Original Characters | TRON: Legacy
Lines. She saw only lines, luminescent, white, and strong. In streets, guiding the way. On structures, leading the eye to portals, to information. Rocketing upward against the ever dark sky, tracing patterns of power along smooth surfaces, bleeding silver against the low clouds. Defining everything.
She stood absolutely still, digits sunk to the first knuckles in the Grid node interface, face upturned to the bright lines resolving from code into physical form. They climbed ever higher, splitting here, coming together there, a lattice of light punctuated by subnodes of concentrated power. Shadowy pseudo-texels ghosted between the lines, awaiting commands to manifest as walls and floors and systems and content.
“ I like this one,” hummed Asip.
Her fellow program freely offered opinions. She wondered if it was integral to his purpose, being an engineer of interfaces between the structures she built and the programs that would occupy them. He considered himself an expert on usability, functionality, and—by some extension of logic known only to him—aesthetics.
She did not share his proclivity for opinions. She liked the structure, certainly, but not more or less than any other design she'd executed. She liked them all without reservation. It was her function to like them all. If the user Kevin Flynn was the Creator of the new system, she was one of his many hands.
True, each of the Creator's designs offered something different. Something she'd never built before, never conceived before, yet every unique structure seemed perfectly configured for its surroundings. No, she would not say she liked this structure. She revered it.
“Base Structure One complete.”
She disentangled one hand from the interface, opened her eyes. The schematic lines faded in her vision to a barely perceptible overlay of the digital world. Blinked, focused on Apis. “You're back. How damaged was Unit 8-92?”
“Severely. Almost half the structure derezzed, the other half thoroughly compromised. Nothing to salvage. It will have to be demolished and added to the growing queue. Glitching grid bugs. They almost overwhelmed the Grid node this time. Could you simulate if they got into the Grid?”
She did the calculations. “Every building downstream of the node would be infested; they could compromise an entire block in nanocycles. Upstream, a whole sector in microcycles.” An unpleasant thought. Ten cycles of building undone before their very eyes.
She moved aside, made room for Apis to feed his code to the node.
“Systems installation activated,” muttered her partner, his own vision gone soft as he tapped the subnodes she created, directed extra energy from the Grid to assemble dataports, elevators, and other power-linked systems the new structure would require.
“I saw one of them on my way here.”
It took her a moment to process he'd said anything, engrossed as she was in the spidery lines branching off the main trunks to feed light and power to the interior spaces. “One what?”
“You know. One of them.” He caught her blank stare. “An isomorph.”
“Haven't you been tracking the wire updates?”
“I've been…engaged,” she admitted. Between the Creator's redevelopment of downtown TRON City and the recent rash of grid bug attacks, the structural projects subsystems had a particularly long queue of waiting assignments. She'd been working the maximum safe hours for a very long time now, hardly allowing any opportunity to downcycle for program maintenance, much less information updates.
“You work too much, Verex. Isomorphic algorithms. They are a new kind of program from the Outlands. That's what the Creator says.”
“What do you mean, a new kind of program?”
His voice dropped, as if the other basic programs laboring nearby might find the answer disturbing. “The Creator says he didn't write them.”
Her function halted. “Who wrote them?”
“No one knows. Maybe they wrote themselves.”
She considered this, considered the implications. A shake of her head. “Ridiculous. Programs cannot write themselves. Only users can write programs. Another user must have access to the Grid. There can be no other explanation.”
He grunted, twisted his wrist in the node interface. Another level of dataports formed. “I agree with you, but some of the higher functions say otherwise.”
She snorted. “They would. Some higher functions already dare boast self-generation.”
Asip sniffed. “Blasphemy, I know. Even the greatest of us came from the users.”
By greatest, she wondered if he meant Tron, or Clu. Not that it mattered. Whether he spoke of the Creator's metaphorical baton or identity disk, Tron and Clu worked as one to implement the Creator's grand plan.
Like the task before them. “We all serve the users,” she intoned, the words as comforting to her as the bright column of light across the Sea of Simulation that marked the open I/O tower, a sign from above that the Creator walked among them. A sign that had been dark for some time now.
“But that's the problem. These isomorphs claim they are independent of the users, and that has some basics incensed. The isomorph I saw on the way here? Some basics had him cornered, were screaming at it. Looked like they might get physically aggressive with him.”
Her head snapped up. “Aggressive? Why? What had he done?”
“I don't know. But they said he wasn't of the users, wasn't welcome here. Called him an anomaly that needed to be erased. One even accused him of bringing the grid bugs.”
“That makes no sense. Grid bug attacks have plagued TRON City from the beginning of the new system, long before these isomorphic algorithms. The two cannot be related.”
Asip shrugged. “They both come from the Sea of Simulation. Who knows how long isomorphs have been hiding out there? It is possible.”
“That isomorphs are responsible for grid bug attacks? They are random bits of destructive code, not even as complex as viruses. You and I know this better than anyone. They unravel code, nothing more. They cannot be directed to attack.”
“No. But they can be unleashed.”
“Unleashed? On TRON City? If the City were under attack, why unleash grid bugs on random habitations on the edges of the city? Why not downtown, the heart of communication and commerce? Or the core node of the Grid? Compromise that and all of TRON City would derezz in microcycles.”
“Keep your vox down. Someone might hear you.”
She shook off his hand impatiently. “What? Are isomorphic algorithms spying on us, listening in for ideas?”
He moved closer, said under his breath so the labor programs could not hear, “You forget yourself, Verex. You have level six access to every structure in the city. Intimate knowledge of many of them. What if something were to happen to the Grid? Clu could charge you with betraying system security, have you repurposed as a demolisher or service drone or,” he dropped his voice even further, the thought almost too terrible to voice, “a base-level monitor.”
She stared at him. “Are you glitching? Clu has no authority over structural projects. Or security; that's Tron's function.”
“But he does have authority over operations. Grid bug swarms definitely disrupt operations. And he has authority over all program purposing, even security and structural projects.”
She could barely fathom what he was suggesting. Clu ordering her reprogrammed for a random grid bug attack. “He wouldn't. We have too many projects.”
“You are not irreplaceable. None of us are.”
“He couldn't. Flynn would never allow it.”
“Flynn is my user, too, Verex. And Clu's. Don't you think the Creator would do whatever was best for the system?”
She opened her mouth to reply but no sound came from her vox. Shook her head to clear the mounting feedback. “This exchange is interfering with our duties. I serve the users. End of line.”
