Chapter 24 - Enter New Corporation Opportunity Metaphor
Sora stepped out of the shade and onto the sand, feeling the trapped heat seep through his shoes and tickle the bottom of his feet. The light of the sunset stained everything around him orange, creating new colors as it layered over the browns and greens of the island. The familiar, comforting scent of salt caught on the wind and wafted through his hair, stinging his skin in a soft, welcoming way. In the distance, he could hear seagulls making their final rounds for the day, sailing low across the sky to pick out their meals.
All the sounds and scents of home.
'Wasn't I just with Kairi? What happened to her?'
Curious as to what was going on, he wanted to go look for her, but something inside him was telling him to trust it, asking him to let it lead him along. After much internal deliberation, he finally decided to allow it, letting his senses relax in the comfort of the home he missed so much. The sand crunched under his feet as he walked along the beach, the waves lapping up and soaking into his shoes, making his toes squelch into his wet socks with every step.
Glancing ahead, Sora spotted the little island, the bent paopu tree's green leaves clearly visible and dyed a greenish-grey. He spotted something next to the tree and tried shading his eyes against the light, but it made no difference. Left with no other choice, he retreated out of the surf and hopped up onto the shack, taking a shortcut to the bridge. The wood clanked as he walked across, but there was no reaction from the island.
The sun was shining in his eyes, so he wrote off the silver sheen he saw as a trick of the light at first. As he got to the end of the bridge, stepping off onto the rocky surface of the island, he realized that it wasn't the light. It was actually a messy head of silver hair. "Ri…Riku…?"
Riku looked away from the ocean, his face neutral. "Hello Sora."
Sora felt his limbs start to shake, his heart aching in his chest as it overflowed with relief. He wanted to run to his friend's side and make sure everything was alright, but something about the scene stopped him. Riku's form was fluctuating, changing slightly each time Sora tried to focus in on him. The relief died down, dropping down into disappointment.
"This is a dream. None of its real."
Riku only grunted an affirmative.
"I… I'm starting to forget what you look like, aren't I?"
"Not at all. Your mind is struggling because you know that I've changed. You remember the me from when we last met, and your mind is trying to picture me older… except that it isn't working at all."
Sora chuckled. "I guess that makes sense. I'm just happy to see you, even if it's not in person."
"We'll see each other soon enough," Riku muttered dubiously. "Sora, do you remember when we were kids?"
"Huh? Uh… Sort of? I remember all the time the three of us spent playing on this island…"
"Not far back enough. Back when it was just the two of us, back before Kairi came to the islands. Those were simpler times."
Sora hopped up onto the bent tree trunk, looking down at his friend. "Simpler, but I think we had a lot more fun when there was the three of us. The more, the merrier, you know? At least… it's was fun for me."
"It was torment," Riku butted in flatly, scowling out at the setting sun. The sun seemed to dip farther down behind the horizon, almost running away from the apparent hostility. "Every waking moment was painful, watching you and Kairi be so happy together, seeing you get everything just by following your heart, having to lie to you all the time… I wanted it to end but there was nothing to do about it. So, I kept quiet until it just passed from my mind. I was upset with myself and jealous of the two of you, and I lived every day with that pain."
Sora felt the tree bark under his hands grow cold, the tension in the air almost as infinite and palpable as the water surrounding them. "Did you… really feel like that?"
"I'm not sure. This is a dream, so I'm not sure about anything right now, especially not about how I feel…" Riku trailed off, staring blankly into the fading sunlight again. "Hey Sora? Let's make a promise."
"A promise about what?"
"I don't know. Just…think of something, will you?"
"Let's promise to see each other again."
Riku chuckled, a warm reassuring sound that resonated with the wind rustling through the leaves of the paopu tree. "You don't make promises about things that are a given. Pick something else. Something better."
"Hm… I don't really have any ideas. You caught me at a bad time for genius ideas." He mulled it over. "Well, here's one. I promise to help you with your pain. Everything that bothers you, everything you couldn't tell me before, you can tell me. I'll even help you find a girlfriend if that's what it takes. Sound good?"
