Location Query : Part Four
"Greetings, program!" Ram said, when they finally drew abreast of his lightcycle. "What were you doing back there, running laps?"
"Ram!" Tron said, glancing over at the other racer. "Is it really you?"
"Last I checked, yeah." Ram spared them a quick grin. "RAM 6.0, Research and Acquisition Module. But call me Ram. It's an honor, Tron. Sorry I can't shake your hand, kinda busy."
"Six," Tron repeated, and Alan felt a little shudder of understanding go through him. "...Of course. Glad to have you here, Ram."
"Sorry I couldn't give you more warning about those 'cognizers," Ram apologized. "I was following a stray bit and sprang a whole damn encampment by mistake." He shook his head, chagrined. "This place is putting me through my paces, I'll tell you that."
"You were the one who said you wanted some exercise," Alan reminded him, and looked over his shoulder. "I think they've stopped following. Now what?"
"I just hoped to lose any pursuit in the City," Ram said. "I don't have any plans. If Tron's ready, we should start looking for Flynn."
"I'm ready," Tron purred, hands tightening on the lightcycle's steering grips. They had reached the end of the bridge, and plunged down into the street-level of the City proper, where the dizzying height of the buildings made it feel like they were traveling on the bottom of some vast canyon. "Follow me."
"Right with you," Ram answered.
Tron angled his bike in a new direction down a wide boulevard, and Ram curved his to flank him, the City blurring past them.
"Where are we going?" Alan asked, already hopelessly lost in the maze.
"I need to pay a visit to an old friend," Tron said. "...At least, I hope she's still an old friend."
Tron's route took them through the City by the safest paths, avoiding the places where programs might gather, cutting through streets whose lights were few and far between. At last he pulled up to a stop beneath a towering triangular wedge of a building, and the lightcycle came undone around them. Alan looked up to see a familiar marquee mounted on the face of the building.
"It was his entry point," Tron said, a tense muscle flexing in his jaw as he looked up at the dark sign. "I don't know how many times I told him he should have it closer to the portal, but he wouldn't listen. Didn't want to waste the travel time every time he came on the Grid. Wanted to be right in the middle of things. Wanted his Programs to know he was part of their city, that he didn't consider himself any better than they were." Tron snapped the lightcycle baton to his hip. "Look where it got him."
"You think Users shouldn't get involved with Programs, Tron?" Alan kept his tone light, but Tron winced as though he had been scolded.
"I think Programs should remember their place," Tron answered, his eyes lowered. "When they don't respect their creators, you wind up with the MCP... and CLU. I'm grateful that you came to my aid, Alan-1, and to the aid of the Grid." Tron looked up at his User again, his lips a tight line. "But I would never be so arrogant as to presume that you were obliged to, or that you're here for my sake. You came for Flynn, and I would not expect otherwise."
It was Alan's turn to flinch.
"This is a great conversation, and all, guys," Ram said, with a nervous glance at the sky, "But maybe we ought to get inside while the getting's good."
Tron nodded, stepping under the marquee and into the shadows of the building. Ram reached out to catch Alan's arm before he could follow.
"Hey, Tron's old-fashioned," Ram said, with a reassuring grin. "All that self-sacrifice business. Don't let it get to you."
"He's right, though," Alan said, heavily. "I wasn't really thinking of him when I came here. I never considered his feelings years ago, either. I handed him over to Flynn like a thing, and when Flynn vanished, I never really thought about what it meant for Tron. God only knows what he's suffered in the past thirty years. Maybe more than any of us."
"He wouldn't expect you to think of him," Ram said. "And I don't think he blames you for it, Alan."
"Maybe not," Alan said, with a brief smile of gratitude. "But I do."
The interior of the arcade was empty and echoing, with the hush of a cloister. There was something of its User-world counterpart in the main room, with silent kiosks standing in regimented rows, their empty screens staring blindly at one another. Their footsteps reverberated with a faint, staticy buzz that reminded Alan of the sound effects in the first Tron game.
"I/O terminals," Tron explained, gesturing to the game-like devices. "Flynn intended for this to be a place where Programs could communicate freely with their Users, as often as they wanted. It was going to be the centerpiece of the Grid when it was complete."
Ram gave a low whistle. "Is this ever retro," he said. "My User can call me whenever he wants on any of his devices, bring me up via wifi wherever he is. Kind of a long commute sometimes, but better than an old single-line interface like this."
"CLU never bothered to upgrade it," Tron said. "He didn't care about talking to Users, and he certainly didn't want any Programs doing it. We--" Tron stopped, started again. "He ordered the building sealed, in case Flynn's followers tried to make it a rallying point."
"And he used you to do it," Alan said. It was not a question.
"It was one of my first tasks after I became Rinzler," Tron said, his voice rough. "Right before CLU used me to exterminate the ISOs."
There was a moment of silence in the arcade, stunned, impenetrable. Ram looked from Alan to Tron, unsure how to mediate the current of pain between them.
"It wasn't--" Alan began, but Tron was already walking towards the steps on the far end of the arcade.
"This way," Tron said. "Sam Flynn broke her seal when he entered the Grid. She should be able to help us."
"She?" Alan echoed, and hurried to catch up with his program.
At the top of the steps, roughly where Flynn's apartment had been in the original building, there was a kind of shrine in an alcove of transparent material. At first, Alan thought it held a statue, one lined in lacy patterns of circuitry, her body a shell of alabaster. As he got closer he realized there was a Program encased in the wall, connected directly with it and indistinguishable from the building holding her. Her head was bowed, her eyes closed, and her face sent a shockwave of recognition though Alan's mind.
