smiley_anon: (Default)
Title: Imperfections
Fandoms: Tron, Firefly
Warnings: Torturey mindscrew, death, needles, violence, trippy dream sequences, and dubious life choice in fusion fic.
Disclaimer: I own up to my distractability. I also own a crash-prone computron. Neither of these are a fandom, so nobody sue.
Summary: The war ended long ago. But with a perfect system on the horizon, sometimes a group of misfits still has to misbehave. A Serenity-Tron fusionverse AU.
Wordcount: 3768
Author's note: Serenity/Tron fusion pretty well sums it up. Theoretically just the first chapter, though we'll see if more actually gets written.


“Earth-That-Was could no longer sustain our numbers, we were so many.”

The instructor’s voice cut through awareness like a blade, and the child’s eyes opened. He was ten, the youngest in the class, and a head of close-cropped brown hair tilted sideways as he marked the others. Students were lined in orderly rows, white robes a neat contrast against the grass and clear, bright sun of the outdoor pavilion. The teacher's words had their attention, and faces were turned forward, watching the projected display at the front of the class. The facts of the ‘verse, laid out in bright color. Easy. Direct.

(Stupid.)

“We found a new system, dozens of planets and hundreds of moons. Each one terraformed, a process taking decades, to support human life, to be new Earths. Just as we ourselves adapted to the stars. Improved.”

A white-haired girl three rows up leaned sideways to whisper to her neighbor, who stifled a quiet giggle. She had it right. This was basic data, boring, no reason to attend. The neat rows of students each wore white-lit circles on their backs, glow bright and active as their synced disks saved each word to file. Code augmentation was a fact of life, and on core worlds, even children had perfect memory.

“The Central Planets formed the Systems Alliance. Ruled by an interplanetary parliament, the System was a beacon of civilization.”

Known, known, boring. They knew this. They had to know it, had to have been taught. An uneasy whisper edged at the back of his mind/code/disksomething was wrong, but a glance to the side showed no disturbance in the others. The opposite, if anything. Now they all sat perfectly alert, backs straight, lights steady, eyes fixed forward as if the information was engrossing and new. The boy blinked, and for a moment, there were no other children, just rows of template-copied drones, orange disks and bowed heads in soldier’s lockstep. Then the image vanished, and he was seated in the classroom.

Learning.

Again.

“The savage outer planets were not so enlightened and refused System control. The war was devastating.”

Pictures scrolled by on the projector: recognizers, carriers, the war the rebels called the Purge. Millions dead, worlds laid to waste. All to contain the Independent Sector Outreach and its supposed “threat”.

“But the System's victory over the ISOs ensured a safer universe. And now everyone can enjoy the comfort and enlightenment of true civilization.”

The presentation wrapped, data shrinking to a blank as the calm-voiced teacher turned to the class to take questions. A few other students took the chance to pull up reference files; the boy in back found his own stylus and opened a different kind of search.

“I don’t understand.” An older boy. They were all older, but this one was loud and stupid, too. “Why were the ISOs even fighting us? Why wouldn’t they look to be more civilized?”

“I hear they’re cannibals.”

“That’s just virals.”

“Virals aren’t real!”

“Full well they are! They attack settlers from space and kill them and strip their code and rape them for hours and hours—”

A few harsh words from the instructor restored order, and the chattering students bowed their heads, chastened and respectful before she spoke again. “It’s true that there are… dangers on the outer planets. But with all the social and medical advancements we can bring to the ISOs, it’s hard to see why they would fight so hard against us.”

Lie.

The syllable slipped out between clenched teeth, and the child felt, more than saw, the classroom still around him. The teacher’s steps closed, one-two-three as the stifling wrongness surged back through perception, but he kept his eyes on the desk display, left hand tapping furiously to scroll past entries.

She stopped in front, a hand reaching down to close over the stylus in his grip. “Rinzler?”

