She crouches on an outcropping, looking across the distant city lights towards the faint light in the distance. It's been so long, hundreds of cycles and thousands of changes since she last saw the light across the horizon, and Quorra feels a fierce pulse of joy, hope rising up undaunted by its own fragility.
She looks at the light across the city, across the sea, and closes her eyes, basking in the sensation. Warmth rises over her skin, and when she opens her eyes, she realizes it wasn't the portal after all. It was the sun. Sam showed it to her, brought her to sit and walk and ride under it until she collapsed under the brilliant light, under the shocking blue of the sky above, falling back onto the grass. Grass was wonderful.
She pushes herself up from the grass now, and wanders back to the road. Sam's bike is there, where he had left it. She smiles, remembering his twitch and wrenching look when he finally caved and let her drive them. She loved the motion, loved the feeling of flying through the streets, feeling all the wonders of the User world rush past her in a blur. She couldn't capture it all, couldn't see or hear or taste the sensations all at once. But she never could. This world is full to bursting, resounding with infinite things to experience, and even as she reaches out greedily to understand it all, she knows the impossibility of it. She loves that too.
Quorra throws a leg over Sam's bike and speeds down the road. Strange that he had left it-but she is going to him, she has to find him, tell him about something important. She gives herself over to the feeling of the engine under her, the air rushing past. She loves this bike, values it even more for the gift of Sam's trust. But she would love it anyway.
She pulls up in front of the arcade, dismounting and pocketing the keys. It is dark again, as when they'd first arrived, and the empty streets feel weary and silent. It is for the best, though-she doesn't know what she'd do if there were users around. It felt so strange, walking in a world full of them, seeing their tiny struggles and joys and lives on display around her. She had known Flynn, and Sam, but these... there were thousands of them. More, even. And they could be friendly or curt or busy, or... anything! It was almost disturbing how alike they were to the programs she knew. Not that she'd spoken nearly enough to know them truly. She smiles, delight and amused regret crossing her face at the thought. Apparently she needs to learn a bit more about user culture before holding more casual interactions. Though the man's face had been priceless as Sam ushered her away.
She shakes her head, opening the dark doors of the arcade. Inside, the hall of games is dark and quiet, no sign of life. But they wouldn't meet here; she needs to go below. She moves to the end of the line, triggers the door panel and passes through when it opens.
Stepping quietly down the stairs, following the half-lit line of light marking her descent. The building was old, deserted, and it made sense to keep it darkened as much as possible-lights and activity would only draw attention. She paused at the closed door at the end, dropping her audio filters to listen more closely. No sound, nothing but her own faint cycling. That was right, that was good. Of course they'd have shielding in the room; if Clu's guards got this far, they needed to think it was as empty as it looked. Quorra swallowed, a feeling of dread rising up inside her nonetheless. She reached back, a hand hovering over her disk before she brought it down, calming herself. It could easily be a trap... It was, a part of her voiced. You know it was. She shook her head violently, dispelling such notions. She had to go, had to keep abreast of the resistance and its movements. To help, if she could do so without compromising Flynn.
She laid her palm on the locked door and supplied the recognition code. Its faint white glow brightened, flashed briefly to blue as it opened to her touch. Heads turned to her entry, but no one spoke up. Programs got off their work cycles irregularly; one more straggler was nothing to question. She slipped in, settling near the back of the gathered programs with little disturbance. Bartik, standing at the front of the room with a blue-lit female program, gave her an irritated glance, but didn't break in his discussion.
They had new intel, data on Clu's redistributed energy processors that would apparently be invaluable to supplying the long-term safehouses Bartik was trying to create. There was news on captures, turning, potential recruits. Disappearances, of course. Quorra perked up when Bartik's companion outlined a possible strike on the solar sailer transports, sabotage that could be done under the cover of an attack. That sounded more interesting. But it soon devolved into a discussion on risk and resource gain, and Quorra unfocused.
She looked around the room. Twelve-no, fourteen programs. This was only a local cell, a small piece of the rebellious factions... but they still seemed more like a disorganized rabble than a resistance movement. There were a few who were more involved-Bartik, a pair of white-lit programs she recognized from the criminal registry, and apparently this blue-lit woman. But for the most part, they were a nervous, unskilled lot-programs who showed up a couple times a cycle, here as much to feel a part of something better as to do anything about it.
Not that she could blame them. And at least they were trying, doing something against the oppression Clu set out. They were here, working together, reaching out and risking deresolution to create hope. Create freedom. She looked at her neighbor, a wide-eyed white-lit program who sat head down, movement filled with glitches and stutters. Noting her gaze, he lifted his head to face her, swallowing, his shaking growing more pronounced. Quorra smiled at him, and on an impulse, touched him lightly on the arm.
