While You Were Out

by Tenshi

Alan Bradley returned to the office after his first three-day weekend in six months, and found his desk awash in a tide of pink paper. On closer examination, the deluge was comprised of multiple While-You-Were-Out notes, with the ones on the bottom (being oldest) filled in neatly by Flynn's secretary. Those were fully formed questions, complete with date and time. Let me know about the Verbisware idea, was one; another said: Get down to the art department when you can, the graphic guys need your face for the design on the side of the Tron cabinet. The more recent ones, on top, had degenerated into broken syntax in Flynn's own handwriting, the last one saying only "WHAT," written in what looked like kung-pao chicken sauce.

Alan waved the note in front of his nose. Yep. Uncle Foo's #26 combo, with extra hot mustard. Kevin Flynn had worked through the weekend again. Alan sighed, put his briefcase down on the fluffy pile of notes, and grabbed a random handful of them before heading right back out to the elevator.

The hall to the CEO's office had changed considerably since Ed Dillinger's days. The oppressive black scheme had been replaced with silver gray and pale blue; the soulless relics of modern art in the niches were gone in favor of Japanese prints and one of the original Harryhausen skeleton puppets from Jason and the Argonauts.

The massive console desk was the same, only at the moment it was covered in wires and guts from what had once been a standard Encom terminal, and Kevin Flynn was looking down at the carnage as though he wasn't quite sure how it had come into being.

"Do I have to be on the side of the machine?" Alan said, in greeting. He held up the kung-pao note. "And I would appreciate it if you would stop sending me messages in condiment form."

"Of course you have to be on the side of the machine," Flynn said, picking up a bit of circuit board. "And I couldn't find my pen." He looked up at Alan at last. "Have a good time in L.A.? Good." He had not paused for Alan to answer. "Thank God you're back. I've lost a chip here, somewhere. Help me find it."

"I think you've lost several chips," Alan said, meaningfully. "When was the last time you worked less than a twelve-hour day?"

"I have to put this back together before Roy gets in at ten." Flynn said, in quiet desperation. "Can we talk about my schedule later?"

"Do I need to ask why, exactly, you've dismembered Roy's terminal and scattered it over a ten-foot radius?"

"I was looking for Ram."

Alan pointed at a chunk of hardware. "...It's right there."

"Not it, Alan. Him. And then I thought there might be some data left in the--ah-ha!" Flynn broke off with a noise of triumph, and held up the missing chip. "Found it."

"And humanity breathes a sigh of relief." Alan stood there for another second, as Flynn began scooping Roy's computer into tidy piles, then he crossed over the plush carpet to help. "You do know you're working too hard," he said, sliding one of the expansion cards back into the frame.

"I had no idea," Flynn said, twirling screws back into place with an expert deftness of thumb and forefinger.

"Flynn, I mean it." Alan got no reply; Flynn was making himself busy with the casing of Roy's terminal. "When was the last time you had a day off?"

Flynn lifted his head and stared speculatively off into the distance. "...What year is it, again?"

"I'm serious, here!"

"Okay okay okay," Flynn said. "I really want to get this Tron game out, that's all."

"And taking Roy's computer apart is imperative to this process?"

"Taking Roy's computer apart is personal." Flynn grunted, snapping the casing back around the skeleton of the machine. "And I could tell you why, but you'd think I was crazy."

Alan leaned forward, hands loose between his knees. "Flynn," he said, in a confidential murmur, "I already think you're crazy."

Flynn leaned over as well, to meet Alan's eyes. "And I love you too, Alan Bradley," he said.

Alan fell back with a splutter of air, defeated. Flynn had the single most disarming tactic of cranking his charisma beam up to full blast when he wanted to. "Don't let Lora hear you say that," he said, though they both knew Lora knew it, and after their three trips to Hawaii together and the distinctly unrepeatable events of New Year's Eve 1982, she would have to. As a matter of fact, she had been the most sober one between the three of them. Not that that was saying much.

"Yeah, Yeah." Flynn plugged fat ribbons of connecting wire back into the back of the terminal. "She ever gonna make an honest man out of you?"


"Because when she does, she'd better pick out a nice bridesmaid's dress for me. I don't want some ugly-ass chiffon thing with a pale green sun hat."

"Flynn!" Alan said, with considerably more alarm.

