Fanfic: Tron: Invasion (Tron 2.0 adaptation) Chapter 8
on Sunday, February, 26, 2012 12:29 AM
Major kudos to ShadowSpark for her help.
To: NickA @ encom. com
From: OliviaW @ encom. com
Rumor has it that Mackey is going to sell off the company, First, the CFO gets run out of town due to misappropriation of funds, the security director's gone AWOL, and now this! A merger is never a good sign for the home team – ten to one, our jobs will go to China! Know any good headhunters? I have a car payment to make!
To: OliviaW @ encom. com
From: NickA @ encom. com
I've done my homework on Future Control Industries. They don't seem to have much of anything of substance behind them, just a lot of venture capital cash and a website, like those 'here today, gone tomorrow' fly-by-nights from the late nineties. Furthermore, the board's split. Mackey might be interested, but Dillinger Jr. is on the fence. We all know how close he plays his cards to the vest. The two biggest shareholders could stall things. They keep trying to force Bradley out, but he's damn sharp. And then there's the Flynn kid, but he doesn't come out of hiding unless he's trolling the board again.
This may be a case of 'trust in God, but lock your doors.' I've sent out resumes to three other companies (I'll send you links later), but this 'merger' looks questionable. Doesn't hurt to iron-plate your rear-end, though. BTW, can you return my stapler?
Mercury led Jet through twisted alleyways that seemed to blur into little more than an incomprehensible set of blue and black, peppered with rubble.
“What is this place?”
“Sector five, track four. It used to be a word processing plant, but the office suite was incompatible with Encom Server 10. So, it was uninstalled. This is the leftover data on the hard drive, and we're using obsolete registry entries to evade the ICP patrols. It's a low-end Malware tactic, but it does work.”
Jet scowled. “What are you, anyway?”
Mercury's eyes narrowed and she scanned the way ahead for trouble. Finding none, she half-crawled up a crumbled pile of data blocks, heading for the low roof of an abandoned building. “I work for Ma3a. That's common knowledge. Most just think I'm a lightcycle jock Ma3a sent out because she can't participate in the Games herself.”
“No, Ma3a's confined to her processing dock. She sees a lot, and she's much more powerful than any Program known to exist. The Math Assistants were built as successors to the old Master Control Program, and have that linage to live down.”
Jet cringed. “Master Control?”
“You didn't know? They were designed as distributed computing – forecasting, quantum physics calculation, encryption better than those Pentagon jokers. Ma3a has a lot of power, at least five times that of the late Ma2a. No one here is sure how she works, but she administers the entire Encom Grid, and has connections that even the Users may not know about if you're any indication. Most of the time, things have been peaceful under her rule.”
“But Master Control was dangerous. At least that's what Mom and Pop always said. They never trusted that experiment in the first place. Why would they recreate it with Ma3a?”
“Ask them,” Mercury said, gesturing for Jet to cross the crumbling roof and climb a creaky-looking ladder. “It's not our place to know anyway. Since Ma3a's confined to her dock, she needs others to act as her agents. I'm one, and you've probably met that smart-ass Byte of hers.” She looked over her shoulder and smiled. “Guess you're her latest recruit.”
“Great,” Jet grumbled. “She recruits me, zaps me in here, and still doesn't tell me much about what's going on. She told me I have to fight off some kind of corruption”
“Is it true, then, you being a User?” Mercury asked.
Jet took another rung of the ladder. “Yeah, it is. Why do you believe me if no one else does?”
“You don't react like a Program - at least no Program I've run across. Where'd you learn those dirty lightcycle tricks?”
“Um...you want the truth?”
“I'm asking, aren't I?”
“I've lost track of how many quarters I fed to the lightcycle game back at the old arcade. I have a high score on the one at work. No matter how good the AI on a game script, there are always patterns to their movements, their reactions. Figure out the patterns, and the rest is all in the wrist.” He shrugged. “At least, that's how my godfather put it.”
“The string 'godfather' isn't one I recognize.”
“Oh. Well, he was a friend of my father's. A friend of Ma3a's creator. I know Programs use that term.”
Mercury laughed. “Really now? You 'know?' Have you been here before or something?”
