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 Fanfic: Tron Invasion Chapter 13 (Part D- End chapter)


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Fanfic: Tron Invasion Chapter 13 (Part D- End chapter)

on Sunday, October, 06, 2013 4:23 PM
Jet and Morton ran across the deck, shooting down the rare Z-lot they encountered until they reached the engine deck, and that's when they heard it – sounds of screams and sounds of suffusion fire.

Then the Reco shuddered with a metallic groan and knocked them to the deck. They scrambled to their feet, said no more and started racing.

By the time they got there, Mercury had her back to the wall and rods out, the close-quarter melee weapons striking and shocking victims in a chain reaction. Morton's aim was precise enough to slice through necks and remove weapon arms, while Jet's suffusion shots went more for crowd control, aiming for center mass. The three of them quickly divided and destroyed the remaining attackers. Morton looked at the remains of his men with dismay. Jet, worried, checked Mercury for infection.

“Not this time. I'm okay,” she assured him. “They sabotaged the engines. We're stalled. Get in there.”

Jet blinked when he saw the damage. He coded these things, but never gave much thought to how the engines and machinery of something impossible to recreate with User-world physics would actually run. It looked vaguely like raygun-gothic met an 80's arcade, wheels, turbines, belts, neon ductwork, and there wasn't a surface that hadn't been battered, dented, or smashed.

Mercury came up from the maintenance hatch. “All clear below, but I can't tell one piece of equipment from another.”

Morton ran to a sealed door at the back. “Survivors. Some of the engineers.” He opened the door and five survivors – three male-designated, two female-designated, stumbled out.

“The ICPs...” said one of the female-designateds. “They got us through the door when the Z-lots breached the engine room. They fought, tried to lead the Z-lots away from the critical systems, but...”

Morton nodded sadly. “They served well.”

The smallest of the men pointed to a console at Jet's left. “The power distributor, they've completely destroyed it. If we could get that back -”

Jet ran over to the control panel and started trying to repair it. Mercury stepped in to shield as much of the view as possible from the crewmen.

Mercury asked, “Morton, can you take the engineers and get their information on how to do an external shield reset? We'll work on the panel.”

The engineers and Morton looked incredulous, but Jet told as much of the truth as he could get away with. “I...used to design Recognizers.”

Morton looked at him strangely, but decided that it was going to have to wait. He waved, and a pair of the engineers came with him. Three more stayed behind. They made sure the door was closed behind them to keep out any straggling Z-lots.

“Thrusters,” Jet asked. “They get the thrusters? We'll still need those to get out of here.”

“We'll check.” The other three went down the maintenance hatch.

Mercury walked up next to Jet. “You can fix this.”

“I don't know,” he admitted, fiddling with the broken controls, trying to put his hands on the shattered dials to recompile them, only half-succeeding. “Guns are easy to code. A physics engine isn't. And Recognizers aren't the eight-bit sprites my godfather was coding back in the eighties. Even when I did code these things, there weren't lives at stake. Mercury, I don't know what the hell I'm doing. I don't know what I can or can't do here.”

“You can do this,” she said simply.

“Because I'm - “

“Because you can.” She put her hand between his shoulder blades. “Go on. Touch it.”

He did.

“Don't focus on anything else. Just the code and my voice.”

Behind his eyelids, he could see the familiar lines of code and the broken strings needed to repair. No keyboard, no interface, no compiler. Just thought and will and reality shaped around it...And a wave of nausea and dizziness while his knees buckled underneath him. He barely managed to hold onto the console to keep himself from face-planting onto it. “I...I don't get it. I fixed the code, but there's nothing. No power...”

Mercury put her hand on his to stop him. “You're out of energy. Expending too much results in fatigue. Too much, too quickly, can send you into shock and kill you.”

“So we die because I need a drink?” He went back to working the panel, frantically running his fingers through his hair, increasingly nervous and upset. “There's got to be a way. I've got to...”

Mercury put her hand on his back. “Jet. Deep breath. Cool your processor. You can't save anyone if you panic.”

