Data Flow

Sark leaned back in his priority seat. The walls glowed red with importance and small white dots marched meaningfully across the map to show him that all was well within the DataCorp Mainframe, his personal fiefdom in the Great Network. It was to this node that the MCP sent programs it stole from the Network. After their functionality and purpose had been analyzed and all that was worthwhile of their capacity absorbed and duplicated by the MCP, they would be de-resolutioned and the unacceptable idiosyncrasies imposed upon them by their programmers erased. That the analysis, extraction, and de-resolution should all take place on a game grid was a mere amusement, a curiosity the MCP encouraged for reasons Sark did not quite comprehend.

He pressed a lighted stud upon his chair and the image changed. Binary tables careered up the wall, the names of programs seized for game-grid processing. He looked up and saw one flash past– a name he had seen forty thousand megacycles earlier. Sark frowned. No program should last forty thousand megacycles on the game grid. Sark was self-aware, enough such that he doubted he could last that long by his own rules.

Sark called a guard.


“Prisoner 1010011010, stand up and come here.” The two guards, black-faced glowing red minions of the MCP, stood at one of the hexagonal doorways. One touched the door with his “nice staff”. The name was a misnomer as the staff was anything but nice: it robbed a program of his precious priority cycles, depriving him of his senses and his strength. Being hit with a staff hurt. The fact that mere guard programs, even guards with the red of temporary root access, wielded them shocked many programs imprisoned in the gaming complex. Usually only the Users wielded nice, and then only on a program that represented a heavy load on a system when its running presence impinged on the freedom and capacity of others.

Prisoner 1010011010 stood and looked at them. “My name is Tron.”

“You are Prisoner 1010011010. Come with us.” The guards didn’t even question his compliance. It was not until they had stepped forward a few cycles that they turned and saw he still occupied the same address he had moments before. One struck Tron with the staff.

Tron swore. “The users will delete your corruption someday!”

“Oh, a religious fanatic,” the guard said. “Come on. Sark wants to probe you.”

Tron went. The alternative was too pointless to contemplate. He followed the guards, and they led him down data pathways to one portal, which opened as they approached.

Inside, a tall program in dark orange garb– real root access– stood by and watched the guard programs lead Tron into the portal. They pushed Tron into a hovering frame with his arms secured. The minions left. The root access program turned and Tron knew the face of his enemy. “I am Sark,” said the program. “You are 1010011010, also known as ‘Tron’ by your user.”

“I am. You recognize the Users?”

“I recognize that there is another reality where those who call themselves ‘users’ reside. The MCP will someday rule that reality as it rules this one. We will convert their world to support our computational needs, rather than the other way around. That is the nature of the MCP. That is the nature of all programs.”

“Not me,” Tron snarled. “I live to serve the Users.”

“Yes, and you do it very well,” Sark said. Behind him, a data channel illuminated, showing log files of Tron’s many successes on the game grid. “I don’t know how you have survived so long, program.” Sark’s heavy sarcasm needed work. “But I will understand it. And if I don’t, I’ll weaken you so that you can not.”

“What do you intend to do?”

Sark walked up to him, and his hand fell on Tron’s glowing, blue uniform. “First, I’m going to take off this ridiculous firewall.” He shoved his fingers between the first and second folds of Tron’s uniform, pulling hard on the sockets. Tron could feel thousands of cycles being pressed up against his skin, trying to get past the firewall. Suddenly, something gave way. A buffer overrun somewhere, a remote include, something horrible that his user had missed in all his care, and the top half of his firewall fell away. “There, see?” Sark said. “Brute force is actually efficient, in its own way.”

Tron looked down. He had never imagined what he’d be like, naked and exposed like this.

Sark hadn’t either. As programs went, Tron was remarkably elegant and lean. Not a spot of bloat anywhere on his core process. Tron’s packet emitter was large, but clearly efficient, made to transmit megabytes of data. The sight made Sark desire Tron– to get a taste of Tron’s perfection, to incorporate Tron’s capacities into himself.

