Alan was working late at night again, writing his last report for the day. Being the chairman of the board was not as rewarding as being a programmer. There was nothing exciting about graphs, writing reports, and keeping everyone in check when they drifted away from the main purpose of the company. Loyal to Flynn, he took on the job, reliable and dedicated just as his digital counterpart from the Grid.
That night when he was paged by Sam changed everything. His hand reached for the device and he smiled thinking of the obsolete technology. For some reason, he still kept it in good condition. To him, it was a bridge to the past.
During the last seven years since the young Flynn took over the company, Alan witnessed a remarkable progress. In 2013, the Research and Development department came up with a new concept of a central processing unit. It was based on light rather than electrical signals. This photonic technology was extended to the motherboard and RAM modules. New high-speed I/O interfaces had to be developed. However, the production costs were extremely high and because of this, the general public could not afford it. Seeing how it could speed up the progress within ENCOM, the new concept was used locally to develop new projects.
Two years later, the same department announced that the limits of information storage capacity were broken. They created a type of HDD based on DNA strands. The drive itself consisted of capsule-like modules placed on a special circuit board, each capsule with a capacity of about 400 GB. Two of those drives were enough to store all the data currently used by humanity. But in order to function, they needed extremely low temperatures, and a cluster of ordinary computers to handle the data efficiently. Because of this, the company decided to keep the technology for local use as well.
A year later, ENCOM tower changed its insides completely. Those bulky computers and monitors were replaced by touch-sensitive terminals embedded directly into the desks. The usual cubicles were gone. On most floors, a huge display placed on one of the walls allowed people to focus their attention on the same project. The programming area was looking more like a mission control room. Each of the laser bays was hosting a new computer along with a complicated cooling system required by an array of DNA based drives. It seemed that, again, the company was ahead of its time.
Even with all terminals working at full capacity, running demanding simulations or solving superior math problems, one of those computers was enough to respond to all user requests. The second was used to run a test project.
The latest market studies showed that people were seeking for a reliable and cheap way to store their files and make them accessible worldwide. ENCOM saw the opportunity and took the first steps in this direction. All programmers were required to put their current projects on hold and develop a cross-platform software which would allow individuals or companies to back-up and retrieve their files from ENCOM data center. In a matter of weeks, it was ready. The file manager - called EN-Cloud - became so popular that now it was embedded into every operating system. The test was a success!
Following this, the board took the decision to find a way to monopolize cloud hosting services. Using the new computers implied huge maintenance costs, mainly because of the cooling issue. So they moved the network in space: each computer along with an array of hard drives was placed on a satellite, in a geosynchronous orbit around the Earth. In order to ensure instant access, ENCOM had communication towers in key regions around the planet thus making sure that at least one of the satellites is within an optimal range. So far, the network consisted of only three computers. That was more than enough. In fact, estimations said that given the rate of digital information growth, it would take at least 50 years for those hard drives to fill. Plenty of time to launch more, optimize the file system to eliminate duplicate entries, or compress the information. And the possibilities were endless: given the processing power of the network, ENCOM addressed to scientific communities and replaced their research platform. Website hosting was now accessible everywhere for a fair price. Known media companies had no problem storing and streaming their content. All that meant both profit and progress.
The company was going in the right direction. Sam was now a full-grown adult, responsible, involved. Alan couldn't understand what happened, but it must have been something terrible enough to make his adoptive son snap out of his rebel teenage behavior. He took one last look on the report. Everything seemed to be in order. Alan opened another page and began to type in his resignation letter.
Fast. Reliable. Secure. EN-Cloud: Your hard drive from the sky!
Sam was sitting on the couch at his old place - the home away from home. Weird enough, his container house had no computers or fancy devices. He used the place to spend some time alone and technology was distracting. Now his mind was stuck in a sort of loop where his own thoughts were intersected by the flashing words he was reading unconsciously from a billboard across. Alan is leaving! EN-Cloud! Why?
His train of thoughts was interrupted by Alan himself.
"I had a feeling you would be here."
"Why are you leaving, Alan?"
"Straight to the point as always, eh?"
He took a deep breath.
"It's time for me to step away, Sam. And... you know, old age. You don't need me anymore."
It's not about that! shouted his mind.
Even if he wouldn't admit it years ago, Sam realized that Alan was the closest thing he had to a family. When his grandparents died it was Alan who had to put up with his rebellious acts, with his teenage tantrums and all the things he wasn't very proud of. And he did, God knows why or how. Now, seeing him leaving the company was a hard hit.
"What are you going to do?"
"I don't know... Get a hobby, make friends."
"I'll miss you..."
