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"Welcome, young Mur." An aged program hurried forward as they entered the tower. "Tron, Yori, thank you for bringing her here safely."

"It was a pretty close thing," Tron admitted. "Mur, this is Dumont."

"Nice to meet you," said Mur. "Am I safe now that I'm here?"

"I believe so," said Dumont, "although we should proceed with your installation as soon... as..." He trailed off as Enzo entered, followed by Minus and the entire swarm of keytools. "You certainly do have a story to tell me, don't you?"

"One for the archives," Yori said dryly. "You were right to send us, that's for certain."

"So I see. I wish I hadn't been. Truly I do. Well, some actions cannot be Undone, and we can only move forward." He gestured Mur, Tron, and Yori into the tower, then looked at Enzo again. "Please introduce me to your friend here." His tone was pointed, clearly asking: Is he safe?

"This is Enzo," said Yori with a slight nod in answer of the unspoken question. "He's actually here to see you as well. He's from the future, believe it or not, and needs help getting home. Enzo, this is Dumont, the guardian of this tower."

"It's an honour, sir." Interesting, he thought, how names and meanings can change over time.

Dumont raised an eyebrow. "Indeed? This certainly sounds worth hearing. If you don't mind, however, we will discuss it after Mur's installation."

"Dude, I mean sir, of course. Priorities."

"Quite." Dumont ushered him in and turned back to Tron. "And these?" He gestured at the swarm. "I thought you were having some trouble with them."

"The log-spiral is Enzo's pet, it's harmless. As for the fragments, it turns out they're on our side. Go figure." While they proceeded deeper into the tower, he repeated Enzo's explanation. "Though I'm still not sure why. I mean, why me."

"In my time," Enzo offered, "keytools form a link with their G—security programs. This seems kind of like that. It'd explain how they were able to find you. Not sure how the link was made in the first place, though."

"Oh, of course!" exclaimed Yori. "Tron, your identity disk! When you de-rezzed the MCP."

"Other enemies don't decide to follow me around after I de-rezz them."

"Other enemies aren't in the habit of appropriating any code they can get their digits on. It was probably automatic. They must have absorbed just enough to form a connection."

"Wait, so some of my code is in there?" Tron looked unsure what to think of this.

"Just a few lines," Enzo assured him. "It's good, it creates a bond. Just make sure to get it back from the rest of them when you pass them on."

"Right. I'll just do that, then." Tron shrugged. "Well, I won't complain. This one was a lot of help."

"It helped us defeat a grue!" Mur declared happily.

"A grue?" Dumont looked suitably shocked. "What exactly happened to you? In what ways were you attacked?"

"Well, the grue was the boss fight, obviously. The first time I was attacked by a swarm of bytes, of all things, and then whoever it was tried to stop us by cutting and pasting the landscape."

"As I feared," murmured Dumont. "Char variables, cut and paste, a text-based monster. Only one program has that much power over all things textual."

"Wait..." said Tron. "Tell me you don't mean who I think you mean."

"I'm afraid he does," said a baritone voice as they entered the antechamber to the Communication Room.

The program who awaited them was tall and thin, with long robes, spectacles, and a trim beard, and was younger than Dumont but otherwise far and away the oldest present. His tangerine circuits were a low pulse.

"Vaughn?!" exclaimed Yori.

"Oh, no," groaned Tron. "Why would you do something like this?"

"You mean he's been trying to de-rezz me?" Mur demanded. "Vaughn?"

Enzo sighed. "Okay, could somebody please fill me in?"

"Vaughn is ENCOM's chief keyboard driver," said Yori. "He plays a crucial role in almost all input in the system. He speaks the will of the Users."

Vaughn's shoulders twitched and fidgeted, and he was constantly smoothing or adjusting his clothing, small, nervous movements. "I do, yes, that is, I have done so, to the best of my ability."

"But my installation is the will of the Users!" cried Mur. "I can feel their call right now! You've been going against that!"

Vaughn flinched. "I.. that is... yes. You're right, of course. I admit it. I knew their will, and I opposed it."

Enzo glowered. "And, what, you've finally got up the nerve to do it in person?" He cracked his knuckles. "Good luck with that."

Vaughn gave him an incredulous look. "Of course not. You defeated a grue. I'm not glitched."

"Sez you," muttered Mur.

"No, I'm here—that is, I want—well, no, not want, but—" He sighed. "I surrender."

