Summary: Tron and RAM find themselves in a tight spot after an unexpected confrontation.
Two programs approached them, both with red circuitry. One was the woman RAM had been flirting with inside Terminal. The other, Tron recognized, was a high-ranking commander within Tessler’s personal cabinet — Pavel. Tron felt his circuits burn as he went on the alert.
The helmet built into Tron suit immediately slid out and snapped shut around him, obscuring his face behind its darkened surface. The face shield in RAM’s helmet only went down their face halfway, stopping just above their cheekbones. It did a decent job concealing their identity, but they still tilted their face in the direction opposite the light.
“Fuuuuuck,” RAM muttered under their breath before breaking out a bright, fake smile. They suddenly grabbed Tron and pulled him close, wrapping themselves around him so they hung off his arm.
“Sorrrrry officers!” RAM giggled in an airy voice. “We didn’t mean to disturb you, just wanted someplace private!”
Reflexively, Tron wanted to shove them away. But he wasn’t going to risk doing anything that might raise the commander’s suspicion. Instead, he stood stiffly in silence.
“That’s the program that stole my baton, sir!” The black guard pointed straight at RAM.
Tron wanted to shoot a glare in RAM’s direction, but that certainly wouldn’t have helped the situation.
RAM tilted their head, trying to look as innocent as a half-masked liar possibly could. “Sorry, think you have me confused for someone else!”
Pavel rolled his eyes. He certainly didn’t believe RAM, but he didn’t seem invested in specifically assisting the guardswoman either.
“Liar!” she scoffed, insulted. “I bet they were trying to sweet-talk this guy to pilfer his property too!”
“No. I am fine,” Tron replied, the modulator in his helmet altering his voice. “My partner and I were just leaving.”
“Let’s not be hasty here,” Pavel replied. Tron felt the knot in his stomach tighten.
The commander waved a hand at his subordinate, dismissing her. “I’ll handle this. You may leave now.”
The guardswoman faltered. “But sir… I wanted to get back my bat-“
“I said, run along,” Pavel snapped and the guard flinched. “Or do you want me to write you up for insubordination? Or how about fraternizing on the job and losing Clu’s property?”
“N-No sir,” the guard stammered. She didn’t need any further encouragement to scamper off back the way she came.
Pavel returned his attention to Tron and RAM.
Behind the glass of his helmet, Tron scowled. He hated dealing with these types of haughty programs. Pavel was high ranking, yet still pestered basics on the street either to get his kicks or to take out his issues on them. All because he knew he could without repercussion.
Pavel seemed like an especially pathetic example of this abuse of power.
“Let’s see here,” Pavel gave a smug grin, pacing back and forth as he spoke. “Breaking into a restricted official area is a serious effect-“
“Restricted? What are you-“ RAM blurted out but stopped when Tron squeezed their arm. They seemed to get the message.
“As I was saying,” Pavel sniffed. “This is a very serious offense. Do either of you bit-brained low-lives have any idea what the punishment for breaking and entering restricted property entails?”
Both remained silent.
“That’s right!” He clapped his hands together mockingly. “A one-way ticket to the Games. I hope you’re pleased with yourselves. With any luck maybe you two love birds will face each other in the arena and derezz each other. How romantic is that?”
Don’t panic, Tron thought. With any luck, he’s just posturing. He just wants to see us squirm. He’ll prod us for a bit, maybe knock us around a bit, but when he gets what he wants he’ll let us go.
He had no way of telling this to RAM, of course. Tron glanced down. The other program was staring straight ahead, their expression unreadable.
“Now!” Pavel stopped pacing and outstretched his hand. “Present your discs.”
Tron’s stomach dropped, and they both stiffened. A silence stretched out between the three programs.
“… Maybe you didn’t hear me. I said, present your discs,” Pavel repeated coldly, narrowing his eyes. “And don’t even think about running. I’ll take that as an indication you’re hiding an even more serious offense and derezz you on the spot.”
