Wednesday, 16 April 2008

Action Jackson And Tron: Best Of Both Worlds

Across the blue-black sky of the computer world, a Recogniser buzzed, powered by nothing more than pure binary energy, its sheer surface hiding a crew intent on hunting down a tenacious foe, an errant program that had invaded their world. As they looked down, the program looked up, through the translucent visor of his lightcycle, his ears tuned to the electric hum of the vehicle as it blasted across the virtual landscape. In the distance the program knew a swarm of grid-bugs skittered and bobbed from node to node on the ground, and he contemplated aiming for them, their erratic movement a perfect cover for his progress, but that was giving the crew of the Recogniser too much credit. Their searches were directed too far away to pose a problem for him, and even though he had come to expect more powerful defenses in this particular world, they had turned out to be nothing more than basic security programs, nothing like the powerhouses he thought would be chasing him. Why worry about potentially dangerous evasive manouevres when up against basic programs like that? He was too quick for any of them. After all, he was the program that vanquished the mighty CPU and its puppet program Sark. He was Tron.

As his hermetically sealed computer world had transformed into a universe filled with other worlds accessible via blink-of-the-eye leaps via internet sockets, so had Tron's legend grown exponentially. From CPU to CPU, his name had passed, a mythical being of power and integrity that had captured the imagination of his digital brethren. If Tron knew of laziness he might have rested on his laurels, but his user, Alan, would never let him rest. That was fine by him. The world had become a cosmos, and leaping from computer to computer in an attempt to right wrongs was satisfaction enough. Let the denizens of these worlds idly chatter his name. Celebrity was no reward. Knowing his user was satisfied was all that mattered.

Which is how Tron found himself inside an IBM Roadrunner supercomputer in Colorado, on a mission to collect data proving the existence of the world he was in, and then beam it back to Alan from an I/O Tower, after which point he would find an Internet Socket and zap himself out of there. Though the motives of most users were as alien to programs as all of the actions of a deity are to its followers, Alan had gifted his program with the knowledge that there was only supposed to be one Roadrunner computer in existence, in a laboratory in New Mexico. Rumours of a second one had reached Alan via his WormBot spy programme, Dorz, and knowing that this was a potentially dangerous anomaly, he sent Tron in to check it out. The IP address Dorz had found was the last thing he had sent out before communications ceased. Tron knew Dorz, which had manifested as a coil of glowing protomatter that could camouflage itself as any digital artifact within a computer world. Even the noble Tron was not going to miss the chameleonic program. The shapechanger had made his virtual stomach feel oogy.

However, he did miss Yori, his mate. She made his stomach feel oogy in a good way! She was waiting for him back home in Alan's computer, in a way that suggested that her user, Laura, was using that computer as well. Did that mean both users lived together? Could users love? Tron pondered this question for a picosecond, before almost crashing into a wall of data. That had never happened before. Was it a consequence of getting old? His programming was constantly on the verge of becoming obsolete, and though it was not like him to worry or doubt Alan, Tron had begun to feel like his proudest days were behind him. Maybe it was time for him to settle down with Yori, have some programs of their own, perhaps get a job working for a charity of some kind. He knew of a Old Programs Home situated not far from his domicile, and had considered helping out there when not being sent out on reconnaissance. Well, Yori had thought about it. He had doubts. After all, everyone there spoke nothing but Fortran.

That feeling of doubt remained as Tron shot his lightcycle towards the pulsing red light of a nearby I/O Tower, the landscape surrounding it covered with blocky buildings teeming with programs, most of which would be hostile to him, if what Alan had said was anything to go by. Knowing stealth would be the best option, Tron came to a stop, and with a Vrrrt! of impossibly speedy movement, the lightcycle de-rezzed, exposing him to scrutiny. It could be said that his primitive blue-hued form was one of his best weapons; though he often looked more primitive than the programs that had popped up over the past few years, he had been modded time and again until he could hold his own, which gave him an edge in combat. That modding alone should make Tron feel better about himself, but still he fretted. Would his time soon be up?

Certainly being sent to a Roadrunner supercomputer was enough to increase those doubts. Programs there would surely be lightyears ahead of him in complexity and ruthlessness, devious and powerful and made of pure binary machismo, but then that Recogniser had looked unpredictably feeble. No matter. It was to Tron's advantage, and as he walked through the digital plazas of this circuit-city, he kept an eye out for opposition, pushing his doubts to the back of his mind.

"There!" bellowed the voice from behind, and in a moment Tron had whipped around, pulled his identity disc from his back, and in the same movement hurled it with astonishing accuracy into the guard who had spotted him. The word had barely passed his lips as the disc shot through his chest, de-rezzing him with a sickening "Bloopedy bloopedy bloop!" Tron had heard this many times, the tragic, chilling sound of a program dying. Too bad. He had work to do.

Out of the corner of his eye he saw three more security programs heading towards him, one of them pointing and yelling at him to stop. With a wry smile, Tron shouted back, "No! I will not stop! I dare you to try to make me stop!" It was a dare they took. Discs flew across the space between them, innocent programs ducking for cover as the deadly battle raged before them. Tron handily dispatched two of the programs with a flick of his wrist, but the last was more tenacious. Four times, five times, Tron batted his attacks back, waiting for the right moment to strike. Hurling himself towards his attacker, Tron ducked and threw his disc at the same time. It arced upwards, its path twisting like a corkscrew, before slicing through the final program from behind. It was over. And yet, Tron's doubts grew. These programs were absurdly basic. If this were indeed a Roadrunner supercomputer, he would have been in serious trouble there. These guards were barely more powerful than his unmodded original form. Could Alan have made a mistake?

