Failsafe: Part Two
"You understand your orders." Flynn swept Clu-3 with his eyes. The program was attired now in the military circuit-lines of his predecessor; his black coat hung from his shoulders like a gilt-edged shadow. They stood in a darkened alleyway not far from the north end of the city, and Tron shifted his weight uneasily at the mouth of the street.
"Infiltrate the base, activate the antivirus code to start the conversion," Clu repeated. "Then get to the rendezvous point to let you in. We will gather any suitable newly-allied programs and begin a full assault in order to finish the recode initiative. I am to de-rezz enemies only when there is no other option."
"Very good," Flynn said. "And if there's any trouble?"
"Abort the mission," Clu said. "My safe escape takes priority, even if only a few programs complete conversion."
"And we're doing this like this why?" Flynn prompted.
Clu drew his brows together. The question was one that required his own reasoning, and his stymied code made that a slow process. "Because it is the only way to retake the system with minimal loss of life and functionality?"
Flynn clapped him on the shoulder. "Right on, man. You've got it cold."
Clu smiled, his circuits buzzing with pleasure at the praise.
"Right," Flynn said, looking around at his gathered allies. Alan was not present, he was back at base with Yori, to secure their retreat. Roy was on the outside in the Users' world, staring at a chat window with Quorra, ready to shut down the whole affair if need be. Sam and Ram waited with Tron, all of them tense and impatient. "It's time. Tron?"
Tron turned away from his watch, and walked over to stand beside Flynn. "I'm ready."
Flynn frowned. "You sure about this, man?"
Tron nodded, grimly. "It will make the ruse all the more convincing," he said. "Just... do it quickly."
"It's just a surface change," Flynn reminded him, with a smile that was meant to be bracing, and rested his fingertips lightly on Tron's breastplate. Tron shuddered in some indescribable emotion as the pure blue-white of his lights became muddy, then stuttered out, flaring to life again in vivid red-orange. "...Done," Flynn concluded, and Tron looked down at the glowing red tracery on the backs of his hands, his expression guarded, his lips pressed together as though in anticipation of pain.
"Hey," Flynn whispered to him, cupping the back of Tron's neck in his hand. "Remember how you changed my lights back, once? I promise I'll return the favor once we're done here."
Flynn's assurance coaxed Tron out of his reverie; his shoulders went back, his chin lifted. "I'll hold you to that," Tron said, and his helmet closed around his face. In an instant, he was once more Rinzler, if only on the outside.
"Okay," Flynn said. "Ram, we need to get round to that back vent. Sam, you stay here and make sure we've got a way out--" Flynn held up his hand to stall Sam's protest. "No buts, kiddo. I know my way around this Grid better than you, and I'll need you here to pull us out if this all goes to hell, and it very well may. I want you in regular checks with Alan back at base." He turned to the programs, two of them now indistinguishable from their enemies. "Clu, Tron, you've got your orders. Ram, you're with me. Let's do this before Jade can lead them back to the arcade. Go."
They scattered into the dark.
"You don't trust me, do you?"
Tron turned to look at Clu-3 as they walked down the middle of the empty avenue. Encased in his featureless black helmet, laced in crimson light, Tron gave off an aura of dangerous apathy. All that was lacking was the rattling purr of Rinzler's damaged circuits. "Should I?"
Clu kept his eyes on the street, his long stride eating up the distance. "No," he said, after a moment's thought. "No, I don't think you should. It's not your nature." He sighed. "Still. I wish you could."
"I trust you as far as necessary to complete this mission," Tron conceded. "When it's over, based on your actions, perhaps I will reconsider my stance."
"That's fair," Clu-3 said, with a shrug and nod that was eerily the same as Flynn's. When he was not speaking directly to his User, or in the formal setting of the meeting room, his words changed from nearly-mechanical precision to Flynn's easy drawl, something that made him sound even more like CLU-2. "I can't blame you."