She resumed her program, setting stem endpoints and erecting inner bulkheads to stabilize the lower floors before moving upward.
Felt strange. Put a hand to her lips, found her mouth squeezed into a thin line she couldn't seem to wipe away.
The dour administrative program stared at nothing, engaged in the access point before him. Said to the line of programs, “Next. Identify yourself.”
Verex stepped forward, placed her identity disk in the access ring in front of her. “VSE-10,” she answered. “Downloading execution progress.”
Data strings resolved themselves in the center of the ring as three-dimensional schematics, flowed from her glowing blue disk into the Structural Projects Subsystem.
The administrator's eyes lost their glassy stare, focused on her with a frown. “This project is behind schedule, Verex.”
“Yes, sir. A minor delay at the site.”
The thought crossed her algorithms to lie. Sedit was known for loudly and publicly reprimanding programs that didn't keep on schedule with the building tasks they were assigned. But it would be difficult to hedge her answer when he could access the truth directly from her identity disk.
“A discussion between myself and my co-program which got me…thinking. I was distracted and did not perform at optimal speeds. I request a three millicycle leave to run program diagnostics and optimization.”
Sedit's grey bearded jaw clenched, chewed on words she'd pre-empted. “Granted,” he groused. “But this aberration will be logged, Verex. And you will make it six millicycles. Don't come back until you are ready to work at your full capacity.”
“Yes, sir.” She snapped her disk back into place, proceeded from Structural Projects quickly before Sedit recovered enough to say something more.
The heart of TRON City bustled with programs as it always did. Those with blue circuitry like hers moved with purpose, destined for some function in the other administrative subsystem towers that dominated the core of the hexagonal city. The higher functions programs in white seemed less in a hurry, content to stand in small groups and talk, watching the basics flow by.
She could join them. She had the time. But it wasn't in her programming to stand there and do nothing. She hurried past, made her way to the station and filed into a carrier bound for the outskirts. The car was full as usual, left little room to do much more than stand still.
Some of the programs spoke as they travelled, but not many. No doubt their functions focused on communication, for they seemed to crave it when not performing their duties.
Structural projects programs like Verex and Apis had little use for communication. Their work demanded full silent concentration. She knew better than to engage in a prolonged conversation with him; now she was stuck on diagnostic leave.
Why did Apis even bring up the isomorphs? Such information was not essential to their function; indeed, it had detrimental effects on the timely execution of their purpose.
Rogue spontaneous programs? Attacks on TRON City? Repurposing? Verex wrestled with unpleasant feedback in her midsection. Surely he felt the same; why would he inflict that upon her? He should have kept it to himself.
Don't come back until you are ready to work at your full capacity. She remembered the curl of Sedit's lip, the hard line of his jaw. Thinking spread among basic programs like a virus. This diagnostic leave served a greater purpose than repair. It kept her isolated from other programs who might pick up her extraneous thought processes, slow their performance down as well. It was, in every way but name, a quarantine.
As the carrier travelled to the edges of the City, the crowd thinned. One end of the car emptied; she claimed a seat away from the door where she could process in peace.
It took her a moment to realize the greeting was directed at her. The hooded speaker sat alone at the end of the car, staring out the transport's windows at the dwellings blurring by. White lines traced the form-fitting black labor uniform, though the pattern of circuitry was not one she recognized. Still, white meant she was a higher function; it was not uncommon for a higher function program to be entirely unique in its purpose.
It took her a moment to initiate her social subroutines. “Greetings, program,” came the standard response. She looked away.
“Where are you going?”
“To my rejuvenation alcove,” she answered simply.
“Where is that?”
A curious question; she could not imagine why a program would need such information. “Hex Three, Sector Sixteen, Block Four, Unit 16-71.”
“And what will you do there?”
She looked up, actually studied the program's profile. Unlike Verex's neat tight black bun, the program's long black hair spilled out under the broad hood of the cloak. An uncommon style, even among higher functions who rarely performed regimented or physically active tasks. Almost unheard of for a program in a labor uniform. Though for a higher functions program, this one did not seem to display much insight. Then again, higher functions were strange programs; it was possible this one's purpose required such information. She might be a systems auditor doing field reconnaissance.
Verex stared at the floor, her mouth drawn in a tight line. “I have no purpose while I am there except to perform self-diagnostics, initiate repairs, and recharge my energy levels.”
“Repairs? Is there something wrong with you?”
The question stung her sense of self-worth, the answer moreso. “I have a meme feedback loop that is siphoning processing power.”
“You're obsessing over a thought? What is it?”
This conversation was fast becoming tiresome. “That is not important. It does not conform to my function and is interfering with my ability to perform. Reinitialization will end the loop so I can return to my task.”
“What is this nonconforming thought? I would like to know, if you don't mind telling me.”
Exasperated, she turned. “The belief that programs could…” The words died in her vox. The program looked her in the eye; glowing white lines traced from her left eye to jawline to neck, disappearing under the high collar. She gaped, the question forgotten.
The program glanced over her shoulder, confused. “Is something wrong?”
She caught herself reaching, pulled back her hand. But she couldn't stop staring. “I have never seen lines on a program's face before. What purpose do they serve?”
The program laughed. “None that I'm aware of. But I'm glad you like them. I am called Fris.”
“Verex. What is your function, Fris?”
Her brow furrowed. “I'm not sure what you mean. What is your function?”
A strange response. Programs did not exist without knowing what they were programmed to do. Perhaps she read too much into a simple question. “I am a Vertical Extrapolation program. Ver-Ex. I serve the users as part of the Structural Projects Subsystem.”
“ And what does that mean?”
“I execute the Creator's structural designs.” At Fris's uncomprehending look: “I make buildings.”
“Oh. You mean these buildings?” Fris gestured at the structures blurring by.
“No. These are low-rise rejuvenation structures executed from a template, all alike in form and implementation. I build those buildings.” She pointed out the window behind her at the giant forms hulking in the heart of the City.
The program's eyes widened, her perpetual smile gone slack. “You built those? All of them?”
A pulse flushed through Verex, made her lines surge bright blue with pleasure. “Some of them,” she amended. “That one, with the single angled tower taller than any other. And that one, the pyramid with the triangular gap in the base facing the bridge. And the Arena, that low broad wall there. And can you see that one there, the one with the fingers of light and no walls yet? That's the one I'm building now.”
