Location Query : Part Five
The lightcycle came to a halt, and Alan started awake before he even realized he had been asleep. "Mph," he said, lifting his head. Tron dematerialized the lightcycle, and reached out with a little smile to catch his tired User as he swayed on his feet. "Sorry, Tron. Must have dozed off. Where are we?"
"Right at the edge of the grid," Tron said. Ahead of them, the road arched up into a half-bridge and then ended, little bars of light forming a fragile barrier at the lip of the precipice. Below it, the Sea of Simulation beat its tide against the foundation of the City. Alan could see the portal's light gleaming at them in invitation.
"Where's Ram?" Alan asked, turning around. They were alone on the street.
"I sent him on an errand." Tron latched the lightcycle control to his thigh, and Alan marveled a little at how it just stayed there without any obvious means. "These arena bikes won't get us very far over the water. We need something a little more powerful." Tron looked into his User's face, his brows drawn together in concern. "You look exhausted."
"Do I?" Alan put a hand to a warm spot on his face, and found the pattern of Tron's shoulder armor imprinted on his cheek. "I guess I am a little tired. I'm old, Tron. Not used to all this running around."
"Users need more rest than programs," Tron said, and Alan had to smile at the protective way he slid an arm under Alan's coat and around his waist, to support him. "And you're not old."
"What do you call this?" Alan asked ruefully, gesturing to his silver hair.
"Beautiful," Tron said, utterly straightforward. "I thought it was something you had done on purpose. Users change their appearance all the time."
"Trust me, not all of it is voluntary." The breeze off of the water was cool and damp, and Alan slipped a hand in his pocket. Something smooth met his fingers. "Ah!" Alan said, pulling out two of the glowing vials of energy. "I forgot. Ram brought these right before you came to. I should have given you one earlier."
A look of relief crossed over Tron's face before he could catch it and hold it back. "I'm more grateful to have it now," Tron said, accepting one of them. His lights flared as he drank it, the tense line of his back relaxed. "You aren't having yours?" He asked in confusion, looking at the vial in Alan's hand.
"I didn't know I could," Alan admitted. "I'm a User."
"Never stopped Flynn from putting back buckets of the stuff," Tron said, rolling his shoulders. He looked as fresh as if he'd just had a solid night's sleep. "Go on. It'll make you feel better. I want to have a look out for Ram."
Tron mounted the access ramp to the bridge to get a better look the way they had come, and Alan, with a little shrug, uncorked his tube. It looked like water, but it cast its own light, and it had no scent. Oh well, Alan thought, tipping it back. I probably drank worse in College.
No earthly water had ever tasted so good. It was liquid light, pure and potent, and it wiped the exhaustion right out of Alan's limbs. Alan stared at the empty vial, wondering what such a substance would do in the Users' world. Red Bull's got nothing on this stuff, he thought.
"Here he comes," Tron announced, coming back down from the ramp. "Did you find it?"
"Just a basic security protocol on the storage container," Ram said, jogging up to them and holding out three vehicle batons in his hands. "Just like you said, Tron. Easy-peasy."
"CLU was a usurper himself, he knew how dangerous his position was," Tron said, taking one of the batons and inspecting it. He made a noise of satisfaction and handed it to Alan. "He had plenty of supplies put back in case someone tried to do to him what he did to Flynn."
"What am I going to do with this?" Alan asked uneasily, weighing the baton in his hand.
"I'm afraid these won't accommodate a spare rider," Tron said, apology in his voice. "They're very easy to pilot, Alan-1. You'll be fine."
Alan studied the grips of the baton, not convinced.
"We'll go up to the end of the road," Tron explained, "Jump off there, and we'll have a straight shot--"
"Jump." Alan looked at Tron, nonplussed. "From up there?"
"Your glider will format way, way before you'll hit the water," Ram said, in a way that was very much meant to be encouraging but very much wasn't.