He straightened, taking a deep breath as instructed. “We need a jump start. Are there any power sources – any kind of energy storage - on the ship? Otherwise, we're dead.”

She didn't take her hand off his back, but the hopelessness of the situation was starting to hit her. “Not that I know of.” Mercury shuddered, seeing one of the console readouts depicting the reformat wall inching closer. Damn it! It was going to end here of all places?

Jet's circuitry flickered, as he sighed, looking up from his fruitless efforts of jump-starting the Reco. “Mercury, I'm sorry. I'm supposed to be...I don't know, better than this, maybe?”

Guilt and anger kicked in hard. “No, I'm supposed to be better than this,” she said heavily. She stepped back, but forced herself not to look away in shame. “I thought you were an enemy. I went to you to question you, maybe kill you if I had to. Instead, I seduce you. And I should be escorting you to Ma3a, not dragging you into combat.”

“For all you knew, I was an enemy. And things...just went too far. I can't hate you for that.” He looked at the upper console with the reformat wall closing in. “Merc, I'm not really scared to die. Half the stunts I've pulled should have killed me anyway. The only regret...well, not being able to save these people, or Ma3a, and what's going to happen to my dad?”

The concept of “dad” or “father” didn't translate well. The closest she understood it was “creator” or “progenitor.” There were probably nuances to it that eluded her, but it hardly mattered now. It was also a bad idea to crack, even at the last nano, and close the space between them and take his hand, sending a comforting pulse of energy...

Energy...

Her head snapped up. “That's it! We have over a thousand passengers. It's dangerous, but we have no other option.”

“What the -?”

“Energy is our life force, our...” She shook her head. “I don't have the time to explain.” Opening a communications line to broadcast to every deck, she sent out a ship-wide broadcast.

“This is Mercury Six point two one, Agent of Ma3a. As you know, the reformat is coming. This Recognizer's engine needs a jump. We need all of you to give what you can to get us started again. Open a panel, hold on to your neighbors...”


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On the upper decks, passengers pried open the conduits grimly. Everyone had one eye cast to the red wall of death at their backs or the secure tunnel promising survival.

One of the surviving ICP units was first to touch the open, inert conduit. An elderly female-designated took his hand. A young male-designated put his hand on her shoulder and reached out for his neighbor.

Link by link, hand on hand the chains were formed, each giving of their own life to send into the ship on the direction of the voice from the communications system.

“Do this for each other, for your system, for your Users, for Ma3a, for yourselves.”

Panels began to light, and some of the refugees flickered from the strain, but they kept praying, kept giving.


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Jet said, fingers flying as he worked the controls.. “We're almost there. C'mon...” He looked up, and reached out.“Mercury? Every little bit's gonna help.”

She didn't take his hand. It was glitched, of course, thinking that just one more Program pushing the Reco would do any good.

Kisses were certainly not unknown to her people; but they were rare, almost sacred, things due to the legend behind how they came to be; a final gift before a User's sacrifice. They were for only the most deeply committed of bundled pairs, or situations where you feared you'd never see your loved one again. Mercury had never been one for the sacred, but if one has to make a last-ditch effort, one might as well go full out.

Instead, she raked one hand into his hair and kissed him like the world was about to end, which was likely to happen anyway. He twitched with shock at first, but quickly relaxed into it, kissing her back just as fiercely.

Shared energy flowed through them, and he took her hand, placing them on the console, channeling it through their body and shell and into the console which started to click.

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On the bridge, Cally and Romie watched as the reformat wall inched closer to their inert craft.

“Been only a short time,” Cally said. “But an honor all the same, Agent Romie.”

Romie blinked. Agent? It almost didn't process until he remembered what Jet and Mercury had told him. Guess he really was an agent of Ma3a now. Wonder what Marco and Aida would make of that. Aida would have laughed herself silly. Marco would have asked if he could sign up, too.

