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 Fanfic: Tron Invasion Chapter 13 (Part C)


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Fanfic: Tron Invasion Chapter 13 (Part C)

on Sunday, October, 06, 2013 3:53 PM
The radio crackled and hissed, but the channel came online. “Contact established! Ma3a, this is Mercury aboard Packet Transport 112-Theta. Class Five Recognizer, full load. We're headed to Citadel, under ICP attack.”

“Mercury, you have survived. Have any others?”
“Yes. Jet is with me. And an email script, Romie, that I recommend for full Agent status and training.” She looked back at them, fighting against the light-jet squadron. This was difficult to admit, but she owed Ma3a no less than honesty. “I'm alive thanks to them.”

“I can connect a secure tunnel to the next beam. If the transport can reach it, you will have safe passage to Citadel. Transmitting access codes now...”
The transmission sent, but the next hit destroyed the conduit to the radio, and Mercury barely dove out of the chair to avoid the power surge.

“We've reached the next junction.” the captain said. “Switching to the higher-energy beam!”

The consoles and circuitry lines of the walls and panels lit brighter beneath their feet, and the surge of energy powered their guns. “Eight seconds to the secure tunnel, and we're stable – for now,” the engineer said. “But I'm getting no contact from engine room. The line's intact, but it's gone silent.”

Mercury knew they weren't out of trouble yet. “How many of the squadron evaded?”

Romie said,“We shot two more, but three of them...I can't read them on the sensors.”

“Means they've landed a boarding party on the upper deck, right in our blind spot,” she said darkly. “Jet?”

“I...I'm okay.” It was clear he wasn't. Circuitry pale, sweating. He was pushing himself past exhaustion, and not even Ma3a likely knew what a User's limits actually were.

A thick clanging sound cut off any argument.

Romie, Mercury, and Jet had their discs in hand before the door came down. Three ICPs stormed the bridge.

“This Recognizer belongs to the Kernel.”

The captain wasn't having it. “I'm Cally, the captain of this Reco. We're a civilian transport on a rescue mission from Ma3a herself. You explain your Kernel's actions!”

The ICP's disc flew for the captain's head, but Mercury was anticipating it, her own disc blocking the shot and sending it wild while the counterattack sliced through the ICPs neck cleanly, reducing him to fading static.

The fight was on, but the surviving ICP continued to make his demand. “All packet transports and evacuation vessels will be commandeered for ICP use. All other functions are acceptable losses to combat the Thorne virus. Ma3a is considered a traitor to the Encom system, and all who serve her have been sentenced to immediate de-resol -”

That last sentence ended with a disc in his chest. The disc belonged not to the agents, but to the captain.

“I'll keep this Reco flying. Boarding party's likely headed for the engine room. Get the rest of those null-units off my ship.”

The engineer looked up. “Captain, alert's been pulled on Deck 5.”

“Seal it off. We'll only drop it long enough to send a team to the engine room.”

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The Kernel's second in command, Morton, led the boarding party, but as he and his men stalked the decks of the ship and watched as civilians cowered, kneeling or lying on the decks in surrender, no sudden moves. A female-designated sobbed. An old male-designated was weeping.

It was his directive to protect and restore order to the system. Was this protection? Was this defense? He did not know anymore.

“This vessel and all contents are now under the command of the Kernel,” he stated. “Remain calm.”

Someone shrieked. One of his men threw a disc and killed her instantly.

“That is an illegal operation!”

“They'll be killed in the reformat anyway, Commander Morton,” his subordinate said with a sneer.

With a quick turn, circuit strike, and shove, the insubordinate Program was against the wall, and the commander delivering a painful energy surge. “I am giving the orders, script. We commandeer this vessel with with no unnecessary casualties. Standard procedure is quarantine and scan.” The subordinate looked like he wanted to argue, but was too intimidated to press the issue. Morton turned to the crowd. “Any medic Programs?”

Three male-designated and two female-designated raised their hands. Two of them had full packs of gear.

“Inspect every refugee on this deck for signs of viral infection, starting with each other. We verify, deck by deck, that we don't have any contamination.”

“It would be faster to -”

The commander's glare ended that sentence. He let go of the chastised soldier, but kept a wary eye open as he opened a line over his earpiece. “Team Beta?”

“We're at the engine deck, proceeding to engine room after conducing a security scan.”

“Keep me informed.” He was about to signal the bridge when the alarms went off. Morton quickly checked the location. Deck Five.

The commander ordered his men. “Entee, Sid, Ojin, you go to Deck Five with me.” He trusted the other pair to have cooler processors. “Codewall, Lan, you keep things calm up here. Help the medics if they need it.”

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Mercury led the way down to deck five, Jet on her heels. He had already pulled out his suffusion routine, the short-range more appropriate for the tight quarters.

“You didn't have to come.”

“If we run into Z-Lots, I'm still immune. Romie's not. He's also a better pilot, meaning that he's of more use on the bridge.”

Mercury scowled. “Jet, you're too damn willing to risk your life. You've spent enough energy to exhaust a half-dozen Programs and you're still pushing it.”