"Step off the ledge, and separate your baton into two halves. The glider will format automatically. Like this." Tron stepped behind Alan and put his arms around him to demonstrate the proper motion. "You'll go first, and if there's any trouble I'll catch you."
"I begin to see why Sam did so well here," Alan said, with a nervous smile. "Only kid I'd know who'd go hang-gliding with nothing but a remote control."
"Alan-1," Tron said, as serene and serious as an effigy. "Trust me."
There was something so serious, so unswerving in Tron's face, that Alan found he was nodding even before he felt some of his anxiety subside. "All right, Tron."
"You'll be fine!" Ram said, bouncing back on his heels. "Now c'mon, I can't wait to try this baby out."
"Go ahead," Tron said. "I'll bring up the rear."
Leave the liability in the middle, Alan thought, as Ram whooped in excitement and sprinted up the ramp. He didn't even hesitate at the road's edge, vaulting into empty space and snapping the baton apart in his hands. For a split-second he seemed to hang there, suspended, as light blossomed around him like a water lily. Then out of light and nothing there were wings to catch him and jets to propel him. The waves below frothed with the report of his engine, and he pulled up in his glider to wait for the other two. It was Alan's turn now.
Alan had never been very good at leaps of faith. He looked over the edge, past his glowing boot-toes, at the gut-wrenching plummet below. He looked ahead, at Ram's craft hanging in a starless sky, at the beguiling gleam of the portal, where surely Flynn was waiting for them. He felt the reassuring pressure of Tron's hand in the small of his back.
Well, Alan Bradley, he thought, holding up the innocuous little control baton in front of him, What do you believe in?
"Believe me, Alan-1," Tron said, as though he could read his maker's thoughts. "I would never let you fall."
Alan took a last look at Tron's face, a deep breath, and then stepped off the edge into nothing.
For a fleeting instant he was paralyzed by pure mortal fear, and then logic stepped in. The wind screamed past him as he fell, but the moment the baton slid open in his hands, everything stopped. Suddenly he was buoyed upwards, pulled into a new trajectory just like the last-minute loop of a roller-coaster. From code and data a craft built itself into being, gleaming and black and white-rimmed. When Alan leaned forward, it accelerated, when he leaned back, it pulled up. Yaw and pitch were as easy as thought; thruster and trigger buttons rested under his thumbs just on the edge of the baton-halves, now curved steering grips. Alan executed a perfect little roll without even really trying.
Tron's voice came from somewhere nearby, their communications interlinked somehow. "I knew you'd be a natural," Tron said, as his own glider finished formatting. "Now let's go get Flynn so we can save this system."
Yes, Alan thought, I'd like to do just that. For answer, he gunned his glider's engine and shot forward towards the light, towards Flynn.
Alan had no concept of their speed, only that it had to be tremendous. The glider vibrated with only a slight hum, and the enclosed cockpit meant that there was no breeze to ruffle his hair. But the choppy waves of the Sea of Simulation became a smooth blur below, and the glow of the portal drew them on with a magnetic pull. It grew on the horizon until it became more than light. It was a thing, a place, a destination: the end of Alan's twenty-year quest.
For one raw, honest moment alone inside the glider, Alan admitted he was afraid. How long had the search for Flynn consumed his life? What would he do once the last bracket enclosed that line of code, making it inexorably finished forever?
They were landing before Alan had found an answer for himself. A stone docking platform rested at the bottom of a flagged flight of stairs, leading upwards to the portal. The portal itself, a blinding spear of light, hovered in the rocky crags of the mountains, with a commanding view of the Grid beyond.
"We don't know what we may find," Tron cautioned them, and pulled his identity disk from his back. "He may be hurt, he may be in danger, he may not know us."
"And he may not be alone," Ram added.
Tron's expression was answer enough to that. "Stay close to me, Alan-1," Tron said. "If it becomes too dangerous, escape through the portal."
