TRON: New Frontiers
It was the perfect day to be outside, instead of being stuck in a stuffy office with his paperwork, no matter how nice an office it was, so Christopher Pike, Admiral and Commandant of Cadets, was immensely pleased with himself for taking control of this simple project, away from Starfleet HQ in San Francisco, and away from those interfering and nosy doctors at Starfleet Medical.
He was up and walking, although with the aid of crutches, because Leonard McCoy was a medical genius and it's been a year since what was now dubbed the Narada Incident, so he was fine, thank you very much.
So when the opportunity arose to scout out a potential recruitment office in Central City, he jumped on it like a dog with a fresh bone. He was still the best recruitment officer in the 'Fleet, damn it!
At the moment, he was standing across the street of the potential site, an empty shell of a building in an old industrial sector. The building itself was partially collapsed, with only one wall towards the back remaining intact, a relic from the late 20th century.
It would be easy enough to demolish the rest of the building and build the recruitment office from scratch; he wasn't too concerned on that. It was a very good site, and the industrial sector was slowly being transformed into an active urban community, drawing people into the area. Pike didn't think there'd be any real problems.
"Admiral!" A young lieutenant came running from the building, a datapad in hand. He didn't look overly concerned, but rather kind of excited.
"Yes, Lt. Williams?"
"We found something I think you should see, sir."
Pike was curious now. "Really? What kind of 'something'?"
"There's a secret door that according to scans, lead to a basement not in the original floor plans."
"Really now? Well, lead the way, lieutenant."
The building, an old fashioned gaming arcade from the late 20th century, had already been gutted, emptied of all the debris accumulated from the past 200 years, except for an ancient, decrepit machine on the intact wall. Pike recognized the machine as an ancient gaming console, almost unrecognizable from wear, tear and grime, but he was just able to discern the name at the top of the machine.
Tron, interesting name for a game.
"So, where's this secret door?"
The lieutenant gestured to the old console. "Behind there, sir."
Upon closer examination, Pike was able to see the worn gouges on the cement floor, revealing that the machine swung outward, but more disturbing was the signs of projectile weapons fire. He ran his fingers over the old holes riddling the console and the wall, eyeing the suspicious rust coloured stains near the floor.
"This place was attacked; probably the same time the building collapsed, preserving the little evidence there is left. Were there any other signs of this?" Pike asked, indicating the holes in the wall and in the game console.
"Just by the entrance, sir. The damage looks old, so we didn't think much of it."
Pike nodded. "It is old, at least 200 years. I think whatever happened here, the answers are behind this door. Open it up." He moved out of the way, giving enough space for his men to work. It took three men to move the rusted machine, revealing a solid steel door that turned out to be sealed shut from the inside. There were also more rusty stains and bullet holes denting the metal.
"I want this door cut open immediately, and oxygen masks. We're looking at a tomb here, unopened for the past 200 years."
It took no time at all for the door to be cut open and removed, revealing a pitch black, partially collapsed, musty smelling stairway leading down. Pike, followed by two security officers, manoeuvred his way down the fairly steep stairs, hanging fluorescent glowsticks every few meters as he did.
The basement was situated directly beneath the main floor of the building upstairs, with two rooms, as far as Pike could determine. He wasn't terribly surprised to see the skeleton next to the door leading to the other room. Most of the clothes had rotted away over time, leaving only scraps behind, but there were some visible bits of plastic, a rusted weapon at its feet, and a pair of dusty glasses
This person had died protecting something, of that Pike was certain. That something was behind the locked door, and he wanted to know what it was.
After the security guys broke the decrepit lock and opened the ancient wooden door, Pike entered the second, smaller room, preparing himself for anything he might find.
He didn't expect a functioning computer. The terminal was fairly massive, about the size of his office desk, but it was surprisingly advanced for its age, with glowing touch screens that Pike knew better than to touch, and as far as he could tell, the system was completely independent, running on its own power.
There was another machine in the room, its purpose Pike couldn't determine. He decided not to investigate.
He was out of his depth here, Pike knew that. This technology was old, but advanced. He knew he would need someone with an extensive knowledge in ancient tech, but with a considerable amount of experience in programming.
Shit. There was only one person he knew of with both of these qualifications, and it helped that the kid was a genius, too.
He needed Kirk.
James Tiberius Kirk was excited to be back on Earth, happy for the chance to give his crew shore leave to spend time with family before they shipped out to the Neutral Zone again.
He was also very curious as to why they'd been recalled, why he, specifically, had been requested by Pike. He didn't have all the details, but Pike had found something that needed his specific skill set, though he would be bringing both Spock and Chekov with him, since he was sure it was engineering, computer software or hacker related, so he was, of course, going to bring with him the smartest people he knew.
