A/N: Right. This fic was originally published on the meme as a fill. The prompt can be summarized as follows: "Lightjet chase, Sam ends up falling too; he and Tronzler hang out and talk." I'm abbreviating/summarizing, but since I ended up going wildly off-prompt anyways... yeah.
What I can tell you: 11 chapters. Sam/Tronzler (though it's a plot/character fic mostly). If you read it as I first posted, while I continue to take joy in readers and reviewers, there might not be a ton of point in rereading; I'm editing very little. I'll be cleaning chapters and posting at a hopefully-daily rate; if I take much longer, there's something wrong with me, given how little I'm planning to change.
"That's it. It's over…"
Sam stared out from the turret, where just moments ago, death had loomed with such certainty. But the sprays of light, the orange and yellow fire, were gone—and in one crash, the threat was ended, slagged bits and chunks spinning outwards.
Shock turned to relief, and a grin spread across his face as he shouted, louder "It's over!" Laughter and a whoop came from the front—Quorra, sharing his joy at their survival. Sam glanced behind him, saw her smile as she pulled the craft out of the dive, saw his father seated beside her, a look of contemplation on his features. Sam shook his head and turned back to the rearview, smirking. Still with the Zen thing? Really, dad?
He froze, staring. A flash of light—something massive and orange and THERE and oh SHIT—
A shattering crash and a roar broke Sam's world and he was falling, flying, knocked back in a rushing surge of chaos. Up was down and down was blue and white and reddish-orange and all shattering, all breaking to tiny crystals as he tried to hold on. Color spun around him as he tried to orient, an electrical burn surging through the controls as he yelped and let go—they sparked and shattered.
Dark clouds. Black sea. The horizon—no, up should be that way. The ship—half of the ship, his father's form in the segmented opening, all serenity lost, shouting panic into the wind.
The sea again.
Ignoring the nausea as he continued to spin, Sam kicked off the fragmented seat, pushing himself away from the wreckage as it sizzled and dissolved around him. He'd have patted himself on the back for that if he weren't still falling—seconds later, the tangled heap detonated like a bomb, something inside overloading. Sam winced as sharp crystals cut a line into his cheek, but these fragments were too small for real damage.
That was it, he realized, air rushing past him. The first crash, with the two jets… A chunk must have hit the plane. Nearly hit him—a bit more directly, and... He snorted, looking down. Yeah, this was the lucky outcome.
Sam spread out his limbs, damping the dizzying spins as he looked up—back? No, sideways now—for the others. The craft looked terrible, its back half broken off, the v-shaped tail just gone. The white lines flickered along its sides and wings, and he somehow doubted Quorra was directing that pitch downwards. Hopes he hadn't known he had dropped with the oversized jet, and failed to mirror its lurching struggle back up.
They weren't coming for him.
They can't come, he told himself. That's different. They really couldn't, he knew that. From what he could see, they'd be lucky to find land (much less the Portal) before the damaged vessel fell apart on them.
So they couldn't turn back for him. Couldn't pull his ass out of trouble—again, he thought ruefully, thinking of the lightcycle grid, of the trap in Zuse's place. Fine. That was fine. He could manage himself; he'd done so for years in the real world—why was it so much harder when he was trapped in a bad computer game?
He had stopped turning, and it was much easier to look around when he didn't have to suppress the urge to puke. Right. Ocean. Sky. Floating rock things—what was with those? He shook his head. Didn't matter—he wasn't close to any, and even if he were, grabbing on would be… bad. 'Cause it would be much less fun being a splatted mess with one less arm. Would he burst like a sack of meat, or break apart, or…? This was way too far to fall safely, even onto water.
Right. Ocean. Sky. Falling.
"…I'm totally screwed."
He closed his eyes, desperation warring with despair. He needed a support. Or a parachute. Damn it, why hadn't he kept that wing-pack he'd used to drop in the Rectifier? That would be perfect now.
A faint noise bubbled up in his throat, and then Sam laughed, a jerking sound that wouldn't stop coming. This was hopeless and stupid and fucking absurd.
But this was it, huh?
He opened his eyes, looking, really looking at the grid. Even this dark, desolate part was beautiful, in a weird and lonely sort of way. The sea underneath, darker and less reflective than he thought water should really be. The clouded sky above—did it always storm here? And the weird shapes of rock or glowing light—the inexplicable monoliths that stuck up from the sea below and floated in the air.
Against which a yellow-lit figure was visible. Moving, diving sideways through the air with purpose—
Sam tensed, jerked back against nothing and floundered in the air for a moment. Clu was alive. He'd… he'd been fucking blown up, crashed in an explosion that had damn near killed Sam, and he was supposed to be gone and dead and… no.