"Is that an order, Tron?" Alan asked wryly, if only to see his program stammer.
"Of-of course not! But you must stay safe, above anything else."
"I have to finish this above anything else," Alan said, and Tron lowered his head in reluctant obedience. "But," he continued, "let's not be reckless about it, all right?"
They mounted the steps to the portal together, with Alan in front at his insistence, Tron and Ram flanking him closely with their disks drawn. Alan's heart was in his throat. A thousand scenarios flashed through his mind on that climb, each one more dire than the last. But of all the things he prepared for, he had not considered that they would come upon Flynn kneeling quietly at the portal's edge, serene as an acetic monk beside a koi pond.
Seeing Tron and Ram and Yori's faces had been a jolt for Alan; seeing Flynn was different. Instead of shock or surprise at the sight of his friend, now twenty years older, craggy and gray and bearded, Alan only had a quiet sense of completion. That's right, it seemed to say. That's Flynn.
"'Bout time you guys got here," Flynn said, without opening his eyes, without even stirring. He was dressed in simple blacks, with his robe spread out open beneath him, its illuminated lining mingling with the watery light of the portal to cast ripples of light and shadow over his face. "What's the matter? Miss your exit on the freeway, Bradley?"
"Traffic," Alan said, with a vague, helpless movement of his hand. "You know."
"I know, it's a real bitch out on the beltway." Flynn tilted his head to them at last. He looked at Tron, at Ram, and then let out a great and profound sigh, and smiled at Alan. "Damn, it's good to see you guys."
"Yeah," Alan said, unable to hold back his grin. "Yeah, it is."
"Sorry I'm not getting up just yet," Flynn said, and gestured underneath him, to the eddies of light swirling in the base of the portal. "Got a little problem, here."
The platform around the portal was cracked and broken; Alan only had to take a step forward to see that underneath them was a yellow cage of energy. In it, his eyes closed and with bits of his body rezzing in and out, was another Flynn. This one was dressed in a warrior's bodysuit and boots beneath Kevin Flynn's old leather jacket. His face was smooth and youthful, his hair unmarked by the first hint of gray.
Tron stepped forward with a snarl of rage, his identity disk raised.
"Whoa there," Flynn said, waving Tron back. "Sorry old friend, I'm afraid there's not much you can do about him. I've managed to keep him under, but I'll have to undo his code line by line if we're ever gonna get rid of him."
"CLU?" Alan asked Tron. Tron nodded, little more than a jerk of his chin downwards. Alan could hear the faint disk-grinding noise of him clenching his teeth.
"Reintegration didn't fully take," Flynn explained, and now that he was closer, Alan could see the code panel beneath Flynn's fingers. With every flick of his wrist, another part of CLU's form faded out, another bar formed in his prison. But as soon as that was done, a different bar would fizzle out, or some loose bits of data would find their way back into place. Flynn's work was being undone almost as soon as he did it. "His file's too big, and he's made too many changes to himself since we separated." Flynn blew up at his moustache in mild exasperation. "Damn hacker, I knew I made him too much like the first version."
"What can we do?" Alan asked. The sight of Flynn's younger face filled him with a deep unease, and he was glad for a chance to look away.
"Sam took my disk back with him," Flynn said, his fingers still busy over the code, "But I need a User's disk if I'm going to abort this asshole's startup. You willing to spot me for it, Bradley?"
"Sure," Alan said, and detached his identity disk from his back. "You want me to do it from here?"
"'Fraid I'll have to handle it," Flynn answered, "He's my mess, I'll clean it up. But you guys make sure he doesn't get out before I'm done." Flynn held out his hand for Alan's disk, prayer beads rattling back from his wrist. "And watch your step coming over here, man. It's slippery." Alan carefully stepped across the gap in the rock platform and bent down to hand the disk to Flynn. He wasn't sure, later, what first sounded the warning in his mind. It might have been Tron's noise of dismay as Alan moved out of his arm's reach. It might have been the tense angle of Flynn's fingers, fingers which in Alan's memory had always been deft and relaxed, even over the most obtuse string of code. It might have been the faintest hint of triumph in his welcoming smile. All Alan knew was that he looked down into his best friend's lined face, and saw the hexagonal pupils of a program looking back up at him.