He and his command crew were currently on the last shuttle coming down from the Enterprise, and as he stepped off the shuttle with Spock at his side, and Bones grumbling away behind him, he wasn't surprised to see Pike waiting for him, the Admiral leaning slightly on a cane, though he could see a pair of crutches in the arms of a lieutenant behind him.
"Admiral Pike, always a pleasure to see you, sir." He greeted with an easy salute and his customary cocky grin.
"At ease, Captain," Pike smirked at him, unfazed like always with his usual antics. "Come on, I'll explain on the way."
Straight down to business, then. Ok, he could work with that. He motioned for Bones and Chekov to join him and Spock as Pike switched to his crutches before leading them out of the hanger to a smaller commercial shuttle waiting for them.
Pike waited until everyone was seated and they were in the air before handing out PADDs for each of them. Jim browsed through the contents briefly, wondering briefly at the floor plans of a building he didn't recognize and some fascinating schematics for a machine he would love to try and build.
"What you're looking at is the site of the recruitment office Starfleet will be building in Central City. The reason I've asked for you, Kirk, is because we found something, a computer, in a hidden basement beneath the main floor."
"And none of the techs planetside can do anything with it?"
Pike shook his head. "I don't want them even touching it. The computer's old, very old, but it's running completely on its own power. That basement's been sealed since before the Eugenics Wars. There were also multiple signs of combat, projectile weapons fire, to be specific. The computer, and the other unidentified machine in that basement, was the target of an attack on the building, and someone died protecting it. I want you to find out what was so important about that computer."
"If the technology in question is so old," Spock said. "Why should we investigate at all? Would it not be more efficient to simply dispose of it? The information within would undoubtedly be obsolete."
Pike grinned at him, reminding Jim of an excited child. Not that he'd admit that aloud. "Just a feeling, Spock. This is important, more than we can know."
McCoy graced them with an eye roll. "Besides, hobgoblin, anything pre-WWIII is valuable since we lost so much of our history in those wars, specifically of those years."
Ok, that made sense to Jim, and knowledge was power, as the saying went. He also trusted in Pike's 'feelings', hell, he was a good example of Pike's crazy intuition! He still had one question, though. "So, why me? I mean, specifically."
There was a particularly smug look on Pike's face as he turned that little smirk of his on Jim, a glint in his eyes that made him a little nervous, like all his secrets were about to be revealed. "I wanted you, Kirk, because you're a nerd."
Spock's left eyebrow shot up to his perfect hairline as McCoy tried, and failed, to contain his startled laughter as Jim sputtered indignantly. Chekov just watched, a little stunned.
Pike's grin got that much wider. "You're one of the biggest history nerds I know, of all things old, like the paper books I know you have squirreled away somewhere, and your collection of ink fountain pens that you restored so you could actually use them. You'll be careful with tech this old, and since you're arguably the best hacker in the 'Fleet, you should be more than capable of cracking the system without damaging it."
Jim felt like pouting, but he was a Captain now, so he had to act all captain-y. "How do you know about the pens?"
Pike only shook his head, still grinning. "Sorry, kid, I can't give away my secrets. Anyway, Spock, Chekov, I would like both of you to work on the other piece of equipment we found. I want to know what it is, what it does, what it could possibly be doing down in that basement. As far as I could tell, there's some minor damage, probably from the ridiculous amount of dust in that room, so all I want you to do is restore it. Don't go messing with it unnecessarily until we know what it is.
"McCoy, we found a body down there, too. Whoever he was, he died protecting that room, sealing the basement from the inside and effectively making it his tomb. I want you to find out how he died, and if possible, who he was. He deserves a grave, at the very least." The doctor didn't give a verbal confirmation; rather he started digging into his ever-present medical bag, undoubtedly checking his equipment.
"What about the history of the building itself? What was it used for prior to its collapse?" Pike was right, he was a nerd, but damn it, he was curious about a lot of things.
"We found out, from what records we could recover, that it was abandoned in the late 1980s, after its owner, Kevin Flynn, went missing. It was a video game arcade in that decade, run by the owner, and Flynn was also CEO of Encom, the main programming and Software Company of the time. Flynn was seen as a programming genius," Pike looked at each of them, aware that he had several certified geniuses right there with him. "Pioneering most of the advancements of the era by leaps and bounds, while also creating some of the most successful games in the early history of gaming. He also revolutionized computer and software development during his time as CEO before he disappeared without a trace in 1989. Under suspicious circumstances that I don't have the details of, his son disappeared in much the same manner twenty two years later, only a few years before the start of the Eugenics Wars."