This was bad. Tron looked around. The construction site had been built on a peninsula, surrounded by sheer cliffs and a maze of construction work on three sides. There was no guaranteed exit in those directions, not without a light jet. Diving from the cliffs into the Sea of Simulation was far too risky when he was already exhausted. Pavel blocked the only corridor that lead back out to the City. Tron considered jumping him and racing around, but he wasn’t sure if RAM could keep up or if that other black guard was waiting off in the distance. Truthfully, Tron didn’t think he could take on two programs at once in his current state. This left him with few options.
“Okay,” Tron pulled his arm away from RAM and held up his hands in a show of submission. “We’ll comply.”
RAM bristled. He could feel their eye boring into him, but hoped Pavel had not noticed.
Tron tilted his head towards RAM. “Get behind me,” he muttered under his breath, sliding in front of the shorter program.
For a moment he worried they were going to argue, but RAM silently stepped back.
Tron removed the disc from his back and approached Pavel. He waited for Tron with an outstretched hand. The security program felt the pulse in his circuits quicken as he offered his identity disc. But, as Pavel reached to take it, the disc suddenly clicked to life with a loud whirr. Tron lunged at Pavel, thrusting the disc at his chest - but he was a moment too slow and Pavel wheeled back on his heels.
“I was hoping you’d do that,” Pavel grinned wickedly. A glassy half-helmet entirely slid down over the commander’s face. He removed his own identity disc from his back and activated it. The weapon emitted a whining buzz as it cut through the air, slashing at Tron. He had narrowly dodged a blow to his chest.
“Run!” Tron shouted, swiping again with his own disc to try and put some distance between them and Pavel.
RAM hesitated, staring back at him wide-eyed.
Pavel lunged again, and Tron narrowly managed to dodge the attack. Spinning on his heel, he threw his disc at RAM’s feet, forcing the other program to leap back and avoid the blow.
“GO,” he yelled, catching his disc on the rebound in time to block an incoming swipe. Finally, RAM shook themself out of whatever was freezing them in place and ran off into the maze of scaffolding.
Tron didn’t have time to feel relieved. Pavel was a relentless, dangerous opponent. Yet infuriatingly sloppy for a high-ranking occupation member. The only advantage he had over Tron was that Tron felt like he was about to drop dead on his feet at any moment. He was no Dyson, that was certain. He wasn’t even as skilled as his fellow commander Paige. But in his weakened state, Pavel presented a serious threat to Tron.
The exhaustion was becoming unbearable. His previous scuffle with RAM had been brief, but it had already left him tired. Skipping his recharge in the medical pod to stalk RAM had been a critical error. It all felt so trite to him now.
With each movement, Tron could feel the scarring eating away at his body split further through his skin. If he had been just a little faster, he would have been able to quickly down his opponent. Now, he was growing increasingly doubtful of his chances to make it out of the encounter alive.
Pavel felt no such fatigue. He cackled in delight as Tron danced away from his blows.
“Just - stand - still!” Pavel grunted, aiming for Tron’s vitals. Pavel was smaller than Tron and relied more on his speed than brute strength to attack. But he was aggressive, to the point of near-frenzy. Tron knew he couldn’t keep up with the relentless pace much further.
When he noticed the vision in his right eye begin to fail, Tron realized he was running out of time. His energy reserve must have been near empty for the scarring to have eaten away at that much of his body. If Tron didn’t get away from Pavel soon, he wasn’t going to walk away from this fight at all.
He needed to put serious distance between himself and the other program. It would give him the opportunity to try and escape, or at least hide until he could get the rot under control. He would need to take a hit.
Tron took a deep breath. He allowed himself to slow, hesitating only a moment to bait Pavel in closer. The commander lunged at the opportunity, assuming his opponent had finally faltered. Tron bit back a cry as he felt the red-hot plasma of the identity disc make contact with his arm. But he had Pavel exactly where he wanted him.
Before Pavel could bury the weapon any deeper into his flesh, Tron dropped onto his back foot for balance and gave the commander a strong kick to the stomach. The identity disc fell from Pavel’s hand as he doubled over. Tron didn’t hesitate to turn on his heel and run.
