Title: "In Memory"
Rating: PG (language)
Word count: 1617
Disclaimer: Last I checked, I am not, nor do I represent, The Almighty Mouse.
Thank you to Ridyr for the beta-read.
The I/O tower stood proudly by the Simulation Sea, the conical building lighting up the Grid with its beam of pure blue-white. Yori was shocked and honored when Flynn told her she'd be the Tower's guardian. Flynn had let her know that the decision made sense. Her functions ran the laser, after all, and he would be able to put her simulation talents to work.
Over time, the Grid grew. Flynn shaped the Sea and its raw material into new Programs, new structures, and pathways of brightly colored data. Yet, there needed to be something more, something that had missing since this Grid's creation.
The immediate area around the I/O Tower had been shaped into an approximation of a park. A small, pristine power pool was surrounded by green-lined renderings of trees and multi-colored "flowers." Flynn spent the better part of this session tinkering with the park area, adding small applications that scurried about in an approximation of the squirrels and birds that took refuge in the landscaping surrounding Encom's office park. So far, he liked the results. Willing his rendered "shoes" to de-rez for the time being, he savored the feel of the digital grass. It was almost, but not quite, the same – a little sharper and stiffer. The digital world, for all its wonders, had limitations. Manifesting a rock to sit on out of some leftover data, he sat down and rested.
Clu was doing a pretty good job with the city. His avatar was zealous and a fast learner, fiercely devoted to the system and infected with the same enthusiasm as his younger self. And because a few minutes here were as good as a three-week vacation, it didn't take away time from Encom or Sam.
Gotta show the kid this place when he's old enough. He'd have a blast.
Of course, the thought of Sam brought him full circle back to why he'd come to the digital park in the first place, and what he planned to add to it today. Sighing, he pictured the vectors and the necessary shorthand for texture and color in his head and pulled a bit of matter from the Sea, waving his hand over the perimeter of the park. A shoulder-high wall of gray digital masonry wavered into existence like a mirage, smooth and unblemished for the time being.
He walked over to run a hand over it. The code was stable. Nothing needed a de-bug. Good. Touching another part of it shrunk a small part of the wall away and replaced it with a clear, hard case with a carving tool in it.
"There you are! I was hoping to see you before you had to go."
All these years, and it still took effort not to jump with surprise and wonder if Alan had somehow busted him red-handed. He breathed a sigh of relief, as always, when he saw Tron approach.
The security program looked around. "You've done some upgrades to the park."
"Yeah, it was my project for this round. Hey, how have you been? How's Clu? Causing trouble?"
"Quite the contrary. I've been teaching him some security functions like you asked. He adapted very well to it, and we were able to do a little sparring in the ring. He's good. He keeps adapting like that, and he'll make me obsolete."
Flynn chuckled. "That'll be the day."
"So, what's this wall for? A security precaution? Because I can find several flaws in -"
"It's not designed for defense," Flynn said, picking up the carving rod. "It's called a 'memorial.' Not sure if you had anything like it on your old system, but might as well bring the idea here if not."
"What is its function?" Tron asked.
Flynn ran his hand over the smooth, newly-rendered wall. "It's...In the User world, we make places for ourselves to remember those who...who died. Our concept of de-rez is a little different than yours, but it's pretty similar in the 'not coming back.' sense. We make places like this so we can go somewhere quiet and peaceful and think about them, remember the good..." Flynn's voice trained off, and his circuit lines flickered for several nanoseconds.
"It's...it's cool. Really. I just..." He sighed. "Just when I think I'm past it, it hits me. I...I gotta confess something, Tron. I...I come here because sometimes my world's too painful. Too imperfect."
Now, Tron was confused. "I don't understand."
He sighed and looked out, past the Sea, past the Grid. "Jordan would have got a massive kick out of this place. See that..." He pointed to a gracefully rounded building just off in the distance. "That was one of hers. And so was that one...and that really far-out green one. She left behind so many notes and drawings that I could be here a thousand cycles and not render them all. She was..." He let out a shuddering sigh. "I build for the world in here, she built for the world out there. I wanted to bring her here, show her all this."
Tron was aware that Flynn had changed subtly in the time in the last few hundred cycles in the new Grid. His visits were longer, and he was more reluctant to leave. There was something heavier on him, like an an invisible process eating away at his functionality. Sometimes, it wasn't noticeable, especially as he was caught up in the mania of designing and building this new world. Sometimes, like now, it slowed him so much Tron wondered if Flynn would crash.
"But some jackass who blew a point one-five plowed into her car as she was heading home from work. There...there was nothing I could do! By the time I got to the hospital..." Flynn looked poised between rage and sorrow, pounding a fist on the top of the wall. "She was already gone – no 'I love you,' no 'Goodbye,' no way to kiss or hold her with all those wires and tubes in place. I didn't even feel so helpless when I watched Ram de-rez. I just..." He sagged. "The law's a joke – the drunk only got two years in the slammer. Hell, Dillinger got twenty, and he didn't kill anyone."
Tron knew Users were not perfect, and it had occurred to him that they could be destroyed, but even though he could barely understand Flynn's rapid-fire references to the User world, he could understand the context. If something de-rezzed Yori..."So, this whole thing...The whole Grid is a 'memorial?'"
"Yeah. Yeah, man. It is." Turning back to the wall, he made ready to carve the first name into it. "I never meant it to be that, but that's what it's become. Users die and Programs de-rez. I've...I've at least got a grave to visit. Seems only fair that I leave you guys someplace to remember the ones you lose, too."
Tron thought a moment. "Carve her name first."
"One step ahead of you."
Flynn's carving rod scored the surface.
Jordan Canas – 1950-1985. Beloved and dearly missed.
Flynn was visibly crying by the time he handed the rod over to Tron, wiping his face with his shirt sleeve. "Got any names you want to add?"
Beneath the stone with Jordan's name, Tron carved the pattern of a light-disk. Next to it were the words:
Ram – Believer, warrior, friend.
He handed the tool back to Flynn. "Is that how it's supposed to work?"
"Yeah, exactly like that."
Tron ran his fingertips over the carving. "I've not thought about him in cycles. Now, it's like part of him is here. He...he would have liked that, I think." A dreadful question occurred to him, and he felt like a null-unit for asking. Still..."Flynn, your kind creates us. When we de-rez or are unrecoverable, what happens to us?"
Flynn blanched, the lines on his suit flaring white. "Oh, shit. Was hoping you'd never ask that."
"You don't have to -"
"Yeah, I do." He stood there for several nanoseconds, as if coding the thought into being. "If...if a program's been useful to us, if it's served its functions, and works for us, then we'll salvage what we can of the source code and recycle it into the next build. If the program turns out to be user-unfriendly, we just...junk it. It doesn't get used again. Sounds awful to put it like that, but if anyone's earned the truth, it's you."
"It sounds...reasonable, actually."
"Really? Sounded pretty cold to my ears."
"Programs are not like Users. We're a lot alike, but the differences are just as important. De-rez is something we can't prevent. It's inevitable. Eventually, our code will decay or we'll become obsolete, barring some violent end at the hands of a virus or system crash. The idea that we can carry out our functions well enough for our Users to favor us by returning to serve, even in a different form or designation, is very comforting indeed."
"Didn't think of it that way."
"Perhaps whoever created your kind - the Users of the Users – do something similar. Perhaps the ones you lose are rewarded with restoration of a sort and new purpose. You said it yourself; part of Jordan lives in the Grid, in every building that's rendered, in every Program that walks it. This...this is a great gift. Thank you."
Flynn was still weeping openly as he clasped an arm around Tron's shoulder. "No, pal. Thank you."