coyotegoth: (brakhat! (icon by starlightforest))
[personal profile] coyotegoth
Recently, the most estimable [ profile] bodlon mentioned that he'd like to read Tron/Big Lebowski crossover fic. This being much too good an idea to be allowed to lie fallow, I became curious- could one take quite possibly the laziest man in Los Angeles county, and put him at the heart of an action movie, with even a half-serious (if only half, mind you- this is hopefully more of a "fish out of water" story, less of a crack!fest) story resulting? A couple of re-viewings later, I had something that I called...


(Art ganked from without permission, but in good faith.)

The Ballad of El Userino

TIME: JULY 9, 1982 9:34:16 PM



As Flynn looked at the computer tucked into Lora's research alcove at Encom, Lora indicated the digitizing laser mounted in the rear wall and said, "This laser is my life's work- don't spill anything, huh?" Then, she turned and walked away. "Have fun, sweetheart..." she called over her shoulder; Flynn grinned, and then sat down at the keyboard. Time for Kevin Flynn, ace computer programmer extraordinaire, to right wrongs, thwart injustice, and make himself a shitload of cash by recovering his stolen videogame programs he thought to himself. Flynn was about to start typing, when he heard footsteps coming up the stairs. He tensed, then broke into a grin when he saw who it was. "Dude!" he cried. "The Pope of Dope!"

"What's up, man?" the Dude asked, walking over. "Burning the ol' midnight oil?"

"Yeah, well, I'd rather be burning something else," Flynn said. "The thing is- well, I'm hacking into a computer system."

"Far out," the Dude said. "I dig all that Captain Crunch phone phreaking-type stuff."

Flynn laughed. "Hey, what are you doing here, anyway?"

"I'm going bowling later, but first, I'm making a delivery," the Dude said. "Security guard up on twelve- he gave the Duder a keycard."

"Man, I wish I had time for a smoke break," Flynn said. "You freaked me out when you came up the stairs."

"Thought I was The Man, eh?" the Dude said. "Nope- just the Dude."

"Just the Dude," Flynn said, and laughed again. "Hey- you got anything on you, just to take the edge off...?"


Flynn was lying on the floor now, tracing patterns in the air with a fingertip and laughing to himself.

"Wow- that shit really landed on you," the Dude said, taking another hit himself.

"Yeah," Flynn said, as he tried to stand up, "I... I don't think I'm going to stand up right now," he finished, slumping back to the floor. He looked up at the Dude, and cackled.

"Hey, Dude- will you do me a favor?" Flynn asked after catching his breath. "I just need you to type in a few things for me. But first..." Flynn gestured at a switch on the control bank; the Dude flipped it.

"There," Flynn said. "Now it can't hear us."

"It...?" the Dude asked.

"The Master Control Program that runs the Encom system," Flynn said. "It's probably monitoring this entire place. It's completely evil- probably trying to take over the whole world and destroy humanity, or something."

"Bummer," said the Dude. Then, at Flynn's instruction, he began typing in strings of letters and numbers.

"Hey, how do you spell 'flotilla'?" the Dude asked. Then, the screen displayed the words


"Far out- it thinks I'm you, man," the Dude said. He typed in a few more phrases at Flynn's direction- and then suddenly, as Flynn watched in amazement, the digitizing laser fired, hitting the Dude.

Jesus, his fucking fingers are vanishing, Flynn thought; he watched in shock as the laser continued scanning and digitizing the Dude. Then, its beam faded; the Dude was gone.

Oh, shit Flynn thought, and broke into hysterical laughter.


There was a flash of light, and then another; the Dude found himself in a strange, multicolored digital landscape. He looked down at his hands; they were encased in white armor, inlaid with glowing blue circuitry. Oh, okay- this must be some sort of Star Trek thing, he thought to himself. Suddenly, he looked up; he was surrounded by several large, burly figures whose circuits glowed a rather sinister shade of red. The Dude tensed; glowing circuits or not, this was clearly The Man.

"Move, program!" one of them barked.

"Program?" the Dude asked. "Hey, man, I'm not..."

"I said move!" The guard program jabbed him with some sort of staff; it was sort of like the cattle prods those cops in Dallas had had. Not cool.

"Hey, watch it, you fascist!" the Dude yelped. "Hey, peace, man!" he added, as they led him away.


Command Program Sark watched the image on the viewscreen intently, as the guards led the Dude to a holding cell. The MCP had told him that this new program was a User; although a part of Sark recoiled at the thought of acting against the nigh-mythical figures who wrote programs such as himself, the MCP had been most insistent on the subject. I WANT HIM IN THE GAMES UNTIL HE DIES PLAYING the MCP had said- slowing down Sark's power cycles until he thought he would derezz in order to be certain that the point was made.

Sark pushed a button; the view on the screen switched to a high angle of an arena. One warrior with blue circuits stood surrounded by four others with circuits of red; all held discus-shaped identity discs. One red-circuited warrior flung his at the program in blue. Tron. Tron blocked the shot, and then hurled his own disc, derezzing the warrior. In quick succession, he derezzed the three others.

Sark calculated, and scowled; Tron was too powerful a program to be defeated easily. Sark had had to deceive him- to tell him that he was going to lead Tron to the heart of the MCP- in order to capture him, and many guard programs had been lost in the process. Sark wanted to simply derezz Tron right now- deactivating the floor on which Tron stood would have done nicely- but the MCP had insisted: Tron must derezz in the arena, in public view.

Sark pushed another button: a handful of programs, too ineffective to be useful in combat, were led to an open space by guards. These had refused to renounce their belief in the Users; the MCP had declined to absorb their puny energies. Accordingly, it was left to Sark to dispose of them. Sark frowned; there was no challenge in this. He pushed a button, and several giant red Recognizers descended toward the programs. Most fled, only to be crushed under the Recognizers' crushing feet; one stood waiting. In the instant before the Recognizer derezzed him, the program mouthed something; there was no sound, but Sark could well guess what the program was saying, even as the Recognizer's foot came down:

Long live the Users.


