I try to take my seat, but I can hardly stand still, let alone sit. Around me, bitterly happy, excited programs are filing in from all sides, chattering to each other about the competitors for today's games. It's going to be disc wars again. They seem to be waiting until they can capture a few large teams of conscripts before trying anyone on the lightcycle grid, which is the only other game popular enough for them to bother with. Logistically, these events aren't easy to organize, so it's no surprise that they've started on such a small scale.
Beside me, two male programs are gesturing excitedly at a view screen to our right, where the name beside the "combatant two" label has just disappeared, and is slowly being replaced by something else. Only, there is no name. Instead there is a single word, which has the crowd in an uproar in an instant. I have to turn down the power to my audio filters to handle the noise which is coming from their combined reactions. The screen now reads, "Combatant Two: Volunteer."
It looks like Tron has arrived.
The blue-circuited sentry outside of the arena's rear entrance doesn't know how to respond to me. He's an amateur, definitely programmed for something other than what he's doing. He's holding his staff all wrong, and the visor over his eyes is just upgraded eye protection that he's tinted to make himself look intimidating. He tries to deter me, at first, and I can understand why. I don't look trustworthy in this suit.
Yori is the fashionable one, not me. I have four different appearance files I can alternate between, total, and Yori's fondness for personal upgrades is the only reason I have more than one in the first place. Generally I stick with one or the other, and this one is an exception to even that rule. I last time I wore it was in the early days of Clu's regime, just before he found me and . . . repurposed me. The circuitry is so absolutely minimal that there might as well be no circuits at all. It's a good suit for someone who doesn't want to be recognized by their usual circuits, and close enough to how Rinzler looked to turn a few heads. Yori hates it.
The would-be sentry in front of me doesn't like it much either.
"This area is off-limits. What do you want?" He sounds braver than he looks.
His jaw drops open. I can almost see him processing, just like I am. Lines of code, analyses of the arena's structure, a list of alternate methods of getting in if this doesn't work, and tactical scans are all running at once at the far edges of my vision.
The sentry moves his mouth, but only ends up with it hanging open again, without saying anything. Then, finally, he chokes out a few words.
"You… want to volunteer for the games? They're to the death you know."
"Are you going to let me in or not?"
He just stares at me, and nods. Shaking his head, he turns and opens the door.
"Straight through and on your left, then follow the ramp to t—"
"I know where I'm going."
I don't wait for him to ask any questions, but push past him into the dim hallway beyond. I know the underbelly of this building like my own circuits. My visual processors could fail entirely and I'd still be able to find the door I need. Even before Rinzler, I knew this place. I used to love the games.
You still do.
I wince under the helmet, but it's true. I can't remember the last time I was this excited; my circuits are twice as hot as they should be and the rate of my cycling has gone up exponentially. I feel like shouting or laughing or... or something. Now that I'm here, I can hardly stand the wait. I keep my mouth shut and my head down, and the second sentry I pass, the one who is in the middle of interrogating the terrified ex-soldier who I'll be replacing, doesn't seem to realizing how badly I want this.
How badly I've been wanting this.
'Halt, program!" This sentry, who has white circuits and a full face visor, is obviously better equipped than the first for his job. "Identify yourself."
I stop, and turn to face him. He's not very tall, and I have to look down my nose just to see him straight.
"I'm a volunteer."
The quivering conscript beside him whirls around and stares at me, his expression clearly betraying the fact that he's experiencing some kind of overload. Between the disbelief in what he's heard and the hope that it has inspired, he doesn't seem to know what to do. I glance at him, and then at the sentry.
"Let him go."
I step towards him, and he grips his staff defensively. I reach out and knock it from his hands. Seeing an opportunity, the conscript makes his escape, picking it up and bolting. The sentry turns to go after him, but I grab him by his arm.
He seems surprised by how easily I can hold him back, and after a micro he stops straining and looks at me.
"Who are you?" he asks. His voice is unfiltered and unaltered, a far cry from Clu's mechanical-sounding guardsmen. He's playing the role of a soldier, and he's doing a convincing job, but underneath the visor he's still just a program. A scared, angry program looking for some order in the chaos.
"Like I said, I'm just a volunteer," I reply, releasing his arm. He doesn't stop me from going. As I walk away he turns and punches in a new label for "combatant two" on the control panel on the wall behind him. I can't see the name of the other player from this angle.
