System Restore: Real World
(this is the sequel to "System Restore", a Tron post-Legacy AU fan-fiction story)
Disclaimer: I don't own "Tron". I'm just a fan. The plot for this story, as with it's predecessor "System Restore", was written by me but is based on the "Tron" and "Tron: Legacy" characters and plot-line, all of which of course belong to Disney. Any quotes from the "Tron" or "Tron Legacy" films used in this story are done so strictly as homage to the films.
The Sea of Simulation. It's surface shattered easily like a layer of smooth glass as his armored lightsuit hit it, but having fallen from such an altitude it felt as though he'd broken through a layer of bricks. Thankfully his boots and backside had made impact with the water's surface first, but the unruly jolt of it was like a severe spanking, sending spikes of pain up each leg and all across his back.
For a split-second it reminded him of the worst diving experience he'd ever had in his youth - plummeting from the high-dive board at the pool and landing on his back. But this wasn't at all like any pool he'd ever been in...the waters were dark, murky, thick, and there were all sorts of strange, odd-shaped things which bumped against him as he sunk quickly into the depths. In the rapidly waning light from the surface and the faint yellow glow from his suit, he could only barely discern a few of the shapes through the dark-tinted helmet, but he guessed they were probably clusters of data floating up against him. However, they resembled instead what he'd imagined must've inhabited the primordial ooze on prehistoric Earth, the thought of which sent an involuntary shiver of revulsion through him, and he tried batting the things away but they were everywhere he moved. One of them floated under the face shield of his helmet and he panicked, then tried in vain to swim upward and get away from the things, only to find he wasn't quite sure which way was up - he knew was going to run out of breath to hold if he didn't figure that out soon.
Something in the part of his mind which wasn't panicking compelled him to stop fighting and just float, at which point he saw that total darkness now surrounded the dim yellow glow of the suit's circuitry. The bizarre, primordial data-things were still bumping up against him and it was the creepiest sensation ever, but then he caught a faint glimpse of something as it floated up past his helmet. His gaze fixated on it, and he looked up to see there were dozens of hem, tiny cube-like things which were sailing upwards around him like bubbles, all becoming more luminous as they went. It took him only a second to realize they were pixels finding their way to the surface. So he lurched upward, swimming as quickly as he could to follow them.
Finally he reached the surface, gasping for breath and shaking his helmeted head. As he caught his breath and the adrenalin subsided, he deactivated the helmet and looked quickly around...the faint lights of the cityscape spread over the skies in one direction from just over the jagged hilltops, while behind him and overhead there was only the thick layer of clouds in the darkened sky, lit occasionally by flashes of sporadic lightning. And there he was, treading water out in the middle of nowhere, adrift in the Sea of Simulation.
There wasn't much of a choice to make.
Sink was out of the question. It was going to be swim, and, swim in the direction of the city.
So that he did, slowly, grumbling quietly in his thoughts all the way, batting aside random clumps of data which floated up to the surface around him, and stopping every so often to float when his very fatigued limbs needed rest.
basement of Flynn's Arcade
: : : : : : :
The sudden flash of light made Quorra flinch, dropping her book. Reflexively she crouched to retrieve it, only to glimpse a pair of black boots just inches away from her hand.
She froze, her gaze following from the boots up to the black pant-legs, past a black leather jacket and deep-blue turtleneck shirt, and finally meeting the face of a dark-haired blue-eyed young man she'd never seen in her life. The young man stared back at her in equal surprise, and she slowly rose to her feet, backing away and looking towards Sam in confusion.
At the same time, Sam whirled around to find himself face to face with Alan Bradley.
Alan's eyes were wide as saucers, and he wavered slightly on his feet, looking more than just a little a bit like he might be about to faint.
"Alan!" Sam gasped and lurched forward, grabbing hold of the older man's shoulders, and then catching him around the torso just before his knees buckled.
Redoubling his grasp, Sam stammered out words quickly as he tried to keep Alan from falling.
"Whoa!...okay, no, you're-good-you're-good,...it's-okay,...I got ya'..."
Alan nodded, grabbing Sam's arm, finally finding his balance and then patting the young man's shoulder awkwardly.
He shook his head, then finally managed a slight chuckle as he caught his breath. "...uh...thanks."
Then Sam patted him firmly on the shoulders, slightly out of breath himself. "You okay?"
