skye_writer: Cropped screencap of Maleficent from Disney's Sleeping Beauty (1959). (Default)
[personal profile] skye_writer
Title: The Outpost
Author: [personal profile] skye_writer
Rating: T
Characters/Pairings: Original characters, Tron, Sam Flynn, Quorra, Ed Dillinger, Jr.
Wordcount: 3500 words approx.
Summary: No one knew where the virus came from. By the time they noticed it, it was too late. The Grid's factions put their differences aside and built a haven in the Outlands--the Outpost. Time passes; the Grid's programs survive. Then the Portal opens again, bringing Users back to the Grid, and what happens next may change their world forever.
Warnings: Minor character death.


PART ONE: INCUBATION

CHAPTER THREE: THE USERS


“All right,” the Nameless said, swinging himself off his lightcycle. “Nike, you, Rydex, and Stihl form a barricade with our lightcycles and keep an eye out for the corrupted. They’ve caught on to us now, and they may be following us from that last corrupted sector. I trust you can keep these two under control, Nike?” he added. Nike nodded, and wheeled her lightcycle around to start the barricade. Rho followed suit as she waited to hear what the Nameless wanted her to do.

“Rho,” he said to her as she climbed off her lightcycle. She turned towards him, eyebrows raised. “You can come in with me or stay out here with the others. There might be a fight either way.”

“I’ll go in,” she replied, unhooking her disc from its mount. “I can handle a fight.”

The Nameless only nodded at this. He confirmed things were ready with Nike and the others, then pulled out his disc as well. “Let’s go,” he said to Rho. She nodded, and followed him up to the doors of Flynn’s building.

He banged on the door three times with his fist, then opened it and stepped inside, Rho close behind him.

There was an immediate commotion. A disc flew straight at the Nameless, but he knocked it out of the air effortlessly. A male voice shouted, “What the hell—”

“Christ,” said another man. “Alan?”

The Nameless flinched. Rho wouldn’t have believed it if she hadn’t seen it with her own eyes. He actually flinched. Rho glanced between the Nameless and the three Users standing before them, her disc out and ready. And then the first man spoke again.

Tron.”

The Nameless flinched again and Rho’s jaw dropped open. “Tron?” she said, looking at him.

“Not now,” he muttered. “I know Sam Flynn,” he said, pointing to the first User, who wore a Games Grid getup and had a serious expression. “And I know you.” He pointed at the female User in Grid attire, who had apparently thrown her disc. “Who are you?” he asked the last User, a dark-haired and discless man who was crouched over a panel of open code on the floor.

“Ed Dillinger,” the User answered. “Junior. And you’re Tron?”

The Nameless’s jaw set, as though he was holding something back. “Not anymore,” he growled. Rho’s eyes widened, and her disc dropped to her side. So he was Tron. Or he had been. “I take it you’ve been repairing the code here?” he said to the Users.

“Sam and Ed have,” the female User said. “This place was falling apart when we got here. Some kind of code breakdown?”

“It’s not a breakdown,” the Nameless said. “It’s a virus, and we need to get out of here, now.”

“A virus?” Sam said, his brow furrowed. “How—”

“There’s no time for questions,” the Nameless said, cutting across him. “We have to get out of the city and across the Outlands, and we’ve got less than half a millicycle to do it. Now, come on.” He turned and stalked out the door again, leaving Rho and the Users staring at each other.

Rho shrugged. “You might have hit a nerve with him,” she said. A nerve I didn’t even know he had. “He is right, though, we have to get going now. We only brought two extra lightcycles, so I guess one of you’s gonna have to double up with someone.”

“And who are you?” asked Sam.

“Rho,” she replied cheerfully. “I’m the mission navigator.” She turned to go, but paused. “I wouldn’t call him that again,” she said. “That name. He’s just the Nameless.”

Before any of them could respond, she headed out the door. The Nameless was already arranging things with Nike and Stihl and Rydex, and he had the two spare lightcycle batons in one hand. Rho walked up to him, hooking her disc on her back as she went. “What do you need me to do?” she asked.

He looked at her sidelong, as if daring her to say something about what had transpired inside. Rho just stared back. She had something to say, all right, but right here, right now, it could wait. Finally, the Nameless said, “Get ready for the journey back. You’ll be riding first again. And don’t be surprised when you look down the road.”

Rho nodded, and went to pull her lightcycle back into the center of the street, heading down a ways so the others would have enough room to form up behind her. She looked down the road—and gasped.