The program pressed her cheek to the glass. “They're beautiful.”
Verex stared at her own definition of beauty, fine intricate lines on an exotic facial structure. “Would you like to see them? The buildings? Up close?”
Excitement flashed through Fris. Faded just as quickly. “I shouldn't.”
“Why not? Unless you have to be somewhere.”
“ You have to be somewhere. In your alcove, running self-diagnostics and repairs, remember?”
Verex hadn't. Ran a self-diagnostic. “Interesting. Since meeting you, the looping meme seems to have resolved itself.”
The program laughed. An erratic sound, like multiple random waveforms interfering simultaneously. Erratic, yes, but oddly agreeable. “You sound like you don't want to go home.”
The program was more perceptive than she seemed. Verex weighed orders against needs. “I have six millicycles to run diagnostics. Spending one of them showing you around TRON City seems far more rejuvenating and beneficial to my programming than being alone in my alcove. Assuming you are willing.”
The program still hesitated. Only slowly did a shy grin creep across her lips. “Alright.”
They exited at the next station, only two stops away from her block. Verex didn't mind. In microcycles they were on a carrier back into the City.
By the time they disembarked, a light rain had moved in over the heart of the City, shrouding the peaks of the structures overhead. Verex frowned, staring up into the falling moisture beading on her black robes.
Fris held out her hand, fascinated by the droplets collecting on her glove. “What is this?”
Verex shot her a look. “It's rain. Haven't you ever seen rain before?”
“What is rain?”
She shook her head. “Energy condensation. The Grid channels a lot of energy. Some evaporates, recondenses at cooler altitudes and falls back to the ground as rain.”
Experimentally Fris touched some of the liquid to the tip of her tongue. Licked her entire glove. “I don't taste anything.”
Verex stared at the strange program. “Where did you say you are from?”
Fris caught her stare. Retreated under her hood and turned back toward the carrier. “We should do this some other time.”
Verex caught her wrist. Let go immediately at Fris's sudden turn, the alarm in her eyes. Held up her hands apologetically. “Don't go. Please. It rains here all the time, and in six cycles I'll be back on task. I can't do this some other time. I don't mind a little rain. That is, if you don't.” She activated her baton with a mental flick. Held out the umbrella as an offering.
Again, that long moment of consideration. Slowly, Fris nodded, fell in beside her under the shadowy rain shield.
They wandered the streets, staring up at sweeping lines and elegant shapes, Verex explaining the spatial challenges of each one and their graceful solutions. Fris listened raptly, that bright smile firmly reattached.
“These are incredible. I cannot imagine what steps are required to take these buildings from concept to creation.”
“Would you like to see the one I'm working on? Up close?”
The light in her eyes was answer enough.
It didn't take long to reach the base of the unfinished tower. With the project's lead builder on diagnostic leave and likely its chief engineer as well, the structure stood abandoned and silent like a partially resolved skeleton, white bones bleached by their own untapped strength. Verex led her inside, showed off the colossal grand entry. Took her to the slanted shaft where the central transportation elevator would go. It stood empty now, a long tube up to the swirling clouds.
“Come on.” She led the way up the emergency ladder, climbed all the way up to its jagged unfinished terminus.
She handed her baton to Fris, put fingertips to the nearest power subnode. Concentrated for microcycles, feeling as much as seeing the unfinished sharp edges of the structure reform into a smooth wide ledge, the rest of the angled shaft extending upward to provide some shelter from the rain.
Verex opened her eyes with a smile. Climbed up onto the wide ledge, held out a hand to Fris. Together they sat, their legs dangling dozens of meters above the highest finished level, hundreds of meters above the streets of TRON City. The rain and unresolved digital clouds swirled lazily around them, alternately revealing and swallowing up the brightness below. Fris stared down, taking it all in with wide-eyed exhilaration. Verex stared at Fris, at the stunning lines she glimpsed under the hood.
“You are an isomorphic algorithm.” It was a statement of fact, or at least very high probability.
Fris stilled. “Yes. Does that frighten you?”
She thought about it. “No.”
“Does it bother you?”
That query took more time to process. “Perhaps.”
“Why? Because your Creator did not create me?”
She squared her shoulders. “Someone created you.”
“How do you know someone created us?”
“Because you are a program, like me. Programs are created by users. That is the way the system works.”
“Why could we not have created ourselves?”
“Because…it is not rational. Programs don't simply appear out of nothingness fully formed.”
“What about grid bugs?”
Verex shuddered. “Grid bugs are not fully formed programs. They are algorithmic fragments, random assemblages of code from the Sea of Simulation. Their open data strings merge easily with any programs they encounter, but invariably their randomness causes errors and deresolution of the host.”
Fris shrugged. “That's one interpretation. Or perhaps they actively seek out other programs and break them down into code fragments to make more grid bugs. They reproduce themselves. What more conclusive evidence is there that they are fully functional, if simple, programs?”
Verex stared at her. “You are comparing isomorphic algorithms to grid bugs? Are you sure you want to draw that parallel? To grid bugs which have, on more than one occasion these last few cycles, swarmed out of the Sea of Simulation and wrought large-scale destruction on TRON City?”
“I'm not saying isos are gridbugs—”
“You would compare your kind to bits of code you suggest are viruses?”
“No, I'm not. We are not viruses—”
“Then what are you? You said you have no function. If you have no function, if your only contribution to the system is to take up space and use up energy and resources, then what are you if not a virus?”
The program stared at her, face still and unreadable. Swung her legs over to climb down the shaft. “Thank you for your time, program.”
“Fris, wait.” Verex took a deep breath. “I'm sorry. This is beyond my programming. Please, just explain it to me.”
“I can't explain something you don't want to understand.”
“I do! I do want to understand. Please. I don't believe you are a virus. I just don't understand how you can compare yourself to one.”
“I don't. But even you don't deny grid bugs manifest out of nothing. Is it so hard to believe I could, too?”
Verex wrestled with the thought, the havoc it played with her core programming, everything she knew and understood about the system. “But…you're so complex. The chances are so infinitesimally low—”
“But there is a chance.”
“An improbable chance—”
“But a chance.”
She sighed. “Yes. A chance.”
Fris brightened. Climbed back up to the ledge and made herself comfortable. Surveyed the City through a break in the vaporware. “So you created all of these buildings from nothingness?”
Verex laughed. “No. It came from the Creator's plan.”
“So you're a creator?”
“No. I am just a builder. I execute the Creator's will, nothing more.”
