"Oh my User," Ram groaned as he came to. Everything ached, his circuits sparking painfully here and there in the rebooting process. The little program blinked, his blurry surroundings slowly solidifying into distinguishable shapes.
He realized with a jolt of panic that he had absolutely no idea where he was. The rocky terrain was completely unfamiliar. It didn't even look like the same system. He pushed himself to his feet, ignoring how his legs shook violently beneath him. He gave them an annoyed glance, irritated with his own functions. Yet instead he found himself gasping, his knees buckling with shock and bringing him back down to the ground hard.
Ram whimpered a little, forcing himself into a sitting position. He held his arms out in front of him, examining them with a mixture of fear and awe.
It looked as though he'd been completely rewritten. Instead of his usual grey with bright blue circuitry, his color scheme had changed to black with bluish-white circuitry. Even the criss-crossing patterns all over his body were different than he remembered.
Ram panicked, cradling his head in his hands. Yet even that felt wrong. Instead of the cool, hard surface of his helm, the actuary's fingers met thick, curly hair.
This wasn't happening. It couldn't be happening. It was impossible, wasn't it? The only thing that could have possibly rewritten him would have had to have been-
From the back of Ram's hard drive, a memory resurfaced. The light cycles destroyed...agony throbbing through all his circuits...Flynn carrying him...the Recognizer...Flynn had done something to it...because he was...he was...
Pain flashed through the program's head and he winced, rubbing his temples.
"Flynn's a User," he murmured aloud, trying to make sense of his confused memories.
"Very good Ram, you're remembering quickly," came an approving voice from behind. Ram started in surprise and turned to face the voice, blinking rapidly. An old man sat cross-legged behind the program, wearing a kind smile behind his gray-and-white speckled beard. He looked vaguely familiar and the actuary frowned, trying to recall.
"Take it easy, man," the stranger chuckled good-naturedly. "Don't push yourself. Take it slow. It'll all come back eventually."
Ram was far too stubborn for that. His frown deepened and he thought hard. The voice and vernacular triggered something in his memory but he couldn't quite connect the dots just yet.
"Seriously, Ram, I mean it," the man said, now adopting a tone of anxiety. "You've got through some serious recoding. You're not looking too good, man."
That phrase...he knew he'd heard it before. Ram peered at the familiar stranger once more, straining to look past the beard.
"Flynn!" he exclaimed suddenly, eyes widening.
A grin stole across the User's face. "Welcome back, Ram."
The little program laughed, beaming at his friend. "You rewrote me?"
Flynn nodded. "I got your coding from Roy and did the best I could. I did have to adjust your programming a bit to fit the system," he explained. "You were a little outdated. No offense, man."
Ram took it in, nodding slowly. He ran a hand through his curls, feeling the alien-ness of it. Judging by Flynn's appearance, Ram had been gone for a long time. His last few memories resurfaced again and he winced.
"I derezzed, huh?" he asked softly.
Flynn's grin disappeared and he nodded soberly. "Ages ago," he replied in an equally soft voice.
Ram swallowed. "Uh, how long, exactly?"
The User did some quick math in his head. Ram had been gone for seven years before Flynn found himself trapped by his own creation. Then there was the conversion from years into cycles. "Fourteen hundred cycles," he answered finally. "Roughly."
"Oh User," the actuary breathed softly. Fourteen hundred cycles...That was an incredibly long time. He could hardly calculate that. It was much longer than he'd even lived.
"A lot of things have changed, Ram," Flynn said gently, reaching out to take the little program by the shoulders. "But just remember that Tron and I will always be your friends. We've got a lot of influence in this system. If you need anything, don't hesitate to ask, okay?" He squeezed the other's shoulders and smiled kindly at him.
Ram was clearly having difficulty with this, but he smiled all the same, or at least attempted to. One part of what Flynn said greatly attracted his attention and he chose to address that.
"Can...can I see Tron?" he asked hesitantly.