Alan nodded, trying to straighten his wayward glasses back into position on his face, and exhaling a sigh. Then Sam nearly hugged the breath out of him again, patting his back as he did. "Man am I glad to see you!"
From somewhere behind them came a very familiar voice. "Um,...Clu? You can let go of my arm now, buddy..."
And then came another voice identical to it, sounding a bit sheepish. "Oh. S-sorry."
Sam spun around at the sound of the voices, stepping away from Alan, then looked down, realizing the voices were coming from the floor across the room.
Clu was scrambling to his feet, looking around wide-eyed at the very unfamiliar surroundings, and Kevin was very slowly raising to a standing position, hands grabbing at his lower back as he stood, and then he laughed and groaned at the same time.
Sam bolted over to him in a heartbeat, wrapping his arms around him in a tight hug which Kevin returned just as tightly, his voice breaking with emotion. "Hey, kiddo..."
When they finally parted, Alan stepped closer to them, looking at Kevin and gaping incredulously, squinting and adjusting his glasses.
"Kev?..." and then he chuckled, smiling at his old friend. "...you look like Grizzly Adams."
Kevin's brows shot upward in surprise, and his face registered confusion for a second, until his hand reached to feel his heavily-bearded face.
He gave a wry smile.
Well, that answered that question...he'd rezzed back to the real world at his actual age again, which right now he would have sworn was ninety-three, judging from how achy he felt.
His heavily whiskered cheeks broke into a warm grin, wrinkles arching at the corners of his eyes, and he reached to embrace his friend, patting him on the shoulder.
Then he stepped back and pointed at his graying beard, chuckling with a silly expression on his face.
"There. See? ...'this make you feel any better, Bradley?" Kevin patted his old friend on the arm. "...told ya' I was no spring chicken."
Alan sporfled, nodding, and opened his mouth to reply, but stopped abruptly when something breezed right past his shoulder in almost a blur, followed by a shuffle of footsteps and then a disturbing "whump!" sound.
The sound of Sam's slightly-addled voice was next. "Quorra! Wait – No!..."
Kevin and Alan turned to see that the petite five-foot-seven Quorra had slammed the very surprised six-foot-two Clu back against the far wall, and was holding him by the lapels of his jacket, glaring at him with venom in her eyes. He simply stared back at her with complete shock on his face. Sam had hold of Quorra's shoulder and was trying to gently pull her arm back but she wasn't budging. He stepped away and looked back at Kevin awkwardly. "Uh,...Dad?..."
Kevin stepped over to them, and spoke in a low, calm voice as he reached out his hand. "Quorra?..."
She didn't budge.
"Quorra." His voice was still soft and sympathetic, but a little more firm. She shifted her eyes to look at him, releasing her grip on Clu's jacket only slightly.
Kevin spoke again, his hand reaching to her shoulder. "Q,...come on now,... "
He patted her shoulder lightly, and very slowly she released hold of Clu's jacket.
Then she lowered her arms, but she was still shaking, her breathing a barely-controlled fuming, and her jaw set with righteous anger.
In her eyes glowed vengeance for all which had befallen her people, all which had befallen her, Sam, her mentor, and every program on the Grid who had suffered under Clu's erstwhile tyrannical reign.
She stared at Clu for several seconds more, and then took a step back, shifting her gaze to Kevin, who stood there with his arm outstretched.
The intense anger seemed to melt from her, as furious wide eyes softened to sadness and then welled with tears.
Then she turned and wrapped her arms around Kevin, burying her head against his chest and weeping as he enclosed her in a hug.
His soothing voice was little more than a whisper as he stood embracing her, smoothing her hair with his hand.
"It's okay, Q,...shh,...it's okay...I know-...I know what you're feeling,...but,...it's all gonna be okay..."
After a few seconds, Quorra sniffled and stepped back, wiping her face with her sleeves.
She gave Kevin a soft smile. Then her smile faded to an icy, blank stare as she turned her gaze back to Clu, whose own eyes slowly dropped to stare at the floor, discomfort and remorse evident in his shadowed face.
Sam watched the interchange somewhat nervously, with his hands in his pockets.
He too had very mixed emotions about Clu, but he wasn't about to start something - at least not here.
There would be a time and a place for everyone to voice their concerns and feelings, but he was fairly sure this wasn't it.
However, it seemed Tron had other ideas.
