Spoilers & Desirable Foreknowledge: Steven Lisberger & co’s Tron, Joseph Kosinsky & co’s Tron: Legacy, Joe Johnson & co’s Captain America: the First Avenger, and the Russo brothers & co’s Captain America: the Winter Soldier.
Warnings: A fight scene.
Characters & Relationships: Ward & Yori & a program written by Peggy
Summary: Grant Ward is sent to the Grid to plant Hydra’s – and more importantly, John Garrett’s – flag. The software that brought him there has different ideas.
Author’s Note: This fic was inspired by this dubsmash by Hayley Atwell and Brett Dalton, set to Miley Cyrus’s ‘Wreckingball’, where Brett pushes Hayley, who is sitting in the dark in a kind of glowing, circular swing. Everything Is Always Tron, so that’s the first place my mind went to when I saw it. Also, the flashbacks to how Garrett and Ward met were creepy to the max, like a how-to guide to Stockholm Syndrome and cult indoctrination. Enjoy!
Halt and Set Hydra On Fire
“Alright, remember, the last guy who used one of these things disappeared into his floppy drive for twenty years, and he wrote the whole damn OS. Then, when his kid went after him to get him out, we almost faced a digital apocalypse because the guy’d pissed off his AI so much.”
“I know, I know, if the job was easy -”
“It wouldn’t be any fun, that’s true, but you’re missing the point.” Garrett poked Ward’s chest and leaned in. “Don’t. Fuck. This. Up.”
Ward stilled, letting the urgency of the threat sink in. “I won’t.”
“I cannot overstate how big this is. This -” Garrett dragged him around by the collar of his tactical gear and pointed at the digitization laser. “- isn’t some fancy new gun. This could change everything, for Hydra and for me.”
“I’m not gonna fail, John,” Ward assured him.
“You better not. Or we’ll both be dead.”
And then Garrett directed him in front of the laser and retreated to the terminal himself. A whine built in the air, a light ignited in the barrel, and then it was like the world stopped existing - until he realised, panicking, it was him that stopped -
- aaaaaand he was back.
Ward blinked numbly for a too long moment, then turned on his axis, gun kept low but ready, taking in his surroundings.
He’d like to say it wasn’t what he expected, but truth be told, he hadn’t had the faintest clue what to expect. He was in a minimalist, cavernous space with lines of light set in and outlining every surface - the floor, the walls, the raised platform he stood on. The effect was that of twilight lit from within rather than above, like a living room with only a Christmas tree and the streetlights outside to illuminate it.
A panel in one of the primitive-computer-grey walls disintegrated, and a woman entered the room.
Ward whirled around and raised his gun. “Who are you?”
“Greetings, User,” the woman said, tracking his weapon for only a moment before focussing on his face, seemingly unperturbed. She was young, blonde, beautiful, faintly familiar, and dressed in some kind of skin-tight, silvery catsuit inlaid with the same lights as the walls. The most prominent ones were a design like a triangle necklace over her heart and collarbones. “I’m Yori-SHV-20905, laser control. Welcome to the Grid. I detect that this is your first log-in. What is your designation?”
“Why do you want to know?” Ward asked cautiously.
“So I and other programs can be of better assistence to you, of course,” Yori String-of-Numbers said with a placid smile.
The SHIELD report on the Encom situation was excruciatingly sparce on details. Ward was flying blind. Improv was one of his strengths, though, and for now he had nothing to lose from cooperating with the native… population, wildlife, code, whatever.
One thing the files did say was that programs resembled their programmers. He wondered who wrote this one, to make her face nag at his memory like this.
“Call me Ward,” he said, and holstered his gun. But he didn’t fasten it or move his hand from the holster strapped to his thigh.
“Confirmed, User Ward,” Yori said. She swiped a hand down the wall, causing a terminal to rise up from the floor, littered with unmarked keys and buttons in every color of the rainbow. After a few moments of typing, the terminal retreated and she gestured to the door. “There, done. You’ll have to introduce yourself to individual programs, but all the background processes should automatically recognize you. Please follow me so we can get you started.”
“After you,” Ward said, turning her pleasantly bland smile right back at her.
Yori somehow managed to turn the inoffensive hospitality up a couple more notches. “Of course.”
She led him through a halway that kept turning left and left and left and left again, descending all the while, until they arrived in an antechamber where another program woman was waiting. Dressed in the same skintight grey-and-light, but shorter, curvier, brown-haired, and with far more aggressive body language. This time, Ward recognized her immediately.