“No, but I think my godfather was. He told stories – lots of them. Maybe no one believed what happened to him, so it was just easier to pass it off as stuff to tell little kids. I guess part of me always kinda wished it was true.” Jet shook his head and looked into the endlessly dark sky. The joke was definitely on him.
Mercury scowled. “I know the legend, but never really believed it. Most scripts don't. Sure, there's enough in the archive to prove Tron existed, but the whole idea that some User showed up personally to help him battle Master Control? Yeah, that's a four thirteen.”
“Tron? That's a program Pop wrote years ago.”
Mercury looked over her shoulder. “Pop? Try Alan-1.”
“Same person,” Jet said. “That is my dad's login.”
Mercury scowled. “You definitely don't talk like a Program. I'm can't decipher half the strings out of your mouth.”
“Where are we heading anyway?”
“Back to the Kernel's Observation Tower, where you uploaded yourself coming in. They've still got your disc. The Kernel's User was Thorne himself, so he's taking this Z-lot invasion personally. He'll tear your disc to shreds trying to find some evidence that you're the corruption source.”
“That doesn't sound good. And I heard you mention Thorne. I don't know what he's got to do with anything. According to the emails I've been reading, he's just out sick with a nasty flu.” Jet held back the silent “good riddance” from the sentence. Thorne was an ill-tempered petty tyrant who made the lives of the rent-a-cop Encom security hellish and didn't do much for the average employee's nerves, either.
“All those Z-Lots? The ones we managed to interrogate speak of Thorne as some kind of 'Master User' who will take over all of cyberspace. I'll have to admit that whatever they are, it's nothing we know how to fight. Discs cut them down, and Rod weapons de-rez them like any other script, but they're fast and tough, and they...” Mercury shuddered.
He finished the rest. “They infect. Any Program hit with their ball weapons becomes one of them.”
“You've held your own against them so far,” she pointed out.
Jet shrugged. “The virus doesn't seem to affect me much. It hurts until I can clean it out of my system, though. I'm able to heal other Programs infected with the stuff, I think, but they've usually taken so much damage by that point they de-rez. Maybe if they weren't so badly damaged, I might be able to save some of the infected.”
Mercury scowled. “Damn, the Kernel's a null-unit. All set to de-rez you and you're probably the only effective weapon we have.”
“Speaking of weapons, why don't you use a disc like the others?”
“Ma3a sends me out to do the nasty jobs she can't be caught doing herself. Since I'm designed as an infiltrator, there's too much incriminating data on it. I can't risk it getting stolen or lost. It would put Ma3a in danger more than it would me.“ Checking to make sure no one else was following, she ducked behind a crumbling section of abandoned data blocks and gestured for Jet to get down next to her. “How much combat programming is in your base code, anyway?”
Jet shook his head. Sure, he was a connoisseur of first-person shooters, and could wipe the floor with everyone else in the gaming department at paintball or laser tag. He never could beat Sam at it, though. There were also some high school and college scrapes caused by too much bravado, but... “Before this? Not a lot.”
Mercury turned around. “Let's hope it's enough. I'll show you a little trick I learned that may come in handy. You already saw it in action, now to show you how it's done.” She pulled out her lightcycle rod and gave it a half twist, a second twist in the opposite direction, and then pulled the two halves apart. Jet's nose was hit with the sharp tang of ozone as the unsealed halves sparked like an oversize firework. “The rod is not a pretty weapon, and you have to get very up close and personal to your target to take them down, but most scripts lack the knowledge that you can do this. My predecessor knew, and she taught me.”
He pulled out his own lightcycle baton and copied her movements, leaving him with a matching pair of sparking rods. He still didn't know if living out a first-person shooter was the brightest idea, but his options were limited. “What's the plan?”
She looked around a crumbling wall. The Kernel's Tower was straight ahead. It was a tall, red structure that looked like a pole covered in barbed wire. A hissing forcefield and thick wall that looked like stone rendered in eight-bit graphics kept casual explorers away. The gatehouse at the entrance had one ICP on guard. A patrol of about a dozen guards marched out of the gate, and rounded the corner, vanishing from sight.