The shuttle touched down on solid ground, meaning they had reached their destination, and as they filed out of the shuttle, Jim was able to take in his first impression of their objective. Pike was right, the building had, once upon a time, come under an attack of some sort. The surrounding architecture was in remarkably good condition in comparison to the almost complete destruction of the future recruitment office. The damage seemed... almost controlled, like it was engineered to collapse inwards, obliterating the building with minimal damage elsewhere. Any physical evidence of the controlled explosion had long ago been lost to time, and as he walked through the empty shell of the building, he picked up the signs of weapons fire as mentioned by Pike, both at what remained of the front entrance and on the intact back wall. He noticed that most of the damage, while obliterating the main floor, hadn't damaged the foundation, hiding the entrance to the basement, partially collapsing the stairs and protecting the hidden rooms below.
He wondered how Pike had managed the stairs, or what was left of the stairs, with his crutches.
Jim was relieved to see that Pike's team had the basement well lit, and cleared of rubble, giving him and his crew suitable space to work. Bones went to work right away on the skeleton, pulling out his tricorder, looking for things that he didn't really care to understand. Bones was the doctor, not him; he didn't need to understand the medical stuff.
While Spock and Chekov went to work examining the other machine, Jim turned his focus on his task, realising what Pike meant about the ancient computer. It was an interesting design, very sleek and modern, despite its age, and yes, it was up and running, a very quiet humming sound that was surprising for what he knew of the era's technology. He peered around to the back of the machine, noting the cable plugged into the wall, but he knew that a building this old and in this state of disrepair hadn't been attached to any power grid for many, many decades, so how was the computer functional?
A scan with his own tricorder revealed that the computer was creating more than enough electricity to power one of the Academy dorms, probably, and that something, some function of the computer itself, was converting the electrical power back onto itself. He couldn't fathom how that was possible, but it proved that the creator of this system was ridiculously creative and ingenious.
He wiped away the dirt and dust accumulated over the past 200 years from the main screen, bringing it out of hibernation, and with a few key strokes of the digital touchscreen keyboard, he was able to bring up the main operating system, noting that two programs were running, something with the label The Grid, and an activation screen of some kind, but he decided to leave that alone for the time being. He really didn't want to mess with anything he couldn't safely identify.
Jim sighed, rubbing at his eyes. He could tell this was going to be challenging, simply because of how old this operating system was, though it was surprisingly fast and easy to navigate, well, for him, anyway. He brought up the files on the Grid, frowning at the code that appeared on the screen, looking very much like a map at first glance. The system had been largely corrupted at one point, but most of the damage had been repaired throughout the years, though he couldn't identify who, or what, had done the repairs.
The Grid was very active. That much was clear as he investigated, browsing through the code, and he wondered if there was some way he could communicate with the system, so he hunted around the portal, and there! A message board to the Grid, which was weird, because that made it seem like there was intelligent, sentient life of some kind on the other side of the board.
Well, he might as well give it a shot. It was that or to start digging through things he wasn't sure he wanted to, like that other program currently running. So he pulled up the message board, looking very much like an old fashioned chat room, and typed in a very simple message.
He didn't expect a reply right away, hell, he wasn't really expecting anything at all, so it was a bit of a shock when the computer beeped, a chime like sound, alerting him of a reply.
/Hello. Who are you?/
The response seemed fairly human, like he was speaking to a person, and it made him very curious.
/Name's Jim Kirk. You appear to be sentient. Are you the computer?/
/No, I'm a User, I'm just living inside the computer, in the Grid./
Huh. That was interesting, but how was that possible? What, then, was the Grid?
/It's the name of the system, the computer hardware just houses it. Can you tell me if there's a laser behind you? I'm assuming you've moved nothing yet./
A laser? That's what it was? Jim turned to look behind him, where Spock and Chekov were still working away on the machine, tools in hand. "Hey, have you guys figured out what you're working on?"
Spock looked up from his tricorder, regarding him blankly, but he could tell from the slight furrow in his brow that the Vulcan was slightly frustrated. "I believe it is a primitive laser of some unknown fashion, but neither myself nor Lt. Chekov have come to the conclusion of its purpose."
Kirk grinned at him. "You're right, it is a laser. I can find out what it's for, if you'd like."
Spock refused to answer him, but Chekov nodded, excited. "Please, Keptin, that vould be most helpful."
"Sure thing, Chekov, coming right up."
/Yeah, there is. It's a bit damaged, but we're fixing it up now. What does it do?/
/It's my only chance to leave the Grid. It digitalizes atoms and reintegrates the atoms inside the Grid, like transporting something, or someone, from the outside where you are, to the Grid, inside the computer./
Kirk was stunned, this was amazing! This kind of technology didn't currently exist, yet it was a couple hundred years old! The potential for this was astounding, and the possibilities raced through his mind, incomplete ideas just waiting to be explored.
