Notes: Oh man, I'm tired. My life has officially gone crazy.
This isn't what I'd meant to be posting next (though I'm working on it when I can), but this just sort of happened. I apologize if it's disjointed or anything, but I've been working on it in tiny slivers of stolen time; I've done my best, though, so you'll have to be the judge of how effective I was.
This is probably the first official bit of the first, er, arc (I think that's the proper term) of this story (though it's kind of strange to think of the first seven chapters of this story as setup and prologue etc., but there you go); my brain has three-ish arcs planned out for this story. I have no idea how long they'll end up being, all in all, but I have the vague outline worked out. As such, I'm very sorry this chapter's so short (also that there's none of Tron's perspective, but I'm planning on the next chapter being his or mostly-his point of view to make up for it), but I wanted to put something out so people know that yes, I'm still alive, and no, I'm not giving up on this story, or any of my stories. I'm afraid y'all will just have to deal with seeing more and more of my terrible writing.
Mimi MC – You're far too kind. Over a month after your review, here's the next chapter. I feel bad that not a lot happens, but hopefully I can be forgiven, or make it up with the next one (though I'm not holding out hope for either outcome.) Hopefully it's at least mildly enjoyable to read.
Cyberbutterfly – I'll just start out with apologizing again for none of Tron's point of view this chapter; in a perfect world, this would only be half of this chapter, and the second half would be following everyone's favorite security program, but as I've stated before, writing in his perspective takes me twice as long to write the same volume of text, and the snippets of time used to write this wasn't really conducive to that (seriously, I look back on this month, and can't help but wonder what in the world happened). I'm tentatively hopeful things will be getting better soon, but... Yeah. Anyway, I have absolutely no idea who Cas and Jimmy are, but I think I got the gist of what you're saying, and if you really want to, go ahead (there will never be enough Tron fics in the world, and that's a fact). Yes, yes he is. I'm kind of a closet romantic (and I feel no shame in admitting that), but I'm also of the opinion that it's more a process of growing close than 'love at first sight'. Those two are still working on growing into friends at the moment. I will admit, though, looking forward to Sam working through the 'looking like Alan' thing. It's still a way off, though. I guess you'll have to keep putting up with me to see what I come up with, and if it lives up to your expectations (I doubt it will, but that's my default opinion).
3LWOOD – Thank you, and I hope you'll enjoy this chapter, such as it is. I know I've been kind of taking liberties left, right, and center, with different aspects of the fandom's universe (particularly in the timeline of things within the Memories), but I hope they aren't too distracting. If I ever go too far, don't hesitate to tell me, and I'll fix things, yeah? I'm worried about a point coming up in the next chapter or so (the introduction of an original character; it's the first thing to make me feel like I should watch Uprising in a while – which I should – but I haven't had the time yet); hopefully it won't be too bad? Maybe.
Roses of the Renaissance – It's very kind of you to say so; I don't agree, but at this point, that's pretty much a given (I am literally my own worst enemy, but at least I'm aware of it). I have a rather large soft spot when it comes to the original movie (even though it predates me by a good half a decade). It might have something to do with there being plenty of a certain security program in it (though Rinzler is still pretty awesome, the small bits of Tron in Legacy may or may not make my vision go all watery). It might come up later in the story, or maybe as a part of a Memory, but the Tower in this is inspired from a building I saw in the original movie (I can't exactly remember when, but it'll become more obvious eventually, and by then hopefully I'll be able to say more precisely), and not just the Space Needle (it was just the easiest way to help people visualize it by my reckoning; I don't know, it made sense to me at the time).
No beta but me, and I can't wait for my life to get back to normal (or at least somewhat more under control). (I think I may need to go lay down now...)
"- then I found you, and the rest you know," Sam finished with a vague wave of his arm, and watched as Tron processed his account of his trip to the Grid thus far; from the arcade, out to the mystery of the programs and a metropolis worth of missing buildings, then the long hike to the few remaining buildings, particularly this tower, and his first time piloting a lightjet to track down the only real clue he had.
'It's not a whole lot to go on...'
He was leaning a hip against the outer curve of one of the shiny black desks, while Tron stood centered in the inner curve. The program reached out to touch the dark surface thoughtfully, before sparing a glance at Sam, "You said they were completely immobile, other than while you were speaking?"
"Yeah," Sam nodded, folding his arms across his chest, "Immobile and immovable; they might as well have been made of stone for all that they moved, or could be moved." As he was speaking, Tron shifted from simply touching the desk, to tapping at certain spots with purpose; each spot in turn lit up blue, before the glow spread to neighboring buttons, until an entire control panel appeared – though the configuration wasn't quite like anything Sam was familiar with, and none of the keys were marked. That didn't stop the program, though; he kept tapping – typing? – at the controls, with the sort of self-assurance than came with familiarity. "Uh... What are you doing?"
