Bits of a Feather
Part of the Ram, Expanded series
Summary: Kevin gets assaulted by a Bit that seems to know him. Pity the recognition isn't mutual.
Warnings: mild language
A/N: Expanding on the scene of Kevin and Bit in the Recogniser.
EDIT: I received an anonymous review asking about the baby Bit Kevin mentions; alas, Anon, I cannot answer you because you signed as a Guest.
In answer, Kevin was referencing an event that occurred in Energy, chapter 1. Energy is posted to Ao3 (Archive of Our Own) in full, but because chapter 2 contains explicit NC-17 (and optional to read) content, I am unable to post it to FFN.
Kevin's plan to go charging to the rescue like the Lone Ranger had hit a few snags along the way. He had made the mistake in assuming that since he had designed Space Paranoids, driving a Recognizer would be a breeze. Heck, the hand controls were almost identical to the old arcade grips, and Kevin had the high scores of all his arcade games. He could drive a tank through an army of Recos and not break a sweat.
It turned out that driving a Reco in reality was far more difficult than operating a tank on a video screen.
On a good day, it was massive, unwieldy, and difficult to manoeuvre in the canyons he was navigating. In the distance, the I/O tower beacon was his landmark, keeping him on a relatively straightforward path, but other than that, the User was fairly sure he was hopelessly lost. His difficulty was only compounded by the Reco's lopsided appearance; the missing left foot meant he was only flying with one rocket thruster, and the Reco kept listing sideways to bash into the walls. Kevin had no idea where the missing foot had gone, but it had not answered his summons when he'd re-rezzed the vehicle's components.
In hindsight, Kevin realised he probably should've done a better job actually repairing his stolen Recognizer rather than pushing for expediency in getting the heck out of there. He blamed his lapse in judgement on the encroaching tank convoys, and on his grief. Then he swore for the fifteenth time as the Reco yawned right, clipping a rocky outcrop.
"Damn Reco. Why won't you just fly straight?" he grumbled, putting it back on course.
Something red flashed in the corner of his eye.
Before he even registered it, a Bit came hurtling out of the shadows, spiking red with a battle cry of [NO-NO-NO-NO-NO-NO-NO!] as it bashed itself repeatedly against Kevin's head. Kevin suddenly found himself torn between fending off the tiny creature's assault and keeping the Recognizer from falling out of the sky.
"Hey, cut it out, I'm trying to keep us from dying here!" he snapped finally, catching the Bit in his hand. It shrieked [NO-NO-NO!] and spiked red again, digging its sharp points into his palm. He swore and released it. The Bit spun and retreated out of reach, floating there in a neutral state.
Kevin got the feeling it was studying him. He examined his palm; the Bit hadn't drawn blood, but he wasn't even sure if he still had blood in this place. He glared at it as he returned to the controls. "No funny business, buster."
The Bit edged forward. It froze when he pierced it with a warning look, spinning slowly on both axes. As Kevin watched it warily, it moved a bit closer, and gave a tentative [YES?], sounding almost like a question.
Kevin sighed in exasperation. "I hate the yes-no game. I wish you guys could say something else."
The [NO] he received sounded almost like the Bit had blown a raspberry at him.
"Where's your program anyways? Isn't he going to miss you?" This had to be one of the program-budded Bits Ram had told him about. He couldn't imagine a wild Bit acting so fiercely.
The Bit gave an irritated [NO] and floated closer, hovering over Kevin's circuits. They were still shining more white than the blue he had arrived in. The Bit prodded at one of them, and chirped an uncertain [NO.]
"No, I don't have red circuits." Maybe it had attacked him thinking he was the proper pilot of the ship. A sharp [NO] was the response. "Am I supposed to have red circuits?"
"Am I supposed to have circuits that aren't blue?" That got him a [YES] and he frowned, puzzled.
"You recognise who I am, but my colours are wrong?"
"But I've always had blue circuits."
The Bit seemed to disagree with his statement. It warbled [NO-ooo] and rubbed against his shoulder in a manner reminiscent of Lora's old cat Husker when he was starved for affection.
He took a closer look at the Bit. It wasn't the one Ram had formed back at the spring – that would've explained its recognition of Kevin. Closer examination revealed it to be larger and more developed. It was nearly the size of his fist, and its facets were duller, scraped and worn down like the paint on a well-loved toy. Actually, it looked like it had been slammed around quite a lot – rather recently too.
Kevin had a sudden sinking feeling in his stomach that he knew who this Bit belonged to.
The Bit continued to nuzzle his arm, gray facets shifting. Kevin stared at it sadly. "I don't think I'm the program you think I am, little guy."