Ahead of me the dark hallway slopes upward, ending in a bright light that obscures any view of the world beyond. At the top of the ramp there is a lift, and I step in. I know this routine. As soon as I'm inside, it begins to rise.
Alerts and i/o feed cloud my vision for a moment as the lift levels with the disc wars platform. I'm too eager to hold them at bay. My disc is suddenly itchy against my back, and my cycling is a roar in my ears. Something tastes like raw energy, though there's nothing in my mouth, and I can feel an excess of power pulsing through my circuits in waves. The crowd roars and howls uncontrollably beneath me, hungry for the games. Almost as hungry as I am.
The lift opens in front of me, and I step out. Whoever designed the layout for the platform this time has a knack for it. Looking around, I find that I am inside of a multi-layer, highly texturized, hexagonal structure the likes of which I've never seen in the games.
I like it.
I like it more than I should.
Some ugly, carnal part of my programming is stirring, the part of me that loves combat… that lives for a challenge. I don't trust it, and I don't want to appreciate it, but I can't help but enjoy what it does to me. It's like raw energy in my systems, radiating heat and electricity through every pixel of my body. If the round doesn't start soon, I think I might short circuit. I can't wait. I want this. I want this so badly that it hurts.
I've missed this place . . .
I am shocked out of my reverie by the realization of what I am doing physically. I'm pitched forward on bent knees, arms out beside me with a little bit of a bend, ready to grab my disc at a moment's notice, ready to spring on anything that moves like some kind of mindless predator.
Get it together, Tron. Focus.
Across the platform from me, a blond program in pale orange is stepping out of another lift. He looks bewildered by the new design, too, and stumbles backwards in surprise when he sees me. There is a large hole in the center of the space, and he is on the other side of it, but we're still close enough together for me to hear him whisper. The announcer is talking over us now, some grand speech about one of Clu's murderers and a mysterious volunteer, but the only thing that really registers is the name my opponent says.
A shudder runs through my circuits, and a feeling of cold stabs through my chest. It's not just the suit that has given him that impression, and judging by the absolute bombardment of noise coming at us from the crowd below, he's not the only one I've fooled.
Yori must be distraught. She's probably hiding it, and will never mention it for my sake, but she must be horrified.
I hate doing that to her.
This will be the last time it happens if I have to shut myself down to ensure that. But for now, the one I have to convince isn't her, but the conscript across from me. He needs to see the truth.
"No," I reply. This in and of itself should be a confirmation since Rinzler didn't speak, but he is wearing a clear visor, and I can see absolute disbelief in his brown eyes. He's far from convinced… which is exactly what I need. He's brave, though, and regardless of who he thinks I am he draws his disc, and his mouth hardens into a firm line as it rezzes to life.
A wave of delight and eagerness and trepidation washes over me, and a yellow warning icon flashes for a moment in my head.
No turning back now.
I draw my disc.
When Tron walks out, the crowd goes absolutely wild. He looks like Rinzler in that stealth suit of his, and they are beside themselves with joy over the prospect of their favorite slaughterer's return. The conscript he's being pitted against takes a step back when he sees Tron across from him, ready to lunge, but recovers well. If he's afraid, he doesn't show it, and this drives the crowd to a more insane level of noise than ever before. The chant of "Disc wars, disc wars, derezz, derezz!" is taken up almost before the announcer has finished talking.
Combatant one, who the screens overhead name "Orex," draws his disc. Tron follows suite. Unlike Orex, however, he doesn't pause before he makes a move with it. He turns and runs up the side of the structure (I honestly don't even know what to call it, platform is not the right word for this weird new construction that they're fighting in,) and then catapults himself off of it, clearing the gap in the middle of the floor easily and landing just out of reach of the other player. Orex, of course, has no idea that Tron has no intention of killing anyone and panics, hurtling his disc with all of his strength at Tron's chest from barely more than an arm's length away. It's a forceful throw, but poorly aimed, and Tron doesn't have to do more but take a step to his left to avoid it. That's exactly how he likes to fight, up close and personal. The aerodynamics and acrobatics that Rinzler favored so heavily have never held much appeal for him unless absolutely necessary, despite the fact that Tron as capable as Rinzler ever was of executing them.
