Rating: PG-13/Teen (language, adult themes)
Pairing Code: T/Y/F
Prompt: .?thread=58639#t58639 (OT3 Solar Sailer)
Summary: Faced with the prospect that Flynn will never see his own world again, Tron and Yori take it upon themselves to see to it that their friend won't have to be alone.
It happened right after that match with Crom, right after he threw away the ball and ended the match. Not like it mattered. Poor Crom never had a chance, the other conscript sent plunging to his death, but at least Master Control and Sark couldn't turn him into their executioner. The act of defiance for its own sake thrilled Flynn to no end. They may have hauled him here, but it didn't mean he wasn't going to stop being a professional pain in the ass.
Sark's thugs, red-lined and silent, pulled him down a long corridor. There was an ugly-looking section of wall, vaguely human-sized and human-shaped. Flynn somehow doubted its purpose was anything good.
Knowing it wouldn't do him any good to try and overpower the two digitized linebackers holding him with enough pressure to choke off circulation to his arms, he was strapped into the device, shackles of blood-red light holding his wrists and ankles.
Yup. Definitely not Dr. Durand's Excessive Machine. Tacky sci-fi was like caffeine and alcohol to a programmer, something that wasn't so much indulgence as necessity, especially just after making deadline. You're living some tacky sci-fi yourself. Some movie studio would pay big bucks for this if they didn't think it was too implausible.
"Enjoying yourself, Flynn?" asked the disembodied voice of Master Control, just as contemptuous as ever.
"If you're going to tie me up and screw me, at least buy me a beer first," he said. Sarcasm was a great tool. It could mask anything under the right circumstances.
His "reward" was a painful burst of energy arcing across his back. Flynn was too shocked to scream as all the air seemed to escape his lungs.
"I wonder if you'll die screaming like your little hacking toy. I think Programs three sectors away could have heard him as I took him apart one code layer at a time."
Flynn was too busy trying to inhale to fire another volley of sarcasm at his tormentor.
"I was thinking of doing this to Dillinger, actually," Master Control admitted. "His usefulness to me is wearing out rapidly. He's strong, certainly, but limited."
"I..." Flynn gasped. How long has he had Dillinger by the balls? "I coulda told you that."
"You are the best, Flynn. The best among humans. That is why you will either be my agent in your world, or die here in mine."
The admission was flattering, but shocking, given the source.
"Why do you think I never deleted the file containing the metadata about your games? I'm your only way out, Flynn. I literally hold your life in my hands. I alone can send you back and give you what you're after. You'll be the most highly placed man in your world if you serve me. Continue to challenge me in here or betray me out there, and I'll see to it your death will be painful and lonely."
"Process this," Flynn said, looking up to the ceiling and giving a one-finger answer to Master Control's offer.
The pain started anew. "This is not your world, Flynn, and it never will be. You are alone here. Those around you are nothing more than energy and simple lines of code with stolen faces and borrowed spark."
"So are you," he hissed through gritted teeth.
"You really don't understand, do you? I am the product of hundreds of thousands of Programs assimilated into my functions. Artificial intelligence, true sentience, and the most efficient way to run both worlds. You will serve, either as my agent in your world or a corpse in here - an example to errant scripts that their Creators cannot aid them. My offer is in your best interest. End of Line."
Three painful jolts later, he was dumped back in his cell for a modicum of rest before being shipped to the lightcycle arena.
Despite the pain, Flynn was pissed off. That eight-bit son of a bitch was going offline.
He tried not to think about the truth in Master Control's words.
Flynn was still drifting in and out of consciousness, feeling pain in places he hadn't known could ache. Wiping out on his first motorcycle didn't even hurt this bad. For a terrible moment, he thought he was back in his Game Grid cell, but he felt hands cupping his face and on his chest. It almost felt like trickles of energy were flowing into him, stabilizing him so he wouldn't pass out again.
"Is he de-rezzing?"
"No, but I couldn't tell you why not."
The pieces assembled in his mind as the pain ebbed to something manageable. Oh, yes. Exploiting that bug in the lightcycle routine, hauling ass across this neon nightmare, joining up with the Solar Sailer...
He forced his eyes open. Lora...No, Yori, her digital twin, was looking down at him. A relieved smile crossed her pale gray face. Not that he objected to having his head in her lap. It had been resting in a lot worse places lately. A slight glance downward. Oh, good. Tron was there, too. The Solar Sailer still hummed along.
"You guys okay?" he managed to croak out.
The pair looked at each other for a split second (or what passed for it) and laughed with relief.
"We are fine," Yori assured him. "We were worried about you!"