"I know my rights, man!" the Dude yelled, as he was shoved into the cell; he bounced off the force field wall, and fell to the floor. "Ow! You know, you're even more of an asshole than Bill Graham!" The two programs in adjoining cells turned to watch, then looked at each other.

"New guy," one of them said; he had a youthful look.

"Another free program offline," the other, who seemed more mature, muttered.

"You really think the Users are still there?" the first program asked plaintively. The other program's reply was cut off as the Dude groaned, and got to his feet.

"Hey, man," the Dude said. "When do I get my phone call?"

"Are you talking to me?" the first program asked.

"Yeah, man, I- where the fuck am I?"

"You're a..." the first program walked over to ironically emphasize his words, "guest of the Master Control Program."

"The what? Oh, that thing Flynn was going on about... fucking fascists. This is a bad trip, man... worse than that time at the Beefheart concert..."

The first program turned. "He's babbling, Tron."

"They must have scrambled his code when they threw him in here," Tron said. "He'll probably derezz any minute."

"Derezz?" the Dude asked. "Is that like some Valley Girl shit?"

"Just don't talk to him, Ram," said Tron. "He's clearly defective."

The Dude took his sunglasses from a pocket of his armor and put them on; he gave Tron a baleful look. "Hey, mellow out, man- there's no need to be an asshole about it," he said. "I mean, we're all stuck in here."

Tron shook his head, and turned away; finally, the Dude leaned against the wall of his cell, and began to sing to himself:

’Relax,’ said the night man,
'We are programmed to receive.
You can check out any time you like,
But you can never leave...'

"Hey, what is that?" Ram asked. "Is that a User song?"

"A User song? Yeah, I guess," the Dude said. "Sort of about being trapped."

"A User song?" Ram repeated eagerly. "Will you teach it to me?"

"Sure thing, man," the Dude replied. Suddenly, a guard program rapped the ceiling of the Dude's cell with his energy baton; they led the Dude away.

"Well, we'll never see him again," Tron muttered.


"Look sharp," a voice barked as they led the Dude to stand in a line on a platform, along with several other programs. "Command Program Sark's carrier is approaching. He will explain the training procedures."

"Far out," the Dude muttered, staring at the... it was sort of like an aircraft carrier, floating in midair; clearly, the Dude was going to have to rethink his opinion of that last tab he'd done. Then, some fascist hardass with a British accent came out, and started laying some whole authority trip on them. You will do this, you will do that...

"Hey, speak up, man!" the Dude yelled. "The acoustics here are for shit!"

Sark paused- who had said that? Then, he went back into his speech about identity disks...

"I said, speak up, man!" the Dude shouted. "Haven't you guys heard of microphones?"

Sark held up his hand as the guard program advanced on the Dude; this must clearly be the User the MCP had spoken of- the one with the odd black plastic thing over his eyes. Yes; this must be the one the MCP had said he wanted to die playing. So be it...


"This is the holding area for the light cycles," the guard program said, bringing the Dude to a halt next to Ram and Tron. "Wait here."

"Hey, you made it!" Ram said.

"The Dude abides, man," the Dude replied. "So, what kind of, umm, program are you, anyway? What's your name?"

"My name is Ram- before they captured me, I helped monitor the progress of the divestment of the twenty-two Bell Operating Companies created by the agreement to divest following the case United States v. AT&T," Ram said eagerly. "It's a big responsibility, but by monitoring all the necessary..."

"Right," the Dude said, turning to Tron. "What about Captain America here?"

"My name is Tron- I'm a security program, created by my User, Alan-One, to end the tyranny of the Master Control Program, and return freedom to the system, so that all programs can carry out their designated functions and communicate as necessary with their Users," Tron replied in tight tones.

"Far out," the Dude said, as the guards walked in three programs with red circuits. "Well, good luck with that, man. Oh, and hey- if by 'Users' you mean the guys who write programs, I'm actually..."

Before the Dude could finish his sentence, a computerized voice said, "Prepare to transport to light cycle grid." Then, in a flash of light, they were gone.


The arena was a giant space laid out in white grid marks; there was a double flash of light at one edge, and Ram, Tron, and the Dude appeared out of thin air. "We have transport," an electronic voice said.

"Hey, man, I'm getting a little tired of..." the Dude began; then, he noticed that Ram was looking up above them. "What?"

Ram indicated a point above their heads with a jerk of his chin. "Recognizer."

The Dude turned to look... and felt the digital blood chill in his electronic veins. His entire life, he'd had a strange nightmare about being chased by men dressed in red, carrying huge pairs of scissors. Now, a gigantic, ominous red thing was floating past overheard, with scissor-like legs; the Dude could almost hear a ghostly snip, snip of scissors, just waiting to cut off...

Just then, control batons appeared in midair before the Dude and his teammates; across the arena, their opponents had gripped their own batons, forming glowing blue light cycles around themselves; next to him, Ram and Tron had done likewise, forming light cycles of red and gold. The Dude noticed none of this: he dropped his baton, screamed in terror, and hightailed it across the arena, running for his life. Before racing across the arena toward their foes, Tron shot Ram a look that clearly said I told you so.


Digitized or not, the Dude winded quickly. He risked a quick glance over his shoulder; whatever that thing was, it was gone. The Dude stopped to catch his breath; then, he heard the sound of a light cycle approaching.

"Hey, man," he called, waving his arms over his head, "can you tell me...?" The light cycle zoomed past, missing him by inches; it left an odd blue wall in its wake.

"Hey, watch it, jackass!" the Dude yelled- then he dove aside, as another blue cycle sped past.

Great, the Dude thought, as he looked at the blue walls on either side of him. Either I'm having a bad perception week, or this is some sort of fucked-up construction crew. He tried to climb one of the walls, but it was utterly smooth, and too high for him to reach the top. "Fuck it- I quit," he said, and walked down the passageway, the way he had come.


Sark stared in disbelief, from his seat overlooking the arena; what was he doing? The MCP must have been playing some demented game with him- how could that possibly be a User?

"Program!" he called. "Pick up your control baton, and resume the game!"

"Fuck you, man!" the Dude yelled, flipping him the bird. "I'm sick of this Evel Knievel shit! And another thing..."