He lets his opponent's disc circle back to him, ducking reflexively to avoid it before launching a melee attack on the orange-clad program. The poor conscript defends himself relatively well at first, but then he trips while backing away from Tron, who almost stumbles over his fallen form. He jumps up and summersaults in the air to avoid him, landing neatly just past where Orex is scrambling to get up. The crowd replies with a chorus of howling and cheers, stomping their feet on the stands.
Tron turns and brings his disc down over the program's head. My cycling freezes for a nano, my voice catching in my throat. He looks like he might actually derezz him, and for a instant I'm terrified that I've lost him, that he's reverted into the being that the crowd thinks he is, but then he hesitates. It's not something everyone else sees –they're too busy trying to get a chant of "Rinz-ler, de-rezz!" to catch on—but I know what he's done. I can't help but breathe a sigh of relief as Orex blocks the blow. His next action, however, is to reach up from his place on the ground and grab Tron around the back of his knee, knocking him down flat. It's a dirty move that will undoubtedly irritate Tron. . . if he gets back up before his opponent does.
They both manage to leap to their feet, however, (Tron more gracefully than Orex), and their discs clash in midair. Tron then ducks and spins once off of his hand, inverting himself before spiraling away, to avoid several successive jabs from his opponent. It's the sort of move Rinzler always used and Tron has always resented for being unnecessarily flashy, but the crowd begins anew with their shouting because of it, a couple thousand voices all blurring together into one incompressible roar.
But he's not done with them. There's a reason he's not guarding himself against similarities the and Rinzler share, as he usually does. He's letting that part of him –that tortured, vicious, dogged little part of him that Clu exploited to make Rinzler in the first place— show on purpose. It's what has always made him such a good competitor, what has allowed him to survive situations which would have utterly overwhelmed other programs, and now he's letting it loose. It's the same part of him that entices him into a little flare and drama on rare occasion, and whatever Clu may have twisted it into, there's a certain appeal to the way he moves when he lets it take over. He becomes so fluid, so unlike anything else on the grid. Every step seems to glide, and he doesn't need any flips or bounds to be the most impressive mover that most of the programs around me have ever seen, or will ever see. He has everyone's attention, now, and that's exactly how he wants it. The next stage is essential.
As Orex draws his disc back over his shoulder to throw it, Tron brings his in front of him, taking it in both hands. When he parts them again, both of his discs are visible.
The crowd goes wild.
My combatant (whose name I still don't know due to the crowd shouting over everything the announcer says,) falters.
"You liar," he says, staring at my discs. He's referring to my earlier denial of identity. After all, everyone knows that Rinzler was the only program in the system to actively use two discs.
"Not exactly," I reply, but the crowd has reached a deafening pitch below us and I'm not sure how much he hears. He hurtles his disc at me, aiming low as if to remove me feet from under me, but it's easily avoided. I throw one hand down and deflect his disc with my own, sending it spinning over the edge of the void in the platform's center. It drops, and bursts into a shower of pixels two levels below. I'll owe him a new one for that…
His eyes widen as his disc shatters below him, then glances at me, and bolts. He seems to want to put as much distance between us as physically possible, though he must know it won't do him any good.
Give up, program.
I let him get all the way around the platform, circling the gap until he is opposite me, before coming after him. No one in their right programming would try to jump it, and in theory he could keep space between us for some time if I don't simply start aiming discs at him, which I could. If I did throw, he'd be dead in an instant, though, and that's not my goal.
Besides, I have never claimed to be in my right programming. I give myself three running strides, and leap.
For a moment it feels as if I am hanging in the air, suspended and ready to drop, but then my feet the floor again on the other side. I come down practically on top of my opponent, and knock him flat on his back, one disc drawn back over my shoulder, the other pointed at his neck. His circuits pale.
The crowd screams.
For a moment I can imagine what it would be like to finish the game, how easy it would be to bring my hand down and cut him into nothing… but that isn't who I am.
Instead, I let my discs go dark in my hands, and I press them back together without a word. The crowds howls of joy turn to angry booing, but I ignore them. The program lying beneath me looks confused. Hopelessly confused.
"Aren't you going to derezz me?" His voice is steady, but weak.
He sags with relief when I answer. His eyes say he doesn't trust me, but he wants to believe it badly enough that he's able to let that go.
"What's your name, program?" I ask. The crowd and the announcer are both shouting now, but these aren't Clu's games. They don't have an enforcer strong enough to make us kill each other if we don't want to.
I nod once before speaking.