“I create a diversion. You sneak up on the guard and jab those things into his back, preferably the circuit lines,” Mercury said. “From there, we gain access.”
He nodded and she darted ahead. Jet knew how to sneak. It started with climbing out his window in the middle of the night as a teenager, sometimes to go to concerts, sometimes just to see if he could. The thrill of going somewhere forbidden, seeing what he wasn't supposed to see, appealed to his thirst for knowledge and curiosity. He had sneaked into clubs when he was underage and broke into abandoned buildings. When Sam got the idea to start griefing Encom as a way to fight back against the current board's emphasis on cheap profit and coasting on past successes, Jet was totally on board. Adolescent idealism being what it was, it sounded like it would actually be effective.
It wasn't. He'd already had that argument with Sam, and it didn't end well.
There was only one time Jet got caught. He almost got expelled from high school over hacking the school's mainframe. Looking back on it, his fatal mistake was in trying to run from the campus cops. If he'd just played casual and hadn't panicked, they probably wouldn't have caught him. The road rash, dislocated shoulder, broken foot, and steep cost of repairing his motorcycle weren't as painful as the stony silence and look on his father's face.
He did a lot less sneaking around after that, even if he never could give it up completely.
Mercury moved like a cat, walking with perfect balance on top of the narrow fence rail. The guard looked up and drew his disc.
That was Jet's queue. Moving as swift as he dared, he climbed down the ladder on the building side and used the obstacles placed to impede foot and vehicle traffic from approaching as hiding places.
The guard was closing in on Mercury, disc out. Spotting her, he let his weapon fly. “Freeze, Program!”
It narrowly missed her, but it pushed her off balance. One good shot, and she would be dead. Jet couldn’t afford to wait. He ran forward and nearly tackled the guard, jamming the rods into the disc holder on his back. The guard twitched and bucked under Jet before finally exploding into voxels that faded like nothing ever was there. Jet snatched the disc left behind, and pulled himself to his feet as Mercury came by.
“Is everything around here lethal?” he asked.
“Not everything, just most.” She waved him into the guard house. “Why did you grab that?”
“I might be able to get something from it.”
“We've only got a few micros until the patrol comes back. Make it good.”
Jet bit his lip. The disc was fading out rapidly, but he was able to extract enough code to give him an idea. “Mercury, do you trust me?”
She scowled. “Enough. It's not like we have a choice if we're going to save Ma3a.”
“We can't fight all of them, but I noticed when I was captured that there doesn't seem to be a lot of variety in the ICP armor configurations. And the best way to walk around somewhere you don't belong is to make it look like you do. You'd be surprised on how many places I've just walked into with nothing more than a janitor's uniform and a broom.” The disc itself de-rezzed, leaving a subroutine that looked like a pulsing red pyramid in his hand. “I'll need your disc.”
Mercury regarded Jet warily, then reached behind her and pulled her disc. “You do anything stupid, and...”
“I'll be dead,” he finished. Bringing up the readout, Jet found an appropriate slot and locked the subroutine in place. Mercury's appearance began to change as her light, flexible armor and blue gridlines changed to the heavy armor, red lines, and face-concealing helmet of an ICP drone.
She looked at her hands, and at the sigil on her arm. “Amazing. You extracted a disguise subroutine from that?”
“It was the best I could do.”
“I don't have any permissions to go with it, though.”
“That's where I come in.” Jet turned over his arm to reveal the fully-lit permissions sigil. “Full permissions, but no disc- no disguise.”
Mercury pulled a light rope from the storage on her hip and started to un-loop some. “Guess you'll be my prisoner, then.”
Jet held out his hands and tried not to think about how huge of a risk this was. “Where are we headed?”
The rope tightened as Mercury put an expert knot into it. “Disc access is one floor from the top. It's standard procedure to comb over its contents prior to de-rezzing the prisoner. That way, they can rope in any accomplices or find out any bugs the criminal managed to exploit. Or, if the Program turns out to be innocent, the proof's on the disc. It takes time, though, so any suspects will be in quarantine on the first five floors.”
“Lead on, then.” Inwardly, Jet was just crossing his fingers and hoping Mercury was the ally she seemed to be.