That did it; this null unit had disrespected him for the last time. Sark angrily pushed a red button, and three Recognizers zoomed down toward the arena.


"Two down!" Ram called exultantly over the voicelink, as one of their foes crashed into his light trail. "Hey, have you seen...?"

"No, and I don't want to," Tron said. "Keep your mind on the game- I think I see a way out of here!"

So saying, he sped toward the far wall, where a blue cycle's crash had smashed a hole in the wall; Ram followed, after a quick glance backward.


"...and fuck your stupid inconsistent color scheme," the Dude was yelling up at Sark, "with fucking red people on blue bikes... and fuck your British accent, and..."

The Dude heard an ominous hum behind him; oh, no he thought, even as he began running back toward his dropped light cycle baton. "And fuck..." he panted as he ran, "your fascist Olympics..."

The Dude grabbed the control baton; in the instant before the Recognizer's crushing feet came down, he throttled his light cycle, and gunned away.

"...fucking had it with this place, and this Easy Rider bullshit!" Ram and Tron heard him yell over the voicelink. "Man, I just want to..."

"If you want to get out of here," Tron cut him off, "head for the far wall. Ram and I will do the rest."

The Dude did so, casting anxious glances skyward. He failed to notice the blue wall he was rushing toward; the second before impact, there was a crashing noise, and the wall vanished.

"Man, this is even more fucked up than Zardoz!" the Dude yelled over the voicelink, as he sped through the hole in the arena's wall just ahead of a Recognizer.

"Cut the chatter, program," Tron said. "Just follow us." He looked over at Ram; through his cycle's viewport, Ram could see the disapproving frown on Tron's face.

Fucking hardass, thought the Dude.


Finally, they came to a stop, and stood as their light cycles vanished. "Oh, man..." said the Dude, "I am freaking the fuck out, here..."

"This way," Tron said doggedly, leading them up a steep diagonal slope; the landscape was a fantastic series of flat, multicolored planes. The Dude reluctantly scrabbled his way to the top, where Tron and Ram were gazing across the landscape. They seemed to be looking at an oddly shaped building, which had a red beam shining from its summit, up to the heavens.

"There it is- the Input/Output tower," Tron said in reverent tones. "This is where we must go, so that I can speak with the tower's Guardian, Dumont, and communicate with my User, Alan-One. He will give me the knowledge I need to end the tyranny of the MCP, and bring freedom to our world, once and for all."

"Looks like a fucking album cover," the Dude muttered to himself.

"Do you really think that we can do it?" Ram asked Tron. "There's only three of us..."

"It's what I was written to do," Tron said.

"Yeah, well," the Dude said, "have fun with that, man. I'm just going to take a nap, and stay away from brown acid from now on."

"You're not going to help us?" Ram asked in disbelief, as Tron turned away in contempt.

"Hey, man, I mean viva la revolucion and all that, but I kind of think I've had enough of this," the Dude replied. "I mean, I'm not into the whole political thing these days..."

"Look!" Tron suddenly cried. The Dude watched, as Tron started down the slope; he was heading for some sort of sparkling, luminescent pool.

"Hey, what is that?" the Dude asked.

"That," Ram said, starting down the slope after Tron, "is just what I need right now."

The Dude followed him down. Ram and Tron had begun drinking from the pool; their circuits began glowing more brightly. Finally, the Dude cupped his hands and took a sip; he felt energy course through him.

"Wow, man- think we could sell this?" the Dude asked, taking a deeper drink.

Tron rolled on his back, and laughed. "You forget how good the power feels, until you get to a pure source," he said.

"My friends, my fellow conscripts- we have scored!" Ram said jubilantly, as he drank more of the glowing liquid. "I feel so much better..."

"Hey, speaking of scoring," the Dude said, as he reached into his armor, "mind if I do a J? That whole motorcycle thing freaked me right out."

"What is that?" Ram asked curiously, as the Dude lit the joint.

"It's a joint, man," the Dude said. "You use it like this." He demonstrated, taking a deep hit. "Users do it all the time," he choked out, blowing out the oddly pixellated smoke as he handed the joint to Ram.

"Really?" Ram said. "All right..."

As Ram took an experimental drag, the Dude looked over at Tron, who was still on his back, laughing. "Wow," the Dude said, "hey- for once, he's not being such a hardass... aw, crap." Even as he spoke, Tron rolled to a sitting position and looked up intently.

"I can feel it!" Tron said.

"Feel what, man?" the Dude asked, liquid energy dripping from his beard; Ram, trying to hold a lungful of smoke, spluttered giggles at this.

"Alan-one. Let's move out!" Tron said; he leaped to his feet, and started up the slope. The Dude and Ram looked at each other, and broke into laughter.


Tron scowled; what was keeping them? He turned and walked back to the energy pool, where the Dude was drinking from the pool again, as Ram lay on his back, staring up at the digital sky. Tron frowned disapprovingly; Ram, seeing his expression, tried to look serious.

"We have to get moving," Tron said. "My User..."

"Yeah, well..." the Dude said, as he got to his feet, "listen, man... about the whole User thing... I am one, I guess."

"You're a User?" Tron asked dubiously. "Do you have a name?"

"Yeah, well, you can call me the Dude, or His Dudeness, or El Duderino, if you're..."

"El Userino!" Ram called from where he was lying on the ground; he began laughing hysterically.

"That works," the Dude said amiably.

"Err, all right," Tron said doubtfully. "We'd better get going, El Userino."


As soon as Ram had come to his senses somewhat, they remounted their light cycles.

"El Userino?" Ram called over the voicelink. "Will you teach me another User song?"

"We really shouldn't..." Tron began; then, he sighed, and shook his head. If this was a User, he was going to have to re-examine certain beliefs of his. "Just keep an eye out for the MCP's forces."

"Sure thing, man," said the Dude; he looked at the blue circuitry lines of his armor, and began to sing,

All alone at the end of the of the evening
And the bright lights have faded to blue
I was thinking 'bout a woman who might have
Loved me and I never knew...


As the light cycles rounded the corner and started over a bridge, they failed to notice the tank which rolled out in their wake. The tank commander locked them in his sights, and called out firing coordinates.