“We've been over this, Mercury. The choices aren't good. I'm taking the same risk as everyone here.”

Logically, she couldn't argue with that. Fail, and he was just as dead as everyone aboard. “Doesn't mean I like it.”

“Makes two of us,” he said. Crossing over to the comm panel, he signaled the bridge. “Romie, seal off the deck behind us.”

“Got it,” he radioed back. “I'll keep alert for any other alarms. But there's been nothing since the alarm got pulled. You see anything?”
The deck itself was disquieting empty. Chairs and benches were overturned, pixel-glass was shattered, internal walls and partitions were smashed and looked like hunks were torn out. The emergency overhead lights flickered, leaving unreliable pools of anemic light on the floor to augment the dim circuitry of the walls. Like all the passenger decks, it had been full to capacity seconds before. Now, there was nothing – silence.

Jet took a sharp breath and gagged. “Ozone. They died.”

Mercury squinted. In the dim light, the fading remains of a few dying voxels remained. “You're right.” She hit the panel again. “Bridge, we have visual. Something killed everyone on this deck, and it only took a few seconds to tear through. Watch deck four and engine deck for any alerts or sabotage.” She looked both ways before signaling Jet to follow as they made their way to the engine deck.

Two steps. Three. Five.

A dozen voices shrieked at once. From behind the chairs and benches, from the partitions and the walls. They'd been innocent refugees, now they were twisted Z-lots -green circuits, empty eyes, shells twisted and held together with what looked like green paste. They ripped off their flesh and threw it, the bomblets landing with an infectious splash on the floor. Mercury dodged and backed toward the bulkhead door to the engine deck.

“Mercury, get back behind the door, I'll follow.”

She did, using the frame for cover and Jet summoned a viral grenade of his own, pitching it into the crowd before returning with a volley of suffusion fire, mowing down the mindless fiends. Unfortunately, one of the Z-lot bombs got a lucky shot and the door came crashing down too quickly to duck behind it.

Unable to hold his ground, Jet looked for an alternate escape route. The viral bombs were painful and made moving difficult (he was already running on terror and adrenaline). He resorted for tearing viral code off his suit and throwing it back at them.

He ducked behind a maintenance door and sealed it behind him, taking a moment to breathe and try to pull the remaining gunk off his armor. “Zombie apocalypse. Not the way I thought I'd go.”

He didn't get a chance. A red blur charged him, kneed him in the gut and tackled him. The suffusion gun went spinning uselessly out of reach. His attacker was an ICP unit, one of the boarding party. He also recognized the face. It was also the Kernel's aide and top subordinate, one of his interrogators back at their prison.

Jet struggled, smashed his elbow into a circuit node on the ICP's shoulder, which broke contact for a moment, and tried to reach for the gun that was just about in reach .... The ICP responded with a nasty palm-strike to the underside of Jet's jaw. Jet continued to struggle, finally getting his hand around the grip and pull it up to fire...

There was the whine of a disc activation and the sharp edge held inches above his throat. “Don't. Move.”

A twisted sing-song voice behind them broke the standoff. “Clean ones!”

Jet turned the gun, aimed and fired. The ICP looked over his shoulder to see the Z-lot creeping up on them both stagger back with a parody of a smile and tear green goo out of the wound. Even worse, there were several more Z-lots to the front and back, pinning them in. Realizing they had bigger problems to deal with at the moment, he let go of Jet, scrambling to a fighting stance and delivering a head shot to the infected script, which collapsed in a green, organic-looking heap.

They stood back to back in the narrow corridor, forcing the eight or so attackers to face them single-file, cutting them down with quick strikes of disc or blasts from the suffusion gun. After clearing the corridor, Jet kept his gun at the ready, waiting for the ICP to make a move. The ICP had his disc drawn, as if thinking the same thing. Finally, Jet decided he'd have to be the one to speak first.

“You okay?”

“I am not infected,” he answered. “But you are a wanted fugitive, and I am under orders to de-rez you on sight.”

“Kinda figured,” Jet said. “But I don't want to kill you. These Z-lots are the real enemy here. We can die fighting each other or we can work together and live. Your call.”

The ICP seemed to weigh this in his processor before slowly lowering his disc. “Can't interrogate you if you've de-rezzed. You've been nothing but unanswered questions ever since you showed up.”

Jet kept it simple, trying not to breathe too hard in relief as he lowered the barrel of his gun. “I work for Ma3a. I'm with her agents. We're trying to get the uninfected Programs on this Recognizer to her Citadel so we can evacuate them before the reformat.”

“The Kernel believes that any Program outside of ICP forces is a potential infectee. That's why...” The ICP couldn't finish the sentence.

“I can see the argument. Ma3a thinks differently.”

“You are obviously not commanding nor allied with the Z-lots as the Kernel believes, and his orders have been erratic as of late. My directive is to serve, however.”

He was going to sound like an idiot, get his ass kicked, or it would be just the right question to ask. “Does a countermeasure serve the system, or just the Kernel?”