He froze, pale eyes fixing on her with more intensity than she had expected. She returned his gaze and his look flitted down, then up towards the debate in the front of the room, resettling on her with an almost pleading expression. She tilted her head in question, attempting to encourage him as he trembled, seeming to struggle for words.
The program moved suddenly, right arm jerking under her touch, and Quorra tensed, combat sequences and defensive routines flashing to the front of her cache as he reached under his cloak. But he remained seated, hunched forward in an awkward, half-protective posture, and when his hands came out, he held... not a weapon.
It was small. Fragile. A twisted lump of half-derezzed data that was halted, frozen in its dissolution. No, she realized as the program's thin hands turned it, it was shaped. Pieces stacked on pieces, shards of shattered glassy waste combined, fused together in a delicate sequence of time and care, to make...
An unbelieving grin spread across her face as she stared at the rough creation below. It was a lightjet.
Long fragments stretched out from the side in sharp-edged wings. A twisted, melted-looking conglomeration at the center. Far too wide for a normal jet, she realized-perhaps one of the multi-seater planes? Or an error. The tiny creation was riddled with errors, deformities, slagged bits attached unevenly or with too shaky a hand.
She looked up at its crafter, whose pale eyes stared at her with an almost panicked nervousness. He flinched slightly, gaze flickering from her to the front again, and she almost laughed as realization hit her. This was... this was his distraction. The product of his inattention. What he had been doing while the argument droned on at the front of the room. And now he showed it to her as explanation... and apology.
"It's beautiful," the ISO told him in quiet gratitude. His dim white glow seemed to brighten as he ducked his head in response, light playing off the flimsy construction in his hands. He frowned at it briefly, a twitching hand raising to manipulate the data at the back of the tiny craft until it too lit with a tiny white trail from within. A faint, slim line of light.
Quorra watched him tinker, joy and wonder washing through her. Such a small thing, a passing thought played out in useless glassy refuse. But beautiful. Who was he-a cleaner, a datafiller? He was too slow, too quiet and shaky and nervous to be anyone of power. But still, here... out of sight of Clu's guards and recognizers, out of the watchful edicts and efficient lines... this was what he made. She closed her eyes. So imperfect, so wasteful. And so impossibly worth finding.
A crashing, breaking sound. Eyes opened, broken data fell, glittering white fragments hit the floor as an orange disk snapped back to its owner. The others stood, as eyes turned to the dark-clad programs blocking the exits with disks and staves. Black Guards.
The sky fell upwards, the ceiling to the sheltered room ripped back, building code yielding to administrative command functions. Shouts, cries of terror and pain as a mechanized voice recited crimes, punishments from above. Programs fleeing, trying or failing to escape as lights slammed down, black guards dropped from the darkness into the enclosure.
And she was running, leaping, ducking. Helmet up, disk out, clashing, crashing, sending an orange projectile flying away. A hand, planted on the shattered edge of a wall as Quorra launched up and over it. The broken structure stabbed into her, tiny fragments fell from the cut; she ignored it. Dropped down to the other side, melded with the darkness. There were pursuers, but she was faster, more agile-and she was gone from the trap, out of the lights, out of the swarming cluster of programs that the Recognizers loomed above.
She had known it wasn't safe (of course she had known), Flynn had told her to stay away. Stay away from the city, stay away from the fight, center yourself, be patient, be still. Be safe.
The room bled orange as armored figures filled it, stabbing, slicing, or worse-grabbing and holding the fallen, hauling them off. A Recognizer had already landed, captives being dragged towards it. Some were still fighting, and by the numbers...others had gotten away. A few.
But it was over. Quorra stared back, eyes burning as it happened again, as the few who fought, the few who tried to resist, were destroyed. Derezzed, decompiled, simply beaten to the point of shutdown.
Try, a voice whispered in her mind, You could go back, you could fight. Take them by surprise.
Attack instead of playing it safe, act instead of running away.
But no matter how hard she wished, how hard she tried, her limbs wouldn't move. They hadn't. She stayed, waiting, watching, seeing the slaughter from safety, seeing the shattered hope and dimming lights from afar. She couldn't go back, couldn't look away, couldn't slam up her audio filters. Screaming, crying, pleading, a few curt mechanical voices and a faint rumbling that built louder and louder, filling her ears, not a hum anymore but a growl, and she gritted her teeth and tried to move and
Quorra lashed out, hand reaching behind her, scrabbling frantically as she twisted, soft entanglements surrounding her, slowing her as she flailed, trying to turn and fight but now prone. No disk! Where was her disk? Too slow, unprepared, hearing the growl still rising amidst her disorientation, turning to a sharp loud noise.
