Rating: PG, or PG13 for some language
Pairing: None yet, but no slash and all canon except for 2, one only implied.
Summary: Two months have passed since Sam returned from the Grid. When the digital world attempts to reach out to him again, Sam finds himself forced to face the hatred and distrust he feels for the Programs his father cared for so strongly.
Author's Note: This is unfinished, and there'll probably be a new intro once I get a chance to finish it up and amend the beginning. Just wanted to get some of it out there for you guys to read. :>
The look on Quorra's face illustrated her own uncertainty quite well. She didn't seem able to decide on worry or optimism. It was obvious that after years of listening to his father's stories about Tron and her own experiences on the Grid in the years before C.L.U's insurgency - when Tron had been a hero, a champion for the Users and the Programs alike - that she was happy to have heard he might have reached out from the Grid to contact them in hopes of mending his previous deeds. But she had faced Rinzler alongside Sam, and the same suspicions he had were obviously playing through her mind as well.
Still, the only real hesitation she expressed was the one about Sam going in by himself. Oh, she understood his reasoning well enough. If he weren't back before the digitizer deactivated itself, she would reactivate it and keep the portal open for him on the other side. He wouldn't be caught stuck in the Grid the way his father had been. He'd learned his lesson the hard way.
"It just doesn't feel safe..." She mumbled softly as she stared at the old digitizer as it powered up. Sam sighed, shaking his head, unable to disagree with her.
"I know, I know. But...what if he's not lying? Aren't you curious to see what's become of it all? I haven't been able to get it out of my head since we came back. I want to go back. If it's safe now, think of what we could do! I want to finish my Dad's work, right this time."
She seemed torn, nodding in agreement but unable to hide the lingering doubt in her eyes.
"I know, Sam. Just...be careful, alright? We both know how dangerous Rinzler is. Or...was." Sam smiled at her, kissing her forehead affectionately and drawing a gentle laugh from her lips.
"Then let's hope it really is Tron I spoke with earlier. Trust me, I'll be fine. Now get clear. I don't want you to get hit with this thing when it activates. I don't know what the radius of the beam is."
He waited until she had stepped to the farthest corner of the room, nodding to him weakly before he activated the digitizer, and in an instant he was back in the dark, glowing Grid-copy of his father's arcade office. He took a moment to get his bearings, glancing around him and was instantly relieved that an ambush hadn't decided to make itself known just yet.
"Alright. So far, so good..."
He made his way slowly through the building, feeling a heavy reluctance to leave the safety of the four walls. He knew, though, that now that he was here, the only real escape he had would be returning through the portal, far overhead. He couldn't do anything sitting in the middle of an abandoned Grid building.
The sight that met him when he stepped out into the light of the streets was much different then the one he'd seen upon his first arrival. Whereas before, the sector had been abandoned and desolate, now it was filled with Programs moving to and fro, speaking to one another, carrying containers of the strange, glowing, energizing blue drink he'd tasted when he first came to the Grid.
The streets were lined with ribbons of light and the entire area seemed to be teaming with life that was completely at odds with what he'd known before. Lightcycles and lightrunners hummed down the streets in an otherworldly imitation of Los Angeles traffic on it's good days, and he couldn't help but smile despite himself as a strange sense of pride overcame his earlier worries. This was the world his father had made, working as it should be? Was this what he'd envisioned? None of the programs seemed to hold any fear, they seemed happy and energetic. It was hard to believe that only two months ago, it had been so very different.
It took him a moment to realize the only thing that was missing from before; all around him, different shades of green and blue and pale violet glowed against the dark backdrop of the world, punctuated by glimmers of pure white. Whereas before, the streets had been filled with foreboding red and orange and dark yellow, now those shades were nowhere to be seen, and it made him pause. If CLU's forces had been washed in shades of red and gold by way of their corrupted coding, then none of them seemed to still remain. It helped to soothe his worries even further before a single point of visual distinction finally caught his eye.
