s shoulders. Tron slid his arm around Flynn’s waist, happiness coursing through his programming. “Now, lets see what you’ve done with the place!”

 

End (Of Line)