The boy’s head rose automatically even as something inside froze. Wrong wrong wrong, he wanted to say, because this wasn’t how it had happened. He shouldn’t be here, had to stand, run, shout while he still could because that is not my name

“We meddle.” He knew it was his mouth shaping the words, but the voice that came out was far too rough and raw to fit the child. A burst of itching pain crept up his throat, and a too-small hand reached up, felt for the jagged scar he knew should run from jaw to collarbone. Nothing there but smooth, unbroken skin. The boy glared at his teacher anyway.

“People don't like being meddled with. Tell them what to do, what to think. Don’t run, don’t talk. In their code and their heads and haven’t the right.”

Silence all around. The space seemed darker, somehow—were the others still there? A nameless panic closed his throat, but he couldn’t move his head or limbs, couldn’t turn from the instructor. She gave a quiet sigh and pried away the stylus.

“Rinzler…”

Stop calling me that. But she didn’t hear, just shook her head. “We’re not telling people what to think.

“We’re just trying to show you how.”

A cheery smile and she plunged the tool forward. It embedded deep between his eyes.



Pain. Darkness. No, lie lie lie; there was light. System-orange outlined the sterile halls in too-sharp lines, more directed beams blinding him even through closed eyelids as they showcased his chair in the operating theater. Rinzler was orange too, and older, and he didn't need sight to feel the circuit lines across his body that marked him as a heavy augment. Or to know when he was flickering. Foreign code pulsed through his body in bright arcs, the infusion array clamped to his disk port so much more hated than the needles in his brain. No disks, not in this room. They learned that lesson early.

“It's dreaming?”

“Off the charts.”

Voices above, close enough to touch. Or kill. Rinzler could trace positions from the audio, and it would be easy, knife hand up left to crush the first speaker’s windpipe, stand, step, pivot low to take the other. Foot to knee, knee to spine. Break his neck to be sure.

“Let’s amp it up. Engage the secondary overrides, trigger pattern Oh-Four-Five-One…”

Rinzler managed a shuddering twitch, brought short by smooth cool metal at his wrists, ankles, dock. Then light crackled through his circuitry, paralysis complete and agonizing before consciousness blanked mercifully white.


He came back to himself not long after, a shard of awareness floating on a haze of code and chemicals and the constant rattling of his own shallow breaths. But he’d been broken since their first edits, and still always more aware than they could know. There were voices, past the haze, and he let his fragment-self rise towards them, small and quiet and too passive to be flagged by their machines.

“…spectacular. Especially in this case. Rinzler is our prize subject.”

“I’ve heard that.”

The first speaker was expected. Academy Head Jarvis, more bureaucrat than editor by anyone’s count—only ever on the floor to show around the ones who mattered. But if the overrides hadn’t cut motor access, the subject would have jerked upright (or tried to) at the voice that followed. That was—he [he] knew [remembered], but it was impossible. Lie? Trick? Rinzler would kill it. Kill them first.

The stuttering noise rose in volume, breathing quickened before the stabilizing equipment registered the change. A needle depressed, silver-bright liquid flooding through cognition, and he forgot how to remember. Muscles relaxed, growl dampened to a quiet rumble. The voices distanced again as automatic commands slipped past to take their place. Input-negative, current-status: standby, inactive. No tasks; dismiss external data.

He saved the words instead.

“Tell me about the side effects.”

“Well, obviously, he’s unstable… we try to clean out the old persona completely once the full code replacements take hold. But some subjects are more difficult than others, and repeated wipes tend to fragment their own identity matrix. It manifests as severe dissociation, sometimes—”

“What use do we have for a soldier who doesn’t know his own name?”

“Rinzler’s more than just a soldier. Given the right trigger, this boy is a living weapon. And with the proper controls, he’s already…” Volume faltered, pitch rising fractionally (uncertain, wary, target-weak). “I’m—I’m sorry sir, I have to ask. Is there a reason for this inspection?”

“Am I making you nervous?”

An audible swallow. “Key members of the Council have personally worked with this subject. I was told the System’s support for the project was unanimous. The demonstration of his abilities—”

“How is he physically?”