"Although, I should make one thing clear." Tron stopped mid-step, and turned on the other program. His voice, distorted with a low rumble through his helmet's vocalator, was full of menacing promise. "If you turn on Flynn, if you show the first sign of betrayal, your failsafe won't have time to activate. I'll take you out first. You got that?"
Clu's mouth drew back in a wry smile. "Yeah," he said. "I got it. I'm just sorry it's that way. We used to be friends."
"We used to be lots of things," Tron said, bitterness clear even through his helmet, and walked on. For the rest of the trip across the square they were perfectly settled into their roles: Clu walking in front with the unhurried pace of a ruler, Tron one step behind, as elegant and deadly as a leashed bloodhound.
CLU's loyalists had not bothered to hide their whereabouts. A data shipment and storage hub on the north end of the City had been refurbished as their base, and it had the raw, intimidating air of a guerrilla fortress. Programs in salvaged Black Guard livery paced the rooftops, their lights winking in and out as they passed behind heavy girders and support poles for the structures above. The main door was a massive portal, built to accommodate Solar Sailer cars and Recognizers. At its base, a smaller opening was set back into the wall, and this was ringed by armed sentries with their visors down, light-staffs at the ready.
"Showtime," Clu-3 said, and flashed a disconcertingly rakish wink at Tron before walking right up to them. Tron, for his part, was grateful for the mask of his helmet. It concealed the deep uneasiness he felt at Clu-3's presence, a feeling he knew would show on his face.
The first sentry to notice them snapped his staff from a vertical position to a horizontal one, barring Clu's path any further to the door. "Identify," he grated, his voice garbled by the heavy reverb of his helmet.
"My my my," Clu said, with a jocular little bounce. "How soon they forget." He smiled over his shoulder at Tron, and Tron had to force down the feelings of rage and hate that Clu-3's effortless performance inspired. He was in every way a perfect recreation of CLU-2, even in nuance of expression, in patterns of speech, and Tron struggled to remind himself that it was only a performance.
"Identify," The guard said again, and this time his fellows pivoted their staffs as well, creating a humming barrier of red energy between them and the door.
"Rinzler," Clu cooed, "Jog his memory, will you?"
Tron's arm shot out, lightning-fast with disk in hand, and slashed to a stop just beneath the sentry's jaw. The Program had not even had a chance to react, and his staff bobbed uselessly upwards a half-inch before he realized it would mean certain de-rezzing to let it go farther. The other sentries stepped forward to his defense, though they would be unlikely to do anything save die in an attempt at vengeance. He waved them down with a frantic twitch of his fingers.
"Now listen, null unit," Clu-3 said, in a friendly, threatening purr. "I recognize you and your fellow bits here have been doing a fair to middling job of keeping things rolling while I was gone, but Daddy's back, and playtime's over. Open this thing up, and open it up fast, or they're going to be finding pieces of you all the way over to the arena. Acknowledge."
"Acknowledged," the sentry said, his voice clicking a little as the edge of Tron's disk pressed hard into his throat.
"Acknowledged what, Program," Clu prompted, still smiling through clenched teeth.
"Acknowledged, sir," the sentry gasped, and Clu gave Tron a curt nod of satisfaction. Tron stepped back and the sentry put a hand to his newly-liberated throat, his lights stuttering with relief.
"Now," Clu said. "You and your little friends here are going to take us in so I can personally thank your interim leader for holding down the fort for me. Depending on your behavior, you can either come out of this in the right-hand column, or in the left. It's up to you."
The sentries snapped to attention, and Tron felt the faint stirrings of grudging admiration as they did as they were told with brisk efficiency. Everything was going to plan so far, and Clu-3 was doing an excellent job of impersonating his predecessor. At least, Tron hoped it was just impersonation. Upgrades and failsafes all aside, if Clu-3 was to turn on him at the right moment during the mission, Tron could find himself in a very tight spot.
