Contrary to popular belief, Ram wasn't actually the first member of the resistance to know about Rinzler.
That dubious honor actually went to a contact in Tron City, who had giver a half-hysterical report about Clu having a shiny new enforcer, and said report had been passed down the line of informants, eventually reaching all the way to Ram. The rest of the cycle had been spent confirming the increasingly common rumours, before verifying the information and passing it on to Flynn.
He never actually saw the enforcer in person during that time. Descriptions were good enough, and it was hard to miss a disturbingly silent program with two disks. Besides, they hadn't gotten any reports from survivors of his attacks. Just the occasional terrified witness of Rinzler tearing apart rebels like they were nothing.
No survivors, and no mercy.
Ram wasn't a fan of Rinzler.
Rumours had been going around for a long time about Tron's derezzing. The only one who actually knew exactly what had gone down that microcycle had been Clu, and he wasn't inclined to talk about it beyond spreading the news of Tron's death. The next best source was Flynn, but the only real knowledge he had of Tron's derezzment was 'Clu was winning the fight and then there was a scream', and that wasn't overly specific. You could do a lot to make a program scream without immediately derezzing them, and Flynn had ran too fast to hear anything else. Honestly, the fact that Clu hadn't gone after Flynn was enough proof for Ram that Tron had lived beyond that single scream, at least for a little while.
So when Ram heard that Rinzler had been the one to derezz Tron, it sounded believable to him.
The rumour couldn't be proven, and knowing exactly how the security program died wasn't exactly helpful to anything, so Ram didn't take the information to Flynn. Besides, the User always got the most miserable expression of self-loathing whenever Tron was brought up, and Ram sure as shit wasn't going to poke at old wounds.
Whereas Yori had responded to Tron's death with a sort of cold fury, dedicating her significant abilities to the resistance. Mostly with the end goal of putting a disc through Clu's smug face.
Ram could respect that.
So after he was fairly certain about Rinzler's role in Tron's death, he didn't tell Flynn. But he did tell Yori.
In hindsight, that was a bad idea.
"Yori? You said you needed to talk to me?" Ram called, entering her hideout around the start of the cycle, and seeing her standing at the lone window.
"I'm going after Rinzler."
"You're fucking crazy." He blurted out. It wasn't even on purpose. It was just a reflex response to insanity.
"Thanks Ram, it's so nice knowing someone has faith in me." Yori deadpanned, raising an eyebrow in amusement as she turned to face him.
"No, but like – why? There's so many better ways to derezz yourself. Ways that don't give that creepy masked fucker the satisfaction."
"I can kill him, I know I can. I have to. He- he derezzed Tron, Ram. I'm tired of just… sitting here and doing nothing! I need to get out there, to actually help! Killing Rinzler will help, he's been obliterating our people left and right, someone has to do something! You can't stop me on this Ram, don't even try."
Ram stared at her in surprise, before sighing quietly.
"I miss him too. Good luck. I'll be waiting for your signal, if you live."
She pulled Ram into a hug before she left, both doing their best to pretend that it didn't feel like they would never see each other again.
Rinzler wasn't heard from again until they were halfway into the next cycle.
Yori never sent the signal.
When Rinzler reappeared and Yori didn't, Ram knew that she never would.
After Yori was derezzed, Ram decided to start staking out Rinzler himself.
Not that he was planning on confronting the program. Taking on one batshit insane evil right hand had been more than enough for him, back in the day with Sark. Even if Tron had been the one to take down the bastard, Ram had certainly helped, and it had been completely worth it.
No, Ram was sticking to surveillance. From a distance. A long distance.
And even if the enforcer did have some uncanny ability to notice when he was being watched, he spent a fair amount of time competing in the Arena for Clu. With that many eyes on him, Rinzler was bound to miss the lone program spying on him.
Programs didn't have hearts, but as Ram watched Rinzler fight, he could have sworn he felt his sinking.