This program had Peggy Carter’s face, the way it had looked twenty, thirty years ago.
Ward froze in his tracks, but it was already too late. The way back had disappeared. He drew the guns strapped to both his thighs and had them pointed square at the women’s center mass before Yori’s milquetoast mask had even dropped.
“What’s going on here?”
“Security scan,” Yori said as she backed away, this time without taking her eyes off of his weapon for a second. “Standard procedure.”
“Security scan? I’m a human being. You expect me to believe a bunch of code from the eighties can, what, read my entire DNA?”
“Did you forget I managed to bring you here already?” Yori asked with a smirk. “I converted your DNA to computer code. She scans your brain for viruses and other threats. It’s really not that hard.”
Scan his brain for viruses?
Something about that chilled Ward’s bones.
“Greetings, User Ward,” said Director Carter’s program with the same crisp British accent sported by the real deal. “I am Sword-IL-401090, system monitor. Shake my hand.”
She held out her hand. The fingers of the other were sunk into a disc of pure light that buzzed right at the edge of his hearing.
“I don’t think so,” Ward said, and fired.
What followed was an explosion of violence. Both programs dodged his bullets somehow. Cracks - actual lightning-shaped, colorfully lit cracks - appeared in the walls where they struck instead, but Ward only had a split second to register that fact. While Yori backed herself into a corner and projected a forcefield from a light disc of her own, Sword threw herself at Ward.
Treating the disc like a knife seemed too conservative, so he filed it under “lightsaber” and stayed the hell out of dodge while he fired off more shots. None of them found their targets, and Ward didn’t even have time to figure out how she managed that, because it wasn’t just the disc he had to watch out for, turns out she kicked like a damn horse too. The back of his head slammed into the wall (amidst a shower of rainbow-tinted sparks in his periferal vision) from the force of one, and the second knocked his gun from his right hand with such force it left half his forearm numb. Then Sword was in his space, grabbing his left arm and twisting it, and this time he went flying into the opposit wall face first.
“Shake. My. Hand,” Sword demanded again, while Ward blinked the stars from his eyes and struggled to remember which side of the oddly-lit room was up.
A hand came down on his shoulder. He whirled around and thrust himself upwards, slugging Sword in the stomach with all his strength.
It was like hitting a fleshy wall.
She didn’t even budge. She just gave him a scornful look, grabbed his shoulder again, and before he knew it, as quickly as it had started, the fight was over, leaving him pinned to the floor with his arms bent back and Sword’s knee pressing into his spine. He tried to struggle, but there was no give to the woman at all.
“Now, let’s see,” she said, and took his hands in hers.
Breathless fear spiked in Ward’s chest for reasons he couldn’t have explained if he tried. From the corners of his eyes, he saw himself light up. He felt it, too: ribbons of prickling, electric warmth snaking up and down his entire body. For a moment or two, the light was pure white. Then it turned yellow.
“I knew it,” Sword said as Yori’s footsteps drew closer. “SHIELD spyware.”
But the light kept getting darker, only settling when it reached a deep, burnt orange.
“Oh, glitch,” Sword breathed.
“Wha - how is this possible?” Yori asked, sounding alarmed. “He’s a User.”
“I don’t know. I’ve never seen anything like this before,” Sword said.
“Shut him down,” Yori said, backing away. “This has got to be hurting him, and what if we trigger some kind of protocol? Who knows what a User could be capable of in that state.”
“Already on it,” Sword said. She pressed a hand flat between his shoulder blades and everything went black.
When he came back to, he was laid out on a bed of some kind and all he could move was his head.
“Welcome back, User Ward,” Sword said from a stool beside him. She had a lit-up disc in her lap, projecting orange-and-white images and code that she manipulated with her fingers.
“What’s happening?” he croaked.
“I’m trying to save you from the virus in your code.”
“I suppose I should start at the beginning,” Sword said, and shot him a not unsympathetic look over the mess of light in her lap. “I am a specialized security program. Many hundreds of cycles ago, my user, P, wrote me at the request of Yori’s user, LoraB.”
LoraB. Lora Baines. Of course: the woman who designed the digitization laser software. That’s why Yori looked familiar; she was a snapshot of Baines in the early eighties.
“As I’m sure you’re aware, Yori is the program operating the Shiva laser. She’s the portal between the human world and the digital world. I was written to protect Yori from Users who might wish to use her in ways not authorized by LoraB. Like you, SHIELD agent Grant Douglas Ward. There’s a section of my code specifically dedicated to subdueing SHIELD agents with extreme prejudice.”