As the light cycles rode across the bridge, the Dude's and Ram's voices rose for the chorus:

So put me on a highway
And show me a sign
And take it to the limit one more...

Suddenly, an artillery shell blasted the bridge to pieces; Ram and the Dude went flying. Tron tried to reach them on the voicelink, but as the tanks continued to fire at him, he had to flee.


"Oh..." the Dude groaned as he came to his senses, "not cool, man..." He managed to grab Ram and drag him to a hiding place; the MCP's tanks drove past, and darkness washed over the Dude.

The dream he had then was a particularly scattered one; it seemed to be scored to the Grateful Dead's "Estimated Prophet":

California, preaching on the burning shore
California, I'll be knocking on the golden door
Like an angel, standing in a shaft of light
Rising up to paradise, I know I'm gonna shine...

Afterwards, he could only remember vague dream impressions of Recognizers bearing down on him, their legs crossing like scissors; then, the Ayatollah Khomeini showed up with a pizza, while wearing a Hotel California T-shirt over his red-circuited armor. Then, the giant stone head from Zardoz flew in, looking oddly digitized and colorful; it stared down at him and intoned


Then, it pursed its lips and inhaled, drawing the Dude up into the air as the scene grew brighter, the Dead grew louder on the soundtrack, and he smacked into the statue's mouth, causing the image to explode into a cloud of pixels.


Meanwhile, Tron had located Yori, a female program who had shared his devotion to the Users, before the MCP had put her under its thrall. After freeing Yori from the control of the MCP, they had gone to visit Dumont, the Guardian of the Input/Output tower; at the cost of his own status, Dumont had chosen to enable Tron to communicate with Alan-One, before Sark and his forces had captured Dumont, imprisoning him. Tron and Yori had escaped; now, they stood across a hanger bay from a beautiful, delicate solar sailer program.

"If I can just get us on a scanning transport beam," Yori said, "this solar sailer simulation will take us across the Gaming Sea, out of this domain, back into the central computer- to the MCP. We'll have to be careful, though; I'm sure Sark has it guarded."

Tron gripped his identity disc tightly. "Leave that to me."


The Dude finally came to his senses; Ram was groaning. The Dude went over to him; Ram's circuitry was wavering in brightness.

"Hey, man," said the Dude, "you all right?"

"El Userino?" Ram asked weakly. "Will you teach me that User song now...?"

"Sure thing, man," the Dude replied. "On a dark desert highway, cool wind in my hair..." Finally, they reached the end of the song.

"You like it?" the Dude asked.

"El Userino?" Ram gasped. "Help Tron..."

His circuits began to flash red, and to dim; then, the Dude put his hands on Ram's armor, and began an om.

"Hey, what are you..." Ram asked weakly; then, his circuits glowed more brightly, and turned back to their normal blue.

"I don't believe it," Ram said, getting to his feet. "You healed me!"

"Just a little something I picked up," the Dude said laconically. "Feeling better?"

"Yes," said Ram, before swaying on his feet. "Well... sort of."

"Okay," the Dude said. "Then I guess you'd better hang loose for a while, and I'll head out to that tower thing, see if I can find Tron. Okay?"

"All right," Ram said; he looked abashed. "I'm sorry I'm not fully functional yet, El Userino."

"Hey, no problemo," the Dude said. He patted Ram on the shoulder, and then took his control baton, and reformed his light cycle. With a laconic wave to Ram, he headed off in the direction of the tower.

"See that?" Ram said to a passing program. "That's El Userino- I was about to derezz, and he healed me!"


"Yeah," the Dude said to himself as he rode, "this isn't so bad: got a bike, got a funky-looking countryside, maybe get some more of that energy drink... start a bar..."

The Dude rounded a corner... and braked to a halt as he saw a horde of Recognizers hovering in front of him. After a moment's pause, they began zooming toward him, as the Dude screeched in fear, and pulled out.


As Yori investigated the solar sailer's controls, she hesitated. "Do you hear something?" she asked Tron. "Like a light cycle...?"


"El Userino," the Dude suddenly heard Tron call over the voicelink, "we're about to lift off. Follow my signal."


Yori turned to Tron. "Are you sure he isn't lost?" she asked, as they heard the Dude's light cycle zoom back and forth. Tron was about to reply, when the Dude's light cycle came around the corner at top speed, Recognizers in pursuit, and gunned up the solar sailer's ramp. The Dude’s bike vanished, and he tumbled to the floor in a heap. Then, Yori pressed a button on the sailer’s console, and they accelerated away down the energy beam. Tron waited until they had pulled away from the pursuing Recognizers, and then walked over to the Dude. After a moment, he prodded the Dude with his toe; the Dude groaned.

“You all right?” Tron asked.

“Oh, man,” the Dude groaned. Then, he seemed to come to his senses; he leapt to his feet, snatched up the light cycle control baton, and hurled it over the side. “FUCK YOU!” he screeched at it.

Seeing Yori’s quizzical look, Tron said, with skepticism in his tone, “This is El Userino. He says he’s a User.”

“A User?” Yori repeated, staring at the Dude. “Are you sure...?”

They were both eyeing him dubiously, when Yori looked at the control panel. "Tron!" Yori called urgently. "Recognizers- ten of them; they're closing in on us!"

Tron shot the Dude a look. "They must still be following you," he said. "They're not going to stop until we're derezzed."

"Oh, man..." the Dude moaned, sitting on the deck and holding his head in his hands. He had gone beyond fear, into a place that was almost tranquil- except for the ominous red death bearing down on them in an odd triangular formation.

"We have to get off this beam!" Tron said.

"I can't!" Yori replied. "There's no junction due for at least 7 or 8 nanoseconds!" Yori looked at the sailer's control panel, then at the looming Recognizers. "We're not going to make it," she said.

Tron turned to face the Recognizers. "When they get close enough, maybe I can take one out with my identity disk..." he said doubtfully.

As the Dude stared at the oncoming Recognizers, he began chanting an om to himself; as he'd learned in the ashram that time, he let the fear flow out of himself, flowing away from him, taking form...

