Disclaimer: I don't own any of these characters—they belong to whoever owns the Tron universe, God bless 'em. Well, I suppose at this point I own Hazel, but she's about it. Oh, and O'Bryan. Hmmm…okay, anyone who shows up in the story who's in the actual movie of Tron, I don't own. That should about cover it.
Author's Note: I'm having fun with this. This opening chapter's a little short, but please give me a review if you enjoy it. I will be writing more, hopefully in a timely manner. I have another fanfic going on a different site as well as editing a novel, so we'll see.
Dedication: To Steven and Bonnie.
The strange man standing on Hazel's doorstep looked vaguely familiar.
"You are Hazel Gibbs, aren't you?" he persisted.
She left the chain on the door. The older man looked like he hadn't slept for days. His eye were red, his clothes and gray hair were rumpled.
"I k-knew your grandfather," he continued, glancing over his shoulder and nervously looking down the street.
She quickly thought back to her grandpa's recent funeral. Oh, yes. Now she remembered him.
He smiled with relief. "Yes! Yes. I need to talk with you. It's urgent. May I come in?"
She didn't like the idea. "I'm not…I don't really know you. Can't we talk here?"
"I need to come inside…I can't stay out here. I promise, I'm not crazy. I just need to ask you something about Walter."
"Sir, I don't let strangers into my house."
"Please. I swear. I'm not here to hurt you. I know I look…I'm…I'm desperate. Please let me in."
She paused and thought back again to the funeral. The images rolled through her mind like a movie. She saw her dad talking with Mr. O'Bryan. Her mother hugging him. She glanced back at the man on the step. His eyes were pleading. She believed him. Unchaining the door, she let him in.
He moved quickly into the living room as she shut the door and locked it again.
"Thank you…thank you…" he repeated.
She bit her lower lip. "Can I…get you something to drink? I have water and ice tea."
"No…no." He was very distracted, as if he didn't know how to start.
"You said you wanted to know something about grandpa…" then she remembered her manners. "Mr. O'Bryan, please sit down."
He looked at her as if awakened. "Thank you." He sat down on the sofa, closed his eyes and calmed down. "I'm sorry. This must be very disrupting for you. I'm…I…you know, I will take that glass of ice tea."
At that moment, Hazel just really wanted him to leave. He had indeed disrupted her day. The 35 year-old graphic artist was in the middle of creating a series of cartoon characters she'd been commissioned to do for a new children's book. The sketches were done and she'd been about to scan them into Photoshop when the doorbell had rung. The publisher needed a first draft of the figures tomorrow. Hazel didn't have a lot of time to waste.
But, she had let the guy in. Ice tea it was.
By the time she returned with the tea, Mr. O'Bryan had calmed down considerably. She sat down across from him in her favorite armchair—the one with the green-striped pattern. He sipped the tea, sighed and then met her gaze, his own much clearer.
"Thank you. I'll come straight to the point. I used to work with Walter back in the Encom days when we were perfecting a technology called 'digitizing'."
Hazel nodded. "I remember. Grandpa told me about it a lot. Something into nothing and back again, he used to say. I never got to see it actually done and I don't really understand the mechanics of it but it sounded interesting."
"It's more than interesting. It's…well, I can't really tell you much. But the technology for digitizing, it was appropriated by the federal government about ten years ago—taken completely out of our hands. Walter was fit to be tied, but there was nothing we could do." He was fidgeting, tapping the glass with his fingers. He glanced back up at her. "This…this is the short version of the story, you understand."
"Mr. O'Bryan, I—"
"Please…I…I have to know if Walter left you anything. Any…papers, information. Anything on disk or on a computer?"
Hazel paused. She had been very close with her grandfather and she still felt his loss keenly. This relative stranger was asking for information she felt profoundly personal. "Whatever my grandpa left me is my business."
"No, no…it's all our business, Ms. Gibbs. Somewhere, your grandfather had a code, a program, something that could, well, that could protect us from ourselves."
"You're not making any sense."
He put the glass down. "The programs know. They…they know that the users are no different from them." He struggled to find words for what he wanted to say. "Have…have you ever seen the movies where technology goes bad and turns on the human race?"
Hazel raised an eyebrow. "You mean just about every science fiction movie that comes out?"
"Yes, well, it's not just fiction any more. It was bound to happen. And it is happening. Only quietly. Very quietly."
Hazel very quietly began planning how she was going to get this lunatic out of her house. "Mr. O'Bryan, I said it before. What my grandfather left to me is personal. It's not for anyone's perusal, especially someone I don't even know. Is there anything else I can answer for you?"
