Approximately 1.3 microcycles earlier...
The tractor had pulled Alan-One aboard successfully, and Tron took his attention from the ship's controls just long enough to give a hopeful glance back toward the bridge corridor...he could see his User laying on the floor of the ship as the tractor recovery panel re-rezzed into place to seal the cabin.
Then he saw Flynn rushing to Alan-One's side to attend to him, taking off his own jacket and tucking it around the unconscious User's torso.
Returning his gaze quickly to the view-screen and steering console, the security program quieted his worried thoughts.
...remember...this is normal...
...this is just what happens...
...Alan-One will be alright...
He'd seen this many times, in fact.
The tremendous magnetic force of the tractor beam often sent programs into sleep-mode, sometimes even for several microcycles.
It had done the same to the Creator when they'd pulled him aboard.
And that is how he knew Alan-One was going to be just fine.
Flynn would make sure of it. Kevin, that is.
...I still can't get accustomed to calling him 'Kevin' instead of Flynn...
...but that is what he wants...so that is what I will call him...
Tron pressed the engines close to full power, urging the cruiser onward eastbound as they crossed the far edge of the outlands. The Sea of Simulation stretched out ahead, it's darkened waters reflecting periodic flashes of lightning in soft glints along the rippling surface, and up ahead in the distance was the majestic beam of glorious light they sought...the portal.
He scanned his glance across the panoramic view-screen to port side, where he could see Clu's lightjet steadily keeping pace with them.
If all went as well as it had thus far, they would all reach the portal without incident.
At the sound of Kevin's footsteps, Tron turned his head slightly to the side in acknowledgment of his Creator's approach.
"Well,...he's out cold right now, but I don't wonder at it...that tractor thing did the same to me, and I'm almost ten years younger. Well... theoretically I am, anyway..." Kevin gave a wry half-chuckle and paused, glancing back in Alan-One's direction, "...yeah,...he'll be alright. Just probably sore as hell when he wakes up."
Tron gave a sympathetic nod of agreement, and was about to reply when a sudden bright flash lit up the sky to his left, startling him.
He glanced over just in time to stare in horror as Clu's lightjet literally electrified, fiery tendrils of current gamboling across the wings and then zeroing in on the center, engulfing the stunned pilot's circuitry and then derezzing the lightjet altogether in an explosion of pixels.
Tron gasped and let out a cry. "NO!...Clu!" and he banked the ship sharply, dodging the residual clusters of pixels which still dissipated in the air.
Craning his neck he caught a glimpse of Clu who was now spiraling downward, slowly falling through the cloudy skies. He could see no light baton in the program's hands, and Clu didn't appear to be conscious, or if he was, he wasn't moving.
Kevin's stammered voice mirrored the panic Tron felt.
"...'the hell ?...WHAT WAS THAT? !...something hit him!...WHERE did that- … WHAT-"
Tron's voice interrupted, as he pointed to the images now appearing on the rear-view display screens. "There! Just behind and below us...it's a jet..."
Kevin's face went pale and his jaw dropped. "...no,...it's a whole bunch of them..."
"Hold on tight, Kevin!" Tron's voice warned, just before the ship lurched slightly forward and he sent them angling into an evasive dive, dropping back on the throttle as two lightjets screamed past.
He gunned at one of them, sending it into a spin, whereupon the two jets smashed into each other and derezzed. The large cruiser banked again to miss the flying pixelated remnants, and Kevin grabbed quickly onto the back of Tron's seat, his eyes wide as he stumbled and almost fell to the floor of the craft. He'd never realized Tron could fly, much less that he could fly like this, and quite frankly it was a bit more barnstorming than his inner-daredevil craved.
The ship was rapidly descending through the clouds, heading straight for Clu's falling form, and Tron glanced back at Kevin with a grave but determined look on his face. "I'm going to get him..."
Kevin just nodded, eyes still wide, throat suddenly as dry as a desert, and he was a little too stunned to say much.
He swallowed with a gulp and held on tight to the back of the seat. "...okay..."
Focusing on the controls, Tron glanced at the rear-view display, where an echelon of six more jets now joined in to follow right on their tail.
None of the jets had fired, yet.
Tron maneuvered the ship closer to Clu, and his voice was measured and calm but with a slight edge as he initialized the tractor sequence. "Kevin,...how good of a shot are you?..."
The programmer took a deep breath and exhaled slowly through partially-closed lips, then answered, managing to sound much more calm than he felt. "...oh,...I do alright, I guess...at Space Paranoids..." He cleared his throat nervously.