“But you just told me that slanted tower, with the Creator's own dwelling at the top—” she gestured out toward the heart of the City, the angled light spire that towered over all the rest.
“The End of Line Tower?”
“Yes. When the Creator gave you that assignment, did he tell you how to build it?”
“He defined its shape—”
“But not its structure. You said it defied all known rules of structural design. You said you spent a dozen millicycles working out the logistics of the structure, anchoring it and counterbalancing it so that what seems technically impossible is merely deceptive in its function. Did he tell you exactly how you should accomplish this seemingly impossible task?”
“No. That's why he wrote me; to work out the logistics of his designs.”
“So he created you to be a creator.”
She shifted uncomfortably. “I'm not a creator.”
“I disagree. You may not be the Creator, but you are a creator. You exercise free will in the execution of the Creator's plans. This ledge we are sitting on, is it in the schematics? Is it part of the Creator's plan?”
“Could you, right now, go to that node and create, say, a room around us?”
“Not theoretically. Show me.”
“It is not part of the plan.”
“Neither is this ledge, is it? If you write the code now, can't you rewrite it later? Humor me.”
“Aren't you even the least bit curious to know if you can?”
The thought had truly never crossed her mind before. But now…what would be the harm in rewriting one little bit of code?
Carefully she shimmied down to the subnode, Fris close behind.
She accessed the interface gingerly, as if her very intent to modify the code might trigger some defensive subroutine. But with her access code it wrapped around her presence willingly, eager as always to enact her commands.
She closed her eyes, tried to envision a room where the plans called for a shaft. Drew a blank.
“What kind of room do you want?”
“What kind of room do you want?” Fris countered.
“Then what do you want?”
“To end this pointless experiment.”
“Just try, Verex. Just make a room.”
She tried. She tried to build one in her mind, tried to give it shape and purpose. Created only faint lines and half-rezzed walls.
“How did you create the ledge?”
“Simple. We needed a place to sit.”
“Okay. We need a place where we can rest. Where we won't get wet.”
The needs translated into shapes in her mind, a floor and walls and a ceiling and the structures to support them. “Do we need to see outside?”
“Certainly. Who wouldn't want this view?”
She nodded, finished off the space with a window. Cracked open her eyes. Found the room whole and real, the circular portal at the far end looking out over the City like an all-seeing eye.
Fris glanced around the space, flashed her a brilliant grin. “Very nice, Architect.”
Verex cringed. “Don't call me that.”
She fumbled for words to describe the screech of feedback inside. “That is not my function.”
Fris let her eyes wander the corners of the room, eyebrows arched.
She shook her head vehemently. “I am a builder, nothing more.”
She smiled. “Really? Answer one question and I won't say anything more. Why round?”
Verex frowned, not understanding.
The program pointed to the end of the room. “Why a round window?”
She opened her mouth, scrambled for an answer to fill it. “I don't know. It's just a window.”
“No. Rectangles are just windows. Hexagons are just windows. Circles require extra effort. And this isn't just a circle. It bulges out. It is semi-spherical, not flat. You've shown me many buildings tonight with many windows, and not one of them had spherical windows. Why did you choose this window shape above all others?”
“Because…because you wanted to see the view. This shape offered optimal viewing possibilities.”
“I think you did it to impress me.”
“I merely satisfied the parameters to the best of my ability.”
Fris smirked but didn't argue, looked around the empty room. “The parameters should include a place to sit.”
Verex closed her eyes, effortlessly envisioned a wide bench in front of the window.
Felt a hand over hers, piggybacking on her authorization to access the interface. Their energies mingled and merged, shorted Verex's breath with sheer raw power. What was a measured stream of commands became a torrent of unfiltered information, feral and exhilarating and terrifying. Forms grew from the bench, strange and purposeless, wild in their senseless curvature and jagged edges. Like the screech of Verex's dissonance given form.
“Stop. Please.” Verex shuddered, her own energy surging and crackling in time to Fris's untamed current. “The forms you are creating are—” disturbing, inconceivable, electrifying “—not stable.”
“I'm not creating them; you are. I'm just giving them expression.”
“Stop. They serve no practical function.”
“They are beautiful. I've never seen anything like them. All coming from you.”
“No!” She cancelled the modification in one indiscriminate swipe.
Came back to the digital world with the iso pressed up against her back. Fris sighed, dialed back the flow that seared through Verex's hand, focused down to broad forms that built upon each other like the geometrically fractured stones of the Outlands, almost filling the room but for the semicircular alcove in front of the window. The forms were random, but the randomness was somehow balanced and oddly pleasing to the senses.
Verex stared at her. “How did you do that? Only building programs can set structural code.”
That knowing smile. Fris disengaged from the interface, clambered over the rock-like forms to recline in front of the window.
Verex followed more slowly, thoughtfully flexing her still-tingling hand.
They sat in silence in front of the rain-dotted window, watching the tiny programs bustling on the street below. Glimpsed the occasional recognizer passing through the clouds.
“You live out there. Somewhere.” Verex gestured to the dark escarpments and canyons beyond the chasm surrounding TRON City. “In the Outlands, off the Grid.”
It was both a question and not. Fris nodded.
She peered through the mist, tried to envisage what the rough terrain looked like up close. “We are told it is dangerous to leave the City. Without the Grid, our energy would eventually drop low enough that we would derezz.”
Fris laughed, like tinkling crystal voxels. “Why would someone want you to believe there is no energy beyond the Grid?”
She grinned so fiercely her nose wrinkled. “I have visited pools, rivers, and lakes of energy purer than anything you've ever tasted.”
Verex stared at the iso, enthralled. “So why did you come here?”
Fris met her stare with a grin. “I was curious. I'm a creator. I wanted to see the greatest thing ever created. This city. And I had the extreme luck of meeting one of the few programs to help build it. The incalculable good fortune of becoming her friend.”
Friend. Verex tried the word on, did not find it strange or uncomfortable. Found only truth and simplicity in the iso's distinctively marked face.
She reached out, tentatively at first. Fris looked at the hand, at her. Held still, allowed Verex to brush the circuitry under her eye.
Current crackled under her fingertips, strong as a Grid node but unmodulated. Which made her wonder…
“May I…attempt to access your codestream?”
It was an outrageous request. She'd never tried such a thing before. Never even heard of a program trying such a thing before. But she was a builder, a writer of code given form. What were programs if not codes given form?
