Title: Lora in Laserland
Unofficially Adapted From: Steven Lisberger & co's Tron.
Spoilers & Desirable Foreknowledge: All of the above, though only explicitly for the first 31:30 minutes.
Warnings: Past bit death.
Characters & Pairings: Lora (x Alan mentioned in passing) & Yori (x Tron mentioned in passing) & Flynn (past x Lora mentioned in passing) & Master Control
Summary: Lora thought the potential applications of digitization were what made her research groundbreaking. Then the software went and staged a rescue mission.
Author's Note: Written for ExpositionFairy in the Tron Female Character Ficathon. This fic operates on the premise that the various conversations from one side of the computer screen to the other did not necessarily happen as literally as we were shown, but were vocalised as much as they were at least partly as a stylistic device.
Lora in Laserland
"You are gonna stay with me, aren't you?" Flynn whispered as they began their ascend into the laser installation.
Whether he intended it to sound conspiratorial or seductive, Lora couldn't tell. Nor could she resist the urge to roll her eyes. "What for? You're the one who never needed help, remember."
"Hey, come on, I – I'm scared of the dark, all this technology scares me. Come on, babe."
That, she didn't even dignify with a response.
He took the hint and only spoke up again three stairs and twelve catwalks later. "When did they put this in?"
"This is where I work now." Under different circumstances, she might have gloated. Just a little. "I've got a direct terminal in the laser target area. You can stay there all night if you have to."
Though she really hoped it wouldn't come to that. The sooner they got what they came for and hightailed it outta here, the less time security had to get suspicious.
Flynn settled in front of her terminal as if he didn't have a care in the world. "Like the man says, there's no problems, only solutions."
"Okay, remember, this laser is my life's work," she felt prudent to remind him. Just because she and Alan were risking their jobs and all three of them could go to jail if this night went south, didn't mean the digitizing project wasn't worth more than all of that combined. "Don't spill anything, huh? Have fun, sweetheart."
But as she made to leave, he caught her eye and leered. "If you stay you can keep an eye on your laser and enjoy the show at the same time."
"What, does Bradley need you to hold his hand?" he scoffed, turning back to the computer screen.
Lora leaned one hand on the desk and propped the other on her hip. "You know this kind of behaviour is why I broke up with you, right?"
But just like that, Flynn was too deeply engrossed in his hacking to notice her anymore.
"Hey hey hey, it's the big Master Control Program everybody's been talking about," he murmured, fingers flying across the keyboard.
With a sigh, Lora straightened. Flynn chuckled and made himself a little more comfortable.
"Now how are you gonna run the universe if you can't even answer a few unsolvable problems, huh?" he asked the computer. "Come on, big fella. Let's see what you've got. You know, you don't look a thing like your pictures."
Lora remembered this, the way he went on and on while he worked, talking to his programs like they were people. But that wasn't what kept her rooted to the spot.
It was the words scrolling across the screen. Flynn's commands, the computer's results or lack thereof – as well as the Master Control Program's end of what should have been a one-sided conversation. Like it could hear him. Understand him. She knew it was supposed to be advanced, but for it to talk back like it could think for itself...
Flynn didn't seem to notice a thing amiss with that scenario.
Nor with the mechanical whine that was building its way into her range of hearing right behind them.
Lora tore her eyes away from the screen.
"Games? You want games?"
"I'll give you ga–"
"Kevin!" Lora shrieked, throwing herself against him –
– just as the laser struck.
She retained consciousness just long enough to see Flynn scramble along the floor, away from her, horror written all over his face.
Waking up was a bit like being born. First came the knowledge hardwired into every program: designation, User, functions, directives, the workings of the system and the permissions and restrictions you had within it. Next, sight and sound and the other senses came online. Then: LoraB needs me.
But never before, Yori knew before the relevant memory banks had even started to reload, had the call been accompanied by her User's face.
For a while, all she could do was drink in the sight, and marvel. Dumont was right! she kept thinking. The Users really did create us in their own image. Oh, if Tron hears this –
Her history slotted into place, fully and abruptly. With that, her awakening was complete, and her processes froze.
Tron was on the Game Grid, fighting for survival. Dumont no longer spoke of the Users for fear of his life and functions. And Yori was coordinating the digitization of a User with no log of LoraB or Walter_Gibbs's authorization.
Just when she thought Master Control couldn't possibly have anything more heinous in store for the system, he set his sights on the Users themselves.
She wouldn't let him.