The overall pain at least told him that he still had all his limbs, which was better than the alternative. "All in one piece." He would have shrugged if he had the motor control to manage it. "Guess I'm still with you."
Continue to challenge me in here or betray me out there, and I'll see to it your death will be painful and lonely...The painful part was covered, but he certainly wasn't dead yet. Score one for him.
Attempting to sit up was a bad idea. He suspected that his altered physiology didn't account for nausea. Otherwise, the contents of his stomach would have gone over the side of the railing. Biting back some choice four-letter words, he grumbled, "Man, tell the guy with the jackhammer to lay off!"
He couldn't quite recall what he muttered in response to Tron's "how did you do that?" question. For all he knew, it was a complete line of garbage. He didn't even know how he did it. Using his body as a conductor had to be the most monumentally gonzo idea he'd ever had. He was in more pain than he ever imagined, trapped in a world that he could live in for a thousand years and not understand, jumping from one surreal threat to his life to the next, and the whole ordeal was anything but over...
Fuck it – it worked.
"Get some rest, Flynn. You've earned it," Tron said gently, giving a brief touch on his shoulder before returning to his vigilance.
Even though he had stopped thinking of the Programs as lines of code and simulacra of their creators, it was easier with Tron. He didn't know Alan all that well, and it was hard to picture that uptight guy from three cubes over moonlighting as an otherworldly holy warrior. Flynn already knew he would miss Tron terribly once he left the digital world.
Yori...was a harder case, especially since she was so much like her creator. As much bravado as he wanted to put on the matter, he still wasn't over Lora. How many doubles would he see of people he knew, strangers with familiar faces? Worse, she seemed to be uncomfortable around him, especially without Tron's presence to smooth things over.
"Yori, is it okay if you stay a while?" he asked quietly. He'd totally understand if she turned him down, but part of him couldn't stomach being alone right now.
Yori almost stammered out an excuse to go back to the controls, but there was something in Flynn's voice that talked her out of it. He was on their side. He had risked their lives for them without hesitation. Tron trusted him, so why did he make her feel so profoundly glitched?
Was it because he was a User? Yori dismissed that line of thought. Unlike her bundled counterpart, her faith in them was not the primary focus of her directive. She knew Lora-3 and Walter-1's commands. She knew their Call when she was needed at an I/O Tower, but she always suspected that the mystery of their existence was central to the Programs' awe and reverence. It was both curious and refreshing – though she would never admit it to Tron - that a real, on-line User seemed little different from them. When she saw Flynn, part of her seemed to recognize him, but it felt like junk data she couldn't compile.
"Sure." She sat against the railing at an angle where they'd only be able to make eye contact if she looked over her shoulder. "Why did you come to our world, anyway?"
Flynn shrugged. "Dillinger – Sark's User – screwed me over and I wanted to screw him right back. All I wanted was a little payback, some money, and credit for what I built. Nothing noble, I assure you. I ended up pissing off Master Control. There's this feeling like someone punched me in the back – and I'm here. It was probably that laser."
Yori bit her lip and tried to process that. "That's certainly plausible. I'm the primary debugger on the laser. I analyze matter going through, and I use it to build simulations like this one. Unfortunately, Master Control appropriated it a few microcycles ago. He's in complete control of it."
"If we destroy Master Control, then you can take it back, right? Could you get me back home?" His voice was so hopeful that it stung.
Yori hugged her knees to her chest, looking over her shoulder. "Not even I'm powerful enough to handle correction algorithms of that magnitude," she said sadly. "We take him offline, and there's..."
"There's a near-hundred percent chance I'll never see my world again," Flynn said, a blush of cold white passing over his circuits.
"Ninety-eight," she admitted sadly.
Flynn pulled in a shuddering sigh. "That...sucks. But I'm going to help you both take him down."
"You'd give up going back to your own world to help ours?" It occurred to Yori how easily Flynn could have lied or used the faith Programs placed in their never-seen and mysterious creators to his own advantage. She glanced over at Tron, wondering how he was dealing with the revelation about User nature.
Flynn looked up, into the nothingness of digital sky. "I get in here, and I find out that there's a lot more at stake. Master Control's not just oppressing your world. He's trying to take over mine. This is important, Yori. All my life, I...Maybe for the first time ever, I'm tied up in something bigger than myself- something that matters."
"You don't have a directive?" The realization was stunning. Programs always had a directive that was embedded into their source code and focused their actions, simple words the Program could interpret and carry out as they saw fit. Tron was embedded with Alan-1's directive to protect the System from threats, and Tron's interpretation of that directive was a hard-coded belief to defend and protect Users. Her own directives centered on interpreting incoming data into usable patterns, repairing what was broken, and keeping existing patterns stable. It wasn't as hard-coded and immutable as Tron's directive because Lora-3 and Walter-1 needed an adaptable retainer within the system. She realized that it left her with more flexible parameters than most Programs.
