Fanfic: "Through a Diamond Sky" Part 3 of 14
on Sunday, February, 26, 2012 1:13 AM
The five minutes seemed to pass in Grid time for him. It took him a full minute just to verify Jordan was in the system at all. Unfortunately, he had no clue if she arrived intact, safe, or if she was even...
Don't think it.
Heart pounding, palms sweating, stomach knotted, he welcomed and dreaded the kiss of the laser beam and stumbled into the Tower's receiving area. Already, Clu was waiting, hands behind back. His digital avatar was pre-programmed to come to the Tower upon seeing the beam.
“Where is she?” Kevin stammered. “She okay? Is...”
“Jordan arrived safely. She's over in the reception room with Yori. You really should have warned us beforehand.”
“Didn't have time. She stepped into the beam by accident.”
“Well, while our illustrious Tower Guardian is wasting her resources briefing the lost User, you grace us with your presence once a cycle, only to play around and then vanish...”
Kevin pinched the bridge of his nose. Inventive, brilliant, snarky, smug...Yup. Clu had all of his better traits, and most of his worst. Look at it this way – it's great practice for when Sam hits his teens.
“Sector Theta-eight had another outbreak of gridbugs. Tron took care of those, but the source has yet to be determined. There are also some strange power allocation issues in Kappa Five that Shaddox set out to investigate three microcycles ago. He hasn't reported back. There's been another clash in the Zeta sector. Damn Iso colony is crowding out room for the new Basic settlement.”
“I'll go talk this one out with the settlement leadership. Clu, they're part of the system, remember? And can we please get to Grid business later?”
His avatar folded his arms. “You ask for a briefing upon arrival. I'm giving you one. If you showed up more often...”
“Clu, I'm coming as often as I can. User time...works differently. That's why you were invented.”
“And how many times have we all heard that one?” Clu said. “Maybe if you had fewer things to juggle out there, you could pay more attention to what's going on in here?”
Board meetings from hell, accusations of having a lover on the side, an avatar program getting in his face, Jordan being User of Users knew where...”Clu, take me to Jordan first. I have to see my wife. I have to know she's okay.”
Clu scowled. He had seen the female-designated User briefly, but did not introduce himself as she was with Yori, and the Tower Guardian had a lot more patience for User requests and irrelevant questioning than he did. He knew he should be more awed by the fact the upgrades were successful and happier to see that his creator's counterpart had arrived into the system. However, “Jordan-User” didn't seem all that impressive. Aside from the strange aura that marked her as something other, she seemed to be little more than a lost script.
Worse – she acts like one of the Isos that crawled out of the sea; all questions and with no stated purpose for being. Will she add to the order of this system or unbalance it further?
Deciding it was better to not question his creator further, Clu merely walked a step ahead, leading his User to the Tower's reception room.
Jordan was having a little trouble absorbing half of the answers she was getting from Yori. It answered dozens of nagging questions, like the time when he had a bit too much to drink and called Alan “Tron,” why he treated Frisbee matches like life and death combat, and why he treated computers with a strange reverence. Every answer, though, opened up a dozen more questions.
The good news: his secrets apparently didn't include mistresses, boyfriends, prostitutes, or cruising the Sunset Strip. The bad news: he still had a double life, far more elaborate and bizarre than anyone could have suspected. Her mind reeled and she felt vaguely sick to her stomach (if she even had one now – Yori let her know that her physical form wasn't exactly the same as it was in analog). Why did it take an accident with his clandestine lab just to learn what he was doing? Why didn't he trust her with something this huge? She could handle not talking Encom business, but this...
Jesus, she married a stranger again. What in hell was she thinking? What was this going to mean? It was just herself last time, now that there was Sam to think about...
Jordan leaped to her feet to see...Okay, this was surreal. Either she was seeing double, or Kevin cloned himself. The one with a better-developed case of five-o-clock-shadow ran over to her and pulled her into a hug.
“Jordan, babe...Are you okay? Are you...?”
Normally, she would have laughed and hugged back, maybe even kissed him hello. Right now, she was just too shaken to return the gesture. Why did he lie all this time? Why didn't he show her this before now?
“I'm okay,” she admitted, struggling to keep her voice level. “But very confused.”
He pulled back, his face lit with that cross of an adolescent's brashness and a little boy's wonder that one else could imitate. Now, she knew she was dealing with Kevin. “I imagine so. It's pretty awesome, isn't it?”