Ward stared. “Why?”
“Because P knew that no matter how hard she tried, there were too many SHIELD Users who put their own priorities over those of the system and disregarded vital day-to-day User protocols for the sake of overall system performance. Which seems like a clear contradiction to me, but then, Users work in mysterious ways.”
She saw Ward’s look of confusion and shook her head.
“Sorry. It’s been too many cycles since I had the honour of speaking to my user and use her vocabulary. I mean: Peggy Carter knew there are too many SHIELD agents who put SHIELD’s own interests over those of the people SHIELD is supposed to protect, and who disregard right and wrong for the sake of the greater good.”
Ward knew better than to argue that, especially in his current position. He squeezed his eyes shut. “How does the digitization laser come into all that?”
“LoraB did not believe - nor did P - that SHIELD would use Yori for the good of either Userkind or the civilization of thinking, feeling beings that exists in every User device that runs programs.” Sword peered at him closely. “Do you need a moment to crash? That’s quite alright, you know. It happens almost every time a User first finds out their household appliances house sentient beings.”
“…I think I’ll put that off for a while.”
“Wise choice. Where was I? Oh, right. I prevent unauthorized use of Yori’s functions. Which is where you come in.”
Ward wished he could move his arms to pinch the bridge of his nose. “You’re a computer program that can stop people from using other software even when they have all the proper authorisations, based on your judgement of their intentions?”
“Yes. That’s what happens when you build a bridge between two worlds, Ward. They start to overlap,” Sword said sweetly. “And your intentions, I’m sorry to say, did not pass muster. That’s where things get strange, though.”
She held up the disc and showed him a big, tangled cluster of orange code.
“You came in carrying a virus altering your judgement and behavior. Which I didn’t even know was possible in Users. I’ve seen plenty of shoddily patched and unhealthy processes, sure, but such a clear pattern of malicious code inserted by a foreign entity is new.”
“You - wha - I do not have a brain virus,” Ward said indignantly.
“‘If the job was easy, it wouldn’t be any fun.’?”
Ward stared at her blankly. “What about that?”
“Oh, never mind. You’ll see when I’m done.”
What felt like an eternity later, she said “Done!”, put the now white-and-blue code back where it came from, turned Ward on his side, pressed the disc to his back, and twisted it clockwise.
And Ward promptly lost his shit.
“Users call it brainwashing,” Ward said hollowly, when he finally no longer felt like his entire identity would implode. “Thought reform. Indocrination. Child grooming.”
He shuddered and took a long gulp of a glowing, neon-green drink that tasted exactly the way it looked, except warm. Yori had come back and brought a tray of drinks in every color of the led light rainbow. Sword knocked back her third.
“Garrett brainwashed me. And I didn’t even realise it.” He looked at Sword. “But you took it all away?”
“I can’t take it away,” Sword said gently. “I’ve quarantined it so the rest of your processes can run independently of its influence. At least while you’re on the Grid - I’m not authorized to make changes that carry through to the User world. But either way, it’s up to you now to decide what to do with it.”
“I’ve done so many bad things. I am so, so screwed up.” Ward blinked. “Garrett is a complete maniac.” Then he looked at Sword. “Wait. How do I know you didn’t just brainwash me for your own purposes?”
“That’s the spirit.“ Sword patted his cheek. “You know, time works differently here. Take as long as you need.”
“I should probably go. Deal with some stuff. Garrett is still out there, waiting for me to, uh…” He gestured lamely. “Conquer this place.”
“Yes, that might be wise,” Sword agreed.
Ward took a deep breath. “Can I… afterwards… can I come visit again?”
“Sure. If you return the laser to LoraB -”
“We actually confiscated it from Sam Flynn.”
“- if you return the laser to LoraB, and report everything you know about John Garrett and Hydra to P, because what I saw in your memory banks is worse than even she ever suspected. Oh, and if your intentions are good - then you may come back.” Sword smiled. “I’ll even show you around the city, if you like.”
Ward considered those terms with an unprecedented clear-headedness, which he hoped to god he wouldn’t lose entirely once he was back outside. Because if he did, he and Sword and Yori and all the other programs would be screwed. The whole world would be screwed.
“I’d like that,” Ward said, and smiled back.
And that’s how Grant Ward and ‘Peggy Carter’ became best buds and ended up pushing each other on giant light-up Grid swings while singing ‘Wreckingball’. And everybody lived happily ever after, the end. :D