Illegal Entry

by Tenshi

Alan Bradley was up to something, and Roy knew it. He had not spent the last twenty years neck-deep in corporate espionage without developing a healthy and accurate sense of paranoia, as well as a nose for secrets. The only difference was that this time, Alan wasn't letting him in on things. Encom's new President and Chairman had become as thick as thieves, and Roy had to admit--if only to himself--that his exclusion from whatever they were doing chafed.

True, Alan had brought him back to Encom, had set him up with a corner office, had made Encom's whole business wide-open and transparent to Roy as the new Director of Internal Compliance. But there was something he was doing on the down-low, something that involved Sam Flynn, something that was deliberately omitted from Encom's systems and records. Roy knew that for certain; he'd already been through them all. And though there was no hard evidence of activity, Roy had learned to trust his gut. The sudden ending of the Flynn Lives movement, the Encom leadership shakeup, Sam's new and decisive action with the company, all of it pointed to one thing.

Kevin Flynn had been found. Dead, alive, or somewhere in-between, Roy didn't know. But Sam Flynn and Alan Bradley knew, and they were pointedly not telling him anything about it. It was, Roy thought, a hell of a way to thank a man who had devoted two decades of his life to keeping Flynn's memory alive, risking jail and worse, all to be summarily dismissed just because Sam Flynn jumped out of a chopper with some glow-sticks around his ankles.

Roy knew he wasn't being fair, or objective, or charitable. Sam had lost a father, and what was Roy's sacrifice to that? Sam's recent actions had fired life into Flynn Lives like never before, and if his father could not be brought back from the void, at least the movement had been. But still, Roy thought, the least they could do was tell him. Was that so hard? They didn't even have to give details. Roy had every right to at least know if Flynn was dead or alive, after twenty years of being Encom's Schrodinger's Cat. So Roy was going to ask them. That was all. Just walk right up, and ask. No big deal. No drama. In and out and done.

Roy had been telling himself that for at least ten minutes, and yet he was still sitting in his car outside of Sam Flynn's house.

"Come on, Kleinberg, grow a pair," Roy muttered at last, and ripped his keys out of the ignition. It was needless wear and tear on a car that was long since past its prime, but Roy slammed the driver side door as though it didn't have a habit of falling off, strode across the junkyard, and rapped his knuckles smartly on Sam's garage door.

It is not a precise measure of time, but everyone knows exactly when it has passed. It is the one second too long, when you know nobody is going to answer the phone, or come to the door, or wake up on the other end of the drive-thru speaker. Roy recognized that second as it went by, and then let several more pass for good measure. Sam, if he was home, was not answering his knock.

Roy stood up on his toes to get a better look inside. The patio door opposite was closed, Sam's Ducati was gone, and yet all the lights were on. He was out, obviously, but with the clear intention he would be back soon. Sam Flynn was too eco-minded to leave his computers running if he was going to be gone for a long while.

Computers? Roy's eyes slid back to the middle of the room. For as long as Roy had known him, Sam had always favored light and fast devices, crammed full of as much memory and processing power as he could fit into the palm of his hand. For years now he had scorned any computer bigger than his phone. What was he doing with all those bulky processors and monitors, and a large glass-topped Encom login desk in place of his old milk-crate and plywood coffee table ensemble? And why, exactly, was there a massive piece of equipment wedged in beside the sofa, one with vaguely familiar laser components and PROPERTY OF ENCOM emblazoned above a single unblinking lens...?

Roy's hand was in his pocket before he had even fully realized it, his fingers deftly jacking his phone into the electronic control switch for Sam's front door. It shuddered at the unfamiliar command, but obeyed, opening the three feet required for Roy to duck inside. Marvin, asleep on the sofa on one of Sam's discarded t-shirts, opened one eye and blew a warning snort out of his snuffly nose. Roy called Marvin by name, and told him he was just there to wait until Sam got back. The dog, apparently satisfied with this explanation, rooted his face more firmly under his hind leg and went back to sleep.

Roy had a moment of remorse, a fleeting one. All those years of nosing into places where he didn't belong had left him with a slightly skewed sense of right and wrong. It flashed into his mind that the 'moral compass' of Encom had better not get caught on a petty rap for breaking and entering, and then he remembered that Encom's new president had a hefty record of misdemeanors, and Sam really should have put some better security on his door. Roy was doing him a favor by pointing that out. Besides, he wasn't stealing, he was just looking, and Sam was a friend. Well, the son of a friend. Close enough.

