Fanfic: "Through a Diamond Sky" part 7 of 14
on Monday, March, 05, 2012 2:32 AM
The guards marched them to the same tiny cell he had been imprisoned in earlier, sealing the door shut. As soon as they were alone, he dropped the pretense and pulled Jordan to him, holding her like the world was about to end. She was also clinging to him for dear life.
“No listening devices,” he informed her. “I checked during my last scan of the room.”
She let out a breath and stepped back, but still didn't let go of him just yet. “Is your system always this dangerous?”
“Not usually. I haven't been in it this deep since Master Control,” he admitted. “That was actually worse, though.”
“I shudder to think of how,” Jordan said.
“Back then, I didn't have any idea what I was doing. Now, I have half an idea of what I'm doing.” Kevin put his hands on the collar around Jordan's neck. “Give me a second.”
She sighed. “He's going to start killing prisoners. One for every minute.”
“Meaning about one per hour in Grid-time. Not like that guy's going to keep his word.” Kevin took his hands off her neck and took her shoulders. “Jordan, I'm sorry. I wanted to show you this world, but not like this. Not when it's not finished. Not when it's still dangerous. I was an idiot and didn't want you thinking I was crazy or worrying about me, or...”
She cupped his face. “Kevin, you are crazy, and that's part of why I fell for you.”
Breaking the embrace, he felt for the door. “I can break us out of here, but there's going to be a lot of them and two of us. I let The Baron get me the last time because I gambled that either I could talk him out of it, or he'd be dumb enough to confess the whole plan. I was right on the latter.”
“And you almost got choked to death,” Jordan pointed out.
“Every life on this Grid – every Program, every Iso – they're my responsibility. They revere the Users, and I'm the only one they've seen until now. I'm nowhere near as wise or good as they think I am, but I'm what they've got. If that means putting my life on the line...”
Jordan tried to process this new piece of information in light of all she had seen and heard so far. To stand between danger and the beloved home was, to paraphrase Heinlein, the goal of a soldier. When she met Kevin over a game of Matrix Blaster at his arcade, she had been glad for the fact that he wasn't the macho, swaggering GI she had seen one too many times in the service (and her ex-husband certainly fit that mold). She thought he was just a big kid with a talent for business and computers, someone whose chaotic and carefree nature balanced out her hardass tendencies.
Seeing the Grid and learning what he was willing to do to protect those living in it certainly showed a side to him that she hadn't bet on, but it was a side Jordan could respect; aspects of duty and courage, the strength of a soldier without the baggage that term usually carried.
“What are these 'Isos' anyway? Clu refers to them as 'rogue scripts,' which I don't imagine is a compliment.”
“That's Clu for you. My best and worst traits, but zero imagination when it comes down to it. I needed matter to build the Grid, Jordan. I also was trying to get the laser's mechanisms right. Master Control zapped me in, so my pattern was in the system, but when the MCP got taken down, my pattern was the only one stored. I was the only one who could get in or out.” He explained as his eyes closed, working the invisible lock. “I was throwing everything from roadkill to the contents of the dumpster out back into the thing. Add junk data and half-deleted files from Encom's system, and you have the Simulation Sea.”
“Then how did I get in?”
“Thank the Isos for it. I set a few of them to work trying to find a way to allow a second User in here with me. If they hadn't been there to crunch the numbers,...” His voice trailed off. “My last attempt to figure out the calculations, I tested with a dead rat – turned into goop the instant it hit cyberspace.”
He looked over his shoulder. “As for the Isos themselves, I don't know how the hell it happened. They crawled out of the Sea – like magic. I think some of the trash I was zapping in had enough human DNA to replicate itself. Mix that with the garbled computer code, and...”
“Not quite. They have human DNA, but it's mixed with computer code. They're an entirely new species. Even if I tried to replicate the experiments I've done here on another system, it's pretty likely I won't be able to replicate the result. And User of Users knows what that idiot Baron is going to do.”
She blinked in disbelief. “I'd ask you if you were kidding, but I know that you're being entirely straight with me.”
“We're kinda in over our heads, but we are going to get ourselves out. And no matter what...”
The kiss was hard, fast and desperate. They didn't have a lot of time, and things were about to get very dangerous.
“Jesus, Flynn, the day you stop surprising me...” she breathed. After a pause, she smiled. “I love you, too.”
“Yeah, well, it's time we surprise The Baron. I can sense two guards on the other side of the door. Ready?”
Jordan took position on the other side of the portal and nodded.
When Clu rebooted, he found himself in a small cell with another figure. He recognized his cellmate as Shaddox, the architect Program whose disappearance started this whole mess. If his purpose to the Resource Hogs was bait to lure them in, it worked. If he served his purpose, though, wouldn't they have just de-rezzed him?