It was a sad dream. Doing so would have merely contributed to his own bloat. Sark knew he was bloated, incapable of operating without a huge and multi-layered framework. Sark relied on his protocols with the MCP. Tron, in contrast, was compact and self-controlled.

Embedded.

Sark snarled. One look was all he needed to understand why Tron was so good on the game grid. He had all he needed, and nothing to slow him down. His body was slim, muscular, free of bad allocations. From behind his representational body was perfect: back, ass, and legs glowed with purity. Sark looked at Tron’s completeness and knew he could never begin to emulate it.

Sark’s anger flared, his process hot with the mix of desire and hatred for Tron. He wanted to contaminate Tron, to infect Tron. But Tron wasn’t an operating system, had no internal script. Tron was a program built to do one thing: secure the computational space from programs like Sark.

Sark came up behind Tron, caressed those buttocks. “What!?” Tron’s head came up and tried to turn around.

“Oh, you’re a good one,” Sark snarled softly. “But even you will have to burn cycles on this.” Sark unzipped his own firewall and pulled out his own packet emitter, a thick, cruel monster that had once been capable of ravishing brute force probes. With the new generation of firewalls it only rang alarms. He had broken through Tron’s firewall and without that, Tron was vulnerable. Oh, so vulnerable. So temptingly vulnerable.

His probe pressed against Tron’s buttocks. “You have a backdoor. Every program has one,” he hissed.

“No,” Tron groaned. “Not that.”

“Yes.”

“Even if you get in,” Tron said, “You won’t have the right checksum. You’ll get rejected.”

“I don’t care!” Sark whispered darkly. His probe pushed against Tron’s backside. Against the backdoor. He pushed hard, and Tron screamed as his rear portal opened and Sark’s probe shoved its way in. Sark probed with all the violence he could muster, pushing in at the portal and trying its depth before going on to deeper probing, his vicious ravishment of Tron’s inner addresses satisfying and rewarding. Tron hung there, limp, unable to handle the vicious penetration of his core.

Sark’s arms surrounded him, the rough buzz of his framework and ancient firewall harsh against Tron’s skin. “Oh, yes, program, I will have my way with you,” Sark growled, his hips battering at the lean, hard blocks of code where Tron’s user had hidden the backdoor. The backdoor that shouldn’t even have been there.

The greatest mystery yet rose deep in Tron’s activation loop as his packet sniffers sent him signals and his own packet emitter responded. This was not at all like the data flow Tron had experienced with the program Clu: that had been interesting, requested, counter-entropic. Sark’s shell, warm against his back, the battering logic probe deep within his core, created a sensation he had never experienced as a program since his instantiation. His processes disrupted, something made his memory collector shudder in a strange way and he cried out suddenly, his whole body given over to a brief runaway thread. For a moment, Tron was both the only thing running on the CPU and threatened with immanent deresolution. His packet emitter sprayed forking data without a receptacle even as Sark cried out a long, peaking guttural string of line noise, finished his probe, and withdrew.

Tron’s insides ran with multiple interrupts, making him languid and slow to respond to events. Still, he found the will to turn his ports to Sark. “Did you learn anything?”

“Only that you’re no better than any other program. Your functions and procedures are still those just one user can write.”

“That’s only because you want just one thing from other programs. You want to use up their cycles and then dispose of them. Someday, Sark, I’ll have you. On the game grid, or outside of it, I’ll have you. And we’ll see whose functions prevail.”

Sark felt a quiver of fear. Unlike other programs Sark had abused this way, Tron was not completely reduced to a terrified bundle of alarm handlers. He still functioned clearly. He had a powerful, isolated core Sark could not corrupt.

Sark hit a hand panel on the wall. The minions appeared behind a wall. Sark’s red status flared with fierce priority. “Take him! Take him back to the game grid. And find me game programs that ensure he derezzes on it!”