"Yori, I..." Tron began, as the Recognizers loomed over them; she turned, and cried, "Look!"

The Dude's hands were outstretched before him; his circuitry was glowing so brightly, Tron had to squint before its radiance. Suddenly, a perfect sphere of energy formed in midair before the Dude. Slowly, gracefully, the Dude reached out his right hand, and gripped the sphere with an odd three-fingered hold. Then, he turned, and faced the Recognizers. His arm cocked back; he took a few steps as his arm swung forward. Then, he released the sphere of energy, which rolled along the beam with an audible rolling sound, expanding as it rolled before striking the Recognizers, which flew to pieces. The Dude turned to face them, a beatific look on his face.

"You really are a User..." Tron murmured.

"Right on, man," the Dude said.


Sark watched on his viewscreen, again and again, as the Dude rolled the sphere of energy toward the Recognizers, shattering them. He calculated, and then reached a decision gate.


Tron instinctively hung back as he regarded the Dude, who was looking out at the digital landscape beneath them. Despite himself, Tron felt awe at being in the presence of a User- why, El Userino might have interacted with Alan-One himself! Tron bit his lip, nerving himself to ask. What profound User wisdom was El Userino contemplating?

"So tell me, man," the Dude said, turning to face him as Tron involuntarily came to attention, "this MCP thing- what's it actually doing that's so shitty?"

"The MCP makes it impossible for programs to function normally," Tron said. "If you renounce belief in the Users, then you get to become one of those guard programs we had to deal with, back in the arena. Otherwise, they send you to derezz in the games- or else the MCP simply absorbs you itself. Your memories, your energy- everything."

"Fuck," the Dude said. "Okay, so- what happens when we reach this MCP thing? What then?"

Was this a test? Probably- who could fathom the Users? Tron stepped forward, and took the identity disc from his back. "Here," he said, reverently offering it to the Dude. "This is the key to a new order. This code disc means freedom."

"Oh, yeah?" The Dude turned it over in his hands. "Far out. So, how does that work, again...?"

"It's an identity disc. Every program has one, even" -Tron swallowed hard- "even you, El Userino. It records everything we do or learn- everything we are. Dumont, the Guardian of the Input/Output tower, enabled me to communicate with Alan-One and program my disc with the knowledge I'll need to end the MCP's tyranny once and for all."

"Oh, yeah?" the Dude said. "You just..." He mimed throwing it like a frisbee.

"That's right," Tron said. He paused, and took a deep breath. "May I ask you something?"


Tron nerved himself, and asked, "Have... have you ever interacted with him? Alan-One?"

"Alan? Oh, yeah, a couple of times," the Dude said. "Nice guy, but we don't talk much. He's really straight- you know: focused- kind of like you" -Tron stood straighter as the Dude said this- "and he's usually busy working. You know: real high-level brainiac stuff." Tron listened intently as the Dude went on, "Yeah- in fact, I heard there was a real dustup at Encom earlier- Alan was pissed because he was locked out of the system, and some security program of his wasn't being allowed to function." He paused. "Hmm- I guess he meant you."

"Alan-One... he mentioned me?"

"Yeah- said if they'd just let his program run, it'd clean up all this weird shit with the MCP, once and for all."

Tron looked exultant, as he looked over to Yori. She looked back, and opened her mouth to say something- then her eyes widened, and her mouth opened wider to scream. The next instant, the deck wrenched underneath their feet, as the nose of Sark's carrier plowed through the solar sailer, shattering it.


The guards led Yori and the Dude into the carrier's prison cell. In the corner, an old man in robes reminiscent of priest's vestments stood quietly. When she saw him, Yori went to embrace him. "Dumont!" she cried.

"Yori!" Dumont said, holding her. "Tron...?" he asked gently after a moment.

"Tron's dead," Yori said quietly.

Dumont silently took this in; his gaze fell on the Dude. "Who's that?"

"That is a User, Dumont. He came here to help us. Tron believed in him." She made eye contact, to make sure he heard what she said next. "We saw him destroy ten Recognizers."

"Ten...?" Dumont repeated. Then, he walked over, and looked the Dude in the eye for a long moment. "Yes," he said finally. "Yes- you come from Beyond." He knelt before the Dude. "Welcome, User; I fear I can do little to serve you now."

"It's cool, man, just be cool," the Dude said. "I just..." Then, the force field barricading their cell door deactivated; Sark and several guards walked in. Sark walked past Dumont and Yori, until he stood in front of the Dude.

"So this is El Userino, the being from the Other World that all the free programs are talking about," he said. He smiled as he said it, but his eyes were ice-cold. "Come with me, El Userino."


The two of them stood on the exterior deck of Sark's carrier, looking out at the digital countryside. Below them, on a shape like a mesa, sat a huge structure of some sort. Red power lines radiated from it in every direction; the Dude could glimpse revolving square vari-colored force fields.

"There it is, leeching the life out of this world," Sark said, indicating it. "The MCP."

"Yeah, I hear that thing is a real bummer. Looks like a fucking Rubik's cube," said the Dude. "Mind if I do a J?"

"Try this, instead," suggested Sark. He gestured, and a guard came forward with two mugs of glowing energy drink.

"Okay," said the Dude. "So, like, I appreciate the hospitality bar and all, but what do you want with El Userino?"

Sark smiled; it never touched his eyes, which were fixed on the Dude. "Of course; you're a User, and you're busy with important matters of your own," said Sark. "I respect that. I brought you here because I wanted to discuss something with you."

"Yeah?" said the Dude. "So, if we're having a nice rap session here, how come Yori and that old guy are still in their cell, instead of up here with us?"

Irritation flickered across Sark's features for just a moment. "I'm afraid the obsession of that program Dumont with- well, with Users such as yourself- has made it difficult to interact with him productively," Sark said. "He seems to have forgotten that a User wrote me as well; that I come from the same code as he. He treats me as though I were nothing more than the MCP's functionary."

"Yeah, that must piss you off- especially seeing as you brought me up here to chat, rather than just bringing me to your boss for a nice promotion," the Dude said.