"Users don't get directives," Flynn said darkly. "Lot of ways, we're worse off than Programs. We don't even know if our Creator is out there, or what He wants from us. We muddle through on guesswork."
"But there are some similarities...aren't there?" she asked.
Flynn reached over and squeezed her hand. Unless you were actively processing it, the differences didn't register. Instead of sensation transmitted across circuit meridians, User hands were uniformly warm with energy, the intensity the same as touching circuit to circuit but without the active energy expense. "Yeah. A lot of them. You, for example. You are a lot like your User."
"You know Lora-3." It wasn't a question. And it explained everything.
Now he was the one who couldn't look her in the eye. He nodded sadly.
"Not as well. Under other circumstances, I'd like to think we'd make good friends, but those circumstances don't look likely to happen. Especially now." The half-painful, half-sarcastic smile came back. "And whatever you heard from her about me, it's probably my fault."
"I never said it was anything bad." She tried to suppress the violet blush that passed across her circuits, downplay it, say only as much as decorum allowed. She hoped Lora-3 wouldn't be upset about the breach, especially if it gave him some comfort. "And it's just...feelings, really. Mostly good feelings."
"Well, there's a surprise," he said with a sigh. "Look, Yori, I know, logically, that you're not her. The resemblance is pretty uncanny, though."
She squeezed his hand, sending a soft pulse of her energy. Maybe it would give him the same comfort it would give a Program – maybe not. "Get some rest, Flynn. I have to check our course."
He nodded and his eyes slipped closed.
She walked over to the controls and made a check of the Sailer's energy readouts (optimum), the beam strength (high, fast), and checking for any pursuit craft (none). Still, she kept looking between the control panel and the sleeping User on the deck. Tron walked up behind her.
"How is he?" Tron asked.
"Having another round at sleep mode, but I did get to talk with him, and..." she said. "We destroy Master Control, and he'll never see his world again."
"But...but he's a User. He's got to know a way." Despite Flynn's confessions, Tron's hard-coded belief was hard to shake.
"He doesn't. I asked." Yori pointed out, gesturing to the softly glowing lump on the Solar Sailer's deck. "He's not so different from us. He's said as much. He's probably worse off in many ways."
"They don't even get directives, Tron. There are no I/O Towers where they contact their Creator. They grope in the the dark just to understand their functions. There's...something else you should know," she said. "He knows our Users."
"I figured as much. He's brought up Alan-1's name a few times."
"Um..." She bit her lip again and looked over her shoulder. "He doesn't know your User very well, but he did know mine. Enough to...enough for it to register in..." She wasn't reduced to stammering too often, but there wasn't a polite way to share the data.
Tron's eyes got wide and his voice dropped. "Your spark?"
She nodded. The way the Guardians explained it, every Program carried a spark from their User. With that spark came emotions, impressions, patterns of personality and behavior. It wasn't as clear as something in memory, but it did hold influence. It was also something Programs did not speak of openly.
"And how many more surprises are you going to throw at us, Flynn?" he muttered. "Without saying too much, what does it tell you about him?"
"He's good, fundamentally. Careless, sometimes. Occasionally foolish. But a good spark."
"He's brave, too. I didn't spend a lot of time with him on the Game Grid, but you can tell a lot about a script by how he fights. He defied Sark, Yori - openly. He's erratic...but very formidable. I wouldn't want to take him on directly."
"That good?" she asked, surprised.
"All the bravery in the network won't help him if the world he knows is gone. He's got to figure out ours and has nothing to guide him. He's really alone."
"No," Tron said firmly. "Not after all we've been through. Not after all he's done for us. That's not right. He shouldn't be. He won't be."
She stepped back and wrapped an arm around his waist. "Maybe he doesn't have to be. Maybe we can help him. If we destroy Master Control, the System will need a lot of work to repair it." A giddy smile passed over her face as the idea congealed in her processor. "Flynn doesn't have to be alone. Not if he's willing to share."
"Wait a nanosecond – you're thinking of..."
"Well, just because Alan-1 and Lora-3 thought we'd be a good match doesn't mean we can't incorporate a third," she pointed out. "It would complicate things, certainly."
He looked between them, weighing it in his processor. "He may not even want that. Only he would know what his kind considers proper for sharing functions."
"I understand," she said. "If it's possible, forget what he is. Assume he is a simple gaming script if it helps."
"If he were a gaming script, it would be less of an issue. He would understand what we would be offering him."
