skye_writer: Cropped cap of Clu from TRON: Legacy on a lightcycle, disc out. (lightcycle clu)
[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: 2900 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: No warnings for this chapter.


PART ONE: INCUBATION


CHAPTER TWO: THE JOURNEY


In the end, Axel’s muster among the sentries turned up only three programs, all of them former rebels: Stihl, Rydex, and Nike. The medtech, Perit, had been chosen by lot. Of the four of them, Stihl and Rydex looked excited, Nike indifferent, and Perit downright sullen.

“I know not all of you want to be here,” the Nameless said to them, “but I appreciate your coming. This mission will not be easy; we will be entering infected territory, and we may not all come back. We’ll be taking Rho’s lead. She’s plotted us a safe course to Tron City’s north gate, and from there she’ll lead us into the city to rescue the User or Users.

“Do not deviate from the prescribed course,” he said tersely. “Do not engage the corrupted unless they attack. Do not take unnecessary risks. We can’t afford any scrap of infection making its way back here.”

The sentries were all nodding, but Perit half-raised one pale hand. The Nameless nodded at her, and she said, “In the interests of not taking unnecessary risks, might I request that I not follow your party into the city? I’ll hardly be a help if I get infected, and my position here is vital to the maintenance and health of this community.”

Rho, standing just behind the Nameless at the head of the group, worked to hide her disgust. Perit was a former loyalist, red circuitry and all; of course she’d try to get out of helping any Users.

“You won’t be much safer in the Outlands,” the Nameless pointed out.

Perit only shrugged. “That may be so,” she said, “but at least the Outlands aren’t crawling with the corrupted.”

“All right,” the Nameless said. He glanced over the others, his gaze lingering on Stihl and Rydex. “Anyone else have something to say before we head out?”

“No, sir,” Rydex and Stihl said in unison. Nike only shook her head.

“Then let’s move out. Stihl, go and get two extra all-terrain lightcycles; we’ll need them to get the Users out of the city. The rest of you, come with me.”

The party rolled out of the Outpost’s eastern gate in single file: Rho had the lead, with Rydex just behind her; Nike led the large lightrunner driven by Perit, while Stihl and the Nameless brought up the rear.

Rho stared at the map on the console just below her face, memorizing as much as she could. She’d plotted it using the latest Recognizer survey maps, which showed the spread of the virus across a wide swath of terrain, all the way back to the city. With any luck, their way would be clear the whole way there, where things would then get really interesting.

She looked up at the landscape ahead of them, rocky and uneven and dark. “Everyone ready?” she asked over the comm.

Assent passed all the way down the line to the Nameless. “We’re ready,” he said. “Just remember we have to keep up with you.”

Rho grinned. “Right.” She revved her lightcycle, then shot off into the uncertain land ahead, her mind on the mission.

It didn’t take long for the silence of the Outlands to bear down around her like a weight. She hated it here, and even the sounds of the convoy behind her couldn’t dispel the creepiness of it. Rho had always been a creature of the cities; she was adventurous, sure, but that didn’t extend to the thought of spending ages in the Outlands. She’d had a lot of respect for the energy miners who would spend decicycles out here, searching for the resources that everyone in the cities needed, spending all that time out here in this silence.

She preferred the sounds of the cities. The chatter of voices, the hiss and hum of vehicles and doors, all signs of the thriving communities she’d built her life around. Those were all things she’d learned to avoid during the war, too, but that was beside the point. The silence of Tron City would never match the silence of the Outlands.

Maybe it was because the Outlands contained nothing. It was a landscape of undeveloped sectors, untouched by construction and modification, left as a space of in-between for the cities all across the Grid. Space enough had been here to begin the Outpost, and hopefully there would be space enough to expand until the Outpost held them all.

Still, that idea didn’t make the place any less eerie.

Rho shook her head as she guided her lightcycle up a ridge. She couldn’t afford to be fazed out right now. She glanced over her shoulder; Rydex was a ways behind, so she headed slowly to the top of the ridge and waited for the rest of the convoy to catch up. The lights of the Outpost were only just visible against the horizon; the place hadn’t been designed to be a beacon the way Tron City had, though she’d heard rumblings of such plans among the architects and the construction foremen.

“You all right, Rho?” the Nameless asked.

“I’m fine,” she replied. “Just waiting on you all.”

When Rydex had closed the gap between them to her satisfaction, Rho crouched back over her lightcycle and continued over the ridge and into the shallow valley below.