"Orex, do you want to live?"
He falters, and doesn't seem to be able to speak right away.
"Yes," he answers after a moment, "Please, yes. I'm not a soldier anymore."
I offer him my hand.
He takes my hand, and I pull him to his feet. Sighing in stunned relief, he retracts his visor, and looks to me to address the crowd. I hold up a hand, and although I have to stand there for quite a while before they finally concede and quiet down, eventually the onslaught of voices becomes only a low, irritated hum. Irritated, and wondrous. None of them understands what's happening before them, and as angry as they are that none of Clu's old forces will be derezzed in front of them, they're curious, too. There is a sort of resounding click which reveals that the audio amplifiers have been turned on Orex and I, and I step forward to address the circle of programs below.
I was in no way programmed for large public addresses, but the words come to me more easily than I would have expected. I'm surprised at the volume, and the authority, in my own voice.
There is a hum of barely vocalized response.
"Is this the system you wanted?"
A chorus of angry sounds is the reply now. Whether directed at me, at Clu, or the users who destroyed him doesn't matter. I have their attention.
"We have seen enough deresolutions, and we can do better," I shout, "These games end now. Anyone who chooses to fight to the death will answer to me from now on."
There is a roar, at once angry and bewildered, that is so overwhelming that the announcer can't seem to make her voice heard. They drown her out, shouting things I can almost make out. What they must be saying is obvious, though. They want to know who I am.
It's time to tell them.
Programs around me are shouting things like "Oh yeah, and who are you?" and "who are you really?" as loudly as they can. Not a moment before they were shouting Rinzler's name, certain beyond a doubt that that's who they were watching, but now they're confused. Rinzler never, ever turned down the opportunity to brutally derezz an opponent and certainly never made speeches, and although Tron's two discs were confirmation enough to make even the most skeptical in the audience recognize the Clu's fallen enforcer, they're perplexed by his behavior now. They're ready to believe anything to make this makes sense. Ours is a system that is tired of empty promises and insinuations. They want to see the truth, the whole truth, right before their eyes, and that is exactly what Tron gives them.
Taking his disc in both hands, he stands a little taller above the crowd. Slowly, white begins to seep into the black of his suit, the beginnings of the most iconic garb showing through. Programs in the audience around me begin looking at each other in confusion, and a few faces have morphed into masks of wide eyed disbelief. A women a row in front of me keeps repeating "it can't be, it can't be," over and over as if she's glitching, while then men to my right are shouting and mumbling incoherently. Still another couple behind me are looking to each other for answers, and finding none.
Gradually, however, a name is starting to echo through the crowd. Rinzler's name is being traded back and forth with Tron's as understanding –or at least suspicion—dawns on the programs around me. Above us, a now brilliantly white-clad Tron is looking down on us, the insignia on his chest visible even from here. This time when he speaks, everyone quiets to hear him.
"As I said," he states flatly, "the deresolutions end now."
This time, no one argues. There is a low, rumbling hum coming from the crowd, a muttering that swells, becomes a shout, and then a cheer. There are plenty of angry programs, people who want to know where he's been and others who are just beginning to understand, some who hate him for the dual identity he's just made clear, some who haven't put it together yet, and still more who are stricken by what appears to be a miracle before them; but the end result is all the same. This is the change they have been longing for, a new factor, a prayer for leadership answered. The voices of the audience blur together to form one resounding cacophony of approval . . . and hope.
In reply, Tron says nothing. But all at once, he throws his disc triumphantly up over his head, holding it directly above him with both hands, his head thrown back. When he lowers it again, his helmet is gone at last, and for the first time in more than a thousand cycles, the citizens of Tron's system can see their hero's face.
-End of Line.-
Author's note: Thank you Rachel for editing this, and thank all of you so much for reading!
Also, if you liked this story (or Through Broken Eyes or Survivor's Tale, for that matter,) you may be interested in my newest project, which is another full-length Tron fic. It features a very full cast including: Yori, Tron AND Rinzler (you'll see what I mean when it's posted), Paige, Alan, Lora, Sam, Quorra, and some ISOs!
The fic is called Tron: Regenesis, and the first chapters will be going up in the next few days, so be on the lookout. OR, if you're interested but don't want to sign up for author alerts/waste time just checking into my profile, you can always send me a PM about it and I will personally notify you once it's been posted.
Thanks again for reading!