It took less than two micros for the world to reshape itself.
Code to flesh. Structure, space, support shuddering to dense-coded decking, slipping back to something not quite code. But certainly no rigid, hollow shell of brick walls and concrete backing. The laser hadn’t been made for this. Hadn’t been tested, hadn’t been tried, no matter how many simulations he'd demanded of Portal Control.
Blank, desperate nonexistence. Transition, change he could feel in his root code, a dull-fragile link to ship and programs (his ship, his programs) throbbing with the force of recreation. And then Clu, the rectifier, and the seething mass of rectified it contained came new-written and new-realized into his maker’s world.
The location wasn’t what registered. Not at first. Not the shifting sky of stars above, not the massive crater below where the arcade had stood. Not just the arcade, but blocks and blocks of structures, objects—users. Matter converted, not created. They had to come from somewhere. And the laser adapted to what it was given.
Or what it could take.
But that wasn’t what Clu mapped first. No, that was the focus of the swarms of Sentries, the utilitities and higher order functions calling numbers across the bridge in automated direction, transmitting calculations and input/output through his warship’s reformed links. Their admin, their leader? Was listening. To the new, erratic, pulsing of blood and breath, the quick and fragile beat of new-made (new-born) systems. User systems. He was a user, here.
To the sudden silence in the space behind.
A moment’s fragile thought, processing sparking quick and cold across new synapses, and Clu spun. No scans, no steady tie of programmer and programmed, not here, not now, and raw, flat visuals were all he had to read by. His enforcer was still there. Hadn’t left, hadn’t moved, not really. Form locked in its usual hunch, mask lowered. But no sound.
A shift. A faint, minor reconfigure, mask lifting, hands raising from the program’s sides as his helmet tilted in inspection. Dim red-orange glow still traced along the shell in its sparse lines, flickered for a breath that had Clu’s own hand twitching with the need to reach into code, find the error, conflict, glitch. To fix it.
Not so easy, here.
“Rinzler.” A pause, a lag, before the mask tipped up. Was there a fraction of aggression in the set of close-drawn shoulders, a coiled readiness in the slight lean? Too hard to tell, and it frustrated the admin more than he could voice. Clu knew every line and character of the program’s code, had reached in, again and again to shape, reshape. Perfect. Rinzler was his, and to be cut off from every link or tie, limited to watching for the angle of the black shell, the motion of tense, lethal limbs—
A small thought twisted up through new, unstructured processing. A question, close and quiet, and all too disquieting. But it wouldn't leave, not quite. Wouldn't fade. Drew out, fragile and absurd, through the space of his victory, through the silence that should be filled with the steady skips of ordered conflict.
Was this how the enforcer’s targets mapped their end?