“Like nothing we’ve seen. All our subjects are conditioned for combat, but Rinzler… he’s a creature of extraordinary grace.”

“Yes.” The known/unknown voice was closer now, an odd vocal catch lagging the words. “He always did love the Games.”

An instant of dizzying comprehension before everything went white. Something shrieked past overhead, a scrambling pulse that wrecked through circuitry and code with needling bright fire. But as sharp a shock as the disruptor had on him, the effect on its actual targets was much more complete. Thumps around the room as Jarvis and the specialists passed out, a whine of dying machinery as local systems failed, and [he] [he was]…

The teenager locked in the chair opened his eyes with a strangled catch of breath as he felt the rectifier’s link cut out.

No overrides. No lockdown. No correction digging through his mind. The absence left him reeling, and shocky enough that combat-sense felt the inspector’s proximity before his eyes could focus on the man. He flinched away, stuttering breaths harsh and panicked. Please not a lie, not a test, not now, again, [not him].

But there were hands unfastening his bindings, drawing free the needles and infusers with quick, deft motions. Reassurances whispered to a half-entreated name [mine, me] that made the subject want to cry or shudder or split in half. Redirect for now, and all his parts could rate escape the first priority. When the familiar voice offered another name to cling to, he [he] latched on to it gratefully.

“It’s Alan. It’s your brother.”

He wouldn’t forget.

Motor control returned more easily, and by the time Alan checked for guards and turned back towards the room, he had made his way behind the other man. The visible start of surprise could almost have been amusing, under other circumstances. As it was, the younger sibling stared up at the older, constant sound ticking out quietly beneath each breath until a silent alarm pinged at the back of his code.

“They know.”

The words were ground-glass harsh, almost inaudible, and Alan’s jaw tightened with badly-held fury as his glance slid down to Rinzler’s [Rinzler’s] damaged throat. Still, he nodded, stripping the inspector’s jacket for a less distinctive doctor’s garb as they slipped into the hallway.

“We can’t make it to the surface from the inside.” The hurried whisper paused, replaced with urgency as steps approached around the corner. “Find a…”

Known. A silent crouch to push off for momentum, and he swarmed up to the ceiling, flipped across at the top to balance between the walls. Alan’s shocked stare lingered for a moment before lowering hurriedly in an attempt to feign a normal stride as a pair of editors passed by below.

He nearly rolled his eyes. [His] brother was terrible at lying.

Adrenaline and speed took them to the ventilation shaft. Alarms had spread nearly as quickly, and it was just two steps out on the narrow ledge before a burst of shots forced them to duck. Voices rose past the hastily-jammed window, security breach and test subject loose! before the forward guard pulled a disk instead to slice through the obstruction.

Orange-lit fingers twitched at his sides, a sharp pang of absence for his own disks, but Alan pushed him behind cover, and he went. No escape back there, but they were running out of options. Stark red shadows pushed up from below as the laser grid came on, crisscrossed beams climbing the walls up towards their ledge in a deadly spiral.

And then the sky went dark, his brother’s face lit with stark relief, and the academy’s first escapee glanced up to see a transport ship filling the sky.

All a blur from there. Bright lights and fading shadows, descending cables and the step across the warm abyss. [He] shuddered as the lowered platform began to rise, chemical rush and tangled if/then loops returning as the combat urgency began to ebb, and as a warm/safe hand reached down to ground him, the subject felt something else unlock too. [My turn], and he might have argued, but eyes closed instead, a quiet lean towards [his] [my] brother. [Time] Time [to]—


“STOP.”


The scene froze. Projections fixed, thoughtless and obedient. And one year and half a system from the played-back memory, a diskless augment sat bolt upright from sleep, shuddering from fears he couldn’t name.




“Excuse me! No one is allowed in the records room without my express permission!”

Jarvis stormed into the archive space on a wave of indignation and all the commanding presence he could muster. The latter being decidedly low, it was probably for the best he’d brought his retinue—two blackguards, helmed and ready, obedient specifically to him. He’d made sure of that before selecting them. As much trouble as the past year had brought, the Academy Head was wary of any more… mistakes.