The ICP straightened, indignant. “We defend and protect the system from any and all threats from without and corruption from within.”

Jet checked the suffusion rod. His weapon was charged and ready. “Sounds like you have your answer. Do you have a name?”

“Morton,” he said. “How many agents does Ma3a have aboard this Recognizer?”

“Name's Jet. There are two others with me.”

“There were twelve of us. Three I sent to the bridge, and three on the team down here with me. Those three...succumbed to infection, I believe. We fell to an ambush and were unable to retreat.”

“The bridge party attacked us. We had to defend ourselves. I'm sorry,” Jet answered. “And the captain had the bridge seal off this deck when the alarm sounded. We...we didn't....”

Morton's expression seemed to convey more resignation than anger at the loss. “At least that is done. Contain the infection, reduce the potential threat. It was the correct action.”

“I'm sorry for the loss of your men,” Jet said. “The ones with the passengers, what are their orders? De-rez?”

“No. I am following standard procedure and quarantining the passengers while my men and some medic scripts check for any further signs of infection.” The way Morton emphasized “standard” drove home the point. “I wanted...confirmation. Do you know of any useful tactics in fighting the Z-lots?”

Jet touched the wall. Things were so much easier to remember on the other side of the screen. “A few...”

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Mercury was worried sick by the time she was able to scramble down to the engine deck. Jet was nowhere to be found, and she knew that while he was relatively immune to the virus, there were other, nastier ways the Z-lots could finish him.

Fortunately, she got his call signal a few seconds later and was able to find a panel.

“Mercury? You okay?”
“I managed to seal the bulkheads and get to the engine deck. You?”

“Still on five, and I found the ICP commander.”
“Tell me he's a pile of smoking voxels.”

“No, saved each others' lives. He's willing to call a truce. He's already notified his men to stand down, and I let Romie and Cally know.”
Mercury had to pause a while to run that one through her processor. What was he going to tell her next – the Sea had come to life? It wasn't the way she would do things, but Ma3a would certainly approve. “Okay, we can go back to shooting each other after the Z-lots are gone. Any good ideas?”

“Mercury, this is Morton, Aide and Commander to the Kernel. Since the lower two decks have been compromised, we need to keep this area shielded. My men have verified that the infection has not spread to any of the upper decks. There were three more infectees, but my men...did what they had to.”
Mercury found herself closing her eyes and sighing. She was inured to mass de-rez before this, or so she thought. “Jet, hate to ask, but what do you know about Class Fives that could solve this?”

“I can't remember much about this class. These things got dummied out of the game early on,” he answered. “ I know that if we disabled the external shields on the lower decks, we'd vent everything to space. It's our best shot, provided we can get ourselves and any survivors to safety first.”
Mercury looked to the engine room. “Guess I scrounge up some permissions and see if the engine crew were able to survive, Mercury out.”

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Morton and Jet crept along the thin, claustrophobic tunnels along the Recognizer's edge, listening at the door before opening the hatch onto another section. It was no better than the last – ripped chairs, overturned benches, ripped paneling. Morton pulled his disc and nodded. Jet turned and opened fire into the room, spraying a few shots into the obvious hiding places. Three Z-lots that popped up were swiftly dealt with.

“Not a lot in this room,” Jet said.

“Caution,” Morton remarked. “We'll do a security sweep. You start at the left wall, and I will start at the right. Mirror my movements.”

Jet tossed off a bad imitation of some kind of salute and started on the left wall. Morton eyed him warily. He heard that outrageous “confession” at the tower, all right. A User of all things? At the time, he was of the same opinion as his Kernel. Now, he wasn't sure what to think. He saw the technician's report about the Jet's disc and all that unreadable data (and saved a copy to his own disc without the Kernel's knowledge), and there was just something....strange about him. Maybe he could believe that claim, except for one thing; Ma3a might be a powerful Program, but she was still a Program.

Users did not serve Programs.

“I think this was a barracks room, converted to crew quarters” Jet said, “Most I was able to find was this permission archive in the wall.” He began to download the permissions.

“Officer staterooms would be on the top deck. This room would be for the engineers. We'll need to get that to your companion on the engine deck.

“Right,” he said. “Place is still swarming with Z-Lots. It's a bad sign we haven't seen more.”

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Mercury met up with the other ICP team...what was left of them.

The south engine corridor was a red and green horror show. Piles of green viral code, faded red voxels, including some larger body parts – she almost stepped on a whole, armored torso that was slow to decay.

“Oh, glitch.”

And that's when things got worse. The deck lurched forward and to the left suddenly before righting itself. Glancing out the rear access, to the beam track, she saw that the Reco was sitting powered, but unmoving, along the track as the red wall of death crept closer.

Spinning around, she fired quickly enough to kill the Z-lot trying to backstab, but that did not prepare her for the door to the engine room bursting open and an energy-searing scream emerging from within. A dozen Z-lots - armed with broken machines, tools, pieces of the walls and benches vandalized earlier.

Mercury stepped back and turned the suffusion gun back to a rod, snapping the halves apart and bracing for melee.

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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.
 
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