smiley_anon: (Quorra: reflections and shadows)
Written For: [personal profile] infiniteviking
Era: post-Evolution, pre-Legacy. Shortly after the coup.
Genre: action, angst, friendship
Rating: PG-13
Warnings: violence, mook death
Summary: In the wake of Clu's takeover, no one can be what they were. But with help, some programs can become what they need to.
Title: Chrysalis

Prompt: Just days after the coup, Yori is caught and sent to the Games. Quorra breaks her out. Friendship or ulterior motives? You decide.



The outfit was her own design. Basic shell template underneath, flexible and light, though better reinforced than strictly necessary. Blue circuits filtered soft and vibrant against the mid-shade grey, complicated lines and junctures identifying her origins in Encom. Still, the outer layers hid that well enough, simpler lights across the loose cut of the stylized robes. She’d fiddled with the piece for centicycles, much to her sisters’ amusement.

It took less than a micro for the Sirens to strip it away.

Yori watched their motions with a strange detachment. Cold, automated. Empty. Or maybe that was her. She certainly couldn’t bring herself to regret the loss as the garment crumpled on the ground, sucked to disposal. It was hers, and Yori had valued it. But she couldn’t be that program any more.

The simple black patterning of a conscript’s shell layered up in its place, and she closed her eyes. How quickly things had changed. Or how little. She’d watched Tron compete in the Arena, cheered on his triumphs and meant it, every time. But for her, the older memories never quite faded. Tron wasn’t the only program Yori had valued and lost to Master Control. Just the first to return safely.

(Then.)

Her turn, now. She felt the armor pieces lock into place and opened her eyes to stare ahead as sections expanded. She’d fight, however long she lasted. Play their Games. And maybe, just maybe, if she fought long enough? She’d get a chance at Clu.

A flicker of light and an internal trickle (access) pulled attention from her cold-locked fury, and Yori’s gaze lifted to the dataport across the room. Her disk was synced and hovering, another silent pair of attendants monitoring as the data streamed up across a multipanel screen display. Direct download, meant to strip all useful files for the system utilities to sort through later. A concern, if she had even the slightest opinion of their analytic capacity. As it was, Yori just watched, stare flat and contemptuous as the download stalled, reset, and corrected to a preset spoof. False output scrolled across the screen, and her eyes flicked to the header, almost curious to see which match it had selected.

Trace.



She could be Trace.



The pair of flanking Sentries pressed close on either side as white-lit rooms gave way to red-lit corridors. Yori eyed them with a quiet bitterness entirely disjoint from the calm background calculations of her (low) odds. Security. Warped, wrong, and terribly familiar, in stance and color both. She half expected one to turn and demand a status report any nano. What’s the progress on that simulation?

But she’d lost her chance to feign obedience this time. By the time the news reached Portal Control, all channels had been buzzing with panicked rumor. Viral outbreaks, rogue monitors. Flynn had derezzed; Flynn had betrayed them. Had run. Clu seized control.

That one, she’d believed.

Enough to evacuate her sisters. Enough to wait past the longest safety margins and then shut the Portal down herself when the lights on the horizon resolved to gold and red. Flynn wasn’t coming, or couldn’t, and she’d have crashed before letting his twice-glitched program take her functions. All that remained was to keep herself safe, and wait for her swarm of quiet, hidden pings to bring back answers.

It was only as the empty micros stretched to millis, shift piling on shift, that Yori’s raw, fragile certainty had started to crack. It was impossible, no matter what the rumors. She would have known.

But Tron never would have kept this kind of silence.

A hard shove (here, now) shattered her reflections, and Yori turned to glare at the left-side Sentry as she recovered from her stall. It stared back, null reflections on a black, uncaring mask, and she shook her head, glance flicking to the open cell ahead before returning. What kind of promises had Clu used, to build this kind of army? Something twisted in her core as visuals mapped the perfect symmetry between her closer escorts' bearing. The third Sentry at least moved—

third?

A fraction of an instant to wonder, before irregular motion resolved to a reach behind. Yori flung herself aside, processing racing for solutions and coming up low. Her disk was locked, weapons taken—if this was meant to be an early execution, she’d stood better odds in the Games. But the other Sentries were turning back with as much surprise as her, and the vector of that quick-thrown disk…

A savage grin stole across Yori’s expression as red-orange voxels scattered, and the first guard staggered, clutching at the severed stump that now composed its arm. The Sentry that attacked—shorter, she’d noticed, than the others—was pulling a baton, and as the uninjured guard stepped up to face it, a blade rezzed out in burning red to match its disk. Staff slammed down, end lit and crackling with harsh power, and the slighter figure caught it in a crossguard, disk and sword sliding to the left to pull aside the enemy’s weapon before their wielder lashed back in a quick jab.

A flicker of movement closer in periphery, and Yori turned to see the damaged Sentry going for its disk. A more intelligent program might have gone for an alarm—or stayed down and hoped to be passed over. Somehow Yori couldn’t bring herself to mind its processing deficiencies now.

A quick step, and she snatched its dropped staff from the ground. Her swing was less graceful than she’d like, but still enough to deflect its throw wide. Grip shifted, hands crossing in trained reflex as she spun the staff in a quick reversal, swept its legs out from beneath in a crackle of harsh power. When it shoved up unsteadily, dock exposed as it reached for its disk, she didn’t hesitate.

Hands shook, just slightly, as she extracted her blue-lit staff from the heap of shattered code.

