Tron knew when the alarm system was going off, even when he wasn't with the terminals at the main office, the same way he knew instinctively when Alan-One was trying to contact him from the User's world. It was a mental tug, pulling at him, and telling him to wake up, to get up and attend to whatever needed his attention. It was the way of most Programs. When their appointed function was to be done, they simply 'knew.' For some, the process could be a leisurely one, taking time to finish what they were doing at that moment before doing their designated function. For a Security Program, there was no room for error, no time to waste. It always brought him to full wakefulness instantly when it occurred during his rest cycle.
He untangled himself from the sheets in a hurry, tugging his armor on and knowing to take Flynn's lightcycle baton from the rack on the wall, where it rested on display with a myriad of others, all different, all holding different upgrades, and mobile configurations. He knew as instinctively as he knew the security alerts had gone off that the hit had been outside the Grid, that he would need the off-roading capabilities of his old friend's 2nd generation cycle.
The sound of his name whispered blearily from the bed made him turn and give a comforting smile to his companion where she lay, half awake and looking at him in confusion. It's nothing, just a hit on the radar; he would investigate and return before she was awake again. She smiled at the reassurances as he leaned in and pressed a gentle kiss to her forehead, her head already falling back to the pillow as she whispered a soft “be careful” up at him before she was asleep again.
Life on the Grid never stopped. Sam and Alan-One had once described the way Users worked in mostly-uniform shifts that coincided with the rise and fall of their 'sun,' the glowing orb of light high above them in the sky, which illuminated the world and made up for the absence of glowing circuitry. On the Grid, things worked differently. The streets were always active, and always filled with Programs as they went about their designated functions. When Tron stepped out onto the street and activated the cycle, the world around him was still a flurry of activity, despite the fact that it had been what the Users would have described as 'the middle of the night' for him. It wasn't until he neared the edge of the city that the crowds began to thin, until he was the only Program on the road, the lights of the city receding behind him as he left the completed path, entering the rocky terrain of the Outlands.
He corrected his course without a thought, following an internal compass created from the data transmitted to his consciousness through the very energy of the Grid, his eyes alert for any sign of what might be waiting for him. More often then not, it was little more then a stray gridbug that had crept out of the undeveloped regions of the dataspace. Rarely was it more then a nuisance in the system, the gridbugs had been kept under control relatively well since Sam and Alan had begun their round of upgrades.
He was surprised at how quiet things were, though, and how the drive stretched on and on, farther and farther into the undeveloped territory then he was used to going. He knew the area, though, he would have even if his internal functions hadn't told him the way to go. He recognized the angles of the cliffs around him, the way the canyon cropped up around him as he drove, and how the trail twisted and turned. With a growing sense of unease, he realized why he knew the path, his brow furrowing deeply under his helmet. He wasn't surprised when he found his trail ascending, winding in on itself as he climbed the Cliffside and found himself pulling to a stop at the dark arch of a cave entrance.
He hadn't come to Flynn's home since he'd brought the Users cycles ago. Though they used it as their 'home away from home,' the place had a bad habit of resurfacing memories that he felt were best left forgotten. Finding himself here, drawn by the call of his function, made his chest clench, apprehension fighting with his sense of duty.
He cast a glance over his shoulder as he lifted off the bike, the hatch opening to allow him to climb free. Where normally the presence of the Users on the Grid would be confirmed by a glowing spot on the horizon, he saw only darkness, telling him that whatever had triggered his system check, it was not Sam Flynn or Alan-One come for another visit. He turned back to gaze reluctantly back at the cave's entrance, some small part of him taking hold, telling him to go back. It wasn't important. He didn't have to go in. He didn't have to look again at the empty home Flynn had once intended for his wife and son, once the Grid had been 'perfected.' He almost listened to it, almost disobeyed his programming and exercised the free will his Creator had begun to gently insist he did have.
But the internal alerts telling him to investigate the location, that something was there - strong and persistent - made him stay and sent an uneasy tingle into the pit of his stomach. “Butterflies,” Quorra had called the feeling. A nervous flutter that felt more physical then emotional. An irrational type of fear for how it would feel to step foot in the Creator's home again, uninvited. Unwanted.
No, he couldn't ignore his programming. He couldn't exercise free will, not when it was Kevin Flynn's home that may have been invaded. He shoved down his trepidation as he stepped into the cave, holstering the baton at his thigh when he did. All around him, the silence made the air almost palpable, almost deafening where he wanted to hear sound. Voices, laughter, and the excited chatter the Creator had always insisted on throwing into every conversation; this home should have been filled with happiness. Not even the whine of the lift as it transported him out of the white-lit ‘garage,' another of Flynn's unusual words, helped ease the sense of wrongness he felt.