His doubts lessened slightly once they were inside, and Clu slipped one hand inside his coat. He gave Tron a fleeting glance out of the corner of his eye, and Tron's helmet tipped down a tiny fraction in confirmation. Clu brought his hand out of his coat and there was a recoder jack clenched in his fist: a snub-nosed little code injection device, like a taser. In one smooth motion he slammed the recoder into the sentry's back, directly into the center of his identity disk. Flynn's code patch went live with a crackle of static, and the sentry was down, twitching on the floor as his rectified code came undone. The other sentries turned to their fallen companion, and those that touched him immediately succumbed to the same effects. Those that rushed at Clu and Tron were felled with short work by Tron, and Clu bent down to check the code progress.
"First patch downloaded," he said, into his collar. "Programs rebooting."
Clu seemed to answer himself, as Flynn's voice came from the transmitter in Clu's collar. "Awesome. How's the recode going?"
Clu touched the chest circuit of the first sentry, the tiles of his suit reformatting as he reverted to his defaults. "Slowly. If we move to stage two, we do it alone."
Flynn sighed into the transmitter. "I was afraid of that. But we won't get another chance for this. We'll just have to work fast. We're standing by for rendezvous, make it snappy."
"Confirmed, moving to stage two."
Tron hurled the unconscious programs into the heap with their rebooting companions, and the script Flynn had written raced from them to the still-rectified ones, blacking out their crimson circuits completely, then bringing them back up in dully-glowing colors of icy green and blue.
"Anyone who finds them is gonna wind up in the same state the second they come into contact," Clu said, shoving the recoder back into his coat. "C'mon, let's move. Flynn's waiting."
Tron moved silently to Clu-3's side. For the first time in many cycles, the familiar pattern of those gold lights in the dark was a source of reassurance, and not of fear.
Sam Flynn was well and truly annoyed. He hated being relegated to rear guard, a position little better than Alan back twiddling his thumbs at base. His father had at least let Sam stay on the Grid for the mission, and that was only after relentless pressure on Sam's part. He had the feeling that Flynn would rather keep Sam out of the System entirely until he deemed it safe, a notion that they both knew was both illogical and impractical, but Flynn's desire to protect his son often overrode his better sense. It was Alan who had convinced Flynn to let Sam go along with the team, but letting him fight was out of the question. There were programs for that job, and Sam knew Ram and Tron had the better skills. Still, he chafed at being left behind, and paced in an angry little circle at the back of the alley.
He was so caught up in his own annoyance that it took him a second to realize that he was not alone. A pair of blue eyes was watching him from the shadows, and he drew up short at the sight of them, one hand going for the disk at his back.
"Don't, please!" Jade emerged from the darkness. She wore a black cloak over her gleaming white suit, one hand outstretched to block an anticipated attack. "I have to warn you!"
"Warn us that you're a tattletale?" Sam eyed the Siren with what he hoped was sternness. It was hard; she was incredibly lovely, and the look on her face was one of obvious distress. "Because we pretty much figured that."
"I didn't have a choice but to go back," Jade breathed. "I had to get this."
Sam started to ask what she meant by this, but then he saw that she held a black identity disk clutched to her chest like a priceless treasure. For all that, it looked like junk, battered and scarred, its lights dark.
"Your friends won't have time to attack the arcade, anyway," Sam said. "We're taking them out here, right now."
"They never planned to attack at your base," Jade said, clutching Sam's arm. "They know there are only four of them here, they're going to surround them in the central docking bay of the warehouse. Your father is walking into a trap!"
"Why should I even believe you?" Sam said, though he knew in his gut she was telling the truth. "You just told me you're a spy."
"Please, Sam Flynn!" Jade begged. "I hoped to find my friend alive, and they promised me--" she choked, shook her head, and could not continue the sentence. Her hands tensed around the identity disk. "I couldn't save him. But there's still time to save your father! You have to get them out of there before it's too late!"
Sam nodded, convinced. "All right," he said, and brought his fingertips to his ear. The clip he wore there expanded into a headset, and he spoke into the tiny mic that blossomed from it. "Dad, we've got a problem here." He paused, but there was no response. He tried again, but he knew his father was unable or unwilling to answer. He must already be in the base, possibly in the middle of a fight. Sam changed tactics.