Not that the figure across the room seemed particularly impressed. The man turned from his contemplation of the projected scene, revealing the warm-spectrum colors of the Systems Alliance across a coded combat suit that could almost have been worn by one of their subjects. But there was no trace of programmed submission in the other’s bearing—the opposite, if anything. A helmeted head inclined towards Jarvis with slow amusement as he tried to remember if he’d ever seen gold lights before.

“I preferred to see the incident alone. Without… bias.”

Incident. Jarvis glanced sideways to the scene and stilled, stare shifting to the paired red-orange disks in the display holder. A moment’s sputtering hesitation (those files were locked) before he drew together his authority and glared at the intruder.

“I’m going to need to see some ID.”

“Understandable.” The man turned to the console, but made no move to undock his disk to feed the data in. “I know you’ve had some issues with security.”

The mocking edge was unmistakable that time, and Jarvis flushed, opened his mouth to snap back, and promptly paused as the computer chimed in answer. Touch-response alone; definitely some kind of heavy augment—

“Administrative override. Full access granted.”

Jarvis’ mouth snapped shut. System administrators had their authority direct from the Co-Admin Council—permissions to go anywhere, at any time, and commandeer lower-level personnel or resources in doing so. Jarvis hadn’t gotten to his position without knowing when it was time to follow orders.

“Apologies. An administrator of the council will, of course, have our full cooperation.” Brow furrowed behind his transparent face-shield as the academy head paused. “I’m… I’m sorry, I see no listing of name or rank…?”

The helmet inclined, slow and condescending as a smirk. “Let’s talk about the Bradleys.”

Jarvis’s gaze turned reluctantly to the freeze-frame on display. The image was dim, scattering to orange motes of light closer to the edge—one of the last memories the disks had registered before their owner moved out of range. Two figures were crouched atop a rising platform: the Academy’s best work, and the man who’d taken it away. Rinzler was hunched and kneeling at the edge of the gurney, sparse lights dim. Alan Bradley stood behind, casting a worried look down towards the subject even as he reached for a support cable to stabilize them both.

In this light, the resemblance between the pair was unmistakeable.

“I… assume you’ve scanned the—”

“Rinzler was this project’s greatest success. Improved, controlled… perfected.” Voice tightened with a sudden chill. “And then his brother walked in here and took him from you.”

“It’s not quite so simple.”

“Oh, I am well aware of that.”

Jarvis could feel sweat beading across his brow. “There was no way I could have—”

“No, no, of course.” A dismissive wave, and if the acerbic edge wasn’t quite gone, Jarvis still relaxed a fraction as the administrator turned to pace around the image. “Bradley threw away his career developing the contacts to infiltrate this place.”

Jarvis nodded hurriedly. Agree, definitely agree. “Gave up a brilliant future in medical technology.” He shook his head. “Madness!”

“Madness?” The gold-lit mask turned back, and he froze. “Have you looked at this file carefully? At his face.” Jarvis glanced uncertainly to the image.

“That’s love.” The administrator’s tone quieted, cold and brittle. “Something a good deal more dangerous.”

“…why are you here?”

“Because the situation is even less simple than you think.” The pacing stopped by the disks locked in their read-display, a hand closing around the projected code above with an angry twist before the larger image shattered. The replay that replaced it was a live feed, and Jarvis flinched as he recognized his own voice.

Key members of the Council have personally worked with this subject—

Code released in a scatter of light, the projection flipping back to the earlier still frame, and the gold-lit figure stalked closer, slow and menacing. “Key members. Key. The programmers behind every diplomatic, military, and covert function in the galaxy, and you let their prototype slip the leash.”

Jarvis stepped back, scrambling for excuses. Or even answers. He’d never worked much with the subjects personally, but this much trouble, over one already-damaged recode? “I—it—he was a test subject, that’s all! If there were any unique effects, or—or proprietary software… I wasn’t made aware!” Eyes flicked to his own (functional) guards, ready and waiting, and he almost called them forward now.