The Reco gave a lurch, abruptly reminding Kevin they were still in flight. The User shot profanities at the controls as he righted the vehicle, sighing. "I'm getting better at this, I swear."
[NO,] the Bit replied dryly, bumping against his helmet gently.
Kevin rolled his eyes. "Everyone's a critic."
[YES,] his new friend tittered, doing a loop-de-loop in the air and nuzzling up against his neck. Kevin waved it off with a hand and sighed.
"Look, can you just…sorta – float over there for now? I gotta concentrate here or I'll kill us both."
The Bit's facets stopped morphing in alarm and it shot away from Kevin to hover a few feet away, spiking a [NO!]
Kevin translated the answer into a 'Sorry-for-distracting-you,' and smiled.
"Thanks." And he turned back to the Reco's controls, pushing more power into the systems and bringing it back up to speed.
"This baby doesn't handle so good in town."
Kevin clenched his jaw as he steered the Recognizer narrowly between the buildings in the Factory District. Packed tightly together, there was very little room for the bulky Reco to manoeuvre, especially with only one pilot and one thruster to direct it. It was as if the difficulty setting on this game had jumped from level 2 to level 30 just by entering the city. Kevin threw his whole body into moving with the controls, just as he did in the arcade, sweat beading on his forehead.
The entire Reco shook with the force as it clipped the side of a building, sending derezzing chunks of structural pixels collapsing down onto a thankfully empty street.
"I gotta find somewhere to put this down, this is nuts," he muttered, attempting a course correction as Bit unhelpfully chattered [NO]s in the background, voicing its opinion of Kevin's driving. The Recognizer disagreed, and the correction became overcompensation as the unwieldy machine spun too far, bouncing off another building and into a dizzying spin that threw Kevin forward. He yelped as he almost went through the front force shield, clinging to the base of the control pedestal, and quickly scrambled to his feet to try and regain control.
The Reco kept going, slamming into another structure, and Kevin's attempts to reclaim the controls were voided as the User went sprawling, unable to keep his footing. Pilotless, the out-of-control Recognizer kept rocketing forward, clipping a bridge at both ends and sending a hapless tank plummeting to its destruction.
"Okay, that's it!" Abandoning his attempts to reach the controls, Kevin threw his hands out, reaching deep inside for the power he wielded as a User and accessing the Reco's code directly. The machine shuddered, stabilizing its flight for a few minutes, but it was too late.
Kevin's eyes widened as he spotted the course they were on. "Shit! Brace–"
The Recognizer jolted sharply; connected to its core code, Kevin could feel as the remaining thruster was torn off by the first of several rising plateaus. Another jolt as the legs were left behind, derezzing with the impact; another shudder as even more of the vehicle's trusswork was clipped off, and again, until only the pilot's command deck remained.
Kevin grabbed the Bit and held it to his chest as it trilled a panicked [NO-NO-NO-NO!], ducking against the control pedestal in hopes that it would stop him from re-enacting every drunk driver warning video he'd suffered in high school. The lip of the command deck caught the final riser, and User and Bit were sent on spinning a roller-coaster ride, clinging to each-other. The Reco's head rolled, bounced impressively high, and came crashing down, resting at last against the damaged side of the spire that had finally stopped its forward momentum.
Kevin really hoped throwing up wasn't one of the things that he could still do here.
"You okay?" he croaked, releasing the Bit when its sharp red spikes insistently poked at his chest armour. It shot out of his grasp and hovered for a moment, quivering like a frightened dog, and then screeched a resounding [NO-NO-NO-NO-NO!] and smacked Kevin on the head for good measure, before darting back under his chin to nestle at the curve of his neck, shivering.
"Easy, easy," Kevin cupped his hand over the frightened creature, staggering to his feet. "We gotta get out of here. That was bound to attract some attention."
[YES] the Bit agreed, still cuddled against his throat.
Surprisingly, their grand entrance to the Factory District made very few waves. The programs Kevin shied away from barely acknowledged his presence, their circuitry dim, lethargic and too drained of energy to function properly. Even so, Kevin skirted open areas in his best ninja-impersonation, unwilling to risk being spotted by any red-circuited sentries that might wander past.
The duo found an alley out of the way of any curious eyes and took a breather. Well, Kevin breathed; the Bit just hovered over him like a mother hen, its trauma from the Reco crash forgotten.
"Y'know, to be honest, I don't really have a plan here," the User muttered, keeping his voice hushed. "I don't even know if Tron's still alive, or rezzed, whatever your kind call it. I don't even know where I am right now; I wish Ram…" he swallowed against the sudden lump in his throat and scrubbed a hand over his face. "Man, Ram. I could use your help right now, because I am completely out of my depth."
