Fic: What They Needed Part 2/5
on Tuesday, January, 03, 2012 4:17 AM
Part 2 - Indigo
Yori's outpost was the abandoned I/O tower at the edge of the Simulation Sea. The roof caved in where the beam once shone, rubble strewn across what was once beautiful grounds. It was not always abandoned, nor was it always in such disrepair. It was once the first building in the Grid. When this was a free system, she manned the gates, welcoming their transfer from the old ENCOM system or their creation as new Programs.
It had been beautiful once, the shining tower with a bright beacon casting its glow over the pristine sea, surrounded by intricately programmed gardens of artificial life Flynn brought to the Grid; pyreflies with their tiny, dancing light, green-lined constructs Flynn likened to "plants" and "flowers." Tiny applications and the odd Bit would make visitors laugh or leap into their laps for a scratch on the head or drink of energy. The centerpiece was a small power spring and a wall where symbolic disks could be drawn, a memorial to those who had gone to the void. It was a place for reflection and rest, for laughter and remembrance.
Now, only the small power spring remained as one of the only things she managed to purify. The sea itself remained poisoned and dead. The "flowers and plants" were de-rezzed and Yori hadn't figured out how to restore them. Even the memorial wall was crumbling into disuse as the dead were too many and it was easier for most to never look back at those lost and not to look to a future that only seemed to grow dimmer. She was a relic in a relic, and the situation would be comic if it weren't also so painful.
Yori barely had time to look at her new form on this Grid. Her suit was dark colored, and while she had a less elaborate design on her circuit lines, the triangle at her throat was still there, lit up with a rich indigo. Over the top of her suit, she wore robes that reminded her of Dumont's, only less cumbersome.
The transport left her disoriented for a few nanoseconds. Finally, she saw two figures – Flynn and Tron - in similar gridsuits, lit in blue-white.
Flynn was all wide grins and bright ideas. "Isn't it great!"
"There's nothing here," Tron said with a scowl. He was always a quite literal Program, and she couldn't fault him for it.
"Of course there's nothing here! That's what's so great about it. Guys, we're going to build this ourselves. Ground-up...Well, from the sea up. The Simulation Sea's got all the raw material. We just have to use what's there to construct the rest." Flynn elbowed Yori in the side, jolting a sensitive circuit line. "Hey, wanna help me build the I/O Tower?"
"Me?" Yori looked at Flynn like he'd grown a second head. User or not, he certainly had strange ideas.
"Sure! You run simulations all the time. C'mon. Picture the perfect I/O Tower. Anything you want. Besides, it'll be all yours. You run the laser program, so we've at least got to get you a base of operations."
She pictured it, calculating the resources it would need. As she pictured it in her mind, she felt Flynn next to her, hands on her shoulders as he shaped the code and pulled what was needed from the virtual sea.
"That's it. Keep your focus. Almost got it."
Equations and vectors danced in the air, shaping the first building on the Grid. In the end, an ivory-colored building with neon blue lines seemed to shimmer into existence like a mirage. It was vaguely conical at the base with several tall and flat spires jutting out to encircle it. The I/O beam itself, a brilliant blue-violet like the lines on her suit, shot out from that center, lighting the whole Grid.
"Compile, run, and save!" Flynn said with a laugh. "Now as far as travel terminals go, it beats the hell out of LAX."
"LAX?" Yori asked.
"Airports are designed by sadists on my side of the screen," Flynn quipped before starting to race over and inspect the handiwork.
"Unbelievable," Tron muttered, though Yori wasn't sure if he was referencing Flynn's behavior or craftsmanship.
She had stood on the balcony overlooking the sea when the new creatures – neither fully Program or User - rose from the sea. She saw the giddiness on Flynn's face and the disgust on Clu's. She didn't know what to make of the Isos, frankly. She welcomed them as part of the Grid, but also feared them. Programs like her always dreaded the prospect of obsolescence, as the need to be useful to their Users was the reason for their existence. Her purpose was to man the tower as Dumont had on the ENCOM network, and to run the laser that allowed Flynn access between the worlds. She remembered him, cocky grin and careless demeanor as he would come in, and the same good cheer as he left.