Most programs couldn't identify another program by just fighting style. But Ram had known Tron incredibly well, Had seen his fighting style change and expand over the thousands of cycles, and had been witness to a rare handful of moments where he'd been enraged enough to lose control and abandon any sense of mercy.
Which is how Ram knew that Rinzler fought like Tron.
Oh, sure, he was more acrobatic, and certainly more brutal, and the dual disks added an extra element, but enough of their fighting styles lined up too well, forming a picture Ram didn't entirely want to look at.
And they had heard rumours of Clu rectifying programs. It would have taken more work for a well-made program from such a different User, but well… Clu would have had lot of spare time to work on repurposing Tron.
The small pattern of circuits forming a T on his chest had confirmed it, the familiar mark burning a corrupted orange instead of blue.
Ram had left in the middle of Rinzler's fight. He didn't want to see what his old friend had been warped into.
But despite himself, Ram just kept coming back.
Every time Rinzler derezzed a program, he barely even seemed to register the death, only calmly turning to look up at Clu.
Ram wondered what expression he had under the helmet.
As time went on, his stalking of the program increased, never moving to interact, but never being able to bring himself to back away. Like watching a light train crash. He knew he was seeing a tragic disaster. But he couldn't tear his eyes away, even as the body count piled up.
When he figured out how to break into Clu's throneship, he tried to convince himself that he was doing it for information. And sure, he was, but mostly?
He was doing it to look for Rinzler. To satisfy his morbid fascination. To try and see if anything was even left of his dearest friend underneath the ever-present mask.
Ram was very good at being silent when he wanted to.
As he moved through the ventilation system of Clu's throneship, he followed the blueprints he had downloaded into his memory earlier. Clu was on the ship, but hadn't been in the throne room. The next likely place was his quarters, and while Ram was unlikely to hear anything in there, it was certainly worth a try.
As he grew closer to Clu's private quarters, a rumbling reached his ears, causing him to freeze in alarm.
The knowledge of his real identity and subsequent stalking had really only served to reinforce the point in Ram's mind that Rinzler was the baddest motherfucker on the Grid. Former friend or not, he had little interest to actually try and fight him.
If Tron's repurposing had been through enough to make him kill Yori, Ram wouldn't stand a chance.
"…Rinzler, come here."
Clu's voice was faint, and Ram made a point of carefully approaching the vent grate leading into the room, keeping out of sight, but getting close enough to hear clearly. If he heard Rinzler's orders before the enforcer could follow through, it would be invaluable to the resistance.
No words were exchanged, but there was a strange amount of movement, and the sound of something hitting the bed. Ram was officially thoroughly confused.
There was a slightly pained gasp, in a voice that sounded like a distorted version of Tron's.
Ram couldn't help it.
He looked out the vent.
At the sight of what was happening in the room, he was barely able to hold in his own sound, this one of shock and horror.
Rinzler's helmet had been removed, and it hurt to see Tron's face so badly damaged, scarring covering almost half of it, but avoiding his eyes, both of which glowed a deep orange. Heavy scarring was prominent on his neck, the mutilation looking purposeful, and probably responsible for the distorted state of Rinzler's voice, and his usual silence. More scars wound around his torso and arms, clearly marks from torture.
But worst of all was the reason why Ram could see all of Tron's new scars. Because Rinzler was naked. Because Rinzler was being held down on the bed by Clu, possessive hands grabbing at his scarred wrists, and holding them above his head. Because Clu's crotch was pressing against Rinzlers, and as Ram watched in horror, began moving in an unmistakable rhythm, the violent thrusts making it clear he cared very little about the comfort or enjoyment of the other program.
Ram had to leave. Ram wanted to leave. Ram needed to leave, needed to get out, to not see the debauchery being forced on his friend, broken and corrupted as he was. But Ram was frozen in place, unable to abandon Rinzler – to abandon Tron – in that nightmare with Clu.
Because despite the unspeakable violation being forced on him, Rinzler's sickly orange eyes were locked onto Clu's face, staring at the admin in silent devotion and adoration, right up until they were forced to close with pain from the assault.