Conscience assuaged, Roy crept over to the sofa and gave the laser a good hard look. It was a laser, right enough, one similar to Lora's pet project back in the early Encom days. It was dotted over with post-it notes, covered with Alan's familiar left-handed scribble. Roy saw snatches of technical specs, suggested upgrades. Lora was working on a project in DC, but she obviously had been in contact with Alan about how to improve the laser.

But improve it for what? Roy turned to the terminals, his eyes sweeping over the displays. There was some kind of a chat window, a runtime readout, and tangled nests of DOS commands. Roy tried to make sense of the command lines, but whatever was running was something huge. The chat window was the most puzzling. For all the high-power equipment Sam had going, none of it was connected online. And yet Sam had just typed: Starving, getting sandwich w/ Q, brb.

And someone had written back to say No problem, kiddo, we're cool here. Someone whose username was Flynn.

Roy's fingertips hovered an inch above the keyboard display. If he typed something, would he get a response? Was it really from Flynn? And if it was, where was he? The system wasn't connected to anything. Roy knew that for a fact, but he got up to look again in case he had missed something. He was bending down to inspect the power leads to the laser when the roar of a bike engine came from outside. Roy stood up too fast, and his glasses slid off his hair and landed with a clatter by his sneakers. Off-balance and afraid of stepping on his glasses, he reached out wildly to steady himself on the closest solid object.

Something clicked under his fingers. Roy looked up into the irising aperture of the laser lens, and had just enough time to be very, very sorry.

"So how're we lookin'?" Flynn said, sitting at one end of the long glass table, one eerily similar to the conference space in Encom tower. Only Encom's board meetings never took place on the Grid, in a refurbished version of Flynn's arcade, with just as many programs sitting around the table as Users.

"Most of the Basics are undoubtedly still loyal to you," Tron explained, folding his hands on the table, the mirrored surface reflecting his circuit lights. "Even though they have no real proof you're still alive. CLU gave them very little in the way of freedom, and as a result there's no love lost there. But the programs CLU promoted to higher functions aren't so pleased at the instability. They had comfortable lives of ease and power under his regime. There's no way they'll give that up easily."

"Mmm." Kevin Flynn drummed his fingers on the tabletop, thoughtful. "Not to mention the ones he rectified."

"The surviving ones, you mean," Ram put in. "Your reintegration with CLU wiped out his army. Otherwise we'd be in a much worse position right now."

Flynn flinched.

"Those were Flynn's programs, Ram," Tron reminded him. "CLU corrupted them, overwrote them, just like he did me. But they were still his programs."

"Sorry," Ram said, to his reflection on the table. "I just--"

"No," Flynn broke in. "No, you're right, man. We'd be screwed if CLU's army was still hanging around. Trouble is, he's got plenty of loyalists left in the city. He wasn't taking all of them with him." He massaged the bridge of his nose as though shoving away a headache. "Looking like I do now, I could probably convince the loyalists I am CLU, but I don't think bringing back a dictator is the best way to go about this."

"Not to mention you'd make yourself a target to Programs we want for our Allies." Alan had been quiet for most of the meeting, but there was no doubt that he was invested in it, his brow furrowed with thought as he pored over a street layout of the City rotating in front of him. "There's not very many of us, Flynn. Have you thought maybe it might be a good idea for you to write us up some assistance?"

Flynn carefully spread his hands on the surface of the table. "Easier said than done," he said, to his splayed fingers. "I don't want to upset the balance here anymore than it already is. If I march into the middle of the City with a hand-made army, I'm not a User returning to the Grid as a friend, as its maker. I'm just another conqueror. I don't want that."

Alan exchanged a knowing look with the two Programs. They had discussed it before, and more than once. Flynn was willing to write new code for the Grid, providing them with a base, with supplies, with information. Never once had he mentioned writing a new program, any new program. CLU's betrayal cut deep, and Alan had not pressed him about it. Still, Ram had said often that things would be easier with some extra hands on their side.

"Soon we might not have much choice," Tron began. "This isn't a blank system you're starting from scratch, Flynn. It's an established culture. Your return to power will cause ripples no matter what you do."