In an instant, Alan understood the full nature of the deception. The edge of his identity disk flared white in recognition of the threat, and with a flick of his wrist Alan switched its angle from one of offering into one of attack. It was CLU, not Flynn, who waited for him there, and CLU who dodged Alan's attempted strike with the ease of an arena champion. Alan was a User, but he was not young, and even in Flynn's aged form CLU still had the instincts and strength of a gladiator in his prime. CLU rolled to his feet with appalling speed and crashed full-body into Alan, sending him flying across the platform. CLU's arm came down like a meteor, and Alan went numb from shoulder to fingertips from the impact. The identity disk tumbled from his hand.
"We could have done this the easy way," CLU growled, his hand closing around Alan's throat. Flynn's humble black gi reformmated into CLU's body armor, rimmed in deep gold lights. "But no. Believe me, Alan-1, I know all I need to about how to kill a User, and I don't have any pious little qualms about doing it." Black spots danced in front of Alan's vision as CLU's hand constricted around Alan's trachea.
The black spots had coalesced into a dark tunnel, a rapidly collapsing one with CLU's sneer at the other end of it. When the bright flash exploded at its terminus, Alan thought with detached calm that he was seeing his own death. Instead, the crushing pressure vanished, the light resolved into a familiar pattern of circuitry, and Tron hurled himself into CLU's hasty defense, his identity disk bright blue as it roared for vengeance.
"Alan-1! Get to Flynn!"
Alan scrambled to his feet, looking wildly around for his identity disk. When he finally spotted it, it was already in Ram's hand.
"Over here!" Ram called, unhooking a small device from his belt. Alan cast a fleeting glance at Tron, but he and CLU were keeping each other well occupied. He sprinted over to Ram, and gratefully accepted his disk back.
"I owe you one, Ram," Alan said, and never had he been so glad to see Ram's carefree grin.
"You're gonna owe me three or four by the time this is done," Ram said. The rod in his hand broke into three segments, the segments became a triangle, and suddenly he was holding a stirrup on a long rope of light. "There was more than gliders in that storage box, and I'm glad I helped myself to it."
"You think you can bypass the restraints CLU's put on Flynn?" Alan asked, already knowing the answer.
"I'd have to be a User," Ram said, looking over the lip of the platform. "But I can cover you while you do it. Get on, I'll lower you down. And make it fast, I don't know how long Tron's gonna be able to hold CLU off. He wants your disk."
"What he wants is out," Alan said, shoving his boot through the support. The rope was made of light, but it felt sturdy and smooth in Alan's hands. "And he was willing to trade forms with Flynn to do it."
Ram braced himself on the edge of the platform, and Alan swallowed back his fear and jumped. The lead ravled out for a few feet before it snapped taut in Ram's hands, and Alan spiraled slowly down towards Flynn's cage, his coat billowing out around him.
With CLU preoccupied, Flynn was no longer losing bits of himself into the portal's data stream. The bars surrounding him were losing their light, but not fast enough. Alan reached out for Flynn, and a Grid control panel met his outstreched fingers. They tingled with static as he sought to undo the knots CLU had bound around his creator. Alan blocked out the sounds of the fight above, blocked out Ram's urgent call for him to hurry, blocked out the sight of Flynn's vunerable body, and thought about the code.
Flynn would tell me to go faster, Alan thought, as a drop of sweat beaded beneath his glasses earpiece and slid down his jaw. The portal belched out a burst of energy, ruffling his coat and his hair, and Alan realized he had forgotten to keep track of how long he had been there. How much longer did he have before the portal closed? Doesn't matter, Alan thought, unraveling CLU's malicious bonds. With each one that came loose, Flynn's body twitched. CLU had not only made them binding, he had made them painful. Only Flynn matters.
