Chapter Eight: A Bitter Reunion
Sam drives. You can do this, he reminds himself. This is your element. He doesn't think about how much his leg hurts now that he's straddling the lightcycle. It's not that bad, he tries to tell himself. He thinks about the time he drove his motorcycle to the hospital with a fractured foot, and he remembers how it hurt like hell and how the hospital staff berated him for it afterwards, but what else was he supposed to do?
What else is he supposed to do now? He can't go back for Quorra. He's all too aware of the God knows how many sentries close on his tail, and he's trying not to think about any of that, because he has to count the streets.
Fifth on the right, she said, and then look for "him" on the left.
Him. Who the hell was "him" supposed to be? And is he even going to stay alive long enough to find out?
He counts. He's already passed three streets, and he's glad now that Quorra noticed he had the lightcycle, because he never would have made it this far on a bad leg. He'd probably be dead or made prisoner again by now if he'd tried. There's still a chance that might happen, though. He swallows grimly and pushes the lightcycle to go faster.
The fourth street zips by on his right, and Sam glances, just briefly, over his shoulder at the pack behind him. There are four, maybe five sentries following him on red lightcycles, their smooth black helmets barely glittering in the dim light of the city. None of them have tried to move in closer, and Sam isn't sure whether or not that should reassure him.
He swings wide into the turn as the fifth street comes up on the right, turning on the light trail behind his lightcycle as he turns. Maybe he'll take a few of them out. That'd certainly be a load of his mind.
He keeps his gaze to the left even as he's turning. He doesn't even know what he's looking for, but he's desperately hoping that it'll be obvious, because he doesn't want to miss what might be his only chance to escape. Especially after Quorra insisted on staying behind like that. He still can't quite believe she did that, even after what she said about it all being to stop Clu—it was still stupid. They could have gotten away together. It might have been awkward, riding double on one of these things, but he still thinks they could have made it.
His thoughts stop short when he spots something on his left, something bright and familiar, and he turns without even thinking about it, turning so hard that as he shoots into the alley the lightcycle slides out from under him. He rolls on the ground as it crashes into the wall opposite, though it doesn't explode in the same spectacular fashion that his one on the games grid did. He stares at it as it slowly starts to fall apart, the seams of cubes appearing along the length of the body. Then he sits up and looks at the thing that made him turn in the first place.
It's the buggy from the lightcycle grid, the one Quorra tried to rescue him in. Standing beside it is a bulky figure dressed in black, but he can't make out the face.
"Come on!" the figure shouts, and Sam staggers to his feet, trying to ignore everything. The tumble off the bike has done nothing good for any of his injuries; his leg throbs worse than ever now, and he feels like he's bruising in about twelve different places. But the sentries are still behind him, and if he has to get up and walk five feet to get away from them, he will.
Sam hobbles along the alley wall, putting as little weight on his bad leg as he can bear, making his way to the buggy and the darkly dressed man who's already climbed into the driver's seat. The door hatch is still open, and Sam falls into the empty seat, the seat he might have taken hours earlier if things hadn't gone so wrong on the games grid. The hatch closes at once, and the man in the driver's seat shifts gears and takes off.
Sam sits up a little, trying to get a look at what's going on outside the buggy. He can't see if the sentries have caught up to them; the buildings on either side of them are going by so quickly that he can't make anything out. So he settles his gaze on the man in black, who drives with his eyes firmly on the road. He's old, older than anyone Sam's seen here, with longish gray hair and an impressive beard to match it.
There's something familiar about him. Sam can't place what it is, so he keeps staring, taking in the man's strange hair, his eyes, everything.
They swing sharply into a turn, and Sam finds himself slammed into the door. He lets out a low hiss as the gash on his leg shifts again.
The man glances at him then, and speaks. "Just hold on, Sam."
And Sam realizes in an instant who this man is, and he can't believe he didn't figure it out sooner. He keeps staring at him, not because he's curious now, but because he can't believe his eyes.
ooo ooo ooo
The moment has passed.