In the sea of movement, as waves of programs ebbed and flowed around it, a single lightcycle and rider sat motionless and helmeted, white diodes glowing on it's uniform that became unsettlingly familiar the more he looked. He felt the uneasy knot reform itself in the pit of his stomach as the form he knew as Rinzler seemed to stare back in his direction, and they stayed that way for a long moment. Neither moved or looked away from the other, tension hanging almost tactile between them. There was no denying that they were both aware of the other, yet neither was willing to make the first move.
Finally, the moment was too much for Sam and he raised his hand in a weak wave, a feeble sign of recognition. The helmeted head bobbed gently in return and the form stood slowly, deactivating the cycle and sheathing the baton at his thigh. Sam found himself checking for his own baton as he watched the program walk over, a moment of fear sending his fight-or-flight instincts into the forefront of his brain. But he forced it down, simply watching his every movement for the first sign of an attack.
The time it took him to cross the busy street to stand before Sam seemed to take hours, and when he finally came to a halt in front of him, Sam found that the sudden realization that he stood a few inches taller then the User didn't help the uneasiness he felt. When the tangible silence lingered between them even longer – punctuated only by that ominous, garbled buzzing sound he remembered so well from his first encounters with the Program that seemed to be a permanent trait - he found himself swallowing hard. But he didn't budge, held his ground firmly, unwilling to give in to the fear he felt. He wouldn't allow himself to be struck in the back should Rinzler decide he would rather continue their previous feud, nor would he allow his own fear to weaken any attempts at diplomacy should Tron truly seek to reconcile with him.
The program was the first to move, his hand lifting haltingly towards the Identity Disks held in the socket between his shoulders, and Sam jerked back, his own hand shooting to reach for his own weapon. Rinzler froze, his free hand lifting, palm towards Sam in a placating gesture, and they both stood frozen, staring at one another.
"Easy, Samflynn..." a familiar, curiously comforting voice whispered out of the helmet, and he watched as the other's hand moved slowly to pull the disk from it's socket before holding it out, deactivated and held flat.
Sam stared first at it and then back up at the helmeted face skeptically for a long moment, his own hand still held ready to draw his own disk. As if to prove himself truly harmless, Rinzler separated the disk from it's twin, offering both to him once more in a sign of submission.
"I don't want your fear, Samflynn. I just want to talk."
Sam stared at him suspiciously for a moment before the extended hands lifted once, reinforcing the offer of disarmament, and he finally pulled away from his own disk, reaching out tentatively and gripping them before, perhaps expecting the weapons to be pulled away at the last second, yanking them away a little harder then he'd intended. The program's hands dropped to his sides as he watched Sam look them over as if searching for a sign of treachery on their surface, and then the moment had passed as he folded them back together again, hanging them around his arm for safe-keeping.
"So...I'm here. What do you want to talk about?" The helmet turned to glance down the streets around them silently before Rinzler turned to walk towards the curb, leaving Sam to follow curiously behind.
"I would prefer we speak in a more private location. Please follow me." He watched as the other retrieved his baton from it's holster and activated his lightcycle. When he made no move to do the same, Rinzler turned to look at him expectantly. They stared at one another before finally he sighed, activating his own cycle. He didn't know that he preferred a private conversation himself, but he told himself he could always change his own course should the drive take them into territory he didn't feel comfortable exploring.
"Alright, I'll play your games for now."
"No Games, Samflynn, I won't make you go through them again. I have no desire to repeat my previous conflict with you." He frowned in confusion for a second, about to reply, but the cycle the Program drove was gone before he could, leading him down the street, and he sped off to catch up. At least he was able to take solace in the fact that Rinzler hadn't activated the light wall behind the cycle as they drove.
