Hidden Talents
Part of the Ram, Expanded series
Fandom: Tron
Beta: None/can't remember

Summary: Ram faces the boredom of being alone in a pit cell, works on his disk tricks, and has a chat with the new guy, who might be infected with something. It would certainly explain the weirdness.

Warnings: briefly entertained suicidal thought

A/N: GDI this was supposed to be more uplifting and cheerful than Slow Derez. It's all Flynn's fault, really.

Also, this is the first time alternate time references come into play. for the entire Ram, Expanded series, clock references are as follows:
cycle = equivalent to a year (assuming 12 months in a year)
centicycle = half a cycle (6 months)
hex = a quarter cycle (3 months)
millicycle = a month
micro-hex = a week, more specifically a grouping of microcycles
microcycle = a day
nano-hex = an hour, more specifically a grouping of nanocycles
nanocycle = a minute
picocycle = a second

Take note, this is only from the program's POV, and has nothing to do with actual Grid/User world time difference conversions. The logistics of that make my head hurt.


Being in the Games wasn't all that bad, really. It was the in-between moments that were the worst. When you were out on one of the gaming grids, at least your processor had something to occupy itself, even if it was just calculating the perfect angle of a dodge-and-disk toss that would both save your own shell and take your opponent's head off in the same movement. But stuck in a small holding cell, with Tron out on a grid fighting for the Users and his continued existence, and the new guy taken to undergo Sark's 'standard sub-standard training' drills, there was precious little to distract Ram's processors from the tedium of idling.

He'd paced the length and width of his cell 53.7 times (1.52400m is 152.400cm is 1524 mm squared to 2.322576m or 2322576mm of floor space- and gridbugs, that was a small area to be confined in), calculated the height from the floor to the translucent barrier that made up the ceiling (he was less certain of the conclusions he came to for this, as he'd never calculated his own height and could not be as accurate, but the numbers were still making him claustrophobic), and spent a few hundred nanocycles making impudent faces at the guards (while their backs were turned, of course. He had no desires to prompt them into jabbing him with their staffs in retaliation. Hey, even Memory Guards suffered from boredom around here. The difference was they had no problems taking it out on their captive audience.)

He was sprawled on the floor with his feet propped up against the wall, tossing his disk upwards and letting it spin midair with a small push of will before dropping back into his hands, entertaining the morbid calculation of just letting the activated edge come down and lodge itself in his chest, when the cell barrier next to his deactivated and a couple of guards shoved the new guy in, perhaps a bit more brusquely than was warranted.

~Hey bit-brains, you lose your manner subroutines in the recycle bin?~ he jeered after them in binary, flashing a rude gesture at their retreating backs. Scoffing, he sat up and scooted along the floor to peer in through the force field separating him from his fellow program, then pinged him. /program-statusquery.

The program didn't answer. He didn't even seem to register Ram's ping. He'd sprawled out on his back, digging the palms of his hands into his eyes, and grimacing at whatever data fluctuation was causing his memory circuits to go haywire. Ram frowned and tapped the edge of his disk against the force field. "Hey!"

The combination of the shout and the snap-twang against the barrier did the trick; the program flinched and groaned, squeezing an eye open to glare blearily at his captive companion. "Gahgh. Quit it, man. I got enough of a migraine without you banging around. Ugh, never been so sore…"

"Training went well, then, I take it?" The actuary guessed. His companion just groaned again, rolling over and pushing himself to sit up against the wall.

"Feels like someone took a can opener to my head and stuffed it full of…stuff, then ran me over with a herd of elephants," the new guy groused, clutching his helmet. Ram nodded; he didn't quite understand the analogy, but new conscripts often had processing problems after uploading all the Game Grid info packets, and the less said about his own first day in the training rounds, the better.

"The headache'll pass, soon enough. Just gotta let your system integrate all that data." He sat back against the wall and watched the other program suffer for a few moments. "They really must've scrambled your subroutines. You didn't even react when I pinged you."