"Sounds like it." Riku tilted his head, looking at something in the distance, and Sora followed his eyes, trying to spot it.
"What about you, Riku?"
"You'll find out when we meet," Riku's voice replied, sounding distant. Sora looked to his side to find that his friend had gone. The wooden bridge clanked and Sora turned, looking over his shoulder…
Sora's eyes snapped open, startled for a moment before his mind could start processing where he was. Everything for as far as his vision would allow was blue, all kinds of varying shades coloring various parts of the scenery. Something flashed beneath his head, stunning and temporarily blinding him. Lifting himself up, he saw that the ground was coated with lines, each one glowing as brighter parts of the line moved along its length.
Pushing himself to his feet, he realized that something about his clothes felt off. They were tighter, transformed into navy body armor with glowing blue lines in a pattern along it. They were stiff and harder to move around in, but he quickly got used to the feeling. Stretching his arms and legs into the armor, he finally realized he was alone.
The reply came from behind him. "Over here!"
Kairi was standing off near one of the walls, carefully inspecting it. It towered over her so much that she seemed like an ant in comparison. Her clothes were like his, a dark navy with glowing blue lines, but they were the same as her regular clothes.
He ran over to her. "Everything okay?"
"Other than the fact that this wall is impossible to get through and that we're trapped in a giant box, I guess I'm alright. That digitizing laser gave me a bit of a headache, though."
Sora felt his mind go blank for a second. "Digitizing… laser?"
"Remember? The Organization member? The computer? The laser beam coming out of the wall? Do I have to recap the last ten minutes for you?" Kairi placed her hand on his forehead. "Are you sure the laser didn't scramble your brain or anything?"
"I'm fine. Really," he assured her, putting the strange dream out of his head. "Right now, I think our best bet would be to figure a way out of here."
"I believe you won't be leaving here without escort," a voice chimed in from the top of the wall. Looking up, Sora spotted the Organization member standing at the top of the wall, his black coat highlighted with glowing red lines. Beside him stood another man with slicked back brown hair in a long black robe, long yellow lines etched into the shoulders and traced down the sides. A few other men in black and red armor with long spear-like weapons flanked them.
Sora summoned his Keyblade. "You! I didn't think we'd catch up to you so soon."
"I doubt you'll be doing anything from where you are," he chuckled, turning to his companion. "These are the ones I told you about. They're very dangerous."
The man in the cloak stared down at them. "That don't look as dangerous as you've made them sound, Vexen. More like minor inconsistencies."
"I wasn't aware you or the MCP could tolerate inconsistencies, CLU2" Vexen drawled back, looking smug.
CLU seemed to take the insult personally. "Guards," he said to the armed men, "take them to the Pit Cell and double the guard at the entrance. You," he turned to Vexen, "are coming with me. We'll report to the MCP and see what he decides to do with them."
"And what if we don't agree?" Sora shouted, pointing his Keyblade at the two.
"Then I'll do this," CLU answered, snapping his fingers once. There was a loud crackle of electricity beside him and Kairi screamed as a current zapped her violently from the floor.
Sora dropped his Keyblade and tried to grab her, but the current radiating through her crackled and snapped at him, sending a painful jolt down his arm powerful enough to send him staggering back. Kairi's scream echoed in his ringing ear. "Enough! Stop it! Just stop it!"
CLU snapped his fingers again and the electric current stopped. Sora dove in quickly and caught her, her dead weight pulling him to his knees. She was conscious, breathing hard, her hands shaking as she held onto his arms.
"I'm sorry," she whispered, her voice cracking.
He held her tightly. "It's not your fault. Don't worry about it."
"Now that the consequences are clear…" CLU announced, "Guards…"
The guards surrounded them, closing in. Glaring defiantly at them, Sora helped Kairi to her feet and let the guards lead them away, leaving CLU and Vexen to their business.