Flynn smiled in understanding and nodded. Tron and Ram had been close when he'd fallen into the Games with them. No doubt Tron was as eager to see his old friend as Ram was. He stood and offered the actuary a hand up.
"You need some time to recharge and rest. I'll take you back to my place and maybe Tron will stop by, alright? I don't want to have you exerting yourself too much too early."
Ram took the proffered hand, pulling himself up. He nodded and stood, his legs shaking slightly beneath him. The User caught him under the elbow, keeping a hand there as a support, should Ram's strength fail him again.
"This is a new system entirely?" Ram asked, looking around curiously as he stumbled along beside Flynn.
"Mostly," came the reply. "After everything with the MCP, I figured I may as well rebuild the system to help it recover more quickly. So, I took some of the basic coding from the old system and created the Grid. A few of the more important programs from the old system were adjusted to function in a more effective way so the whole thing could advance and work out properly."
Ram blinked in some surprise. The User had obviously grown out of being the clumsy, hyperactive person he'd remembered. He was older, of course, and more mature, more serious. Less playful. Whether that was a good thing or a bad thing remained to be seen.
"If anyone had told me that you would go so far as to do that when I first met you..." he laughed.
Flynn grinned, a remnant of that attitude Ram knew reappearing. "I know."
"You've changed a lot, Flynn," the program commented.
The User's smile faded slightly. "I suppose I have," he replied more seriously. "We all have."
By the time they made it to Flynn's main residence, someone was already waiting there. Two someones, actually, both curled comfortably against each other in one of the couches. A dark haired girl unfolded herself from the couch and stood, gently shrugging off the arm of the man beside her. Ram's attention was instantly drawn to the shimmering mark on a her arm. It was an unusual pattern, different from anything he'd ever seen before, and it pulsed with an odd bluish light. She caught his glance, her pale eyes focusing in on him and watching him curiously.
"Sam, Quorra." Flynn smiled at the two, throwing an arm around Ram's shoulders and gently nudging him forward to approach the visitors. "Meet Ram. We were in the Games together back in the old system."
The girl smiled suddenly, her face lighting up as she stepped forward and held out a hand to the newly rebooted program. "I'm Quorra," she said with a cooked grin. "I'm an ISO. Flynn took care of me for a thousand cycles."
Ram grinned and took the proffered hand. Quorra's grip was firm and strong despite her small, slim fingers. It wasn't hard for him to recognize that look in her. He'd seen it plenty in the Games. This girl was all too familiar with combat, combat she'd been forced into. "Nice to meetcha," Ram replied brightly.
"And you," she replied, smiling. She shot her companion a Look and he got up from the couch with slight reluctance, offering Ram a sheepish grin.
"Sam Flynn," he said by way of introduction. "User. Flynn's my dad."
The actuary's grin widened. "A User! It's an honor."
Sam shrugged and didn't reply, sharing a quick smile with Quorra. Flynn clapped Ram on the shoulder and released him, giving him a little push towards the seat that Sam and Quorra had just vacated. "Sit down and make yourself at home, Ram. I have a feeling these two came here for a reason."
The younger Flynn nodded and launched into it right away. "ENCOM wants you at the gala. The Board Chairman," he smirked, "thought it would be a good idea. No one knows you're alive yet, and he figured that stocks would go way up when you make your appearance.
Flynn smiled wryly. "Oh, Alan thinks that, does he? Have you introduced Quorra to the public yet?"
The ISO shifted uncomfortably. "I'm no good with crowds just yet," she admitted. "I spent too much of my time avoiding them. And honestly people don't have any reason to believe I am what I say I am." She hesitated for a moment. "But if you introduce me, not at the gala, but later, then maybe it would work better."
"Sounding like a User already, Q," Flynn commented approvingly. Quorra beamed. "Well, I don't know," he continued thoughtfully. "Those are great ideas, but give your old man a little time to think about it, alright?"