She pushed him away. “Yeah, and when were you planning on telling me about it? Have you told anyone on our side of the screen about this?”
He tried to say something, stopped, studied his shoes, tried to speak again, but nothing came out.
Jordan tapped her foot and scowled. “You didn't trust me.”
“It's not like that! It's...it's...” He waved his arms around as if to gesture to everything at once. “This was in the picture before I even met you.”
“Really? All the more reason to be pissed off about being kept in the dark.”
Kevin paced and ran a hand through his hair. Yori had the grace to step out of the room, but Clu was still standing by, an unreadable expression on his face. He was relieved beyond measure that Jordan was safe, and part of him was actually glad that she was in the digital world with him. At the same time, this was not how he wanted her to find out, and he never had figured out a good explanation for his experiments on the Grid. “Jordan, half the board already wants to put me into a fucking straitjacket. How the hell do you explain ]this without the other half agreeing?”
“The board is one thing, but I am the one crazy enough to marry and have a kid with you!” Jordan fired back. “Fit me for the fucking straitjacket!”
“Maybe they'll put us in the same padded cell.” He was trying for sarcastic humor, but the anger still bubbled up through his voice. “The Flynn-Canas honeymoon suite.”
“How romantic,” she drawled. “But I don't think I could take it. All those late nights...all those strange behaviors. You're sitting on...” She tried to find the words, but was too angry to manage it. “A double life; one where Sam and I don't factor in!”
“Jordan, it's...” He puffed out a breath. “Look, I should have told you. I wanted to tell you. I didn't know how.”
“Didn't know, or just didn't want to figure it out?”
“There's things I won't ask you about. I don't ask about your ex, I don't ask about your time in the service unless you volunteer the information.”
“That's my past. This is ongoing. There's a difference,” she pointed out.
He sighed. Great, he was in trouble, he didn't want to be, and he had no idea how to quit digging. “Now that you know? I mean...this is the bottom of my secrets, Jordan. Yeah, I screwed up in not telling you, but what else do I need to say or do on this?”
She held up her hand. “Just...give me time, first. And who is your twin over there, watching us fight?”
“Oh.” He almost forgot. “Um, Jordan, this is Clu. Clu, Jordan. He's the administrator Program I made to run the Grid when I'm taking care of life outside.”
“Like when you're with me?”
“Yeah, like when I'm with you, or running Encom, or at the arcade, or...yeah.”
“I'll leave the pair of you to continue fighting,” Clu said, one eyebrow raised. “After all, she does take priority over this world.”
Kevin pinched the bridge of his nose. “Clu, do not start.”
“So you're juggling the world in here about as well as you're juggling the world out there?” Jordan asked. She shrugged and looked over to Clu. “I'm betting you have the patience of a saint.”
“It's not easy,” Clu remarked, the Program showing a faint trace of Kevin's sense of humor.
The argument was cut short when the portal slid open. Two very agitated scout Programs – a male and a female - marched in, Tron at their heels. “Creator, I'm very sorry to interrupt you, but this cannot wait,” said the male.
“Okay, Gabe. What is it?”
“Shaddox has missed his check-in. And we found this on the far end of Kappa Sector.”
The female scout walked up to Kevin and knelt at his feet. It was a gesture he really tried to discourage, but many Programs insisted. She pulled an identity disk off her back – a second disk. As soon as it was pressed into his hands, the image of Shaddox came into view – dark skin and neatly-groomed dark hair, including his distinctive beard. Few Programs added facial hair to their appearance routines. Unfortunately, there didn't seem to be any recording on the disk that would indicate what happened.
“I'll go out for him,” Tron said.
“I'll head out with you. Whatever's happened to Shaddox, he's in deep trouble, and a little User-Power probably would go a long way.” He looked apologetically at Jordan. “Jordan, I'm sorry, but this is serious. Someone's life is at stake out there. I'll be back as soon as I can, and I'll answer any questions you have about this place – any of them.”
“What's my job?” Clu asked. “Am I going out with you?”
“No. Stay with Jordan. Keep an eye on her. Hell, show her some of the combat training arenas if you need to keep her occupied.”
“Combat? You told me she was a builder.”
“She's both. Like me. And she can kick my butt at Matrix Blaster, so find her something to build or something to shoot. I'll be back as soon as I can.”
Before either of them could say anything further, Kevin, Tron, and the scouts were racing out the door and into the cycle bay.
"He's asking toget shot," Jordan grumbled.
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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.