Up until now, the security-program-turned-human had been standing silently by the doorway, staring around the room in mild amazement and observing the proceedings so quietly that Sam had almost forgotten he was there. The two of them had never even been actually introduced anyway, at least not since he'd become Tron again as opposed to the terrifying Grid-warrior Rinzler.
But now when Tron spoke in a soft voice identical to Alan's, everyone turned to look at him, including Alan, who seemed almost amused at hearing his own voice coming from the young man who looked like an exact real-world replica of him from twenty years ago.
"If I may,..." Tron began, walking slowly across to Quorra as he spoke in a gentle, cordial tone, "I haven't introduced myself. At least, not as-"
He stopped, glancing quickly at Sam, then at Kevin, then back at Quorra, before giving a sigh and a soft wry smile, extending his hand to her.
"I am Tron. I have known Kevin Flynn for many cycles. I was once the protector of the Grid. I fought for the Users,...until-"
Then he paused again, drawing in a deep breath.
Sam watched with growing uneasiness, exhaling slowly. He could see where this was going.
He glanced at Alan, who simply shifted his eyes to look back at him and raised an eyebrow.
Quorra stared at Kevin, her eyes wide, then she met Tron's gaze and hesitantly reached to shake his hand.
He smiled again during the handshake, and then afterward he returned his hands to his sides, his face slowly taking on a more solemn look.
When he continued speaking again, his eyes mirrored hints of the same remorse she had just seen in Clu's.
"...until-...I became...the one called...Rinzler."
Quorra's eyes flew open wider, and she stepped back, looking at Kevin again with a furrowed brow.
But her mentor only gave her a gentle, reassuring nod. When she looked back incredulously at Tron again, he continued.
"I was...repurposed. I recall very little of what took place, or what I did, but I am deeply regretful of that which I do remember." He paused, raising an eyebrow and dipping his chin, the same way Alan often did when he asserted a crucial point. "However,...I am not Rinzler now, nor will I ever be again. Kevin repaired my coding. I am Tron. I fight for the Users. And I always will."
Hearing those words, Alan couldn't help but to chuckle softly, smiling proudly at his program. Sam glanced at him, then back at Quorra.
Quorra stared at Tron, then at Kevin, then back at Tron, her eyes still wide and fraught with intensity.
Tron glanced over at Clu, and then he continued speaking, his voice firm but sympathetic.
"As horrific as it all was,...the past is gone. The things which caused it have been corrected. And, while I cannot speak for Clu, I do feel you should know something..."
Tron paused, walking to stand beside Clu, who looked up at him, his face still solemn. Then Tron turned to look back at both Quorra and Sam,...and there went the Alan Bradley eyebrow again as he continued gently but matter-of-factly making his point.
"This isn't the same Clu you once knew-... we, once knew. Not only has he shown remorse for his previous actions, and for the glitch which drove him to commit them, but,...he helped to restore my programming with the aid of the Creator. He also rescued my User and helped us all escape the Grid, endangering himself in the process. He was prepared to give his life to protect Kevin Flynn, to help him escape the Grid – and he almost did give his life. There is no greater sacrifice, no greater atonement, than that."
Tron paused, looking back at Clu. "He fights for the Users too. And...he is my friend. I'm going to ask you to forgive him. Let's move forward."
Clu stared back at Tron in amazement, speechless at the words, his eyes suddenly welling with moisture.
His jaw clenched and he tried to blink back the emotion, then was surprised when drops overflowed from his eyes, rolling down onto his cheek.
He quickly glanced away, embarrassed, brushing a hand across his face and blinking furiously.
Tron was silent. He turned and looked first at Sam, then at Quorra.
Quorra stared at Tron, then at Clu, then stared at the floor, eyes intense with a myriad of thoughts and emotions.
Sam nodded, glancing at Clu, then he looked down at the floor and cleared his throat.
Alan removed his glasses, giving a wry smile at his program and quickly wiping at the corners of his eyes.
Kevin's eyes brimmed with tears as well, and he looked at Quorra with the same quiet, wise expression she'd come to know and trust over the cycles, until she finally looked up from the floor and met his gaze. She held it for a moment, then finally turned and took a halting step forward, looking again at the one who had been her sworn enemy for so long.
Clu looked back at the ISO, his eyes stricken with so many things which he couldn't seem to find the words to say.
He opened his mouth to try, but all which got past his lips was a whispered and shaky, "I … am … sorry..." before his jaw tensed again and his eyes filled once more with tears.