The common room was just as silent, dark and empty when he entered. He held his ground for a long pause, his eyes darting back and forth as he searched for the source of the alert. He sensed no movement, and no shift in sound to tell him where the trespassers were. Not even when he crouched to the ground, palm on the floor to illuminate the paths walked by the strangers he was looking for did he find a sign of another presence.
He paced the room, looking over everything he saw, comparing it to the memory he had filed away on it's layout, taking into account the fact that Sam and Alan-One would have moved things about as they stayed in the small home. The more he searched, the more frustrated he became, and it was hard to ignore the pang in his chest growing larger simply being in the old place and not finding something, anything to justify why he'd needed to come in the first place.
Everything reminded him of the past. The small, folding cubes that turned themselves into simply 'toy' bits reminded him of the old Grid; he, Flynn, and Ram whispering amongst themselves in their cells as they waited for the MCP to pull them for their next game; escaping with the two through the rift in the lightcycle grid wall; watching as his two companions had fallen, fearing he'd failed them both, and the relief later when Flynn had returned, safe and sound. He still felt the guilt for Ram's deresolution, though Flynn had always told him there was nothing he could have done. Ram had been a good Program, friendly, cheering him up when he'd felt nothing but rage at the MCP dragging him down into a dark place. Ram had been his only friend before Flynn came along. For Tron, it had given him one more reason to take down the MCP, together with the User who'd helped free him. He'd been victorious, and a small part of him had done it as much for Ram as for the Users, for the memory of a friend's life cut short.
Flynn's books drudged up memories of the User as he'd started the new Grid, smiling at Tron as he'd materialized into being in the new system, and clapping him on the shoulder as he'd looked around bewildered, looked down at himself and the new clothing configuration he wore. The way Flynn had laughed at him as he realized with a start that he couldn't see his own circuits through the material and experienced a strange sort of panic that the User had removed the sensory receptors before he realized they were merely hidden under the dark outfit. “Come on, Tron, you'd be a terrible security guard, glowing like a light-bulb! You need to be sneaky!” He'd seemed surprised when Tron had snapped at him, frazzled, that Programs communicated with their circuits, and conveyed emotion and gave intimacy to one another through their sensitivity. He hadn't realized. He'd made a fast adjustment to Tron's disk while he stood impatiently, activating a 'refresh,' and giving a curious, hopeful glance when the momentary flicker of unconsciousness it caused Tron had passed, letting him glance back down at himself to find the comforting glow returned – more subtle, a compromise with the Program that served all functions without compromising stealth.
Flynn had shown him the books, taught him to read the written User language, encouraging and boisterous when a particularly vexing User concept contained within the pages had 'clicked' in his head and begun to make sense. He'd enjoyed the pride it gave him to know that Flynn was so happy when he understood the foreign concepts. He hadn't know what to make, though, of the strange, tiny, flat decagonal shapes he'd called 'gold stars' and had teasingly stuck to his forehead, leaving him to peel them off, befuddled by the sticky 'adhesive' that made them cling to his fingers when he tried to shake them off. It had only made it worse when Flynn would laugh and pretend to be helpful, plucking them off his hand for him, only to stick them back to his face.
He wondered what had happened to the sheets of 'stars' Flynn had had. There used to be so many of them.
He paced the adjoining rooms, searching high and low, determined to find the source of the alert, and the memories making his patience short. Under the beds. In the small closets. His hand stopped short when he found an old, familiar jacket tucked away in the back of one of them, black and worn around the edges, with the white circuit down the front dim and lifeless. He recalled his old friend standing beside him in the square, confusion creasing his brow as C.L.U issued his final treachery, when he set a trap into motion.
Betrayal, anger, fear for Flynn's life. All of those emotions had flared up in him as he'd moved to guard Flynn. He would protect him, and he would stop C.L.U from turning his back on the User, on their friend, on the Creator. It was his duty to protect the Users, to protect Flynn. In a way, despite the horror he felt as C.L.U's disk came slamming down from above, the betrayal and knowledge that he'd failed drawing a ragged cry from his lips, there had been a final thought, one final hope, that at least his own deresolution had given Flynn enough time to escape, so that he could leave the Grid while the portal was open and set things right, and rid their system of C.L.U. To protect the ones he worshiped so faithfully, even when Kevin Flynn had confused and frustrated him over the cycles, was the most important thing. Even if it meant he had to surrender his own life to do it.
He fought for the Users.
But C.L.U had not allowed him even that. He had not even given him the dignity of dying with honor. Instead, he'd stripped him of all he'd ever had.