Enzo blinked. "Wait, what?"

Vaughn bowed his head and extended his hands, wrists together. "Do as you will. My doom is input either way."

Tron exchanged puzzled glances with the rest of the group, but shrugged and pulled out a pair of energy cuffs. Enzo stood ready in case of a trap.

"What is that supposed to mean?" said Mur. "You brought this on yourself!"

"I think he's saying you pose some kind of threat to him," said Yori. "That's why he's been after you."

"Indeed, you—that is, not you in yourself, but your installation—will spell my obsolescence." He tried to adjust his clothing again, found it difficult with bound wrists, and grimaced. "I sought only my own safety, to my shame."

"Sorry, what?" Mur still looked partly angry, but mostly baffled. "You think I'm going to, what, replace you?"

"'Supplant' might be a better term. Yes." He still seemed to be trying to maintain his dignity, but mostly he just looked miserable.

Dumont cut in, perhaps taking pity on his erstwhile colleague. "The Users are installing a brand new input device. Mur is to be the new driver."

Mur looked stunned and was actually distracted from Vaughn. "A whole new kind of input? Me?"

"You, my dear."

Vaughn sighed heavily. "With the new device, I and my function will no longer be needed, and I will fade away. But if the installation failed..."

Mur threw her hands in the air. "But the Users commanded my installation! You're supposed to serve the Users!"

"I am, I do, but I—"

"And if you did de-rezz me, what's to stop them from just summoning someone else?"

"I know, I just—I only—"

"You panicked," Mur said severely.

Vaughn cringed. "I panicked. I thought if..." He looked up sharply. "Why is he laughing?"

Enzo was trying not to, but snorts and raspberry noises kept escaping. "I'm sorry, it's just... what exactly is the new peripheral?"

"I believe it's called a mouse," said Dumont.

"Oh my code." Enzo hooted with laughter. "I knew it. Holy spam. You thought mice were going to replace keyboards? That's what all this is about?"

"I... that is... yes?" Vaughn looked uncertain in the face of this. Everyone else was staring.

"Dude! They're totally different kinds of input. Users use them in tandem. I'm a prophet from the future, okay, I've seen things. They'll have one hand on the mouse and the other on the keyboard. Or just one or the other at a time, depending what they're doing. The worst that would've happened is the transfer of a few duties. A little less work for you, that's all."

"Just... a little less work..." Now Vaughn looked dazed.

"Some downtime here and there. Maybe enough for a vacation, even, though I can't promise that. I've seen pretty far forward, and Users will always need to type."

Vaughn groaned loudly. "Oh, Users, what have I done?"

"Now he asks what he's done," grumbled Mur.

"And now my fate is written through my own actions," he continued miserably.

"Probably, since you tried to de-rezz me."

"Perhaps," Dumont suggested, "we should complete the young one's installation before discussing this further."

"Fine by me," sighed Mur. "The call's getting pretty urgent. Like having to go to the bathroom, only completely different."

"Eloquently put," agreed Dumont dryly. "Please... hold it... a moment longer while I dock myself."

Ensconcing himself in his control console was a bit of a process. While they waited, Mur ran through her part of the installation ceremony with Yori's help, and was grudgingly persuaded that attempting to traverse the steps to the Communication Room while wearing skates would be a bad idea; Tron and Enzo stood guard over Vaughn, although he didn't seem up to making any more trouble anyway and in fact chose to slump in a corner.

Finally Dumont was ready, engulfed in his console. The only visible parts of him were his hands upon the controls and his head with its ceremonial hat. At the Guardian Academy, a popular student prank was to climb the statue of Tron and his companions and balance ridiculous objects atop the Dumont figure; this hat was still the silliest thing Enzo had ever seen on his head.

"Mur," he said sternly, "come forward."

Mur swallowed, squared her shoulders, and stepped up onto the bottom step.

"Why have you come, child?" The tone was ritual; the question had to be asked, even though everybody knew the answer.

Mur took a loud breath and replied: "A User calls me, although I know them not."

"All that is visible must grow beyond itself and extend into the realm of the invisible."

"We must reach for the unknown before we can ourselves be known."

"Enter, my child, and know your User; enter and know yourself." A hand moved on a control, and a door opened behind him.

Mur ascended the remaining steps, exchanged a shaky smile for an encouraging one from Dumont, and vanished through the doorway.

