She sat on the edge of the bed and looked out at the night, at the luminescent streets and the tall, slim buildings. Thick clouds hung heavy in the sky, choking any spark of starlight, devouring the moon. She had not seen the stars or the moon or any other natural light for countless cycles. He kept the blinds drawn during the day and the special filter applied to the glass blocked out anything else that tried to seep through.

She scooted as close to the window as possible, wanting to touch it. The leather restraints on her ankles allowed for only so much movement; there was enough slack for her to stand, but she could not stray more than a few feet from the bed without pulling the straps taut. If she pressed on beyond that, they would chafe and bite; beyond that, and the high-voltage electric shocks started.

Quorra had fought hard and violently at first, as was her way, but she soon realized he liked this, realized that her resistance drove him to ever more cruel and frenzied heights.

Recently she had taken to giving him no reaction at all. Only her pale circuitry indicated that she was not fully under his control. She had hoped that he would find this passive defiance boring, then frustrating, then aggravating enough to de-rez her.

But Clu was a patient program, and logical besides: there was no reason to end a relationship while he benefited from it, and there was much about his time with Quorra that he found eminently satisfying. That she hated every second of it, for example. That her lovely face fell every time a sentry brought news of another country absorbed into his new, global system. That she was crushed when there wasn't news of the missing Sam and Kevin Flynn. Her intense panic when there was.

She buried all of that now, the fear and the hope alike, letting neither mark her expression. Clu knew she wasn't detached, though. Her emotions writhed under her skin as surely as her body writhed under his. The reactions were altogether unstoppable, and to feel them from her, the one ISO who had escaped him, the ISO who had lived with Flynn for over a thousand cycles—it was just about perfect.

But not completely.

Gwai-men nyo-Bosatsu; nai shin nyo-Yasha.

Quorra reached for the window, pressed her hand against the tinted glass. She shuddered from the chill, but didn't move; she watched the relative warmth of her palm create fog around her fingers. The phenomenon interested her, and thinking about such things distracted her from the reality of her circumstances.

She had been a prisoner since the Grid, and that was almost a year past in the Users' reckoning. Sam and Flynn had escaped through the portal, but not in time to prevent Clu—and all the programs he commanded—from following. Things had happened quickly after that.

"Looks good, doesn't it?" he spoke from behind her, and she turned her head so that the outline of his body entered her peripheral vision. "Quiet out there tonight. Peaceful. Wanna go for a drive?"

He laughed in a friendly way and approached her. Sometimes he did allow/force her to go out with him, to stand beside him during an announcement or other important broadcast. This was obviously done to antagonize Flynn, and to her credit, Quorra did not play into the act; regardless of whether Clu kissed or struck her, she betrayed nothing. The suffering he inflicted melted within her like ice on a salted road, dissolving before it took hold of her posture or her eyes or her mouth. Her loyalty up to that point had been unwavering, and Clu had to admit that he admired her for it. Her steadfast resilience fed his ego as well. No one liked to be outwitted by an amateur.

Clu took hold of Quorra by the wrist, gently wrapping his fingers around the thin bones and then roughly yanking her entire left arm back at an unnatural angle. She strangled the whimper in her throat.

"Careful, my girl," Clu said softly. "We don't want to leave streaks."

He pushed her back onto the bed with enough force that her body sprawled out before him, limbs akimbo, legs straining against her tight black dress.

Quorra went limp.

Hana wa né ni kaeru.

Her spirit flowed outwards, past the dark window, escaping to the horizon. Proverbs from the I-Ching repeated in her mind, a steady mantra. Change is certain. Peace is followed by disturbances; departure of evil men by their return. She willed the glaze into her eyes.

Clu held both of her wrists above her head in the powerful grip of one hand. His other hand marked a slow trail up her inner thigh; his thumb flicked against the bright blue lines of circuitry. He leaned over her, lowering his head just over her chest, his breath warm against her throat.

"I'm feeling good today. Victories everywhere this week. It's like these Users were waiting for someone like me. They need this, man."

His knuckles brushed at the cleft between her legs, lightly at first and then with urgency, grinding against the fabric there. Quorra closed her eyes; in response, he kissed her unkindly, pressing his full weight against her. He exhaled forcefully and her lungs burned.

"Look at me," Clu said, digging his nails into her wrists, creating a spiked vise that sent agonizing pain throughout her synapses. "Look at me."

She obeyed. Despite all the time they had spent together and the nights they had passed in this way, Quorra was constantly disquieted by Clu's face. He didn't merely evoke Flynn; he was Flynn, from the set of his brow to the slope of his deceptively soft profile. Clu smiled at her, and Quorra remembered Flynn helping her across the Outlands, cheering her with the same quirky, mirthful grin.