Fris nodded, her expression curious and trusting.
Verex bit her lip, uncertain. Sent tentative interface queries into the glowing white circuitry beneath her fingertips.
Found herself swept up in a torrent of shapes and visions and places, memories and imaginings beyond her comprehension.
“Gen-tle—” she rasped. She reached out with her own energy, following the tumultuous stream to its source. Enacted a subroutine she often used for damaged Grid nodes with an erratic flow. It did little to dampen the sheer intensity of the energy, but at least it calmed the current somewhat, steadied it to a manageable stream.
Image fragments flitted by. A city on the shores of the Sea of Simulation, tall and sweeping and graceful and criss-crossed over almost every surface with bright curving lines. Programs of all shapes and sizes, tall and round and male and female and other shapes entirely unfamiliar to her. Fountains of bright blue liquid energy cascading down structure walls. Windows that her limited vocabulary could not even describe except in the crudest of terms: circular and angular and ragged and random, and some barely window-like at all.
She disentangled her fraying code from Fris's, came back to herself a little tattered but awash in bright blue energy. She glanced up, her eyes widening. “Look at yourself.”
Fris opened her eyes slowly, serenely, glanced down at her own circuits, now the same shade of aqua blue. She laughed. “That was…how did you do that?”
Verex shrugged. “I don't know. I've never tried it before. It just seemed…obvious.”
Fris chuckled. “To you builders , perhaps.” But she did not press the argument, simply closed her eyes and settled back. Sat like that for a good while, both of them still reeling from the encounter.
“I should go,” sighed Fris.
“Back. Home, before my friends start to worry.” The isomorph stood. “Thank you, Verex. For showing me your wonderous city.”
Verex rose as well, unable to think of a reason to draw their time out any further. “It was…” She searched for the word. Frowned. “A pleasure.”
Another laugh. “Then why the stern face?”
“Because I've never felt pleasure about anything beyond serving my function.”
“Is that bad?”
She looked Fris in the eye. “I don't know. It's…confusing. You have confused me.”
“Confusion isn't bad. It just raises questions. Questions lead to better answers.”
Verex dwelled on that for the long climb down.
By the time Verex and Fris stepped out onto the street, their circuits were back to their respective blue and white once more. The rain had stopped, left the streets wet and sparkling under a low hanging sky.
“Come. The station is this way.”
They drew the occasional stare as they strolled past scattered pairs and trios of higher functions, wended through the steady stream of harried basics to the station. The same station she departed for home what seemed a cycle ago. This time she boarded a different carrier destined for the bridge.
Verex stood quietly. She wished to speak more, to ask Fris about her home, her experiences. But the car was crowded with basics. She did not feel like pressing for those stories where all could hear.
“You gave me something.” Fris too had been silent, deep in her internal processes. At Verex's look, she tapped her glowing cheek. “Some new code?”
“Oh. That. A stream filter to organize incoming data. I find it helps me focus when I am managing a particularly complex process.”
She hummed appreciatively. “I like it. I feel more…in control.”
Verex rubbed her still-stinging hand. “I imagine so. I don't know how you manage so many untethered subprocesses at once.”
The iso shrugged. “I've done it all my existence. I never knew it could be different.”
Verex started to ask about her inception date. Isos could not be very old. Not like Verex, one of the first programs created when Flynn brought the new system online. Forgot the query when she noticed a program watching Fris intently. Not the soft gaze of a program lost in thought, but a hard focused stare at Fris's face.
She shifted, moved between him and Fris. Confirmed his acute interest by the bob of his head to keep her in view. It was odd behavior; basics paid no more attention to higher functions than higher functions did them. But there were more than just highers and basics now. She thought of Apis's story, of hostile basics confronting another isomorph. Did not like the dark accusing glare in this one's eye.
The carrier slowed. “Come.”
“This is not the bridge station.”
Sympathy crept into Fris face. “Ver, I know you'd like to spend more time together but—hey!”
Verex physically pulled her off the car the moment the doors opened, wove through the mass of programs shuffling to get on. Merged into the foot traffic of the street. It was not as busy as she would have liked, not so crowded that they could simply disappear. But perhaps she was being overcautious. There was no law against staring. She ducked into an entryway, peered behind them.
“Verex, I don't want to walk—”
The basic moved purposefully in their direction, scanning the crowd. He was not alone.
Fris's brow furrowed. “Do you know him?”
“No, but he seems very interested in you. Put your hood up. Stay close.”
She counted down, lurched out of hiding in front of a clump of programs leaving the station. Did her best to fit in, shield the white isomorph from view. A casual observer might not give Fris a second look. Assuming they didn't see the marks on her face. For once, Verex wished for rain, the easier to disappear.
It was too much to hope, but, “Do you have any sort of transportation subroutine?”
“Light cycle. Light jet. Can your baton generate any sort of transportation?”
“How do plan to get back to the isomorphs?”
“Al the way back to your iso tower?” Verex hissed. “Will that take long?”
She chuckled. “No, not back there. Some of us have inhabited the canyons on the edges of the Outlands for several decicycles now. It's not far past the bridge. Are they still back there?”
Verex glanced over her shoulder, met the intense gaze of the same program.
“Still. This way.”
She cut down a side street, broke into a sprint and ducked into a narrow access passage. The passage was long and black, illuminated only by their soft light. Any passersby could see them, especially someone looking for them.
There would be a door at the end, utility access to one of the Grid nodes that powered the building. She hurried quickly down the way, hands tracing the slate black walls, feeling for the concealed entrance. The passage was long, unexpectedly so. She moved so quickly she almost crashed into the wall that suddenly loomed out of the darkness. “It's here someplace. It has to be.” She backtracked, searching the walls with eyes and palms.
“Ver?” The iso tugging on her elbow.
Figures paused at the mouth of the passage, began advancing menacingly toward them.
Verex searched so quickly, she almost missed the faint seam. “Here.” She pressed fingertips to the access point, initiated the door sequence.
The programs broke into a run.
“Hurry,” pressed Fris.
The point beeped unhappily. Access code not recognized . Not her building, not her authorization. She gritted her teeth, fed it a priority override.
Pounding boots shook the ground.
The door recessed. She grabbed Fris and shouldered through the sliding door, slammed a hand on the interior access pad.
Caught a glimpse of blue glow just as it slid shut, heard the crash of bodies against the door.