"Yori," Tron said, resting his fingers on the glass encasing her. "She operates the laser that brings Users to our world. After the coup, she merged completely with her function to prevent CLU from accessing her." Tron's gloved fingers squeaked softly on the enclosure. "I'll never forget the look in her eyes when she saw me standing with him. The anger, the betrayal."
Tron's head came up sharply. Yori's eyes had opened.
I knew you were under his fist, Tron, Yori said, though her lips did not move. Rather, her voice came from the building itself, suffused with her will into an extension of herself. I knew you would come back to us.
"Forgive me, Yori," Tron breathed.
"No," Alan said, stepping forward until he stood with Tron in the soft glow of Yori's light. "I'm the one who should ask your forgiveness, Yori, and Tron's."
"It is not for a User to apologize to the likes of us--" Tron began, but Alan cut him off.
"The hell it isn't." Alan said, and the words came on fast and sharp after that, a confession he had not dared to speak ever since that awful day that Flynn vanished. "I suspected Flynn was lost in his system when he went missing, but I couldn't find his terminal, so I told myself it had to be something else. I was so wrapped up in my own loss, so determined to do things in my world's terms, afraid of believing in Flynn's world and yet unable to forget about it." Alan turned to Tron, reaching out a hand for his program's shoulder. "I never thought about what might have happened to the Programs living in his creation. I was too scared to think of them as beings with dignity and feelings no different from mine. If I had, if I had thrown away my pride and believed in Flynn's world, if I had looked for help instead of trying to do everything on my own, I might have been here sooner. I'm sorry, Tron. I'm afraid I haven't been much of a User."
"You are my only User," Tron said softly, putting his hand over Alan's. "Flynn was my friend too, and I was every bit as arrogant, to try and save him all alone. I ignored my instincts, I trusted CLU when I should have confronted him, and it cost us all." He looked up at Yori. "Maybe together, there's still some time to set things right."
You are both here now, Yori said, with all the warmth her still face could not project. You came to save us, Alan-1. That's what matters.
"I came to save Flynn," Alan admitted. "But I'm staying to save you. I don't know much about the Grid, Yori, but I am a User. Let me try to free you, and you can come with us."
Yori closed her eyes as shining trails of light coursed down from them, the path of her joyful tears. Alan-1, User beloved of my User, you are so much like Tron. I see his heart in you. It was my choice to become what I am. I do not regret it; I do not need to be saved. I can no longer move physically on the Grid, but with CLU gone, my thoughts can reach out to its very edges. As she spoke, Yori's light extended beyond her prison, shooting in thin beams through every I/O terminal, flaring blue-white along the contours of the arcade. It threaded down the streets of the City and burned beneath the sky, searching, listening, finding.
"Amazing," Ram breathed. "She's integrated with the entire system."
Flynn's presence is everywhere on the Grid, Yori said. But I feel his signal strongest near the portal. It is faint, waning. And there is another presence waking there. A dangerous one. You must hurry.
"Thank you, Yori," Tron said, fervently. "Thank you for everything."
You and Flynn taught me what it was to love. Yori smiled down at them. You owe me nothing. Hurry to Flynn.
"Yes!" Ram breathed, and took the steps down to the arcade floor two at a time. "Let's go!"
Alan-1, Yori said, her light-filled eyes turning to him. Tell my User thank you, for writing me.
"I will," Alan vowed, as Yori's lights began to fade, her power sinking back into herself. For a long moment Tron remained, looking up at her still form, and then he ran to catch up with his User.
"We can take the cycles as far as the edge of the city," Ram said, "But they won't go off Grid. We might need to pick up something better."
"I'll take care of that," Tron said, pulling out his lightcycle baton. "Let's roll."
They were back in their vehicles and tearing down the streets again before Tron turned to Alan, a question in his eyes. "Alan-1?"
"Just Alan is fine, Tron."
Tron considered this sacrilege a moment. "...You know Yori's User?"
Alan laughed softly into Tron's shoulder. "You could say that. She's my wife."
Tron's lights glimmered with surprise. "She is your chosen counterpart? Flynn explained that was what a wife is."
"Yes, that's right." Alan weighed the benefits of explaining to Tron about an open relationship, and deciding against it. "One of them, anyway."
"You have other wives?"
Uh-Oh, Alan thought, hiding his smile for Tron's sake. Roy would sure hate to be called that. "No, only one wife. But some other counterparts. Good friends. I've known Ram's user since before I wrote you. And Flynn... when he was still in the User world... Lora and I spent most of our time with them. We were all very close, back then."
"I think I understand. Flynn said something much the same about you." They rode in silence for a while, the neon lights of the Grid sliding away behind them. "Yori's User... is she happy?" Tron asked at last, and Alan had the feeling it was the question he'd wanted to ask ever since the arcade.
"I think so," Alan said, knowing that Tron was hanging onto his every word. Tron had not been able to save Yori, but if their Users were together and happy in the User-world, somehow in Tron's mind that made his own loss easier to bear. "We don't get to spend as much time together as we'd like, but she insists she's the one neglecting me for her work, not the other way around. When we're together, though, she's as as happy as I can manage to make her."
"Good," Tron said quietly, and revved the lightcycle towards the City limits with new resolve.