Clu reached out suddenly, arms stretching forward to grab at something—no, someone. Sam hadn't noticed the fainter glow before, but from the reddish-orange tinge of the minimal circuitry, he guessed it was Clu's remaining soldier—the one who'd crashed into him. Defective? Whatever his malfunction… he was alive too? Sam put a hand to his face. Didn't anyone just explode?
Clu wasn't there to shake his hand, though. There was some sort of scuffle, a jerking, pulling motion. Sam saw the smaller program shoved back as the yellow figure kicked him once, then again—and he was knocked away, orange points of light spinning over each other helplessly.
Apparently victorious, Clu did something, pulled outwards? Sam couldn't make it out. The results were all too clear, and he watched with a sinking dread as yellow lines and curves formed out of nowhere. The jet blazed into life and shot upward, into the sky. And there wasn't a thing Sam could do about it.
His mind went to the stuttering, half-downed transport his father and Quorra were struggling with, and he tensed, fighting back useless fears. They would be okay. They had to be.
The remaining program dropped, unmoving, from what little Sam could make out. He squinted through the darkness at the form, the lack of lines and hunched in body. It almost looked like… no.
Sudden light came from the side as first the program, then Sam dropped below a monolith and into the light of another. Sam's mouth dropped, disbelieving. The form was clearly visible—tucked in limbs, skeletal lines on the hands, and that damn helmet.
"Fuck it… no!" Sam's incredulous voice came out half-strangled. "You're supposed to be dead! Quorra and I… well, mostly Quorra, but… you fell!"
Sam stared at the program that had wounded him in the arena, chased him on the grid, hunted them in the Rectifier, menaced them on the bridge… anger and frustration rose up, warring only with a grim satisfaction. If he had to die, at least he'd see this bastard go. And first, too; Rinzler was below him.
Then Sam realized Clu's assassin was staring back.
Sam froze. Stared at the black figure as it stirred, limbs gathering with purpose, head cocking as it looked at him, gaze invisible behind the helmet, but unquestionably focused.
Then Rinzler reached out and came up.
Sam nearly shit himself.
He wasn't rising, of course he wasn't rising, they were both falling, both doomed. But he was falling slower, spread out limbs dragging on the air in the same maneuver Sam had tried to approximate for stability—but he was doing it right. Doing it better. And despite Sam's lead, despite the time Rinzler had spent falling with no attempt at control, the program was catching up to him.
Sam panicked. He tried to kick, to run, to move—but he couldn't run, he was falling, and he couldn't control it. His useless flailing dropped him further out of balance, and he begun to turn slowly in the air.
"Shit, shit, shit!" The program was nearer, the shapes of his orange lights now visible against the black form, the only deviation from his perfect posture the helmet still tilted up, fixed on Sam as he closed.
Not helping! He had to calm, balance, be stable—hell, be Zen. Only he didn't feel very fucking Zen, and he couldn't stop spinning, much less lie flat, and the wind was rushing by and he didn't have time. And as disappointed as he was to realize this was his strongest reaction to Rinzler, Sam couldn't get the quote from that stupid movie out of his head. "Sometimes fear is the appropriate response."
…Only it wasn't appropriate; he was going to die anyways, what did it matter—
A hand closed around his arm and Sam's terror made itself known with a half-stifled shout he preferred not to call a scream. He jerked back, tried to get free, but only pulled himself closer, colliding against the program's chest. He shoved on that, struck out awkwardly with his unrestrained left hand at the clustered lights in the center, but the grip was solid and unmoving.
Realization flickered through Sam's mind, and he reached behind himself, straining for the weapon on his back. Too slow—the program's empty arm batted his own aside and reached over his shoulder to pull him close, pinning Sam's disk between them, inaccessible. Rinzler's stuttering rumble surrounded him, the roar of the wind not even helping to drown it out now. He struggled uselessly against the program's grasp. Too slow, too weak, too late. Should've thought of the disk earlier. Even this bastard couldn't dodge in freefall. Probably.
And now he was trapped. The helmet shoved forward against Sam's head, and he grimaced as he tried to hunch away. That noise was louder, more insistent, and tuning it out didn't help—he could feel the corrupted rattling vibrate through his body, surrounding him, invasively overwhelming. He was trapped. He was helpless and falling and held. He couldn't fight back, he couldn't get away, and he hated this program with a cold, impotent fury as its noise rose up in bursts of staticky sound, pressing at his ears even through the tearing of the wind. Sam gritted his teeth, waiting, fighting the useless panic with rage as he thrashed ineffectually, tensing against anticipated pain, and couldn't he have just waited forty seconds for the ground—and wait.
Were those words?