Tron gestured at the jets on the rear-view display with a nod, his voice still fairly calm but definitely adamant. "Well, I'm going to need you to fire at those jets while I steady down and tractor him up to us...I can't do both..."
Kevin took another deep breath. "Just point me to the controls..."
Tron gave a nod back over his left shoulder. "See that pedestal?...stand next to it and press your hand to the panel..."
Kevin touched the panel, and instantly a semi-transparent screen sprang up from the pedestal, along with a shoulder harness apparatus which dropped down to encircle his upper torso.
Two platform armrest beams steadied his forearms and there was a joystick for each hand.
On the screen was a real-time simulation of the jets who trailed them.
Kevin grabbed hold of the joysticks, and exhaled, brows dipping into a determined frown.
He could do this. He wished he didn't have to, but, yes, he could do this. His thoughts yammered snippets, echoes from the past.
...you've got this...
...it's all in the wrist...
...when you're on the other side of the screen...it all looks so easy...
Tron operated the VTOL controls with one hand and fought to keep the tractor bay steadily aligned over Clu with the other. He glanced at the Creator. "On my command, alright?..."
"Yeah." Kevin nodded, brow still furrowed in concentration and thumbs poised over the joystick buttons.
Plummeting the ship into a horizontal straight-drop, Tron locked on to Clu with the tractor sights and activated the beam.
The he whispered softly to himself, and if programs could pray as Users did, then it was his prayer. "…hang on,...I've got you, buddy..."
Then he glanced back over his shoulder at Kevin, giving the order to fire at the jets. "...and,...NOW!"
At the press of Kevin's thumbs and a flick of his wrists, the ship's rear-mounted guns angled upward, unloading a tandem of torrential fire at the lightjets, spanning from one side of the echelon to the other and back. Three of the jets derezzed instantly, and the others flew wildly apart from formation like struck bowling pins. Kevin fired at the remaining three jets one at a time, and then exhaled with a relieved huff and wide eyes s they each derezzed.
"YEAH!...that's got 'em!"
Tron's hands flew over the controls of the ship. The tractor beam lurched Clu's body visibly upward as it took hold, with the water's surface only a few meters below. Then Tron quickly reversed the ship's direction just in time, pulling them straight up into the sky again and towing Clu along with them as the tractor slowly drew him upward to the underbelly of the cruiser.
Kevin had just relaxed somewhat at the firing pedestal when two more jets entered the rear-view display screen, swerving in from out of nowhere to follow them, a red-trimmed jet in the lead, and a yellow-trimmed jet behind it. He squinted, focusing on the two jets as his hands gripped the joysticks again, and suddenly the red-trimmed jet fired at them, hitting the cruiser's tail with a loud zap.
The impact hardly fazed the flying fortress and simply glanced off the hull in a harmless ricochet, but Kevin wasn't going to give either of the jets the chance to get in another shot. He pressed the button and the ship's guns ignited into service, sending the red-trimmed jet derezzing into smithereens of pixels.
He fired again at the yellow-trimmed jet, but this time he only caught the wing, sending it spinning and deactivating as the pilot tumbled free from the craft, the light-baton hurdling through the air in the opposite direction. The pilot tumbled out of range on the rear-view display simulation screen, and Kevin whirled around to catch sight of him through the main view-screen, then stared incredulously...the pilot wore circuitry markings identical to Clu's classic yellow lightsuit, and the helmet was even the same. Tron watched too, as the falling yellow-trimmed figure plummeted right into the Sea of Simulation, and he was riveted by a sickening sense of irony.
After that, both view-screens remained clear, and no other jets were in sight.
Tron engaged the boarding sequence and a portion of the floor in the bridge began to retract.
Kevin turned and bolted towards the corridor, calling back over his shoulder to Tron as he grabbed Clu's disk from the console table.
"I'll bring Clu aboard...you just get us to that portal, before anybody else shows up to screw with us."
The long stairway leading to the platform had never seemed so endless.
Kevin supported most of Alan's weight, helping him up each step as they went. The older man was barely conscious, completely exhausted, and leaning heavily on him for support. He stumbled slightly, and Kevin caught him, repositioning his grip around Alan's waist and ducking under his arm, then standing back up with Alan's arm draped over his shoulders.
"It's okay, man,...I gotcha...we're almost there..."
As Kevin guided him up the last few steps, Alan looked at his friend and managed to raise a sardonic eyebrow, then he spoke in a half-whispered voice, still slightly out of breath. "...Kev,...ever hear of an escalator?"
Kevin chuckled, and helped Alan up onto the platform. "Yeah,...'thought about that a time or two. Sure woulda' made it easier, huh?..."
