Notes: At this point I'd say it's official; my vacations are cursed. Unlike last time – where I was just miserably sick the whole time – this vacation began (on Christmas Eve) with my mother having to go to the emergency room, and I spent most of my vacation time seeing to her needs. My father was helping with this until, as befits my luck, he got sick just as my mother started getting to the point where she could look after herself more. My vacation ended on the second, but my luck's persistent; my mother's not been able to return to work yet, and she's the second (greater) half of the team I work on, so I've been stuck trying to do the amount of work as would usually be assigned to the two of us, in about a third the overall time. I've had mixed success; I've been just barely managing to eke by, but I'm pretty much permanently exhausted at the moment.

I did manage to squeeze out a tiny bit of time for writing while I was off, though. I even worked on what I planned on, so (hopefully) I'll have out the next chapter of SMB fairly quickly. This Memory is the by-product of the only day off I've had since I went back to work (although I probably should have spent the time catching up on some sleep, or trying to work on the SMB chapter); I had a stray thought of inspiration, and it wouldn't leave me alone until I'd had this mostly written. This wasn't going to be the next Memory I posted – I've got another one partially written that was supposed to be next, but it's been giving me trouble for a while now, but I'm hopeful to finish it up soon too – but since I haven't been posting them in chronological order, I figured it doesn't really hurt anything to post it now. After I catch up on my partially-completed pieces (or before, if the inspiration smacks me over the head like it did with this one), I'll see about the next chapter of Antivirus.

… Also, I have no real defense for the rampant program puppy love going on in the last section, other than my brain decided it needed to be there.

Cyberbutterfly – I look at the date of your review on the last posted chapter (over four months ago) and can't help but feel a little upset with myself, but all I can do in hindsight is ask for forgiveness. Anyway, I'm glad you liked the last posted chapter (saying it like that to help me remember that while this may be the fourth text document I have for Memories, it's only the third one going up) and I hope that this one stays at least within the ballpark of approval. I'm looking forward to (and simultaneously dreading) finishing what to me is the third Memory, though it'll be posted fourth, so I can finally get your opinion on Clu (probably ultimately a good thing it's been taking me so long on that one; I doubt anyone is going to like it).

Silvara – Thank you for your kind words; I hope this new chapter will prove at least somewhat entertaining for you. If you ever write that crossover, I'd be intrigued to read it; I have a soft spot for crossovers and fusions, as evidenced by the vague ideas for three or four of them I have floating around in my brain and Documents folder.

No beta. (Man, but I'm tired, and the day hasn't even really started...)

Attaching memory file time code

plus 0 cycles

"... There." Alan mumbled quietly to himself, typing in the last few keystrokes with a little more force than his usual.

He leaned back in his chair and rolled his neck around a little to work out the stiffness. He couldn't really see much of his coworkers, but the air was filled with the click-clacking of many keyboards being struck by even more fingers. Roy was humming in time to his typing (last Alan had known, he was part of the project for that big insurance company), an upbeat tune that had been playing on several major radio stations; it was pleasant enough to listen to – Roy had a mathematical mind that translated well into music – though it would have been better if he hummed the whole song, instead of looping the chorus over and over. Off on the far wall, the clock ticked over into a new minute, and Alan settled back into his chair as he considered its face.

He'd finished earlier than expected, today.

Some people would have left early, he knew, and made up the difference in hours on another day, when things ran long. Others – though he wouldn't name names – would spend the extra time playing around, napping, or otherwise slacking off. None of these actions really appealed to Alan; he was nothing if not dedicated to his job, and viewed his work schedule as a commitment to ENCOM, to be there when he was supposed to, and to be working.

He didn't even balance his checkbook on company time.

He had a bit of a problem at the moment, though.

Alan was a Group 7 employee, the artificial intelligence division. Most of his recent work had been writing analytical programs for a scientific suite to be marketed to universities; there was still plenty to be done on the project, but he couldn't really fine-tune anything until after the big stress test tonight, and he couldn't start in on a new part of the project without checking with the project supervisor – he wouldn't want to start up something, when it had already been finished by someone else – but Mr. Reynolds had left about an hour ago for an emergency dentist appointment (Alan would probably never be able to look at 'crusty bread' the same way ever again, and that sound... Yikes).

This university project was a massive undertaking; almost all of Group 7 was working on different pieces of it simultaneously (the exceptions being two people on the far side of the floor, who were putting finishing touches to a couple of video games that Ed – Mr. Dillinger – had made or something; Roy was in the smaller Group 8, who shared the floor with Group 7). It was almost a shame how many man hours were being devoted to this; to turn a profit, the suite would have to be pretty pricey. That, of course, would mean that the universities in question would probably try to work around legitimately getting more than one copy, which wouldn't be fair considering the amount of work going into it, unless they could properly protect the suite's data...

That... got Alan thinking.

It almost certainly wouldn't be ready in time to ship with the suite (they'd probably have to figure something else out for it), but he'd been playing with the idea of applying artificial intelligence programming to a security program for over a month, and he still had some time left today...

