I am soo dead. I usually write my stories on my smartphone and yesterday it broke. Even though I managed to repair it I lost all data on it so I'm sorta back to square one. I have some backups but not for everything, so I'll have to rewrite about... 10 chapters. Yeah, it sucks.
Anyway, here is the Grid meets a zombie apocalypse chapter.
Disclaimer: I own nothing.
Please enjoy and review!
ENCOM Tower, the CEO office, 3:45 AM.
Sam Flynn was glaring at the data on screen of his computer as if he couldn't believe what he was seeing. Nothing he had done could remove the virus plaguing the company network, and now it seemed like the bugger has used it as host to spread to a lot more systems linked to ENCOM. It even latched to the latest OS the company had developed, making Sam decide to pull it out of the Internet distribution until the threat was contained, but the logs contained one more entry that was unaccounted for. A sliver of dread crept in the young Flynn's mind and turned to pure horror as he looked up the last IP and traced it to its source: his father's Arcade computers. He snatched his phone and quickly dialed a number he knew so well, tapping his fingers on the desk impatiently until the other picked up.
"We have a big problem," he said abruptly, cutting out the protests about waking people up in the middle of the night on the other end of the line, "it got to the Grid."
The morning of the prom I woke up early. As in3:46 AM early.
It wasn't the best wakeup call either, more so since I had fallen asleep in the basement while putting up some upgrades in the Grid hideout and I was sure the keyboard would forever remain embedded on my forehead after the alarm went off.
"What the..." I moaned when the computers began pinging and beeping and all sorts of error messages popped in the screen.
I opened the live Grid map I had developed to keep an eye on the place and immediately I could see some splotches of yellow among the usual black, blue and white of the map. Somewhere around the city of Purgos there were traces of viral activity and when I ran a diagnostic program my jaw hit the floor when I saw what unwanted guests we had. Sometime in the last two weeks a new worm called the Zombie emerged on the Internet, one of the worst that had ever existed. Apart from its exponential expansion inside the network it was famous for the damage it did to the host systems, leaving entire networks crippled or destroyed beyond repair, and I didn't even want to imagine what it could do in the Grid. Luckily the infection didn't have enough time to spread, so it should be easy enough to contain and terminate, or so I thought until the quarantine sequence crashed with another error message.
"Oh no you don't," I snarled, initiating the routine again to the same result.
I remembered what I read about the Zombie a couple of nights ago: the virus was almost impossible to fight by usual measures such as quarantine-and-delete approaches, and to top it all off the only System Monitor who was capable of dealing with this sort of threats was sound asleep upstairs.
"Crap," I muttered, "this is bad."
And bad it was, since I could see the infection spreading from a single spot to more yellow hives in the code in a matter of seconds, leaving me no choice but to enter the Grid and deal with the virus from the inside. With another curse to the idiot who wrote this virus I entered the Portal sequence and set the coordinates to the outskirts of Purgos, digitizing on a cliff overlooking the city. It was similar yet different to Tron city, but it was smaller anyway so it was easier to find the infected areas. I rezzed the black helmet I usually wore to conceal myself and a black cloak to hide my white circuits and made my way to the city entrance by foot wondering how on Earth would I deal with an angry worm if and when I find it.
The first thing that hit me when I entered was the mix of Programs that roamed the streets, pale blue circuitry mixing with green and occasional red, black clothes and white armor, all combined in a variegated mob that minded its own business, entering the shops or inspecting what other Programs sold on the streets. The only thing I could compare it to was a very loud and kind of savage marketplace where you could find everything and anything you wanted, from illegal Disk upgrades to energy pubs and entertainment of all sorts, but if you weren't careful who you annoyed it was easy to find yourself with a Disk in your back. I passed without a glance by a building that resembled a brothel with a couple of scantily clad female Programs dancing behind the front windows to the stand of an art Program who struggled to sell some breathtakingly beautiful paintings to no avail. I paused in front of one that depicted the Sea of Simulations and the ENCOM Portal glowing in the background and the Program noticed me admiring it.
"Do you like it?," he asked, "it's for sale."
"It's beautiful," I agreed.
"Please, it's not expensive," the Program begged, faint desperation coloring his voice, "I have a family to take care of, and nobody gives a pixel on an Art Program these days..."
I said nothing, still looking at the digital painting before I took my baton out of its strap on my thigh and twirled it in my palm.
"I could use some information more than the painting," I started, playing with the baton carelessly, "and I'm willing to pay for it. This is a modified Light Cycle that could bring you enough to sustain your family if you sell it, but I'll only give it to you if you can tell me what I need to know."