From above there was a cry of pain, a terrible noise of grating energy, a dull thud, and Ram shouted Tron's name. Alan's tether jerked down a foot and then swung free; Alan looked up just in time to see Ram hurling his slight form at CLU. Tron lay sprawled on the rock at CLU's feet. Alan was on his own.
"Come on, come on," Alan told himself, his fingers flying over the panel. There were only six restraints left. Now there were only four. Two. Then none. Flynn was free, and he was falling. Alan's arm shot out and caught a fist-full of leather jacket, his arm tendons twinged in protest as he hauled a not-yet conscious Kevin Flynn against his shoulder. The jolt triggered some retracting device in the line, pulling them back to the platform with agonizing slowness.
"Last time I drink any of your daiquiris, man." Flynn muttered into Alan's collar. "Tell the guy with the jackhammer to lay off."
"You tell him," Alan said. Flynn lifted his head, blinked at him, and Alan didn't need to see round pupils to know he had the right Flynn at last, never mind that he didn't look a day over thirty-five. "Fancy meeting you here."
Flynn looked at Alan, down at the abyss below, then up at the battle above. "Jesus, Bradley, I could kiss you."
"Might not be the best time right now."
"Never stopped me before," Flynn said, and jerked on the line to make it go faster. "Now let's clean up this one-horse town."
"You'd better, Junior up there is picking on my program."
"He swapped places with me in the reintegration, just before I contained him," Flynn said, with a flicker of annoyance. "I admit it, I wasn't expecting him to go that far. But hey, I really ought to thank him for the face lift."
"I'm kind of jealous, honestly," Alan admitted. "But all things considered, Flynn, I think it would have been easier just to get some damn botox."
Flynn blinked at him. "Botox? What's that? Sounds like a bad Dr. Who villain. Does he scour off your wrinkles with a death ray or something?"
And even with the portal whipping energy around them and swinging them wildly on their precarious tether, even with the battle going on above, even with twenty years of too much hope and grief, even though it wasn't even that funny, Alan put his head against Flynn's shoulder and laughed with him until the tears pooled up under his glasses, until the grappling line had retracted as far as it would go.
Flynn put his hands on the edge of the ledge and vaulted up, then reached down to pull Alan to safety. Alan's boots touched down on the platform just as CLU sent Ram flying into a pile of rubble. CLU turned and saw them there, his eyes alight with a terrible joy.
"Why the shocked face, Flynn?" he shouted. "Did you think I wanted to be absorbed back into your sorry existence?"
"I dunno," Flynn said, easily. "Looks like you took a fancy to my face."
"My face, now," CLU said. "And when you're gone, the only Kevin Flynn on the Grid or the User world will be me."
"I don't think so." Flynn dropped to one knee but it was not surrender, as a large panel of grid interface rose before him. It was a dark mirror both reflective and translucent, and through it, Flynn's newly youthful face looked back at the old one that CLU had stolen.
CLU was striding towards them, Ram's identity disk in his hand.
"You might want to go a little faster," Alan said, drawing his own disk, though he had very little idea of what to do with it.
"Don't rush me," Flynn retorted. "Never rush genius."
"If I meet any, I'll remember that," Alan said, and raised his disk in defense.
Flynn swept his hand over the panel, and CLU's rush slowed as though he was mired in tar, the solid bars of his lights breaking into flickering segments.
"Draining my power cycles?" CLU sneered, with a little shake of his head. "Come on, Flynn. Is that the best you can do?"
"Looks like it's gummed you up pretty good," Flynn answered, standing.
"It's temporary, at best." CLU's lip curled in disgust. "An imperfect solution, just as I would expect from an imperfect pair of Users. You can't kill me, Flynn. You never could."
