The Waiting Game
Part of the Ram, Expanded series
Beta: tanks4thememory, infiniteviking
Summary: Expanded movie scene: Tron and Ram discuss Flynn while in the cells. Information confirming Crom's reports about power loss reaches the pit cells, prompting Tron to worry about Yori. Ram only knows two things about her: that she's Tron's mate, and she smells like oranges – whatever those are. Also, Flynn might be a data-blind spybot, but it's unlikely.
A/N: Some dialogue and scene taken from the novel, with changes. And no, Tron doesn't know what oranges are either; he just knows Yori smells nice. She had to tell him what the smell was.
Ram was still nursing scrapes from an unusually challenging round of Jai Alai when he realised the guards weren't escorting him back to his cell.
"Hey, what gives, fellas?" He craned his neck curiously at the corridors they were passing. "That was supposed to be my last round this micro; didn't you get the memo?"
/ceasetalking, one of them pinged irritably. "Change of match line-up. Orders of the MCP himself." They stopped outside a cell that was decidedly not Ram's usual lodgings. "Inside."
"Well y'know, I really don't sleep all that well unless it's in my own bed, so I think I'll pass– ow, geez! Watch where you put that thing, you'll gouge an eye out." Ram scowled as the force field over the door rezzed in his face, rubbing the spot on his arm where he'd been jabbed with the lightstaff. He cast a disdainful eye around the new cell; it was smaller than his old one, and didn't even have a cot.
The last observation made the actuary sigh. He'd been looking forward to sprawling out and relaxing; the next scheduled downtime was practically upon them. There was hardly any time for another round of games to be scheduled. Being moved without at least some sort of warning was highly suspicious.
Ram was turning around, trying to find a decent spot to sit, when he noticed he had company in the neighbouring cell. His circuits brightened in surprise. "Tron, hey! What're you doing in here? I figured you'd be back on the pit block by now."
The security program looked pleased to see Ram, at least. He sat up as the actuary plopped down next to the force field separating the cells. "Probably the same thing you're doing here. I was pulled out of Disk Wars and brought straight here, and I've been here for over three nano-hexes now. No indications as to why. Any idea what's going on?"
"The guard said something about a line-up change, direct from Master Control. I caught a glimpse of the scenery on the route they dragged me through; I think we're in the lightcycle division." Ram wrinkled his nose as he scrubbed a finger on the floor, inspecting the tip and the layer of grime collected there. "I don't think these cells have been properly maintained for a while." He rubbed his dirty finger off on his hip. "Ol' humungous-bit-face is up to something."
"I know. I don't like it." Tron scowled. "He's been unusually erratic with his decision-gates lately."
"How is that different from all the rest of the crazy?" Ram leaned against a sloped bit of wall and crossed his arms across his chest, leaning his head back. "He's always been a few chips shy of a motherboard."
Tron grimaced. "Just rumours and hearsay, but I can't help but link them back to what that CIP said, and it's troubling me."
"Something Crom said?" Ram frowned thoughtfully, and lifted his head with a worried look. "You mean about the power in some sectors being shut off? That was, what, half a millicycle ago?"
"I know. What worries me is how far the drain may have spread since then."
Ram waited for further commentary, but the security program had fallen silent, a brooding frown on his face. No further elaboration seemed pending. With a sigh, the actuary flopped back against the wall and fussed with the straps on his bracers. There was still a thin crease of dimmer circuitry that had never been fully recoded from the rebellion. He worried at it with a finger, prodding twinges of painful sensation out of the damaged lines.
For some reason, this made him think of Flynn. He frowned, puzzled, and dropped his arm, tilting his head back to stare at the ceiling. Something had been nagging at Ram for a while now, and he just couldn't put a finger on it.
Maybe it was the way Flynn had reacted when he'd heard Tron's name…
"The new guy was asking about you," Ram remarked conversationally, still puzzling over his thoughts. "He was surprised we were friends. I could tell he was trying to be subtle, but it just wasn't written in his coding."
He couldn't see Tron's face, but the monitor's voice held a note of a smirk. "Hm. Too bad he's in a match now; I'll probably never meet him."
"You might," Ram replied distantly, and then felt puzzled over why he'd said that. Flynn was no different from Crom, or any of the others that had been Ram's cellmates.
But Flynn was different. Flynn had an unusual speech pattern that still eluded his grasp of recognition. Flynn hadn't been afraid at all when he'd been thrust into captivity. Flynn couldn't read pings or understand binary, and that alone was bizarre. Flynn…Flynn just had an odd…perceptiveness, and impertinence, that was out of place among other Basics.
"There's something different about him," Ram finally murmured. And immediately regretted it, because Tron sat up and glared through the barrier in full Suspicious-Firewall mode.