The moment has not passed.
It is still happening.
This is the moment.
He shakes his head. The moment has passed. The word, the name no longer paralyzes him. He collects his discs from the floor and stands. He must return to his master. The User Sam Flynn and the Isomorph have escaped, and he will assist in their recapture. He must atone for his failure.
Alan_1, I have failed you.
He shakes his head again, but he cannot dispel the malfunctions.
These are not malfunctions. He has already concluded this. These thoughts he cannot trace are not malfunctions or imperfections in his code. His code has been rewritten and augmented by his master, and his master would not leave such gross imperfections within him.
These thoughts are something else. Not malfunctions. Not imperfections.
He must identify them. He must identify the name. The names.
He cannot identify the names. The name Tron. The name Alan.
These names have power over him, more power than even his master has shown, but he does not know why.
He enters the elevator and awaits the ascension to the top floor, where his master will be waiting for him. His master will ask him what happened. His master will ask why he has failed him.
Alan_1, I am sorry.
I have failed you.
His master will help him. His master will eliminate these names. These names that have such power over him.
As the elevator ascends, he thinks.
The names. He normally would not consider the names, but after all that has happened since the arrival of the User,
I fight for
he finds himself wondering about these names. Why do they trigger these thoughts? Why has his master not removed these imperfections before?
Why does he not know these names?
And he thinks that he wants to know what these names are.
It would be betrayal to withhold such information from his master. But perhaps his master has been withholding information from him.
He wants to know. What are Tron and Alan? Who are they? Why does the mere thought of these names affect him so profoundly, affect him in such a way that he cannot identify?
He wants to know.
And so, as the elevator ascends, he decides. He will lie. He will hide these words, these names, from his master, hide them so deeply in his code that his master will not be able to find them. He will lie to his master, and he will accept the consequences for his failure against the User and the Isomorph. And he will find out, when the time is right, what these words mean, and why they mean so much to him.
He pulls out one of his discs, the disc that has always been his, for the other he won in battle, so many cycles ago that he cannot remember—
-where or when, only how. He stares at his disc and carefully opens it. He cannot rewrite or alter his own code—he does not have the clearances that his master does. But he can rearrange it. He can hide information, bury it in some other part of his self, where his master would not ever think to look. He will hide the name and the thoughts that have plagued him since he first encountered the User in the arena. He will not forget them.
And his master will never know.
As he works, hiding the names and the thoughts and the words in the very deepest part of his code, he thinks that he is very fortunate that his master is thinking of other things. That his master is absorbed in finding Flynn the Creator, and the User Sam Flynn, and the Isomorph. For if he were not, this plan would not succeed. His master would do everything to make sure he was functioning properly.
But not now. His master is too busy thinking of other things. His master will ask him what is wrong, he knows, and he will have to answer. His master will likely search his disc, and he will notice the gaps in his memory, gaps that are the only evidence of his work right now, but gaps that his master will take only as some manner of malfunction. His master will repair what sees as malfunction.
And he will still remember, and he will find the meaning of these names and words and thoughts that have been plaguing him.
He hides it all, still remembering, and when he closes his disc and returns it to the mount on his back, he hopes that his betrayal will not be discovered.
ooo ooo ooo
Flynn drives. He keeps his eyes on the road, sparing only brief glances over his shoulder to track the progress of the pack of lightcycles pursuing them, and briefer glances still to his right, where Sam sits in the passenger seat, clinging to the door handle as they swing through the streets and staring at Flynn in open shock.