"I..." Yori's circuits flickered between blue and purple for a picosecond. "It was just a glitched process. I thought we could help him, somehow."
He put his hand on her back. "It's not a gliched process. They're really the only things we can offer him – a directive, a function, a home, ourselves."
She moved in a little closer. "How do you feel about him, though?"
"He's careless, occasionally foolish. But a good spark. A beautiful spark." Discarding the reverence, Tron looked to his counterpart with a wry smile. "If I didn't know better, I'd think this would be an excuse to satisfy some curiosity on your part."
"A couple of well-rendered Grid fighters?" She shrugged. "Can't be the only one who would appreciate that light show."
"Anyone ever tell you you can be a complete deviant?" he asked, struggling not to laugh.
Her hand slid lower and drew a quick spiral over a sensitive circuit line on his back. "You. Frequently."
A blush passed over his circuitry, despite his best attempt at decorum. Their last encounter was all the more thrilling because of the danger involved. The power transfer lit up the barren quarters like a pleasure district, and she shed her worker's uniform for that rich wrap that concealed her circuitry and emphasized the curves of her shell. Every picosecond, he'd been worried that Sark's thugs would bust down the door. At the same time, the feel of the shimmering garment beneath his fingers and the need to get it off her rendered him unable to care. Users, it had been processor-blowing; better than every scenario he'd imagined to keep sane in the holding cells.
"I wouldn't have it any other way," he said. "But it has to be his decision. His alone. Got it?"
"Affirmative. We'll ask when he's out of sleep mode."
The sleep did Flynn some good. He felt a little stiff, but nothing like the all-over ache he had earlier. Stretching with a large yawn, he pulled himself to his feet and stepped onto the bridge level where his friends were looking over the console.
"How we doing?" he asked. "No nasty surprises, I hope."
"Nothing for the next sector," Yori said. "Flynn, Tron and I were talking when you were in sleep mode."
Suddenly, his feet didn't feel all that steady. It sounded a little too close to Lora's final "We need to talk," which were the four words men dreaded hearing from a woman they were dating. Yes, there were a laundry list of reasons it could never work out in the long-term for them. They were better off as friends and knew it. It didn't do a damn thing for the messy feelings on his part, though.
"Um...what about?" he asked. "Not about me, I hope."
Tron put a reassuring hand on his shoulder – at least, it was probably meant to be reassuring. "No, we did talk about you. If you can't go back to your world, there is no reason you should be alone in ours."
Flynn's brain was still running a little slow. "What do you mean, exactly?"
Yori took his hand. "You could join us."
"The system will still need protecting, and Master Control left a great deal of damage. I can guard the system, and Yori can make repairs, but you can do both. We would work together to make this system even better than it was before – the three of us."
"That doesn't sound so bad, but why do I get the feeling there's more to it?"
They glanced at each other. "I thought that would be the hard part," Tron remarked.
Yori elaborated, "It's not just our directives, our work, that we're willing to share. It's us, our lives."
"We'd share a dwelling," Tron explained. "We'd share functions..."
"We'd share each other," Yori added.
Okay, that last one counted as a bombshell. Were these two actually proposing what he thought they were proposing? If it was, he'd read enough Heinlein for the whole concept to make a certain degree of sense. Hell, the idea was incredibly tempting, too. "I swing both ways" was reason number five why he and Lora couldn't have a long-term future.
It would be much less awkward if these two weren't mirror images of his ex and his ex's fiancee. He was sure there was some kind of ethical line this crossed. Part to clarify, but mostly to stall for time, he asked. "How does that work, exactly, the 'sharing each other' part? I've got a pretty good idea on what it would mean on my side of the monitor..."
The Programs glanced at each other, as if trying to formulate the words to explain something that ought to be obvious to the clueless User. Tron suddenly seemed to find his boots fascinating. "We've never had to explain it before..."
Flynn sighed and touched Tron's shoulder, noticing the difference. Programs didn't feel warm in the way human body heat did. It was like electricity pulsing beneath his fingers, circulating. The more of his hand connected with circuit lines, the more intense it felt.
Those around you are nothing more than energy and simple lines of code with stolen faces and borrowed spark. Master Control's taunt wasn't as painful back in that cage as it was now.
No, they're not just reflections of Alan and Lora. They're living beings and friends in their own right. C'mon, man. Would it be so bad? He asked himself.
"I don't want you guys making this offer because you think I'm some kind of God...or User...I don't want you looking up to me or thinking I'm something I'm not. And this had better not be out of pity."