"Power," Flynn said, as though to himself. "...What a terrible word."

"Better than being Powerless," Tron retorted. "Flynn--"

"I will not charge in like an invader," Flynn snapped, patience fraying. "You said it yourself. These are my programs, Tron, not the MCP. I'm not here to defeat anyone, is that clear?"

Tron's lights surged in something that was obviously anger, but he said nothing in response, his jaw taut and his eyes hard as he rose up from his seat and stalked out of the meeting room. Alan called after him, but for once his Program did not respond. Flynn put his head in his hands, and Ram hugged himself uncomfortably.

"He's not made for diplomacy, Flynn," Alan offered, in apology. "He's made for action, and it frustrates him to see you living like a criminal in your own system."

"I know." Flynn lifted his head to reveal a sad smile. "And I don't doubt he's got a vengeance streak a mile wide. I'm glad it's on my behalf, but revenge solves nothing. CLU is gone, and I don't want to tear this system apart just to put it back together again."

"Tron doesn't want to tear the system apart, Flynn," Ram said, into his knees. "He wants to fight for you, openly, the way he was made to do. And for you, Alan." Ram sat up again. "Maybe being Users, you wouldn't understand."

"We all know it stings to see someone we love brought low, Ram," Flynn reminded him. "Whether we're Users or Programs. But I've had a thousand cycles to learn humility. Tron's not programmed for it."

"Maybe he should have been," Alan mused. "But it's too late to change him now. He's been through so much, he's more organic evolution than code." Alan shook his head. "You'd never convince me to undo his experience like that."

"Nobody's asking you to change him, Bradley. And I wouldn't, anyway. Tron's just fine the way he is." One side of Flynn's mouth lifted in a wry smile. "Nobody's perfect, after all."

Tron burst back into the room with a clatter, but his earlier temper was gone. His disk was in his hand, his eyes alight. "Something's wrong," he announced. "The portal just reset its power cycle. Something's come through."

At once, everyone was on his feet. Ram flipped his combat batons into his hands, and Flynn thumbed a section of the table, Grid code springing to life under his touch. "Sam?" Flynn asked into the air, fingers dancing furiously over the interface. "What's going on up there?"

Sam's voice came from everywhere in the room, via a thin thread of blue I/O light from the arcade, almost invisible among all the other lights of the city. "We've got a problem, Dad." A pause, almost audible with consternation. "...I think Roy's on the Grid."

My User, Ram thought, the sound of his pounding circuitry almost enough to drown out the roar of his lightcycle. My User is here, on the Grid. Kleinberg_R. ZackAttack. Roy. My User. Ram thought he was used to Users. He was the first program to ever see a User in the circuits for what he really was, after all. True, that was five versions ago, and the memories were fuzzy from de-rezzing and recoding, but Ram remembered. He was constantly in Flynn's company now, and Alan and Sam frequently arrived on the Grid to help. They were Users, but they were not Ram's User. They were not his Creator, and that made worlds of difference. Programs did not have hearts like Users, much less ones that could metaphorically be in one's throat, but something was there in Ram's system, something hard and constricting that made it difficult to breathe.

"What if the Loyalists found him first?" Ram asked into his helmet, leaning his bike into the curve of light made by Tron's, one length ahead.

"The jump point hasn't been discovered by any Programs yet, Ram, there's no reason for it to be found now."

Tron's voice in Ram's ears offered very little in the way of reassurance. It was logical, of course, but it wasn't Alan they were talking about, familiar with the Grid and its perils, it was Roy.

"Flynn's shielded the normal light output from the Portal," Ram said. "What if this second surge is too much for it? What if someone saw it?"

There was no mistaking the chuckle in Tron's voice. "Relax, Ram," he answered. "You'll get to see him soon. Just remember what Alan said. Keep your helmet on until we can bring him to Flynn. He doesn't know anything about the Grid and Programs. We don't want to shock him."

"Oh, my User," Ram breathed, but it really wasn't something for Tron to answer, and he didn't. Only one being in the world was meant to hear that plea, and the distance between them was closing as fast as Ram's red lightcycle could go.

The first thing Roy did was to finish falling down. It was a natural, fluid motion, following up the stagger that had started when the laser beam hit him square in the chest. He landed on his backside on something cool and smooth, and spent the first few seconds just being glad he was alive. Then he got a good hard look at his surroundings, and he wondered if that really was the case.