"Change target destination," she commanded the programs occupying the stations in front of her, strangers sitting where her sister algorithms and subroutines should have been. Low-powered, understaffed and tightly restricted, programs constantly reassigned to any random process that halfway matched their functions: that was the MCP's idea of a functioning system. "New coordinates..."
She hesitated – rejected the usual digitization storage chamber, the box-like cell she called her own since Tron's capture and the destruction of their home, the I/O tower; anything too obvious and any place she would want to greet LoraB in – then decided, and double-checked the absence of any reds before rattling off the numbers.
"Exclude new coordinates from all reports and delete from personal history," she added. She couldn't abandon her post until the process was completed, but that only meant she needed the head start even more. Yori stared at her User's digital blueprint and swallowed, trying to smooth out the spikes in her energy circulation. "And be extra thorough in your calculations. This one's important."
A single bit, lacking the good sense to abandon a sinking ship, remained where once they had flocked by the hundreds. Curled into a colourless sphere, it lay motionless in the shallow, dried-up energy pool that separated Yori from her User.
Slowly, guarded against sudden movements, Yori knelt down and picked the poor thing up. She ran her fingers along its perfectly smooth surface, scanning for damage, and let out a glad breath when she found none. Then, finally, she looked up.
There was tension in every line of LoraB's body, aggression in the set of her shoulders, fear in the press of her body against the wall. It made Yori's root code ache to be so close to her User, and yet so...
LoraB's eyes, wide behind her visor, shot from Yori's face to the bit and back. From the look she gave them, you'd think Yori was holding a light grenade. It made no sense. The Users had written the system and everything in it, they should know how things worked here.
Then again, Yori knew better than most the difference between running a calculation and seeing the resulting simulation with your own eyes.
"This is a bit," she provided.
LoraB's eyebrows furrowed.
"They're usually more lively than this, but it's gone into stand-by mode due to lack of energy," Yori went on, hoping that would trigger some recognition. "I think this one is wild, because the ones that swarmed this place usually were, but it could be a tame bit separated from its program. I don't know if there's a way to tell them apart. Do you?"
LoraB only tilted her head minutely.
"Nobody knows for sure where wild bits come from..." Yori went on, a subtle prompt.
Alright, then. Maybe Users were more like programs than most programs assumed, assigned to distinct functions and with limited knowledge of and access to other areas. Yori recalculated a bit and recalibrated her approach accordingly.
"...but the tame ones are usually compiled alongside programs. Bits don't have assigned functions, as such, but if you herd them right they can be useful for all kinds of things. And they make great companions," she finished, now explaining. "Tron used to have one. He's a singular program, with no brother functions or subroutines to share in his duties. Those types are particularly prone to bringing one or more bits into the system with them. But he – the MCP captured him, and his bit..."
Switched values feebly and trilled broken little no...no...no...s, though it was cracked nearly in half and derezzed at her touch with one last, failing yesss...
"Our Bit was lost. Tron doesn't know yet," Yori murmured, gaze flinching away. "It's going to break his heart."
"Tron?" LoraB whispered.
Blinking rapidly, Yori met her gaze and nodded. "My mate. A firewall."
LoraB's lips parted, her shoulders lowered, and she searched Yori's features with renewed vigour. "Who are you?"
"I'm your program, LoraB. I'm Yori."
Lora pressed the knuckles of one hand to her lips and brushed the fingertips of the other along the wall of their tiny little cave shelter. She was listening – by god, was she listening – but focussing on... Yori's... words alone was just not possible. Not when the tucked up leg that occasionally brushed her own burned like an electric blanket, hotter than any human and staticky to the touch, and Yori's every move sent reflections of her light-markings dancing across the crystalline cave walls.
The energy spring park was a calculated risk, Yori explained, still clutching her ball – er, 'bit'. Before the MCP, the sprawling network of pools had been a social and recreational hub for the programs of this domain, as well as a feeding ground for wild bits. Now there wasn't a soul, 1, 0, or drop of liquid energy to be found. It was off-limits, but apparently program-people were not the type to loiter, because lack of further interest in the dry springs meant no resources were wasted guarding them.
Yori looked alternately saddened, angered and embarrassed by the state of the place. A reaction which, according to some arcane leap of program logic, was supposed to offset all the great and obvious advantages of hiding here. Make it the place Yori was least likely to bring her great and mighty User. Lora would have to take her word for that – and she did, for reasons beyond comprehension, reasons so visceral they should have alarmed her, but she did – because honestly, it was a little hard to parse.