"There's a girl," Clu murmured. The dress she wore zipped in the front, and he stripped her of it quickly. She wore only the black panties beneath it, and he continued to tease her through them, sending little sparks running along her circuits.

His pace was slower than usual, achingly so. He licked along the circuit lines over her chest, moving his tongue in lazy circles, rolling her nipples between his thumb and forefinger.

Quorra stared straight ahead and thought about enlightenment. According to Flynn, the Buddha had discovered spiritual truth by sitting still beneath a tree for endless hours. She pictured a tree; an oak so enormous that its leaves dipped into the clouds.

Hibiki no koë ni ozuru ga gotoshi.

Electric pulses danced along her nerves, stuttering her breath.

He pulled away. Clu let her go, sat up beside her, and looked down at her, his demeanor perilously affable.

Arousal thrummed between her legs, and she twisted uncomfortably in an effort to quash it.

"Relax," he said, hoisting her up as well, so that they sat facing each other. "We're not done."

Clu cupped her chin, forcing her gaze to stay level with his as she undressed him. He wore a suit more often than not these days; it made him slightly more accessible to the Users whose lives he was so meticulously ordering.

Quorra loosened the tie and set it on top of the jacket, then undid the collar of his shirt. She worked mechanically, deftly, and she didn't flinch at his iron grip or inscrutable eyes. When he was naked, they sat like that for a moment more. His tightly corded muscles were underscored by his golden circuit lines; the glow intermingled with Quorra's, illuminating the curve of her hips and the swell of her breasts. He kissed her again. From a distance, the scene might have appeared tender, anticipatory. But he was bruising her, punishing her, waiting for her to buckle under the assault.

And she allowed it. Quorra's back hit the black sheets again, and then he was on top of her, straddling her hips, pressing his hard cock against her belly.

She should have hated Clu for everything he had done: murdering her people, tormenting Sam Flynn, betraying the Creator. Keeping her with him like this and laughing as she watched him transform Flynn's world into a neo-Grid. Any one of those acts was enough to justify a glacial ocean of hatred. But Flynn had talked to her about Clu many times. He was faulty, limited, and bound by the directives given to him upon creation.

"Forgive him," Flynn had said. "He doesn't know what he's doing."

Quorra could not forgive Clu, though she didn't despise him, either. He was miserable as often as he was pleased, because the slightest stressors drove him over the edge. He raged uncontrollably when something happened that his calculations didn't predict, and in this world, very little was predictable.

But that was another story.

Right now he was inside her, his thrusts arrhythmic and torturous. Quorra's circuitry crackled from the building energy. The image of the tree blurred in her mind, and it became impossible to remove herself from the present moment. She didn't speak, but she bit her lip and arched her back, and that was enough.

The internal pressure intensified, the currents that ran along her muscles bursting like fireworks. She felt the energy twining, looping, ascending.

Hi wa kiyurédomo tô-shin wa hiyédzu.

Clu halted.

She kept still. He was on the precipice, too, nearly beyond it, even. Their bodies hummed.

He said, "How long are you going to go the stoic route, Q?"

Quorra couldn't think of anything except the electricity surging and searing inside her, the currents desperate to release and fizzle. Perhaps that was what made her receptive to his words this time.

"They're never going to come for you," Clu went on. "You know that, right? You've gotta know that by now. You really think that kid would have gone this many cycles without trying to break you out of here if that's what he wanted to do? But he hasn't. Not once."

Clu stroked her hair. He was still inside her, unmoving, withholding.

"What are you thinking of?" he whispered in her ear, tightening his grip on her dark hair. "That you'll be delivered from the wasteland, like before? Not going to happen, Quorra. Flynn's abandoned you, as sure as he abandoned me. Wherever they are, whatever rebels' hovel they've staked out for themselves—you're the furthest thing from their minds. I guarantee it."

His lips caressed her earlobe. Even this feather-light sensation was too much, but she killed the whine before it fled to her voice.

"There's no one with you in the wasteland anymore, Q. No one but me."

He bit her neck and rocked his hips, and she didn't have the strength to restrain her scream.

Truth be told, agents of Flynn's rebellion tried to get in the old Encom tower all the time. Clu had captured one recently, and the poor guy, weak User that he was, talked without needing much encouragement. The information wasn't significantly useful, except for confirming what Clu already knew; the User was a peon, barely worth his own life.

Clu understood now: waiting for Flynn to come for his ISO wasn't effective. Instead, he would send her to them. A better version of her. The best version. Clu's version.

He lay down beside her on the bed. She recovered quickly; another admirable trait.

Quorra rolled over onto her stomach. She bunched up the sheets in her fists as Clu let his hand rest on the small of her back. His voice ricocheted in her mind, the sounds as shattering as any bullet.

A strip of circuitry, just above her heel, shone blood red in the darkness.