Sam grinned. "About that...Alan's already promised the board something amazing this year. He's been telling them that this gala will bring the spirit of Kevin Flynn back into ENCOM beyond anything we've seen since the eighties."
"It's your company, Flynn," Quorra tacked on helpfully. "We need your help."
The older man chuckled, smiling fondly at the couple before him. "Your company now, kiddo," he told Sam. "But since you two are so insistent...I suppose I'll make a cameo at the gala."
"Great," replied Sam, clearly pleased. "Thanks Dad."
"Sure. Now why don't you two run back home and let Alan know I'll be around?"
The ISO hesitated. "There was something I've been wanting to ask you," she began, looking up at her mentor from beneath dark lashes.
"What's up, Q?"
"Sam said he'd buy me a motorcycle if you said that it was okay," she said in a rush. "I know, here I can drive or fly just about whatever I want, but not out there. Sam has his Ducati and I just thought I could use one of my own or when I'm not with him, and you know how good I am when it comes to vehicles of any sort-"
"Hey, slow down, man!" Flynn interrupted, laughing. "That's fine by me, just be careful."
Quorra clapped her hands together excitedly and hugged her mentor tightly. "Thank you Flynn!"
Sam rolled his eyes at her slightly exaggerated response and tucked her under his arm after she released his father.
"Alright, we'll get out of your hair now," Sam said loudly. "Alan wants all of us at his place for dinner some time, if you feel like dropping by."
"I'll keep that in mind," Flynn agreed. "I've got a few more programs to rewrite and get them settled before I can. I was thinking once I get enough security programs running that I'd take Tron out with me."
The ISO raised a dubious eyebrow. "You think he's ready for that? After everything that's happened?"
"Well, having Ram around ought to help him. Those two were tight, man. They fought together in the Games ages before I showed up." They all glanced over at the little actuary, who'd clearly dozed off, his head slumped onto his chest. Flynn smiled slightly. "Okay, you two, watch out for each other. I've got this guy I need to take care of."
"See you around, Dad."
"Bye, Flynn." Quorra stretched up on her toes to kiss him lightly on the cheek and he chuckled, ruffling her short hair. She smiled brightly at him and turned to leave, threading her fingers through Sam's and waving with her free hand. Flynn turned back to face his new ward.
"Never have kids," he told the sleeping program with a small smile. "They figure out exactly how to get to you."
He sat down beside Ram and put a hand on his forehead. The actuary stirred, stifling a yawn as he blinked sleepily at the User.
"Ooops, sorry Flynn," he apologized, stretching a bit. "I only meant to close my eyes and I guess I just powered down by accident."
"Don't apologize, man. You need your rest. I just thought you'd be more comfortable on the bed."
"Bed?" Ram lit up visibly. He hadn't seen a bed since before his time in the Games. For over 200 millicycles he'd had to make do with sleeping on the ground, which usually left him achy and sore when he rebooted.
Flynn chuckled at his old friend's reaction. "There's two extra rooms. You can user one for as long as you like until you're ready to find your own place."
"Thank you!" the program exclaimed sincerely, more than a little excited about the thought of a bed.
"Come on." The User smiled kindly and took Ram's forearm to pull him up. The smaller of the two teetered a bit before finding his feet and grinned sheepishly. He really needed to recharge.
Flynn made sure to keep a supporting arm around Ram's shoulders as he guided him gently into the room that had once been Quorra's. It was clean and tidy, the main feature being the medium sized bed against the wall and the small lamp beside it. Directly across from the bed was the long rectangular window that looked out on the small area that served as a backyard, the pool of shimmering energy casting a frail shaky glow on the window. Beside that was the oval shaped mirror and pure white dresser.
All Ram really noticed was the neatly made bed, so warm and inviting. He collapsed into it with a happy little sigh, curling up on it and promptly shutting down. The last coherent thoughts running through his CPU were of Tron.