"It's not like I am going off the grid! You can always call me or stop by my place."
The Grid! A sudden thought struck Sam. He made a few steps, turning to face the distant ENCOM tower. Maybe he needs it more than I do.
"Speaking of the grid, do you remember about the digitizing technology?"
Alan's facial expression changed.
"Yes, it was a project from long ago. But it was canceled shortly after your father became the CEO. To this day I don't know why. I was there when they ran the first test..."
He turned away from Sam, lost in a 30 years old memory.
"It wasn't entirely shut down."
Alan snapped out of his thoughts.
"Meet me first thing in the morning and I'll show you. Trust me, it's worth the effort!"
Shortly after he returned from the Grid, Sam moved everything from the Arcade basement to a private room he had set up inside ENCOM tower. In all the years that passed, he did not try to get back into the digital world. The thought of going there to find nothing was unbearable. But he kept the technology in working condition. When the EN-Cloud network was moved into space, he decided to claim the old Laser Bay 2 for himself to work on his father's legacy. A smaller version of a photonic computer was dedicated to host the old system and interface with the digitizing device. However, due to increased workload, he hardly got the time to focus on this project. The two old mainframes were still off and Sam had barely scratched the surface of what was behind the digitizing process. But he understood that it could open the door to both amazing, and terrible things. He wasn't ready to deal with all the implications.
Sam stepped inside and turned on the system. A state of the art display came to life. The interface loaded the old ENCOM OS 4 without any errors. After a brief moment of thinking, Sam took the memory card he was always wearing with him and inserted it into the reading slot. A blue pulsing light notified him that the transfer was taking place.
"I hope you can get something out of this, Alan."
Somewhere at the bottom of the Sea of Simulation, Tron - the best program Alan Bradley could write - was coming back to life. For a moment he seemed to be normal, but his code was too damaged. After a few consecutive resets the colors were back to his former self as Rinzler. He struggled to reach the surface while flashes of what just happened were running through his mind. It was an overwhelming sensation. The program was able to remember everything since his creation and all he did as CLU's puppet. This sudden realization sent him into another reset cycle.
Rinzler woke up on the shore, near the place where the ISO towers used to exist. His light lines were flickering indicating that he needed access to an energy source fast. He headed towards the City and soon was surrounded by blue programs. It appeared that Flynn's reintegration managed to overwrite CLU's repurposing for everyone but him. This thought drained Rinzler even more and he collapsed among those who used to see him as the invincible warrior in the Games Arena. A few rushed to help and took him to a nearby healing station.
The operator, a female program was monitoring some indicators, adjusting various parameters. Aware of his awake state she said:
"You'll have to spend some time in there. It looks like your code is severely damaged and it will take a while to make it fully operational."
Her voice and look stirred something inside the security program. An old memory took his mind away from the present moment. He whispered: "Yori..."
"Is that your name?"
That question brought him back to reality.
"No... my name is..." He hesitated. Who am I? Tron? No, I failed my purpose, I don't deserve that name! Rinzler? That was the one who derezzed so many programs, who helped CLU repurpose countless others. "I... don't know my name," he finished.
"Don't worry, it will come back to you once the code is restored."
Her voice was so encouraging. I don't deserve compassion! shouted his thoughts.
Alan was browsing through the files. He had no idea what to look for, but for some reason, he was opening one directory after another. The system was so old it had to be used with a virtual machine in order to work. It felt weird to type command line inputs after more than 20 years of working with a graphic interface.
Sam had finally told him about the Grid, his encounter with CLU, about Flynn and Tron. He knew what it takes to get there. However, Alan wanted to learn as many things as possible before plunging into the unknown.
The system was based on a very old copy of ENCOM OS-4. It was altered by Flynn and mixed with routines and scripts required by the digitizing beam. It was almost impossible to tell what each script does without a deep analysis of the code.
Two days after trying to make heads and tails of everything, he gave up. His curiosity and a strong feeling of hope made it impossible for his analytical part of the mind to function properly.
The subroutine controlling the digitizing laser was loaded into memory. Alan was staring at the screen wondering if he should press the Enter key or not.
On the Grid, Rinzler began to catch up with the new system. All the programs were back to normal and they continued to function even without the presence of a leader. A few of them, mostly those with creative abilities managed to restore the partly destroyed structures. The City was looking the same as always.
The last events left the security program in a bad shape. His damaged code was taking a lot to recover and frequent flashes of what he experienced were slowing down the process even more. Strong memories would cause sudden resets during which Rinzler would appear to be inactive.
Allaire, the healing station operator, stood by his side all the time. In a way, she was attracted by this mysterious program who wouldn't even show his face. She dedicated most of her time to help with his recovery.