"Thanks, Yori," he would say. "Take care of Tron for me. Try not to work too hard!"
Back then, he never failed to get her to smile back as he stood in the I/O beam and vanished until the next visit, brimming with ideas she'd be happy to help him implement.
Flynn did not see the Grid grow darker. He did not see Clu succumbing to those small acts of cruelty. She didn't witness most of them, but Tron did. A malicious joke here, a bitter comment about the Isos there. It began to escalate into actions that were more questionable – a Program gone missing, an Iso denied access to an energy spring, mutters of worry from Programs that Flynn was far too infatuated with the Isos and neglecting the Programs, mutters Clu never silenced. She heard most of this from Tron as her duties at the tower kept her busy.
She thought Tron worried too much. That was his function, after all. Maybe if she had taken him more seriously...
But of course, Clu decided that he had had enough. The Isos were going to make Programs obsolete. The Isos were not perfect. His orders was to build a perfect system for all Programs. Therefore, the Isos would have to be destroyed. By that time, he had amassed followers, planted fear in the Grid, and made a coordinated attack. They bombed the tower and set the gardens afire. The System Guards stormed through the portals, and murdered her assistants before her horrified eyes. When the roof collapsed, they assumed her destroyed under the rubble.
She'd spent a small eternity half-way to de-rez when she woke and found herself in a shabby sanctuary on the Grid's frontiers. Flynn brought her back, just as he had aboard Sark's yacht cycles before. He told her in a cracked, broken voice about Clu's betrayal. He told her of Tron's death. (Users did not use the term de-rez like Programs did). They didn't have the luxury of grieving. Clu was waging all-out war on the Grid, on the Isos, on anything that didn't bow before his twisted idea of "perfection." Without the I/O Tower, Flynn was trapped on the Grid. The only good part was that Clu would be as well, unable to infect other systems.
Yori knew ways to resist, ways to mask one's presence from guards, how to illegally siphon power, how to maintain communications and pilot most vessels in the Grid. She was not a combatant like Tron was, but she took it up in his memory, keeping a lightstaff she'd wrested from a System Guard as both protection and reminder. She worked with the Resistance, smuggling Isos out of endangered parts of the Grid, participating in hit-and-run attacks and sabotage...
But unlike their battles against Master Control, the more they fought, the stronger Clu became. Clu thought like a User...no, Clu thought like Flynn...and that made Clu a thousand times more dangerous. Every strategy the Resistance planned? Clu had a counter-strategy. For every Iso they saved, ten more died. And if strategy didn't work, Clu sent Rinzler – a thin shadow of black-suited, double-disk de-resolution that killed anything Clu willed. No one knew where Rinzler came from, and no one was in a position to care.
In the end, the Isos were destroyed, the Resistance crushed. Flynn withdrew, a broken man, into his sanctuary and never left it. Yori never forgave him.
"I can't destroy him without him destroying me," he explained. "As long as I stay out of it, he won't win – not completely."
"And that's your solution? Head to the Outlands, shut yourself off, and hope Clu gets bored?"
"I don't know what else I can do. I fight him, he grows stronger. I make Programs, he re-purposes them. He poisoned the Sea of Simulation. I can't make anything new. We're at a stalemate."
"And the Programs? The Isos?"
He shook his head and ran a hand through his hair. Yori noticed it changing over the cycles, going from dark to a lighter color, not quite white. She also noticed his physical form changing, becoming more hunched, slower. She had assumed it was some corruption, and Flynn bitterly laughed it off, saying she was mostly right.
"The Isos are dead, Yori. Every one of them. She...she's the last. I don't want her to know. I..." his voice choked. "I can't let her know. I've got to stay – if only to protect her."