"Anything you want," the Program said, "but not where we can be heard."
He quickly gathered his merchandise and led the way to a small pub I would have overlooked since it was concealed between two brightly lit pawn shops. I ordered the bartender two energy cocktails and motioned the Program to sit down in an obscure corner, eyeing my surroundings carefully for any eavesdroppers.
"What do you want to know?" he asked.
"Have there been any disturbances of any sort in this area?" I said softly, "I'm mostly interested in weird disappearances in the last milicycle."
"It's not unusual for a Program or two to go missing around here," he explained, "with all the black market business things can go badly anytime, but recently there were a lot more incidents in the Disk market sector than usual."
"What kind of incidents?"
"Disappearances as you said, and also people have spotted some weird Programs there, all of them coming from the outskirts of the city. They say that it was...," the Program paused, leaning closer as his voice trailed to a whisper, "They suspect that they are of viral origin. Some buildings were destabilized and even collapsed, that didn't happen since before the Coup when Abraxas roamed the Grid, and now that we have no more System Monitors the people are afraid that something terrible is happening and nobody will be able to stop it."
"Who said there are no more System Monitors on the Grid," I said mysteriously, "maybe you don't see them but they are here among you."
A sudden commotion at the bar made the Program look away before he could ask more and I took the chance to disappear, leaving the baton on the table before I made my way to the sector he sent me to.
The Disk market was in the farthest corner of town, and ever since I entered it I got a feeling that something was off. It was that kind of place where you didn't go unless you had some business that couldn't be done in the open, and many of the Programs had a secretive, if not downright menacing look as they watched me stride on the main street. There were no glowing neon signs, no chatter, no over energized Programs stumbling out of the pubs, only a pall of silent fear that plagued the inhabitants. The Programs themselves were tense as if they waited for something terrible to happen, hurrying to do their business. Even the buildings weren't as elaborate and uniform as those in Tron city, looking more like the Programs themselves had mixed and matched them to suit their needs but nobody cared for maintenance anymore, leaving many dark and deserted.
Danger, User, a female voice whispered in my head and I turned to see four Programs with red circuits behind me.
One of them twirled a staff while the others smirked, inspecting me and I fought a shiver as their greedy looks moved from my body to my Disks.
"This is no place for a female Program to be alone," the one with the staff sneered, "maybe you should come with us, have a little chat..."
I instinctively assumed a defensive stance and the Programs laughed, closing in on me.
"Why so tense," one of them purred, "we'll help you... unwind for a bit."
"You have no idea who you're messing with," I warned, my hand wandering to the Disks and already coiling to strike.
Before they managed to take another step I lunged to the one with the staff and yanked the weapon out of his hands, derezzing him with a swift strike under his chin. I didn't even bother with splitting the Disks, part from fear of being recognized and part because I didn't need it, so I twisted the staff in my left hand while keeping the Disks in my right without breaking stride as I approached the gang.
"Anyone in for some unwinding," I sneered as the Programs stumbled back.
"System Monitor," one of them squealed, his muddy brown eyes widening in fear, "p-please, we didn't know, have mercy..."
I caught a movement to my left, a flash of yellow light bolting away, so I waved the gang off. I had no time to teach them some respect, but I was sure that taking me for an easy target was scary enough.
"Get out of here," I ordered, "If I see any of you again you'll suffer your friend's fate."
I didn't even wait to see if they left before I sprinted on one of the narrow passages between buildings, following the trace of viral code to its source. After a couple of crossroads the trail simply vanished as if someone had erased it, stopping in the middle of a deserted plaza. I looked everywhere around me, but I couldn't see any yellow viral code in the area, meaning that I had lost my only lead to solving this.
The female voice that had warned me earlier murmured again in my mind, making me jump and inspect my surroundings again. I was completely alone.
"Am I hearing voices now?" I snarled, gripping my Disks even tighter.
User, the voice called again.
It carried a digital tone to it much like the Programs had, and I had a weird feeling that it was trying to help me, though it was still unnerving to hear things that didn't exist in my head.
Danger. Viral. Error. Error. Help. Unauthorized access. Multiplying. Help. Us. User.
I gasped when the breathy whispers entered my mind again and my legs gave in so I ended up on my hands and knees wheezing for air. I stumbled to my feet, still dizzy and wobbled to the nearest wall where I collapsed again, panting and struggling to calm down.
Up, look up.