"Alan," he said, brushing his fingers over the earpiece to change frequencies.
"I'm here, Sam." Alan's voice was tense, but steady. "What's wrong?"
"Let me talk to Yori," Sam said, looking around the corner at the warehouse. He felt a cold hand grip at his heart; the sentries on the roof were gone, and the base looked like a shut bear trap. "I'm gonna need her help."
Something was wrong, and Kevin Flynn knew it. Clu-3 and Tron had let them in at the cargo access vent without a hitch, there had been no clamor of alarm or discovery, and the catwalks in the factory were deserted. Ram crept along the path at point, combat batons ready; Tron watched the corridor behind them at the rear. But there had been no need for their caution, and Clu's recoder jack rested uselessly in his hand.
"It's too quiet," Clu said, voicing his creator's thoughts. "They're leading us deeper into the complex."
"I think you're right," Flynn muttered. "Stay sharp, guys."
"Should we withdraw?" Clu asked Flynn, in a soft voice. "The rebooting is taking longer than we thought, we don't have any backup."
Flynn squinted at him. "Do you wanna?"
Clu-3 shook his head, without a pause to consider. "We've only initiated patches on a few programs, and there's no guarantee they won't be quarantined or de-rezzed before they can spread the code. Besides," there was a flash of CLU-2's cockiness for a moment in his smile. "I want to know what they're up to."
"Man after my own heart," Flynn swept his fingers forward, to keep them moving. "What's up ahead of us there, Ram?"
"Nothing," Ram-6 said, tossing his curls out of his eyes. "The repair bay for the Recos, but it's dark."
"Great place for an ambush," Flynn said. "And if we get one, I want you to spread that code around as fast as you can, Clu."
"Any programs we reboot won't be on their feet fast enough to help," Tron cautioned. "And even if they did, they'd probably only get themselves de-rezzed."
"Then we'd better make sure we don't need their help," Flynn answered. "We'll knock down as many as we can for reboot, and then make a break for it on my signal. Ram, fall back. Tron, take the front. Clu, you stick with me." For a man who struggled to live a life according to principles of peace and balance, Flynn had the easy air of a military commander, and he couldn't deny the rush of excitement that came with action. They formed a diamond, Tron at the front with disk in hand, and shot straight into the darkness of the hangar. It had an empty, ominous feeling, like that of a graveyard. All around them, the empty hulks of Recognizers waited, in various states of disrepair.
They had just made it into the middle of the hangar when the towering machines roared to life without warning, each crimson-mawed recognizer stuffed to the gills with armed warriors, and every one of them calling down death on the User and his allies.
Then again, Flynn thought, as his programs launched themselves at the red-lit tide, there's a lot to be said for meditation. He pulled his disk from his back and ran to fight alongside them, unaware of his microphone blinking with the quiet urgency of Sam's frequency.
"Can you do it, Yori?" Sam asked, trying to keep his voice steady, even.
I can, Yori assured him, and unlike Alan's, her voice seemed to come from the very walls around them. Sam wondered, fleetingly, what Lora would think of her alter-ego's strange existence, merged as one with the system. However, I can only transport up to three programs in one burst. It will take three nanoseconds to power for a second burst.
Three nanoseconds was an eternity in Grid time. "Goddammit," Sam sighed. "I hate the lifeboat game." He keyed his earpiece again, hoping that this time somebody, anybody, would answer from inside the warehouse.
They were utterly and hopelessly outnumbered. Ram and Tron cut down swaths of programs every time they took a step, while Clu extinguished endless units with the recoder, sending them to the floor in rebooting piles. Flynn could deactivate the energy to the programs within a limited area, as he had in the End of Line Club, in a token attempt to even the odds. But there were hundreds more to fill the gaps. Even with their skills, even with the Grid's creator, it was only a matter of time before they would be overwhelmed.