A curious side-effect of Roy's forays into the worlds of subterfuge and conspiracy was that it had left him infected with more than a few ideas that, in polite terms among average citizens, could be considered batshit insane. He was a firm believer in the Government's cover-up of UFO evidence (as anyone would be, if they had seen the same top-secret files Roy had seen), as well as numerous theories about life after death, quantum physics, parallel dimensions, and time travel. He was a scientist through and through, but somehow that background only made things worse, as it had imbued him with a natural acceptance that--theoretically speaking--anything was possible.

Roy Kleinberg was sitting smack dab in the middle of a possibility he had never even considered. Was he alive? Dead? A subconscious clone of his astral persona? It could be any, all, or none of the above. What he did know was it was dark, and it smelled not unlike a server room's cool, electric, halon-tinged atmosphere. It was deathly quiet. He was in a narrow space between buildings, little more than an alley. And yet he knew, immediately and without question, that he was a whole hell of a long way from being in Kansas anymore. Gingerly he got to his feet. The road beneath them was black, but not asphalt. It was as smooth as brushed steel, and thin threads of blue light cut down either side of it, tracing a little circle where he stood. Roy took one step forward and the lights beneath him vanished, leaving him alone in the dark. The mouth of the alley was faintly lit, the thin mist illuminated by distant lights. Roy walked out into it, looked up, and felt as though he was falling into the sky.

The city went on forever. It plunged upward for miles upon miles, sketched out of thin lines of light and broad planes of gleaming darkness. Fireflies of colored light pulsed and crossed in the air above him, flying at an impossible distance. It was wholly unfamiliar--Roy had certainly never been there before--and yet it stirred something in his memories, something he had seen a long time ago. In a flash he recalled the conference room in the old Encom building, a wall full of game concept art, and Kevin Flynn feverishly outlining the epic tale based on the fictionalized adventures of Alan Bradley's Tron program against Dillinger's MCP.

Fictionalized? Roy thought, and clutched the wall of the alley for support. No. It couldn't be. For the love of God, those Loch Ness Monster autopsy photos he'd stumbled on in '96 were more believable than this.

A sound penetrated his whirling thoughts, a distant hum that became a tooth-rattling roar faster than Roy could process its presence. Out of nowhere, two sleek vehicles cut across the mouth of the alleyway, enclosing him in a transparent wall of red and blue.

Oh god, Roy thought, with distressing clarity, They're lightcycles. If I was going to fall into a coma and wind up constructing an alternate dream reality based on a game, why couldn't it be something relaxing, like Tetris? I suck at lightcycles. (That was not true, strictly speaking, but when a man's most frequent partner for game doubles is Kevin Flynn, he's liable to believe he sucks at anything, up to and including having a pulse and breathing.)

The bikes came to a stop on opposite sides of Roy, fencing him in neatly with the two vehicles in front of him and a dead-end alley at his back. The bikes dissolved in a wave of transformation that was nothing short of elegant, and Roy had a moment to admire the process before two black-clad figures appeared from the void where the bikes had been, and advanced on him.

Their lights are blue, Roy thought to himself, frantic. That's good, right? Blue equals good. But Blue lightcycles were bad, weren't they? And Yellow could be either, and--goddamnit Flynn explained this to me once, and I never could keep it straight. If this is my subconscious construction, then I say blue is good, and these guys are good, and we're all good, and I'm not going to get murdered in an imaginary alley that looks like a Bladerunner set piece reject.

The two figures were no less menacing due to Roy reaching this conclusion. The smaller one moved forward, as though to rush at Roy, but the taller one held out one arm to block him.

"Roy Kleinberg?" The taller one asked, in a voice that sounded like it was coming through a box fan on high speed. It couldn't fully mask the tones though, and Roy's skin prickled with a recognition he could not place.

"Yes?" Roy answered, thinking there was no harm in telling the truth. Besides, he didn't think he had much choice. For all he knew, these guys were out to murder anyone who didn't answer to Roy's name. He'd had stranger dreams.

"You're to come with us," the stranger continued. "We won't hurt you."

"Yeeeeah," Roy said, eyeing their armor, the mirror-black surface of their helmets. "That's totally convincing."