I looked above me and saw the ugliest looking Program I had ever encountered standing on a ledge. It looked like something out of a nightmare with no features apart from a huge mouth littered with fangs and two dark pits for eyes, and more terrifying was the fact that it held a Program I recognized as one of the idiots who tried to rob me. I could see the code derezzing where the virus had bit him, the pixels turning slowly to a sickly yellow and cracking and splintering all over the Program's frame.
I was frozen against the wall, too afraid to make any move whatsoever, but when the infection was complete and the Zombie let the poor Program drop to the street I couldn't hold back a scared whimper. It wasn't loud but it was enough to make the virus' attention turn to me and for a moment I found myself looking straight into the holes where the eyes of the creature should have been and I knew somehow that it knew what I was.
Get up, User. Get up.
I used the wall to get up, sliding by it slowly in an attempt to bolt away when the virus turns away but I never got the chance. The Zombie roared, an inhuman sound that chilled the blood in my veins, and from all the corners of the plaza emerged yellow lit Infected, all of them looking like something had eaten at their code.
"So that's why they call you Zombie," I snarled, taking my Disks out and lowering into a hunting crouch.
I hurled the first and then the second Disk, derezzing two of the Infected before the weapons returned to my hands. Even more of the minions came out from viral code patches on the walls and the ground and much to my horror I realized I had ended up in the main lair of the virus.
"Oh great," I groaned when the Infected stumbled from one of the exit passages I had taken into account.
Watch out, User!
A hand latched itself to my ankle and I yelped when the viral code burned and stung me before I derezzed the minion with one strike. If I didn't get out I would get Zombie chow and it wasn't exactly what I had in mind for the day of prom so I took the only other option, a passage to my right, even though I had no idea where it would take me. I somehow managed to get into a dead end, and the code rippled and swayed with the approach of the virus and the Infected. I was stuck and I had absolutely no way out. I had no time to rezz another passage, fighting was out of discussion... I cursed my stupidity that would cost me so much. I might never get to see my home again...
"Waaait, the Portal!" I hissed, finally grinning as I got the idea.
I rezzed the sequence and activated it right when the zombie Programs rushed into the cul-de-sac, roaring like a tidal wave of viral code to me and I screamed in terror, covering my eyes so I wouldn't see the horribly mangled bodies and yellow glow.
I was still screaming bloody murder when I de-digitized into our world, the image of the zombies burned in my memory forever. I collapsed on my knees, gasping for air as the door slammed open and both Program and User stormed inside the basement, Tron's hand instinctively shooting to where we had the Disks.
"What happened," he demanded, inspecting the room for any threats.
"I hate zombies," I snarled, "the damn things almost got me."
Tron's eyebrows raised and he gave me a stern look.
"Enunciate," he ordered.
"We have a virus wreaking havoc on the Grid and when I got in I ended up in the digital version of a damn zombie apocalypse," I explained, "I have to admit going in alone wasn't my best call."
Tron frowned and I could tell that he went into System Monitor mode.
"What kind of virus?"
"A worm, and a damn strong one to be exact, it corrupted half of Purgos and it's impossible to derezz it from outside. The quarantine didn't work, trust me, I tried."
The Monitor went to the computers and typed in the digitizing code as I got up.
"Mike, you stay here and keep an eye on the computers," Tron growled, "we're going in."
The laser turned on again and it shot both of us to the outskirts of the city. Programs were running aimlessly on the streets and some cries were heard from the Disk market sector where the corruption began as we made our way through the terrified mob. Tron let out a low snarl from behind his mask when someone smashed into him, his circuits flickering amber for a split second as he shoved the Program away. Black Guards were pouring on the streets, guiding the crowd to the exit while others sprinted to the market and we followed them, running against the current until we couldn't go any further. The Monitor silently pointed to a tall building and we both began to climb to the closest window, carefully avoiding the yellow splashes of code that dotted the walls. I laid a hand on the glass pane and it derezzed under my touch, revealing a deserted apartment and we hopped inside, taking out our Disks. Suddenly Tron cocked his head as if he was hearing something and hurled his original Disk in a perfect arc, decapitating an Infected that stumbled inside.
A low whine made us both jump and I yanked open a cupboard to reveal a female Program hiding inside. I quickly covered her mouth so she couldn't scream and hauled her out.
"Where's the other exit," I snarled impatiently.
"Please, get me out," she whimpered, "everyone else is derezzed or turned into an Infected, please, help me..."
"The exit, Program," Tron growled, "Where is it?"
"Please," the Program sobbed, "I don't know, my mate..."