The first level was the Prisoner Bin. Jet couldn't help but flinch as he heard the sounds of crying. It seemed like every cell was full. Sometimes, there were two or three to a cell. Some huddled together, like they were trying to conserve warmth, their circuitry dim. Another cell the size of a storage shed had four Programs crammed inside, the prisoners sitting on the floor, holding hands and heads bowed in prayer. The only word from their whispers he could make out was “User.” Another pair, obviously “bundled,” were in another cell. The male Program held his unconscious wife, whose circuitry was flickering like a cheap bug zapper while he begged her to come back online.
The sight made his throat close. "Is this normal?" he hissed to Mercury.
The disguised program shook her head slightly. "No," she replied. "Normally less than a quarter of the cells are filled and the occupants are fairly well treated."
Jet frowned. "Then what's going on here?"
Mercury shook her head again. "I'm not sure, but you can bet the Kernel has something to do with it. With Ma3a's long-range communication cut off due to the virus, he's in charge, and it's gone to his processor."
Jet's face twisted into a grimace. "Like Program, like User, I guess. When things go wrong for Thorne, he tends to go nuts until the problem is fixed." Which is part of the reason I fixed his hard drive instead of waiting for Help Desk.
Jet couldn't really tell, but it looked like Mercury was scowling under the helmet.
“Hey, Program. They get you, too?” A voice from inside one of the cells.
Jet looked up, and tugged on the rope to halt Mercury. “Romie? What are you doing here?”
The email script could barely look him in the eye. “Kernel rounded us all up from the transport and marched us in here. Quarantine, I get, but...” The mail script looked nervously at the disguised Mercury.
“All of you?”
Romie nodded painfully. “Kernel's not taking chances. He's stripping our discs and sending us all to de-rez. The got Marco about two nanos ago. Sorry, I know you tried.”
Even under the disguise, Mercury couldn't help blurting out, “What?”
Romie scowled at her. “Don't give me that. The ICP units have their orders from Kernel himself. They already marched the last cell block to the decompilers.”
Jet gasped, and Mercury pulled the rope, leading him down the corridor.
“Worse than I thought,” she grumbled. “I knew it was bad, but de-rezzing uncorrupted civilian Programs? That's over the line.”
“We've got to do something.”
Mercury shook her head. “We have a mission, and we carry it out. It's not going to do Ma3a any good if we get ourselves captured or de-rezzed.”
Jet scowled. Forget any leftover bedtime stories - he absolutely hated this place. So what if he was a User? Didn't seem to do much good, and this place's attitude towards living beings...
How many laptops have you dropped? How many hard drives did you reformat? How many times have you gone out of your way to crash a system out of spite? Just to depress himself further, he added, Besides, it's not like you can change the situation on either side of the screen. You just have to put up with it.
A soft whirring noise caught Jet's attention and he looked up. A strange object that looked like a meter-long medicine capsule was floating near the ceiling. "What's that?" he asked.
“Finder,” Mercury answered. “Even if you evade the ICP units, those things are death from above. If you're not authorized, those lock on and keep firing until you're a smoking pile of voxels. Not a nice way to go.”
Jet grimaced, hoping he didn't have to fight them off, but getting a bad feeling he would have to. “And those red things on the wall?”
“Security rez-in stations. They're extremely short-range I/O transports, able to pull an ICP to wherever one's activated as reinforcements. They suck up a lot of power and need a couple nanos to cool down between rez-ins, but they're a nice way to dial up a small army on short notice.”
“Great. And I suppose grabbing my disc will set off the alarms?”
“Every last one.” Mercury said with a chuckle.
The thought of fighting his way out of this mess was even less pleasant than faking being a prisoner to get in. Jet looked up at the finders crossing the ceiling and the distance between rez-in stations, counting the time it took for them to complete a circuit.
Jet found himself jerked suddenly into a portal, then pulled into a side corridor, out of sight of the patrols. “Mercury?” He had been so engrossed in his thoughts that he hadn't noticed Mercury's armor flickering, reverting to her normal appearance. “Uh, oh.”
“You think you can stabilize this? Otherwise, we're fighting our way out sooner than we planned.”
“I don't know. It was improvised in the first place. Where are we?”