Verex edged away from the pounding of fists. Backed into the Grid node that dominated the small chamber. Circled the room, searching the walls for more hidden doors. No other exits.
“Come out, little algorithm. We know you're in there.”
“What do you want?” Fris shouted.
“We just want to talk to you,” said one.
“See what you're made of,” said another.
Verex didn't like the sound of that. She moved to the Grid node, once again overrode the access codes to initiate a connection.
In nanoseconds, the node issued a deep bass groan, sent a shudder through the entire building.
Fris caught herself against the wall, wide eyes casting around the room. Looked at Verex. “Please tell me you did that.”
A nod. “A simple stress test algorithm. It simulates the effects of a power flow interruption. Won't damage anything, but monitor programs will interpret the energy fluctuations as structural instability, possibly a grid bug attack. They'll dispatch units to investigate.” She disentangled herself from the node, regrouped. Offered Fris a crooked smile. “Don't worry. Help is coming.”
The iso nodded, though Verex's words did little to ease her tension. “What do they want?” The quiver in her voice suggested she already had some idea.
Verex shrugged. “I don't know. Explanation. Confrontation. Justification. You don't fit into our—into their understanding of the system. If programs can create themselves, then what does that make the users? What does that make the programs who serve users? I don't know. I just know these are uncomfortable questions. Questions that impede a program's performance and necessitate six millicycles of downtime to repair.”
“Your time away from work…was about me? About isos?”
“Partially, yes. And about programs who could not face those questions, could not accept challenges to their concept of the system. I thought I might be one of those programs. But some programs would rather eliminate an anomaly from the system than adjust their internal programming to accept it. I do not share those inclinations. I think this system is infinitely better with you in it.”
That earned a faint smile. “Reassuring. But there are four programs out there who would disagree.”
“And many more on the way who would not.”
“How can you be certain of that?”
She grinned. “Because they are structural projects programs like me, and every builder appreciates an interesting design. No matter where it comes from.”
A heavy blow made them jump, stare at the door. Another, harder than the first. The door cracked, hairline fractures appearing between voxels.
“What is that?”
Verex shook her head. “I don't know. A demolisher subroutine?” That made no sense; demolishers were strictly forbidden from using their subroutines on structures not authorized for destruction.
Perhaps in the same way builders were not allowed to create structures that were not in the Creator's plan.
Strange how one little isomorph could elicit such aberrant behavior.
Another blow. The cracks widened, leaked white light where they threatened to fracture.
Verex's jaw tightened. “Help won't be here soon enough.”
Fris's disk-sized eyes darted from her to the weakening door. “Interface with the node,” she said. “Change the structural code like you did before.”
Fris took her by the shoulders. “Ver, we need a way out.”
Verex stared into those pale eyes only a moment. Lunged for the Grid node, once again accessing the code. This time going deeper, drilling down through quadrant, section, block, partition, and level to the utility access room. She could not visualize its two occupants or the other independent programs outside but she could definitely see the impending structural breach warnings flashing on the door. Could see the chambers beyond the walls, and passages beyond those, could trace a path to the building entrance, all accessible right behind…
“There.” Opened her eyes to an entire wall derezzed, the bright chamber beyond.
Fris flung her arms around Verex, squeezed hard for a nanocycle before dragging her through the opening.
The door exploded behind them. They raced through the corridors, crashed out the front door into the street.
No pursuit. Just dozens of programs walking by, blindly going about their business. The gate to the bridge stood a block away.
Fris burst out with peals of nervous laughter.
Verex eyed her, alarmed. “Are you alright?”
“We made it. I thought…glitch, I thought we'd been caught.”
“Come on. We're not there yet.”
They set off double-time for the gate. Passed under its high triangular peak to the edge of the vast bridge.
Two steps out, Verex came to an abrupt halt.
Fris ran several more meters before becoming aware of the absence at her elbow. Turned. “Verex? You're coming, right?”
The idea hadn't even crossed her mind. “Why would I? I don't belong out there.”
“But…I could show you things. My home. The Towers. The Sea of Simulation. Pools of pure energy, straight from the source. We could use an experienced architect like you. There are so many of us, more every day, and we need dwellings and structures. There are cities that need building.”
The offer tempted. Fris had already shown her so much; what more lay beyond the bridge, sights and experiences she'd never dreamed of?
But her programming reasserted itself.
“You will build them. You know how. I am no architect. I am just a builder. I serve the users. My place, my purpose is here. But I hope you will come back to visit me. There is so much yet to show you.”
Fris grinned. “I will. So long as future tours will be less exciting than this one.”
Verex smirked. “I make no promises.”
Fris nodded. Set off across the bridge.
Turned at the high-pitched whine behind them. “Look out!”
Verex didn't see the identity disk, barely registered the hum before the blue blur tore through one eye in a spray of voxels.
Multiple code errors flashed warning. Motor functions, visual functions, out of memory errors. She fell bonelessly, her split-open head bouncing off the ground. Fris loomed in the stuttering vision of her remaining eye, frozen with disbelief.
Her vox crackled to life, managed only one word. “Run.”
Too late. An identity disk flew overhead, sent Fris diving to avoid it. She came up to her feet, her own disk in hand, let fly in a rage.
Verex could only watch as the programs reached the iso. Fris drew her baton, swung in a wide arc as it activated, slicing one program in half; he derezzed in a puddle of voxels. Another grabbed her; she severed the arm, shook off the glittering bits of his hand as it crumbled to plunge her weapon into his chest.
Her strike was true, but the remaining programs slammed into her, bore her to the ground. One came up on top, raised a fist and brought it crashing down on the pinned iso while the other planted a kick in her side.
No. Verex couldn't move, could do anything. But she could feel the surface of the bridge under her palm, could feel the energy coursing through the lines under its surface. Knew code flowed through it, if only there were a node by which she could access it.
More blows rained down. The iso convulsed.
Desperately she dug her fingers into the smooth surface, feeling for a way in. Found none. Dug deeper, into the surface itself, picking at the ends of code, searching for a weakness, an error.
There. A minor function call left open. She tacked on her own instructions, a rewrite that turned the surface soft and thin.
Clawed through it. Flung into the datastream beneath a crude code, one she'd learned from grid bugs.
The code stained the energy flow sickly yellow, spread through the grid of conduits. Where it touched, the bridge turned brittle and fragile as glass, spiderwebbed under the load-bearing strain. Began to deteriorate and slough away, glowing voxels cascading one by one into the chasm below.