Blinking the tears back and clearing his throat, he glanced at the floor, then he looked at Quorra again.
She didn't speak or smile, just looked back at him, and slowly nodded in quiet acceptance.
After a few more silent and tense moments, it was Kevin who spoke, a hint of a smile in his low, soft voice. "Proud of you, Q."
He glanced at Sam. "You too, kiddo."
Then he raised his brows and looked over at his young doppelganger, giving a slight grin. "And you too, Clu."
And then he walked over to Tron, grasping his shoulder, meeting his eyes with a knowing look and a smile. "Thank you, Tron."
Tron simply nodded somewhat stoically.
Then after a few more moments of awkward silence in the room, he got a peculiar, curious look on his face, and stared at the Creator, tilting his head.
"Kevin...why are things somewhat blurry here in your world?..."
Kevin's eyebrows rose, and he looked puzzled, even slightly alarmed. His eyes narrowed and he opened his mouth to speak, but before he could answer, Alan chuckled and stepped over towards Tron with a sardonic grin.
"Kev,...'think this one's mine."
The older man took off his glasses, then handed them towards his look-a-like. "Here. Try these on."
Tron's eyes narrowed, staring curiously and almost warily at the contraption his User was offering him.
Alan just nodded, encouraging him, and then finally reached and carefully placed the glasses onto Tron's face, tucking the ear-pieces into position and stepping back.
"There. How's that?"
Tron blinked, looked around the room, and then smiled. "Much better."
Kevin grinned ear to ear, then let out a laugh and clapped his hands, rocking back on his heels as he chuckled.
Both Tron and Alan looked over at Kevin, and he just shook his head, grinning at Tron. "Okay,... now you're freaking me out."
Tron looked at Kevin, and then at Alan, amused but slightly puzzled. "What?..."
Alan rolled his eyes, then smirked at Kevin, his eyes narrowing. "Oh,...nothing. Ignore him. He does this sometimes. For some reason he likes to make jokes about me wearing glasses."
Tron looked back and forth between them, not quite understanding the joke, yet smiling at their antics.
Kevin looked at Alan, and chuckled again as crossed his arms, still kidding his old friend. "I'm tellin' ya - it's downright spooky!...Straight outta' the way-back machine, man!"
Alan smirked at Kevin again. Then he looked back at Tron, nodding at the frames he wore. "I'm afraid I'll need those back...it seems here in this world I can't really see much without them. But I've got an extra pair you can have."
Tron beamed. His User had a gift for him, and it would help him to see the user world more effectively. "Thank you, Alan-One!"
Alan gave him a smirky grin, and patted his shoulder. "My pleasure. And,...just 'Alan' is fine. No need for the 'one' part."
Tron nodded, still grinning as he handed Alan back the glasses.
A few more awkward seconds went by, and no one seemed to quite know what to do or say.
Then Sam rubbed his hands together nervously, looking around the room. "So,... any idea what we do now?...how does everyone feel?..."
Just then Clu yawned, seeming surprised by it as he did. Kevin caught his yawn and his reaction to it, and he grinned. "...'think Clu could use a nap. So could I, actually. We're gonna go with 'tired'."
Quorra thought about it. Then her eyebrows raised. "Hungry."
Alan gave a half-nod. "Ditto, and ditto."
Tron just shrugged, brows raising slightly as he shook his head. "I don't really know what those things mean."
Almost in unison, Alan and Kevin both answered the same, "You will..." and then both of them chuckled at having blurted out the same thought. Alan shrugged at Kevin. "Great minds think alike..."
Kevin looked over at Tron, his eyes narrowing as he thought of how to explain.
This was but one of many, many things about the User world and the human existence which would require explaining.
"Well,...'tired' is when you feel the need to rest,...to go into sleep-mode. Here it's sort of an involuntary thing, as opposed to when you're in the Grid."
Tron nodded, taking in the information, and Kevin continued, "...and, hungry,...well,... that's like needing energy, only here we have solid energy too,...as opposed to just liquids. Being hungry is involuntary too, just like being tired. Your body just tells you when it's time to eat or sleep."
Tron nodded again, then his brows furrowed in concentration. After a pause, he spoke. "Well in that case,...I think I'm...a little tired and hungry."
