"Tron," he says, under his breath. "JA-307020." There's nothing there, no spark of familiarity: he might as well be reciting random bits, pure binary. He says it again, marking time as he walks.
He registers a figure, a face, smiling, and it takes him a moment to stumble to a stop. The program in front of him cocks her head to the side, smiling. "Just rezzed in?"
He shakes his head, trying to rattle memory loose. "I think so. How did you-"
"You have the typical vacant expression. Assuming that's not your default look, of course. Just be glad you weren't on the wrong end of a segfault." She touches his arm, and the sensation radiates. "You'll shake it off. I'm Yori."
"Tron," he says again, without emotion, without feeling. "JA-307020." He glances to one side, sees another program rolling his shoulders, and emulates the motion. Lights flicker. Something teases the edge of his awareness. Identification. Acknowledgement.
When he looks back, Yori is watching him with the same half-smile, and this time, he returns it. "There you go," she says. "You're starting to look better. Getting some color back in your circuits."
They stand for a while, watch light slip along the sides of surfaces, along walls webbed bright. The more he stares, the more the chaotic display seems calm, purposeful. He stamps down an unreasoning surge of envy. "Why am I here?"
"Just my luck - a philosopher," she says, and shrugs again. "I imagine your User and my User are collaborating on a project. I think mine was looking for some sort of secure system-"
The recognition, when it comes, is strong enough that it nearly knocks him off his feet. A sense of purpose. "Yes," he says. "Yes! That's it." Other programs are turning, staring, and he lowers his voice. "That's why I'm here. Security."
"All right, then. I've got several simulations that need running, and I'm going to need to make sure I've got secure access." She grins, extending her hand. "Follow me, Tron-JA-307020."
"Tron," he says, and feels something shift and fall into place, something hidden and quiet and secret. An instruction from Alan-One: Be careful. Watch for danger. Don't trust the MCP.
Trust the Users. Trust yourself.
He takes Yori's hand.
The first time Tron is forced to fight against one of his own, he's nearly derezzed before he can even blink.
The other guy's not particularly strong or fast, but he wants to win, and he's scared, and Tron's having trouble seeing past the blue glow of his circuits. The light disc clips his shoulder, not close enough to do any real damage, but he staggers, feels the buzz of energy down his arm, sees the disc again from the corner of his eye. For a moment, he thinks he won't be fast enough to block the return stroke.
But he does block, stretches the defensive motion into an offensive spin, and he knows without looking that his attack won't be a near miss. He's always fast enough.
He never misses.
He doesn't watch the other program derezz, just stands facing the exit, waiting for the doors to open, waiting for Sark to finish his little lecture. "I fight for the Users," he says, like he always does once the monologue reaches a natural stopping point, and then he goes back to stand between four walls and wait for the next fight.
"Heard what they made you do," Ram calls, from his cell. "They've never tried that before. It's always us versus them. MCP must be getting really annoyed with you."
Tron doesn't say anything, staring at the wall.
"I knew him." There's no accusation in Ram's voice; as always, it's languid, conversational. "Another actuarial program, same insurance company, you know? He wasn't a fighter."
Tron makes a noncommittal noise and turns away. His arm still burns where the light disc grazed it, but there's no damage that he can see. He flexes his fingers.
"Do you ever wonder-" Ram's voice cracks. "Do you ever wonder if the Users just don't care? If they've abandoned us?"
It's not the first time he's asked. It won't be the last.
Tron looks up, meets his eyes. "Never."
"Pretty rad, huh?" Flynn leans against the railing of a new bridge overlooking the Sea of Simulation. Tron watches the tendrils of light spread from his hands, shifting, changing everything they touch. "The new system'll look just like this, only way, way better. A digital playground."
He seems to be waiting for a response. Tron clears his throat. "Sounds good."
After a few moments of silence, he glances over to see Flynn looking at him. "Wow," he says. "That sure sounded sincere."
Tron shrugs, traces a finger along a line of circuitry that hadn't been there before. "Everything's changing. You're changing."
Flynn grins, but it's a little cautious, and it comes with the furrowed brow that means he's trying to work something out, testing the waters. "Hey, look who's talking. What is it, hours, days going by here for every minute I spend outside? It's only been a couple weeks, out there. Hell, I could sleep in sometime and miss a revolution."
"That's not what I meant. You seem tired." They're quiet again, for a while this time, and the patience is another thing that's new. "When you- I mean, Yori saw you derezzed. When you distracted the MCP."
"Yeah, I know," Flynn says, and there's a hint of the old impatience. "I'm a User, Tron. I didn't die. I came back."
"I don't think I really knew until you came back. I believed, but I didn't really know."
Flynn heaves a sigh, leans further over the railing. "Hey, I didn't think programs could have existential quandaries. Never even crossed my mind. Look, as gods go, I'm probably something of a disappointment."
Tron smiles at that. "Not really. Different, maybe. Strange."
Flynn rolls his eyes. "Thanks for that. What I'm saying is, I'm starting to feel responsible for- for all of you. I want to remake all of this. Do it better. Live up to my reputation, such as it is."
"Sounds good," Tron says, again.
Flynn guffaws, and the unexpectedness of the noise makes Tron jump. "Oh man, I just got it. You're feeling left out."
"Yeah. I keep showing up and going on about this amazing new world I'm designing, and you're just standing there humoring me because you think I'm going to wander off and abandon you." He slaps Tron on the shoulder. "Come on, are you kidding me? I'm gonna need you there to help me build it. I've already asked Alan to transfer you over to the new grid once it's set."
Tron stares at him. After a moment, he manages to say the first thing that comes to mind. "Yori too?"
Flynn bursts out laughing again. "Yeah, Yori too. We're gonna need someone good at digital simulations. Look, it'll be a party, okay? Stop worrying so much."
He can't hold back a smile. "I'm a security program."
Flynn pauses. "Point taken. Yeah, fine, you worry a little, but let me worry about the big stuff. Okay?"
Tron looks at Flynn, really looks at him, and sees the little differences, the slightly longer hair, the new circles under his eyes, the stubble on his face. Everything changing, slowly, by inches. Revolutions while he sleeps. "Okay."
"Good." Flynn tosses him a lightcycle baton, and Tron nearly drops it; the weight is different, all wrong. "New model," Flynn says, with a smirk. "What say we give them a spin?"
Tron turns it over in his hands, feels the weight of it settling against his palms, and grins. "Sounds good," he says, and rezzes it up, gives himself over to the strangeness of it.
The Grid's never seemed this bright.
(end of line)
He fades into the sea, and the Rinzler identity falls away.
A light, dim, muted. Faintness seeping through his circuits, guttering against the onslaught of the darkness all around. Faces, names, identities, commands. Purpose.
A hand reaching down, out of the black-
Trust the Users. Trust yourself.
-and everything changing.