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Crystalline

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            “This isn't defragmentation.”

 

            Flynn couldn't keep the grin off his face as he watched Tron standing there, hands cupped to catch the new addition to the Grid even as it collected in his hair.

 

            “No, man; it's snow.”

 

            “Snow,” Tron repeated, putting the designation and data he’d collected so far in his memory files.

 

            ‘Raw data – crystalline formation.’ ‘Non-threat.’ ‘Origin – Defragmentation protocol.’ ‘White.’

 

            “What is the purpose of this ‘snow’, Flynn?” Tron asked, eventually, adding his cupped handful to the small handful Clu had gathered and was hesitantly trying to pack into a spherical shape, likely following one of Flynn’s memories he’d copied over into the program during creation.

 

            “It’s something that happens during winter out in the real world,” Flynn replied, trying not to smile at their reactions. Briefly, he regretted that he couldn’t make it cold like real snow, but in light of the alarmed look on Tron’s face now that Clu had a passable snowball and was playfully menacing him with it regardless, he didn’t feel too bad. “Anyway, I figured I’d let it run instead of the rain for a while so you can get the full effect, but I gotta run for now.”

 

            Clu, struggling to hold a squirming Tron in a headlock while he shoved the snowball into his face, paused to look over at Flynn, giving the security program time to escape. “You’re leaving already?”

 

            “Yeah; I’m taking Jordan and Sammy out to Hawaii for the holidays. Figured we’d play on the beach, maybe catch some waves, stuff like that.”

 

            Tron looked confused, but Clu hesitantly nodded along like he understood. “How long will you be gone?”

 

            “It should only be about a week – we’re leaving in the morning.” Flynn replied, waving the time away like it was nothing. A week was barely any time, when it came to all Hawaii had to offer.

 

            This time Clu was silent, looking concerned, while Tron nodded. “Be careful.”

 

            Flynn smiled, always touched when any program expressed concern for him. “I will.” He pulled out his baton, and started walking backward toward the portal. “I’ll see myself out this time, guys. Have fun!”

 

            Out of the corner of his eye, he caught sight of their hands raising to wave goodbye like he’d shown them, then activated his lightcycle and sped off, little flakes of white sliding over the cycle’s windscreen as he went.

 


 

            Nine days later, Flynn exited the Grid’s copy of the Arcade into absolute chaos.

 

            Massive drifts of snow were piled up against the sides of every building, completely obscuring the sidewalks and pedestrian paths. The roads were only marginally better, solid layers of snow packed flat with only a few deep furrows carved into their surfaces. The snow was still remarkably white, for all that it was clearly driven on, save for the occasional streak of black smeared across its surface.

 

            To his left, he heard the faint rumble of a Recognizer, so he carefully crested the mountain of snow in front of the Arcade door, and half-walked, half-stumbled his way down the street.

 

            As he turned the corner, the familiar blue bulk of the Recognizer came into view, flying much closer to the ground than normal, tilted carefully back as it lumbered forward, so that the downdraft from the legs kicked up snow and blew it down the street. In the middle, where the Reco didn’t cover, he could see the dim blue glow of the Reco’s non-flight-essential team members, jerkily breaking snow loose with their staves, then shoveling it forward with their ‘riot shields’, occasionally slipping and leaving long, black smears in the snow before pulling themselves upright.

 

            There was no other program in sight.

 

            Determined to get to the bottom of this, Flynn ran out into the street and flagged the Reco crew down.

 

            He was going to need a lift to get in touch with Clu, or someone that knew what in the world was going on.

 


 

            “Snow hasn’t stopped… since you left. Over a cycle. Ago,” Clu told him, once he’d eventually found him.

 

            Clu looked terrible, haggard and unkempt like Flynn had never seen him, covered with more soot-like grime than a coal miner, reaction time alarmingly slow. Flynn could only barely see the golden glow of his circuits under the mess.

 

            “What’s with the black stuff, though? And where are all the programs? Where’s Tron?”

 

            Clu just stared at him blankly for several long minutes, before replying. “Most programs offline, defrag-ag-ag-agmentation errors. Errors. Tron…” He turned to the nearest window, seemingly unaware of his vocal glitches. He looked around almost forlornly, before pointing out over the expanse of white, toward the far point of the Grid-wide operation to push the snow – that never naturally broke down or melted – into the Sea to be broken down. “There.”

 

            “Thanks, buddy.” He said, clapping Clu on the shoulder. He pushed him toward a bench, that was big enough to probably work as a makeshift bed. “Get some rest, man. I’ll take care of it.”

 

Clu just nodded dully, trudging toward the bench. Flynn turned, pulling up a coding interface to start drawing up an all-terrain vehicle that could get him out over the snow and Outlands to the section of the Sea they were dumping into.

 

Before he touched it, though, he wiped his hand off on his pants.

 

Maybe this snow was a bad idea…

 


 

When he found Tron, he was lying face-down in a snow drift, writhing around.

 

“Uh…” Flynn scratched his head uncertainly, staring as he twisted and wriggled through the snow, leaving thick smears of black in his wake.

 

“Tron? You okay, man?”

 

“Please hold,” he replied during a brief pause, then more or less dug his way through to the other side of the pile. Flynn followed around in time to see his head break the surface, a sizable clump of white perched on top of his brown hair like the peak of a mountain.

 

“What are you doing?”

 

“Better,” Tron said after a moment of self-assessment, completely ignoring him, and Flynn noticed almost no black streaks left behind as he carefully crawled out. “How can I assist you, Flynn?”

 

“I wanted to get your take on what happened while I was gone. Clu wasn’t exactly… forthcoming.” He said, trying not to stare too hard at the lump of snow still settled on Tron’s head. Behind them, a new deposit of snow was pushed over the cliff into the Sea by a duo of Recognizers.

 

“The Grid is 1.4294 cycles overdue for defragmentation; operational errors among programs have increased exponentially during that time, compounded by the imperative removal of extraneous snow.”

 

“Yeah, I’m getting that the snow was a bad idea.” Flynn replied, turning to stare at the next batch of snow tumbling toward the edge. “Wait – Is that one of your –?”

 

“Yes,” Tron replied, already running toward the cliff face with a light cable in hand, to swing down and pluck out one of his hapless monitors from the falling snow.