Kevin grinned, nodding. "Sounds about right,...after what we've been through." Then he turned around, staring at the old shelves and taking a look around at the old office which he'd once called "his lab". It was surreal seeing it again, after twenty-one years. Surreal, bittersweet, sad, happy, strange, wonderful, all at the same time. He stood with his hands on his hips, shaking his head. "...still can't believe we're here."
Then he turned to Sam. "Did you check out the loft?... Everything still up there?"
Sam shrugged. "Yeah, 'guess so...just...dust covers on everything, you know?"
Kevin nodded. "Well, there's at least a bed and a couple of couches up there, a few pillows, ... room enough for us all to relax for a little while. Doesn't help with the hungry part of the equation though."
Sam looked at Quorra, scratching the back of his neck idly. "We could go and get some food for everyone really quick. Something simple. Want to?"
She shrugged and nodded. "I suppose so."
Sam turned to Kevin, his brows raising. "Anything special you'd like?"
Kevin thought about it for a second, then shook his head. "Nope,...just whatever's easy. Pizza maybe?"
Alan nodded enthusiastically in agreement, which didn't surprise Sam a bit.
Clu and Tron looked at each other, puzzled, clearly having no idea what pizza was, but Kevin nodded at both of them. "Trust me – you'll dig it."
Sam nodded, then gave them all a slightly wary frown. "Okay, pizza it is. But I'm locking the door. So don't anybody go anywhere."
He glanced around the room. Clu was leaning against the wall, looking half-asleep on his feet. Tron was walking slowly around squinting and looking absently at the shelves, not seeming very energetic at all. Alan was standing stretching his tired limbs. Kevin stifled an exhausted yawn, and gave Sam a half chuckle and a slight grin.
"Yeah, right,...don't worry, kiddo. Nobody's going anywhere. 'Think we'll all be doing really good to just climb the stairs."
Thirty-three minutes later...
Sam and Quorra walked back into the arcade.
He'd been reticent to leave, had been a nervous wreck all the way to the pizza place and back, and now that they were here again he felt mildly silly for having been so worried.
The door had been locked just as they'd left it.
The arcade was quiet.
The lights were on up in the loft and the blinds were open.
He locked the deadbolt lever, slung the backpack full of water bottles back up onto his shoulder, turned and called out, "Dad?..."
He nodded at Quorra. "Bet they can't hear us up there."
He reached to help Quorra carry one of the large pizza boxes, but she shook her head, smiling, quite content to carry them both.
He shrugged, grinning at her. "Still amazed we got all this back here on the bike."
He heard nothing but quiet as they walked up the staircase, and for a second he wondered if they were all still downstairs in the office.
Topping the last step he called out again, this time more softly, "Dad?...we got pizza,...and-"
Then he stopped abruptly as they rounded the corner into the loft, breaking into a grin as he looked around the room.
Quorra stifled a giggle.
All four men were completely sound asleep.
Kevin was laying on his stomach, his tall form stretched sideways across the top of the bed with his bare feet hanging off the side. His boots and socks were tossed haphazardly onto the floor in the corner, along with his riding jacket.
Alan was laying sideways at the foot of the bed, curled on his side, a pillow under his head. His loafers and glassed rested neatly on the floor beside the bed.
In the other corner, Clu was sprawled on the smaller of the two modular, curved couches, with his boots still on and his long legs resting up over the arm of the couch. In one hand, a small silvery-gray bit model was clasped close to his chest and his other arm was slung over his head.
On the floor beside him, Tron was leaning back against the couch, his legs stretched out in front of him on the carpet and his head resting back against the seat cushions. Another silvery-gray bit model just like the one Clu had sat right beside him on the floor.
Sam looked at Quorra, and both of them smiled.
They tiptoed to the unoccupied couch of the modular set, placing the pizza boxes on the small coffee-table and then sitting down quietly.
Sam looked around the room again, chuckling quietly to himself, then leaned over to Quorra and whispered, "Well,...might as well have a slice of pizza, while it's still hot, right?"
Quorra shrugged and nodded, grinning as she opened one of the pizza boxes.
It wasn't too much longer until they'd both fallen asleep as well, Sam leaning back on the couch and Quorra curled up next to him with her sock-clad feet tucked underneath her.
A few minutes later he opened his eyes briefly, grinning when he heard the sound of his dad snoring softly from across the room.
He drifted right back to sleep...for the first time in a very long time, all was right with his world.