Vision mapped to memory, images lined up, and she froze amidst the tangled sheets, staring down at the insistent, angry creature that was now scratching against the closed door.
Sam's dog. Designation... Marv.
It barked at her again.
Quorra sighed and put a hand to her head as she extricated herself from the bedding. Moved over, opened the door, letting the creature out. It gave her a reproachful glare, bulging eyes almost comical, before running out, nails clicking on the wooden floor.
She sat back down somewhat shakily, reaching for the glass of water she had left on the floor. Gulped it down. It was flat, empty of energy, and she missed the jolt, the surge of power that would ease startup on the Grid. Her sleep cycles here had been... uneven. Coming out of them more so. Not that she should be rebooting at this time-barely half a milicycle had passed.
Four hours, eleven minutes, and twenty-six seconds. User time was strange-though she was well used to it after a lifetime with Flynn. Why sixty? And twenty-four? He had never been able to explain that-at least not well enough.
She stood, abruptly restless, and followed the dog-creature outside.
It had been five days. Five days of sunlight and grass and cities and users. Mistakes, successes, triumphs. Sam.
There was so much she hadn't expected. But she wanted to learn about this world, to see it, grasp every edge and cram it into her system until she overflowed with data. It was so different from the cycles upon cycles spent waiting, watching. So much to see, but also so much to do. A grin teased through her features. She truly did love this world, and she had been here so briefly.
Five days since leaving the Grid.
Five days since Kevin Flynn had died.
Clu was derezzed as well. The thought brought her more satisfaction than it should, and she smiled at the night with cold satisfaction before the reality of Flynn's absence returned. Clu was a monster, a murderer of the worst kind, and he deserved far worse than deresolution for all the innocents he'd destroyed. But not at this cost. The Creator was dead. The Grid's architect, its originator, its god had died.
Her mentor. Her savior. Her friend.
She shivered, features melting to sorrow as she knelt by the water, watched the lights reflect off the darkness under the bridge. She had wanted to protect him. To remove herself from the equation, to do as she had learned but still act, still save him. Save them both. But where she had failed, had only endangered Sam, put them all at risk, Flynn had transcended. He saved them, saved the Grid.
Quorra's memories of the event—since the event—were inexact, scattered, fragmented images and meaning rather than intact, continuous files. Without an identity disk to write to, few programs could store recollections in full—at least not without clearing their caches frequently. She couldn't remember Flynn's face as he ended. This bothered her.
But she remembered the fading image, the release of energy ripping through the system, destroying the Rectifier. Sam was safe, the portal was secure, but moreover, Clu was gone. His servants-thousands at the least-were derezzed. The Grid had a chance-and all those programs hiding in the shadows, looking with frustration and helpless anger as Clu's enforcers slaughtered their way through the system... they had a chance. They could fight. They could act. They could win.
Quorra froze, surprised at her own tension. She shook her head, relaxing consciously as she lowered her hand from her empty back. It was past. Flynn had given a chance to those programs, but he had given a world to her-and it was this place, with Sam, that he had wanted for her. She would mourn his passing, but to anguish against the past, to wish impossibilities against what he had asked... it diminished the gift he'd given her. She would respect what he had chosen.
And she would enjoy this world.
The ISO stood, looking around at the city, at the water, at the home Sam had shared with her. It was always different, always changing. New. A smile crept across her face as she noted the color of the sky, looking up into the faint lightness marring the dark above.
Another sunrise was coming.
0010110 1010100 0101110 1010110 1111011 1001001 1100100 1100001
Primary processing offline. Startup sequence initiated.
The body lay limply underneath the water, was nudged not ungently from side to side by the currents in the depths of the Sea.
Startup sequence fragmented. Primary systems damaged, restore from backup.
Unresponsive, it had drifted further down, falling from darkness to blackness, from the world faintly lit by a clouded sky to the depths where all light had to come from within... or not, as it were.
Error. Error. Identity disk not found. Data unavailable.
But for the most part, there was light in these waters. Faint glimmers, flickers that edged towards movements, energized motes that drifted with a patternlessness that reached at intention without quite achieving it. Not here. Not now.
Partial system recovery in progress. Recompiling primary initiation sequence. Standby.
The motion wasn't random, though. As the program settled on the rough stone at the bottom, the currents around him moved, the waters almost twitching with curiosity. The Sea of Simulation had once been referred to as "the place where ideas are born", and as the drifting currents and faint light gathered by the still form, ideas, or purpose at the least, did seem to be building.
Energy source present. Restart sequence complete, activate.
A faint glow flickered to life, the program's systems coming online in halting skips and jumps. The suit lit with dim blue lights that slowly, unevenly began to flicker. The water around the figure darkened momentarily, but then swirled and brightened. Eddies of light, of movement, responding to the active presence they contained.
