Sweat soaked and numb, Rinzler returned to the apartment he was now calling his. The place smelled like dust, mold, perspiration, and blood. Humid and closed in, the blinds were permanently drawn, blocking out the noon sun and leaving the empty room as dark as it would get. Most of the furniture had been systematically destroyed and removed, Rinzler having little use for chattel he didn't understand.

Flowing into the routine he'd adopted since claiming the property, he made short work of his shoes and socks, and then padded barefoot from room to silent room; checking all locked doors, barred windows, and shadows. Routines were easy for him, familiar, and he fell into them without prompting or needing active thought. Rinzler had always been good at shutting down and simply doing. He existed for action; that was where he excelled.

Once the perimeter was secure and he could be assured no further Users were here to meddle in affairs which no longer concerned them, his routine brought him past the only undamaged appliance he had left. It was a sleek machine covered in unnecessary buttons and switches. Without looking, Rinzler's hand found the dial he wanted, ratcheting it up to the highest setting. He only needed the one dial, preferring things simple; more economical. There was beauty in what was efficient. Simplicity, he'd found, was the core of efficiency. Rinzler disliked the superfluous and wished all extraneous details on his appliance could be cut – so it could be streamlined, improved upon. He'd come to like this device and it was a shame Clu wasn't here to make it better. His administrator would have known how to bring out its strengths and bury the faults.

Dialed to maximum, music blasted out twin speakers, so loud there was a static buzz undercutting the sound. Rinzler didn't know what kind of music this was supposed to be and he didn't care. He hadn't liked it the first time he'd heard it – starting the machine by accident – but he liked the static, and purred along for a moment in appreciation. But as with most things he found unsatisfactory yet was powerless to change, he grew to accept and ignore it. The noise served its purpose. It didn't matter whether Rinzler found it attractive to his auditory inputs or not, that wasn't its function.

Pulling off his damp clothes till he was stripped down to nothing – the closest he could get to the grid suit he could no longer rez these days– he lay down on the floor and let this world's foreign gravity take his weight. His garments had outlived their purpose and he would need to find new ones. Luckily it wasn't difficult to locate people in his size.

Closing his eyes, Rinzler tuned out the music by increments, focusing his attention inward, and pushing his awareness back into the disgustingly inefficient body of his. It was a sad thing made of meat, blood, and impulses he hadn't yet been able to master. A familiar pain, dull now because he'd learned to better ignore it, reawakened and flared up through the muscles of his abdomen. Sliding a hand down to his stomach, Rinzler rolled his eyes in irritation. This seemed to be some sort of constant default state that User bodies ran in and no amount of effort could isolate or label the problem. Rinzler had a suspicion it was linked to his random spells of lightheadedness and momentary losses of focus too. It was simply another pain he would need to accept.

Closing his eyes again, Rinzler tried once more to find the quiet space in his mind. On the Grid, it had been a small partition set aside from the rest of his protocols, so that when the code ache got too bad, or Clu was forced to extend the periods between his maintenance, Rinzler could have a measure of peace. He wasn't surprised to find out that the process had been easier while in-system. Out here in the User world, logic and regulation seemed messy and scarce. It was harder to maintain his concentration, harder to force the noise of the city, the background ping and hum of the property, and the sounds of his own body into a lower priority queue.

It was difficult, but not impossible. And who would he be if he let something as trivial as disquiet tie up his processes? Clu would not have approved.

So bit by bit, Rinzler returned to blocking out the noises until it was just the thump-thump of the beat that reverberated through the room, through the walls, through the floor — and eventually through Rinzler himself, echoing in his bones. Regulating to the only point of reference he had, Rinzler's breathing slowly synced with the bass; the low beat squirming under his skin and blooming in the stale air around him.

Lying like this, eyes unfocused and watching the dark, Rinzler could almost believe he was back in Tron City. His home. Where he could feel the data streams changing, melding, and taking form around him. There had been so much information available with just a touch to any building or the simple contact with a coded block of pavement. But this world, cluttered and unintelligent as it was, full of its ugly logic errors, lacked any real means to tap into its underlying axioms.

This was a poorly designed system Rinzler understood now, and maybe it was better that Clu had never gotten to see it. The administrator could have, and no doubt would have perfected it. But he would have been disappointed too. So long spent working toward a war for a world that wasn't even worth it.

If Rinzler could have gone home, he would have.

A familiar pain, hollow, like a yawning hole in his centre of gravity, spiked his self awareness, and the illusion of being in a world where he could belong shattered. It was apparent enough he wouldn't get any more work done. Shrugging off another failed attempt to defragment, Rinzler began to prepare to visit the club.

It was time again to deal with the agony.

.


.

The music was loud here too, louder than anything his device back at the apartment could produce – too loud – but it was dark, and that made it forgivable. The crush of bodies, similarly soaked in sweat and cheap artificial scents that rubbed off on his skin or clothes so that he reeked when he was done with the place, was forgivable too. Though he hadn't liked the constant contact at first, enduring it had become a necessity like so much else, and now it was another found parallel to his Grid.

Once he'd been able to peripherally sense all of the programs that roamed through a given sector at any given time as a background awareness that was as much as part of him as his need to protect them. Now he only had this. Once he had been built to guard against these very Users, people who inhabited these dank pits full of their flashing lights and irrhythmic music; pumping like a struggling, choking heart and careless of how their actions damned his people.

But these Users had the energy he needed, either in powder or hot liquid form. And though it was increasingly weak stuff, Rinzler could not complain. He needed this to take the edge off existence, the bad code behind his eyes, and the fog that came from being without Clu and his restorative touch. He needed this like he needed the music, the pulse of sound through the floor, the magnetism inherent in the writhing bodies, and the darkness where – like a dead city – nothing glowed.

.


.

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Notes: Kikibug13 prompted me with the words "Rinzler" and "Speed." Turns out she was referring to this song by Billy Idol... and not drugs like I had originally thought. Miraculously the story ended up matching at least some of the song lyrics, so all's well that ends well. Except for Rinzler. For the record, the way I tend to interpret Rinzler's character lends itself to a more fatalistic outlook, so I gotta say, as gritty and dystopian as this fic was, this is still the GOOD END for Rinzler if he were to escape the Grid alone. Keep in mind I said 'Rinzler' and not 'Tron'. Also, just for kicks, here's some info on the effects of Amphetamines:

The High:
- Feelings of wakefulness and energy
- Hunger suppressant
- Sometimes hallucinogenic

The Low:
- Can lead to irritation and/or feelings of depression
- Hard to stay still or sleep
- Feelings of anxiety and paranoia

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Also, I would be 100% forever in your debt if you gave me some crit.
No seriously, I would do unthinkably dirty things for some good crit.
Really.