"Though I guess we could do the ceremony down in the laser bay, in radiation jumpsuits. Sort of a homage to your relationship. What do you think?"

"I think," Alan said, through his teeth, "You still haven't told me what you're doing with Roy's computer."

Flynn heaved a great sigh, put down his screwdriver, folded his hands on his desk, and pinned Alan into his chair with an expression so serious, so severe, that it was downright discomfiting. Flynn could switch from devil-may-care to deadly intent on the edge of a dime, and even after all this time Alan still had not gotten the hang of bracing for it before it came. "I told Roy I wanted to jack up his processing speed so he could push a little more out for the game graphics, that's all. And I did that. But also I wanted to look for something, see if his hard memory had any code traces of a program he wrote for his brother-in-law's company back in the winter of '81."

"I remember that program. Some kind of insurance thing, wasn't?"

"Actuarial," Flynn said, and Alan Bradley had never seen anyone, much less Kevin Flynn, look so intense over anything to do with financial process programs.

"I'm sure he'd write you a newer version if you wanted one for Encom's finances--" Alan began, but he knew almost at once that it was the wrong thing to say. Something in Flynn's face closed like the edges of an oyster, working the painful intrusion of Alan's words into a pearl. "...Did you find it?" Alan finished, lamely. "The code?"

"No," Flynn breathed, looking down at the mostly-reassembled computer. "No. I didn't. I guess when something's gone it's just... gone."

"Flynn," Alan said, but gently this time, in the hopes of pulling his friend back from some dark, impenetrable place in his memories. "Listen. Maybe you should take just an extra day, or something. Encom'll be fine."

Flynn shook his head. "I know what you're trying to do, Alan. And I appreciate it. Really. But I--I really want to get Tron to the public as soon as I can. If I was home I'd just be lying awake thinking about it. I'm better off here."

"I saw the production art you've got up in the breakroom," Alan said. "It looks incredible."

Flynn made a little modest shrug. "Yeah. They did a great job. Wish we could cram more graphic capacity out of the machines to really get the feel of the place."

"I know Tron is the reason we've got Encom back," Alan said, cautiously. "And I know it's the first game you're producing, start-to-finish, as head of Encom. I know it's important to you."

"If you know it's so important to me, man," Flynn breathed, "Why don't you just trust me?" He ran his hands down the sides of Roy's reassembled computer, as though caressing a newborn baby.

Alan bit his lip. "Okay," he said, at last. "Okay, Flynn. But next time, just call me when I'm out of the office, will you? I feel bad for all the trees slaughtered for the sake of those memos."

"Be pretty cool if you could send memos through your phone," Flynn said, with a speculative gleam.

"Yes, and then I could have the immediate pleasure of reading notes like--" Alan picked a note out of the pile he'd brought up, and skimmed it. His eyes widened slightly behind his glasses. "You know," he said, tearing the note into bits, his face suffused with color, "you really shouldn't write stuff like that on company property."

"Be glad I didn't dictate that one to my secretary," Flynn chortled, lolling back in his chair with a smirk that was positively indecent. "Now!" He smacked his chair armrests to indicate that the time for talk was done. "I gotta take this back down to the programming bullpen, and you've got to get down to the art department. We're talking action figures now, you know."

Alan groaned. "Look, Flynn. I know you're trying to include me in all this because Tron is my program, but why the hell does he have to look like me?"

"...Because he does," Flynn said, simply.

Some cold kind of foreboding hardened in Alan's belly, a distinct discomfort that he had come to associate with the Tron game, and with the way Flynn talked about it as though he had been there. There was no question about how he wanted the thing to look, how Recognizers should move and sound, how it felt to be a program inside a computer, serving the capricious will of an unseen User. Alan thought about a humble orange being stripped out of existence and then pulled back into it again, and wished he hadn't.

"C'mon," Flynn heaved Roy's terminal onto a wheeled data cart, and steered it towards the hall. "I'll stop down in Graphics with you. Wait till you see your final costume design."

"I did see my costume design," Alan grumbled, rising to follow. "If you can call it that, it looked more like a thin coat of gloss latex. I don't have to wear that, do I?"

"That depends," Flynn said, with a smirk. "Did you get my message from 3:57 A.M. on Sunday?"

"Oh, god," Alan groaned, and though it was against his better judgment, he followed Flynn into the elevator.


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