He didn't have all of his creator's abilities, but he had a fair amount, including a greater-than-normal energy reserve. Shaddox might be partly to blame for this mess, but Clu needed answers and he wasn't going to get them if the architect de-rezzed on him. This was going to be tricky without their disks, but it was worth a try. Finding the power node on Shaddox's chest, Clu reached into himself and started pushing energy to the unconscious Program.
He'd managed to start the transfer when the door opened and the guards tossed in an Iso male. He didn't look like much – none of the Isos did to him. They were all wide-eyed stares and incessant queries with no focus or use.
“Administrator?” he asked.
“Yes. State your designation, Iso.”
“My name is Herd. Administrator, I can't believe they got you too. They've got our Creator hostage, and Tron is in the lower level cells with my counterpart -”
“All the more reason not to waste a nano on irrelevant output. Your kind has regenerating energy reserves, yes? Right now, we're going to need that. My unconscious colleague needs an energy infusion. He's drained enough that it might damage one of us if we went it alone.”
“But if we pooled our energy...” Herd glanced between Clu and Shaddox, kneeling on the floor. “Right.”
“I'll talk you through it,” Clu said, guiding Herd's hand to the node on Shaddox's chest, and then placing his own hand next to it. “Do exactly as I say.”
As soon as the door slid open, the guards marched in the room, ready for a fight. Jordan dropped into her old hand to hand stance from Basic Training. Never thought I'd actually have to use this. Three cheers for muscle memory and my old gunnery sergeant. She grabbed the one closer to her by the gun arm and slammed her knee into his gut. The suffusion gun clattered to the floor, unusable in the tight quarters. She followed it up by driving her palm into the underside of his jaw as hard as she could, knocking him back against the wall.
Kevin was busy with the larger of the two attackers, though it was only a marginal difference in size. It was a little shocking to see her computer-geek-slash-businessman husband fight, but she had seen enough shocking things today to mentally shrug and keep going. He kept on the offensive, trying to keep it up so that the other guard had no opportunity to hit back.
Shoving her back with his greater bulk, the Hog she was fighting made a dive for the gun. Jordan kicked the gun away, sending it clattering against the opposite wall, narrowly able to get out of the way when Kevin's opponent stumbled over his cohort's bulk. She tried to kick the Hog in the throat, but he grabbed her ankle and tried to pull her off balance. The close quarters fighting, though, meant Kevin was close enough to viciously kick the guy right in the small of the back, his heel striking a large node of circuitry.
“Aim for the circuits, Jordan! On a Program, they're really sensitive.”
Jordan jerked her foot out of the attacker's grip and followed by slamming her heel into the brightly-lit node on the Hog's hip, causing him to howl with pain like she'd just delivered it to a human's groin. “Nice to know!”
Kevin's attacker crawled up from the floor and pulled a light-cycle rod from his belt. With a twist, he pulled it apart, and it became a pair of sparking sticks that looked like cattle prods. With an incoherent noise that sounded like a cross of a growl and a scream, he charged.
“Kevin, look out!”
He turned just in time to avoid getting hit, sending the Hog charging for Jordan. She stepped out of the way, grabbing his wrist with one hand and using the other to gouge at his eyes. One of the rods dropped to the floor, and the other one followed when Jordan delivered a blow to the knee that would have dislocated it on a human. On the Program, it simply shattered like a zapped alien from an arcade game, dropping the Hog helplessly to the floor as he clutched the shattered remains of his leg.
Kevin was busy with his own attacker, a tough brute that kept soaking up the punches and kicks. He was breathing hard now, tiring with the effort. “Grab the shock sticks!”
She didn't need to be told a second time. Diving down and scooping them up, one in each hand, she lunged for Kevin's attacker and jammed the sticks into a pair of circuit lines on the Hog's back. It twitched uncontrollably, letting out a hideous shriek as it convulsed briefly before blowing apart in a cascade of voxels that quickly faded out of existence.
The remaining Hog on the floor was crawling for the gun. No sooner had he grabbed it than Kevin kicked it out of his hands. Dropping to the floor, Jordan watched as Kevin hissed and did something with his hands, like he was sucking up energy through his arms. She watched as the circuit lines on his clothes bled out the white and became the same color green as the Hog's for a moment before the Hog himself twitched and faded out, decaying into nothing.
It was just them in the cell. Kevin shuddered. “I hate having to do that. And contrary to what you probably heard, I've found it doesn't get easier.”
“Sometimes, you don't get a choice,” she pointed out, sealing the sparking halves of the baton and putting it on her hip, where it just hung there, seemingly of its own accord.
He nodded and let out a sigh, shaking out his hand. “Get their guns, Jordan.”