"No," Flynn said, his voice raspy with emotion. "No, I couldn't, CLU. Because I made you, because your flaws are my fault, because in spite of everything you've done you're still my program." He closed his eyes and looked away, his throat working. "I can't destroy you. I won't."
CLU's lights pulsed, he ripped one boot from the platform as his power surged back again. "But you know I can destroy you."
"Flynn," Alan said, though his teeth. But Flynn did not move, just standing there with his eyes shut as CLU advanced.
"When you're gone," CLU said, raising his disk, "The system will be free of its last imperfection. Goodbye, Kevin Flynn."
"Flynn!" Alan shouted, in patent disbelief that after all this time, all these years, all his searching, that Kevin Flynn would simply stand there and let CLU strike him down. Alan was too far away, too slow, too unskilled to stop that blow. But he moved forward anyway, watching the terrible arc of light as CLU's attack descended---and failed to connect.
Flynn opened his eyes. The identity disk in CLU's hand had stopped, scant millimeters from Flynn's face. At first Alan thought CLU had simply hesitated, and then he saw the figure crouched behind CLU, saw the thread-fine line of light that marked a cut through CLU's body from crown to navel.
"He can't destroy you," Tron said, his disk purring, his eyes aflame, "But I can."
CLU's existence shattered into infinity, a million sparkling crystals that were swept into the portal's vortex, swirled into its stream, and vanished. Flynn looked down at the place where CLU had been standing. Slowly, he knelt and picked up a string of black Buddhist prayer beads from the pitted surface of the platform.
"Forgive me, Flynn," Tron said, still breathing hard from his attack. "I should have done it cycles ago."
For a long moment Flynn said nothing, then he looped the beads back round his wrist, reached out with both arms, and pulled Tron into a fierce embrace. Alan, feeling very much like a third wheel, picked up Ram's identity disk and hurried over to where the tracking program lay in an untidy heap by the wall.
"Tell my User," Ram said, struggling to sit up, "That if he really wants me to keep up with the close-quarters combat, I'm gonna need a few upgrades."
"You can tell him yourself," Alan said, draping one of Ram's arms over his shoulder and pulling him up, "because the only way Roy's gonna believe a word of this is if I send him in here myself. Come on, you're going to be fine. Let's have Flynn look at that leg." Together they made their way back to Tron and Flynn, only to have Flynn yank them both into the hug along with Tron.
"I'm not even gonna ask how you got here," Flynn said, ruffling Ram's hair one-handed. "Does Roy name all of his programs Ram?"
"Only the good ones," Alan and Ram said together, and even Tron joined in with the laughter this time.
"Well," Alan said, glancing over his shoulder at the portal, "I guess we should get going, Flynn."
Flynn's smiling face went still, and Alan realized that no matter what he looked like, something of that old man's experience would stay behind his eyes. "Yeah, Alan," Flynn said. "I guess you should."
"You're not coming, are you." Alan had somehow known it the entire time.
"Like this?" Flynn summed himself up with one hand. "Do you know the hell that would break loose if I turned up looking like the day I left? And even if not..." Flynn balled his fists in his jacket pockets and squinted down the horizon, towards the city. "God dammit, Alan, this place is a worse mess than it was when I started. I can't just leave it like this. It's my fault anyway, trying to live two lives, to do everything at once and my way, making CLU and Tron do my dirty work." He looked back at Alan, made an apologetic shrug. "I've got a second chance to put things right, and it's what I'm going to do. I'll stay until it's done, this time. Sam will understand."
"I hope so," Alan sighed, heavily.
"Hey," Flynn spread out his arms, "he can come visit his old man whenever he wants to lend a hand, or to get his ass handed to him on a lightcycle. And the same thing goes for you, too. But it's Sam's time in the Users' world now, and I would just get in the way."
"You're staying?" Tron said, as though he had taken the whole time to get his head around the fact.