He missed his counterparts. Until now, he figured he was ready to join them. With this backdoor conscription into Ma3a's private forces, Romie now felt like there was more he could do with his runtime, maybe saving these people so the deaths of his friends and loved ones wouldn't be for nothing.

He went back to the power routing console. “Cally, I'm getting a reading from the engine room. Looks like we've got some power. I don't believe this -” He looked at the other surviving crewman. “Give those guys a little boost with the power load balance. Let's hope the patch job flies as good as she looks.,” he said, running over to the navigation station. “Engaging the thrusters!”

The Recognizer wobbled to the right, then to the left, jolted forward twice with shuddering halts, but on the third try, it hit the transit beam square on and began taking off like a shot, outpacing the approaching reformat and speeding down the beam.

“They did it!” Cally said. “We did it!”

Romie hit the radio. “Hit the panel as soon as everyone's through! We can vent the deck as soon as we
get confirmation.”


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Morton and the surviving engineers fought their way back to the engine room, cutting down the Z-lots they found. The engineers just needed to be motivated by anger, but regular tool use gave them a decent disc throw. When he got to the engine room, Jet and Mercury both looked a little dazed, circuitry dim as they held each other up for support, and the engineers were climbing up from the hatch. “We have the shield bits ready. Let's go!”

Fortunately, they encountered no further Z-lot trouble as they all ran up the ramp, and past the bulkhead. Morton and Mercury made sure everyone else had climbed the ramp before escaping themselves, sealing the hatch, and giving the signal.

The environment shields dropped. Z-lots and debris were swept off the ship and into the void as the Recognizer vanished into the secure tunnel, the entrance sealing behind them.

At full capacity, a Class Five Recognizer can carry 1800 passengers and 100 crew. 1235 refugee Programs, fifty crew, three surviving ICP units, and three agents of Ma3a speed off to a thin promise of safety.

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Morton and his two surviving men headed back to the top deck of the Recognizer tug, planning on using the sensor blind spot so they could sneak back to the front lines when they reached the Citadel. Unfortunately, it meant an end to the truce, but it probably wouldn't be the last time their paths were going to cross. Fortunately, no other cases of infection were found among the passengers or crew, and Ma3a's secure tunnel meant the rest of the journey could pass in safety.

An impromptu party was still in full swing, simple electronic music played on hand-held keyboards and strange devices that didn't resemble instruments from the human world that nonetheless made sounds vaguely like string instruments. Others were on their feet, dancing as well as they could in the small spaces allowed. A small, girlish one giggled as she whirled around with a dark-complected woman with deep wrinkles in her face. Two young males seemed to be getting into an acrobatics contest, using bare poles and crates as props for enthusiastic moves straight out of an old Michael Jackson video.

Jet could barely stumble two feet without someone congratulating him, or thanking him, all with a gentle touch to his arm, shoulder, or back. From what he had seen so far, Programs had fewer reservations or taboos about touch than humans did. It was odd, but he hardly objected. Seeing no sign of Mercury, he climbed up to one of the maintenance catwalks, just content to watch the festivities below.

“Something told me you'd be up here,” Mercury's voice. She slid in right next to him, handing him a flask of energy. She had procured her own and was drinking from it in generous gulps. “Cally was nice enough to tap the emergency rations. Says the crew's even agreed to let us use a stateroom to get some rest.”

“I hope you thanked her. How's Romie?”

“Getting a briefing. I used my permission set to upgrade him. He's now officially deputized. It won't be the same as being able to carry out his core directive, but it's at least a reason to function.”

“Is he all right with what we're asking?”

“He knows we have to rescue Ma3a and fight the virus. Someone has to look out for these refugees if we can get them to the open Internet. He's the script for the job.”

“Yeah, he is,” Jet said, taking a drink from the flask. “And I'm hoping Ma3a can send me back. My father's still in danger. I have to find him. I don't know how long it's been since I got here. Seems like forever.”

“Tell me about it. From the time I saw you in the Kernel's tower to the time we board this Reco has been the longest hour of my runtime,” Mercury said dryly.