It is Sam, he's certain of that. He looks just like the image from his disc, but even from his brief glances Flynn can tell that he's tired and injured. His expression is pained and pinched, and Flynn can see scrapes and bruises on his face, to say nothing of the large gash cutting through the circuitry on his right leg. He doesn't have to guess who the program responsible for Sam's injuries is. It would be just like Clu to see how far he could go, to find out just how much a User could take…
Flynn sighs and shifts gears as he guides the lightrunner up a ramp, back to the main level of the city. They lightcycles aren't following them very closely, but the mere fact that they're being followed at all doesn't bode well. Clu won't risk killing them. He'll want them captured alive, and after Sam's escape from the sys admin tower, he's probably locked down every way out of the city by now.
They're effectively trapped, but not completely. If Flynn can think of a way to throw off the sentries behind them, they just might have a chance of making it through this alive.
He glances over when he hears Sam's voice; he can't help it. Sam's voice is ragged and low, and when Flynn looks at him he sees the tears running down his cheeks, and he wishes that their reunion hadn't been like this.
"I know, Sam," he replies, his own voice shaking. He glances at Sam again, but only briefly. A couple of the lightcycles behind them are gaining. He takes a deep breath and lets it out as slowly as he can manage. "It's good to see you, kiddo," he adds.
He hears Sam strangle back a sob, and a part of his heart breaks.
It shouldn't be like this.
"Yeah," Sam says. "You too."
Flynn swings the lightrunner into a sharp turn, which unfortunately isn't enough to deter the pack of lightcycles still tailing them. He's running over the options to throw them off in his head, and he's still not sure how they're going to make it out of this. He's not the great hand with vehicles that he was when he started the Grid all those years ago; he's only going to be able to hold these guys off for so long.
"We can talk once we're clear of this," he says, though he doesn't know when that will be. "You all right?" It's a ridiculous question to ask. He can see that Sam's not all right. But it's all he can do right now.
"Yeah," Sam replies, sniffing a little. "Yeah, mostly."
For a moment, Flynn doesn't say anything else. They're lying to each other, pretending that this is all right when it isn't.
Then he asks the question that has been lurking in the back of his mind ever since Sam arrived in the alleyway alone, because he can't think of anything else to ask and because he wants to know.
Sam hesitates, and that tells Flynn everything before he even speaks. "She—she stayed behind."
Flynn doesn't know what to think. She could still be alive, he tells himself. She's more than capable as a fighter. Even if Clu doesn't know she's an Iso, he would want to detain her for questioning regardless, given her role in freeing Sam. But if she's captured, if she's found out…
"I tried to get her to come with me," Sam adds, "but she said I had to go without her. That if Clu captured us both—" He leaves the sentence hanging, and Flynn glances over to see him shaking something off his arm. An identity disc, red-rimmed.
"She gave me this, but she didn't—she didn't say why."
He understands now. He's sure part of it was to atone for failing to rescue Sam on the lightcycle grid, but in all likelihood she was trying to protect him. He'd explained to her several times what might happen if Clu ever captured him and obtained his own disc. And now, with the Portal still open, still waiting to be used, the situation is direr than it has ever been.
"She would have had to," he says quietly. "If Clu had captured her with that, he would have been able to search her memories and find me. Still…" He wishes she had come with Sam anyway, but that isn't going to change their problems in the present.
He turns the lightrunner sharply again, his mind running through the options once more. He can't hope to outdrive them. Even running off the energy from the Grid, there's no way they can make it outside the city, especially if Clu has locked down the roads into the Outlands. So what's left?
There's the artillery built into the lightrunner, but even that wouldn't be enough to get rid of all of them. That stuff was mostly meant for use in the border sectors of the city and the Outlands; using it this close to downtown would only attract attention from the sentries and the Recognizers on top of whatever forces Clu has pursuing them.
But it's also the only thing they've got at the moment. And while it might not be enough to throw them off completely, it would at least be enough to distract them for a little while. Long enough to find somewhere to hide, and maybe long enough to reprogram the lightrunner into another decoy.
But then what? They're still too close to downtown, and without any kind of vehicle they're sitting ducks for the Recognizers. But time is time, and he wants more than anything else to get Sam to safety. If they have to, they can find somewhere to hide.