Mercury looked around. “Contraband storage, looks like.”
Jet shook his head. “Maybe there's something here we can use -”
They heard the announcement over the communication system. “Intruder Alert on level three! Activating security rez-in station.”
“Glitch it! Too late.” Mercury pulled out her rod and shorted out the rope around Jet's wrists. “Looks like we're fighting our way through.”
Two hulking brutes in ICP armor clanked down the hall, but what they lacked in speed, their disc throws made up for. Jet narrowly dodged the one flying at his head and made a dive for his attacker's legs, smacking him with the closed cycle rod. Mercury was charging the second, keeping him occupied as Jet and the other one crashed to the floor.
The strange part is that the ICP didn't use the same tactics he'd expect from an analog-world fighter. His swinging punches were slow, and the bulky armor didn't lend itself to kicks. Jet's hand stung as he clocked the ICP across the jaw. The ICP pushed him off, running for the disc that overshot due to the flying tackle.
Jet undid the lightcycle rod without being completely aware of it, the sparking ends crackling and the smell of ozone in the air. The ICP picked up the disc just as Jet's weapon nailed him in the chest plate. The guard twitched and gasped before exploding into glowing cubes.
No time to think or slow down. “Which way?”
Mercury gestured to the lift in the center, now sealed off by a forcefield. “Through that, and your permissions won't do the trick there. Unless we can override or destroy those encryption keys, it's end of line.”
“You said contraband earlier. Let's see if we can blast our way in.”
Mercury raised one platinum-colored eyebrow. “Now your reading my processor.“ She took his wrist and jammed it against a panel, which slid open to a small, dark room. The only light came from their circuitry and the soft glow of the subroutines, emails, and permissions floating in the clear archive bins.
Jet started rifling through them. Outside, an alarm had sounded. Mercury stacked a few data blocks near the door to use as cover if needed. Discarding many of the contents as useless subroutines and pawing through piles of spam email, he pulled out two octahedral shapes and pressed one into Mercury's hand. “These look like they'll work with our rods.”
Mercury looked at Jet skeptically as Jet snapped together his own rod and began to pull up the subroutine contents, twisting them around the rod like a ribbon. The rod itself twisted into a gun with a wide barrel and a snub nose.
“Suffusion guns,” Mercury explained, applying the subroutine to her own rod. “Popular with one-bit thugs and Resource Hog gangs. The range isn't great, and the energy expense almost makes it not worth it, but they've got quite the kick.”
“Enough to knock your output into the next sector if you're not careful. They'll destroy the keys. From there, it's the uppermost floor and the disc storage.” She gestured for him to follow.
R.T. and Spooler were new transfers to the main tower from an outlying sector. Currently not set to any task other than guarding the entrance to disc storage, the pair had little to do but pass the time comparing notes.
“Reports are coming in from all over the sector. The Kernel doesn't think Mercury and the fugitive have found a way to escape the sector."
“I heard another drive has been lost,” R.T. said, his red circuitry lines flaring briefly with fear. “If we lose main processing, the Kernel may order an evacuation to archival and complete reformat.”
“What about the civilian and utility Programs?” Spooler asked. “The Kernel isn't going to leave them to de-rez or get infected.”
“Kernel's new orders are to leave them. There aren't enough transports for the ICP units, much less dead weight. He's going after any means necessary to stop the Z-Lot invasion. If it eradicates the threat, then it's all filed under 'acceptable losses.'”
“I'm not so sure -”
“Order are orders. Follow commands and don't send out too many queries.”
“But none that we currently have in quarantine are infected, and some of them say that there are Users running loose on the system!”
“You actually believe that? You must be glitched!”
“Glitched or not, I'm heading to the nearest sec-rezzer at the first sight of tr-” The sentence was cut short by a pair of suffusion blasts.
The disc storage area was a twisting maze of corridors and archive rooms, all the better for hit and run attacks. Unfortunately, the ICP units outnumbered them and they had already triggered the alert.
Jet was clearly a rookie in actual combat, and she had seen other scripts – even ICP units – blue screen in an actual firefight. Him being a User was still the most unlikely and ridiculous explanation possible, but there wasn't another one she could use that covered all the checkpoints and too much just didn't add up about him. The same fatal flaw that put her in his room in the first place was the same that made her decide that both of them were getting out of this mess alive; if he wasn't exaggerating about his abilities, he was the only chance Ma3a had.