No graffiti, no rats or bugs, no dead leaves and other organic detritus piling up. Not even a single speck of dust. The boulders, pits and rocky plateaus comprising this vast, bizarrely sanitary maze looked like gigantic gemstones. Towers arose in the distance, seeming to defy gravity and gleaming in faint, mild benevolence even against the lightless sky. Before Yori showed up like something out of Invasion of the Body Snatchers, Lora had scaled a particularly tall cluster of rocks and caught glimpses of a city in the distance – or what she thought was a city, one unlike she had ever seen before.
Alien and lonely, yes, those would be words to describe what Lora had seen of Yori's world so far. But sooner to her tongue would be wondrous, and beautiful.
That said: decrepit or not, it was an open air spa slash water park used by tiny little people inside a computer. One such tiny computer person looking like her greyscale twin sister in a glow-in-the-dark catsuit and claiming to be the central component of the digitizing software she had developed for her research. And the Master Control Program that had become such a nuisance to the programmers trying to do their jobs on the other side of the screen, was a full-fledged conquering tyrant who put dissenters in gladiatorial death matches in here. None of this parsed very well.
'Some programs will be thinking soon.'
Oh, Alan, Lora thought. You have no idea.
Either that, or he'd given her brain the inspiration for this hallucination it was spinning to make sense of the errors Lora knew must have arisen in the conversion between her biological system and its new digital container. Not too long ago, every orange they aimed the laser at had gone splat!, after all. No way the computer was going to get a human brain right on the first try.
Part of Lora wondered why she was even considering a different explanation.
Another part recalled 'Sit right back, Flynn. Make yourself comfortable.', and 'Remember the time we used to spend playing chess together?', and other sentiments no computer program should have been able to produce. If this was nothing but a digital acid trip caused by the digitization process, it had started just a little prematurely.
"I wish I could show you our system as it used to be – healthy, thriving, productive..." Yori eventually trailed off.
And that, too, was a sentiment no computer program should have been capable of.
Yet it seemed so natural for Yori to, like all the pride and affection, all the hopes and dreams and ambition Lora had poured into writing and tweaking and updating her had always been equivalent to sharing excitement and frustration and accomplishments with another person.
All this time, she had thought the potential applications of converting matter to data – compact, unaging, rewriteable data – were what made their research so groundbreaking. But this... What the view of the computer's insides would be like for digital constructions hadn't even occurred to her.
Lora shook her head, trying to curb the overwhelming tide of her curiosity for the time being. "I wish you could show me too. But to do that, we'd have to get rid of the Master Control Program first, wouldn't we?"
Yori snapped right back to attention. "Can we – I mean, are we gonna..." She bit her lip, hesitating. But then her expression hardened. "I know you came here against your will, but you will help us, won't you?"
Despite the circumstances, a grin made its way onto Lora's face. She gripped Yori's hand – Yori clasped back with both of hers – and gave it a squeeze. "That's what my friends and I came to do, before I got zapped."
If the program wasn't already literally made of light, Lora would have said her smile lit up her entire being.
"I don't know what the guys are up to now, it must've been hours since I disappeared, but –"
"No, it's been about two microcycles since the digitization completed. That makes thirty seconds in User time," Yori said.
"O...kay." She started to question that, but stopped herself. Not the time. Just take the native software's word for it. Lora reconsidered, thoughts backtracking hard. "Well, then Flynn is probably still freaking out, and god knows what he'll do once he pulls himself together, but Alan should be upstairs by now –"
Again Yori interrupted, this time with a surprised: "Alan-One?"
Alan-One? Like 'Lorabee'? Oh, but this program language was cute. "Yes, that's his system ID."
"Tron's User!" Yori gasped in delight. "He'll help us too?"
"He's at his terminal right now, waiting for us to get Tron up and running so he can use it –" No, that wasn't right. Not now that Tron had turned out to be a him. "– so the two of them can shut the MCP down together."
Yori nodded, smiling grimly. "If there's any program that can help you defeat the MCP, it's Tron."
"Help us," Lora corrected. "I'm a stranger here, I'll need your help more than anything. If you're willing to give it."
"Always," Yori answered instantly. There was relief in her eyes, but also gratification – and something very akin to astonishment, to reverence.
Lora quietly added Yori to the list of people not getting hurt on her watch. But above that, she decided she would do anything within her power to deserve being looked at like that.
Yori, meanwhile, propped her chin on her fist and mused, "I wonder if being a User and having the power to grant programs authorization for pretty much anything means you have authorization for everything yourself."
"I wouldn't know until I tried. Why?"
"I have an idea that just might work, if only we could get our algorithms on a tank..."
PSAN: Hope the fic is to your liking, Expo! :D *promptly dies of nerves*