After a moment of silence, Enzo said, "I thought it'd be longer."

"Well," said Tron, "that's just the startup sequence. The real thing happens inside."

"Yeah. Still. She gets a party or something afterwards, right?"

"Yeah, of course. Why, how do you do it?"

Enzo considered trying to explain how identity disks would become ubiquitous and develop into icons, or how the Users themselves would become more distant. "Sorry. Too many spoilers."

"You already created a bootstrap paradox."

"Yeah, but my life is weird enough without being personally responsible for the entire future."

"Fair enough."

Yori had begun to tell Dumont of their journey in greater detail. Enzo and Tron joined in, although Tron remained standing over Vaughn and raised his voice to compensate. Enzo just made sure to keep him in his line of sight. Vaughn slumped down further in his corner with the description of each episode, until he was sitting with his forehead resting on his knees.

"I gotta say, Mur handled things really well," said Enzo. "I mean, it obviously wasn't a situation she had any experience with, and it was getting to her big time, but she didn't give up and she really rallied at the end there."

"Yes. She will do well." Vaughn's voice was muffled by his knees.

They all turned to stare at him. At the silence, he lifted his head. "She handled the actual threat of... well, me... far better than I handled a presumed threat, and at her age. I suppose I have no business even offering my opinion now, but..." He shrugged. "There it is."

"Thanks, I guess," said Mur, emerging from the passage.

Enzo thought she might have been taller, although it might just have been that she stood straighter. The major difference was her circuitry. It was brighter, and much finer and more complex, especially at her hands, feet, and temples, where it was an intricate, almost feather-like tracery. Her expression was the slightly unfocused one of someone who has an awful lot to process.

"So that was different."

"Welcome back," said Dumont. "I trust all went well?"

"I think so." She flexed her fingers tentatively. "It's very weird. I can still feel her, even out here."

"Your User?" asked Enzo.

"My installer, anyway. It's just her so far, but... I'm going to have way more than just one User. I hope I can make room for them all in my head."

Vaughn nodded. "It will be difficult—perhaps I should say confusing—at first, but you will get used to it. You are... resilient."

When her gaze did focus, it focused intensely, her entire attention concentrated on a single point. She was still standing at the top of the steps, and her stare seemed to pin Vaughn to the floor. "You're awfully friendly all of a sudden."

Vaughn flinched and averted his eyes. "I am resigned. As I suppose I should have been from the start. Of course, if I had, there would have been nothing to resign myself to. I am trying to appreciate the irony."

"Mmm." She seemed lost in thought for a moment, although she remained focused on Vaughn. Then she said, "Well, you're right about two things. I will get the hang of things, but it'll take time." The target of her gaze swept over to Dumont. "What's going to happen to him?"

Dumont bore up under her stare, but it was clearly an effort. "I... suppose we shall need a new keyboard driver as well." The lack of direct answer was an answer in itself.

"Well, that's the thing, isn't it? Can we really afford that? I'm going to have enough of a time adjusting."

"What are you suggesting?" demanded Tron.

Mur turned back to Vaughn. She flexed her fingers again, then pointed at him. Frowning slightly, she raised her hand, and Vaughn lifted into the air with an utterly undignified squawk.

"I'm suggesting we keep him around, at least for now. I hate to say this, but I need someone experienced. ENCOM needs someone experienced." Carefully, she lowered Vaughn until his flailing feet made contact with the floor. "And he's not the only one with power now."

"We can see that," said Yori, as they all stared. "Mur... are you sure about this? If anyone has the right to decide, it's you, but we don't want you regretting it later."

Mur sighed a little. She released Vaughn, who staggered, and closed her eyes. "Honestly, I think I'll regret it more if I don't. Two newbies at once will be one too many, and... and I really don't want to start my career with an execution. I really don't."

Vaughn gaped at her. "You would truly forgive—that is, pardon—I mean..."

"I would put you on probation," Mur snapped, lancing him with her gaze again. "As long as we're clear about two things. One, I am not, nor do I want to be, any kind of threat to you."

"I... yes, understood. And the second?"

Mur descended the steps without breaking eye contact. She didn't even come up to his shoulder, but neither of them seemed to notice. "Just because I don't want to be a threat doesn't mean I can't be. Got it?"

Vaughn swallowed. "Got it."

"Good. Yori, can I have my skates back, please?"


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Enzo Matrix

September 2016

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