If they absolutely have to, they can wait until the Portal closes.
He hits the button below the gear shift to deploy the bombs before he wastes time thinking about it any longer. There's a click from somewhere in the lightrunner's rear as the bombs roll out, and five seconds later, there's an explosion of light that makes Sam jump. Flynn flinches. A quick glance behind tells him everything he needs to know. Half the complement of lightcycles seems to have been destroyed, and the rest are mired in the wreckage of the buildings now collapsing and derezzing on the road behind them.
He keeps driving, his eyes peeled for a suitable alleyway even as he accelerates through the streets, determined to get as far away from the explosion site as possible. Eventually he slows down and brings the lightrunner to a stop on a mostly abandoned street. There are a few programs nearer the other end of it, closer to downtown, but they don't pay the lightrunner any mind.
The hatch swings open with a low hiss, and as he's getting ready to open the lightrunner's code on the dashboard, Sam turns to him, confused. "What are we doing?"
"We can't get out of the city in this," he replies, touching the dashboard lightly with three fingers and opening a section of the code. "Clu probably has it identified by now, and after what happened back at the sys admin tower, he's probably locked down the city as well. If we're lucky, he might think we'll try to escape in it." He's already thumbing through the code with his other hand, making alterations to the steering and engine capabilities as they occur to him.
He glances at Sam, who is still staring at him in utter disbelief. As he looks back down at his work, he continues, "I'm changing the code of this thing so it'll run on autopilot, work as a decoy. It should distract the guards while we find somewhere to hide."
He works for a few minutes more on the code, instructing the lightrunner to continue in a straight line for as long as it can, then closes it all out. All it needs is the start command from him, which he'll deal with after he's got Sam to safety. "Come on."
He climbs out of his side of the lightrunner, and as he's coming around front to join Sam, he sees him struggling to even stand up properly. He collapses against the side of the lightrunner, clutching Quorra's disc tightly in one hand and clenching his teeth in obvious pain. Flynn stands just a few feet away, watching, not sure if he should even do anything.
"You all right, Sam?" he asks.
Sam turns his way, wincing. "Yeah, fine," he replies, his voice strained. "Just hurt my leg."
Flynn can see the wound more clearly now, in spite of the poor light from the buildings around them. It's a burn from an identity disc, a gash deep enough to destroy the portions of Sam's suit around it, and deep enough to still be eking blood. Even just looking at it, Flynn can guess how painful it is. He'd gotten disc burns himself a few times back before, and even the grazes had hurt like hell for a few hours. He doesn't want to imagine how much pain Sam is in right now.
All this goes through his mind as he stares at Sam, still not sure what to do. Sam returns the stare, but after a moment manages a small, pained smile. "It's fine," he says, and he tries to move forward again, only to falter on his bad leg and stumble backwards, collapsing against the lightrunner once more.
For a moment, Flynn sees a memory. It's 1988 or 1987, and Sam's been riding his bike up and down the road in front of the house while Flynn works on his motorcycle. It's late spring, and the weather is perfect, and he's glad for this moment, away from Encom and away from the Grid. Just with Sam.
He doesn't know how it happened, or maybe he doesn't remember, but Sam loses control of his bike and falls and skins his knee on the pavement. He screams, and Flynn is already running across the yard and down the road. He carries Sam back up to the house, and cleans up and patches the knee, because that's what dads do when moms aren't around to do it instead.
Flynn doesn't say anything. He goes to Sam's side and puts his arm around Sam's shoulders as he pulls Sam's arm around his. Sam stares at him, but he only smiles a little. "Come on, kiddo," he says, and maybe that's all that needs to be said.
Sam leans into him, and together they walk to the nearby alleyway. It takes longer than Flynn would ordinarily like, but he doesn't care. If Sam needs the time, Flynn will let him take it. It's worth every second.