He'd almost forgotten he had a companion listening to him; Bit's response of [NO] made his heart skip a beat in shock. He looked up at the floating creature.
"No, you're right. I'm not alone; I've got you." He tilted his head; time to confirm some suspicions.
"You were Clu's Bit, weren't you? That's why you recognised me. I look like him. Like Tron looks like Alan."
The Bit cheerfully flattened out in a staccato cheer of [YES-YES-YES-YES-YES] and spun happily.
Kevin looked puzzled. "If that's the case, how are you still rezzed with Clu gone?"
It was more a ponderous question than anything; he didn't expect an answer, or perhaps an uncertain negative reply. How would a Bit know why it wasn't dead yet? Yet to his surprise, the Bit floated down and bumped into his circuits, flaring [YES-YES-YES].
Kevin frowned in thought. He straightened up a moment later in epiphany. "I think I get it. You were hiding in the Reco."
A [NO] interrupted him.
"Not hiding, then. You shut down and landed there when Clu derezzed?"
A sorrowful [YES.]
"Well, in any case, you were in the Recognizer when I charged it up. You absorbed the energy and that kept you alive." The Bit bobbed midair and trilled several [YES]es in affirmation.
Kevin stared up at it in wonder. This was a piece of his program. A program he would never get to meet, yet some part of Clu had been saved in this buoyant little creature. He held out a hand and the Bit alighted in his palm, nuzzling its facets up against his fingers.
"You know I'm not Clu, don't you?"
The Bit stopped fidgeting and gave a sad, quiet [YES.]
Kevin stroked his fingers against a slate-gray facet. "I'm actually not a program at all. I'm a User." The Bit froze and chirped a startled [NO] in disbelief. Kevin couldn't stop himself from chuckling at it.
"I was Clu's User, in fact. Pretty serendipitous we ran into each other, huh?"
Kevin smiled and kept stroking it. "I think whatever boost I gave your power cells, it made you independent. You could probably fly off and do whatever you wanted now."
The Bit stiffened up and spiked [NO!] in protest, flying up to hover in front of Kevin's face and giving a pretty good impression of a begging puppy. [NO-NO-NO-ooo.] It trailed off in a sad warble and hovered there, facets shifting. Against his will, Kevin felt tears prick at the corners of his eyes.
"Don't give me that look. What I'm gonna do is dangerous. Would Clu want you in the middle of that, huh?"
The Bit cheeped a bright [YES!]
Kevin rolled his eyes and poked its spinning facets with a finger. "You've got some cheek on you, buster, lying to a User. Be honest."
The Bit bobbed silently for a moment before it dipped lower in the air, trilling a resigned [NO.]
"Thought so. Clu wouldn't want you to get hurt, and there's a good chance of that where I'm going. He'd want you to be safe. I want you to be safe. You're all that's left of him, after all." He paused. "Anyways, when I'm done, hopefully I'll be zapped out of this crazy place. I don't think Bits can survive in the User world; you'd have to stay here."
The Bit protested with a half-hearted [NO-ooo] and nudged against his chest. Kevin sighed, and pushed it gently away, letting it hover at eye-level.
"Bit. Do you really want to help me out?" A hopeful [YES] answered him, as the creature perked up. "I want you to leave. Ahch –" he held up a hand to stall the Bit's automatic red-spike reaction. "No buts. Do you want to help or not?" The Bit spun once, but stayed silent.
"There's another Bit out there, just a little bitty one. A friend of mine made it out of moss – I mean, data-growth – several hours ago, and I'm worried about it. It should have the energy signature of an actuarial program and an infiltrator. I want you to go and find it, and keep it safe, okay? Don't let it get into trouble."
The Bit stalled; a subdued, querulous [NO] flared its spikes. Kevin glared at it until it grudgingly flatted out yellow and agreed. [YES.]
"Good Bit. Get to it. Er – execute command."
The Bit hesitated, floating away a few feet. Then with a [NO-NO-NO] it flew back to Kevin, burrowing against his chest sorrowfully. With a final pitiful [NO] it backed away, spun once and cheeped [YES,] then flew off over the top of the building and out of sight.
"Geez," Kevin scrubbed his hand over his face, sniffing and wiping his eyes dry. "You're getting sentimental over binary, Flynn." He'd never be able to look at another computer again the same way.
After a minute to collect himself, the User pushed off the wall and made his way cautiously out onto the streets in search of the I/O tower.