“…Yori?” The tone might be tentative, but the harsh vocals of the Sentry’s mask had Yori jerking back around, weapon up and ready. The shape stilled, hands raising as its disk darkened, sword derezzing back to template. Red circuits flickered faintly. “I’m here to help.”

Probably true. Not much other reason to attack its own—derezz its own, as the second pile of voxels attested to. Yori still didn’t lower the staff. Allegiances might be feigned, but there was another mismatch active and still running. Her records were edited, ID faked. But this program knew her. “Who are you?”

“I…” Helmet lowered, a very un-Sentry-like hesitation to the gesture before the mask sectioned and split back. Dark hair, pale blue eyes. The face was still unfamiliar. It—she—attempted a smile.

“I’m Quorra. It’s—complicated, but I need to get you out of here.” Circuits dimmed, flickered again, a hint of blue this time that earned a worried look from the program sporting them. “…crash it, Zuse promised this would hold.”

Yori raised an eyebrow. The disguise was obvious, but you was reason enough to question. “What about the others?” A wave to the row of cells—mostly empty, but with a few bright lit status indicators.

Quorra's stare lowered, expression wavering before she shook her head. “I don't have the codes. And it's—I'm sorry, but we need to go. Now. The patrols pass on six-micro rotations, and—”

“…time's up.” Crash it. If she’d gone for the access panels from the start, instead of questioning, would they have a chance? No. But it would have been closer. Yori’s glance flicked down the hall with a silent promise to come back, before she turned to Quorra with a nod.

“This way. Quickly.”



The rooms behind Zuse’s new-installed club were quiet and discreet—once one bypassed its owner, at least. Yori could nod politely through apologies for the utter lack of service—do you know, most of the waitstaff just wouldn’t rehire after that dreadful explosion… It was when he’d shifted topic to your loss that her stare came up, cold and fixed. Almost amusing, how fast he’d autocorrected to go discuss arrangements with Quorra. But somehow, Yori couldn't find much humor now.

Yori sighed, took another sip of her drink as she tried to flush the thoughts from cache. Power sparked through her circuits with a welcome rush, and when she lowered the glass, Quorra was back. The other program perched on the edge of the seat across, expression the wide-eyed curiosity of a new-written beta. Or, Yori was beginning to suspect, something else.

She set her glass down carefully, sorted carefully for words. No point offending a clear ally. “Thank you for the assistance. But I admit, I'm not sure how you found me.” A hand rose to delay response as Quorra opened her mouth. “Or why.”

The dark-haired program stilled, mouth closing as her gaze lowered. A moment’s pause before she looked back up, and if her tone was shaded with apology, there was a stubborn glint behind her eyes that read painfully familiar.

“The Creator needs help.”

Familiar bluntness, too. Not that Yori quite managed to hold her own edge back. “I told him that a hundred cycles ago.” Quorra’s blank uncertainty was response enough, and Yori shook her head to cancel the sharp words. Not fair to take things out on her. “What with?”

Stare faltered just a fraction, but the other's voice stayed level. “You have to reopen the Portal.”

…What? She managed to control her tone this time, but Yori couldn’t help the flash of irritation across her face. Flynn knew better. “It can’t be done.”

“Why?”

Yori shook her head, incredulous. “Because I’m no user. Because it requires more power than we could generate with half the Grid. Because it would take all my sisters, and I won’t call them to their own deletion. Clu took the Portal—”

“But—”

Even if that glitch derezzed today, it wouldn’t make a difference! The powerup cycles are locked to external command—for Users’ sake, Flynn made it that way! If he sent you here thinking I could—”

A flinch, small and guilty, and Yori's anger stalled as the last piece clicked into place. Quorra was quick, and skilled, and guarded, and still somehow so painfully new. An ISO, almost certainly—she'd guessed that much before they'd cleared the Arena. But that meant more than Clu’s hate. She wasn't led by a directive. And she hadn’t come to follow any user.

She’d risked her life to help a friend.

“…He doesn’t know you’re here.”

A small shake of the head.

Eyes closed, a long moment’s silence before Yori refreshed visuals to meet Quorra’s gaze. Retry. “I’m sorry.” Calmer. Quieter. And genuine. “I wish I could tell you something else. But when the Portal closed, I couldn’t… can’t undo that.” A quiet laugh that stopped one value short of bitter. “If some other user comes… someday. But until then, my function’s more or less superfluous.”

She didn’t voice the rest aloud. But from what little Flynn had told her of his world, Yori quietly, terribly doubted that if would ever run.

A nod. Quorra stayed silent a long moment before her mouth curved in a tired smile. “He said it was impossible. I knew better, really. I just… couldn't do nothing.” If vocals caught, just slightly, on that phrase, Yori knew better than to comment. “Come with me anyway? It… he needs help. You know him better than I do.”

“Longer,” Yori corrected. “I’m not sure about better.” A shake of the head. She couldn’t quite face Flynn, not now. Besides. “The Grid needs help, too.” And she still had someone to look for. “I don’t suppose you’d want to join me instead? I have some contacts in the city, and… I suspect we’ll have a need for programs with your skills.” Mouth twisted up wryly. “I certainly did.”

“Not now.” Amusement, but no hesitation. “The Cre—” Voice stalled, restarted, shaping the name slowly. “Flynn… needs someone.”

“Hard to argue.” Yori shook her head, reached out impulsively to rest a hand on Quorra’s. “Thank you. And stay in contact, when you can?”

Eyes flicked down, back to Yori’s face, a ghost of the brighter grin surfacing. “How do I find you?”

A smile in return. Time to get started.

“Just ask for Trace.”

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