Clu threw a program off of him, the limp form of the sentry landing in a heap with the others. Not all of their lights went back to blues; some of them had been combat programs to start. But when they rebooted, they would remember their true loyalties. The sentry's lights returned with a hum of ordered code, and Clu reveled in the rewrite. He could feel the empire that his predecessor built coming apart under his own hands, piece by piece. It was a tiny drop in the bucket, and would never be enough for ultimate redemption, but it would have to do. If only the un-rectified programs could come to their maker's aid a little faster. The programs Clu had deactivated on the first attack were only just starting to come back online, and it would be much longer before they were able to fight.
Clu's concentration was broken by the persistent beep of the communication device in his collar, and he saw that the other three were too hard pressed to answer. He touched his fingers to the circuit embedded in the fabric of his coat. "Acknowledged, this is--"
"--Dad!" Sam finished for him on the other side, mistaking the voice of the program for that of his father. Clu opened his mouth to correct him, but Sam's next words made him close it again. "Dad, they've got the exits sealed off, you'll never get out of there. Yori's going to pull you out in a teleport burst at mark 5432, but she can only get three at a time. The next burst will take longer. How do you wanna do this?"
Clu-3 thought fast. Flynn would send us, and leave himself behind, he reasoned. Tron would try to stay, but Flynn would not let him. He would insist we save ourselves, at his own peril. Clu-3 glanced back at his allies, struggling against the melee. Flynn programmed me with his ethics. I feel the same as he would. I cannot allow him to sacrifice himself. "Here's the deal, kiddo," Clu said, in a perfect imitation of his maker's speech patterns. "For the first burst, I want you to pull Ram, Tron, and me out of here. Clu'll stay behind for the second salvo. Got that?"
There was a pause of shocked silence from the other end of the mic. It had not been the answer Sam expected. But it's the answer you want, Sam Flynn, Clu thought. You want your father safe and sound far more than you want to save the shell of your mortal enemy. You already know you won't argue.
"All right," Sam said. "You let the others know, and get ready!"
"I will," Clu assured him, and switched off the link before any of the others could pick it up. He ducked the sweep of a Black Guard's staff aimed at his head, and landed a punch with the recoder right in the program's face guard. The visor shattered, the guard's lights went dark, and he toppled. "Flynn!" Clu shouted. "Sam's having Yori activate a transport burst for us to withdraw!"
"Great!" Flynn answered, and then checked himself. The guard swinging for Flynn's head went flying as his target did not move forward as anticipated. Ram pounced on him and finished him off on the floor, then hurled him into the growing pile of rebooting programs. "Wait," Flynn said. "The data limit on that won't let her do more than three programs at once, at this distance." Flynn's mind moved with brilliant speed as he assessed the room, the next round of oncoming enemies, the slow recovery of their would-be allies. "Right. Clu, I want you, Tron, and Ram to clear out. I'll stay here and--"
"No," Clu interrupted, levelly.
It was enough to make Tron double-take back at the program. "Your User just gave you an order, Clu!"
"I know," Clu said, in the same even tones. He reached behind him to take down a guard, barely bothering to look. "I'm disobeying it. I've already disobeyed it. Yori will initialize the transport for you and Flynn and Ram. I'll wait behind for the next transport and try to recode as many programs as I can in that time."
"You won't make the next transport beam!" Ram said, urgent. "You disobeyed a direct order, you'll de-rezz before it comes!"
"I probably wouldn't survive alone until the next transport, anyway," Clu argued, with a little shrug. "And Flynn certainly wouldn't." He smiled like it hurt, and already there were hairline cracks in his face, thin demarcations of light tracing a net over his features.
"You're getting out of here, Clu!" Flynn bellowed. "You and Tron and Ram, that's an order!"
"Sorry, Flynn," Clu said, and the cracks were brighter now, gleaming along all his circuits. Clu put a hand to his chest with a soft grunt of pain. His lights were too bright, as a light bulb about to burn out, drawing on every last burst of energy before dying. "I won't comply."
The section of Grid beneath the other three lit up, cobweb-fine spirals of blinding-white energy flared around them. The attacking guards stepped back, hands in front of their faces.