They have to stop just inside the alleyway, because Flynn still needs to send the lightrunner on its way. He leaves Sam leaning against the alley wall so he can hurry back and input the last bit of code needed to complete the autopilot programming. The engine revs loudly for just a moment, and as Flynn steps back, the lightrunner shoots down the road, surprising some of the nearby programs, but otherwise raising no further concerns. He returns to Sam's side satisfied, and together they walk further into the alleyway, away from the prying eyes of any curious programs and hopefully away from the sentries as well.
Sam pulls away from him then, gently shrugging off his arm and leaning against the alley wall, letting out a long breath of exhaustion. Flynn stands beside him a moment, one hand resting on Sam's shoulder. Then, on an impulse, he pulls Sam into a hug, wrapping both arms around him and holding him tightly. He hears Sam inhale sharply and fight back another sob, and he feels the prickling warmth of tears in his own eyes.
He knows he can't make up for twenty years of not being there. But he's going to be here right now, and he has to hope that that will be enough.
He lets Sam go, but keeps one hand on his shoulder as Sam leans back against the wall again, his face streaked with tears. "It's good to see you," he says, his voice shaking more than ever. "It's really—"
"I know," Sam replies, his voice thick. Another tear runs down his face. "I know."
"You should sit down," Flynn says. "Rest your leg."
Sam nods and wipes his face with the back of his free hand, then braces himself against the alley wall and slowly sinks to the ground. Flynn helps him, or at least tries to, keeping a steady grip on Sams arm as he slides downwards. He can see the wound on Sam's leg more clearly than ever now, and it's almost worse than he'd guessed before. Sam lets his bad leg stretch out in front of him, but pulls his good leg up a bit, resting his other arm on his knee. He doesn't look at Flynn, but rests the back of his head against the wall, his eyes closed, his breath slow and even.
Flynn watches him for a moment, then kneels down on the ground and opens up an overview of this area's underlying code with one hand. He'd tried to keep track of the streets while they were being chased, but he wants to make doubly sure of where they are before they even start looking for someplace to hide. If this area's too heavily patrolled or readily loyal to Clu, they might have to move elsewhere. He hopes they get lucky, though, because Sam's in no condition to go anywhere right now.
"What are you doing?" Sam asks suddenly. Flynn glances over to see him staring at the bright code under his hands.
"Trying to figure out where we are," he replies, turning back to the code and scrolling through some of it with one hand. "It looks like we're still close to downtown," he continues, his eyes scanning the lines of code as his hands pass over it. "Not too close, but…" He shakes his head. "Might be a problem." He closes the code readout with a quick sweep of his hand; the light vanishes, and the alley is haunted and dark again.
"I—what are we doing? I mean—how are we—" Sam stammers and fumbles, and Flynn can tell just from his voice that he's frustrated and tired and unsure. He can only imagine how many questions he has, and he wishes they had the time—the leisure—to sit and talk it all out. But they don't. He hasn't heard any sentries nearby or any Recognizers overhead, but that doesn't mean they aren't coming, and if they don't find a hiding place soon, it could all be over.
He doesn't say anything, but glances up and down the alley, looking for something, anything, that might be useful. But the light here is too dim; he can't see more than about ten feet in either direction, and there isn't enough light to make out anymore more than the monotonous smoothness of the wall around them.
He opens up the code for this sector again, and this time he scans through it furiously, studying the basic architecture of the buildings around them, looking for a way in from where they are. This whole city was built to be almost exactly like a city in the User world, so there has to be a back alley door around here somewhere…
It takes him almost three minutes of frenzied work, but he finds it. There's a door near the other end of the alleyway, and he's surprised he didn't notice it on his earlier scan. He can't be sure just looking at the basic code, but it looks like it's been hidden—encrypted, scrambled, something. It's nothing he won't be able to deal with when they get down there, but it's still curious, particularly for a sector this close to downtown and the heart of Clu's power.