The construction site was a jungle of stone and steel, with half-finished structures stretched up into Argon’s darkened sky. Tron ran aimlessly through them with what little energy he had left. His circuits were on fire, feeling as though they would burst out of his skin at any moment. He had pushed himself too hard and once again found himself in survival mode. I’ll be okay, he reassured himself. I’ve gotten out of worse situations than this.
But his body screamed otherwise. Tron stumbled over the loose gravel, nearly crashing to the ground. He didn’t know where to go in the thicket of metal, but he knew he had to run as far as possible before his body failed him. He wondered if RAM had escaped and if they had thought to tell Beck of the situation.
Maybe not, he decided. After all, he had just attacked them on a hunch not much earlier. If RAM had decided to abandon him here, he couldn't exactly blame them.
Suddenly, Tron felt something grab him. Then he was falling to the ground, dragged behind a pile of rebar. Reflexively, he tried to twist away from his assailant, but the shooting pain in his arm made him wince, sending him crumpled to the ground instead.
“Don’t worry, it’s just me!”
Tron looked up. RAM was crouched next to him, looking down with their one eye burning bright.
“RAM? What?” He grunted, feeling a little dazed.
“Didn’t think I was going to abandon you here, did you?” RAM smiled. “But jeeze T, you look awful. Did Pavel do all this to you?”
“No. My energy reserve… it’s running out…” Tron panted, trying to struggle to sit up.
“Reserves?” RAM echoed, offering a hand to help him into a sitting position.
He took a moment to catch his breath. “Yes. RAM, the Occupation modified my code too.”
They stiffened, and he felt their grip on his hand tighten.
He voice dropped to a pained whisper. “I can’t escape here in this state. You have to go, find Beck. Tell him what happened. If you make it in time maybe he…”
Tron trailed off. He knew they wouldn’t make it back in time. But maybe they could retrieve his disk from Pavel before it fell into Clu’s hands.
“Beck will know what to do.”
RAM stared at him, frowning. “I already said I’m not leaving you, T.”
“Don’t be stupid!” He released their hand and gave RAM a weak shove. “If you say here, we’ll both die.”
“I’m not going to repeat myself again,” RAM’s voice hardened. “It’s my fault you’re here in the first place. I’m not going to leave you.”
“RAM, listen to me,” Tron winced as he tried to scowl. “Don’t play hero here. That’s a high-ranking member of Tessler’s army. He’s dangerous. You don’t stand a chance.”
RAM clucked their tongue dismissively and stood up. With a flourish, they spun on their heel. When he looked up, RAM looked over their shoulder and grinned down at him.
“Just trust me, T. I’ll get you out of here.”
“Come out, little grid bugs,” Pavel called as he stalked the platform. “You can be derezzed the easy way or the hard way. Your pick! I’ll level this entire structure if it means stomping you out!”
“Enough,” RAM shouted, stepping out from where they had been hiding. Tron watched from the shadows with apprehension.
“There you are, little bug,” Pavel growled, turning to face them. “So, did you make a choice on how you’re going to die?”
RAM ignored his goading. “I’ll give you one chance. Walk away and leave us alone, or you’ll regret it.”
“I’ll regret it?” Pavel snickered, before bursting out in mocking laughter. RAM watched silently as he doubled over.
“Oh, ho ho ho!” Pavel cackled. “How rich! Thanks for that. I haven’t had a laugh like that in FAR too long.”
As quickly as it started, Pavel’s laughter ceased. He straightened up and looked at RAM with a crazed look.
“Hard way it is,” he grinned, his identity disc clicking back on with a loud hum.
RAM took a deep breath and flexed their fingers before making a tight fist.
“RAM, don’t engage,” Tron growled through gritted teeth, trying vainly to dissuade them one last time. But RAM ignored him. He could see their eye, wide and shining bright, trained solely on the other program.