This constituted one of the more dangerous legs of the trip. The far southern edge of the valley had already succumbed to the virus, and the infection was spreading quickly northward. There was plenty of room to spare, of course—she wouldn’t have chosen this route if there wasn’t—but being so close to an infected area still made her nervous. She watched her speed and picked her path carefully.

They’d be close to the city when they came out of this valley. The northern gate was a short drive across a relatively smooth plain. What came next made Rho particularly nervous, though. The old gatehouses would hopefully still be standing uncorrupted, which would give her access to maps of the city. The Nameless had the location of the Portal output (how, she didn’t know, but she didn’t ask questions), and they would have to hope against everything that Rho could plot a safe, quick route for them to make it there and back again.

The plan depended on too many variables; Rho and the Nameless knew it, and so did everyone else, she feared. But if they left the Users to fend for themselves, the worst might happen, and none of them could afford to let it.

ooo


The red light of the corruption cast a glaring pall over them as they wheeled up to the northern gate. The infection had spread widely since any of them had last been here, giving the towers that rose up before them that reddish hue. That said, Tron City’s northern gate wasn’t in near as bad a state as Rho had feared. The Recognizers hadn’t been over this portion of the city in quite some time; she had assumed the infection would have spread out to this sector completely, but one of the gatehouses had managed to retain its integrity against the virus. That was all she needed the plot a safe route to the city’s center. Without a word, she wheeled her lightcycle all the way up to the gatehouse door before climbing off and engaging the stand. “Gimme some time,” she said over her shoulder as she touched her hand to the panel that activated the door. It opened with a hiss, and Rho headed up the stairs to the gatehouse proper.

Pulling up a map of the city on the gatehouse’s machine was simple enough, but her real work lay in interpreting it and setting a course. The map was designed to flag dangerous sectors and code breakdowns, which helped a little, but not much. The Nameless had transmitted the coordinates of the Portal output to her as they neared the city, so now it was up to her to comb through each sector and find the safest and fastest way to get there.

The Nameless looked up expectantly when she finally stepped out of the gatehouse. “Are we ready to go?” he asked.

“Yes,” Rho replied, “but…” She swallowed. “You’re not going to like this.”

“Like what?”

“We have to go through infected territory a few times. Not for very long,” she added quickly, “only for a few blocks at places. It was the only way I could fix a route that would get us back to the Outpost in time.”

The Nameless stared at her for a few long moments, then turned to the other three programs. “Do any of you have a problem with that?” he asked.

“No,” Stihl and Rydex said together, a little too enthusiastically. Rho frowned. She’d been excited about this mission as well, but she knew very well when it was time to take things seriously. These two hadn’t gotten there yet, it seemed.

“We knew what we were getting into when we accepted this mission,” Nike said, her dark face still impassive. “We’ll go where you lead.”

“Then we’d better get going.” He turned back to Rho. “If you’re ready?”

Rho nodded. She climbed back onto her lightcycle, putting the disk with the route loaded onto it on the console at the bike’s head. A map of the city appeared, with the route before them highlighted in blue. “Ready,” she called out, crouching over the handlebars.

“Ready,” the Nameless replied from the back of the line.

“Good luck,” Perit said from the safety of her lightrunner.

Rho revved her engine once, then set off. In a single file line, they reentered the city.

ooo


If the city had been silent, it might have been all right. But everywhere they went, they could hear the buzzes and screeches of the corrupted programs. The noise echoed amid the empty streets, throwing sound into places that stood empty. Rho tried to concentrate on the hum of her lightcycle, but it only helped a little, and was no good at all when they passed through groups of the corrupted.

The corrupted watched as they passed, but made no move to attack or otherwise follow them. It only relieved Rho a little. Any movement among them could begin the corruption of the safe ways Rho had discovered. The trip back to the Outlands might be even more difficult.

There was no point in worrying, though. Rho kept her eyes between the map before her and the streets ahead. The journey back would come in its own time. Right now they had to get to the Users as quickly as possible. She put on some speed, but only a little. Going too fast might cost them more time than save it.

Suddenly, there was a squeal behind her, followed by the Nameless’ voice bellowing across the open comm: "Get back here RIGHT NOW!"

Rho braked, hard, and came to such a quick stop that her lightcycle lurched forward on its front wheel. She turned around, and saw—Rydex, she thought—running a circle around a small group of corrupted before returning to his position in the middle of their group.

The Nameless was already off his lightcycle, stalking towards Rydex in what Rho recognized as barely contained fury. "Don't," he snapped as Rydex opened his mouth to say something. "Don't say a word. I don't want to hear your excuses for that little stunt, however harmless it might have seemed in your head. You do not compromise this mission and the integrity of this team by thrill-seeking. And that goes for you too," he added, turning around to address Stihl as well.