One of the ICP guards got in melee range, thinking he could use his greater bulk to take her out. It would have worked if he hadn't been compiled with only rudimentary melee subroutines. Her combat programming was more efficient; duck the first punch, drop, hit the node on his abdomen and watch his circuitry blink, then sweep his leg out from under him. Finish with a headshot.
The next opponent didn't get a chance to finish drawing his disc. Jet's shot hit center mass and the ICP shattered before he hit the ground.
“Nice one,” she said.
Run, duck, fire. The ICP units came in pairs, and sometimes a third would rez-in at the checkpoints. Jet was pulling his weight, certainly, but wasn't racking up half the kill shots she was. Worse, the energy expense of firing the suffusion rods carried was starting to drain her, but Jet didn't seem to be affected by anything other than worry.
He was muttering something under his breath as he walked a step behind her, watching and taking out any ICP units trying to get the drop on them. Sometimes, he was saying things that sounded like a glitching script repeating its directive or invoking its User. Other times, he was counting out some kind of pattern as they passed through shelves upon shelves of confiscated discs, each with a different face hovering over its output, different symbols carved into their tracks and grooves.
“Keep your focus, conscript,” she scolded as they twisted through the maze of corridors.
“I am!” he insisted. “The next sec-rezzer activates in three..two...”
“Activate security rez-in station!”
An ICP unit rezzed in just ahead of them. Mercury dodged his disc shot before blasting him with her suffusion rod.
“The sec-rezzers are twenty-eight paces apart, and have cool down of fifty. If you can't beat them with quickness, the figure out the patterns. Also...” Jet pushed his hand against it, shutting it down, followed by a quick blast from his gun to destroy it. “No offense, but AI units never take advantage of the spawn points. Take those out, and you have fewer places enemies will come at you.”
Mercury shook her head. All this time as an infiltrator, and the thought had truly never run through her processor. “Spawn of a virus. How did you figure that one?”
Jet shrugged. “I started in QA. One of the worst jobs I had was play-testing Call of Halo, playing the same badly-coded level over and over again, trying to find ways the end user will break it. Got to the point where I was playing it in my sleep,” he explained. “And it only paid minimum wage on top of it. I managed to crash the game by destroying all the spawn points. Half the dev team wanted to give me a raise and the other half wanted to wring my neck.”
Again with the references and strings she had no idea how to process. The more she heard Jet speak, the more something else seemed off. There was a strangely flat quality to his vocal output. Mercury suspended that mental process. They needed to survive first. By the time they finally caught any kind of break, over a dozen ICP units were de-rezzed, three shelves worth of discs were splinters on the floor, and Mercury's circuitry was dull. She was breathing heavily and fighting off the temptation to collapse.
“We've searched through the whole archive on this level, and no disc which means...” Mercury shuddered. “They've got it on the floor above us and are actively scanning it. We have even less time to retrieve it than I thought.”
"Great," Jet grumbled, peering carefully around the corner. Then he paused and touched her shoulder. "Hey, you okay? You don't look so good."
"Why aren't your lines dimming?"
Jet blinked. "Huh?" He looked down at himself, then at the gun, then at Mercury. He shrugged, shaking his head. "I don't feel anything." Jet pulled his head back just in time to dodge a disk-shot. "Whoa!" He quickly fired his weapon and derezzed the ICP. Then he picked up a disk off one of the broken shelves and hurled it at the next-closest guard. The stolen disc sliced neatly through an ICP and came back to his hand. Pivoting on his heel, he used it to reflect a shot back to its owner.
Mercury blinked. Was the energy drain causing her optics to glitch? A Program simply did not use another Program's disc. Even reading it was a violation that was supposed to be reserved for the worst of the worst. It was like sharing the data that one's User placed in their spark, taboo of the highest order. Even if you did blaspheme like that, the disc would have to be modified to fit the new wielder before it could be summoned back to one's hand after a single throw.