Jet shook his head, trying to wrap his mind around that. It had only been an hour since...? “Yeah, longest hour of my life, too.”

“Drink energy and rest when you can. Keep your strength up. You're powerful, obviously, but not invulnerable. Not immortal, remember that. I don't want to lose you.”

He put the flask aside and touched her shoulder. “Mercury, back there, in the engine room...”

She sighed and looked away. “You trust me...you're willing to de-rez for me, and you have no reason to.”

“Mercury, I'd be....I'd be dead without you. Maybe worse. I was dropped into this world without warning, blundering my way from one disaster to the next with only my godfather's unreliable stories as a guide. Of course I trust you. Haven't we been through enough to prove that?”

She gripped the railing, looking at him out the corner of her eye. “I'm not used to depending on someone. Mercury series isn't designed for it.”

“Series?”

“I'm version six point two one. Means five predecessors to live up to. All of them worked for the Math Assistant AIs, all of them worked alone. Thought I would be the same.” She downed another gulp of energy. “Somewhere along the way, I've started to trust you, Jet. Not because I have to, but because I want to.”

“And together, we've made it a lot further than either of us could have gone on our own.” He looked down at the gathered crowd, celebrating their small victory, and put one arm around her shoulders. “Look at this ship, at everyone here. If we didn't all work together, none of us would be alive.”

Mercury pulled in a little closer, enjoying the contact, putting her arm around his waist. “I'll admit. You're as good with finding allies as finding trouble.”

They remained that way for several seconds, arms around each other, drinking their energy, enjoying the music, watching the dancing and celebrations of relief and gratitude from those glad to be alive who knew all too well that it was a temporary reprieve from the danger. The reformat was still in progress, the ICPs and Z-Lots would be waiting at Citadel. They'd lost almost everything already and their chances of continued survival were small, but they'd clawed out victory and life for a few more minutes and that was enough for now.

“There's something you told Romie back on the shuttle,” Mercury said, breaking the silence. “I'd like clarification.”

“Go ahead and ask.”

“Is it really true Users - excuse me, humans - don't get directives or know what their functions are?”

He dropped his arms and stepped back, almost like he summoned a wall between them. “That's right. Our creator? Well, if he exists, he probably just booted up our universe in a basement somewhere and left it running. That's our big struggle, Merc, trying to find our destiny, where we fit into the big scheme of things. Some people figure it out early, some never do.” Jet shrugged, as though trying to work out some tension between his shoulders. “My parents...the ones who made me, they're scientists. My mother deals in quantum physics. She's the one who made the first edition of the laser that got me here. My father?” Jet shook his head. “You guys would know him as Alan-1; pioneer of computer security and artificial intelligence. Then there's Sam- he's pretty much heir to the Encom throne if he ever decides to come out and take it -”

“What about you?”

“What about me? Best I can manage is to build games and try to stay out of their way.” He sighed in frustration. “I know what my father wants, but I don't want his life; all that secrecy, all those projects he thinks I don't know about, putting up with all that garbage from the board while trying to keep the company from collapsing. I've seen what it's done to him. He made a lot of sacrifices for people who can't appreciate -” He stopped himself. “I guess I'm part of that.”

She stared at him in shock. “You don't have a purpose? No reason to live?”

“Mercury, don't -”

She folded her arms and gave him a stare she likely used on errant malware., “Answer it, Jet. You act like you have a de-rez wish, and I need to know why.”

“I've done a lot of dumb things,” he admitted. “Learned to sneak, how to drive a cycle way too fast, learned how to get around places I'm not supposed to be. Learned things you're not supposed to do with computers and code and how to do them anyway. I've been arrested, landed in the hospital, tried cleaning up my act -”

“Sounds like everything in your runtime up until this point has been preparing you for the battles we're fighting right now, but it doesn't answer the question.”

He finished off the flask of energy, the container dissolving after the last of its contents were drained. After that, he stared off into the distance. “I try not to think about that. I just try to...I don't know, get by. Live in the present, try not to think too much about the past or the future or about what I want.”