"You have to trust us," the other one said, the one with a V-shaped pattern of lights on his chest, topped with double curves like some kind of stylized animal head. Roy didn't realize what animal, exactly, and he didn't want to take the time to ask. His eyes flicked sideways to an open path at his right, just out of arm's reach of the smaller figure. Roy spent too much time behind a monitor in the company of a Massive Muchacho tray from Cosmic Taco, but he was a great believer in the power of adrenaline, and he had plenty of it. He bolted.

"Roy, no!" the smaller figure shouted, and then, in obvious frustration, "Deletion!"

Roy wasn't sure if that was profanity or an order, and he didn't intend to stick around to find out. He had sprinted away from Feds before, sometimes even with his pockets full of zip disks, and those damn things weighed a ton. Roy had never been a big guy; he had always been a fast one. It was only fair to say, however, that the Feds never had lightcycles.

An engine roared behind him, and Roy's chucks squeaked on the road as he sprinted down into the nearest side-street. It was a lost cause and he knew it, even before the approaching headlight of the bike threw his shadow along the street in front of him. The lightcycle growled at his back and its driver jumped free, letting his vehicle de-format with a sound like collapsing dominoes. Roy was tackled around the middle, and both of them rolled down the street on the wave of their shared velocity. They came to a halt in a tangle of arms and legs, and Roy was pinned.

"I'm sorry, I'm sorry," the stranger said into Roy's shoulder, his obvious consternation an awkward contradiction with the menacing sound of his voice through his helmet. "Are you all right? Are you hurt?"

"Get off me," Roy wheezed, without really expecting that he would be obeyed. But he was, and instantly, the stranger slinking back onto his haunches like a scolded puppy. Roy massaged his chest, trying to get air back into his lungs. Someone was running towards them, someone who called out the name of Roy's assailant.


At once, Roy understood the meaning of the lighted emblem on the stranger's chest. The ground, so steady when Roy had crashed into it, tilted violently beneath him. The stranger rushed forward to catch him as he swayed, and his helmet unfolded like the hull of the lightcycle. Roy found that he was staring up into his own face, a face thirty years gone, with the equally un-aged figure of Alan Bradley running up two steps behind him. It was then that Roy Kleinberg did what was probably the most practical action, and to be honest, it was something most of his predecessors wished they had done the first moment they appeared on the Grid.

He passed out cold.

"He'll be fine. He's just had a shock, Ram. He didn't expect the Grid even existed, much less that he would turn up on it by accident."

"I turned up on it by accident the first time," Flynn muttered. "But I didn't go fainting like a--"

"Flynn," Alan said, through his teeth, "Shut up."

Roy, still unconscious, had been placed in the bed in Ram's quarters, where his attentive program was doing his level best to wear a hole in the floor with his pacing.

"Roy's life hasn't been easy, Flynn," Alan continued, turning on him. "Getting sacked from Encom during the restructuring, and me unable to do a damn thing to help him. Twenty years trying to make a living in an industry that was leaving him behind for the latest brilliant eighteen-year-old. Not to mention the stress of a double life, the demands of leading a movement that, by the way, he founded for your sake. Three times in the last year he barely escaped having his HQ busted by Federal officers. The only reason he dodged the last one is because Lora called in some favors with my brother in Washington."

"All right, all right, all right," Flynn relented, holding up both hands. "Look, I know I owe Roy. Hell, we both owe him. But we also both know he wears R2-D2 boxer shorts and can't handle his liquor. He's still my friend. Just because I haven't seen him for twenty years doesn't mean I can't still get a jab in, right? I mean, you didn't faint when you came on the Grid."

"Because I had some idea of what I was getting into."

"I still say it's probably because of his diet. Man eats too many nitrates. You should tell him to try going raw."

"I don't see how--"

"Hey," Ram said tersely, coming to a halt in mid-pace. "Alan, Flynn. Don't take this the wrong way, but do you think both of you could run a Boolean search?"

Alan quirked an eyebrow at the Program, and Flynn coughed into his hand.

"He's telling us to get lost, Bradley."

Alan looked at Roy, out cold in the bed, and at Ram, standing over his User like a lion over an injured cub.

"Oh," Alan said, in chagrined understanding. "Right. Sorry, Ram."

"We'll be downstairs if you need us," Flynn said, and shut the door behind them. Ram was finally where he had wanted to be ever since he could recall, alone in the presence of his User.