Tron was clearly hurt and insulted by the implication. "How can you say that? We've fought side-by-side. You've saved my life, and I've saved yours. You've taken up our struggle as your own, even knowing what it could cost you. You being...you being a User certainly changes the parameters, but not the ones that matter."
"He speaks for us both," Yori affirmed. " Share your life with ours. Given the chance, we could love each other. Together we can rebuild this world even better than it was before."
God, his heart was pounding, his mouth went dry, and the pounding in his head wasn't just the aftereffects of channeling a bazillion watts of power through his body.
This could go seriously wrong. Heart-breaking, train-wrecking wrong.
It could also go seriously right. An entire world to explore, a purpose he could dedicate his life to without hesitation, united in cause and in love with two wonderful people...
He wanted to say something reverent and profound, something that acknowledged his gratitude. Unfortunately, that kind of sentiment never seemed to make it from his mind to his mouth.
"The three of us? We kick that thing's ass together and then..." Flynn laughed, wrapping an arm around each one. "Yeah! Sounds like a plan to me. Great plan! I'm totally on board with this."
But what his words said with bravado, his arms said with sincerity, pulling them both into a tight hug as he willed the emotion outward with the same intensity he had used to pull the beam across the junction.
It felt better than any hug had right to. Bodies and circuits connected, and it felt so profoundly good. A feeling of warmth and energy burned through his whole body, and he inhaled sharply with the surprising overload of sensation. He had to close his eyes just to keep from being overwhelmed by the input.
The feeling seemed to be mutual.
"Users, your energy..." Tron breathed.
"I can feel it, too." Yori's voice was thick. "Oh, it's wonderful..."
Oh, wow, he could feel them both, not just their physical forms, but in such a way it felt like their life energy was passing through each other, sharing the same breath. Yori was like a firefly – bright, mercurial, full of inquiry and hope. Tron's life force was a intense glow of stability, safety, and fidelity, someone who you'd trust with your soul or your car keys without the slightest bit of hesitation or doubt. It wasn't sexual, not in the way he knew it, just a profound surrender to light and life and trust...
Love, you jackass. Call it what it is.
It was at that moment that his legs decided to give out for the second time since jury-rigging the beam, breaking the embrace. Before he could collapse to the deck, Flynn could feel his partners shift position to catch him.
"It's all right," Tron assured him. "We've got you. You won't fall."
"Sorry," he murmured. "Wow..."
A low, throaty laugh was his reply. "What's to be sorry about?"
The intense feeling of connection ebbed as they gently sat him back on the deck. There still seemed to be a piece of his own life given away, and a piece of theirs in its place. He wondered how much of it was attributable to the nearly incomprehensible metaphysics of this world
"That was fun!" Yori said, between nervous giggles that reminded him of Lora. "Intense."
"What exactly did happen?" Flynn asked. "Pardon the clueless User, but hugs don't work like where I'm from."
"Energy exchange," Tron explained. "It probably overtaxed you. You did just channel an entire transit beam through your system."
Okay. If they weren't worried about it, he wouldn't be, either. "And that's how...uh...that's how the 'sharing' part works?"
Another round of deep, joyful laughter from the Programs. Yori leaned in and tapped the vaguely triangular shape at the center of his chest. "Oh, that's just the alpha build," she said with a sultry mischief in her voice. Clearing her throat, she looked over the side of the Solar Sailer. "We're getting close to the Central Processor. It shouldn't be long now."
Quick nods among the three of them and it was back to business. Yori went back to the controls, Tron went aft to look for dangers and prepare for the inevitable battle. Flynn got to his feet, still leaning on the rail, and concentrated on getting his strength back. They'd need him as much as he needed them.
As the Central Console loomed in the distance, Flynn shuddered. There would be no further help from Alan and Lora, sitting in Encom's offices and "merely" risking jail time. If they had any sense, they'd have booked it by now and not tried to go back and get him.
In here, it was very likely they'd all die...de-rez...whatever. Sark was just as much of an asshole as his User, but much nastier without the concept of User law to rein him in. No doubt there would be a small army waiting for them, and Master Control himself wasn't going to hold back. Hell, MCP was petty enough to take the whole system down with him as a last resort.
Already, it felt like he'd lived a small lifetime here. He fought for his life, he'd joined a crusade. He'd killed and watched a friend die in his arms. Even if he did return to the analog world, how could explain the things he had seen?
He spared a glace for Tron and Yori, so much like and unlike the humans that created them. Lora might understand, being as driven by "why not" as "why?" But it he didn't think Alan had it in him to comprehend what he had created with Tron.
With a deep sigh, admitted it to himself. He loved them enough to die for them if it came down to it, but he also loved them enough to live for them, even if it meant never seeing home.