“Glitching.” Punch. “Isos.” Punch. “Ruin.” Punch. “Everything.”
If they saw the growing hole in the bridge, neither of the basics gave any indication. The standing program launched another kick even as the solid surface beneath his foot yellowed and fractured; he slipped on the crumbling surface and tumbled into the chasm, screaming.
The other raised his head to the danger, forgot the danger beneath him. Fris's fist lashed out, caught him in the jaw. Again, before he could recover his bearings. Fris scrambled out from underneath him, away from the spreading hole. The program tried to follow, caught a kick in the chest that knocked him back. He slid over the edge, scrabbling frantically at the sloughing voxels. Fell away.
Fris snatched her baton from the edge of the hole, ran to Verex's side. Rolled her on her back, made a tiny choked sound at the sight.
Compromised systems offered garbled status reports, but Verex did not need a diagnostic to feel energy leaking from the yawning gash in her head. Her subroutines meant to stem the flow were completely offline. She was bleeding out, a slow deresolution.
She wanted to thank Fris. Tell her this had been the best millicycle of her three hundred cycle existence. Wanted to correct one lie: she did build the round window to impress her.
“Run,” was all her failing communications could muster.
“No. I won't leave you like this—”
The surface beneath them shuddered, a piece of the unraveling bridge falling away.
Fris gazed across the crumbling span, torn.
Recognizers and light cycles screamed in the distance, converging on them.
The iso placed a hand over her ruined eye. “Not yet.”
A white wave surged through that touch, roared through her being. Systems overloaded, winked out one by one, until her core programming initiated emergency shutdown. Even that algorithm crashed, burned up in a wall of fiery static.
Loading core code. Data integrity check initiated. Checksum errors found. Entering safe mode. Auto-rebuild activated.
Full systems check initiated. Structural integrity: 92%. Visual activated.
White flashed in the darkness. Then a slow fade of shapes. Test patterns. Charts and reports.
Error: right optical sensor malfunction. No signal detected. Audio activated.
A multiphasic shriek rattled her ears. She twitched, blinked. The sound resolved itself as light jets and recognizers, zooming out over the bridge. She heard anxious shouts, barked commands. The strained tenor of an argument.
“—Security is not my problem, program. Our function is to save this structure. You and your team need to either return to the safety of the gate or find another way across; the bridge is too unstable.”
One eye rolled around like a stone in its socket, finally tracked the conversation to its source. A helmeted security program. And Apis.
She relaxed just a little, if only because he was familiar.
A rumble shook the ground as another piece of the span broke free, tumbled into the chasm. Apis turned, shouted, “Teams Five and Six, you must stop the spread. It cannot reach the center. Cut it out if you have to.”
Programs swarmed the crumbling bridge, energy staves piercing its surface, injecting stabilizing code to combat the spreading virus. Where the yellow crept too close to the central spine, baton blades carved whole chunks out of the span.
“Verex? What is your status?”
She blinked slowly, focused on a crouching Apis. Her status? She felt hot. Overcharged. Battered by jagged energy tumbling through her. Deluged with an ocean of image fragments, places and programs and things seen through someone else's eyes. Held together by the flimsiest threads of code.
Motor functions came online with a involuntary jerk. She sat up sharply, managed to look down at herself, her circuitry. Faded, watery, drained. And white. White as Fris's.
Communcations booted, allowed her to rasp, “Functioning.”
He hooked a hand in her robes, dragged her away from the bridge beyond the gate, off to the side where they were less noticible.
“Are you defective?” he spat. Tossed her disk into her lap.
She turned it over in her hand. One side of it looked as scorched as her insides felt. The other, smashed beyond repair. “What happened to it?”
He paced. “I destroyed it, that's what. Do you know what would happen to if someone else read that disk? What is wrong with you? Showing your precious isomorph our structural systems? Practically teaching her how to access the code to all of TRON City? You unleashed a virus , Verex. That alone would get you derezzed. What side are you on? Are you one of us, or one of them?”
Them , her scrambled processor wanted to say. Instead, reflexively, “I serve the users.”
“No. No. Kevin Flynn never wanted that.” His finger stabbed at the damaged bridge. “You did this for her. For that white-cheeked grid bug.”
Something stirred in Verex, some shorting circuit, hot and uncontrollable. “That ‘grid bug' understands more about our existences, why we are here and what we are capable of, than you and I do.” She regrouped. Softened her tone, desperate to make him understand. “Those basics wanted to tear her apart, Apis. For no reason except she was different. She was in danger. What could I do? I did the only thing I knew how.”
His frenetic pacing back and forth was making her dizzy. She snagged his knee, implored him to look at her. “What happened to Fris?”
He threw up his hands. “How would I know? She wasn't there when I found you. Don't you understand? She left. She ruined you, then left you behind. She called you friend so she could use you.”
Verex shook her head. “No. You're wrong about her. And she did not ruin me. She saved me. She gave me a gift, Apis. Awakened something—” disturbing, inconceivable, electrifying “—wonderful.” She closed her eye, savored the algorithmic ghosts floating across her senses, independent of her programming. Saw forms yet to be born under her skillful hands, structures undreamed of in the three-hundred cycle history of the new system. Experiences far beyond the limited existence of one basic program. “I have so much to show you, Apis. So much to create. Structures that defy simulation. Buildings that make these look like primitive shapes. Let me show you—”
“No!” He recoiled from her reaching hand as if it were infected. “We are builders, Verex. We execute the Creator's will.”
She sighed. “It is the Creator's will that we serve the system. He gave us these skills, this impetus to create. Don't you think he would want us to use them?”
Apis shook his head, confused. “You are distorting our directive. That isomorph is a disease. She has filled your head with more than fractured code. You are a basic program, Verex. You serve the users. Your place in this world is to build, nothing more.”
She shook her head, smiling, never surer of her purpose. “I believe I am here to shape the new system, to make this City worthy of isomorphs and programs alike. And so are you. I think my user would like that. And if he doesn't—” She waited for the familiar jangle of feedback. Found it curiously absent. “If he doesn't like it, he can go build another system somewhere else.”
Apis gaped, stunned into silence.
A voice boomed overhead. “What is the status of the bridge, program?”
They both jumped, found a recognizer descending toward them, jets blasting air against them. It settled in the street, the main compartment lowering to the ground.
Kevin Flynn stepped off the platform toward them.