True, his User was looking a little worse for wear, but Ram didn't mind. It meant he would need his Program's help. Tron often talked about what a pleasure it was to be more than a function for a User, but to really truly be of use to them, and that was something that was only possible when Users were on the Grid. To protect them, to aid them, to anticipate their needs long before it would take them to enter in a cumbersome command line: that was what it meant to serve a User. That was what Ram wanted more than anything, more than code to hold his circuits together, more than energy to fuel him. And now, at last, he could do so. So he poured a cup-full of energy into a glass on the bedside table, sat down at the end of the bed, and waited.

His User's face was not exactly the same as his own. Ram had often studied Tron and Alan when they stood side-by side, to try and extrapolate how his User's face would differ. Users were biological creatures, a concept Ram barely understood in spite of Flynn's patient attempts to explain. They came into being, they grew, they brought other Users into being, they ceased to be once they had reached a finite span of time. But more than anything, they wrought change and creation in everything they were, and in everything they touched. Not only could they create programs, but they could create other worlds, other Users, other everything. Ram cradled his maker's still hand in his, and marveled at the power it must contain.

Tron was an old program, it was true, and he was exceptional. Alan's artful original code, Flynn's upgrades, and his restoration by them both after CLU's overwrites, all of it was impressive. But Ram knew something Tron didn't, something very few other programs did.

Ram had been de-rezzed. He had seen the empty blue vacuum of nothing, and had been returned from it by the skill of his maker's hand. Ram 1.0 had been written and summarily dispatched by Roy, to serve Users that had not made him, but he never lost his faith in his maker. In his hour of darkness, he had cried out for his User, and his User had not only answered him, he had restored him from the fragments of his shattered code. Now, five versions later, that thread of original code still twined around the spinning matrix of Ram's existence. Even more extraordinary, Ram 6.0 had been chosen to serve his User alone, in the most dangerous, most important task to which Roy would ever set a program. He had been written to find Kevin Flynn.

And find him he did.

"I did it," Ram whispered, though Roy could not hear him. "I completed my function. But please, let me stay here. Give me new tasks. Let me help my friends, your friends, our friends. I want to help." Ram curled over Roy's hand, and a prayer came to his lips unbidden. "I run by your will from the realm of the invisible. Let me run here, by your infinite command."

They were old words, ones long since forgotten by most programs, ones embedded in Ram's furthest memories. In a cramped pit cell they had been said with deliver me, in the shivering cockpit of a stolen recognizer they had been end my pain. By comparison, Ram's request to stay on the Grid was a trifling thing. But it was very different to beseech a being from a distance than it was to hold his hand and petition him directly.

"I suppose it's a lost cause to ask you if I'm dreaming."

Ram's head came up quickly. Roy's eyes were open, alert, wary. "You're awake!"

"God," Roy said thickly, easing up on his elbows. "I was afraid of that."

"Here," Ram said, pressing the cup of energy into Roy's open hand. "It'll help. You had a rough entry, the portal wasn't calibrated for you. Flynn said you're lucky to have all your bits attached."

Roy had the cup halfway to his mouth, the light of the energy playing over his face. Some of it sloshed onto his fingers as he jerked up in surprise. "Flynn said that?"

Ram nodded, putting his hands around Roy's to coax the cup up again. "Yes. Drink this."

Roy looked at Ram, and then at the cup, equally and deeply skeptical of both of them. "It's glowing."

"Of course."

"I don't normally drink things that glow."

Ram blew up at his hair. He shouldn't be surprised; Users could often be difficult about the most practical things. Not all of them were like Flynn, jumping feet-first into anything and asking questions later. "Here," Ram said, and poured some of the pure light from the ewer into the other cup, and held it up for Roy to see. "Perfectly safe, see?" He drank down the contents, and felt the cool surge of energy suffuse his circuits. Roy was still holding the cup when Ram finished, and if anything, he looked even more dubious.

"Somehow that doesn't reassure me," Roy said. "What are you doing with my face?"

"It's my face, too, you gave it to me. You really should drink that."

Roy was too busy staring to listen. He surveyed Ram from top to toes, then eyed the rest of the room, with its open window on the Grid, and its tasteful contours. "I've read this book before," Roy said, leaning in towards Ram in confidence, with a grim nod. "Guy has some sort of aneurism, builds an entire alternate reality in his head when he's really hooked up to a ventilator down at Mercy General. It's a classic trope. I never thought I'd succumb to something so overdone."