Initializing transport, Yori's voice said, from all around them. Prepare to vacate Grid space 44-22-43.
"Ram, Tron, get him out of here!" Clu yelled, flinging his arm into the distracted guards, his energy overload causing the recoder he held to shoot out in one burst, making a fan-shaped wave of program lights go out all around him. They toppled like blades of wheat before a hurricane.
"Confirmed," Tron said, catching Flynn's arm to keep him from leaving the transport zone. He had disengaged his helmet, so that Clu could see the gratitude--and even admiration--on his face. Ram could say nothing, his expression fierce, his face streaked with the light of his tears.
"Clu!" Flynn shouted, reaching out, but it was too late. Yori's transport beam was drawing them out in a spiral of flying data; the warehouse faded before their eyes. Flynn's last sight of Clu-3 was of him diving forward into a glowing wall of enemy programs, his face contorted with a battle cry, recoder blazing in his hand like a star, his edges fracturing away as his failsafe tore him apart from the inside.
Then the vision winked out, and there was only darkness.
"Yori!" Flynn roared into his mic, even before they had finished reformatting on the street outside the warehouse. "Yori! Divert all power to a second transport, now!"
Sufficient power for an immediate second transport would require shut-down of the portal-- Yori began.
"Then shut it down!" Flynn said, whole enough now to bring his fist down on the pavement, and summoning a control panel as he did so. "Just get him out of there!"
"Dad--?" Sam said, stepping forward, bewildered. "I thought Clu was going to stay until the second transport."
"Clu refused the order to withdraw," Ram said, his face white and strained. "Flynn wanted him to come with us."
"But," Sam stammered. "No, when I talked to Dad, he said--"
"You didn't talk to me," Flynn said, hands flying across the panel, flinging data left and right. "If you called us, it was Clu who answered."
"He lied to you," Tron said, and glanced back at the grim, silent hulk of the warehouse. "He lied to you, and he disobeyed Flynn's orders, all to make sure that the rest of us escaped while he stayed behind."
"Disobeyed?" Sam echoed. "But that means--"
"He was already de-rezzing when we left," Ram murmured.
Sam looked at the warehouse, shock and dismay on his face.
"Over my goddamn dead body." Flynn was holding down the panel with his splayed fingers, as though afraid it would try and escape him. "Yori!" he shouted, "now!"
A beam of white light shot up from the roof of the warehouse, arched across the sky, and blazed to its terminus in front of them. It turned gold and then burnt out like a fizzling sparkler, and what was left of Clu-3 collapsed in an untidy pile at Flynn's feet. Both his arms were gone, and large chunks were missing from his legs and torso, leaving flickering, jagged gaps as his code still tried to move through his broken circuits. Jade, only just then finding the courage to come out of the alley, turned away in horror. She had seen her share of death in the arena, but most programs would have come completely undone rather than try to still function under such appalling damage. Clu was still alive, alive enough to twitch with agony at Flynn's touch. Energy pooled around him in tiny cubes, the gold glow of it dulling to red like user-blood. Even Tron winced at the gruesome sight.
Flynn was the only one who carried on without flinching, Flynn whose own mirror image was dissolving under his hands. Grid control panels unfolded around Clu, scrolling readouts of triage and damage control, but Flynn gave up on trying to do things through coding. He plunged his hand directly into the loosening crystals of Clu-3's chest, closed his fingers around a jagged black sphere of hard-coding, and ripped it out, scattering streamers of liquid energy. It shattered in the distance and Clu, with one last shudder, went still.
"Is he--" Sam began, in a whisper.
"Shh," Tron said. "Wait."
Flynn was still bent over Clu, his face furrowed in intense concentration. Segmented energy still dragged itself through the circuit paths on Clu's torso, gathering speed. Flynn's fingers went over the command panels like a virtuoso pianist in a silent concert, and with every tap Clu's dull lights grew brighter, stronger. Flynn dragged dislocated code back into place, he tore out the stray lines of damage like a surgeon pulling out fragments of shrapnel, and under his relentless assault, Clu's body began to slowly knit itself back together.