Through the tension, something in the back of Tron’s mind roused. It took him a moment to pinpoint what had caught his attention. For some reason, the air felt… wrong. It was too thick. Even through his mask, Tron realized his mouth tasted strangely metallic. The hairs on the back of his neck stood on end. As he looked back at RAM he noticed something else - they were glowing.
Pavel had clearly not picked up on the shift in the air or change in his opponent. He pushed off on the gravely ground into a full sprint towards RAM.
The smaller program finally moved, sliding their right foot behind themself and dropping into a crouch. For a moment, RAM seemed frozen in place. Then, all at once, they exploded into motion.
RAM launched themself at the commander with such speed that if Tron had blinked he was sure he would missed it. RAM’s fist made contact with Pavel’s head, accompanied by two fantastic cracks of sound. The first was from RAM. Tron recognized the sound from the many cycles he had spent in the stormy Outlands. The sound of thunder, of electricity ionizing particles in the atmosphere, ripping through the air as lightning discharges. The second was the sound of Pavel’s helmet splintering under their fist from the explosive impact. Watching his head snap back from the kinetic force, Tron realized if there hadn’t been a helmet in the way RAM could have quite possibly derezzed the other program.
In a flash of blurred movement, RAM lashed out a leg, catching Pavel square in the stomach and sending him flying backward. The movement was sloppy. Tron could tell that they lacked combat programming, and at times they seemed to struggle against their own speed. Still, it was more than enough to sprawl the confused commander on the cold ground. He laid out, gasping and dazed, struggling to regain his breath and composure.
The glow surrounding RAM had begun to dissipate as they jogged back to his side.
“T, can you stand?” RAM asked, offering Tron a hand.
He stared at them in shock for a moment before snapping back to the present. Focus, he reminded himself. Tron nodded, grabbing their hand, grunting as he was pulled to his feet. When he was steady, RAM ducked under his arm, letting him lean against them for support.
“How far can you walk?” they asked. “Could you make it to the edge of the scaffolding?”
Tron looked to where RAM motioned. It was a good twenty meters away. He could hear Pavel behind them, swearing as he got to his feet.
“I can walk that far, but I don’t I’ll be fast enough…”
RAM grinned up at him as the air prickled once again.
“I’ve got an idea,” they said. RAM slipped an arm around his waist, holding on to him tightly. “But you can’t let go, okay? I’ll lead you. Just trust me.”
Tron looked down at them. He still wasn’t sure if he fully trusted this strange program. But as he glanced over his shoulder back at Pavel, he realized the decision was easy to make.
Tron nodded to RAM, tightening his grip on them. “Do it.”
Pavel could be heard shouting in fury, growing louder as he started to approach.
“We’re going to take a step together,” RAM explained. “After that, just keep moving forward and whatever you do, don’t stop. Okay?”
“Good,” they squeezed his waist reassuringly. “Remember what I said about holding on.”
Not a moment later, Tron felt the air get knocked out of his lungs. Electricity flooded his circuits, sending a rush of energy through his system. The commander’s shouting slowed, till it became a mangled warble in the distance. RAM pulled his body forward, urging him onward. Tron nearly faltered under the weight of the power, but he pushed through until he kept in step with his companion. They weren’t quite walking, per se, instead doing a strange slow-motion jog. A nervous glance down showed they were clearing far more ground than they should have been at that pace.
RAM was looking straight forward, focused on the ledge. It took a moment for his panicked brain to register what they were going to do.
“RAM,” he shouted. “We’re going to fall!”
“I know!” they shouted back.
Every subroutine in Tron’s code was screaming at him to stop in his tracks rather than follow the corrupted program over a sheer drop, but he was not keen on finding out what would happen to his already damaged body if he broke contact with them now. Instead, he desperately gripped their shoulders tighter.
RAM grabbed a baton strapped to their thigh with the hand that wasn’t around his waist and threw it out over the ledge head of them. It fell out of sight.
“Here we go!” RAM cried. “One, two, three!”
At the lip of the drop, they pushed off from the ground. Tron did the same, and the two began to free fall.