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
The journey through the Grid was a lot different then before. Of course, this time he wasn't being chased by Recognizers or guards. But even apart from that, he noticed instantly that the shape of the buildings had changed. The angles and lines seemed sharper, blockier, though still strangely pleasing to look at. It occurred to him that much of it was caused by a specific geometry. All of it seemed to be wholly structured and nothing aside from the number of programs collected at any given time was random. It should have made sense, of course. The Grid was a world made up of computer programs and ruled by mathematics. Still, after seeing the sweeping, flowing lines of the previous configuration, it seemed almost strange.
It didn't take long for them to reach the destination his guide had in mind, and when they pulled to a stop in front of the tall structure, he realized he was standing at the largest spire at the center of the Grid. Rinzler made no sound as he disengaged his cycle once more and started up the steps of the building, obviously suspecting Sam to follow. Once inside, Sam found himself surrounded by what looked for all intents and purposes like the Lobby of the Encom tower. All around them stood what looked like guards, but they shone with white circuitry and spoke politely to Programs as they walked by. The only way to distinguish them from the "civilians" was the glowing staves they held at their sides and the thick, armor-like gear they wore. It was an altogether different feeling then CLU's Black Guard had radiated.
Rinzler approached what looked like a copy of the receptionist's desk at Encom and Sam was slightly surprised to notice by the unexpected sight of short, dark hair that he'd retracted his helmet into the collar of his suit. It hadn't occurred to him that the helmet was even removable, though it was a silly thought in retrospect. Without the muffling distortion caused by the helmet, his voice came clearly, bouncing off the walls as he greeted the Program seated behind the desk, easy to understand despite that constant garbled buzz he made. The strange sense of Deja-Vu hit him again when he heard him speaking. Was there any news? Nothing from Gamma sector about the Memory Redirect? Alright, thanks. It was a conversation that was so disjointed from what he expected that he almost let himself forget that he was looking at the same Program who'd tried to "derezz" him, his father, and Quorra only 2 months before.
"Samflynn, this way." Though it was spoken almost on a whisper, he heard it clearly, snapping him out of his sense of disorientation, and he followed after him once more to a transparent elevator-like lift.
He watched him enter the open doors and turn, and for the first time, he saw Rinzler's face as the Program turned to wait for him to enter after. At once, the familiarity of his voice made perfect sense, and as the doors shut behind him, he couldn't help but give an exclamation of...surprise? realization? Or perhaps irritation at himself that the thought hadn't occurred to him before. It was strange, looking at Alan Bradley as he had looked when Sam was still a child. He was used to gray hair and glasses and crow's feet, but instead, Rinzler appeared younger and didn't seem to have the same issues with nearsightedness his Creator had. He'd always known CLU had been a visual copy of his father, Kevin had always seemed so proud of creating "a Program in his image." But Sam had always thought that was a trait unique to him alone. His father hadn't ever mentioned the resemblance Tron had to "Uncle Alan."
When the surprise had subsided, he realized that his own reaction had somewhat startled the Program, the vocal outburst making him jump and eye the User for a perplexed moment. The look that settled on his face was a strangely irritated stare out of the transparent walls as they traveled upward. He shifted on his feet, crossing his arms in an awkward silence as his head turned so that his face was partially obscured from view by the strange, shiny-black shield he wore over one eye that extended to cover part of his cheek and all the way up past his hairline, partially obscuring his ear. What had only an instant before been a quietly nonchalant demeanor had become someone prickly. It made the hair on the back of his neck stand on end; an edgy Rinzler set him on edge in return. What had spurred the change in mood evaded him, however, until he recognized the signs of damaged coding peeking out from under the edges of the shield in small places. He realized what he was looking at was apparently a glorified eye-patch concealing a digital scar that seemed to extend from the Programs face down to his ear where it ended in small, jagged, cubical edges where part of it was missing.
Programs could be vain. That much had been obvious with his encounters with CLU. He supposed it stood to reason that they might feel the need to cover their "defects" the same as a human would when they received a disfigurement. He realized with a little shame that the change in demeanor of the other was probably caused by his reaction and a misconception that it was shock at his damaged coding. It made sense. A user would have felt indignation had a stranger jumped in horror at seeing their disfigurement. The thought made him blush, and he stuffed his hands in his pockets awkwardly.