"When what?" came the confused mumble of a reply. Ram only shrugged and leaned his head back, closing his eyes. It was obvious his new cellmate was in no shape for conversation just yet.

Half a nano-hex later Ram was back to being bored out of his data banks and had taken up whistling. It wasn't something most programs knew how to do, but he'd been blessed by his User with a bit of spontaneity and whimsy that he enjoyed taking full advantage of.

His companion had mostly recovered and was now doing what Ram had been doing earlier, pacing his cell in restless agitation and occasionally muttering to himself. It wasn't understandable binary, and it was too garbled to make out, but the program seemed in deep calculation of something.

Ram split his focus to try whistling and twirling his Identity Disk at the same time. It was a lot harder than it looked. He terminated the whistling command line and focused solely on the disk, flipping it around his fingers and letting the edge activate in a whir of energy and light as he spun it by its rim around a digit.

He'd caught the attention of his cellmate at this point. The new guy watched the disk spin with fascination through the barrier, leaning against the wall.

"You're pretty good with that," he remarked.

"Thanks," Ram said brightly. "I'm not as good as Tron, but I've got a few tricks. You gotta be good if you want to survive longer than a few rounds." He gave his disk a light toss, caught it un an underhand twist, and walked it through his fingers before bringing it to a stop and letting the energy die.

"Tron…" the other program muttered, sounding dazed. He looked a bit vapour-locked too, Ram noted when he glanced over. After a nano or two, he shook it off and looked down at the actuary curiously.

"I never asked, what's your name?"

"My name's Ram." The actuary gave his disk a cursory scan for flaws, flipped it end over end, and reached back to replace it on its docking port.

"Ram, huh?" his neighbour rubbed a hand against the line of his jaw, studying Ram with an odd intensity that left the small program somewhat uncomfortable. Ram fidgeted under the gaze. "What were you? Y'know, before…" he waved a hand at their surroundings.

Ah. This, at least, was something Ram was happy to talk about. "I was, uh, an actuarial program; worked for a big insurance company." A swell of pride bloomed in his chest as he smiled nostalgically at the memory files. "Really gives you a great feeling, helping Users plan for their future needs." He brightened a bit. "And of course if you think of the payments as an annuity over the years, the cost is really quite minimal."

His neighbour didn't appear as enthusiastic. "Uh, yeah. That's great. Actuarial program, nice…" he trailed off in a mutter. Ram rolled his eyes.

"How about yourself?" he prompted. The program behind the energy barrier suddenly adapted a stock pose that looked rather shifty and nervous.

"Oh…uh, I don't remember too much," he said hurriedly, eyes flicking away and then back. "Name's Flynn."

Ram frowned a little and tilted his head, but nodded. "…Sure. A little disorientation, that's normal in transport." He smiled encouragingly. "It'll come back to you, don't worry."

"Yeah." Flynn didn't sound convinced as he expelled air from his cooling system and slumped down against the wall, careful to mind the humming barrier between them. "Still not convinced this isn't all some crazy dream."

As Ram puzzled over that half-heard mutter, Flynn turned his head to peer at the actuary with a new note of suspicion in his eyes. "I wouldn't have thought an actuary would last this long. I mean, from what I saw during training, these Games get pretty rough."

It was Ram's turn to adopt the shifty demeanour, and he shrugged sheepishly, grinning. "Hey, I never said I was only an actuarial program," he defended, taking a wary glance upwards to make sure no Memory Guards were within listening range. "I mean, I started out as one, in beta. And I worked insurance for a while. But I got transferred back to my User's system for upgrades and never went back there." He traced a circuit line on his armour self-consciously. "I was actually undergoing recoding when the MCP took over my sector. Snatched me right out of a recompile, so the update isn't complete, but there's enough there to make a difference. My User kept the actuarial subroutines because they made me adaptable. Plus they'd give me a good cover story if I ever crossed paths with a system monitor without a sense of humour."