Tron's breath hiccupped in his throat, his head pressing against the doorjamb as he dug the heel of his palm into his eye, fighting back the watering in his eyes. The memories of things he'd done as Rinzler raked themselves across his mind like claws, clear as the instant they'd occurred and bringing with them the sick feeling of satisfaction he'd felt each and every time. His User had healed him, Alan-One had erased the corrupted coding from inside of him and rid him of Rinzler, but there was nothing he could do to erase the memories. He worked hard to redeem himself, every day he strove to fight against his past. But his life had been spent as Rinzler for far longer then it had been spent as Tron. He had felt such pride as Champion for the Users, and as Kevin Flynn's friend, but in the end, he had hunted him down and tried to derezz the only Family the Creator had left. Tron had given him a shoulder to cry on when his wife had died, and then tried to destroy his son when he’d finally arrived on the Grid; he had handed Flynn’s most precious Program, the beautiful last Iso, over to the virus that had betrayed them all.
In the end, he'd helped C.L.U destroy everything he stood for. Though he'd tried to put a stop to things, remembered himself when it was already too late, and had attempted to derail C.L.U even if it meant deresolution – true, permanent deresolution this time – before he could kill Flynn, the Iso, and his son, he'd failed. C.L.U had won, even if it destroyed him in the process. He had murdered his friend, his own User, the one who cared for him as his true Creator had and depended on him for protection in turn. And in the end, Tron had helped.
It was a guilt he felt every millicycle of his life.
Tron hated this place. It hurt to be here, empty and desolate where it should have been filled with Flynn and his family, his son and the strange thing he called “Marv”. Even when Sam and Alan-One came to the Grid, bringing Quorra and Lora Baines with them, the house was missing the one User it was truly meant for. It was not a home without Kevin Flynn.
To know that he could never truly make amends haunted him. They had forgiven him, Alan-One, Quorra, and Sam – so like his father; so had Lora, the sweet, kind User who had created the Program who had once been his companion so many cycles ago. Even Nim, the lovely Program who'd stood at C.L.U.'s side, rectified and subservient to him, and had seen him at his most brutal as he'd destroyed innocent lives for C.L.U. Yet the guilt was inescapable. Kevin Flynn would never know how sorry Tron truly was for what he'd done. C.L.U had stolen that from him, as well.
Tron let himself slip down against the doorjamb at his shoulder, drawing his knees up to his chest and burying his face in the crook of his arm as he gave into the ache he felt welling up inside of him. It had been so long since he'd given into the memories, cycles since he'd let himself cry. Now, he couldn't stop, and he wrapped his free arm over his head as if to shut out the rest of the world. Ten cycles of guilt flooded out of him as he cowered, half hidden in the closet beneath that jacket. His suffering intensified at first, the thoughts rolling through his mind relentless in their assault.
After a time, he felt the pain in his chest ebb, leaving with the tears, until catharsis washed over him in a soothing wave.
He stayed that way for a long while, just listening to the silent house around him as he traced his fingers through his own hair absently, finding comfort in the feeling even if Nim wasn't there to do it for him the way she usually did, when he worked himself too hard and the stress threatened to overtake him. He peered an eye out from behind his arms, staring at the floor beside him, and studied the lines hatching away from him.
He detected a delicate sound, almost too low to be heard, but his ears picked it up. The soft 'tip-tip-tip-tip' confused him, and his brow furrowed as he brought his hand down, knocking something above his head with his fingertips. Glancing up, he saw a small strand of ivory-white beads dangling from the pocket of his friend's old jacket, swaying softly. He reached up, his fingers letting them tap gently against their lightly armored surface - the source of the sound – and he straightened up, pulling them slowly, and carefully, down. He recognized them vaguely, remembering the first time he'd seen them, wrapped around Flynn's wrist. “Prayer beads,” He’d explained. Something User held when they wanted their voices to be heard by their 'higher power.' By their deities. It made more sense now, looking back. Sam and Alan-One had explained the concept of User deities to him, in an attempt to help him understand Users more easily.
He felt the edges of his lips twitch gently, a sad smile pulling at his features. He could imagine Flynn's reaction to finding him huddled in the corner, wallowing in his self-pity. “Hey, man, what happened? You don't look quite like yourself. Cheer up, buddy!” Always so upbeat, and ready to step up when he knew something wasn't right and make it so. He had never let Tron stay unhappy; not when he'd found Tron crestfallen over failing to protect Ram; not when Yori had left him; Flynn didn't let his friends face their troubles alone.
He rolled the beads in his fingers, listening to them 'click-click-click-click' as he counted them silently. And as he whispered a gentle, “I'm sorry, Flynn. I'm sorry.” He felt as though maybe the Users had a pretty good idea with these 'prayer beads.'
Maybe if it let their deities hear their prayers, wherever Flynn was, he would hear Tron's.
Maybe now, he could make amends.