“What do you want?”

“Well there's the deadliest question in the known universe,” he said acidly. “Merc, what I want...” His voice trailed off.

When was the last time someone asked him that? He honestly couldn't recall. So much of his life was focused on what he didn't want – getting dragged into his father's conspiracies, Sam's ineffective crusade, spending his whole life working like his mother, going crazy and abandoning everyone without a goodbye like his godfather. He scratched out a place with his work in the game department, building virtual worlds to escape into. He thought he was happy, but was that the truth?

“What do I want?” he asked himself.

The crowd was dancing below, and he could feel the music as much as hear it. Mercury was right by his side, and he could trust her without question. He wasn't dumb enough to think they were out of danger, or that the fight wasn't going to get a lot worse, but he was okay with it. There was this big, dangerous, fascinating world where those old stories didn't even scratch the surface. Could he really go back to the analog world and forget all this?

“In there is our future. In there is our destiny...” His godfather's last speech to the Encom employees and shareholders, words Jet had said many times with contempt or bitter irony. Now, he was seeing it all in a new light. Maybe there was more truth to it than he dreamed.

“I have to rescue my father. But what I want? There's so much about this world that I want to know about, so much to learn here.” It clicked into place. “Show me this world, Mercury. Show me how to respect it, how to help.”

“You already are. Ma3a made that call bringing you here.” Mercury assessed him coolly. “You're careless, fighting entirely too much with your emotions, you admit yourself you don't know what you're doing. Her expression softened, her hand brushed his jaw, but her eyes were still ice and steel. “But Ma3a sees potential. You can make allies in unexpected places, have abilities no Program could hope to match. You are willing to fight and you're willing to learn, but I can't go easy on you.”

“You can't afford to,” he said. “Ma3a needs us. Especially now.”

She looked him right in the eye, her voice just this side of the threat. “I need you to promise, then. Promise me you will protect Ma3a with everything you have. Promise me you will live for her and the people of this system. Promise me that, and I promise that I will train you as an Agent, that we'll fight together. And I'll go to the Void itself to help you rescue Alan-1.”

“I promise.” He had never felt more at peace or more sure of anything than those two words.

“Good.” Mercury smiled shakily. “Very good.” She nodded to the crowd below. “First rule, then? Take your victories when you can.”

“Asking me to dance, Merc?” He put his arm out for her to take. “Might step on your foot.”

She couldn't help a laugh. “I'll take that risk, rookie.”

Arm in arm, they walked down the ramp and into the teaming crowd and thrumming music.

The whole atmosphere was intoxicating; the layered beat of the music, the crowd of people, the laughter and the energy. It reminded Jet of the raves he attended in high school and college (so many missed papers due to those nights). There was a smell in the air like dry ice instead of the tang of sweat and heady marijuana smoke. Instead of glowsticks and lighted jewelry, the Programs' circuitry lit the makeshift dance floor. Most of the circuitry was blue-silver like his and Mercury's. But there were some patches of emerald green (not the sickly green-yellow of infection), deep electric blue, a decorative flash of ruby red on an otherwise blue Program. Many of them smiled at him and Mercury as they joined the crowd.

The music, with its elaborate electronic beats flowed into him like energy, his feet following the beat as his eyes slipped shut. Jet breathed it all in, let himself forget this was not his world, that the analog world, the danger he faced ,and the trouble his father was in go far, far away. For now, they'd earned a little celebration. The change between songs was subtle, flowing from a high-energy, aggressive song to a second that was slower and more trance like.

He cracked open an eye to see Mercury still within arms' reach, looking just as lost in the music as he felt. Like her fighting, she was all precise movements, nothing wasted, exact matches of her body...shell...to the music. Her head was thrown back, a grin on her face as she danced, hips and shoulders swaying with the beat as the blue white of her circuitry dimmed and brightened in patches across her shell, showing off the curves of her rendered muscles. Jet had seen her in all kinds of ways in the last hour (yeah, the time dilation thing? Definitely needed looking into); but blissfully happy was a genuine surprise.