Below them, the baton had exploded into a bundle of wireframe and glowing panels, rapidly taking shape into a sleek light jet, hovering to meet them. The pulsing sensation hammering his circuits dissipated, along with the glow that surrounded the two of them. They hit the vehicle hard with a thud.
RAM released their tight grip on Tron, scrambling to grab the controls. He slid in behind them, trying his best to stay out of their way. The cramped cabin had not been designed to fit two programs, but they would have to make do. When RAM pushed forward on the thrusters, the light jet jerked to life, blasting across the sky.
“Pull up! You’re going to skim the buildings,” Tron ordered. RAM nodded and pulled up, bringing the jet higher. They were cruising over Argon City.
“Shit,” RAM exhaled. “I can’t believe that worked…”
“Wh- YOU WHAT?” Tron shouted.
“I’m kidding!” RAM deflected, letting out a laugh mixed with nervousness and relief. “I’ve done this half a dozen times now!”
Suddenly, the display panel embedded into the windshield lit up, and a blinking red dot began to rapidly zip across the screen.
“You’re kidding me!” RAM groaned. Tron glanced back to see a copter, emblazoned with red circuitry tailing behind them.
“They don’t know when to quit,” Tron snarled. “RAM, what are your light jet operating privileges?”
“Um,” RAM hesitated. “Let’s say low. I don’t think I can out-maneuver my way out of this one.”
“I don’t think you’ll have time,” he grit his teeth, desperately running scenarios in his head. Their odds weren’t looking promising. Then he got an idea.
“RAM, can you do what you did back there to this light jet?” Tron asked. RAM thought about it for a moment.
“I think I can,” they said pensively. “But… can you reach the controls from back there?”
He shifted in the cramped space, reaching around them to grab on to the controls. “I can.”
“Great,” RAM nodded, now determined. “After I boost us, I’ll be pretty useless. So it’s all on you.”
Before he could ask for clarification what they meant, RAM’s grip on the controls tightened. Tron once again felt a blast of energy buzz through him. The light jet shuddered as its circuits struggled to handle the sudden influx of electricity.
Tron didn’t waste time. He flipped a switch to send out a jet wall behind them. RAM sucked in a breath when he did. Tron could feel their body tense up under him as they struggled to supply energy to three different systems. He worked to fishtail the craft, building ribbons of hard light behind them to deter their pursuers. The light copter, moving at normal speed, had only just started to react to their first hyper-fast movements.
A barrier constructed, he flicked the jet wall off and blasted the thrusters. The light jet rocketed across Argon City’s sky at a dizzying speed. Any program looking up from the streets below would only see an odd teal streak across the black sky.
Soon, the light copter shrunk on the horizon, until it was nothing more than a shimmering red dot in the distance. By the time they reached the city’s edge, it had disappeared from view. Tron guided the speeding craft over the vast icy nothingness of the Outlands, in the direction of his base.
Against all odds, they had made it.
“You did it,” Tron exhaled in relief, loosening his death grip on the controls. The light jet finally slowed as it reached the crystalline landscape, greenish glow fading way as it returned to normal speed.
Tron’s relief lasted only for a moment as RAM slumped forward in front of him.
“RAM?” he called out in concern. The program went limp and unresponsive, helmet bounding inelegantly against the dashboard. The turquoise-and-white lighting of their circuitry had blinked off, now dark.
Tron nearly swore as he grabbed their ragdolling body, trying to pull it away from the craft’s controls. The light jet wobbled as he attempted to steady it with one hand.
“You could have warned me you would pass out!” Tron scolded the program, who clearly was not listening.
He engaged the thrusters again, and the light jet whined. Silently, he made his way towards their home.
RAM came to in the medical bay, blinking their eye blearily at the bright lights. For a moment, their expression was blank, dazed. It always took a few microcycles for their identity disc to kick back on. But once it did, they jolted upright with a panicked gasp.
“Welcome back,” Tron said wryly. He was sitting by their bedside, inspecting a panel displaying their vitals.