"There's a door on the other end of the alley," he says, closing out the code and turning to Sam. "We should be able to get inside, and then—I'll explain, I promise." It's about the only comfort he can offer right now, and he's relieved when Sam nods and starts to stand up. He helps Sam to his feet, and he supports him again as they walk the twenty-five feet or so to the door.
Sam collapses against the wall again but remains standing, and Flynn turns his attentions to the door itself. It's been hidden remarkably well, he realizes as he opens up the code for the door itself. He's surprised he even managed to find it in the basic code for this part of the sector. There are at least half a dozen security protocols hiding it from view, from notice, and just as many minor password codes keeping it from being opened. Of course, it would only take a strong blow from a disc or sword to break most of those codes, but anyone looking for the door would have to find it first.
He's already taking the security protocols apart when he realizes there is a distinct chance that whatever is waiting for them behind this door might not be pleasant at all. It seems unlikely that any of Clu's forces would have use for something like this—why use a hidden door when you're in control of the entire city?—but from what Quorra's told him from her various excursions in the city, there are plenty of programs who hate Clu and the Users in equal measure.
They don't have a choice, though. It's this or waiting for Clu's forces to find them, and he can't let that happen. He continues scrolling through the code, unlocking every security code, breezing through every password until at last there's a low click and the door slides open.
"Come on." He helps Sam through first and follows quickly behind, but stops dead as the door closes behind them, for they are surrounded by at least a dozen programs, all of them with discs out and ignited.
ooo ooo ooo
She's losing again.
Quorra is surprised she's still alive at this point, but she hasn't managed to derezz every Black Guard who's stepped up to clash with her, and she feels herself growing tired. Only her determination to keep Sam Flynn alive, to give him and Flynn the time to escape, has kept her going thus far, and now that strength is reaching its end.
She still fights, but she's losing. She only manages to block blows, never return them, for with every block she is turning again to protect herself, to raise her stolen disc and sword against the seemingly endless hordes of the Black Guard. Her earlier fight with Rinzler has tired her, and her initial sparring with the Black Guard has tired her even more.
She cannot keep this up, but she keeps fighting, for she knows that every moment she fights is another moment that this group is not going as one after Flynn and Sam. Every moment she keeps fighting is a moment they can use to escape, a moment they can use to stop Clu, and perhaps depart at last through the Portal to the User world.
But she cannot keep this up forever.
Her guard breaks. She blocks a blow with her disc and her sword in unison, and she does not see the Black Guard coming up behind her. She feels a sharp blow to the back of her neck, a blow that for the briefest moment she believes is meant to kill her.
But there is only pain, no loss of consciousness, none of the freefall feeling of coming apart that she has heard of deresolution.
The blow makes her stagger. Her arms drop to her sides, and there is another blow to her legs, and the falls to the ground, dropping the disc and her sword. She shakes, because she is tired and overworked, and she cannot move, though if it is because of the blow to her neck or her exhaustion, she cannot tell.
One of the Black Guard kicks her. She gasps, and she cannot move. Why haven't they killed her yet? They never hesitated before. She remembers all too clearly the days of the Purge, when the Black Guard openly prowled the streets, when they would stop any program they pleased, and scan any disc that they pleased, and derezzed without hesitation any dissenting program and every Iso that they encountered.
The Black Guard are not known for their mercy. So why are they showing her mercy now?
One of them—maybe the same one—kicks her again, forcing her to roll over onto her stomach. She sees one of them kneel, and he grabs her arms roughly, twisting them behind her back and clasping them together with a bind. He then grips her arm tightly and pulls her up. "On your feet," he says, his voice rough-edged and awful. She staggers for a moment, but soon finds her balance and walks along as two of the Black Guard escort her down the street, through the carnage she has wrought on their fellows, back to the sys admin tower.
As the faceless monolith of the tower rises up before her once more, Quorra realizes that the Black Guard have not shown her mercy at all.
They are taking her to the tower.
They are taking her to Clu.