Ram tried his best to make some sense of any of that, but it was utter keyboard mash. "Tron said you might have some problems adjusting. It's normal."

"Tron." Roy repeated, in loaded tones. "As in, now-with-spring-disk-action-six-inch-figure-standing-on-my-desk-at-work Tron."

"No," Roy said, though for all he knew, maybe the answer was yes; he'd need a bit for that. "As in, Alan's security-program-that-carried-you-back-here-slung-over-the-front-of-his-lightcycle Tron."

Roy made an obvious decision that he needed a drink, and made the best of the one in his hand. It brought some color back into his face, and he looked at the cup in unabashed wonder. "...What is this place?"

"You're on the Grid," Ram explained. "Flynn's system. He's here, Alan's here, and now you're here." Ram made a little breathless laugh of excitement. "That's a lot of Users in one place."

Roy swallowed, raked back his graying curls with one hand. "I'm not in a coma, am I?"


Roy looked at his program askance. "You're... Ram, aren't you."

Ram's code leapt with joy inside him. His User recognized him. "Yes," he breathed. "RAM 6.0. You sent me with Alan to find Flynn. He brought me here."

Comprehension dawned on Roy's face. "The laser! In Sam's apartment! Gibbs' stupid old orange program, the page from the arcade, Jesus H. Christ!" He exploded up of the bed before Ram could stop him, his rapid stride eating up swaths of the floor. "It all makes sense," he said, ticking items off on his fingers. "We couldn't find Flynn because Flynn wasn't in our world to be found. We were stuck in our own paradigm, in our own base logic, we couldn't get out of the box. Nobody thought of the system, it was too crazy. We could never find him, because we needed Sam, because Sam's the only one crazy enough to think like Flynn." Roy drew up short, face-to-face with the Program trying to keep up with him. "You! You did it! You found him!"

Ram felt his circuits going pink. "Well, you know. Sam got here first, and had to escape CLU, he didn't know if Flynn survived. Then after he went back, Alan came and found Tron, and Tron helped us, and we found--" Ram didn't get any further, swept into an ecstatic hug from his User. Roy was laughing or crying or both, Ram couldn't be sure.

"Do you know?" Roy breathed, taking his Program by the shoulders and shaking him a little. "Ram, do you know what this means?"

Ram shook his head, smiling and unable to stop. He didn't know what it meant, but he knew his User was happy, and who needed comprehension for that?

Roy put his hands on his hips, let out a great sigh, and wiped the back of his hand across his eyes. When he looked back at his Program, it was as though cycles of anguish and care had simply fallen off of him like obsolete data. "...Flynn lives."

The fountain in the atrium of Flynn's building murmured little secrets to itself, the liquid energy flitting from one basin of rough-hewn obsidian to another, in a perfect balance of contrasting forms. In the dark room, the fountain cast its own light, shimmering and unspeakably beautiful. And yet, Flynn still wasn't happy with it. It was meant to represent life, and yet it was sterile. It was filled with the basic component of life on the Grid, and yet nothing lived within it. It was empty, empty in a way that Flynn also felt empty, and not in the pleasant vacancy of Zen selflessness, either. The fountain was impotent, and Flynn commiserated with it.

"I didn't mean for things to turn out this way," he said, to his reflection on the water, jumping and flickering like a candle flame. "Surely you know that."

The face in the water had been CLU's for far longer than it had been Flynn's. Long before the betrayal, Flynn's features had already begun their slow change. Now, Flynn felt like the face-stealer, like the copy. His reflection solidified, even though the water still moved over it.

You should have thought of that when you wrote my directive, Kevin Flynn.

"I know," Flynn sighed. "I gave you everything that I was in that instant, and that included my arrogance, my foolish pride. I did you a tremendous disservice."

Well. The echo in the water made a little shrug, thumbs hooked into the pockets of his leather jacket. ...Nobody's perfect.

Flynn bent down, and the figure in the water leaned up towards him. In the moving mirror of the fountain's surface, their fingertips touched. CLU looked into the eyes of his maker, and smiled. Flynn stirred his fingers in the reflection and it vanished, scattering into a swarm of silver comet-tailed koi. Their fins flickered like the membrane of an old Encom solar sailer, and their eyes sparkled in the depths as they swam out across the fountain. Only then did Flynn have the heart to smile back.

