by Tenshi

I'm the screen, the blinding light
I'm the screen, I work at night
I see today with a newsprint fray
My night is colored headache gray

-R.E.M. Daysleeper

The Headquarters of the Flynn Lives movement moved around on a fairly regular basis, from warehouse to shuttered garage to the trunk of Roy's car. The changes were partly from precaution--it was never wise to stay in one location for too long--and partly desperation, when funds ran thin or Federal Agents got a little too hot on the trail. But if there was one constant to the long string of dives and basements and oversized closets, it was that Roy Kleinberg was invariably up too late in them.

It was easy to lose track of hours in places that never had windows, lit only by persnickety bars of fluorescent light or the indifferent hum of computer monitors. Roy's kith and kin on the other side of the screen were not constrained by traditional diurnal cadence; hackers on the whole tended to be disinclined to sunlight. Most of them were all of twenty-five or less, most of them easily assumed that the elusive ZackAttack was also. In truth it was no life for a man closer to fifty than forty, with a bank account that rattled when shaken and four carpal tunnel operations to his credit. More than once he thought that he should leave technology to the young, to those who regularly saw 2 a.m. without the slightest effort. Certainly Encom thought so, hiring new programmers when they were still hungover from their college graduation parties, then throwing employees out the door the instant they showed a gray hair. But then Roy thought of what Flynn would say, as he so often thought of what Flynn would say. And then he would crack open another canned espresso and keep going.

Technology belongs to everyone, was the quote that came to Roy's mind most frequently, although sometimes it was Never surrender a goddamn inch of what you believe in when it's right, and never for the sake of being acceptable. On rare occasion it would be some of his more colorful comments about Marketing and where they could shove their Cost Projections--they were Philistines in the Temple as far as Flynn had been concerned. Flynn had never been too worried about making money--something that gave the stockholders apoplexy--but he made it by the ton, almost effortlessly. Flynn had always listened to the young rather than to the nibbling parasites of the corporate world; yet he had never fallen into the trap of ignoring the wisdom of the old as a consequence. The Encom cuts of the 90's would have been unthinkable to him. The thought of his disapproval was the only thing that soothed the ugly, painful scar of that moment in Roy's mind. Flynn would never have let this happen.

And once again Roy caught himself thinking of Kevin Flynn in the past tense.

"Dammit, Kevin," he breathed, and returned to the perl subroutine he was writing with renewed vigor. For a long time the basement was filled with the sound of clacking keys, the occasional chirps from the Tron arcade machine in the corner, and the intermittent buzz of a beetle dying in the overhead light. As an action soundtrack it was sorely lacking, but Roy had learned long ago it was never a good idea to code to any other music. The times that INXS lyrics had wandered into his code were not easily forgettable. Nor was the flack he got from Flynn for listening to INXS in the first place.

The beep of the door alarm cut through the comfortable static in Roy's ears; he tensed like a hare ready to spring. Only one other man had the key to that door and the number code to the security system, yet Roy didn't start breathing again until Alan Bradley ducked down under the low lintel of the basement door.

"Little late for respectable guys like you to be up, isn't it?" Roy flipped his glasses up onto his hair, and squinted at Alan. "It's almost one."

"Couldn't sleep," Alan admitted. Roy believed it; Alan was wearing jeans and an old CalTech t-shirt under his coat, his face was haggard.

"Still chewing on the latest Encom internal memo?" Roy asked, and Alan's mouth drew back as though he had swallowed something half a second before he realized it was rotten.

"You read that already, I guess."

"I read it before it was released," Roy said, with a shrug. "Kaitlyn down in PR couldn't write a decent password if her life depended on it. On the other hand, her emails to her boyfriend make for entertaining reading." He sighed. "Yet another brilliant tactical move from your CEO, huh?"

"Just when I think Mackey can't dirty Flynn's reputation any more, he turns around with something like this." Alan's scowl deepened. "Coming out with a social network purported to be the open information exchange Flynn always endorsed, yet in reality designed to fleece personal information from users and then sold off to the highest bidder. And they have the gall to name it after him."

"Don't worry," Roy said, turning back to his screen. "Once I'm done with this, Flynnster's servers will be bombed from a DoS attack from what will look like Encom's own satellite office in Mumbai. I've already published the internal memo alongside the press release, as well as a run-down of the exploitative language in the ToS and a zip of the system code, complete with the re-routing protocol for the info-skimming. It's probably already in the email inbox of every tech reporter in the country. Mackey's going to have a lot of questions to answer in the morning." Roy cracked his knuckles, unable to repress his smug grin.

"And here I thought you didn't enjoy your work," Alan said, leaning on the side of the Tron machine.

"It could stand to pay better," Roy countered. "And the hours suck."

"The dress code must be nice, though," Alan returned, and Roy shot him a withering look.