"I know who both of you are," he continued. "I looked over the list of both your write-ups when Axel told me you'd volunteered. If I'd gotten more people, neither of you would have come on this mission. But I had to make do with what I got, so here you are. I thought maybe you might have the decency to take this seriously, but I suppose I was wrong.

"If either of you deviate from course again, either now or on the way back, we will leave you behind. Am I understood?" He glanced between them, his jaw set and his expression one of tranquil fury.

Several long moments passed in silence. Even the nearby corrupted seemed to be watching anxiously.

"Am I—"

"Yessir," came the meek reply, delivered in perfect unison.

"Good. Nike," the Nameless said, turning to her, "I need you to fall back, keep an eye on this one." He pointed at Rydex, then turned on his heel and started back towards his lightcycle. "I've got eyes on the other. Rho," he continued over the comm, "we'll give signal and then you can go. Hopefully this delay hasn't cost us."

"Right," she replied. She settled back into position over her lightcycle, trying to concentrate again and stop shaking. The Nameless rarely lost his temper like that, but when he did, it was a thing to behold, though not if you were the object of his fury. He had dressed her down like that before, back during the war, when she thought it was quicker all around to dump her escort as soon as possible. She'd learned since then.

After a moment, the ready signal was passed up the line. She responded in kind, then took off again, hoping desperately the boys had learned their lesson. They were barely halfway to their destination, and there were more dangerous sectors ahead. Rydex might have gone ducking among the corrupted for kicks, but they were going to have to do it for real, and seriously, not too long from now. She only hoped that they could make it through unscathed.

The not-quite-silence of the city settled around them once more. Rho followed her route fastidiously, trying not to worry about what Rydex or Stihl might try to get up to. Hopefully the Nameless had convinced them of the seriousness of this mission.

Their first turn into corrupted territory was awful. Rho warned them before she made the turn, but it still was shatteringly intense. The street itself crumbled from the infection, and there were corrupted programs everywhere. Rho slowed to practically a crawl, carefully guiding her lightcycle around holes in the road and the corrupted themselves. They didn’t react to their presence; they seemed content to watch, unmoving as the convoy filed through.

Rho didn’t breathe easy until they were out of the corrupted zone. She put on a little speed, hoping to make up for any time lost creeping through those brief blocks of corruption. They’d been given less than half a millicycle to return to the Outpost. That had seemed like a lot of time back home, but now Rho was wondering if that would be enough. They had four more sections of corrupted territory to get through, a couple of them even larger than the first had been. If they had to go slow through each one, in and out of the city, would they have enough time to make it back?

Now’s not the time, she told herself. It might be a race across the Outlands in the end, but she’d picked the fastest route possible. She had to trust in herself, because everyone else was counting on her.

The next few corrupted sectors went by without any trouble, but the last one gave them a scare. Rho was making her way around a clump of the corrupted when suddenly a disc flew in out of nowhere and destroyed two of them. Rho hit the brakes in shock, but the Nameless was on the comm immediately. “Keep going,” he said. “I think they’ve finally realized we’re here.”

Rho nodded and started off again, picking up the pace considerably. She could see now that the corrupted were moving, almost as one, towards their convoy. She wove between them as deftly as she could, hoping the others were able to match her. A disc (the Nameless’, she assumed) flew in and out of her vision, destroying corrupted with ease. She still flinched every time one of them derezzed.

As soon as they were out of the corrupted sector, Rho piled on more speed. “Everyone all right?” she asked over the comm.

“We’re all here,” the Nameless confirmed. “We’re not going to have an easy time back, I’m afraid.”

“I hope no one minds if we take the rest of the journey a little faster, then,” Rho said.

“Go right ahead.”

She sped down the center of the street, taking any turns at a wide angle. She glanced behind occasionally to make sure the others were keeping up. Rydex followed a ways behind her, but he was still there, which was all that mattered.

Rho sighed in relief when she rounded a turn and saw the massive FLYNN’S sign in the distance. She put on one last burst of speed before she realized something was off.

She slowed her lightcycle down as she approached the building. “Something the matter?” Nike asked over the comm.

“All the buildings in this sector are falling apart,” Rho replied. “But the Flynn’s place looks like it’s brand new.”

“Nameless?” Nike said. “Is this some new trick of the virus?”

“We’ll only know if we go in,” the Nameless replied.

They all pulled up and stopped just outside the building, not quite daring to go in, afraid of what they might find inside.

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