Tron's voice came from behind them, sounding a bit strained. "Yes...but...maybe easier... for programs...to escape...too..."
The Creator nodded once in agreement, turning just as Tron stepped up onto the platform still carrying the unconscious Clu in his arms.
Kevin's brow furrowed slightly in concern, looking at his doppelganger, whose circuits seemed so dim. The bluish-white stripe along his black riding jacket was barely illuminated, and his face seemed almost ashen. In Clu's current state, Kevin wasn't sure what the transport from the Grid would do to the program, on top of whatever damage had already been done from the blast to his lightjet, but one thing was for sure - as long as he still had Creator powers, he was going to use them to make sure his program had a fighting chance in the real world.
He nodded at Tron, and spoke in a gentle voice.
"Here,...lay him down on the platform...let me take a look at him..."
Tron nodded solemnly, and gently laid Clu's unconscious form down at Kevin's feet.
Then he moved to Alan's side, shouldering his weight so that Kevin could be free to kneel down beside Clu.
Alan grimaced at Tron and rolled his eyes, seeming embarrassed at needing assistance. "Good Lord,...I feel like an invalid..."
But Tron just gave a soft, wry smile. "Not to worry, Alan-One,...it is normal after what you have been through. It won't last long. And besides, it's my honor to help you. You're my User. You wrote me."
Alan nodded, glancing at Tron again, then just chuckled. "You know, it's really kind of strange being this close to my look-a-like..."
With Clu's head resting against his knees, Kevin worked on the double-helix coding of the program's disk. At Alan's comment, he looked up and smirked. "Yeah?...man,...how do 'ya think I feel?..."
Alan shook his head and grinned, chuckling softly. "Well...'sure going to be interesting...now I'll have two Kevin Flynns around to drive me to the edge of my patience."
" Yeah,...and we're sure gonna do our best to." Kevin gave a soft smile, rolling Clu onto his side, returning his disk to it's hub. Then he rolled the unconscious program to lay on his back again, resting Clu's head very gently back against the floor of the platform.
And then the programmer sat back on his heels, took a deep breath, closed his eyes, and placed his hands on Clu's chest. He remained very still as though deep in thought.
Alan tilted his head curiously, unsure of what his friend was doing.
But Tron knew. And he smiled.
At the touch of the Creator's hands, Clu's circuitry slowly began to glow more brightly again, the bluish white stripe along the front of his jacket returning to a strong glow, and the color in his face looking much more healthy with every passing nanocycle.
After several moments Kevin opened his eyes again, seeming slightly drained, and he took a deep breath, then sat watching his program for several nanocycles until the blue eyes so much like his own fluttered open, squinting in the light from the portal and blinking up at him.
Kevin gave a soft grin. "Hey, Clu. How you feelin', man?..."
Clu blinked sleepily a few times, seeming a little disoriented as he looked around.
Then he looked back at Kevin, slowly nodding as he matched his Creator's grin. "We made it,...didn't we?"
Kevin nodded. Clu tried to sit up, but it took him a few nanocycles to get his bearings. Then he slowly got to his feet with Kevin's help, and looked at his Creator, slightly puzzled.
Kevin paused, shot a glance at Alan and Tron, then chuckled as his brows arched upward. He exhaled and smirked, running a hand through his disheveled hair.
"Oh,... 'couple of things. Tell you all about it once we get to the User world, okay?..."
Clu smiled fully now at his Creator's words...once we get to the User world . He nodded again, and of all the things he could think of to say at this moment, 'Thank you' seemed by far the most fitting.
It was only a few steps down the narrow platform walkway to the circular portal.
Clu followed Kevin, and Tron followed along behind Alan to make sure he didn't lose his footing.
The four of them gathered at the bright pillar of light which reached into the heavens, and Kevin removed his disk, holding it out in front of him.
It was then that he noticed his hands were shaking,...but that didn't surprise him – he could hardly believe this was actually happening after all the years.
Taking a deep breath, he gave one last glance around at the digital world which had been at first his miracle and then had become his prison for over two decades.
Then he turned to meet eyes with Clu, Tron and Alan, his arms extended in front of him with the disk in hand. "Alright guys,...group hug here. Everybody step close and hang onto me."
Tron, Clu and Alan all stepped closer to grab hold of each of Kevin's arms, Clu on one side of him, Alan and Tron on the other.
The Creator slowly opened his hands and let go of the disk.
It floated upward.
And then an impossibly brilliant flash of pure white light spread from the portal, engulfing them all.
_End of line for Part One of "System Restore"
_Thank you for reading, and stay tuned for the sequel story, "System Restore : Real World".