He turned back to the laser, where Spock was watching him. "You'll never believe this; that laser lets you go inside the computer. It digitalizes matter, working much the same way a transporter pad does, just you know, a bit different."
"And may I ask how you acquired this information, captain?"
"I never did ask his name, gimme a sec."
/The laser is fine, got my best people on it. By the way, I never did get your name./
/My name is Sam Flynn./
No way. This was too much of a coincidence. /Any relation to a Kevin Flynn?/
/He's my dad./
"Is there something wrong, captain?"
"Get Pike down here, he needs to see this." Kirk barely heard, barely paid any attention as Spock left the room, his attention focused solely on the screen in front of him.
/We knew Flynn had disappeared, and you vanished too, but your name was never mentioned in the reports./
/Oh, that's... interesting. I have a question for you; who are you really? You said 'we', meaning you're part of something, an organization of some kind, and you also said 'my people', meaning you have authority./
Jim hadn't been expecting that. Sam was smarter than he'd realized. He figured it couldn't hurt to tell him the basics at least, since Sam was going to be associated with Starfleet for the next while.
/You're right, I'm Captain James T. Kirk, of the U.S.S. Enterprise, a starship. We're explorers, scientists and diplomats for the most part, but sometimes we're soldiers./
/You're military? What would you do with this technology?/
/That's not up to me, but I don't think the Admiralty would do anything wrong, not with Pike as an Admiral. He's someone I trust with my life, and he's never let me down. Why are you so worried about the military?/
"Kirk, what'd you find?" He jumped at Pike's voice behind him, and he scooted his chair over, giving the admiral a view of the screen.
"Kevin Flynn's son has been living inside the computer for over two hundred years. Sam told me about the laser, which is super cool, and he's also worried about military involvement."
"You told him who you were?"
Kirk shrugged, not too concerned. "He'd already figured it out. I figured it wouldn't hurt to share some details since he'll probably be working with Starfleet once he's out."
Pike nodded, satisfied with his reasoning. "Ok, let him know we're peaceful, and find out why he went inside there in the first place. I have the feeling we barely know anything of the real story."
"Can do, sir." He looked back to the message screen to find Sam's answer waiting for him.
/The military, backed by the government, is why I had to hide here in the first place. They hunted us down./
That was a very good reason to be wary of any kind of military. /I got good news for you, then. Starfleet is more based in the sciences than any military applications, more like a humanitarian armada. We do learn defence and tactics and stuff, but that's because not all life in the galaxy is friendly. How come you're in there?/
/Are you safe I'm safe?/
/I promise. I will do everything in my power to make sure you're safe./
/Ok. To start with, you need some history, a bit of back story. In the early 1980's, my father, Kevin Flynn, dreamt of a world he thought he would never see, a world inside a computer. Would the circuits be like freeways? What would it look like? One day, he got in. He created the Grid, and the programs were people, living beings just like us, and with the help of a program he brought over from an older system, and another he created himself, he created a world here, inside the Grid./
Kirk could barely believe it, this was amazing! Flynn was certainly a genius, and it looked like his son was one, too. He kept reading the text as it appeared, knowing Pike was doing the same over his shoulder.
/There was an uprising. CLU, Flynn's program, came to believe that Users were obstructing the way for a perfect system. My dad wasn't able to get to the portal in time, and he was trapped in here. He was trapped for twenty years, but to him, it was more like a thousand. He found something special, a miracle that would change everything we knew about everything. Disease would be gone, religion would change, philosophy, science, everything. The uprising almost destroyed the miracle, although one survived. When I came down here the first time, I found my father, we fought off CLU and we were able to bring Quorra, the last remaining ISO, the last chance for a miracle, to the world outside. My father didn't make it./
/So what happened?/
/We started using the ISO technology in medicine, bioengineering, technological developments, physics, all sorts of things. We were doing so much good. We were changing the world, just like dad dreamed of. The problem was that the American government wanted to use the ISO tech for military purposes. To make better soldiers, better ways for humans to kill each other. I kept refusing until they came after us. They killed Quorra, and I only escaped with luck, along with Alan Bradley, dad's partner and my mentor. It was his idea to send me back here, although I was able to reverse the time flux, so from my perspective, I've only been down here for approximately 121 hours, or five days. If my calculations are right, the year should be 2259 or 2260, at the latest./
Kirk stared at Pike in alarm. Five days? If his math was correct, and it usually was, that meant every hour spent in the Grid was the equivalent of two and half years on the outside. That was insane! "What do you make of this, sir?"
Pike wore a deep frown and sighed. "That kid is very brave. He knows how much time has passed."