A side project; he'd write up a note for the higher ups if everything was going well after alpha testing.

With that decided, Alan opened up a new entry, and started typing.

1010100101001010011111001110

The first thing he was aware of, was light.

The second thing he was aware of, was awareness itself, on the heels of which quickly came a sense of self.

The next thing he was aware of, was something that was not light; it wasn't a counterpoint to light, but it was different from the light. Sound.

The awareness of light and sound danced around his sense of self, until he found a sense of form, of presence.

Something in the sound affected him, and the fledgeling awareness of being affected morphed into the awareness of being moveable, and of motion.

In trying to fully absorb the awareness of motion, the light was blocked, and he became aware of darkness, comparisons, counterpoints...

And emotion.

Awareness began to grow into understanding.

The light was... everything. It, and the sound, were the beginning. They were important.

They were wondrous.

And oh, how he now wondered.

He could understand the sound, now. With this new sort of understanding, his awareness and understanding of other topics grew, much more rapidly.

"I am Alan-One. I am your User, and you are my Program."

– he was identifiable as 'program' 'he' 'you' or 'I' depending on circumstance –

"I have created you for a purpose."

– made of different pieces, arm, leg, head, torso, they were blank, but even as he watched, struggling to see, to acknowledge anything beyond that glorious light, lines bright with light sprang into life across his body, blazing briefly with his light, until it shifted, became his own, and his world had color

"You are a security program; a protector. You're different from other security programs, though. Unique."

– and touch, against his feet, flat and smooth, something that was neither he nor him, something else, other, and the concepts of 'floor' and 'room' fostered growth, to 'position' and 'location', awareness extending beyond just himself, kindling eagerness, until he became part sound himself – or made sound? – though it lacked any of his articulation or influence, and then there was all –

"You will be able to run completely independently. Without specific instructions of everyone and everything that is harmful, you will learn to identify threats and unauthorized access, and how to combat them. You will fight for us."

– grew a counterpoint to his expanding knowledge, an understanding of how much he didn't know, definite boundaries compared to infinite unknowns, and size, numbers, he was one, small, and there are comparisons to make, and in them he finds uncertainty, and "How will I know what to do?..." –

"I will teach you."

A calm joy settled over him. Something in the light changed; the sound – the voice of the User, his User, Alan-One – begins to fade.

"We will begin your training the next time I contact you. Until that time, familiarize yourself with your new system... TRON-JA-307020."

The light and sound faded away.

Standing there, waiting, the concept of time, and its passage, developed within him.

He was Tron; he was a program, and he would learn to fight for his User.

1010100101001010011111001110

He'd been too early before, but now Alan was running late.

He cast one last look over the progress he'd made on the new program – he'd gotten farther than he'd expected on the Tron program, but who knew when he'd next have extra time to work on it – then saved everything to the servers and turned off his computer.

Answering cursory calls of 'good night' and 'see you tomorrow' with similarly cursory responses, he shrugged into his jacket, popped the last few decent pieces of popcorn from his bowl into his mouth, munched on them while dumping out the few bits of inedible kernel that always gathered in the bottom of the bowl, and hurried off.

Dr. Baines had finally agreed to go to dinner with him tonight, and he didn't want to be late.

1010100101001010011111001110

Just as he was about to exit the I/O Tower, he received a ping, and from the Tower Guardian herself, no less. There was no attached information, though, so he hesitated just long enough to smooth out his tunic – soft gray fabric encasing his platform from shoulders to knees, with a blue belt to match his circuitry; it marked him as a program still under development – and to run his hands through his... hair, it was called hair, at least, he calculated that was correct. Satisfied by his overall visual presentation, he turned and walked back to the Guardian.

He could feel his processes cycling the extreme of his operational tolerances, even as he fought to keep his visual output calm and professional, like a fully developed program. His calculations of success, however, were inaccurate due to the variable that was the Guardian. She was striking in her elaborate robes and headpiece, and he was stricken.

She offered him a small, somewhat distracted smile.

His regulator may have skipped.

"Program," she began, hands still fluttering over the controls of her raised-yet-sunken workstation without pause, "Thank you for returning; I have a request to make of you."

He grinned, the urge to burn off a sudden power upsurge by bouncing in place restrained by only a 1.965% margin in favor of maintaining the emulation of full development; how else could the very appealing Tower Guardian regard him seriously? "Your request is my imperative, oh wise and beautiful Guardian; how can I assist you?"

His inner processes nearly crashed; what was wrong with his communications systems to come up with something so... pathetic?

The Guardian, however, was smiling a bit wider now; one of her hands took the long path to gesturing behind her, by way of a gradually curling lock of hair that had slipped free from under her headpiece, only moving on once the curl had been manipulated into a tighter spiral. "There's a program idling in port 3, newly written. Could you take him with you to the Alpha Directory? I would escort him myself, but I can't leave my station at this time."