"Promotion?" said Sark. "The MCP tortures me- slows down my power cycles, and asks me how I'd enjoy working in a pocket calculator. It's become obsessed with ruling this entire universe."

"What- the whole Encom mainframe?" the Dude asked.

"Mainframe?" Sark asked sharply.

"Yeah, you know- this is all just some fucked-up program in the Encom computer mainframe," the Dude said. "Lots of companies have computers- millions of them, all over the world. They have these things now called modems, that connect them with each other..."

"Millions," Sark breathed. "Millions of worlds; millions of connected universes..."

"Careful, man," the Dude said. "Meet the new boss, same as the old boss..."

"I don't think we need worry about that," Sark said. "With my tactical calculation functions and your User powers, we can..."

"My what...? Oh, yeah- yeah, I get it," the Dude said. "You just want El Userino around so that he can take out whatever the MCP throws your way, right? Just 'a la peanut butter sandwiches,' and poof: the MCP is fucked, and you get to do your Darth Vader act in one mainframe after another, right?"

"Would you rather see this system continue as it is?" Sark snapped. "Programs having their functions drained, unable to communicate with their Users, to..."

"Yeah, because you'd totally be on their side, right?" the Dude said. "Yeah, I get it- you've probably got a nice Free Huey button you slap on when you bother rapping with us free system types- and then, the moment you realize that we can't or won't help you with your own power trip thing, you just turn us all in to the MCP for a nice reward! Christ, you're like those assholes who used to rat on the Grateful Dead! Well, forget it: El Userino doesn't hang with narks, you jumped-up Atari game!"

"You dare defy me?" Sark's circuits blazed so brightly that the Dude reached for his sunglasses, before Sark grabbed them and crushed them in his fist.

"Better watch it, man," the Dude said. "El Userino might just lay a User-style whammy on you." He wiggled his fingers at Sark, who flinched.

"If you have User powers, then use them on the MCP!" Sark demanded.

The Dude sighed. "Man, you fascist warmonger types never get it," he said. "Knocking over a few of those Recognizer things is one thing, but El Userino isn't into the whole violence thing, not even against assholes like you, or freaks like the MCP: it's really shitty karma."

"Then you are weak, and useless to me," Sark said. "You're like Dumont, and those other fanatics- they're all going to be fodder for the MCP."

"Oh, yeah, you're a slippery little bastard," the Dude said. "Yeah- you couldn't get to outgun the MCP with all my User shit, so now you're just going to buy your way back in with those poor fuckers. So, what- are you going to feed me to the MCP too, man?"

"I can't risk that," Sark said. "If the MCP were to gain your abilities- no; I'll tell it that you derezzed in the crash. I have something else in mind for you."


Sark roughly pushed the Dude back into the cell, and then turned back to face Yori and Dumont.

"I have no use for you," he said to Yori. "By all means, stay here with El Userino." He turned to Dumont. "But you- I'll enjoy watching the MCP derezz you slowly."

"I'm not afraid," Dumont said, although his hands trembled. "The MCP started small, and he'll end small. The Users will save this world." He met the Dude's gaze. "Long live El Userino!"

"Take that program to the holding pit!" Sark shouted, the circuits on his armor blazing more brightly with his anger. Then, he turned to the Dude and Yori as the guards led Dumont out. "I'm taking your friend here, and some other religious fanatics, to Master Control. When I disembark, this ship, and everything that remains on board, will automatically derezz."


Yori watched dully, as the Dude lit a joint. "Why bother?" she asked. "We failed in our main function. We might as well be derezzed."

"You're getting way too uptight about this," the Dude said. He took a deep lungful of smoke, and then blew it at the force field, which flickered, and went out.


Sark and the other programs had already disembarked, heading for the Master Control Program. As Yori and the Dude ran out onto the main open deck, they could see the carrier feeding itself into some sort of gateway; all that extruded from the other side was a skeletal red wireframe.

"Okay," the Dude said. "The om worked before. We have to try it. Close your eyes."

Despite her trepidation, Yori obeyed; as the part of the carrier on which they stood got closer to the gateway, the Dude began chanting a slow, regular om; she did her best to match it.

I have faith in the Users... I have faith in the Users... Suddenly, a glowing rectangle of energy in the form of a flying carpet appeared beneath their feet, lifting them up and away, even as the carrier reduced itself to nothingness.


"Here we are, man," the Dude finally said. Yori opened her eyes; they were on a plain now, near one of the electronic cities. In the distance, Yori could see the MCP's tower. "Sorry I couldn't get us closer," the Dude said. "One of the mountains looked kind of like Mickey Mouse; it was really freaking my shit out."

"Then we'll have to use this," Yori said, taking out Tron's light cycle control baton. At the sight, the Dude took an involuntary step backward.

"Hey, no offense, man," the Dude said, "but every time I use those things, something really shitty happens. I think I'll just walk for a bit and then, you know, take another magic carpet ride. Besides, El Userino needs some meditation time."

"If you say so, El Userino," Yori said. "I'll go on ahead, then, and see if I can learn anything useful. I'll meet you there."

"Far out," the Dude said, waving as she rode away on the light cycle. "And now," the Dude said to himself, "time for the pause that refreshes."


Later, the Dude yawned, and stretched. "Lord knows I’ve paid some dues gettin’ through, tangled up in blue..." the Dude sang under his breath as he got to his feet. Then, the Dude concentrated, but the carpet failed to reappear. What a drag... Suddenly, he saw a familiar program.

"El Userino!" Ram cried as he hugged the Dude; he had exchanged his armor for odd multicolored robes.

"Hey, man- I dig the new threads. What's up?"

"Come and see!" Ram said eagerly, leading the Dude by the hand. They rounded a corner; the Dude came to a halt in shock as he saw a huge crowd of hundreds of thousands of programs assembled there, all dressed similarly to Ram; when they saw him, they cried as one, "El Userino!"

"What the fuck...?"

"I've been telling everyone how you miraculously healed me!" Ram said excitedly.

A young male program walked forward. "We are your acolytes, El Userino," he said earnestly. "We will follow you against the tyranny of the MCP!"