/Ouch, that really sucks. That's a long time./
/I know. I'm coming to terms with it./
/I'm sorry about your friend, the one who was killed. So this Alan is down here with you?/
/No, he sent me down here alone. He said he would make sure they would never find me until it was safe. I started worrying five hours in, but I knew he was dead after ten hours with no word./
"Do you think the body in the other room could be Bradley?"
"It's looking like it. I'll get McCoy's report." Pike hobbled his way out, and only a few moments later, he returned with Bones, who was looking grim.
"What do you got, Bones?"
"The victim, identified as an Alan Bradley, died from several wounds caused by an old fashioned projectile weapon called a gun, to his abdomen and chest area. After he got shot, he probably only had time to get down here before he died. He was carrying what has been identified as a detonator, leading me to believe he caused the explosion that collapsed the building. He was close to both Flynn and his son. The reports are kinda sketchy, like anything from that era." He shrugged, dissatisfied that he couldn't find more information.
"If it helps, he saved Sam Flynn's life. I'm talking to him right now."
Pike grinned at him. "Don't worry doctor; I'll fill you in."
Kirk grinned at his best friend, knowing this would take some time for the doctor to get used to. The computer console beeped again, so he turned back to read Sam's new message.
/Do you have any experience in programming?/
Kirk had to laugh, ignoring the others in the room, but he couldn't blame Sam. /Yeah, I'm the best hacker in the quadrant. What do you need me to do?/
/I need you to fix the time flux, bring it back to a reasonable level, because right now, every second in here is five hours where you are. I think the Grid is currently compensating for the time difference while we talk, though./
Huh, that was interesting. It did explain why Sam had only spent almost a week in the system. /Sure, want to walk me through it, to save some time?/
Apparently Sam thought this was a good idea too, so for the next hour or so, Kirk followed Sam's instructions in surfing the code, hacking his way through, and wow, he was impressed. Seems like Kevin Flynn wasn't the only programming genius in the family. Sam's modifications were fairly elegant, smooth, clean and efficient, much like Spock's programming, but oh so different and sleek. He was kind of jealous, actually.
Sam would prove to be a challenge, if they were ever to face off.
When he was finished, the time difference were a lot closer, and better for them. An hour inside the Grid would only be a half hour out here. He closed the windows he'd opened to change the difference and relayed his success to Sam.
/Excellent, now I don't have to worry so much./
/Hey, I have a question. You mentioned that you were hunted down because of ISO technology. What does 'ISO' mean?/
/The ISOs were different. They had no User, they were not created by any being outside the Grid. The ISOs were naturally occurring programs, and according to Tron, the circumstances of their spontaneous creation have not been seen since that first time. ISO stands for Isomorphic Algorithms./
Now, Kirk knew his history. He loved history, and all forms of it, from artefacts to events. He knew exactly what historians thought was the cause for the Eugenics Wars almost 250 years ago, and he really didn't want to tell Sam what he knew.
But he knew he had to. He liked Sam, even without really meeting the guy, and Sam deserved to know the truth.
/Um, I hate to break this to you, but you do need to know. We don't know for sure, since a lot of records were lost, but its theorized that Isomorphic Algorithms were what prompted Eugenics research, leading to the Eugenics Wars and World War 3 following that. I am so sorry./
Damn, he wasn't taking it well. /I'm sorry./
/When did these wars happen?/
/The Eugenics Wars began about five to ten years after you vanished, I think. Again, I don't know for sure, with the lack of accurate information available./
/They must have kept her body, used her DNA. They corrupted everything we were trying to do! We were curing disease!/
Pike came up behind him, quickly reading through the text. He sighed, shoulders slumping ever so slightly. "Damn, that really sucks for the kid. Tell him he's safe from that, we don't want a repeat of the wars. We're also packing it up, laser's been repaired and we're heading back to HQ. I want to speak with the kid in person."
/We won't let that happen again. We don't want another war. This time, we learned from our mistakes, and the only eugenics research we still use is to save lives, like surgeries, prosthetics, regeneration to some degree./
/Ok. Thank you./
/I've just been told that we're packing up here, and we'll be moving both the computer and the laser to Starfleet HQ, probably to one of the engineering labs, so that we can get you out. Admiral Pike would like to speak with you in person./
/Let me know when you get there, and I'll talk you through hooking up the laser to the Grid. I have to tell you, the portal can't be opened from the inside, and it won't open from the outside without someone coming down here. Once it's opened, I can get out, bringing whoever comes in with me./
That was good to know. /Cool. Digitalization is safe, I assume?/
/Oh yeah, you can't even die of old age. The only dangers are getting hit with a virus, literally, and death by derezz./
That was a new one. /Derezz?/
/Sorry, I meant deresolution. I don't know how it affects humans, but programs will shatter in a remarkable display of pixels when derezzed./
Huh, interesting. Maybe he should convince McCoy to go inside once they got set up. /Ok, then I'll probably send in my CMO to make sure you're ok. I just have to convince him first. What's it like when you're hit with the laser?/
/You don't even feel it. It's almost instantaneous, less than a blink. Your doctor should be fine./
/Try telling him that. Anyway, I have to go, but I'll speak to you again in a few hours./
He signed off from the chat room, closing all the unnecessary programs and windows, until the screen was blank. He stood from his chair, just as Pike came back into the room, manoeuvring on his crutches with a grace that he was jealous of, since he was under no illusion that he would be as graceful if their positions were reversed.