No, do not go there, Tron thought to himself as he rushed past goggle-eyed programs arrayed along the boulevards of the digital metropolis. Alan does not ever make mistakes. Users were infallible, their orders occasionally confusing or arcane but always to be followed to the letter. Doubting their integrity, perfection, and benevolence was tantamount to treason. Tron could no more doubt the orders of his User than a Bit could doubt that there only existed a Yes state and a No state. There was nothing else. Tron was saying yes to his user, as he always did.

His "YES!" was powerful enough to overcome the suspicions raised by the lack of further interference as he penetrated further into the city, powerful enough to circumvent the worry he felt upon reaching the defenseless tower, powerful enough to motivate him to kick down the main entrance, which shattered into bits with too much ease. But it was not enough to overcome the shock upon meeting the Keeper of the Tower, an ancient program embedded into the floor, decrepit and doddering, barely aware of Tron's presence.

With his sudden lack of confidence evident in his voice, Tron said, "Keeper of this tower! I am Tron, and I require access to this I/O Tower so that I might communicate with my user Alan."

"What? Pr0n? You look like a frat boy dipped in glow-paint."

Tron was horrified. A senile Keeper! In a Roadrunner? "Keeper, tell me your name, and give me information about this CPU. I demand it, in the name of Alan!"

"What? Screw you, punchy! If I wasn't stuck in the floor I'd slap the shit out of you. I am Zomg, keeper of this tower, holder of the IP address, guardian of the secrets held within."

"I need that IP address, Zomg. It is more important than you can possibly imagine."

Zomg considered this for a moment, then, coughing, answered, "And I need a TeraFlop of power to give me the strength to get the hell out of this tower and move somewhere more exciting, but you don't see me bitching about it. Did you say your name was Flarn?"

Having prepared only for battle, Tron was at a loss. "No! Tron! Vanquisher of the Master Control Program! Have you not heard of my exploits?"

"Damn! Quite the opinion of yourself you've got there. Why are you standing like that, with your hands on your hips? Are you farting? Don't stink up my tower with your butt-gas, Poindexter."

What was this? Tron was a fearsome warrior, the scourge of dictator programs and hero of the oppressed masses, not the subject of mockery from a dilapidated Keeper! "I will not be stopped, Zomg! Now, give me that IP address."

"Whatever. If it gets you out of my face, you skinny jock asshole." Zomg belched out a stream of information, which embedded itself within Tron's identity disc.

Tron was elated, forgetting the Keeper's impertinence immediately. "Thank you, Old Program. And now I must transmit to my User!"

"Yeah yeah, don't let the portal hit you in the ass on the way out. It's nap time for Zomg, you glowing bitch."

Tron sped past the slumbering program, gripping onto the identity disc for dear life. It was solid, dependable, whereas his faith in his User was fading fast. Ahead he could see the stream of information pouring out of the computer, and instead of the transcendant glowing beacon he expected, the stream was dull and intermittent. How could this be?

His digital soul shaken by this new worry, Tron stepped into it and held up the disc, which rose upwards, slowly at first and then shooting out across the computerverse to find Alan. Tron waited. What was minutes for him were picoseconds in User Time, but even so, the sudden return of the disc was shocking. Alan had responded without disguising his signal, caring not if he was detected. Tron leapt upwards to grab the disc before it had fully descended through the light, and instantly a message burst from Alan set him moving.

"It's not a supercomputer in Colorado! The IP address was wrong! You're inside a knackered old IBM sitting in a police station in Detroit, registered to someone called Jericho Jackson! Get out, Tron! Head to the nearest socket and get out!!!"

Tron ran, but even as he did the lights of this world flickered, blinked out once, twice, dimmed for three picoseconds. Something had gone wrong. It wasn't a security system inside the machine; it was something external, something happening in the world of the Users. Panicking, Tron activated his light cycle and raced towards the nearest socket.

Four hundred picoseconds later, the lights went out for good.

The crashing sound drew Captain Armbruster from his office for the tenth time that day. The man never let on how annoyed he was that his precinct was regularly trashed not just by the lowlives brought there, but also by the cops who worked under him. He knew exactly where the sound had come from without even looking, but as he rounded a corner he saw the laughing crowd gathered, the perp spread out on the floor, lying next to a knife that looked as if it had been concealed in his belt buckle. The source of the crashing noise appeared to have been a shattered hard drive that had obviously just bounced off the man's head. Sitting behind his desk was the man who had knocked out the criminal, Detroit's finest, Jericho "Action" Jackson. Armbruster sighed. "Sergeant Jackson, could you please explain to me why this man had to be incapacitated via contact with our last computer hard drive?"

Jackson smirked. "Punk tried to jack me, so I had to log him out."

Next: Did Tron escape? Will Alan find the Roadrunner? What about Jeff Bridges? Is he going to appear in the Tron sequel? And why isn't Action Jackson on DVD? Predator gets reissued everytime Fox scrapes the bottom of the sequel barrel with Alien Vs. Predator movies, but this classic remains lost in time? "How do you like your ribs?" That's the stuff.

Yes, Action Jackson triumphs over Tron, just as it should be. Three votes to two might not seem like a conclusive or important victory, but to me it proves the enduring appeal of 90s era Joel Silver movies over ambitious but muddled Disney movies starring David Warner. I can sleep soundly tonight.

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