The sound was rough and scratchy and broken-sounding, a corrupted file trying to playback through some of the worst static Sam had heard. He turned his head to stare at the featureless mask, trying to tear meaning from the wind's roar and the unsettling rumble that never went away.
It didn't make sense. Rinzler didn't talk—apart from the "user" back in the arena. Okay, so maybe he only talks as he's deliberating a kill. But that word had sounded a lot better than the noise coming out of the program now, and Sam didn't think it was all the wind. Even focusing on it (rather than shutting out the sound with all his power), not much made it through.
"Use—from—in arena." Sam's confusion burned away as hostility rose up again, overwhelming. That was right, they had done this before. He remembered the solidity of the arena floor, cool smooth glass pressing against him as the faceless program held him down—with edged disks ready to slice, rather than hands gripping him close. He glared back at Rinzler, seething with anger as he hollered through the rushing air.
"If you're looking for a rematch, you've got about thirty seconds left!"
He regretted the suggestion as the form around him tensed, hands clenching painfully before loosing to the previous hold. "No." Sam could feel a crackling effort wrecking through the program's chest and throat as volume was forced into the vocalization.
"The baton—from your—use it!" The sound was urgent, though still difficult to decipher. If the ceaseless rumbling reminded Sam of a broken hard drive, Rinzler's voice now sounded like someone had taken the drive and smashed it, crashing and shattering mixed with an electrical crackle.
What he was saying, though… Sam's face twisted in confusion, his hand hesitantly moving down. The lightcycle baton? From the blue program Clu had destroyed? He had no idea how the hell that would help—does he want something besides my corpse to break the fall?—but it seemed to be what Rinzler was after. The impression was unexpectedly confirmed as the program, seemingly frustrated at Sam's fumbling reach across his body, abruptly released his right hand, shoving it down towards the tool. Sam considered using his new freedom to throw a punch at the black-shelled head behind his own, but the angle was terrible. Besides, it'd be much more effective once he had the baton.
He unclipped it, half-expecting to have the rod snatched away, but the program's only response was an increase in the rattling noise, disturbingly reminiscent of a purr. Sam tensed as he glanced down—the water was closer now; the lowest of the huge rocks visibly rushing towards him. Rinzler's buzzing, crackling speech sounded again, but Sam didn't need to focus to know what was being said. "Use it." But how? Why? How the fuck is this going to help?
"Look, I love bikes as much as anybody, but—"
A unintelligible burst of static-filled noise cut through his speech like a wail of frustration, and Sam's world went sideways. He was flipped and shoved, maneuvered, his frantic attempts to lash out terrifyingly ineffective. The baton was pulled from his grasp; well, he'd expected that—but the program was still in motion. Sam turned, was grabbed and shifted, and when he abruptly stopped moving, he found their positions were nearly reversed. The orange-lit program was in front of him, still far too close, one arm reaching back to grip Sam's shoulder. Although he mostly faced away, Rinzler's upper body was twisted back, helmet cocked and staring inches from his face.
Sam headbutted him.
He connected solidly, somewhat to his surprise and entirely to his pain. The helmet felt less like a piece of armor and more like the arena floor—black, featureless, solid. Yeah. Really should've known better. Through his daze, he could see Rinzler shake his head, momentarily stunned—then the slackened grip tightened with a surging growl. Sam was pulled forward, the program's back now pressing into his chest, and he could feel the surging crackle of tense effort as Rinzler's vocalizations amplified, forced again to brief clarity.
The hand on his shoulder released, briefly trailing down to tug Sam's hand around the program's front before letting go entirely. Rinzler reached out, both arms on the now-orange baton and Sam glimpsed the water past his shoulder—shit, he could see the waves. They were falling, he was falling, about to die in a computer on top of a program who'd injured him, hunted him, tried and maybe succeeded at killing him… and who now asked Sam to hold him.
The helmet tilted back to look at Sam, and he glowered back warily. He could think of a lot of people he'd rather die holding. Rinzler didn't move, didn't react, although Sam could feel the tenseness in his form, the irregular rattling shaking through his chest. Whatever crazy plan he had, whatever he had wanted with the damn baton… he was waiting.
He grabbed on, both arms across the program's chest, and Rinzler moved, head jerking frontwards as he pulled the baton apart. Sam groaned, his head dropping to the dark-suited shoulder in frustration. That was it? But he made himself look, watching through the rezzing lightcycle as the blackness rushed towards them. He wouldn't turn away, and it was still beautiful, even now. There was light and water and lines of orange stretching forward into handles and nose, out into…
It can do that?
Sam's grip tightened as the jet formed and he slammed forwards against Rinzler's stillness as the drop became a dive.
They skimmed the water's surface, then rose above.