She picked up the closest suffusion gun. “I thought this looked familiar. Sounded familiar, too.” She handed it to Kevin before getting the other one.
“How so?” he asked.
“You programmed Matrix Blaster, and you don't recognize your own light gun design?”
He looked at it, looked back at her, and started laughing. “I really should have put it together earlier. Come on.”
By now, Kanna was desperate. Herd was not going to de-rez, and they all were not going to be destroyed in this bugged script's lair.
The walls of their prison were not smooth or finished, evidence that the gang just carved it out of the existing cliffs or were lazy enough just to throw a few forcefields and firewalls around existing tunnels. While searching the walls frantically for a weakness, she dislodged a fist-sized hunk of virtual stone. She hacked at the wall until the stone fell apart, clawed at it with her fingers, dislodged another stone, and began chipping away at the wall.
“Kanna,” Tron asked. He had been able to sit by propping himself up against the wall, but he was still so low on energy that anything else was doubtful. He watched her fruitlessly chipping away at the walls, and felt a painful helplessness. “What are you doing? The walls are too thick.”
“I can't do nothing. I...have to...” She continued to hack away at the walls.
“Spending your energy needlessly won't help him. Think,” he cautioned her.
“My counterpart is out there. The Baron will destroy him. I refuse to sit and wait.”
“Kanna, I know what it is to be afraid for the one you love. I need you to be ready to fight, especially since I'm so drained, I can't.”
She turned around, rock in hand. “Is it just a directive to you?”
“I don't understand, Kanna,” he said.
“You say you fight for all of the Grid's citizens, but are you just saying that because you believe it or because Creator Flynn hard-wired it into your code?” Her voice was ragged and tinged with pain and exhaustion. “Because if it wasn't, why would any Basic fight for an Iso's life?”
The question took him by surprise. Programs took for granted what their directives were and what it meant. “Flynn had nothing to do with my directive. It was given to me by Alan-1, back on the Old System. That directive is to protect the System from threats from without and safeguard it from threats within. It's true I can't break that. I don't want to. But any Program has a large degree of choice over the focus of their directive – how we carry it out. Don't let fear and ignorance poison you, Kanna – not theirs and not your own.”
“I'm sorry. I shouldn't have...” she said.
Tron couldn't offer a hand or a brush of comforting energy, but he could offer his story. “I also know what it's like to be feared or whispered about, to be treated poorly for something intrinsic to you. Master Control was like The Baron, only a hundred times worse. Those who believed in the Users were hunted down, re-purposed, or sent to die on the Game Grid. I did have a choice, Kanna. Master Control told me I could defend him, fight for his system.”
“What did you do?”
“I didn't choose him. I chose faith. I chose to hope. In the end, it worked.”
Kanna's hand clenched around the rock. “Then let's both hope.” A couple more whacks at the wall, and a familiar, surprising substance drizzled on her fingers. “Champion, I don't believe this!” She enlarged the crack with the stone until a thin, but steady stream dribbled out from the rock and into her cupped fingers. Once she had as much as she could carry in her cupped hands, she carefully knelt at his side.
He took a gulp, feeling his strength return, enough to stand. “We won't have much time before the guards come back. Come on – we'll drink as much as we can. I have an idea.”
Shaddox sputtered awake.
“Don't try to sit up too quickly,” Herd said, steadying the architect Program's shoulders.
“We don't have time for niceties,” Clu said.
“Administrator? What in the Void -” Shaddox tried to ask.
“Told you. No time.”
“Oh, glitch it. I was trying to get out of the sector when those Hogs overtook my cycle. They had me on the rack, and next thing I know -”
“Shaddox, there's something here they want. Otherwise, they wouldn't be hassling some one-bit Iso settlement or try to get everyone's attention. What is it?”
“It's the whole sector. Kappa Sector has the richest energy lines I've seen on the Grid,” Shaddox explained. “This base is built over an entire under-surface power pool. Biggest I've ever seen. That's not counting the huge tributaries and springs that are in the immediate area.”
“Then why the draining racks?” Herd asked.
“Seems the Baron can drain any Program or Iso dry. Whatever energy gets fed through those racks gets fed directly to him. The more energy he absorbs, the bigger he gets. Programs join or get fed to it. Isos he treats like batteries.”
“What would happen if he fed a User to it?”
Shaddox shook his head with disbelief. “Flynn didn't.”
“Trouble attracts him like gridbugs to bad sectors,” Clu said. “And now there's a second one...”
Shaddox was about to ask when four more Hogs came in. The leader pressed the activator on the control rod, sending painful jolts through all of them. Unable to fight back, they were quickly rounded up and marched to towards the array of racks.
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.