"That's right, man," Flynn said, clapping a hand on Tron's shoulder. "As long as it takes. You don't mind, do you?"
Tron burst into a smile, and Alan thought that the portal dimmed a little in comparison. "Of course I don't mind!"
"Good thing, because I'm probably staying at your place."
"I don't have a place," Tron admitted.
"And the one we sorta had in the arena got blown up," Ram put in.
"Huh," Flynn said. "I guess that's the first order of business." He cocked an eyebrow at Alan. "You'd better get going, Bradley, otherwise you're gonna have to help us move."
"And what am I supposed to tell Sam?" Alan asked, feeling a little helpless.
"Tell him," Flynn began, with a second's pause to gather his thoughts, "...that we're still on the same team."
"Come back when you can," Tron said, reaching out to take his User's hand in his, in a somber handshake. "We'll need your help, and I want to race you on your own lightcycle someday."
"Bits and bytes, Tron," Ram said, rolling his eyes. "Will you just hug him like you want to?"
Chagrined, Tron let Alan pull him close for a moment, cheek to cheek in a silent farewell.
"Get outta here, old man," Flynn said, coming up to hug him next. "And bring that kid of mine next time," he added, as Ram limped over for his turn to say goodbye.
"Here," Alan said, handing his glider baton to Flynn, "You'll need this."
"Thanks for bringing me here, Alan," Ram said. "Tell Roy I said, Kevin Flynn, location confirmed."
"I will," Alan promised. The portal's energy beam kicked up another burst of energy, and Alan knew he was running out of time. "I have a bad feeling I know what I have to do, here."
Flynn laughed. "Yeah, you know it. Just like the game poster."
"Too old for this," Alan muttered, but he was laughing, walking down the gangplank to the portal's epicenter. His identity disk slid from his back and into his hand. He raised his disk into the light of the portal, feeling the current tugging it free from his hands. As it slipped out of his fingers, he looked back at them one last time. Flynn was standing at the edge of the platform, one arm casually looped around Tron's waist and the other resting across Ram's shoulders, one hand lifted in farewell. Alan had the peculiar feeling that as much as one part of him was leaving, another part was staying there in the form of Tron, tall and protective at Flynn's side.
You know, Alan thought to himself, For the first time in twenty years, I think everything's going to be all right. Alan had just long enough to smile back at them before the light folded around him, pulled him apart, and put him back together again in a corner of Sam's apartment.
The portal had gone dark. Flynn finished picking out the last bits of error code from Tron's disk, and Ram gingerly tested his weight on his mended leg.
"All done," Flynn said, latching Tron's disk into place. "Next time don't go sticking two disks on at once, okay?"
"There won't be a next time like that," Tron assured him, with a deep sigh of relief as his data flowed through him, completely uncorrupted once more.
"I hope the hell not," Flynn said, dusting his hands off on his knees. "'Cos we've got a lot to do, and it's just the three of us."
"Again," Ram said, looking back towards the city, a peculiar, restrained kind of smile on his lips.
Flynn and Tron looked at each other, then at Ram.
"Again?" Tron repeated, with a suspicious stare.
"But then," Ram went on, as though Tron hadn't spoken, "It was enough last time, should be enough this time. After all," his smile burst into his familiar, lopsided grin, "I never have found anyone with an army for rent."
"Ram," Flynn began, slowly, "I thought you said you were 6.0. But are you actually--"
"No point hanging around here!" Ram said, pulling out his glider baton. "C'mon, we've got a system to kick into shape!" He vaulted off the portal platform and rose up again with his glider around him; the engines spat out a ribbon of energy as he shot off towards the city.
"Hell, Tron," Flynn said, breaking into a run, "We're not gonna let him beat us there, are we?"
"Not on my watch," Tron answered, sprinting after. A second later two more gliders materialized at the portal's edge, leaving behind an intertwined exhaust trail of light as they roared back towards the City on the horizon.