She lowered her gaze to look directly at him, gaze turning sultry. “You act like you're enjoying the show.”

“I am,” he admitted. “The way you move, the light across your circuitry. Never seen anything like it.”

She clasped her hand around his forearm , thumb brushing a fat, white line that ran from shoulder to his index finger, sending a soft brush of energy. “We could be de-rezzed in ten minutes. Don't just settle for looking.”

He shuddered and took a sharp breath, the line and its tributaries darkening to blue-violet. It was like the pins and needles feeling of sensation returning after sitting in one position too long, but without the sharp pain. It jolted all the way to his spine and down his back. “What? How are you able to do that?”

The look on Mercury's face darkened, but she thankfully didn't break contact. “Remember how we powered the Reco? Energy is a Program's life force. It runs through our shell, connects it to our spark. We burn it as we go, drink the liquid form to sustain us, but we can also share it, merge it with another's...” Her other hand came to rest on his identifier mark, the semi-triangle at mid-chest and another wave of slow pins and needles warmth began to burn into him. “Anything from a quick pulse to a full-blown meld.”

“Those melds are...intimate, I take it?” His hand was on her waist now, palm covering a node. Experimentally, he concentrated on sending a soft, steady flow of energy through it.

Mercury's sharp intake of air and muffled gasp as an affirmative. “Back in the cycle barracks. That was a meld. And an amazing meld to boot.” She grimaced. “I'm still sorry for taking advantage like that.”

“Nothing to be sorry for, not anymore.” His hand moved from her waist to her back, lightly brushing the cluster at the small of her back, still concentrating on sending a steady and controlled flow of energy. Her whole shell flashed purple. “And the circuitry?”

“Our identifier,” she said. “You might notice after a while that faces can look similar, especially copies of a Program or Programs made by the same User. Everyone has a different pattern and layout to their circuits. The color usually gives away their system origin. Start noticing the patterns, the way they carry themselves. It'll tell you a lot about who you're dealing with.”

“Not the whole truth, Merc,” he teased, his hand moving up her spine, watching her circuitry flush from white to violet and back again.

“Cheeky glitch,” she fired back, gritting her teeth. “I'm sure there are spots on your shell more sensitive than others. And I'd like to find them all.” As if to drive home the point, she put her hand on a thick line crossing his right bicep, sending back the energy with a steep surge.

Oh...wow! It was like being touched everywhere at once, that first rush of sexual contact magnified by ten. How was he even standing? “Yeah, but not...Not like –“ Breathe, Jethro. You remember how to breathe, right? “That. Not all over.” Part to regain control and part out of curiosity, he murmured. “Wonder what would happen if...” He bent his head to nuzzle at the crook of her neck, nibbling at the fine patterns and was rewarded with a strangled cry.

The music had changed to something slower, more sensual, the Programs swaying to it, circuit patterns lighting up the room in ever-changing flickers of color and light. The heady smell of dry ice and ozone in the air hung in the air as every touch across her shell and circuitry sent the same sensation ghosting through his body. Nibbling his way up her neck and across her jawline, he savored every hitch of breath and suppressed gasp. Even closing his eyes to buffer the sensory overload barely helped; all it did was translate the sensations to colors and sparks dancing behind his eyelids.

“Stateroom,” she gasped. “Cally gave me permissions to access a stateroom. First officer quarters. Was going to...suggest sleep mode in shifts...”

So many ideas ran through his mind, but he had to make sure this was not going to be a repeat of the cycle pit. “Mercury...if...” His hands felt like they were vibrating like the rest of his body slightly as he struggled to maintain some composure. “I don't want you to feel any guilt over this, because I won't.”

“If you won't, I won't. Stateroom – now.”


They half stumbled, half-pulled each other through the corridors, barely able to not distract each other further. After what seemed like hours (in Program time), they reached the stateroom. Mercury had to open it with her palm print and they gracelessly staggered into the room, the door sliding shut behind them.