"Jeeze, you look just like Alan. I guess all Programs look like their writers? I thought CLU was unusual like that." His attempts at explaining the moment away seemed uncomfortably forced to his ears. Nevertheless, it seemed to draw the other out of the shielded stance he had adopted just a little. He glanced at Sam quickly with a somewhat curious look, shifting on his feet again.
"I don't know about all Programs. But...Kevinflynn did mistake me for Alan1 when he first came to the Grid. And he mentioned a resemblance between Yori and Dumont and their creators as well." Sam nodded in reply, though he didn't recognize the names given. He felt no real need to ask for clarification, and the conversation ended in a slightly-less-awkward silence that lasted until the lift came to a stop and the doors opened.
Rinzler led him out into a large room. All around them, the walls were lined with large screens displaying locations around the Grid, and in the center of the room was a massive, semi-circular "computer" station. Smaller terminals were set up all around the walls, each of them displaying a different set of readouts that scrolled constantly. Rinzler moved about the room quietly, reading things on one screen before moving to the next, sometimes typing away at keyboards that worked on layouts Sam didn't recognize. He supposed QWERTY wouldn't make much sense to Programs on the Grid, either.
"Make yourself at home, Samflynn. This will only take a moment."
He glanced around curiously and finally spotted a small section of the room that held a small table and set of chairs, a tiny shelf nestled in the wall and what appeared to be a glorified futon pushed against the wall.
"You live here?" He couldn't help but be mildly curious. Programs had concepts of leisure and "home," he knew. Quorra had described the differences between User and Program homes after she'd seen his own sparse dwellings by the pier. This didn't look like what he'd imagined, though. It looked like more of a surveillance station then anything that could be considered "cozy" even by Grid standards.
"As of late. Once things stabilized, I went back to work doing the functions my User originally intended me for. Sometimes I become too...focused, and I work too late. I find it easier to spend my off-hours here as well." Rinzler kept his eyes on the monitors as he spoke in a matter-of-fact tone. He seemed tense about the whole conversation, as if he were only saying what he had to.
As he approached the small living area, Sam recognized the pieces set around the room and immediately felt sick to his stomach. He didn't know if it was anger or sadness that made him snarl at the Program as he crossed in front of him, leading towards the small shelving unit.
"You took these things out of my Dad's house in the Outlands! You looted his stuff!" It seemed the only thing that wasn't a part of Kevin's apartment in the room was the small bed. The chairs sat facing one another and the claw-footed sofa sat to the side of them, facing the coffee table between the three seats. The shelf was filled with a number of the old books, the mantle clock, candlesticks. And it angered him to imagine the Program rooting for trophies in his father's things after he was gone.
His survival instincts might have done well to keep his temper from flaring up the way it had, and when he reminded himself just who the other was, he took a step back, unconsciously preparing himself for a retaliation to his accusations. At first, Rinzler didn't seem to react, and merely continued on his path to the shelf, kneeling down to dig through a hidden drawer near the floor.
"I didn't want Kevinflynn's creations to be lost forever. I'd never seen anything like the things he had. Everything we've built since we retook the Grid from CLU's forces is so different from what the creator made." Through his anger, Sam realized that though the Program was trying to act nonchalant, the voice that mumbled out of the shelf sounded anything but. It wasn't anger he spoke with, but a barely-contained upset. It was something he hadn't expected.
Silence lingered between them uncomfortably until Rinzler finally stood to his feet and turned, a deactivated Identity Disk held in his hand. Sam jumped back, pulling the dual Disks the Security Protocol had given him earlier from his arm and slipping into a defensive position. But he wasn't met with an attack and instead found the weapon being offered to him the same as before, a forlorn gaze staring back at him.