How long they stood there, watching, none of them could ever recall. Jade had gone to her knees, her hands to her face, her lover's identity disk pressed to her chest. Tron and Ram were filled with awe at the power of the Users, Sam with new admiration for his father's skill.
When it was over, Clu-3 lay still and whole on the black street, his eyes closed, his lights burning with a steady gleam. Flynn fell across the program, shaky with exhaustion and adrenaline. "Goddamn," he wheezed. "I never had a program with such stubborn code. You'd think he wanted to stay de-rezzed." He gave a breathless laugh. "Dogged and relentless," he added, as though to himself.
Clu's eyelids stirred, faintly. "...let me at 'em," he whispered, and then said nothing more, his lights dimming to the unmistakable, sleepy glow of unconsciousness.
"Yeah man," Flynn said. "That's the spirit." And then he laughed, long and hard, as though at a punchline that had been thirty years in the making, and that only he understood.
"So the failsafe itself had a failsafe?" Ram asked, his face screwing up in confusion. The meeting table was littered with empty glasses, glowing traces of energy clinging to the bottoms. Tron, his lights once more their proper white-blue, was still nursing his last one.
"Not exactly," Flynn said, looking pleased with himself. "But I don't like absolute values, not even in programming. CLU-2's absolute directive for a perfect system is what got us in this mess in the first place. I wanted to at least have a back door this time. So if the failsafe were to activate under certain circumstances--the stunt Clu pulled tonight, for example--I installed a delay in the de-resolution. Not much, but it gave me time to remove the failsafe and reverse the de-rezz command."
Alan was the one looking haggard and drained now; he had spent a long time alone at their base, wondering what the hell was going on. When the portal had gone out he feared for the worst, thinking it was his turn to be locked in a system for ages. Luckily, Roy and Quorra were quick on the uptake outside, and the door to the Users' world was once more open. "If you knew he would try something like this," Alan said, jabbing one finger on the table's surface, "Why even have the failsafe in the first place?"
"Because Clu-3 wanted it, and wouldn't let me bring him back without it," Flynn explained. "Because without it, he wouldn't have been able to prove himself the same way. He wanted to clear his name, even if it meant the end of him." Flynn looked down at his reflection in the table, and made a soft noise of understanding. "No, he wanted it especially if it meant the end of him. He was the tiebreaker, one last tick-mark in the 'good' column for his code."
"And now," Clu-3's voice came from the stairs, "I have the opportunity to repeat my predecessors' mistakes as well as their successes." Clu-3 stepped into the meeting room, one arm crooked out politely for Jade to hold as he escorted her in. "I intended to only make amends and then check out. You've made this much more complicated for me, Flynn."
"Hey man," Flynn said, with a little lift of his shoulder. "That's life."
"Better get used to it, Clu," Tron said, and the expression on his face was almost a smile. It was close enough for Clu to proffer a smile back before leading Jade over to the empty chair.
"So!" Flynn said, leaning over to the Siren, "I hear you're responsible for getting us into trouble, and then back out of it again, so let's call it even, okay?" His eyes flicked down to the dull and dented identity disk she still held, its scratched surface ill-matched with her own immaculate exterior. "Who's that you've got there?"
"He's--" Jade began, and then caught her lip in her teeth. "He went to the games to protect me from the Black Guard," she confessed. "For cycles I had been sneaking blank and reclaimed disks out to stray programs, and to those who needed forged ones. When the guard got too close to me, he made them think he was the one responsible." Her clear eyes shone as she held out the precious disk to Flynn. "I know that he is gone. But everything he was is still here. Is there any way..." She looked from Flynn to Clu, standing there rebuilt and reborn, and the hope was plain on her face.
"I don't know," Flynn said, gently. "It depends on how long it's been, how much the data has degraded, how complex his code was. Let me see." He took the disk from her, and it pulsed once at the touch of its creator's hand. "Transport worker," Flynn said, thoughtful. "Used to pilot a Sailer, right? I remember the type. I built a lot of these guys." He caught her expression out of the corner of his eye, and added. "Of course, they're all different. Not like he could just be replaced."