"And the Programs? We're de-rezzing right and left out there. Clu's forces hunt us down and we're 're-purposed' into drones, or sent to the games where the crowds cheer and his favorite kill app destroys us painfully. The Isos are not the only ones hunted. Your life is not the only one at stake here! What about us, Flynn? Or has Clu been right all along, and you think of us 'Basics' as insignificant and obsolete?"
Flynn sighed and slumped over. "I don't know what to do any more. This isn't like the fight with Master Control. I can't find the flaw in Clu's strategy because he's using my strategy. I can't fight him. Do you think I want to admit this? Do you think I want to be trapped here?"
"You made him – you can unmake him."
"Maybe, at one point, but he's like Frankenstein. He's...He's..." His voice choked. "I can't fight him, Lora, I don't know how."
"Lora?" That slip of the tongue almost made her circuit lines go red.
"Oh, shit. Oh...Yori, sorry. I -"
"I'm not her, and I'm not some reflection of her. I'm just a Program. And it's my function to repair and maintain the Grid. Remove yourself from the equation, Flynn. Fine. But I only know this world. And I'm going to find some patch of it to rebuild – with or without you! If you come out of hiding – you'll know where you can find me."
Storming out the sanctuary's silver door, Yori pulled the baton from her belt, opposite the one that generated her staff. Generating her own light-cycle, she sped away from the Outlands, away from Flynn, away from the city that was named for a dead Program and made by a User now more concerned with hiding from his monstrous creation than taking responsibility for ending it.
When she could drive no more, she found herself back at the crumbling ruins of the I/O Tower, the place it all began. The sea was an inky, sludge-like void. The tower was a collapsed mess of scattered voxels. The gardens were destroyed, and the memorial wall had vast chunks blasted away.
Yori marched up to the wall, and took a discarded chunk of masonry sharpened down to a polyhedral point. In a blank space on the memorial wall, she carved Tron's name and disk symbol in hex code. It was the first step in what would undoubtedly be a long process of trying to restore anything she could.
As she stepped back from the wall, seeing his name listed with others that had de-rezzed, it hit her with the force of a disk blow. Tron was gone...and she was alone. Yori dropped to her knees in exhaustion, wishing it all wasn't true.
She didn't know what else she could do, and her directives didn't account for just lying down and de-rezzing, no matter how much she wanted to. Clu preferred live prey to scavenging, and she could only hope that would let her work in peace. Abandoned by User and Program alike, she bitterly set to her task.
After untold cycles of working alone, the skies above her tower lit up again. Everything happened so fast that by the time Yori armed her staff and charged out of the tower, it was over. There was a white flash, a shockwave, and then nothing.
And that's when she saw the lone figure on the sea's edge, circuit lines flickering between orange, blue-white, and nothing as he hovered at the edge of de-rez. Gasping, she raced over to the prone figure...
And stopped short when she got a look at what it was. He lay, prone, arms outstretched, those accursed double disks well out of his reach.
Rinzler – Clu's deadly pet. Countless Program lives and double that in Isos were lost to that monster's hands. If he was abandoned like this for failing, it served him right.
Yori snatched the staff from her belt, extending it to its full length. Positioning it over Rinzler's chest, she was going to finish this murderer off once and for all. "Just another Program, aren't you?" she said bitterly.
But when she positioned her lightstaff to finish him, she saw the distinctive pattern on his chestplate.
"Oh, Lora-3..." she murmured. It couldn't be. It just couldn't be.
She flicked her staff upward, de-rezzing his helmet and confirming the horrible truth.
It's an entire universe in there, one we created, but it's beyond us now. Really. It's outgrown us. You know, every time you shut off your computer...do you know what you're doing? Have you ever reformatted a hard drive? Deleted old software? Destroyed an entire universe?"
-- Jet Bradley, Tron: Ghost in the Machine on why being a User isn't necessarily a good thing.