"We found this in the rubble of the Portal tower when it was searched. It was CLU's. I...had hoped you would be able to confirm what's held on the last memory file." When he was met with a confused, dumbfounded stare, Rinzler simply activated the data on the disk, sifting through the images and clips of digital memories until freezing it on a glimpse of Sam and Quorra standing in the Beam, looking terrified and filling the image's view. Sam felt the blood drain from his face when he realized the "memory" that had been captured.
"You see...the file...ends before we can fully discern what happens. I have no doubts CLU was derezzed. That's why it ends, and why we found the Disk in the first place. But there's no way for us to tell what happened to-"
"I can't tell you for sure what happened to my Dad. Quorra said later he once told her the energy needed to create CLU would kill him if he tried to erase him. One of those laws of physics. Energy doesn't go away, it just changes form. Or something like that, I can't remember. He told her the electrical discharge needed to derezz CLU would...tear him apart."
They stared at one another for a long moment, and Sam found himself reminded of all the hurt he'd tried to recover from over the past two months. He had been without his father for 21 years. He should have been able to get over the real loss of him now. And he tried to tell himself he was doing good, that he was alright. But he knew it was a lie. It hurt like Hell.
He had never thought he would see the same thing he felt reflected in the eye of the Program who had helped take his father away from him to begin with. Looking up at him now, though, there was no way he could believe the horror on Rinzler's face was an act to earn his trust. That face was too human. It looked too much like the man who'd raised him after his Dad was gone.
"The last thing I saw was CLU derezzing and then a flash of light when we went up the Beam. I can't tell you anything else." He would not apologize for his lack of knowledge, though it was the instinctual thing to do. Not to Rinzler at least.
The Program lowered his head, his mouth twisting itself in a frown as he stared at the Disk in his grip. His hand shook when he reached up, deactivating it and grasping it tightly, his muscles tensed as if he were trying to snap it in two.
"I had my suspicions." He whispered, turning and pacing across the small living area, the frown on his face deteriorating into a snarl before he cried out raggedly, flinging the Disk away from him. Sam ducked as it ricocheted off the floor, the far wall, the ceiling, and finally smacked harmlessly, still deactivated, against Rinzler's arms as they shielded himself from the wild projectile he'd let loose.
The silence that lasted afterward was intimidating to say the least. Sam stared at him from his crouch behind the sofa, watching him as he panted, his hands fisting and unfisting at his sides. Sam held the glowing, humming Disks at the ready, though the last thing he wanted was to have to face down the volatile Program.
The strange buzz Rinzler constantly emanated rose in volume, filling the air and taking on a strange sort of static in it's pitch. With it, a dazed expression crossed the infuriated Program's face and he swayed as he brought his hands to his face, the diodes in his uniform fading and flickering gently for an instant, flashing yellow on moment before blinking back to white. He stumbled back weakly, groaning audibly through the buzz before sinking to the ground, his diodes flickering out completely.
Sam stood, his feet echoing loudly in the silence. He approached the prone form cautiously, standing a safe distance away. Rinzler didn't move, not a twitch or a sound, and finally satisfied he wasn't waiting for the User to get close enough to try for an attack, he stepped forward to kneel beside him and rolled him onto his back, found himself met with a blank, unconscious stare.
"System crashed, huh? Great. Too bad for you I don't know enough about your coding to try and fix it."
He sighed to himself, glancing down at the two disks he'd been given and wondering which one would start Rinzler's system reboot. Did it even matter? He wasn't sure enough how Identity Disks worked, let alone how a Program with two of them functioned as opposed to the others. But then as if to answer his unspoken question, the disk in his left hand began flashing slowly, pulsating expectantly. Alright, so that seemed to be as good a guess as any.
He rolled the offline Program back onto his side and locked the disk into the socket on his back and was rewarded by the white illumination of his diodes as they faded back to life. He waited a moment, watching him to see if his systems would reboot quickly, and when they didn't, he sighed softly again, frowning in irritation before lifting Rinzler under his arms, grunting in the effort of lifting him off the floor to the sofa. Once he was safely seated, staring sightlessly at the far wall, Sam resigned himself to one of the adjoining chairs to wait.