"Clu seemed to think so," Jade said bitterly, and then looked up at Clu-3, stammering, "I--I mean, that's--"
"Don't," Clu said, firmly. "I'm not the program you remember."
"But I think this one is," Flynn said, mounting the disk into a depression in the command terminal, where it poured forth a torrent of code. A wire-grid of light appeared from it, roughly the shape of a young man. With each pass of the code, the details became sharper.
"Hey," Sam said, surprised. "I know him!"
"Vint," Jade whispered, her voice raw with emotion.
"Looks like he's all here," Flynn said, and keyed a command line into the table. The light-grid figure grew solid, taking on full resolution. In a moment, Sam's erstwhile companion in the arena stood among them, whole down to his arena body armor and the mark on his lower lip. But he was still, his eyes shut, lights dark, offline.
"I think you know how to do this," Flynn said to Jade, passing her the disk.
Shivering, but with steady hands, the Siren accepted the disk and latched it into place on Vint's back, as she had done to other programs thousands of times before. The disk hummed as it synchronized and powered up, and Vint shuddered, then blinked around him in mild surprise. When he saw Jade, he reached out for her with both arms, and it was a long time before he took any note of anyone else in the room.
"Hey, man," Sam said, with a nervous grin. "I uh, I still have your lightcycle."
Ram leaned over to Sam, and said in a confidential whisper, "I don't think he cares, Sam."
"Yeah," Sam admitted, as Vint kissed Jade, and the Siren's white lights turned a delicate, blossom-pink, "I wouldn't either."
Flynn, Yori said, looking down at the happy group, You should know, a large mass of programs are coming this way.
"Uh-oh," Flynn muttered, going to one of the control panels. "We might have to postpone the celebration, folks. Armaments, Yori?"
Flynn blinked at her. "...What?"
The programs are unarmed, and on foot.
"How many did you say there were, Yori?" Tron asked her.
I didn't. But currently there are one thousand, two-hundred and seventy-two, and more are accumulating. I cannot maintain the wards for such a large number. I am unable prevent their approach.
Flynn and Clu stared at each other.
"The recoded programs?" Clu wondered aloud.
They are assembling in front of the arcade.
"Only one way to find out," Flynn said, taking the stairs two at a time. "Let's go have a look."
The street outside the arcade was a living river of program lights, blue and green with splashes of red, all mingled together without any set order or animosity. They had woken as though from some long, unpleasant dream, unsure where they were or what they had last been doing. One thing they did know, however, was where they could go for guidance. It was a place they all knew, a place where they would be offered advice and understanding. One by one, they had picked each other up off the ground, and made their way to the building in the center of the city, where the lights glowed in the shape of their maker's name. Once there they waited, in patient anticipation.
"There's so many," Ram breathed, looking at a viewing panel that projected the scene outside. "Clu, how many did you recode after we left?"
"I don't know," Clu admitted. "When I sensed I would not be able to continue, I set the recoder to maximum radius, jacked it into one of the Black Guard's disruptor mines, then threw it into them."
Flynn raised his eyebrows. "A recode bomb," he said, and shook his head in admiration. "Clu, you probably recoded programs all the way from here to Sam's next-door neighbor's laptop."
"I don't have neighbors," Sam said, but nobody was really paying attention, and he didn't feel the need to press the issue. Alan shrugged at him in apology, and Sam waved it away, smiling as he watched his father with Clu.
"Was that wrong?" Clu asked Flynn, concerned. "I wasn't thinking very clearly at the time."
"Wrong?" Flynn repeated. "It was brilliant. I don't know why I didn't think of it myself."
"So," Tron said, with an uneasy glance at the crowd on the viewing screen. "What do we do with all of them?"
"Well, for starters," Flynn said with a smile, hooking one arm over Clu's shoulders, and the other over Sam's, "...introductions." The double doors to the arcade opened wide, and Flynn led his friends out to meet the waiting crowd.