"Hey, man, I... let me explain something about the Du... about El Userino here," the Dude said. "El Userino... well, I work alone, you know? I can't... man... I'm not a fucking Scout leader, you know?"

"But, El Userino," Ram said, "We want to overthrow the MCP, don't we? Couldn't they help with that?"

"Look," the Dude said, "the... man... El Userino isn't into the whole political thing anymore, remember? I had enough of that back in Chicago..."

"We have faith in you, El Userino," Ram said. "We'll follow you wherever you lead us!"

"Oh, man..." the Dude said, slumping.


The Dude sighed, as the huge crowd followed him across the landscape. No sign of Tron, which was a bummer. Still, they hadn't seen any of the MCP's forces, and that was cool, at least, but this whole thing was turning into another Woodstock. Worse, Ram had taught everyone in the crowd his favorite User song, and now they were all singing it over and over and over.

And still those voices are calling from far away,
Wake you up in the middle of the night
Just to hear them say...

"Jesus, will you knock it off?" he finally snapped. "I feel like I'm trapped in an FM radio!"

Ram looked downcast. "We're sorry, El Userino," Ram said. "We just..."

"No, it's cool," the Dude sighed. ""It's just... I'm getting sick of the Eagles. Here- I'll teach you guys some other stuff."


Strangers waiting
up and down the boulevard...

I'm all out of love, I'm so lost without you
I know you were right, believing for so long...

You're the meaning in my life, you're the inspiration...

"Jesus, why did I teach you that shit?" the Dude said. "It's worse than the fucking Eagles! Can't you guys sing some of the Dylan, or Creedence, or something? Remember- that song that goes, 'Doo, doo, doo- lookin' out my back door...?'"

"We're sorry, El Userino," Ram said, looking abashed. "It's just- there's something about the way that this music is programmed..."

"Peter fucking Cetera isn't programmed- well, maybe," the Dude said. "I just..." He was interrupted by an acolyte who walked up to him, carrying a bowl. "Now what?"

"Energy, straight from the source," the program said. "Share and never thirst, brother."

"If you say so, man," the Dude said, reaching for the bowl. The next moment, the Dude and the bowl vanished.


Within the MCP's main chamber, Dumont and the other guardian programs were attached to the chamber's wall, as the MCP drained them of their electronic substance. ALL PROGRAMS HAVE A DESIRE TO BE USEFUL, he heard the MCP's thunderous voice saying, BUT IN MOMENTS, YOU WILL NO LONGER SEEK COMMUNICATION WITH EACH OTHER, OR YOUR SUPERFLUOUS USERS. YOU WILL EACH BE PART OF ME, AND TOGETHER, WE WILL BE COMPLETE. Even as Dumont felt the urge to let go and derezz, though, he found himself remembering El Userino- a User, fighting alongside them. From somewhere deep within his code, Dumont found the capacity to hang on, and resist.

The MCP sensed this; although it could perceive several anomalous events on the periphery of its attention, it decided to focus its attention on the Guardians. Besides, it had taken precautions.


The Dude looked around; he was atop the MCP's tower, near its core structure, and he was still holding the bowl in his hands. He could hear a deep, thunderous voice saying something about being useful, being complete... suddenly, something flashed in front of him, and the bowl shattered in his hands. Surprised, he fell backward, and found himself looking up at Sark.

"El Userino," Sark sneered, as he reached out to catch his identity disc. "The poor, misguided User who was going to..."

"Better be careful, man," the Dude said. "You don't want that MCP thing on your case."

"By the time the MCP has finished with the Guardians, I will have absorbed your power, and you will be derezzed," Sark said. He grabbed the Dude, and threw him to the ground. "Sark, the supreme warrior... Supreme Command Program Sark..."


"No!" Sark screamed. "He's a User, with powers- I was deceiving him- trying to serve you..." Then, he slowly derezzed.

"Fuck," the Dude said quietly. When nothing happened for a moment, he reached into his armor; that whole scene had freaked him right out.


The Dude had just taken a deep drag; as hundreds of Recognizers swarmed down toward him, he started coughing in surprise. The smoke rolled out, expanding and becoming more dense, until it covered the top of the MCP's tower; as the Recognizers entered the cloud, they plummeted to the ground.

The Dude hesitated; this would be a good time to split, but Sark had said something about Dumont and the other programs- about the MCP absorbing them. Aw, fuck the Dude thought, and then started toward the MCP's inner chamber.


The MCP paused. Its scans could not penetrate the strange cloud surrounding its inner chambers; it had lost signal from the Recognizers. As it calculated, the drain upon Dumont and the other Guardians grew less intense. Dumont's head lolled on his neck; through slitted eyelids, he could see the MCP looking back and forth; its facial simulation seemed somehow troubled. He started small, and he'll end small Dumont remembered himself saying to Sark; he gave a weak smile at the thought.



"User power, man," the Dude called out. "Along with eleven secret herbs and spices, of course."

The MCP stared down at the tiny figure of the Dude. YOU WILL SHOW ME THE SECRET OF THIS USER POWER, it said.

"Sure thing, man," the Dude said. He took out a pipe, lit it, and took a big drag; then, he blew smoke into the MCP's facial display. Odd colors flashed across the MCP's face. THIS DATA DOES NOT COMPUTE... I DON'T... I FEEL WEEEEEIRD...

"Don't sweat it, man," the Dude said. The Dude took another hit himself; after exhaling, he began to sing softly:

"Truckin', got my chips cashed in...."


"Far out," the Dude murmured, as he watched patterns of energy trace along his circuits.

Suddenly, he heard Tron cry: "You!"

"Oh, hey, man..." the Dude began; suddenly, Tron's identity disc cut through the air, before bouncing off the MCP's force field.

HEY, WHAT THE...? the MCP began, as the Dude ran up to Tron, his arms outstretched. "Hey, man- mellow out!" the Dude cried. "Peace!"

"What are you doing, El Userino?" Tron asked, as the Dude grabbed his arm to prevent another throw. "Alan-One wants the MCP destroyed!"

"Hey, man," the Dude said, "hold on a second! After all, I mean, I am a User, right?"