Jet was momentarily taken aback; the room was complete empty, aside from a window. Outside the cabin, the warping starfield effect reminded him of old sci-fi shows or older screen savers. Not even the walls or floor gave off a glow. Before he could say anything, Mercury touched a panel, and the room began to shift. Wireframe layouts compiled first, then layers draped over them in dazzling colors. Blue, then red, then cool green, then back to white-gold. A bed was now in the center of the room. A desk and chair jutted out from the wall. Light came from the soft glow of the walls. He blinked twice to make sure he wasn't just seeing things, rapidly trying at the same time to figure out just how that worked.

“Nice trick.”

“It's no five-rate from the green sector,” Mercury said. “But it'll do.” As if to cut off any more questions, she reached over and kissed him again.

It was like sucking on a battery, a sour-sharp taste that made everything tingle as she arched into him with a gasp. Pressed against her, circuit brushing circuit, an intoxicating buildup of heat and energy burned at every point of contact. She held on, arms wrapped around, one hand snaked into his hair, leg behind his ankle. The layers of cheerful, pulsing, bass-heavy music from the celebration below could be heard and felt through the floors and bulkhead, vibrating through his body, blurring hearing, touch, sight as their circuits flickered blue-silver-purple. Oh so dizzy, too much, need more. It's never felt like this! Ecstasy and LSD couldn't even try matching this kind of sensory-hacking high. Everything felt hot, cold, acid, sweet, pulsing with the bass beats of the music and his armor was too tight and...

“Merc...do these...” He could barely think long enough to piece together a sentence. “Do these things come off?”

It seemed to startle her out of the lust-induced haze. Did he cross some kind of Program-world taboo? “They do. What, exactly, do you have in mind?”

He knew he was blushing. “Um...I want you, Mercury. When humans...Users...do this, clothes usually come off. Unless...well, I have no idea if...”

“Oh, there is something called 'user-style' interfacing. It's not an unknown concept, it's just considered...” She smiled wickedly, and took his hand, guiding it to the switch that deactivated her suit and armor. “Deviant.”

The way she phrased “deviant” implied something considered kinky instead of outright perverted. He breathed a sign of relief. “Oh.”

Suits and armor retreated from their bodies in a matter of nanoseconds, and he shivered at the shock of air against his over-sensitized skin. A quick look down and he saw the he was mostly normal; sparse hair on his chest and arms, skin that was a little paler than his normal shade (his digitized form apparently didn't factor in LA summers), and most of his scars (the lightening bolt pattern under his right arm, the thin white one on his abdomen, the twisted maze on his left leg) were intact.

Mercury, on the other hand, was pure, surreal beauty. It started at her short platinum hair and icy blue eyes, face just a little too sharp and a little too smooth to be human, and under her suit was a maze of even more elaborate circuitry, playing over her arms, her breasts, her abdomen, down her legs, intricate lines of blue-white, some as thick as two fingers, some as thin as a fingernail. He was never going to look at body ink the same way after this. Strangely, she was completely hairless from the neck down, no nipples, no navel, some dulled lines on her arms and a dark spot under her right breast that could be her version of scars.

She crossed her arms, doubt clear in her face. “I'm not like a us...human female, am I?”

“And I'm not like a Program.” He put one hand at the node on the small of her back. rubbing that sensitive spot gently, and the other hand stroking her hair, feeling the smooth, soft texture that was almost, but definitely not human, the strange empathic connection linking their energy and every touch.

“No circuits, no light,” she murmured. “I want to touch everything at once.”

He pulled her in for a kiss, slow and reassuring...Sweet, sour, sharp, feel it with my whole body, taste the colors. Want so much, never ached like this. The hand that had been on her back now guiding hers to his chest first, settling over his heart. She gasped, and her splayed hand sent a warm wave of pure joy through their link. Her hands explored mercilessly, lightly over his arms, feeling the hairs on his arms stand up on end, across his shoulders, fingertips finding all the little and large knots of tension from a lifetime's worth of hunching over a computer...