The corrupted were coming. Slowly, but they were coming.

ooo


Rho drove silently through the streets, trying to ignore the sounds of combat behind her. The Nameless’ orders had been clear: she could not stop, no matter what, until she and the Users were clear of the city. He and the sentries brought up the back of the group, derezzing corrupted left and right. The Users rode single file behind Rho, Sam and Ed doubled up while the female User, Quorra, rode solo.

The corrupted swarmed around them, slow-moving but persistent. Rho had to duck and weave among them, hoping the Users could keep up, and hoping the Nameless and the others could cut through them without trouble. Fear of infection kept her going, following her mapped route despite the corrupted programs now coming after them. The Nameless and the sentries destroyed as many as they could, so there wasn’t a swarm after them as well as before them. Rho could only hope the corrupted would give up when they reached the city’s gates. They’d never wandered into the Outlands before, and hopefully they wouldn’t start now. The last thing they needed was a chase all the way to the Outpost.

Rho took even the corrupted sectors at a fast pace. They still had to submit to viral checks outside the city, and make it back to the Outpost besides. Saving time was essential at this point.

So when Rho rounded a corner into infected territory and saw the street ahead crowded with corrupted, she put on speed and pulled out her disc. She wasn’t great at mounted combat, but cutting a path through these corrupted should be easy.

The Nameless’ voice crackled over the comm. “Rho, what are you doing?!”

“I’ve gotta clear a path!” she replied, throwing her disc. It cut through one of the corrupted before flying back to her hand.

“You do not compromise—” the Nameless said, but his voice was lost to static as she barreled into the crowd. The staticky screeches of the corrupted filled her hearing, and even as she sliced through them they crowded around her, grabbing at her arms and legs. Fear started winning out over confidence; her touch on the throttle sagged and she slowed, allowing the corrupted more purchase against her. She tried to slash with her disc, but they had grabbed her arm and were pulling it back as she slowly drove through them.

This was a mistake, she thought. Where did they all come from? It didn’t look like there were this many. And now I’m as good as infected, because I thought I could cut through and save the Users. Damn it.

Rho tried to wrench her arm out of the grip, but they were stronger than her in such numbers. She gunned the throttle, but it did little good. They were going to overpower her and pull her from the lightcycle, and then the mission would be truly lost. What a bit-brain I am.

And then a disc—no, multiple discs—screamed in from behind her, cutting through the corrupted around her. Her lightcycle shot forward with the weight of them gone, shaking off a few more in the process. Her right arm freed from their grasp, she derezzed the last couple hangers-on on her right. The way ahead was clear but for a few derezzing holes in the road.

“Rho—” the Nameless began, his voice angry.

“I know,” she replied, weary not with him but with herself. It’d been a while since she’d screwed up this badly. She glanced at her map and made a wide left turn onto the next street. “That was an unnecessary risk that could have compromised the mission. And I’m probably infected now thanks to my own show-off stupidity.”

Silence filled the comm for a few moments. “Apology accepted,” the Nameless finally said. “Don’t do it again.”

“Yes, sir.”

Rho drove on, her mind back on the mission and their route to freedom. She avoided corrupted programs, swinging wide around them instead of cutting close like she’d done before. There seemed to be fewer and fewer of them the closer they got to the northern gate. Perhaps they’d all migrated to the city center to try and catch them, leaving fewer to the outskirts. Whether Rho was imagining it or not, she was grateful, but she didn’t breathe easy until she saw the northern gate before her.

She put on a burst of speed when she saw the gatehouses, one that took her over the bridge and into the Outlands. She kept driving till she just passed the lightrunner, where she slid into a stop. Perit, who’d begun climbing out of the lightrunner when Rho crossed over, rolled her eyes and went to check in with the Nameless, her med equipment at hand.

Rho engaged the stand on her lightcycle and swung one leg over the side so she could sit comfortably, with both feet on the ground. She watched as the Nameless introduced the Users to Perit, and then as Perit began her scans on Sam Flynn. The scanning process grew boring after a few micros, though, so she turned her attention to the Nameless.

Tron. His name was Tron. The Tron, the protector of the Grid, who’d vanished in the first war, who’d inspired vigilantes to take up his mantle in places as far away as Argon City. And she’d been friends with him for nearly three cycles! She couldn’t believe she’d never guessed who he was, but then again, she’d never been all that familiar with Tron’s face to begin with. The massive scar on the side of his face probably drew attention away from any familiar features. He wore Tron’s symbol, too, but many programs did, to show they remembered and upheld the ideals of the Grid’s first security program.