"You won't share it with anyone?"
She sighed. "I'm not even saying that there's anything to share. I'm just…I'm just not comfortable with this situation and I'd really rather you left. I'm sorry."
"I see," he looked down at the glass of tea. "Walter….he said that if anything ever happened to him, to come to you."
She looked back at him.
"He told me you'd never break his confidence. He was right. He was right to trust you. Well, that's it, then." He met her eyes. "He told me, if anything ever happened, to tell you to use the key."
Her breath caught in her throat. "How did you…"
"He told me. To tell you. If anything ever happened to him."
"Nothing 'happened' to him. He died. He just died of old age."
O'Bryan looked down at his hands. "Yes. You're right. Perhaps…perhaps I've been mistaken. But at least I've told you what he said."
"If you don't mind, I have to get back to my work." She was having a hard time thinking. The key. Grandpa wanted her to use the key? A dying wish? But he had told her never to use the key…to simply watch over it for him…
"Yes, of course. I'm sorry I've disturbed you." He got up and walked to the door. "Thank you for the tea."
Mechanically, she got up and followed him, still lost in her thoughts.
"Oh," he said, turning as he opened the door, "please take my card. If anything…out of the ordinary happens, please don't hesitate to call me. I could maybe help."
She took the card. "What do you mean, 'out of the ordinary'?"
He stepped out onto the front walk and looked up at the sky. "Oh," he said without turning around, "you would know it if you saw it." And then he walked calmly away.
Hazel watched him go, wondering where he had walked from. His gait was casual now, strikingly unlike his fearful and nervous demeanor when she had first let him in. She went inside and closed the door.
When people say that your life can change in a moment, it is true. We rarely believe it will happen to us. We think our orderly lives will go on as planned. Hazel Gibbs thought this, too, until the stranger had told her to use the key. Leaning against her closed front door, she looked at O'Bryan's card and ran a hand through her short red hair. Then she touched the silver chain around her neck and pulled it up from under her blouse. She looked at the small safe deposit box key that dangled on it. She tapped it against her teeth, thinking. Then she looked at it again.
"You told me never to use it, Grandpa. You told me just to keep it safe." She fingered the key. "Safe from what?"
Just then her phone rang. It was her publisher, Morty. Yes, the sketches were done. Yes, she'd scan them today, clean them up a bit and send them out tomorrow morning. Yes, first thing. What? Digital photos? Of what she had now?
Hazel sighed. She hated sending stuff that wasn't perfect.
But yes, she'd photo the sketches. Yes, she'd send them within the next half hour. No, no problem at all. She hung up.
No time to think of the key right now. She let the chain drop back down her blouse and went to take the photos.
Later that evening, she was working on cleaning up the scans. Turned out that it was good Morty had gotten a look at the early sketches. There were already changes—a whole character dropped from the list. That had definitely saved her time and she'd been able to do a much better job on all the other characters because of it. Once final cleanup was done, she zipped the images and emailed them to her publisher. She glanced at the clock. 11:32 PM.
"There ya go, Morty," she said with a yawn. "No more complaints out of you. At least not til later tomorrow."
She rubbed her tired eyes and began to pick up the papers littering her computer desk. An erratic flashing caught her attention. The lights on her D-Link router were flickering and flashing. Her grandpa had insisted on installing the router on her computer when she'd gotten a fiber connection to the Internet. What had he called it? A firewall? Well, it normally flashed a little, but this was weird. She thought back, running through the pages of the router's user manual in her head. A photographic memory was a handy thing. But there wasn't anything about this in there. Not even in the troubleshooting section.
"Another sixty bucks out the window," she murmured, preparing to shut the computer down.
That's when the router sparked and jumped.
"Shit!" Hazel cried, standing quickly, knocking her chair over.
There was a high pitched sound. And then, her digital camera, still connected to her computer by its USB cord glowed with a bright blue light. In a moment, it was no longer a solid object but more like one of her scanned drawings, a 3-D image surrounded by a grid pattern. Then there was a loud crack, and a painful flash like a welding arc. Hazel jerked her eyes away with a cry.
Blinking, a large white blotch loomed in her vision. After a few moments, it began to clear. She squinted back at her desk. Everything looked normal. The router was no longer flashing erratically. But no...her digital camera was gone. Vanished. Not a trace of it left.
This certainly qualified as "out of the ordinary". Before she knew what was happening, she found herself in the living room, picking up O'Bryan's card and dialing his number.