"I should just leave your ass here and go home...For all I know, you just wanted to get me here so you could get Dad's disk from me. Probably planning to finish what CLU started." Filling the room with his irritated chatter helped ease a bit of the unsettling stillness around them. And if it let him vent the frustrating thoughts running through his head, then it killed two birds with one stone.
"You know, the way Quorra talks, my dad was pretty upset when he thought you died. Mourned and everything, if you can believe that. You'd think you were his friend or something. People do that for friends, you know." The more he talked, the angrier he became. It was as if putting the betrayal he felt for his father's death into words made it easier to hold onto, made it grow. The fact that no answer was forthcoming from the rebooting form made no difference to him.
But then every time he glanced back up at the face that stared so unsettlingly back, he felt a little of the anger deflated. Why did he have to have that face? Alan had been there for him for so long, he'd been the only family that he had had when his grandparents had died. He'd been a father to him after his own had gone missing. It made this just that much more frustrating for Sam.
He huffed softly, crossing his arms defensively in front of his chest, forcing himself to stare at the monitors on the wall and ignore the mental images Rinzler's state gave him of Alan in a similar way, broken and defenseless, at the mercy of whomever was nearby.
"You don't turn on your friends, Rinzler. You don't hunt them like a dog." He tried to hold onto the same level of anger he'd started with, but it had already started to ebb. He growled irritably under his breath. "You are damn lucky you look like Alan. Derezzing you would feel like derezzing family. Why'd you have to take off that damned helmet?"
"I never should have asked you here..." He glanced up, mildly surprised, and a little embarrassed. Rinzler sat staring at the floor near his feet, his reboot complete His rage seemed abated, replaced by the earlier melancholy it had overridden. Sam shifted uncomfortably, wondering how long he'd been back online.
"So...we're done throwing weapons around...?" Rinzler glanced up at him with a timid gaze before he was standing to his feet, walking over to retrieve CLU's discarded disk and tossing it onto his desk.
"I'm done, Samflynn. I apologize for my outburst. It won't happen again." Sam nodded in reply.
"So, why did you...what do Programs call it? Shut down? Black out? Blue-screen-of-death?"
"CLU's rectifications are hard to override. The corrupted coding is still hidden in my programming. There are times when holding it back is too much for me and I'm forced into a reboot."
"You can't just 'unrectify' yourself?"
"Only those with Administrative authorization can modify code, and CLU was the only Program who knew how to do it in the first place. Kevinflynn gave his knowledge of programming to CLU so he could build onto the Grid." Sam nodded thoughtfully. That seemed to make sense. “Alan-One did program me with an ability to heal corrupted coding in other Programs, but it's useless on myself.”
"So is that why you asked me here? So I could fix you?" Rinzler shook his head in denial, keeping his back to him, guarding his emotions from the User.
"No. I had thought...I had wanted to ask for your forgiveness for my actions. I was foolish. It's not a Program's place to ask anything of the Users. It was a mistake to think I could ask forgiveness from the Son of the Creator."
Sam frowned at the mood the conversation had taken.
"Let's please not talk about me like I'm Jesus or something, man..." Rinzler turned to look back at him in confusion.
"Like I'm Jesus. You know, 'Son of God' kind of shit. I don't need that kind of a jinx on my head." He was answered only with an uncomprehending gaze, a subtle shake of the head. "My dad never explained Gods?"
"Oh." They stared at one another as Sam pondered how to word his explanation in his head. "Well, it's kind of like how everyone keeps calling my dad the Creator. Most Users believe in a Creator. There are a lot of different ones, but...well, instead of one Creator for every User like Programs see us, there are large groups of Users who believe in each Creator. Kind of...like...how the Programs on the Grid all saw my dad..." The analogy was getting more and more uncomfortable the more he thought about it.