"Ready to go?"
Kirk nodded. "Yes, sir. How are we moving the equipment? Transporters?"
Pike nodded, motioning for him to follow as they left the basement. Kirk noticed that the body had been removed, probably relocated to Starfleet Medical. He'd have to ask, since he figured that Sam would want to see the remains of the man, since Bradley meant so much to him.
"Yes, I've secured and cleared one of the engineering labs by your old dorm hall, big building by the astrophysics labs."
"I'm familiar with the lab," He grinned at the memories. "Fun times..."
The 'I'm so not impressed' vibe came through loud and clear in the look Pike levelled in his direction, but Kirk was unfazed by it. This was the usual byplay between them, if it didn't happen, something was wrong.
"For that, Sam is your responsibility. I'll get the rest of the Admiralty to keep him with you, and I want him working with us of his own free will." He spoke briefly to a waiting officer, giving the go ahead to transport the computer and laser to the lab. "I have no illusion that he actually trusts us to keep our word to not use his knowledge for more... unethical purposes, so I want you to get him to open up, to trust us. He's going to be cautious, and he has good reason for it, too."
Kirk nodded, understanding completely. "I understand, sir. I'll get the crew to help, after they come back from shore leave. Can you get him on the Enterprise?"
"We'll see about that. I'll have to talk to the kid first before I bring that up before the rest of the admiralty."
He was actually getting excited with this amazing discovery. Sam sounded like a cool, intelligent guy, and the world he lived in was beyond anything he could have dreamed of, and he actually wanted to take a trip down there. Kirk couldn't wait to meet him.
They flew back to Starfleet HQ in the shuttle, and while the techs, under Spock's supervision, set up the equipment in the manner it was found, Pike disappeared to do whatever it was he did, leaving Kirk, Bones and Chekov to head off the mess hall for a chance of dinner. Kirk was going to take this time to try and convince Bones to go into the Grid.
They settled in a quiet corner of the large room with their food, Chekov chattering away about the laser, and the rather complex components that created the machine, and he was excited at possibly seeing the machine in action.
Kirk let him babble for a while, then while the young whizkid stopped to breathe and eat, he turned his attention to Bones. "What did you do with the body?"
Bones barely looked up from his own food. "I had it transported to Medical, I'm going to have the techs there clean it up for a funeral. The kid in the computer's coming out, right?"
"Eventually, yeah. I get the feeling Sam will want to see the remains. Speaking of Sam, I was sort of thinking that you could go inside and check him out."
Bones choked on his food as he processed what Kirk said. "What? What do you mean?"
"Sam can't get out unless someone goes in. He can get out once the portal's open, and he can bring anyone out with him."
McCoy rolled his eyes, gesturing with his fork as he spoke. "Ok, I get that part of it, but what I don't understand is why I have to go. I am not going inside a damned computer!"
"Bones, he's been in there for five days. He could probably use a doctor to check him out. None of the rest of us are qualified, and we're needed on the outside to monitor and operate the computer and the laser." He grinned, despite his best friend's heavy scowl. "I would love to go down there; in fact, I want Sam to take me down there before we ship out. But I can't because I'm the hacker."
McCoy stared at him levelly, eyes narrowed as he scowled. "You're not going to quit on this, are you?"
Kirk's grin got that much wider. "Nope!"
He was treated to an eye roll. "Fine, I'll do it."
Everything was ready, Sam had been informed of their plan, and despite McCoy's frequent complaints, he was seated in front of the computer, with the laser at his back, which he was not at all comfortable with, while Jim brought the activation screen he'd come across earlier.
"Everything will be fine, Bones, I promise. All you need to do is tap this button and you're in. Sam's on the other side waiting for you, and you'll be back here in no time." McCoy glared fiercely, not happy at all, despite his agreement.
"Yeah, I got it. Let's just get this over with, alright?" He shoved Jim out of the way and jabbed at the keyboard and he heard the laser power up behind him and he clenched his eyes shut, flinching as a hand touched his shoulder.