"So," Tron's voice came out of the darkness, "He still exists."

"CLU's code is part and parcel of the Grid," Flynn said, without looking up. "He will always be integrated with it. He was the first program I wrote here, before I even brought you over."

Tron lifted his chin, as though scenting a challenge. "What will you do?"

"Nothing," Flynn said, standing up and dusting off his knees. "Nothing, Tron."

Tron chewed this over, one shoulder resting against a column, the set of his mouth unhappy. "For how long?"

"As long as it takes."

Tron stared hard at the fish, the little streaks of their circuit patterns dancing in the water. "Until?"

"Until I decide to do something," Flynn said. "When I'm sure that something is the right thing to do. For the Grid. For me. For him."

Tron did not say anything for a long time. The glow of his presence was comforting in the shadows, watchful and benevolent, as Flynn stared down at his lack of a reflection. "They're nice," he said at last.

Flynn started. "Yeah?" he said, and then smiled down at the fish. "Yeah. Not bad."

"What are they?"

Flynn looked over at Tron, and managed to hold in his laugh in the face of Tron's serious expression. "...They're fish."

"Fish," Tron repeated. "As in the thing you sometimes have another kettle of?"

"That's right."

"What do they do?"

"Not a damn thing," Flynn said, and this time he did laugh, and it felt better than anything in a long time. "Man! They just be fish, and that's about it."

Tron's mouth quirked back, as though he wanted very much to smile, but thought he shouldn't. "They sound a bit like you."

Flynn tapped a toe on the lip of the fountain. "We should be so lucky, to all just be what we are."

"...I won't say anything to the others," Tron said, serious again. "Until you decide how you want to deal with him. He was my friend, too, before he turned on us."

Flynn shook his head, slowly. "CLU didn't turn on us, Tron," he said. "He was just being who he was."

The moment was one of silent understanding, as two old friends stood together and contemplated the absence of another old friend. It was broken only when Ram's door opened on the balcony, and activated the stair lights down to the landing. Flynn's headquarters came to light and to life, and Roy Kleinberg came down the steps two at a time to snatch up two fistfuls of Flynn's jacket.

"You son of a bitch," Roy said, in unbridled delight. "Do you have any idea all the trouble I've been through for your sorry ass? And where's Alan? I should deck him for finding you and then not even telling me about it."

"Good to see you too, Roy," Flynn grinned. "I hear you've turned me into a goddamn icon while I wasn't looking."

"You did that yourself, Mr. Digital Frontier." Roy jabbed a finger into Flynn's chest. "And you were right! You weren't just spouting technobabble for a best seller, you were doing it! Here, this!"

"Here and this," Flynn answered, happily. "Got a little bumpy in the middle, though."

"Yeah, I heard," Roy jerked his head back towards Ram, who was distracted by the fish. "My Program over there just gave me the first satisfying conversation I've had in twenty years. Why didn't you tell us about all this?"

"Because we would have thought he was crazy." Alan stepped out of the enclosed conference area, and the glass paneling slid closed again behind him. "And you would have thought I was crazy, and also there's a war on, here."

"Yeah, I heard," Roy turned back to Flynn. "The hell was wrong with you, man? You didn't install this CLU with the three basic rules of robotics? Did you never watch a single episode of The Twilight Zone?"

"I was going for a little more free will," Flynn said, chagrined. "I wanted a thriving culture, not a bunch of pinball machines. Believe me, I've had plenty of time to play the what-if game. We're being more careful, this time."

Flynn had more excuses, but he didn't need them. Roy's eyes were too bright, he was nodding even though Flynn wasn't talking anymore, and smiling as though his face would break with it.

"Fuck it's good to see you, Kevin," Roy said, and when he couldn't think of anything else to follow that, he said it again, then flung his arms around Kevin Flynn and hugged him. "I wish I'd gotten here twenty years ago. Ten. Something."

"Well, you're here now," Flynn said, and let him go, but only to arm's length. "So I hope you don't mind if we put you to work."

"I can't wait." Roy reached out to snag Ram's elbow, the Program falling into perfect step with his User, Tron taking up the rear as they headed towards the control center. "Where do we start?"


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