I could tell that the Monitor was struggling not to lose his temper and I wasn't far from it either, so I shook the Program hard.
"Focus," I ordered, shooting a glance to Tron, whose circuits were already gaining a faint amber tint.
The Program broke into violent sobs and Tron lost it, striding to us and snatching her from my hands. He onlined his Disks as a rumbling purr emitted from his chest, making the hairs on my arms stand up as I realized with horror what had taken hold of him. My friend the Monitor was lost now and the Enforcer side of him had taken control so I raised my own Disks defensively as Rinzler interrogated the terrified Program.
"I have no time for this," he snarled, "tell us where is the exit or I derezz you."
"Now," he growled, raising his Disk.
"Take the first turn to the left, and then the platform and then straight ahead," the Program whimpered, her eyes widening with fear.
Rinzler shoved her to the floor with disgust and turned back to me as his circuits flickered to blue and back to amber.
"Tron..." I started.
"Your friend isn't available at the moment, User," the Enforcer sneered, "but as you know he wouldn't want me to derezz you so... Consider yourself lucky this time."
My own circuits flashed amber for a second as the bit of his encoding resurfaced but I fought it back. I couldn't afford losing it too so I swallowed my questions and sprinted out of the room with the Enforcer following me. When we got to the street Rinzler stumbled and almost fell, the light on his armor fading back to the usual light blue and I knew that Tron was back. I hurried to the shaken Monitor, helping him stand but he waved me off, leaning forward with his hands on his knees as he derezzed his mask.
"I'm fine," he wheezed, "I just need a moment."
Duck, the voice whispered so I pulled Tron to the ground right when an Infected lunged to get us from behind. I tossed my Disk and derezzed it, ignoring the Monitor's confused glance.
"How did you know that we were in danger," he asked as we got up, "I didn't even see it coming."
"I get this weird voice talking to me," I growled, "I have no idea what it is but it helped me a lot by now, though I think I'm getting crazy."
"Ah, I know what you're talking about," Tron said with a small smile, "it's the Grid talking to you."
"Huh? You lost me there."
"All Monitors can hear her, it's in our programming," he explained, "Flynn called it Sensing and it's what helps us know if there are threats on the Grid. However, I had no idea Users can do it too, it never happened before."
"Just lovely," I groaned, "more weird stuff happening to me."
"I can't hear her that well anymore," Tron sighed sadly, "not after a thousand cycles of working against her. I think you can Sense because the Grid accepted you as a System Monitor after all you did to save this place, making you the first User ever to have another function."
I could feel approval mixed with urgency and a slight hint of strained pain entering my system and smiled as Tron rezzed back his mask.
Hurry, Monitors, the Grid's voice said, making Tron jerk and gasp with shock.
"You heard that too?" I asked as the Monitor shuddered.
"Yes," he said with awe, "Oh, Users, I thought I'd never Sense again after what happened."
"See, told you you'd get back to normal," I cheered, clapping his back, "but we have no time to celebrate, we have to find the virus and I honestly have no idea where to start."
"Let me try something," Tron said, kneeling on the street.
He set a gloved palm on the ground and after a moment footprints appeared, shimmering a faint but visible shade of yellow down the alley. I could almost feel the satisfied grin on the Monitor's face behind the dark glass of his helmet as he got up, but the change in attitude was visible as he seemed to stand a little higher than before and even the light of his circuits flared brighter.
"Wow, that was... nice," I reasoned as Tron squared his shoulders.
"This old Monitor still has some tricks left up his sleeves," he said amusedly.
"Don't get cocky, we're not done here yet," I warned, following the footprints of the virus to the edge of the Disk market where we climbed up a building again to get a better vantage point.
The square was... crowded was an understatement actually, it was more like packed with groaning Infected that couldn't even move their limbs because they were so many. The Zombie virus was nowhere to be seen though, but even like that it was a plus for us.
"A grenade would have been so good right now," Tron sighed as he looked down to the mass of corrupted Programs, "it would have put all of them out of their misery in no time."
I rezzed about six of the said Light Grenades and handed half of them to him, keeping the rest for myself.
"You tend to forget who exactly you're talking to, Program," I teased.
"I hope you're a good shot, User," he retorted, waving to the square plaza as I tested the weight of the grenade in my hand.
