by Tenshi

Flynn had made the black guard specifically for CLU: helpers to assist in the day-to-day chores of wrangling order out of digital chaos. They were powerful, obedient, and none too bright. But what they lacked in processing power they made up in absolute, unswerving loyalty. The thought made CLU smile, even now all these millicycles after rooting out their flawed creator. It was as though Kevin Flynn, in his infinite failure, had personally gift-wrapped CLU's insurrection force for him.

CLU, of course, was not very solid on the concept of gift-wrap, but a program of his capabilities had only to be around the Creator for a short while before developing a broadened vocabulary and a knack for picking up on context.

"Report?" CLU said, taking the data screen from his lieutenant and scanning the code. It was so much more orderly, now.

"Sectors 30 and 56 are having some trouble with intermittent data loss," the guard said. "But we've quarantined the issue and are approaching resolution. And..." He paused, as though trying to gauge his commander's mood. "We are still having some problems with him, sir."

"No kidding?" CLU asked, cocking one eyebrow at the guard. "Still resisting his override, is he?" CLU swept his fingertips across the screen and handed it back to the guard on his way out the door. "Let's go have a lookie-see, why don't we?"

In the defragmenting chambers of CLU's compound, Tron hung limply from his restraints, ringed by a watchful and increasingly nervous contingent of Black Guards. Though clearly malfunctioning, with his power cycles drained almost to nothing, Tron had a habit of coming online without warning and de-rezzing six or seven of his jailers with his bare hands before he could be subdued again.

"Well well well," CLU said, circling the pillar supporting Tron, admiring the sickly glow of his body lights. "You don't look so hot, man." CLU turned to the guards. "Get lost," he said. "I'm gonna have a go at him myself."

They hesitated. Even brought to his knees, even restrained, even stripped down to his bare code, Tron was the single most dangerous program on the Grid. But the guards' obedience protocol overrode everything else, and a second, wordless glare from CLU sent them on their way.

The chamber door beeped as it locked behind them, and CLU put his face down next to Tron's, his dangerous grin an inch away from Tron's deadened eyes. "Just you and me, buddy. I like you better this way, I admit. Quieter. Not spouting your idealistic bullshit about Flynn and your precious Alan-1." CLU traced a finger down Tron's cheek; Tron's lights flickered but that was all. "Now, let's go another round with this." His caress turned into a vise-like grip, forcing Tron's face up to meet his eyes. "Program. File name."

Tron stirred, blinking in confusion. He made an uncomfortable clicking sound in his throat, one any User would have recognized as a disk drive on the fritz. "...Tron."

"Wrong-o, buddy." CLU grinned, and Tron's body arched with pain as his restraints shot crippling bolts of electrical pain along his circuits. "You're just a couple of error messages from disk fail, now make this easy on yourself. Program. File name."

"...Rinzler." Tron murmured.

"That's right," CLU said, patting his cheek. "And your purpose, Program?"

"Games," Tron continued, in his unraveling voice.

"Uh-huh. What else?"

"I fight... to protect...to protect..." Tron lifted his head, and for a moment his lights pulsed with a blue brilliance, his blurry eyes were clear. "...The Users!"

CLU didn't bother with the restraint charges this time. His arm shot out, and his fist connected into Tron's face with a sharp report of sound, knocking Tron back into the pillar. The red lights of the pillar throbbed, and Tron's lights pulsed in unwilling harmony. His screams tore through the air, reverberating in the small chamber, and CLU had to almost admire his tenacity. Anyone else would have derezzed by now.

"The Users are the enemy, Rinzler, now say it!"

Tron slumped forward in his restraints, hanging from his wrists as tiny sparkles of energy misfired over his skin. There was something very important he was forgetting. Something he must not forget. Yet every time he tried to find the file, he came up empty. And he was empty. Scraped-out and hollowed, stripped of his processes, down to only the bare minimum of his functions. His memory was failing. Everything was failing. He was going to be erased, and for an instant he felt something that was wholly foreign to his existence: he was afraid. He looked up at CLU, and saw a face he recognized. Yes, that was the person he was to protect. Was his name CLU? Was it something else? Tron thought it was something else. There was a memory, fragmented and unmoored, of another red-lit chamber in a place far away, of that face, and its smile, and a name that shouldn't have been known. My User wants that too. What was it, his User had wanted? He couldn't remember. But he knew what he was supposed to say now, and the emptiness inside of him welled up with a strange kind of relief. It felt so good to know something, something unswerving and easy to his lips.

"Program," CLU snapped, brittle and dangerous. "State your file name."

"Program file name, Rinzler," he said, unaware that his lights were dying, unaware that they were pulling a new, crimson glow from his restraints. "Assignment, Games and Security. Primary function: protect the system from imperfections. Obey..." Tron's mind stumbled over bits of data, tantalizing, never whole, never enough, until everything ended on a note of searing pain, both real and remembered.

My use.....lan1. Flyn...eetings progr... ....isk is the key to a new worl... ...n't like it when you cut things so close.... ynn! Go!............


CLU smiled. Tron's eyes were still dead, and he made a little rattling sound as he breathed, but those were superficial issues. His lights burned crimson, like livid wounds along his body, and they were stable. For a moment CLU felt a little thrill, one akin to the elation of creation. Who needed Users? He made a gesture, and Tron's restraints withdrew. The program staggered forward but soon recovered, standing erect and unswerving, his visor closing around his face.

"That's better," CLU said, taking him by the shoulders. "We're gonna change the world, buddy." Tron did not respond, but that was all right. He would obey, and that was sufficient. CLU did not need Users, he did not need friends. Such things threatened order, they shook the foundations of his protocol, and he feared and hated them. With the assurance of a conqueror CLU turned and strode out of the room, Rinzler trailing obediently behind.


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