"Basically, they're called Gods, and the big one where I'm from is just 'God,' big G. He was supposed to have a son that came to our world to live with the Users. The 'Son of God.' The Son of the Creator. A lot of bad things happened to him. The Users killed him because they didn't believe in him and they didn't like others believing, either. We don't compare ourselves to him, it's...I don't know. People don't like it. It's like you're saying you're as powerful as he is. I'm not a God, Rinzler."
The other was quiet for a time, mulling the information over in his head. Finally, he nodded, a ghost of a smile on his lips.
"I think I understand, Samflynn. CLU liked to compare himself to your father. No Program would ever compare themselves to a User, and those that have..." he shook his head, deep in thought for an instant. "Alright. I will refrain from calling you by that term."
An almost amicable silence lingered between them now. Sam couldn't find the ability in himself to give him the forgiveness he seemed to honestly want, but Rinzler seemed genuine in his resignation that he didn't deserve it, and therefore didn't expect it. Their moment of mutual understanding seemed to have cleared the air enough that they didn't feel quite as uncomfortable in each others company. It left room for Sam's curiosity to manifest itself again.
"So what do you do up here all day?"
"Surveillance. I keep an eye on the Grid, make sure things are running smoothly. Since we took control back from CLU's army, we've been left without a system Administrator, and no word from the Users until I managed to find a way through the Outlands." Sam watched as he walked over to one of the screens, hitting a button on the keyboard that brought up a view of a trail of light traveling along the ground that branched off like a geometric tree branch, leading into the side of the canyon wall through a series of cave entrances. "I'm the closest thing we have to an Admin now. I'm doing the best I can, but it's a lot of work. A lot of rebuilding. And we can't seem to rebuild it the way Kevinflynn wanted it. It's not as...he used the word 'organic'."
Sam moved to stand beside him, his eyes trained on the screen and the light-roads leading into the cliff-side. He wondered how he had managed to slip through into the Encom networks to contact him.
"Do those head out? Of the Grid, I mean."
"The Grid only consists of the Games Grid and Tron City. Everything else is the Outlands. These roads lead out of the Outlands." Sam eyed him dubiously, receiving a blank stare in return.
"It was Kevinflynn's idea."
"Oh. Ok. So...if they lead outside the Outlands, where do they end?" For the first time, Rinzler actually smiled. Not just the small quirk of the corners of his mouth, but a full grin.
"That's the thing. They lead to other Grids! I don't know what to make of it. This whole time, we had thought we were alone, but we're not! And they're so much larger then our own Grid is here! I rode for hundreds of cycles and never even saw the edge of the Central-Grid that joined them together. There were roads leading out of that Grid into countless others. I knew CLU had managed to find a way out of our world to contact your yours, but he never told me how. I think this was it." Sam couldn't help but be reminded of how the Europeans must have felt when they realized Columbus' route to the East Indies went so off course, leading them someplace entirely new and completely unexpected. "It took me hundreds of cycles to track down the right Program to show me how to find the Encom Grid to contact you. A “browser” Program named Opera. Apparently the Grids are so numerous, there are Programs that have been created specifically for navigating through them."
Sam couldn't help but snort in laughter despite himself. Oh, he'd suspected what the Security Protocol had been describing, but to have it confirmed, and with such naive excitement, was amusing. He received a perplexed pause for his amusement.
"Rinzler, you've found the web. The internet. Pop must have had the Grid connected through the old Telenet system so he could connect to the Encom servers if he needed to." It was obvious by the look on the Program's face that he was a little lost.
"Internet?" Sam nodded, smirking at him.
"Yup. I keep forgetting how obsolete your system would be now. If he hadn't been stranded here, I'm sure my dad would have upgraded your hardware as time went on. These days, every computer - every 'Grid' - is connected together. I guess yours was, too, after all."
Sam cringed as he realized his own slip. The reply hadn't held any malice or accusation, but there was an obvious hurt hidden in the quiet tone. It was hard getting used to the fact that the person standing in front of him, the world he was visiting now, was all held inside his father's old stone-age 1980's computer. He had just unintentionally belittled their entire existence.