"What do you mean different?"
/calmdown, Ram pinged, grinning disarmingly. "I don't know, just…different – like I'm different. I got the feeling he's hiding something, but I didn't pry. You know how secrets in this place are precious commodities."
"Secrets in this place can also get you derezzed," the security program growled. "What if he's a spybot for the MCP?"
"Would the MCP bother using a spybot that can't read pings?" This made Tron blink, nonplussed. "He didn't understand the guards' binary either. I've never met a program that couldn't do either."
"That doesn't make him benign, Ram; that just makes him simple-coded." Tron levelled a sardonic look at the actuary. "I've met data-blind programs before; they just don't have the necessary subroutines to decode binary and pings. Doesn't make them any less of a possible threat."
"You've just made my point, though; would the MCP bother using a spybot without those subroutines?" Tron didn't have a response for that. Ram smiled. "Then there you have it. Flynn's just weird. Not dangerous."
"He could be falsifying data."
"Tron, for User's sake," Ram shook his head in frustration. "Even falsified data generates a ping-back; it's just scrambled too badly to make sense of. Ping him yourself if you get the chance; he doesn't echo at all."
Tron frowned, but returned to his previous position. "Count on it. Not that I don't trust your word, but –"
"No offense taken." Ram smiled quirkily. "Firewall."
"Impudent calculator." There was a touch of dry humour in the insult, spoken fondly. Then, softer, "I'm sorry, Ram. I didn't mean to snap."
"It's all right, Tron; I figured you would. I can tell; something's bugging you badly, more than just unsubstantiated rumours and spybots. C'mon; spill." If he could've, Ram would've nudged Tron's arm encouragingly. As a painful force shield barrier prevented that, he pinged a /nudge-cheer-behappy and scooted closer to the wall. "Tell your ol' buddy Ram what gridbugs are eating at your code."
Tron sighed, exasperated, but Ram counted it as a victory when the monitor finally spoke.
"I recognised one of the programs I fought today."
Ram stilled, all joviality gone. "Was he one of us?"
"No, he was Elite." The Elite Warriors were the official name for the turncoats; the User-believers who turned their backs on their Users hoping for favour from the ruling power and wound up in the Games anyway, playing under the MCP's colours. "It wasn't a surprise to see him there in red – he always struck me as the type – but he was from Yori's sector."
Ah. Yori. Ram had heard Tron mention her name before, but never with any real detail. Too dangerous, Tron had explained, to mention specifics, lest the guards report the information back to Sark and put her in danger just from association with the security program. All Ram knew about her was that she was Tron's mate, and that she smelled of oranges. Ram didn't know what oranges were, but Tron always reminisced about the scent with fondness in his voice.
"Worried she's been compromised?" Ram asked softly, out of sympathy more than fear of being overheard. There weren't any guards in range.
/affirmative. "The one I recognised tried to distract me by sneering and ranting about the conditions outside. I let him, purely for tactical reasons. He claimed that the MCP had shut down all non-essential sectors and cut the majority of power supplies to the remaining facilities, including the Shiva Factory Complex where Yori works." Tron's tone was grim. "I have no proof of whether his words were true or meant to generate unease and lure me into making a mistake."
"Sounds like he succeeded in one aspect," Ram mused. "Let it go for now, Tron. There's not much we can do from in here to help her."
Tron nodded unhappily, leaning his head back against the wall. "I think you'd like Yori, Ram. If we ever get out of here, I'll introduce you. She's a designer-coordinator on the ROM-LAZR project. Or she was; who knows what the MCP has her doing now."
"Yeah?" Ram smiled slightly. "Would she like me back, y'think?"
"Oh definitely. You two'd get on like a virus eats memory storage bins."
"Hopefully not exactly like," Ram joked. "I wouldn't want my first act to be having to explain to Yori how I left her mate trussed up on the back of my lightcycle because he kept trying to strangle me for being too compatible."
"She'd probably like that, actually," Tron muttered, circuits flushing light lavender as Ram cackled gleefully.
"Oh I definitely want to meet her now," the actuary chuckled.
"Suddenly I'm having second thoughts," Tron groused, smirking. "Putting the two of you together would collapse system infrastructure within a microcycle."
Ram opened his mouth to respond, but the return of the guards stopped him. He scowled at their helmeted, featureless faces as they deactivated the barrier.
"On your feet, programs."
"Didn't anyone ever tell you it's rude to interrupt?"
"Where are you taking us?" Tron interjected smoothly, rising to his feet before the guards' ire could focus on Ram.
"To lightcycle staging. No more questions; get up and get moving."
Ram stuck his tongue out but complied, falling into line behind Tron as the guards marched them down the hall.