'That is, besides looking like an extra on Star Trek?'
"Accessing the Tower's diagnostic functions," he replied, as a screen opened up between them, a familiar shade of blue-green. It was split into two slender windows, one of which – his right, Tron's left – the program was typing into. He was trying to figure out what Tron was typing – he wasn't exactly in the practice of reading mirrored text, and the font used in-system wasn't making things any easier – when the program continued speaking, "I'm not a repair program, so my knowledge base of non-viral glitches isn't comprehensive, particularly of system-wide issues. The Tower was linked up with the system's archives when Flynn created it, including the troubleshooting databases." For a moment, it looked as if he'd say more, but he held whatever-it-was back, and typed a little faster; Sam finally managed to puzzle out enough of the growing list to identify it as a series of parameters and list of the symptoms he'd described the programs having.
'That sounds like an important sort of connection. What is this tower supposed to be?'
It seemed like an important sort of question, so he asked.
Tron hesitated in replying to finish the last entry, and touch one of the larger keys at the fringes of the control panel; 'Searching... Please wait...' appeared in the other column. "It served many purposes, before, depending on the need at the time. Most commonly, it was an armory, emergency response staging area, monitoring station, origin folder, or some combination of those. The diagnostic functions included with emergency response capabilities contained the Disc generator and, hopefully, an answer to what sort of glitch this is."
Sam nodded along; he'd seen some examples of most of those between his two visits, except... "Origin folder?" At that moment, the search window cleared, and a new message took its place; he could tell it wasn't a positive response just from how short it was, even before he could read the simple declaration of 'No match found'. Tron huffed out a short sigh before reaching out with his left hand to tap at the search criteria, highlighting various words and values, while his right hand fluttered about the controls, working both sides of the panel to replace and adjust the search entries; Sam just watched on and waited for an answer.
'Kinda got the urge to give this guy a piano, though. Multitasking: Programs 1, Users 0. Though, we do come out ahead on the whole 'altering reality and traveling to other realities' thing, so...'
His mind continued to wander along its current paths, until he was jolted back to the here and now by Tron's somewhat-distracted response, "I believe the equivalent User-world term would be 'residence', or possibly 'house'." The program gave the revised entries a critical look over, before setting the search to run again. It took a moment for the reply to sink in, but then Sam was looking around, taking in the decor again with this new information in mind: no real walls, desks more at home in an office; only the side table and chair set looked like they could be part of a place someone lived.
'Did they sleep on the floor, or one of the desks? Do programs even sleep? Tron looked like he nodded off earlier, but I don't think he was really asleep... There were beds in Dad's place, but he was a User... Trying to make a little piece of home... Right. None of that. Maybe they sleep standing up.'
"Yeah? Who lived here?..." He'd meant to elaborate on the question more, but at that moment, the search returned with another negative result. Openly giving the pair of windows a dirty look – an equal parts amusing and unsettling mix of the look after Alan Sigh #3 "You're being exasperating on purpose, aren't you?", and his second arresting officer's "Why don't you just make it easier on everyone and cooperate? There's no shame in coming quietly, you know" frown – Tron curled the first three fingers of both hands into claw-like shapes, and grabbed the windows, his left hand on the border line between the two windows, while his right gripped the outer edge of the window to his right – the still-unhelpful results window.
Tron yanked his hands away from each other sharply, and for a moment Sam figured the program to be pulling the windows apart in frustration, but instead of breaking apart, he pulled out a third window into existence on the right side of the pair. He released the two original windows to float off to the left side of the desk, and sort of flicked at the new one. Tron caught Sam's gaze through the now wobbling window, "'Lives' is the technically correct term, though the past tense is more functionally appropriate for the last kilocycle; this is my origin folder on this system." While he'd been speaking, the new window had expanded, until it reached its target dimensions, and a line of light blazed down its center, to turn it into the same sort of setup as the original windows, including the program now typing information into the left-side window, though the search criteria was different; Sam could tell just by looking at them, because they were shaped differently, even when mirrored.
It took an almost embarrassingly long time for Tron's words to sink in.
"Wait, you live here?" He looked around again, as if the new information would somehow make the place seem more liveable; it didn't. Slowly, his eyes found their way back to the chair and side table, specifically the book lying there.
'So that's... But then how did he...? And that thing that attacked us...? '
None of these were his first question.
"Dad didn't even make you a couch?"
'… And of course I ask the most inane question first.'