The Users had recognized him right away, though. She wondered how that was possible. Ed Dillinger had called him a different name, though. “Alan.” Rho frowned, turning the name over in her head. Maybe Alan was Tron’s User? She doubted she’d ever find out for sure; that was a far more personal question than even asking what his name was.

She was dying to know the truth, but she knew getting it would be a monumental task in itself. That was the whole basis of their relationship; she didn’t ask questions, and in return her helped her out and sometimes let something slip about his past. If she asked him if it was true, what would she be putting at stake?

Rho shook her head. She’d have to come up with a tactful way to ask. For now she needed to concentrate on her present. Like the fact that she might well be infected with the virus. What would they do if she was? They still needed her to lead the party back across the Outlands. Could she lead them back if she was infected? Would the Nameless and Perit even let her? The Nameless had probably memorized their route on the way out; he could probably lead them back no problem. Which left her to… what? Go back into the city and join the corrupted? Find a likely spot out here and fall on her disc?

Rho took a deep breath. There was no use worrying until she had to submit for the scan. This was her own fault, really, but getting anxious about her fate was pointless. So instead she returned her attention to watching Perit scan the others, hoping for the best but expecting the worst.

ooo


Rho discovered her fate much sooner than she’d anticipated. The Nameless asked Perit to scan her after she was done with the Users (who, despite mucking around with corrupted code, were one and all virus-free) and himself. She stood before Perit with her arms folded behind her back, shaking a little from sheer nervousness. She’d made a big mistake piling into that crowd of the corrupted and now she was going to find out what it was going to cost her. “Heard you got into a scrape on the way back,” Perit remarked coolly as she tapped at her scanner. Rho fought back a wince; so the Nameless had told her.

“What’s it to you, exactly?” Rho shot back. She really wasn’t in a mood to be kind at the moment.

“Not much, really,” Perit responded with a shrug. “It’s important to know what my patients have been up to before I begin the scan, so I know what to look for.”

“Right.” Rho clenched her jaw, determined not to respond to anything else Perit had to say.

“I must say, though, you’re looking clear so far. You may have gotten lucky.”

Rho tried not to let her relief show; she didn’t want to be grateful to someone like Perit, who kept wearing loyalist colors even though they were all on the same side now. She wondered if Perit had kept her thoughts to herself when she was scanning the Users. Maybe she did. Rho couldn’t begin to guess, to be honest; she didn’t hang around much with the loyalist crowd.

She watched as Perit silently worked on the scan, touching parts of the scanner here and there at random intervals. Rho hoped she was lucky. She’d been lucky a lot during the war, especially back when she used to dump her escorts. She’d never been captured. For the most part, she attributed that to her skill as a navigator and her knowledge of the city, but now she wanted to believe that she was lucky. Lucky might get her through this alive, and she wanted to survive, not become more fodder for the virus’ spread.

Perit’s scanner beeped three times. “You’re clear,” she said, and Rho couldn’t help it—she sagged with relief. Perit gave her a smile that was more like a smirk and said, “You’re welcome.” She walked away, back to the Nameless, and as soon as her back was turned, Rho rolled her eyes. What was she even supposed to be thanking Perit for? For delivering good news?

She wandered up to the Nameless as Perit walked off to scan one of the others. “I’m clear,” she said quietly to him.

“I heard,” he replied.

“Doesn’t make up for what I did,” Rho continued, “but hey, I guess I’m lucky.” She smiled a little.

“Good for you,” he said. “And I hope you’ve learned once again that pulling dangerous stunts doesn’t pay.”

“Of course.” She paused, thinking, then added, “Even if I suffered no consequences whatsoever?”

The Nameless smiled, just barely. “Forgive me for giving you a little credit.”

Rho smiled back. She opened her mouth to respond, but her thoughts were cut off by a shout from behind her.

“No! NO!” Stihl was backing away from Perit, tearing at his hair frantically. “It’s not—”

“It’s true,” Perit said over him. “I’ve run this check hundreds of times and it’s never been wrong. You’re infected, Stihl.”

Silence followed these words, but not for long.

“How?!” Stihl demanded. “I never went near those things! And she”—here he pointed at Rho, who flinched—”got caught right in a pack of them—and she’s clean?”