Flynn was gaping at him by now, and as Ram felt the circuits on his cheeks heat up and shift hue, the other program let out a disbelieving laugh. "No, no way. You're a HACKER, man?" He laughed again, seeming genuinely amused. "Oh that's fantastic."

"Hey, hey, hacker's too strong a word," Ram protested, though he was grinning by now as well. "I'm a security tester."

Flynn chortled and lifted a hand to wipe something from his eye; Ram could see the glimmer of energy smeared across his fingers, and worried for a moment that Flynn had been damaged somehow. But the other program didn't seem bothered by it, jabbing a thumb towards the far cell: Tron's cell, still empty. He'd been gone a while now; Ram hoped he was alright.

"Does the, uh, Security Program over there know about your little side job?"

"Glitch, yes. It's hard to keep secrets around here." Ram chuckled. "After he got done gaping at me for a few nano-hexes he found it incredibly amusing. My base code gives me an edge; no one really suspects an actuarial program to be that good in the games." He sobered a little. "I don't dare admit it around the guards in any case. The MCP doesn't really like it when he catches spybots lurking around his databanks."

The words seemed to sober Flynn as well, and a look crossed his face that spoke of a memory file being suddenly activated. Whatever it was, it didn't seem positive; the other program's expression was degrading rapidly back to that vapour-locked, dazed expression he'd had earlier.

Ram's brow furrowed. First his ping had gone unanswered, then the odd phrases and the energy leakage from his optical circuits, and now random lock-ups…was it possible Flynn infected with something? His eyes skirted nervously over the other's circuits, but saw no evidence of corruption. "Flynn? You alright there?"

"Huh? Uh, yeah. Sorry. I just…" Flynn rubbed a hand over his face. "I, uh, I knew another hacker program. Clu. He was sent into the MCP's data farms to find a file, and then I lost track- uh, he lost communication with our system." He went silent. Ram did as well; there was no need to state what was probably the obvious conclusion of that failed venture against the MCP.

"I'm sorry about your friend," Ram told him quietly, after a moment. Flynn shook his head, took a deep breath, and smiled blearily through the force field.

"Thanks man. It just…I guess it's starting to hit me. What's going on here? It's a lot to process."

For a moment, his friend looked so lost and without purpose that Ram's core systems ached. The program reached out to touch the wall beside the force field, which was as close as he could come to laying a hand on Flynn's shoulder, and packaged a small emotion file of reassurance and positive ions to ping across. It was one function the MCP had never bothered to close off with admin patches – probably to encourage programs to lose hope faster when their User-Friendly cell mates got themselves derezzed. Too late, he remembered that his companion's system had been damaged to the point of being unable to read pings.

With a sinking core, the actuary realized that, for Flynn, the kind of support Tron had shown Ram that had kept the little program going, even on cycles he just wanted to give in, was out of Flynn's reach.

Flynn seemed to understand the gesture of his proffered closeness, at least. He gave Ram a sad but grateful smile. Ram did his best to return it as a beaming grin.

Footsteps overhead shook them both from their mutual stillness as a guard's staff struck the top of Ram's cell twice, making a static crackle. ~On your feet, conscript, ~ the guard snarled in binary, then to his fellow guard, commanded, ~Take this one to the lightcycle waiting area. The other goes to the Jai Alai rings for his first match. ~

Ram quickly climbed to his feet, gesturing Flynn to do the same. The other looked confused; of course, he hadn't heard the command. As they were herded out of their cells, Ram took the opportunity to brush his hand against Flynn's arm circuits.

"This is it. Good luck, Flynn," he wished softly. Flynn gave him a helpless nod as the guards lead him away.

Ram paused to watch him go as long as he could, until a guard grew impatient and shoved his shoulder. Circuits flashing, the actuary twisted round and signalled a particularly insulting gesture in the null unit's direction laying defamations as to his base code stability. ~And So's Your User's Mum!~

The electric shock he received, he decided, was entirely worth it.