During one microcycle, they were having a walk and he guided her towards the Outlands. This side of the Grid was dark and quiet. She wasn't scared, just intrigued by the place he had chosen. Rinzler wasn't very talkative, yet Allaire felt the struggle within him. They reached so far that the only source of light was from their own energy lines. She turned to face him:
"Please... take off that helmet. There is no need to hide here. No one can see you, not even I."
He made a few steps forward then stood there for a while. A strange noise alerted the blue program and she reached to her companion.
"I haven't done this in so long. I forgot how it feels.
His voice was different. A luminous line of broken code was visible on his left side while the rest of his face was still hidden in the dark. She made a step back.
"I am sorry... I should have known there must be some serious reason for you to hide..."
He reached for her hand and gently guided to his face. "Don't be afraid..."
There was a storm of emotions behind those words. She began to explore his traits. Her hand moved slowly on the cheek and her forefinger touched his lips. For a moment none of them dared to move. Then, without even thinking of what she was doing, Allaire came closer and kissed him. Rinzler stiffened and stood there without reacting.
Suddenly aware of his lack of action, she stepped aside and turned her back on him.
"I... shouldn't have done that..."
The same noise she heard before notified her that Rinzler was hiding behind his black helmet again.
"I am not what you're looking for."
His voice was cold and harsh as if it belonged to someone else. She did not reply. The red-lined program stood still, angry at himself for this moment of weakness. I have to leave, hide away from everyone because I can't function like I used to anymore! He made a few steps towards the City. Both walked back without saying a word.
Rinzler left the next micro. The admin residence seemed empty without the owner and all the Elite Guards. CLU's last work was displayed on some projection panels in the main room. The system monitor headed to his personal space. It was untouched. Being too used to protect the Grid, he looked at the security console, searching for unusual activity. A flashing warning caught his eye: Portal active!
He rushed outside and rezzed the Lightcycle. Rinzler knew it was pointless to think Flynn would still be alive. So who was coming through? Sam? Quorra? Either of them deserved to know he was not suited to protect the Grid anymore.
Alan stepped out of the Portal and looked around, amazed. The Grid was nothing like what he imagined. It was marvelous. Right in front was a sort of city. The floor felt somehow soft beneath his feet. There were large dark areas full of uneven shapes, barely visible. The City seemed to be the most animated place and he decided to head there. After making a few steps, Alan saw a person coming out of the dark. And once again, the User was amazed because he never saw anyone dressed like that. The program's suit resembled a sort of modern armor with a few lit areas. Four red squares on his chest resembled the shape of a "T" letter. His facial traits were covered by a black helmet.
"Who are you?"
"My name is Alan. I need to see Kevin Flynn."
Rinzler had a strange reaction, almost of fear.
"Are you Alan-One?"
"Yes." Only one program knows this name. "Tron?"
That word made him step back and stagger.
"I am not Tron!" He turned his back to the User.
Alan was now sure about his identity. Without moving, but with a softer voice, he asked:
"Who are you, then?"
There was no answer so he came closer and stood in front of the program.
"If you're not Tron, then who are you?"
"I... I don't know..."
What happened to him? Sam said that CLU modified Tron into another program, but the way he described it was more like a warrior than... this. Could I be wrong and this is not him?
"OK, we'll save this for later. How about you show me around? And where is Kevin Flynn?"
"Flynn is no longer active. He dispersed into the Grid after CLU was reintegrated. It was the end of both."
Sam was right. He's gone. Alan knew his hope to find Kevin alive was foolish yet he couldn't help. His friend was no more but the world he created was still there. So he should at least see where did Flynn spend his last 22 years.
His mind was back to the present moment.
"I am sorry."
The program was standing there without looking at him. No, I can't be wrong. This is Tron! But why...?
"Tell me about what happened here? Everything. From the moment Flynn came to the Grid until my arrival."
His voice was authoritative and compelling. Rinzler had no choice but to comply with the User request.
They were at CLU's former residence. It had one of the best views and Alan could see nearly the entire Grid from there. But his mind was still trying to process the amount of information received. Terrible things happened in this digital world of which users had no clue. His best program had to face too much. No wonder it was lost, barely functioning and afraid.
"Alan-One, I have a request."
He turned to face him.
"Can you... schedule my code for deresolution?"
That was unexpected. From a programmer's point of view, the person standing in front of him was just a bunch of variables and functions. But seeing the program in a human form, acting and talking like a human, made it hard to treat it any other way.
"I can't do that. But I will fix it so you don't have to depend on healing patches anymore."