“I don’t pretend to know how to virus works,” Perit replied, “only that does. Rho got lucky; you didn’t. Figure out what you want to do, and leave me out of it.” She turned away from him, which seemed to Rho a little tactless, but what did she know. “Rydex!” Perit called, but the other program was nearly as distraught as his friend.

“—man, I don’t know what to say…”

Stihl lurched towards Rydex, clearly looking for comfort, but Rydex backed away, his hands up. “I-I can’t, man,” he said. “You might infect me.”

“What’s going on?” asked the User Ed, approaching the pair. The Nameless caught him by the shoulder.

“Don’t. We can’t risk any of you getting infected.”

“Why not?” asked Sam, stepping up behind Ed. “What’s going on here? You said there was a virus, but you haven’t explained anything.”

“Sam, we don’t have time—”

“You’ve got until I’m done scanning Rydex,” Perit called from where she was working with Nike. “That’s plenty of time.”

“Works for me,” Sam said. “So explain, Tr—Nameless.”

The Nameless sighed. “The virus infects everything it comes into contact with—programs, buildings, vehicles, anything with code. It’s worse with programs. They seem fine for a few millicycles before they become those things you saw in the city. But before then, they can infect anything and everything they come into contact with. Stihl is no longer an asset to us, he’s a risk, and I won’t let you risk yourself by trying to repair him like you did your father’s building.”

“But that worked, didn’t it?” Quorra said. “And who’s to say Users can even get infected with this virus? They don’t have code like we—like programs do.”

Interesting slip, Rho thought, but before she could consider it longer, the Nameless spoke again.

“Flynn once told—how Users had a code of their own, that defined them as much as our code defines us,” he said. “We don’t know anything about this virus except that it’s good at what it does—infecting things. And I will not let the first Users this Grid has seen in five cycles put themselves and this system at risk for a chance at saving one program.”

The Users all looked stunned. “That’s pretty heartless,” Sam said. “Dad would have—”

“—would have wanted you safe,” the Nameless finished. “And I imagine that would have gone for your friends as well. I can’t let you help him. There’s too much at stake. We’ve learned to take our losses here. We’ll survive.”

Stihl, who had been listening, grew incensed at this. “Don’t talk about me like I’m already gone,” he shouted, lunging towards the Nameless. “You archaic piece of—”

Whatever he was going to say died in his throat, which now had the Nameless’ disc against it. “Don’t,” the Nameless said. “We both know you want to go out with more dignity than this. So calm down and decide.” He lowered his disc, and Stihl gulped, nodding as he backed away slowly.

“Rydex,” Stihl said, his voice weary now.

Rydex, in the middle of being scanned by Perit, turned around. “Yeah?”

“Will you do it?” Stihl asked. “Will you—” He gulped again, unable to get the words out.

Rho watched, chewing the inside of her lip. She’d heard about things like this happening, on the journeys to the Outpost or else at the Outpost gates themselves. Programs, learning they were infected, asked friends to derezz them rather than face the unforgiving Outlands or the haunted cities. She had never thought she’d witness it firsthand, though. It made the pit of her feel hollow, and she was, morosely, glad all over again that she had avoided infection. (She would have asked the Nameless to do it. And she knew he would have complied.)

“I—” Rydex had to collect himself as much as Stihl. “Yeah. I’ll do it.”

“Thanks,” Stihl said, his expression tight.

They waited until Perit had finished her scans (Nike was clean, and so was Rydex). The two programs stood before each other, Rydex with his disc out while Stihl stood with arms clamped to his sides. “Make it quick and clean,” the Nameless said. Rydex nodded. He and Stihl were both shaking.

Rydex ignited his disc and raised it, but hesitated.

“Just do it!” Stihl cried.

Rydex screwed his eyes shut and let out a long cry as he slashed out with all his might. He struck true, and Stihl dissolved into voxels of infected code, dropping in a heap and scattering around Rydex’s feet. Rydex fell to his knees, his head bowed. It sounded like he was crying.

Rho looked away, uncomfortable. That could have been me. That should have been me. She sighed, folding her arms. She glanced at the Users, to see how they were taking this. They all looked about how she felt, though the trace of guilt on Sam’s face surprised her. He really wanted to save him, didn’t he? she thought. Strange.

The Nameless gave Rydex just a few micros before walking up to him and hauling him to his feet. “Come on. We have a mission to complete.”

The drive back to the Outpost went quickly and without incident. Rho piled on the speed where she could, anxious to make it back home, where the virus could not touch them.
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