Tron was waiting with one hand poised over the button to start the new search, watching the User when Sam finished mentally beating himself up. "I do, though I haven't been permitted here since before I was repurposed. Flynn was very generous when he created this place, which included a couch. It's above, and to your rear left." Sam looked behind himself.
No couches, floating 'above' or otherwise.
Sam gave Tron a long, assessing look. Tron looked back at him calmly, waiting, then eventually pushed the button to start the search, refocusing his attention on the screens.
'He doesn't look insane... I didn't scramble something up, did I?'
He mentally debated the pros and cons of asking – not to mention just how he would go about asking the program if he was hallucinating – when Tron hissed in a breath, and leaned toward him – no, toward the new results window. The window was almost two-thirds full of rapidly incoming details by the time he'd noticed this, and worked out the first line of information, which was an overview.
'Status: Error – offline.'
"That complicates things," Tron said after a moment, straightening back up.
"What does?" Sam walked around the desk, and peered over Tron's right shoulder at the information; there was too much of it to try reading it from the other side. It was a log, tracking different pathways the search attempted to use, only to run into a dead end each time; it had been trying to connect to something that wasn't working.
'The system archives themselves?'
Tron glanced at him, before gesturing to the other pair of windows, which had faded to near nonexistence while not in use, their color bleeding away to an easily overlooked shade of gray. "I didn't get any results from my initial queries, not even one. No match, incorrect or not; I didn't even get a partial match." Here, he hesitated for a moment, shooting Sam an apologetic look, "It didn't even bring back User error as a possible cause, and even I know that that can be the potential explanation for everything from pan-system cascade failure to lag. Users can do just about anything, so they can cause just about anything. I'm sorry, I'm not saying you-"
"It's cool," Sam just waved off the rest of the apology, and eventually Tron gave a small nod, and continued. "They didn't bring back any results, though, so I decided to search for something I knew to be within the archives, but with tracking on. I was suspicious, and I was right. The searches can't connect; either the destination they're trying to connect to is offline, or it's gone entirely." He looked at Sam, willing the User to understand something, before clearly switching tracks. The program shook his head, deflating a little, and turned back to the second window. Stiffly, he swept the windows off to the right, tapping at the controls until a new window opened, lined in brilliant white light, displaying something that looking like nothing so much as rippling water, but was probably something important judging by the intensity Tron was fixing on it.
'From Star Trek to Stargate, now; great. Why isn't anything in this place labeled?'
"Could what happened to the other buildings have happened to it, too?" Sam asked, not giving up on puzzling through the archives if for no other reason than he had no idea what to do about what could possibly be a very small event horizon. Tron reached out to lightly drag a finger down the strange window; Sam half-expected it to cause new ripples in the liquid-like surface, but it went on like nothing had happened. The circuits along the back of the program's hand glowed brighter, a glow which was mirrored in his suddenly-distant stare; he was oddly absent in his reply to the User. "Unknown. Physical examination needed to confirm. Remote-"
Tron suddenly seemed to come back to himself, the glow and his hand dropping down to their usual. "Sorry about that," he offered a sheepish sort of smile that looked awfully relieved for some reason, "There's no way to know for certain without going to check on the archives in person, since the inability to contact them remotely is part of the problem." He paused a moment, and his smile grew into something tentatively hopeful, "The system log is – or was – housed adjacent to the archives. If one's there, the other might be as well."
'A log of what happened could be very useful, but...'
"Let's go, then, but why didn't you mention that before?" Sam gestured toward one of the not-windows, suddenly anxious to be doing something instead of watching someone else trying to figure everything out for him. Tron turned away from the desk, and they started walking toward the barrier. "It didn't occur to me at first, I apologize. I'm... unaccustomed to factoring Users into my conflict evaluations, and only they can access the system log. It won't happen again."
By now, they had both pulled out their batons, and stood at the edge of the landing. From the corner of his eye, Sam could see the different screens at the desk fade, and sink out of existence into the desk top. "Hey Tron," he called out suddenly; the program in question halted, poised to leap over the edge of the landing, and gave him a questioning look. "What was that last window for? The one that looked like it was full of water?"
"I was looking at the system's power levels." he replied with a shrug, and turned to look out over the rocky wasteland; it suddenly sunk in that this was Tron's home. Without looking back, Tron continued speaking, "Losing system file directories could cause unstable power distribution, which could crash the system."
'… A system crash. Right. Best to avoid those, especially considering that it would probably kill me.'
"Everything was stable, though," and here, he finally glanced back at Sam, reassuring. "Let's go. The access port to System Utility 5 is on the far side of the arcade."
That sounded vaguely familiar, but Sam couldn't place it. "Yeah."
Tron launched himself over the edge with a snap of his baton and a slight flourish, and Sam followed after him.