He blinked, realizing right away that it was too quiet for the engineering lab. He looked up and saw a young man, probably late 20s, looking at him cautiously. He was wearing clothes McCoy had never seen before, glowing armour and a black jumpsuit. Blond hair like Jim, blue eyes in hallowed cheeks, black bruises accentuating the light color. The kid looked like he hadn't slept, or eaten much.
"Are you Sam Flynn?"
The kid nodded, and McCoy realized there were two other people in the room, wherever he was. The first was rather imposing, solid and dangerous, with more armour than Sam had that glowed with lines of blue and a horrible scar on his face. He looked remarkable like the only picture he'd come across of Alan Bradley, brown hair lightly playing in his hard eyes. The other person in the room kind of looked like Sam, with darker hair.
"Yeah, I'm Sam Flynn. You the doctor Jim promised?"
McCoy nodded, rising to his feet. He extended his hand in greeting. "Yeah, I'm Leonard McCoy, CMO of the Enterprise. You look like shit, kid; when was the last time you slept?"
The Sam lookalike tried to smother his abrupt laugh behind his gloved hand as Sam half-heartedly attempted to glare. Kid was an amateur.
"Actually, not in a while. Been kinda fightin' a war in here." Sam straightened, rising to his full height as he turned and headed for the door. "Gemini will get you set up with an identity disk and proper clothes for while you're here. Before we leave, I have to finish a few things, like finalising a contract for a permanent ceasefire. Come on up when you're done."
McCoy stared in disbelief as the kid and other male left the room, which had no windows, he noticed absently. He cocked his head at the lookalike with a raised eyebrow, hoping his innate cynicism shone through clearly. "So, I guess I hit a nerve?"
Gemini shrugged, offering a faint smile. "It has been rather frantic since my creator arrived here a few hundred cycles ago. Users aren't really welcome right now, and some of the other programs in the city would rather see Sam dead, just for being a User, let alone being the Son of Flynn."
There was so much more to the story than McCoy was getting, and it was starting to bother him. He resolved to learn to whole story in its entirety at some point. "What's this disk he mentioned, and what's wrong with my clothes?"
Gemini lightly put a hand on McCoy's back, manoeuvring the doctor towards a door he hadn't seen before, like it appeared out of nowhere. The room inside was dark, but lights from somewhere in the floor revealed what looked like a human sized incubation tube. So far, this did not look promising.
"Your current attire leaves you fairly noticeable to the natives. You would be attacked on sight so it is my job to provide you with something more inconspicuous. Please, step up." Gemini motioned to the tube as the glass retracted into the floor.
McCoy eyed the device sceptically, but he was on his own here, and he was pretty sure he was safe, mostly because Jim wouldn't have allowed him down here otherwise. If anything happened to him, McCoy was certain that Jim would just trash the computer he was in after getting him out. "Sure, why not?"
He stepped up onto the pad and something clamped down on his feet; he couldn't move. He tensed, waiting the next move but all Gemini did was raise his hands to his shoulders. The tips of the program's fingers lit up and he moved them down McCoy's body, so lightly that the doctor couldn't feel it. He did feel, and saw, when his clothes fell to the floor in pieces, and he was suddenly mostly naked.
He opened his mouth, a diatribe of acerbic expletives more than ready to be let loose, but Gemini smiled at him so disarmingly he faltered and in that moment, the program touched a button next to his feet and something started crawling up his legs, clothing him in a fabric or synthetic he couldn't identify, formfitting but not uncomfortably tight, all the way up to the first inch of his neck.
Gemini stepped away for a few moments, out of McCoy's line of sight, which was actually kind of terrifying, just a little, making his stomach roil in anticipation. Thankfully, Gemini wasn't gone long, but the program has pieces of armour in his arms, and he deftly fitted them to the contours of McCoy's body, his lower legs and upper arms, a belt piece on his hips and another piece on his chest. Once set in place, the pieces started humming, and new armour formed, flickering into existence, connecting it all together, and just like with the others, the armour started glowing, dark blue lines crossing at his ankles and climbing his body. He did notice the shape of his Starfleet badge on his shoulder, the medical cross glowing a bright red and lined with the circuit blue.
"Huh. That's different." This whole process was just baffling. How did this all work?
"Hmm, I haven't seen this color before." Gemini said, lightly tracing one of the blue lines on his arms with his fingers. "Sam said you're a doctor. What exactly does that mean?"
McCoy shrugged, not knowing how to explain what he lived for to someone who may never actually need his skills. "In the simplest sense, I fix people. They come to me with whatever's ailing them, and I fix it."
Really wasn't too much more to what he did.
"In a way, it sounds similar to an antivirus program. You protect your system from infections."
McCoy grinned at the program, who smiled back. "Yeah, that makes sense."