What I didn't tell Tron was that a simple explosion wouldn't be enough to take down all the Infected below, the only way to take them all was to destabilize one of the buildings and make it derezz on top of the corrupted Programs. I knew the way the small blocks like the one across the plaza was built - hitting its core would have done the job, but I doubted that even with three shots I would get the exact support beam to collapse it. I mean, yes I was very good with a Disk and all the main weaponry in the Grid was thrown, but throwing a Light Grenade through a tiny window and hitting the main support beams... it was almost impossible mathematically.
I planted my feet firmly on the gravelly roof and focused on my task, tuning out anything else around me apart from the small target and my controlled breath. Faster than the eye could catch my arm bolted, hurling the grenade on a slightly off arc and it missed the narrow window.
"Scrap," I hissed, taking the second one and tossing it too shortly this time so it landed in the middle of the Infected, derezzing some.
I knew that Tron was watching me carefully when I prepared for the last shot, and as a weird calm washed over my systems I knew I could make it this time. I moved at the right moment, with the right speed and the bomb entered the window perfectly, blowing up seconds later and I could see the code destabilizing.
"Let's find the big one," I said as the building collapsed, burying the Infected under the rubble.
A low growl came from behind us and I froze, closing an eye as Tron reached for his Disks letting out a matching snarl.
"Too late," I squealed and the Zombie lunged to get me.
I ducked a second too late and cried as the claw-like hands tore through the armor on my shoulders, leaving deep gashes that stung and burned as the viral code entered my systems. I twisted in the virus' grip and ended up inches apart from its disgusting face as the fangs lowered towards my throat. Hands with amber circuitry snatched the Zombie and tossed it away moments before it had a taste of a very exquisite User steak and Rinzler yanked me upright.
"Nobody touches this User," the Enforcer growled, bolting to the virus.
Rinzler's Disks hacked and slashed like a whirlwind, making the virus back off against the onslaught and I took the opportunity to enter the fight, breaking into a sprint and vaulting over the two combatants. I landed on the Zombie's massive shoulders and as the virus struggled to get me off Rinzler stabbed his left Disk in the middle of the virus' broad chest.
"Get back," I ordered as the Zombie glared incredulously at the hole in his armor and began falling forward.
The Enforcer leaped out of the way and I tumbled off the worm's back as it crumbled to yellow glittery cubes at Rinzler's feet. He retracted his helmet, revealing the sneer that twisted his features and the evil amusement glinting in his steel blue eyes.
"Tron taught you well, User," Rinzler smirked, "I come to like your attitude, so fiery, so unpredictable."
"I'm flattered but I'd like the Monitor back," I said flatly.
"Oh, that's so harsh of you," the Enforcer purred, "If it wasn't for me both of you would have derezzed or worse."
"Let me put it this way," I snarled, raising my Disks, "If you don't let him back you end up as nothing more than a pile of scrap code..."
I moaned when the scratches on my shoulder sent a wave of pain and my circuits flared a sickly yellow as I crumpled to the ground. The Enforcer's scowl turned into a mask of worry and he pried the Disks from my hands, pulling out the code.
"As I said earlier," he growled, "nobody touches this User. I'm warning you, this is going to hurt like a glitch."
He tugged at the encoding and I cried, kicking and flailing and almost knocking the Disks out of his hands.
"Stay still," he ordered, "or you'd rather become a mindless Infected?"
"Do. It. Quicker," I rasped, biting down another scream.
After another moment of white hot pain the agony subsided as the Disks synchronized, closing down the exposed code. Rinzler got up and grinned mischievously as light blue crept into his circuit lights.
"See, I'm not as bad as people say," he snickered, "now Tron owes me twice for saving you..."
The blue glow replaced the amber and the Monitor was back in control, slightly dizzy after the sudden takeover.
"Let's not do that again," he bellowed, rubbing his temples.
"I couldn't agree more," I said, launching the Portal, "a Zombie apocalypse at 4 in the morning is exhausting."
The Monitor let out a weak chuckle and we shot back to the User world.
"Three gallons of coffee or a nap," I asked, "I'd rather take the last one if you don't mind."
"Clearly a nap," Tron snickered, "so you can make those gallons of coffee later."
UPDATE (17.04.2015): I am terribly sorry for not continuing this for almost a year. I ran out of ideas around December 2014 and didn't really enjoy anything I wrote for the next three chapters so I scrapped it all and sent it to the bin. I have a heck of a lot of ideas for what comes after these next chapters, but none good enough for in between. I hope you'll still wait until I get something to work with, but I can't tell when that's going to happen, so sorry y'all, but for now this story is on hiatus. I may or may not have something ready in another fandom, but who knows if and when I'll post it. Sorry again and have a nice day wherever you are:(