The Pit Cell was the last in a short line of cells, all empty and unlocked. Sora tried to pay attention their surroundings, hoping to formulate an escape plan, but helping Kairi along took precedence. He had already been jabbed in the back by the guards' spear to know that they were electrified as well. The two guards at the door made way for them, the door dissolving from solid black into semi-visible green lines. The guards pushed them through and the door solidified again, sealing any exit.
"Now what?" Sora grumbled, looking the door over.
"It seems you're in the same predicament we are," another voice added, making Sora jump. On the other side of the room, a man and woman were seated on the floor next to a large computer terminal. The man was dressed in armor like Sora's, short brown hair brushed back off his face. The woman was wearing a bodysuit and tights, with high boots and detached sleeves. They both had what looked like glowing metal frisbees attached to their backs. The man stood up. "Sounds like CLU and the MCP are up to their schemes again."
Kairi sat up carefully. "Who are you?"
"My name is Tron. I'm a security program in this system."
The woman walked over and joined them on the floor, helping Sora rest Kairi against the wall. "My name is Quorra. Looks like you had a run-in with some trouble."
"If you call that CLU guy 'some trouble', then yes, we did. Him and his new friend."
Tron sat down with them. "Vexen, he calls himself. Appeared in the system a few microcycles ago, teamed up with the MCP. They've been appropriating and derezing all the programs in the system."
"Uh…" Sora stared blankly at them. "I didn't understand a word you said."
Kairi chuckled weakly. "My name is Kairi, and this is Sora."
"Nice to meet you," Tron nodded. "It's always good to see other programs. What are your functions?"
Both Sora and Kairi exchanged looks. Sora cleared his throat. "We're, uh… We're not programs. We're people."
"Not programs? Then…" Quorra looked expectantly at Tron. "Then, they're…"
"Users!" Tron jumped to his feet. "I knew it. Quorra, this is it! The opportunity we've been waiting for!" He sat down again. "We're hoping you could help us. We need the assistance of Users if we're going to stop the MCP."
Sora held up his hands. "Hold on a second there. Let's start from the beginning. What's a User, anyway?"
"A User is someone outside the system. We're programs because we're made up of data, created inside the datascape. You Users come from the outside, from the physical realm," Quorra explained. "In other words, you exist outside the system."
"What happened to make the system like this? And why do you think we can help?" Kairi asked, settling herself better in place.
"This system was created by a company called ENCOM," Tron began, looking down at his hands, "for a User named Ansem."
"Ansem?" Sora gasped, remembering his battles with the evil man.
"Ansem wanted a system that would adapt and be able to contain all of his research, and that of his apprentices. This system was created with the capability to do that, and many programs were created to keep the system running smoothly. I was one of the original programs, as was CLU. My job was to keep the system safe, and CLU was tasked with making sure the system ran without error. There was more than enough programs to keep the system running. Many microcycles ago, something changed. Ansem began adding in strange files and other devices that none of the original programs were compatible with. This lead to him creating the MCP - the Master Control Program - to regulate these new devices. Ansem's input disappeared after that, and the MCP began to evolve, wanting to connect to other systems and take control of them. He began appropriating the functions of other programs, making them into part of himself, and then derezing them."
"'Derezing them'?" Sora asked.
"Short for 'Deresolution'. They were deleted from the system. CLU fought the MCP alongside Quorra and myself, evading the MCP's guards, but he turned on us without warning. It wasn't until this Vexen appeared in the system that we were captured and placed in this cell. The MCP was able to appropriate most of my functions when we were captured, so I can't do much to help us escape."
"What we'd like is your cooperation," Quorra picked up. "We need to get out of here and get to the Input/Output Tower and establish a connection. Once we do that, we'll be able to send you back out there. We need someone to rewrite Tron's functions, including one that will destroy all traces of the MCP from the system. If you can do that for us, we can get to the MCP and free the system."
Kairi sat up, stretching her arms, having recovered from her shocking. "Vexen may not let us do that. In a sense, he's trying to delete us, too. It won't be easy."
"When is it ever?" Sora chuckled. "We're used to it. Anyway, I think we've overstayed our welcome. Let's break out of here."