Yori's hover-sedan sped through the intervening sectors, skimming smoothly over the ground. It was one of her own designs, which meant sleek, elegant lines as well as excellent performance. Enzo had taken several pictures before getting in, for the express purpose of making Bob sick with envy.
He had also updated Dani on the situation and messaged the rest of his friends and family (YOU WILL NEVER GUESS WHEN I AM RIGHT NOW
). If the Return command didn't pan out, perhaps something could be done from the future.
Now he was doing his best to photograph the things they passed. Most of the pictures were blurs of light, but he'd gotten some good ones of a public Pong court and of some Recognizers, repurposed for file compression, parked over a data dump.
"Have you travelled through time before?" Mur was asking.
"Um. Well, in one sense, I do it on like a daily basis, but that's not pure time travel, it's more dimension-hopping, plus it's generally to a couple of fixed points. Not like this."
"Dimension-hopping?" Tron demanded from the front seat.
"It's... um. Are we, er, post-MCP?" He hoped that was a safe question, but apparently it was, because Tron nodded. "It's like Flynn in reverse. I visit Userspace."
"The /dev/null you say."
"You've met Users?" Mur asked excitedly.
"I'm actually engaged to one."
"Of course you are," Tron said with a slight groan. "Alan1 help me, I don't even have the strength to disbelieve you anymore."
explain some of those pictures," said Yori, "and believe me, I'm as curious as anyone else, but is it safe to be telling us this? These seem like significant details."
"They would be if I were, like, representative, but the future isn't really like that. Not in general. My life is just super weird."
"It sounds like you still remember us in the future, though," noted Tron. "And the Master Control Program. And Flynn."
"Well... yeah," Enzo admitted. "It's historical. You're historical. I guess you can know that since it's already happened." He'd just have to avoid mentioning anything later they were famous for, like, say, founding the Guardian Collective.
"It's gratifying, but I don't suppose knowing that will affect what we do," Yori agreed.
"Although, now that you do know that... um... that is..."
"What is it?"
"Can I have your signature files please?!" Enzo blurted.
Yori burst out laughing. Tron looked nonplussed.
"I mean, not right now, obviously, Yori's driving, but before I go home? Please?"
"Ooh, me too!" chimed in Mur.
At their joint enthusiasm, Tron gave a snort of laughter. "I think we could manage—" Abruptly, his face fell and he looked past them at something well beyond the back seat. "Yori..."
Yori looked in the rear-view mirror. Enzo and Mur twisted in their seats to see. It was still distant, but there was definitely a swarm of something following them.
"More bytes?" asked Enzo.
"I don't think so," said Mur, who had the youngest and sharpest eyes. "They look more like primitives
Tron and Yori exchanged a glance, and Yori accelerated.
"What is it?" Mur asked. "Another attack?" Her hand went to the forcefield generator which Enzo had lent her.
"Not on you. These are my problem," said Tron grimly.
"Primitives?" Enzo was puzzled. "What's the problem there?"
Tron sighed. "They're what's left of the MCP. He started as just a chess program, you know, but he appropriated functions and expanded himself into, well, the Master Control Program. When I derezzed him, I took out the core program, and the superstructure he'd built up around himself exploded. I thought that was the end of it, but then these... fragments started chasing me around."
"What do they want? Revenge?"
"I'm honestly not sure. So far they just swarm around, but they won't leave me alone. And they're as hard to hit as those bytes were, and I don't seem to do any damage even when I connect."
Enzo looked doubtfully behind at the dwindling swarm. "Primitives shouldn't be dangerous, should they?"
"Neither should bytes. Anyway, dangerous or not, I don't want to have to worry about them on top of everything else."
"What was up with those bytes, anyway?" Mur demanded. "Who attacks someone with bytes?!"
"Who attacks a kid on her way to be installed?" Tron retorted. "Someone majorly glitched, that's who."
"Someone not used to attacking anyone, I think," Enzo mused. "I mean, if I wanted you out of the way—sorry, Mur, just thinking—I'd use an actual weapon, or at least something suited as one. The only thing that made those bytes any kind of a threat was how many there were, right?"
"Right," said Yori. "So maybe they didn't have real weapons at their disposal. They're probably also trying to stay anonymous. Bytes aren't exactly uncommon. Nothing to trace there."
Tron grimaced. "So all we know is that someone who isn't a warrior really doesn't want to see, no offence, some kid become an I/O driver."
"None taken, I get what you mean. It makes no sense. So I'm going into I/O, who would have a problem with that?"
"You know what else makes no sense?" Yori said, her tone suddenly tense. "This road."
"Huh? What about it?" Tron looked around; they were now driving through a sort of canyon, with little in the way of notable features.
"For a while now, there've been a lot of turns, but no intersections. And no traffic but us."
"So we're, like... snaking?"
"And going downhill. It's a slight grade, but steady."
"Who makes a road like that?"
"Game designers," Enzo realized.
"In a lot of Games, at least by my time, there's only one way to go so you always end up where the Programmer wants you to be, only the route's all winding so you don't think about it as much. It's deliberate. We're being railroaded."
Yori spun the wheel hard, making an uncomfortably fast U-turn; Enzo slammed into Mur. "Not anymore, we're not. I don't know what's at the end of this, but I doubt we want to..."
Not far ahead of them, a large chunk vanished from high up on the canyon wall, and appeared in the road ahead of them, blocking their exit.
Yori braked. They all stared.
"They let us see that one," Tron said a bit too calmly.
"I think they panicked." Yori replied.
"I think I'm
going to," Mur said through gritted teeth. "What do we do now? I don't want to keep going that way."
"I have a surfbaud," Enzo offered, "but it's not really designed for four."
"A flying vehicle. You saw it minimized before. It's really only meant for one, but two's usually no trouble. Four could fit
, I just don't know if we could balance
"We'll manage," Tron said firmly. "Let's have a look."
Enzo brought it out and maximized it.
"Well, it's certainly… minimalist," said Yori.
"It's a plank," said Mur.
"It's what we've got. Tron, in front of me in the middle. Yori, front. Mur, behind me and hold on tight."
It did not move as quickly or as easily as Enzo was used to. This was partly due to the load, but mostly because ENCOM was a much older system and the energy waves weren't as strong. The idea that even a small PC from his time like Mainframe was more powerful than a historically major system like ENCOM was startling, but there wasn't time to think about that now. Precariously and with much wobbling, they rose over the canyon, with Minus flying after.
From this vantage, they could see the strange, blocky formations where pieces of landscape had been cut and pasted to form the 'road', although its destination was still unclear.
"So..." said Mur slowly as they reached the high ground and dismounted, "someone powerful
who isn't used to attacking programs doesn't want me installed."
"But they don't want to derezz you directly," said Tron.
"How do you figure?"
"If they can do this, they could have cut and pasted a giant rock into the air above your head at any time."
"Oh. Yeah. Well, that makes me feel much
better about things, thanks
"Come on," sighed Yori. "It's about a sector and a half left to the I/O tower. We'd better get walking."