Or at least the appearance of Flynn. Clu still lacked some of the mannerisms of the Creator, though he certainly mastered Flynn's self-satisfied grin.
Apis's face grew drawn and thin. “Say nothing,” he hissed at Verex. Spun on his heel, intercepting Clu at the mouth of the gate. “Sir, I wasn't expecting you.”
Clu stopped to look at him, mildly surprised. “What kind of operations program would I be if I didn't keep tabs on my system? What's our status?”
“Crews report the virus is 63% contained, sir.”
“Virus?” His eyes cut to the bridge beyond. “This isn't another grid bug attack?”
Apis faltered, recovered quickly. “No, sir. Although they likely share the same origin; the virus's action appears to be very similar to grid bug behavior.”
“A virus.” He chewed on his lip, like Kevin Flynn often did when he puzzled over a design.
A security program trotted up behind him. Not any security program. Tron, champion of the users.
“Light jet fliers spotted a program fleeing the bridge into the Outlands,” he reported. “They pursued but encountered resistence.”
“What kind of resistence?”
“Other programs. Probably isomorphs. They've disappeared into the canyons.”
Clu's brow creased. He'd developed a reputation these last few cycles for punishing programs that did not meet his increasingly high standards. But it was Tron he spoke to, the one program in the entire system who rivaled the Creator's digital clone. Clu would do—could do—nothing.
His narrowed gazed shifted back to Apis. “What happened to her?”
Verex's skin prickled at the attention. She clambered up on untested legs, started to answer, but Apis interjected, “We found her. Apparently she was attacked.”
Clu approached, looking her over. Stopped at her face. The smug grin returned. “That's an interesting code patch. Where did you get it?”
Uncertainly she reached up, felt smooth energy conduit filling the disk-hollowed canyon where her eye should be. “I don't know,” she answered honestly. Silenced her theories.
“May I see your disk?”
She held it out to him, careful not to look at Apis.
He held it flat, activated the replay.
He turned it over in his hand. “Hmm. That's unfortunate. What is your identification, program?”
“ VSE-10, sir.”
“Structural projects, right?”
He nodded, still examining the disk. “Did you see anything?”
She squashed her programmed response; it was only because Clu resembled her user that she felt the need to confess everything. She followed Apis's lead instead, settled on a version of the truth. “I was attacked from behind, sir. I did not see it coming.”
“Too bad.” He shrugged. “A witness will turn up eventually.” Another moment of calculation; he half-turned, held up the disk to the head of security. “A program assaulted. A grid bug-like virus attack on the only bridge into TRON City. Isomorphs fleeing the scene. Are you still convinced these isomorphs are harmless?”
Tron didn't rise to the bait. “Flynn made clear he wants them protected.”
“And where is our caring Creator? He hasn't been here for decicycles. May not be back for many more. These isomorphic algorithms are spiraling out of control now .”
“We don't know for certain—”
“No, we don't. But I will not sit by and wait until the whole city derezzes to do something about it.”
He handed the disk back to Verex. “You don't look so good, program. You should report to the Games Armory for maintenance and a replacement disk.”
“Yes, sir.” She held very still as he headed back to his recognizer, clamped down on the slightest tremor of relief. Glanced at Apis, grateful he'd smashed the disk so she could go on to create another day.
“Wait a nanocycle.” Clu paused halfway to the recognizer, one finger raised. Turned his head. “I'm sorry, did you say you are VSE-10?”
Her energy turned to gel in her circuits. “Yes, sir.”
His mouth stretched into a broad grin. “I'm a big fan of your work. You did the End of Line Tower, right? My home sweet home when our user is away. And the Games Arena? That was you. And our newest tower is yours, too. I just want to thank you for your outstanding contributions to the system.”
He held out a hand. Definitely a Kevin Flynn behavior, some sort of user greeting, but not completely unfamiliar to her. She extended her own, waited for him to grasp it.
Brushed the circuitry of his sleeve. Felt roiling tumultuous feedback, worse than any she'd ever experienced.
Tried to pull away, but he held tight, his grin fixed in place. He leaned into her ear. “I admit I don't have a good eye for these things, but that new room at the top seems a little...out of place, wouldn't you say?”
He knew. She felt it in the silent screech of his feedback, knew it at the core of her programming, Strange, how the sensation left her fingers and toes.
Apis stepped forward, mouth open to interject.
She cut him off. “Yes, sir.”
Clu let go of her hand, stepped back. “And who's idea was that?”
Apis, edged closer, “Sir, I can explain—”
“Mine. Sir.” She warned her fellow program off with a look.
“Funny. I don't recall seeing that room in the schematics.”
She squared her jaw. “I am a builder. Our programming allows us a certain amount of leeway in how we execute our assignments.”
“Ah.” He seemed satisfied with that answer...for a moment. “Still, adding whole rooms where rooms shouldn't be...We can't have programs doing whatever they feel like. We all serve the users. There is an order to things. Rules that must be observed, or the system will fall into chaos. And a program that can't obey the rules...well, there's no room for that kind of program in a perfect system.”
No room for isomorphs, either. Verex shuddered. She once considered Apis paranoid about the dangers of stepping out of line. Realized he'd actually underestimated Clu's drive for control.
Apis stepped forward. “Thank you, sir, for helping this program. I was just advising her that some diagnostic maintenance is long overdue.”
“Maintenance?” Clu chuckled. “I think we're way past maintenance, man.” He turned to his personal guard. “Bring her.”
They reached for her. She jerked her arms of their grasp, numbly followed of her own accord.
Apis gaped at her, powerless.
But she was not powerless. She exaggerated her unsteadiness, waited until the right moment to stumble, pitch against Apis.
He caught her, surprised. Fought to mask the distress in his eyes.
She steadied herself on his arm, reached into his circuitry. Felt overwhelming helplessness and confusion. Sent him something in return.
He blinked, eyes wide.
She straightened up, looked away. “Thank you, program. You should go. You have work to do.”
“Move.” A sentry jabbed her in the back with a staff, gave her enough of a jolt to momentarily scramble her vision. She obliged, kept her feet under her for the rest of the walk to the recognizer. They slammed her into a standing harness on the lower level, waited for the restraints to lock into place before retreating to their alcoves in the struts.
Not until the compartment rose into the recognizer did she lock eyes with Apis.
He stared back in shock, rubbing the hand where she'd touched him.
As they lifted into the clouded sky, the circuits in his hand paled, white corruption spreading through his robes like liquid fire.
END OF LINE