“Where are we?” RAM asked, still shaking off the lingering haze clouding their mind.
“My base,” Tron replied, pushing the panel aside. “Do you remember what happened?”
RAM closed their eye, brow furrowing as they tried to think. He could hear the soft clicking of their damaged identity disc as it tried to read from its own memory. A moment later, RAM’s eye snapped open.
“I do!” RAM leaned forward, concerned. “How are you feeling? Are you okay?”
The question from the recently unconscious program caught Tron off guard, and he let out a chuckle.
“I’m fine,” he nodded.
RAM sighed, relieved. “Good! You looked pretty awful. Had me worried there for a moment.”
Tron hummed. “I’ve been through worse. Lean forward.”
RAM tilted their head forward, and Tron grabbed plug connected to the back of their neck, yanking it out. RAM flinched on reflex.
“Oof, I’ll never get used to that,” they groaned, rubbing the back of their neck.
“You never do,” he commiserated with them. RAM gave a sad smile. Both could tell that the other didn’t want to discuss their bodily conditions at that moment, so RAM quickly moved on.
“I did pretty good back there, right?” their cheerful smirk returned.
“You did,” Tron agreed. “Until you passed out in the light jet.”
“Ah, right,” RAM chuckled awkwardly. “Sorry for not warning you. Thank you for dragging me to the med bay!”
“It’s the least I could do,” Tron admitted. “I truly was surprised by your skills, though. Your overall resourcefulness is good –”
RAM’s grin widened.
“-- But you’re pretty sloppy. A well-trained program would still down you quickly if they caught on to your tactics.”
The prideful expression immediately vanished. Tron could tell the comment annoyed them. If it had been a cycle ago, he probably would have left the back-handed comment sit out of spite. But he cut RAM off before they could give a snappy reply.
“What I meant to say is, you have an exceptional amount of power. Talent, even. But it’s unpolished. Your… let’s call it a quirk, has a timer. After that you’re vulnerable. That’s a glaring weakness.”
RAM frowned but seemed to seriously consider his words. “I can’t argue with that critique,” they admitted.
“That’s why I’d like to train you,” Tron continued. “Having two programs that can fight for our cause would be better than one.”
RAM looked at him in surprise. “Really? You’d teach me how to fight.”
RAM went silent, thinking to themself for a moment. “One question. Are you still upset with me about stealing batons from the Occupation?”
“Hm,” Tron had nearly forgotten about that. His face must have reflected that oversight as well, as RAM looked like they regretted the impulsive question as soon as it left their mouth.
“… No,” he decided. “But you have to cut that out. Not because stealing is wrong - it’s always morally correct to steal from the Occupation. But it’s putting you in some unnecessarily complicated situations.”
RAM tilted their head for a moment, once again considering his words. Finally, they nodded in agreement. “You’re probably right. Better safe than sorry. I don’t need a repeat of earlier this cycle.”
Tron figured it was best not to tell them it had been two cycles since the altercation with Pavel.
“In any case, take your broken cycles to Beck. He’ll be happy to have the work,” Tron said. “Everything else, bring to me. I’ll help you fix it.”
“Okay, sounds good!” RAM perked up.
He continued. “In exchange for my training and assistance, I want you to help Beck and I with the Uprising. Argon needs more-“
“Deal!” RAM interjected.
Tron gave them a look of surprise, and RAM grinned back at him. “You can save your compelling speech for the next recruit, T. I was already on board with helping you the moment Beck snatched me up from the Games. All you had to do was ask.”
Tron’s eyebrow twitched. There was that nickname again. He hadn’t addressed it earlier, too focused on survival. But now he noticed it. It made him feel a little awkward, but he wasn’t about to walk back on the progress he was making to mend relations with RAM.
“T… Hm. Okay,” Tron nodded and extended his hand. “Welcome to the Uprising.”
RAM took Tron’s hand and shook it with a smile.
[ home ] || [ RAM ] || [ Part 1 ]