Primary command systems damaged. Repair sequence initialized. Standby.
As the program's circuitry brightened, the flicker evened to a regular pattern, blinking on-off, on-off. The concentration of light, of movement, of faint intention in the Sea around him surged in an almost delighted response. As more motes of light drifted closer, as the currents began to twitch with purpose, with order, something seemed to be collecting in the waters, growing, forming almost, until-
ERROR. ERROR. Contaminant detected.
A shadow formed along the sea floor, an inky blackness in the water that grew rather than moved. It rose up between the lights, among the currents, inside them-tiny blots of darkness that linked, chained, connected in lines and patterns like spreading veins surrounding an organ. But rather than being nourished, the light vanished at its touch, the water stilling. The depths of the Sea bled faint streaks of darkness, embedded fragments among the mass of mutating code activating, triggered with purpose. The dark lines traced the light trail, spreading, adapting to its movements, consuming and deleting as it spread.
Abort repair sequence, initiate emergency startup-
The waters around the program darkened as the blue lights flicked on to a steady glow.
0010110 1011101 1001101 0010111 0010011 1010101 1100110 0101101
There had been so much light.
He was trying to get somewhere, he remembered that. Trying to reach something (someone?). And then there had been light and pain and... and he had shut down. System overload, unavoidable.
So why did he feel it was his fault?
Tron blinked, numbness rising. Location. Status. Deal with that first. He was lying on some kind of hard surface. He queried it, but no locational ping came back. Off-Grid, then. Possibly he was malfunctioning. His visual field seemed to be down, or at least severely obstructed-he couldn't even see his own circuitry.
He frowned, disoriented, and reached a hand up towards his face, trying to focus on the glowing lines he knew should be present. The motion was halting, his movement hampered as he dragged his hand... through water? It felt... thicker than water. Heavier somehow, and it almost seemed to push against his movement, slowing him actively. He felt drained.
His hand met a smooth surface, and he froze, feeling an unreasonable panic steal over him. A helmet. His helmet. There... there was nothing wrong with that.
Nothing at all that could explain his tense fear, the gripping certainty that he needed to remove it, discard it, find himself underneath.
When was the last time he had seen his own face?
A sense of nausea building, Tron triggered his helmet to disengage. It made sense; damaged equipment could explain the dark emptiness of his visual field. No matter that he had registered no such damage. He had to be sure. That was all.
Tron tore into his own code, searching frantically for the obstruction, the cause for his inability to control such a basic function. He was broken, he was missing in pieces and connections and patched in with foreign code, with processes that made no sense, commands... commands he'd blocked out.
For good cause.
Tron clutched at the suffocating helmet as he lay in the darkness. There was damage, corruption, factors on factors stacking to fragment his data retrieval, but he knew anyway, knew what he would find if he looked.
Warnings flashed across his helmet display-external threat detected, security shielding failing. Tron flicked them aside. He couldn't focus. Couldn't think. Couldn't, couldn't remember.
He was glitching, he had to be. Tron knew he should move, knew he should respond to the errors, the threats, the flickering system failures he could feel as his processes began to shut down. There was something wrong here, something beyond him, beyond whatever damage he had taken in the overload. Beyond what Clu had left him with.
Because he wasn't programmed to give up. To allow shutdown, to let himself be derezzed. And still he lay there, paralyzed with confusion and regret and loss while his system slowly disabled itself.
He should move. There was something he was supposed to do, something left. Flynn. He had to help Flynn. But a shuddering wave of guilt passed through him at the thought-there was something wrong there, some failure greater than all the others that edged at his processing, trying to intrude.
He didn't understand. Couldn't focus. There was something wrong with him, he should do... something.
As Tron's processes flickered and shut off, a surge of frustration rose in the program.
I want to live.
Secondary control systems activated.
0110111 0011011 1101110 1000110 0111011 0111101 1011100 1100101
A/N: First off, oh gods, oh gods, sorry to all who read for taking so long with this. Part of it's general fail; haven't made it to the site in around a week. But mostly just writing fail. Next chapter should be quicker, if only because I wrote at least a third of it in my numerous rewrites of this crap.
Second, Quorra ate my chapter. Ate it. Seriously, I just wanted a little blurby bit with her, just enough to establish that yes, she's an important character and going to be doing stuff and all... but no. She has to have a two-thousand word flashbackdreamwidget and... gah. More Tronzler coming up. As should hopefully be clear.
Much thanks to all who've reviewed. This chapter may get edited on the basis of "posting at 0700 leads to poor editing skills". Figured I should put it out there on the basis of "I fail at updating". At this point... yeah. Dunno. Might have more to say when my brain reboots.