She crouched behind a stack of archive bins and inert data blocks, trying to conserve her dwindling reserves. Jet shrugged back at her, like he was uncertain why she found the idea of using this disk so strange.
"You shouldn't be able to do that," she said.
"Do what?" Jet asked as he threw the borrowed disk again, then swore and dove for cover. "Merc, a little help here?"
“I'm out of energy,” she said. She frantically looked around for a reservoir of liquid, patch sphere, or other source she could use. Unfortunately, the only source of energy in range...
She couldn't believe she was about to do this. "Gimme your hand."
Jet blinked, but reached out his own hand to where Mercury was crouched.
Guilt wasn't something she experienced often, but for the second time in her brief association with Jet, it kicked in hard. Energy sharing between Programs was something...intimate. Not something you used in a firefight. It was a good thing he probably didn't understand that. Hands joined, circuitry burned, and she pulled energy from him. Like before in the lightcycle barracks, it was nearly enough to overload her right there, waves of relief and pleasure coursing through her circuitry as it regained its vigor.
Jet looked a little dazed as Mercury let go. "Umm...."
Mercury cut him off. "I'll explain later, now let's go! The portal to the scanner room is clear."
They charged as fast as they could for the short-range portal, accepting the abrupt change from "there" to "here" as they ran into the scanner level, a single hall that wrapped around the analysis room itself. They took position on either side of the door.
Three ICP units, led by a particularly nasty-looking one, were questioning a pair of terrified utility Programs. There, on the dais, was Jet's disc, a 3-D readout floating about the triangle on triangle emblem in the center.
“Scan it again!” the burly ICP demanded.
“But...but Devwatch, sir, we can't. Our equipment can't decipher most of the data. We don't know what to make of any of the output readings we are getting.”
“I think it's...it's true,” the female-designated utility said, voice shaking. “I...I think he was telling the truth about being a User.”
“That is an unacceptable answer. This 'Jet' is nothing other than a sophisticated Z-Lot. You scan that disc until you can get me some answers, or you'll be on the decompiler!”
One of the other ICP looked back. “Uh-oh. We've got company.”
Three quick shots took out the ICP units as Mercury and Jet stormed into the room. The utility Programs watched in shock as Jet made a beeline for his disc.
"Yes!" Jet exclaimed as he ran over to it.
The female-designated dropped to her knees. "We're so sorry. We're....please don't de-rez us, User. Please don't...If we had known..."
The male elaborated. "We had no idea what you were. We thought it couldn't be true."
Jet facepalmed, then glanced at Mercury. "Is everyone here going to do that?"
"I hope not. And Ma3a had better have a good explanation for this. Grab that, and let's go."
"Okay..." Jet snatched up his disk from where it lay. As he placed it on the slot in his armor, a flurry of images and impressions flooded into his head like a dream set on fast forward. In his mind's eye, he could see the whole layout of the tower – the location of any active rez-in stations, the location of patrols, the fastest way to get to portals and lifts. It was like having a heads-up display with a mini-map downloaded into his brain. It gave him a great idea. Finding an inert bit on the console, he powered it up and watched it fly out of the room.He remembered Ma3a's lab sector using them for security lock, and in the sockets for the prisoner doors.
“Mercury, follow that bit. We're headed back down to the prisoner bin. If I'm right, we can give the Kernel an even bigger problem on the way out.”
Mercury raised an eyebrow. “What did you have in mind?”
“Tell you when I think of it,” he said, trying hard not to look at the kneeling utilities nearby. He wasn't sure if it being worshiped was much better than being attacked.
Anger fueled him as much as the idea of having a goal. Even on his own side of the screen. there was only so much he could take before the pent-up frustration boiled over and he caught himself doing something epically stupid. That's how he ended up in the LA county lockup (three times), paying off traffic tickets (at least a dozen times), and losing at least one job.
He holstered the suffusion subroutine in favor is his disc, preferring the quickness and precision of it to the scattershot destruction of the shotgun-like device. Mercury went back to her rods. Much of the fighting blurred together, and Jet's earlier observations about the Finder patrols proved accurate as he nailed those with disc hits while Mercury watched his six.