Building code.

Building worlds.

He kissed her harder, leaning into her touch, chasing that thought away. A User was the last thing he wanted to be, especially now. Hands traced skin and circuit, playing with taste, light, color, energy, life...

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Later, he lay pressed against her side, idly playing with a circuit as her coloring returned to blue white.

“Well, that was...good,” Mercury said. Truth was, she was still trying to come up with enough processing power to form a sentence. Guess there was something to the whole idea that interface was better when you had feelings for the other person.

“Just 'good?'” He was teasing, mostly. While outright lies weren't usually part of Program parameters, half-truths and evasions were standard procedure. Jet hid so little. There was this...hard-wired goodness to him, something incorruptible that was so different from everything she was used to dealing with; malware gangs, data pushers, the game pits where ruthlessness was a fact of function.

“There's not a string that covers it,” she said, propping herself up on an elbow. “Could get used to this idea; apprentice, partner, lover.”

“Me too.” His finger stroked the edge of the thick circuit on her arm. “There's a lot I could get used to.”

Jet stilled and looked her in the eyes. “Mercury, you asked me to make a promise earlier. Can I ask one of you?”

She scowled suspiciously. “Promises are tricky things. I'll hear you out, though.”

“Promise that you'll never worship me. I...I know what my people are to yours, that in a lot of ways, I'm...different from you. But you've seen that we have limits, weaknesses. We're created, we function. We have friends we like, and jobs we don't necessarily like. And we die - eventually.”

The request itself wasn't surprising coming from Jet, but there was something more to it. He went out of his way to play down what he was, what it meant here. Not shocking, since admitting what he was nearly got him killed. Yet, it was oddly comforting that Users did not operate from some grand design. It explained a lot, actually.

“Program lifespan is about two hundred fifty cycles, give or take. Security monitors like me or game bots tend to have shorter runtimes, but glorious while it lasts,” she said. “How long does a human live?”

“Barring accident, illness, or just bad luck? About eighty years, give or take.”

Mercury pulled back, a little unsettled. “Years? Seriously? That makes our runtime...well, in years, it's between five and six of them.” She blinked in amazement. “You weren't bluffing the Kernel when you said your creation date was 1982, were you?”

“December twenty-first, 1982. The creation process probably is a lot different on my side of the monitor, though.”

“I'm not sure I want to know.” She smiled sadly. “It's going to be a lot to process, and I'm sure you haven't stopped surprising me, but you have yourself a deal. It would be hard to train you from my knees, anyway.”

For the first time, his expression became unreadable, like he was retreating somewhere deep inside himself. “Mercury, thank you - for everything.”

“There's still a battle ahead of us. Maybe a lot of them.” She kissed him lightly. “Rest, Jet. I'll be here when you wake up this time.”

His eyebrow raised. “Still no guilt right?”

“None.”

He leaned in to whisper it in her ear. “None for me, either.”

It wasn't long before he was in sleep mode.

It took Mercury longer to shut down, so much running through her processor. She had always believed Users to be distant and vaguely cruel, indifferent to Program suffering, uncaring of their joys. In that way, Thorne lived down to the idea – alien and destructive, powerful, but not even caring for his own minions. Jet was the other side of that disc, but he still posed more questions than answers, not intentionally, but just by being.

He stirred in his sleep and flung an arm around her. Mercury decided the questions and ramifications could wait. Jet made his promise, he fought for Ma3a and the people of the system. That was good enough for now.

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A/N: Yes, there is an "uncensored" version over on FF.N, and later to be posted to AO3
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It's an entire universe in there, one we created, but it's beyond us now. Really. It's outgrown us. You know, every time you shut off your computer...do you know what you're doing? Have you ever reformatted a hard drive? Deleted old software? Destroyed an entire universe?"

-- Jet Bradley, Tron: Ghost in the Machine on why being a User isn't necessarily a good thing.
 
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