"Well, the hardware is at least. I mean...well, everything you've done here seems to run perfectly from what I can see for what you need it for. But new technologies have been invented and new problems have been created, which means new upgrades have had to be made. Even the size of your Grid would have been expanded. I doubt you're running on more then a Megabyte of memory here. Probably only Kilobytes of space. We're running on Gigabytes and Terabytes now. And I'd be careful of the internet just yet. You did good finding me safely when you did, but there are a lot of new things, very bad things, that can come through from the other side. The setup you have here is alright for monitoring a small, closed Grid, but once you let the rest of the world have access, you'll be overwhelmed. You wouldn't know how to combat any of it. We constantly have to update our security programs out there, every day."
He could tell that the more he talked, the less helpful his apologetic explanation became. Still, Rinzler took it in stride, simply nodding in understanding before glancing back at the monitor, looking slightly like his digital puppy had been kicked.
"Understood. I'll start work on closing off the roads immediately. Thank you for the warning, User."
Sam sighed, rubbing the back of his neck. Whether he liked it or not, he realized he actually wanted to help the guy. It was that damned look, the same one he'd gotten from Alan every time he'd done or said something to upset the old man. And he'd been a difficult kid to raise, he knew. There had been plenty of those looks. It was strange how offended a parent could feel over the things a child said.
"Ugh, twist my arm, why don'tcha, man? Look, let me head back out to my world and I'll disconnect the connection until we can work on the upgrades. It's gonna be a lot of work, but if you want, we can get your Grid up-to-date." Rinzler looked at him with a combination of surprise and trepidation.
"You would help us? After-..."
"If you want the help, yeah. Hell, it'll give me something to do with my time. Besides...this is what dad wanted, right?"
Rinzler nodded gently before a soft smile returned to his features again. He held his hand out invitingly.
"Samflynn, I would welcome your assistance."
He stared at the hand for a moment, suddenly remembering he could very well have just made a deal with the devil, if experience was anything to go by. How did he know Rinzler wasn't just telling him the things he thought Sam would want to hear? He knew nothing about this Program other then what his father and Quorra had told him, and what had happened in their previous encounters. How did he know that he could trust him now, especially knowing that C.L.U.'s corruption still lingered? As far as Sam was concerned, nothing from C.L.U.'s reign could be trusted.
But then, he remembered how easy it had been for his father to rewrite the code in Quorra's programming when she'd been injured and an idea flickered into being in his head; a crazy idea, to be sure, and it would either earn the ire of the only family he had left, or blow his mind. How long had his dad held his secret from those around him, hoping to reveal it when he'd finally created the "perfect system?" He'd created C.L.U. because he couldn't do all the work himself. Sam doubted he could do any better, and he had no intentions of making the same mistakes his father had. Perhaps it was time to let the cat out of the bag and finally share the secret with someone else. Not the world, of course, not yet. Upgrades would be a big job for one person, after all.
So he smiled at Rinzler, reaching out and shaking the hand. The Program grinned at Sam, the perfect image of "Uncle" Alan when Sam had done something to make him laugh, only younger and hiding half of his face behind a mask. When the moment had passed, the reserved-but-curious gaze returned and he hummed softly in thought.
"Just...one thing, Samflynn. I know I haven't earned the right to ask favors of you, but I would like it if you would call me by my User-given name. I will never make up for the malfunctions of my past, but I would like to erase them from my life as much as I can. I no longer use the name C.L.U gave me, if it can be avoided."
"I guess that can be arranged. It makes no difference to me. Tron it is." Sam felt as if he could see a weight lift from the Program's shoulders, saw his smile coming just that much more easily. "But you gotta stop with this "Samflynn" nonsense. It's just Sam. You make it sound like some deep-fried junk food when you say it like that." His laughing request got a curious look before Tron smiled again, nodding back.
"Very well, Sam. Now, if you like, I can escort you back to the Portal."