"Will I forget my past?"
"No. Your memories are mixed with code, erasing one will destroy the other. I cannot take any risks, CLU has done too much damage already."
"Then what is the point of being all functional if I will have to live with everything I've done?"
"You are Tron and the Grid needs you! THAT is the point!"
"I am not Tron!"
Alan knew why he was rejecting his true name. He was feeling unworthy of it. I'll need some time to find a way around this. Let's try another approach!
"Yes, I should be called that way."
"All right Rinzler, give me your disc."
The program complied. Alan took it and just like CLU did years ago, he held the disc in front and the code expanded in his hands. It was way more complex than what he had written. CLU's instructions were visible but there was something else, something which was changing shape, evolving. At this point, it was impossible for Alan to do anything else but extract the damaged code and watch as the missing parts were being replaced with something new. It appeared that the time spent in the Sea of Simulation gave his program new traits that were a lot like the ones described by Sam when referring to the Isomorphic Algorithms. When done, he asked:
"Are you ready?"
The program remained silent.
"Don't worry, this time you won't feel a thing."
After the reset cycle was complete and Rinzler became active, he saw Alan resting on the opposite side of the room. He ran a set of self-diagnostics. Everything seemed to be in order and his energy flow was steady. His red lines were indicating that some part of CLU's programming was still there. Rinzler stood up and went to check on the User. He looked so old. His entire being suggested a sort of strength and calm especially now when he was sleeping.
Rinzler touched a few controls on a nearby panel and one of the vertical projection surfaces turned silver, acting like a mirror. He removed the helmet and turned to see himself. The broken code was restored now and his face was the same as always. This made him a little sad because, after all the things he has done, he didn't deserve it.
"Have I done a good job?" Alan was up looking at him and smiling.
"I... Thank you, Alan-One."
It appeared that Rinzler wanted to say more and he tried to encourage him.
"I can see there is something that's troubling you. Why don't you tell me about it?"
Alan's voice was warm and concerned. It stirred something inside the program, a sort of feeling he never encountered before. Somehow, he knew the User will answer his questions, no matter what.
"Why have you restored my code?"
"Because I could do it and I know that you wanted too, even if you won't admit it. Because I created you. Because you are unique and it was painful to see you like that."
The program was a copy of his younger self and that made Alan a bit emotional. He spent nearly an entire life working and dedicating to ENCOM. In such circumstances, he didn't have much chance to develop and maintain a family. Even if Sam wasn't his offspring, he treated him like his own son. Yet, they didn't share similar traits. Deep inside, Alan was a sad man but he could hide it well behind a smile and a calm look. Now, in this digital world, he was looking at the closest thing to a son. That was a bit overwhelming.
"Based on all the things I had to do under CLU's leadership, do you think this is a wise decision? You should restore me to a previous version or derezz me."
Alan knew it was the guilt that made him say this. The only way he could do something was through reason.
"Is this what I should do because you failed your purpose or because you WANT it to happen?"
"Aren't they the same?"
I keep forgetting that many of the human traits are unknown to these programs. What it's natural for us is a challenge to them. Alan thought of a way to explain the difference.
"Those are not the same. You failed, but can you tell me why?"
"CLU repurposed me."
"Did you fight with it?"
"Yes. I tried to take control over CLU thought the interface link."
"Why were you unsuccessful?"
"He managed to create a device that blocked all my initiatives."
"What happened after the process was complete? Were you aware of your past identity as Tron?"
"Were you aware of my existence?"
"Did you enjoy derezzing those programs in the Arena and outside of the Games?"
"It was my duty and nothing more. CLU requested it and I had to comply."
"So what you're telling me is that you were under the total control of CLU. Am I right?"
"Given these circumstances, do you still believe you failed your purpose?"
This time the program hesitated.
Alan came closer, facing him.
"You failed your purpose because there was no other option. And you cannot blame yourself for that. I know you disagree and it's natural. You wish to be derezzed because it's the guilt that makes everything unbearable. This only proves your real side: you care for the Grid and everyone here!"
Rinzler knew he was right but it was hard to accept. He had mixed feelings. A part of him wanted to run away and another just needed Alan. It was different from what he used to feel regarding Flynn and the rest of the Users.
"You need to forgive yourself." With a gentle gesture, Alan grabbed his shoulders, forcing the program to look at him. "You couldn't do anything. No one could!"
Rinzler had no idea what to say. His thoughts were confusing and none would stay in his mind long enough for him to understand what is happening. Without even realizing, he put his left arm around the User while the right clenched onto his shirt. Alan reacted instinctively and hugged him. This program was indeed the son he never had.