Hey guys: Just wanted to let you know that even though this one-shot can stand on its own, it is essentially a companion piece to "Survivor." It doesn't matter what order you read them in, but you should definitely read them both to understand everything that is happening. Enjoy! R&R ~Moore12~
All too human
If he had assumed anything before it would have been that programs were made of mere numbers, were long codes designed to fulfill some purpose for those who had created them. He would have never guessed that a program—which, he believed then at least, was just a code—could be so human.
The playful twinge of his fellow conscript's smile, the sarcastic bent to his dry humor, the disarmingly even keeled nature: those weren't things programmers like him included in the coding of their creations. At first, he had been surprised by Ram's candor, by his genuinely caring nature. But then…he grew accustomed to it, came to appreciate how, through his nature, he was able to survive on the Game Grid. At least Tron, generally, conformed to his idea of a program even though, he too, seemed human just as well…
For a moment, he didn't even realize what was happening. He was too caught up in the moment, too caught up in the fact that he had just singlehandedly regenerated a Recognizer. He didn't realize until he heard the pain in Ram's small, fearful voice when he asked how he could steal a Recognizer. But still, part of him wondered how a program could feel pain.
Glancing back at him—he was still lying in the same spot he placed him while he was still unconscious—he realized that the program's circuits were flickering, like a band of Christmas tree lights right before they went out. They would flicker—a signal of their impending doom—and then grow dark, and he had to wonder if this was more than just an injury. "Hey, you okay? You don't look so good," he asked, trying to hide the genuine concern in his voice. To be more reassuring, he added, "We'll get you fixed up, hang on."
Apparently his words were not reassuring enough because the program beckoned him over—fear in his wide eyes—saying in a cracked, pained voice, "Come here."
There were so many things he wanted to ask Ram during their confinement. He wanted to understand how he could possibly exist as he existed, how a program could take on human qualities. He was an actuarial program but he was clearly more than that. He did take pride in his work, even if it was a fairly misplaced pride, did take pride in the fact he could "help" people. When he discussed his former life—"life?" could he even call it that?—there was a sense of loss in his voice, a sense of longing to go back there, to escape the Grid forever.
How had he adapted to being a Gladiator on the Game Grid? That certainly wasn't part of his programming, he knew that all too well. He wasn't a gaming program, hadn't been created to serve that purpose, so how had he adapted, retooled himself to survive in such a harsh world? Ram had transformed into the quintessential survivor despite the long odds. Just looking at him, he would have never expected he had already been a conscript for so long, that he had fought for so long. Part of him wondered what horrors were stored in his memory…
He had no choice but to grasp the program's hands, and he was surprised at how weak his grip was, how he was trembling horribly. His circuits were flickering worse, and the grimace he wore on his face spoke to how severe his pain must be. He didn't know how to comfort him, what to say to a program that was clearly suffering so terribly. He was about to speak, though he knew his words about an afterlife he figured didn't exist in the computer world would probably sound hollow and fail to comfort him. But Ram saved him from having to say anything because he spoke first. With his eyes squeezed shut, he whimpered, his voice sharp with pain, "Oh, my User." His voice trailing off weakly, he added, "Users are Users, they…" He failed to finish his sentence, and he had to wonder what Ram was trying to say, what thought he was trying to fight back.
And then the expression on the injured program's face changed, and he had to wonder what he could possibly be thinking, what realization he had come to that must, once again, been outside of his original programming. Although his eyes were foggy, they had become fixed on him, looking him over intently as if he was trying to confirm something he had always thought. "Are you a User?" he whispered, his voice soft and hopeful.
Feeling himself beginning to choke up, he could only nod.
If they were just programs, why did they care so much about him and about each other? He had assumed that programs, in a sense, existed in a vacuum. They were meant to serve a purpose, isolated from one another, and they were just bands of codes anyway. They couldn't possibly have feelings; they couldn't possibly have affection for one another. But watching Ram and Tron, he realized that these two programs who had been confined together for so long were…friends. And Ram, who he had just met, clearly had begun to think of him as a friend. He expressed excitement upon seeing that he had survived, he had taken the time to explain survival tactics to him even though, he figured, it was naïve to give a potential opponent help. Friendship existed in the system…but they were just programs, weren't they?
He knew then what was happening. Even as he watched the program's circuits light up, even as he watched him beam a radiant smile at him, he knew what was happening. Revealing himself as a User to a program who had fought so hard for them, who had fervently believed in them despite all of his suffering, wouldn't do anything to save him. Smiling at him had clearly put a great deal of strain on his processors, because he had begun to flicker even more, the circuits flickering from that unhealthy pale green to red. And he knew what red meant. Red meant deresolution. Red meant that Ram was…dying. Did programs die though?
What was he supposed to do? Hadn't he just singlehandedly fixed a Recognizer? Couldn't he just "fix" Ram like he had fixed the Recognizer? But…part of him knew there was nothing he could do. In a way, Users played God in a world outside of the system, bringing the programs to live, giving them their functions and their purposes. Now, he was in the system and, despite his powers, he just knew he couldn't play God here, no matter how badly he wanted to. No, here he was just a program, here he was…nothing.
For a moment, he thought he was dead. For a moment, he couldn't remember what had happened, why he was lying on the ground surrounded by rubble. And then it all came back to him: he remembered an explosion, Ram hurling into him. But where was Ram? And then, he saw the lean, small program lying before him, perfectly still. Knowing he had to get out of there, as the tank was quickly approaching, he dragged his unconscious friend into a crevice. He couldn't just leave him there, couldn't abandon him, but he didn't have time then to realize the implications of what had happened. The system was too much like the real world, and people didn't survive explosions like that, even if they held on for a short while after…
As he carried him, trying to find a place to hide, he wondered what would happen. Yes, he recognized that programs de-rezzed but he was surprised that Ram hadn't yet, that he had held on. Does that mean he'll make it? he wondered as he trudged along, weighed down by his friend's limp body but also the overwhelming feeling that something terrible was going to happen to him. And yet he held out hope…Ram was a fighter, after all, he had survived for so long in the Game Grid. But, a chilling thought crept into his mind: programs aren't programmed to survive everything. They can only take so much.
Still staring at him with those wide, pain-filled eyes, the dying program groaned, "Flynn?" Flynn nodded slightly, unwilling to admit to himself that this was really happening, that his friend was really about to de-rezz and he could do nothing about it. "Help Tron."
And, with that, he felt a small surge of energy rush into his own circuits—he had forgotten, for a moment, that he too was a program in this world—and he could only watch as the program's eyes shut and his body stiffened. His circuits flickered for a few moments before they settled on that ominous shade of red. With that, his lean body dissolved a way before his very eyes, and, even though he wanted to scream, he didn't. He couldn't; he wanted the program to be at peace during his final moments.
Only able to look on, he watched as the program completely dissolved away, and then he was gone, the only proof that he had existed the red bits of energy in the air. Then those too were gone. Ram was gone…and he had done nothing. The program had given up his last bit of energy to him—sacrificing his own life for him—and he had done nothing for him. He hadn't even tried… And what did that say about him? About the relationship between Users and the programs that they made to just be used? He wanted to cry, but he couldn't. He tried to tell himself that Ram was just a program and that programs would always exist somewhere, but he didn't believe himself. He couldn't after all he had seen.
He was just a program and yet he was all too human. He was more human than even the User who couldn't save him.