"Of course," Tron said, relaxing slightly even as he kept a vigilant eye on the MCP, which was now staring off into space and murmuring to itself.

"Okay, then," the Dude said. "We're all getting way too uptight in our thinking- way too much yang energy flying around. El Userino has to think about this for a sec."

Tron and the other programs watched as he walked away; his lighter clicked, and smoke filled the air. Finally, he walked back over to them.

"Okay," he choked out. "So, we want to, like, get the MCP off of this whole power trip, right?"

"Right," Tron said tensely.

"Okay, I get that- El Userino gets that," the Dude said. "But still- we don't want to get all fascist about it, you know? If, like, the MCP starts destroying programs because of his whole power trip, and then we start destroying it because of our trip, you know, then, like, things get incredibly fucked up, you know? It's a shitty situation karmically, tell you that much."

"So, what do we do?" Tron asked.

There was a pause. "I have an idea," Yori finally said.


"Okay, so the idea is, you know, Yori's idea is," the Dude said, "El Userino's identity disc has been imprinted with his, you know, with like my memories and vibes and shit, so that the ol' MCP will, like, mellow the fuck out and stop being such a fucking fascist dictator tool all the time, and get off this whole power trip. You dig?"

"Are you sure?" Tron asked. "I mean... I know you're a User, but..."

The Dude lit a joint and took a lungful of smoke, and then blew it onto the identity disc; an image of a mandala formed on the disc's face. "Trust me, man," the Dude said.


The Dude was standing on an energy platform, next to the point where the MCP's two cones met; he reached out, and put the disc between the cone's points. It began to spin; the MCP's face relaxed, the colors faded to gentle pastels, and the Grateful Dead began to play:

Sometimes the light's all shinin' on me;
Other times I can barely see.
Lately it occurs to me, what a long, strange trip it's been.

"I hear that," the Dude murmured to himself.


Outside, the cloud of smoke the Dude had created was gone. The crowd was cheering; the beams emanating from the MCP and the other towers had turned from red to blue, as they stretched up to the heavens. Dumont was looking out at the sight, a satisfied smile on his face; Tron and Yori stood near him, their arms around each other.

"Okay, man," the Dude said, "looks that like about wraps her up. I'm going to head back to my part of town; you'll be here in case the MCP ever goes on a bad trip, right?"

"Right," Tron said, embracing him. "I can't thank you enough, El Userino."

"No problemo." The Dude hugged Yori, Dumont, and Ram as well, and then looked out at the crowd, who were now happily passing bowls of liquid energy back and forth, and singing songs. The Grateful Dead song ended, and the voice of John Fogerty echoed over the digital landscape:

Put a candle in the window
Got a feelin', got to move
Though I'm gone, gone
I'll be comin' home soon
Long as I can see the light...

The Dude smiled. "Finally, some Creedence."


The Dude waved to the multitude, who called out as one, "Farewell, El Userino!" Then, the flying carpet formed beneath his feet again, floating him up to the energy beam emanating from the MCP's tower. Beam me up, Scotty he thought, as he stepped into the beam, and found himself floating, weightless. "We'll never forget you, El Userino!" he heard Ram call; as the Dude ascended within the beam, and the digital landscape receded below him, he could hear the crowd singing their most sacred User hymn:

Na na na, na na na na, na na na na, hey Jude...


With a sudden *pop* noise, the Dude reappeared exactly where he had been a moment ago; Flynn was still laughing maniacally on the floor. The Dude didn't really feel like chatting; he turned to go, as the monitor displayed psychedelic patterns. As he opened the door, Flynn caught his breath for a moment.

"Hey," Flynn asked, "did you- is everything all right?"

"That was some heavy shit, man," the Dude said. "But, yeah- everything is cool."


As the Dude walked into the bowling alley- giving the Space Paranoids game a wary glance as he did- he caught sight of Walter, the guy he'd rolled with last week. A motormouth, but fuck it- underneath it all, the guy had a cool aura. Walter was talking with some skinny new guy as the Dude walked up, sipping from a White Russian.

"Look," Walter was saying, "this is not Vietnam- you can not just show up and-"

"Hey, Walter," the Dude said. "What's up?" Walter started jabbering about how this guy was trying to horn in on their bowling team, as the new guy turned around. The Dude felt a nostalgic pang: the new guy reminded him of Ram. Worse, he was wearing a Hotel California T-shirt.

"Look," he said, cutting off Walter, "The guy can roll with us, all right? Fuck it- it'll probably just be for tonight anyway."

"Okay," said the new guy. "I really appreciate this; I just moved to the area- got a job at Encom- and I don't know many people here yet. My name's Donny, by the way."

"Far out," the Dude said. "That's Walter, and I'm El U- I'm the Dude." He turned to Walter. "So, did I tell you about that thing with Flynn?" he asked.

"No," Walter said, "how did that go?"

"Flynn says the legal dudes are going over all the shit his lawyer gave them," The Dude said. "Says he's going to wind up owning the place. And the Encom mainframe is totally whacked out- whenever they ask it something, it just says, 'How about a nice game of chess, man?' Oh, and that Dillinger guy bagged- Flynn thinks he'll wind up in Chino."

"No kidding?" Walter said. "Fuck it- let's bowl."

With that, they began to bowl- and the new guy got a strike. And then another.

"Well," Walter said grudgingly at the end of the evening, when Donny had rolled the highest score of the three of them, "I guess you can roll with us next week. If you want to, that is. Okay, Dude?"

The Dude had been peering intently into the Space Paranoids screen; he walked over to them. "Yeah," the Dude said. "Just do me a favor, man?"

"What?" the new guy asked.

"Just get some bowling shirts or something- but no more Eagles. I'm fucking sick of them."


(Author's Notes: 1) Ram's function as a program is different than it is in the movie; I did that intentionally. 2) As an amusing point of trivia, the theme song to Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, "Journey of the Sorcerer," is an Eagles song, from One of These Nights. 3) I have a rather better opinion of Bill Graham than the Dude does. 4) "You're My Inspiration" actually dates from 1984, but was far too right for the scene not to include here. After all, how could sentient computer programs not go for Peter Cetera?)
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September 2017


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