Through the portal and back through the prisoner bin. Alarms were screaming, shots came from everywhere. Block, block, sidestep, fire, repeat. See the patterns, feel the patterns.
Don't think too much about the implications.
It turned into a blur, and he lost count of the ICP guards he killed. The finders were the harder challenge, as their small size and nasty firepower already made for three close calls.
"Hey, Program!" Jet's head snapped around. He recognized that voice. Romie was waving them over. Jet glanced at Mercury and the two of them sprinted across the hallway at the next break in the enemy fire.
"Romie, right." Jet slammed his hand on the control bit for the forcefield. With a metallic, “No,” the forcefield went down. Reaching back, he pulled out the borrowed disk. "I think this is yours."
Romie raised an eyebrow and took it back, eyeing it and Jet warily. “Two times you save my base code in one micro.” Romie fell in with them, and threw his disc. The shot went wild, missing the ICP he had been aiming for, but nailing the one behind it. “There goes my time off for good behavior,” he said. “Got any plans?”
"Yes," said Jet. "You can repay the favor. Which way to the control room?"
Romie frowned, crunching data. Then he smiled. "Can do. Follow me!"
With every ICP on alert, no one was in the break room, and the trio ran through it on their way to the control panels. Barging open the doors, Mercury threw one of her rods to strike the lone, unwitting guard in the chest, knocking him offline. Jet was able to lock the three of them in and seal the door behind them.
“We're idling bits here,” Mercury warned. “Whatever you got, make it good.”
Romie ran to a panel and began inputting data. "Take out this control bit here, and it opens all the cells. You wanted a distraction? I can't think of a better one."
"Well, for an e-mail router, you're not a half-bad saboteur, script," Mercury remarked.
Romie scowled. “The Z-Lots got Ada. Marco was taken by the ICP units and de-rezzed. They were my counterparts. The Kernel and Thorne can both de-rez for all I care. Your friend here saved me when no one else would.”
Jet shuddered, but any words of sympathy would have to wait. He put his hand on the panel next to the one Romie was working. Touching the panel caused another flood of images to blast into his head, but it just seemed to make his thought process clearer instead of confusing it. “You open the doors. I'm rerouting scrambling the commands to the Finders and sec-rezzers. If we can send those into confusion attacking each other, they won't be able to stop the jailbreak.”
On the other side of the door, the ICPs had other ideas. The sealed door began to buckle and pixellate. “Blast! They've found the logic probe,” Mercury grumbled.
On the other side of the door, the cell block doors sputtered on and off, the Finders started shooting one another, exploding into glowing shrapnel that rained on the ICPs below.
Prisoners ran, storming down the doors to disc storage. The ICPs had weapons but the prisoners had numbers and nothing to lose. From the ground floor to the spire, all was chaos. If the prisoners had discs, they used them. Some resorted to their hands or pieces of pixel-stone.
“Call for backup!”
“I can't. The con systems are jammed. We need to get back into that communication room.”
“Nine-Volt and his team have the logic probe. And there's no way out of that room except through the door. They're trapped and they know it.”
Romie started manipulating the switches on the panel, dark hands flying over the control panel. "Come on, come on..." the Program murmured.
Mercury looked around and found exactly what she was looking for – a hatch. Loading the suffusion subroutine, she shouted to them “Keep working.”
Romie continued typing. "Whatever you're doing, you'd better hurry! Jet, hit that panel!"
Jet followed Romie's order without a second thought, diving to one side and slamming his hand on the glowing panel. The blast's shockwave threw the Mercury, Jet, and Romie to the ground. Then all was silent.
Jet picked himself up, shaking his to try and clear the ringing in his ears. "What did you do?" he asked, helping Mercury to her feet. As the one closest to the door, she was hit the hardest.
Romie got to his own feet and grinned. "I opened the power conduit to the logic probe and overloaded it. Ka-boom!"
"Unfortunately," Jet said, "There's not much left of the panel – or the room we came through. How are we going to get out?"
"Then it's time for the backup," Mercury said. Taking her suffusion gun, she aimed it directly at the floor, blasting a large chunk of voxels into dust and exposing a dark hole below. "Into the hole, boys."
She dove in first. Jet and Romie looked at each other and followed her lead.
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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.