Gemini moved behind him, strapping another, larger, piece or armour to his back. "This is your identity disk; everything you do or learn will be imprinted on this disk. This disk will be everything you are inside the Grid."
He attached something, presumably the disk he mentioned, to the armour on his back, and McCoy blinked as his vision blurred and he felt a connection to the disk on his back.
"Identity disk is activated and synced. Ready to see the Grid?" Gemini released him from the pad and McCoy stumbled, regaining his equilibrium quickly. He looked at Gemini, taking in the firm jaw, the quiet strength hidden beneath the suit, the gleam in those dark eyes, so similar but so different from Flynn, and McCoy liked what he saw, so he nodded, lips quirking into a facsimile of a smile, so very rare in the outside world, but so easy in the program's presence.
"Yeah, show me your world." Gemini grinned at his words, grabbing his hand to lead him up the stairs and into a large room filled with people, although McCoy can clearly see the massive artillery lined up against the windows, and the damage of wear and tear. There were at least a dozen people milling about, most of them surrounding a table in the middle of the room with Sam and the other male.
"Glad you could join us, doctor." Sam said without actually looking back at him. "You're just in time, the remainder of CLU's forces have agreed to a ceasefire on the condition that I create a place for them, kept away from Users."
"Glad things are workin' for you, kid." McCoy moved closer, taking in the advanced holographic displays, the strangeness of the programs in the room. Everything was so different, so strange to him; he was way out of his depth here. He was concerned about the kid; he could see the exhaustion just waiting to knock him out.
Without a more intimate or detailed physical examination, McCoy couldn't be completely sure, but if what Gemini had implied, and what Sam hadn't outright said was true, then Sam had been going on adrenaline and very little else since he got here. He was too skinny, gaunt in the face and around the eyes, reminding McCoy of Jim during finals week at the Academy.
It didn't escape his notice that Sam was relying on the other male; the one with the scar, keeping the program close, and anyone else would have missed the subtle hand keeping Sam from swaying, and undoubtedly giving the kid something to focus on.
McCoy didn't think it was anything too serious, at most just a case of dehydration, malnutrition and exhaustion. Easily fixable, wouldn't take too long, if he could pull the kid away from whatever he was doing here. Oh, McCoy knew the kid's work was important, he just didn't care.
"You gonna be finished up here soon?" He asked, aware of the looks he was getting from some of the other people (programs?) in the room. It made him feel awkward, but he took a small amount of comfort in Gemini's presence beside him.
Wait a minute, yeah, Gemini still had his hand. He really wasn't concerned over that fact, though.
Sam looked up from the map, meeting McCoy's eyes. "I shouldn't be more than an hour, unless you feel otherwise."
So the kid knew he wasn't in good shape. That was good, in McCoy's eyes, but an hour longer couldn't hurt, so he shook his head. "Nah, finish up. You need Gemini for that hour?"
The kid had the nerve to actually smirk at him, though he couldn't figure out why. "Nope, feel like giving a tour, Gemini?"
The program in question grinned, wide and bright like Jim, before pulling him along out of the door, to a world that McCoy never could have imagined. He stuttered to a halt mere feet outside, staring at the massive landscape before him. There was more than just a city in here, this world was amazing, stunning to behold in its dark majesty. Towering skyscrapers, sleek in their design, backlit by roiling lightning, a turbulent storm that never truly broke. Beyond what he could see of the city, which itself was immense on a scale he found staggering, were vast barren plains, stretching out for miles and before the first hints of sharp-edged mountains could be seen in the gloom of the forever-night.
"Come on, let's go for a ride."
McCoy turned away from the epic scenery to frown at Gemini in confusion. "Huh?" Yeah, that was eloquent.
"You just stay right there." The program offered a reassuring grin before moving about a dozen feet away. McCoy saw him pull something thin, a baton, from his waist and start running. Still a few feet away from McCoy he leapt headfirst into the air, holding the baton in front of him and snapping it apart.
A stunning display of pixels and circuits formed in midair under Gemini's body, bright blue and white, solidifying into a kind of motorcycle McCoy had never seen before, compact but sleek and curvy, a stream of light flowing behind.
And very, very fast.
Gemini pulled a sharp u-turn before he was too far away, quickly slowing to a stop in front of McCoy, a wild grin lighting up his face behind the visor. If he hadn't been best friends with Jim for as long as he had, McCoy would have already fled for the relative safety of the arcade, but as it was, he was used to Jim's adrenaline junkie ways, so he could handle this.
His own grin was crooked, roguish as he leered. "You better show me the best you've got, kid."
"I can give you the ride of your life, doctor."
Somehow McCoy didn't think Gemini meant the lightcycle ride.
A/N: As always, feel free to leave a review, I love hearing your opinions. This chapter didn't want to end, not really, but this is a good spot.