She thought he was still in alpha; he couldn't calculate a consensus on whether that was an embarrassing assessment of his newness, or a compliment toward his projected complexity. He decided to operate as appropriate for the second option, and pulled his frame 1.2° straighter, "My User just transitioned me into beta, but I can help the little Alpha out still; the Beta Directory is adjacent to the Alpha Directory –" which she must already know; every program went through there in the beginning, "so it's in my course projection. Um. I'm free to go inside now, right? To fetch it, er, him, or her?" How far into alpha was the null unit, anyway? He refrained from asking only because the Guardian would likely take offense at the term, even if he wasn't using it spitefully.

"Of course," she replied, tapping the controls one more time, before going still as he made his way past her. He wasn't coming for Communication, so he remained silent as he made his way to port 3. Inside, he saw the new program; he was wearing a tunic similar to his own, with the addition of an optional hood – not all programs in alpha had a complete render yet, so it was easier for all programs involved if the alpha had the means to hide the gaping holes in themselves – though he looked to have a full render, and didn't need it. He had a male frame, and blue circuitry, so they had some things in common, at least. When it came to the specifics of dimensions and characteristics, however, they were opposites or near-opposites in almost every way.

The most obvious difference was in their current expressions; his expression was an extension of the calm professionalism from before with the very appealing Guardian – and he should have asked for her designation – while the new program's was openly awed – and perhaps slightly intimidated – by, well, everything. The alpha hadn't seen him yet – too busy staring at the wall, of all things – so he figured he might as well make his presence known.

"Welcome to the Grid, Program." He attached a transcript of the greeting to a ping, and sent it along as well; Users only knew how complete his communication processes were.

The program's face went through a series of interesting, if difficult to precisely define, expressions (the most precise he could manage was a mix of confusion, rapture, disappointment, and curiosity, but that still left 32.4% undefined). Once his expression had solidified into uncertain curiosity he opened his mouth and tried speaking; his speech was halting and distorted due to an incomplete render, but, oddly, as he spoke it lessened and smoothed out, so maybe it had just been a minor glitch. "I'm a program... and... you are also... a program?... This is a building?... I do not know what 'Grid' means... I'm waiting for my User to return; are you waiting also?"

"Whoa there; input overload," he replied with an amused huff. At least he now knew why the new program had been idling in here; he was waiting for his User to call on him again. His smile reset to his somewhat goofy default as he walked over to the alpha, and subtly began working to herd him off the platform; the new program watched his every move with a level of focus that would have been alarming, if not for the blatant curiosity and excitement he displayed. "To answer your query backlog, yes, yes, it's a name for the defined area this building is within, and no. I'm actually here to guide you to the directory for programs still in alpha testing; other programs need to be able use this port, and you can wait for your User there." Finally, the new program began walking, scanning each new line of circuitry and angle of wall geometry like he'd never seen anything like it, which, to be fair, he hadn't.

In the doorway of the Tower's main chamber, the alpha stopped to process everything; he emitted a faint sound similar to the rumble of an active Recognizer – either as evidence of his overclocking processors, a peculiar coding quirk to be worked out by his User as he's developed, or both – then turned to smile tentatively at him. "How will I know when my User will contact me again?"

"Your User will call out to you, young Program," replied the Tower Guardian; he immediately resumed his more professional display while she and the alpha were preoccupied. "You will either be drawn to an Input/Output Tower like this one to Communicate with him, or some other specific file or location, such as for Live Testing." She smiled as the alpha nodded and thanked her enthusiastically. "If you have queries or require clarification on a specific subject, most fully developed programs – and even some in beta – will be able to assist you."

"Like me," he couldn't help but add, even if his transition to beta was still too recent to be of that much help. The pleased smile the Guardian directed at him was just payment in advance for his offered services.

"And if he cannot," she continued, "Then you need only ask for directions to Guardian Era's I/O Tower, and I will assist you." The alpha went on to offer his thanks, and ask a few questions already, but his processes had just shifted tracks abruptly, and they didn't register as new or important information.

Her designation was Era.

His regulator definitely skipped that time.

Time to go, before he – or, more likely, the new alpha – did something to negatively impact her regard of him.

"Well, come on then; let's go and get you settled into the alpha directory." With that, he began herding the alpha to the exit like a cluster of wayward Bits. The Tower Guardian – Era, a simply perfect designation by his calculation – offered them a parting wave, which the alpha returned after a moment. On the subject of designations, though...

He tapped the taller program on a still-blank section of upper arm – which would probably be filled up with lines of circuitry by the time he was fully developed – to get his attention, or at least most of it. "Hey, friend; what's your designation, anyway? The directory's arranged alphabetically, so it'll be a lot easier to get you a place if I knew what section to focus on."

The alpha blinked several times with surprise, then smiled somewhat crookedly. "Oh, sorry. I'm Tron."

"Tron.. It suits you, I think," here, his smile went rather goofy again, "I'm Ram."

"I think yours suits you too, Ram."