"Cf. my comment about paying better." Roy rolled his shoulders, but it didn't do anything to ease the stiff pain in his neck. "And it would be nice to see another living being once in a while, besides you and the graveyard-shift clerk at the 7-11."

"I've been telling you for years that you ought to get out more."

"I don't really have room for a social life, Alan." Roy pulled his glasses back down to his face, and tapped the enter key a few times with his pinkie. "Just as well my profile on Single Jewish Gay Hackers Over 40 doesn't get a lot of pings."

Alan lifted his eyebrows. "Have you ever thought about using a less specific dating service?"

"I'm not using a dating service at all, Alan, I was being sarcastic." Roy noticed a missing hashmark in his code, and scrolled back up to repair it. "Tell me, what's the first thing you get asked on a blind date?"

Alan mulled this over for half a second. "...What you do for a living."

"Exactly. And starting out a relationship on a big fat lie is not exactly how I want to go." He flicked his eyes to Alan, the green text of his monitor hovering like a ghost in the lenses of his glasses. "I'm married to the Movement, Alan. It might not be a great lay, but at least we know what to expect from one another."

Roy thought he detected a trace of guilt in Alan's wince. Roy knew that Alan knew how he felt, and knew that Roy had felt it ever since a good-looking, leggy, 25 year-old Alan Bradley had moved into the cube in front of Roy, bringing his popcorn maker and his unspeakably fine ass with him. You don't keep too many secrets when you've been friends with a man for thirty years, not even when those secrets are painful. It wasn't Alan's fault that both of them were in love with Flynn, not with each other. It wasn't Alan's fault that he had the public job, the nice car, the brilliant and beautiful blond wife. But sometimes Alan felt like it was his fault, and sometimes Roy didn't trip over himself to convince Alan otherwise.

"Still. You should spend more time out of your lair, here. Or at least get a pet or something."

"It'd have to be a low-maintenance vampire bat," Roy said. "Or maybe just a vampire."

Alan made a noise, like a laugh that wanted to get out of his throat but knew the gig wasn't worth the effort. For a while he just stood there, the flaring lights of the arcade game painting unnatural colors into his silvering hair, while Roy fought a revolution one character at a time.

"How much more of that have you got?" he asked, at last.

"Just finished," Roy said, with a satisfied final tap. "Next time Mumbai tries to send an info packet out over the net, it's going to set holy hell loose over at Encom." His shrug was modest, but his smile was pleased. "Maybe it's not as flashy as some of Sam's business, but it works."

"You do good work, Roy."

Roy made a dismissive noise in his throat. "I do what I can."

"So! I guess it's too late for dinner," Alan speculated.

"And too soon for breakfast," Roy added. "Why, you hungry?"

"Starving," Alan admitted. "And you need to eat something besides stale popcorn and protein bars. That coffee bar down by the University is open 24 hours, and they've got good sandwiches. Come on. My treat."

Roy made a vague gesture at his monitor. "But Encom--"

"Fuck Encom," Alan said, in a little breath of annoyance. "I've lost enough sleep over them tonight, and so have you. At least you don't have to lie to me about what you do."

Roy took one last look at his monitor, then pulled his old camo jacket off the back of his chair. "Yeah," he said. "Honor among thieves, I guess."

"We aren't the thieves here, Roy," Alan reminded him.

Roy's computer let off a little beep, a subtle notification that the code had gone live. "Oh? What else creeps around in the night like this?"

Alan pursed his lips thoughtfully, but Roy didn't get an answer to his question until he arrived at the office two nights later. A wire cage had been placed in the middle of his desk. It was topped off with a red bow and the official, Encom-letterheaded announcement regarding the cessation of their Flynnster social network, pending legal difficulties. Inside the cage was a tiny silver hamster roughly the size of Roy's thumb, running like gangbusters inside his blue plastic wheel, fat face crammed full of sunflower kernels. A note in Alan's left-angled, precise handwriting said only: He's nocturnal.

Roy fell down in his battered old Encom cast-off office chair, hand to his mouth, and laughed until the hamster stopped running and stared at his new owner in beady-eyed confusion.

"Well," Roy said, dipping his hand in the cage to pet the handful of fuzz. "I guess you aren't going to mind if I stay up too late, huh?" In answer, the hamster ran over Roy's fingers, tried his teeth on Roy's thumbnail, and then nosed into the cuff of his hoodie. "Here," Roy said, scooping him up with one hand, and reaching for the bowl on his desk with the other. "...You like popcorn?"

The answer to this was an obvious yes, as the tiny animal tried to cram the entire kernel into his mouth, in spite of the fact that it was bigger than his head.

"Nocturnal and with a habit of biting off more than you can chew," Roy said, glad to have someone to talk to besides his own bad memories, and the ghost of Kevin Flynn. "I guess we've got that in common. And it's good to have an office-mate again." He released the hamster back into its cage, latched it shut, and then powered up his computer for another night's work.


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