“You?” A scornful snort, though at least the advance had paused. “You don’t know code, ‘doctor’. And you certainly don’t know whose property you’re handling.”

Jarvis stared wide-eyed, and for once, entirely without response. The administrator waited a moment, and when nothing was forthcoming, shook his head with a long sigh.

“You know, in certain… older human cultures, when men failed as utterly as you? They would throw themselves on their own blades.”

That startled out a squeak. “I don’t—”

A bright hum rose across the room, and Jarvis’ nerve broke. A quick wave brought the Black Guard forward as he stumbled back into the doorway—felt a shriek of air as the gold-lit disk sliced past a hand’s-breadth from his face. The weapon split the first guard’s armor as if it were a paper shell and embedded in his chest. The man fell forward, blood coming in uneven spurts, only to form a partly-crystalized slurry across the floor.

Voxelizing, one of his medical techs had called it. An automatic side effect of augmentation. The more upgrades a subject had, the more their biology rewrote itself to match. An easy way to stabilize damage, prevent blood loss or infection. Really, she’d said with a quick smile, code is much safer.

The subject hadn’t lived long enough to reach his gun.

The second guard was converted far enough not to use one. A red-orange disk jerked free from dock, swung down towards the administrator—and froze, midair, as the intended target stepped in close and caught the striking arm. Grip tightened with savage, crushing force, and when Jarvis saw the glowing fractures spread across his last defender’s body, he didn’t wait to see the outcome. The academy head turned and bolted down the hall.

The electronic scream cut off behind him with a shattering crash.

Five steps sprinted down the corridor, and Jarvis didn’t dare look back. Ten, and he could see the hallway branch, security doors not far ahead—but the administrator would have access—alarm panel on the other side—yes, that would work! Call for backup, tell them to take down the intruder, or buy him time, whatever it took to get away

A fist slammed between his shoulder blades, and the project head watched with shriveling disappointment as he missed his thirteenth step.

The world went white. Then dark. Then white again. Something was humming close below, and there was an impossible wave of agony spreading from his back—his dock. The administrator had hit him in the disk dock, done… done something. A choked breath caught in his throat, and he wanted to scream, or shout, or—or complain, tell someone that things shouldn’t hurt this much. It wasn’t fair.

Instead he stood, and swayed, and stared down from his new paralysis to the active, waiting disk held out in front.

The cold voice was still talking, but not to him. Jarvis listened anyway, clung to the words as if they could somehow give him something to hold onto. “…call up the logs on embedded triggers. We’re going to help Rinzler remember…” No hold, no hold, and he was slipping forward. Breaths hitched, sharp and painful, because he didn’t want to die… he couldn’t

“Shh.” A warm breath in his ear, and there was something wrong with that, but Jarvis couldn’t focus. Couldn't stop leaning. “We're making a better world.” A hand gripped his shoulder tight, and for a moment, Jarvis felt a rush of desperate hope.

“A perfect system.” The administrator shook him once, firm and commanding.

Then he let go.





The walk back to the records room was short, and if the technician he’d left back with the body was still crying, Clu doubted she would disobey his orders. He burned the blood off his disk with a quick surge of power, stepped past the other corpse and the neater pile of glassy, broken code. Raw humans were so disgustingly messy.

The objects he was looking for were still where he had left them, but Clu paused beside the projected freeze-frame, scanned to confirm the one thing Jarvis would never have known to look for. It didn’t take long. The subject was frozen in his usual hunch, orange circuits dim with shock and drugs and long exhaustion. Except for those four clustered circuits beneath the damaged throat, where there was a single, fragile flicker of blue-white.

The display snapped off, and Clu removed the joined disks with a quiet click, dragged a finger along the orange-lit interior as his mouth twitched upwards in a smirk. Definitely a long way to go.

“Where are you hiding, Tron?”
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