And shaking with rage, Ram stayed.
Someone had to be horrified for Tron's sake. If he couldn't do it, then Ram would.
So he stayed. Watched in numb horror and grief as Tron's body was used as a plaything for a tyrant. Watched as Rinzler's hands were released, and he immediately wrapped them in an embrace around Clu's shoulders. Watched as the administrator finished and removed himself from Tron. Watched as Rinzler willingly sunk to his knees to clean him off, the movement too immediate to be anything but well-practiced. Watched as afterwards, Rinzler was left on the bed, gaze still fixed on Clu as he went over to the window to look down on the city, neither bothering to rezz their suits back on.
Listened as Clu discussed troop movements, Rinzler offering the occasional quiet, distorted sounding suggestion, the simple act of speaking seeming difficult for him.
And when they were done speaking, Clu returned to the bed, and without being told, Tron willingly spread his legs for the man who had destroyed everything he ever was.
He made it all the way to the outlands before he was forced to stop, his shaking making it impossible to drive his lightcycle, and bringing him to a stop behind a pile of rocks, where he finally fell to his knees and retched, and once the nausea abated, sobbed.
It took him a long time to get moving again. The images had not faded from his memory banks.
He suspected they weren't going to.
Ram passed the information on to the resistance about the troop movements.
He didn't tell them how he had gotten it.
Eight microcycles later, he was attacked by Rinzler.
Somehow, Ram wasn't surprised.
Well, at the time it had been a surprise.
He had been riding through the outlands on his lightcycle, when suddenly, something tackled him off of it, his lightcycle going forwards out of control and derezzing without him against a rock. Ram didn't notice, as he was too busy struggling with the other program, the velocity from his lightcycle sending them both tumbling a fair distance before they stopped, the other one ending up on top and pinning Ram down, an orange disk held to his throat.
With a familiar rumble. And a T shaped circuit pattern.
"You're Rinzler, right? Nice to meet you, can you let me up?" Ram said, as if he wasn't completely terrified. Hey, worth a try. Rinzler cocked his head slightly.
"Y-y-you sssAAw." Rinzler forced out, glitched voice jumping between pitches.
"Saw what?" Ram asked, playing dumb, although they both knew exactly what was being discussed.
"M-m-mE. Cl-C-Clu. Yyou ha-ad the informa-mation. Thhaaat he-e sAid. A-aftER i-i-i-i-iinterface."
And Rinzler was just calling him out. Okay then.
"If Clu already knows I saw, why don't you just follow your orders and derezz me?"
Rinzler paused at that, the unnerving rumbling filling the silence.
"N-not o-ordERS. Ju-ust me."
"Wait. So. Clu knows the information got out. He doesn't know that I did it, but you know. And you… didn't tell him. But just hunted me down on your own to interrogate me. Not over the classified information I got… but over what I saw in the process."
Rinzler gave a sharp nod.
"I didn't tell anyone about it. What you were doing. Just because you're the enemy doesn't mean it's my business who you choose to interface with."
Behind the helmet, Ram was fairly certain Tron's eerie orange eyes were doing their best to burn a hole in his head. He was welcome to try.
"…So, if I'm not getting derezzed… can I go now?"
Rinzler hesitated, still staring intently at Ram.
"I…. kn-know yoU…"
"Ram. My name is Ram."
Rinzler gave a nod at that, clearly committing the name to memory.
And then he stood up, getting off Ram. He didn't offer a hand up. He didn't comment on the voxel remains of Ram's lightcycle. Just pulled out a baton, and took off, his orange glow rapidly fading away.
Shaking, Ram got to his feet again.
…It was going to be a long walk back.
After that, Ram noticed a reversal in the pattern his life had been taking.
Specifically, Rinzler was now following him.
The enforcer had a considerably busier schedule than Ram, so his stalking wasn't quite as effective, but Rinzler seemed to have decided his limited free time was best spent following him around. He never made a move to interact again, but whenever Ram made it clear that he'd spotted him, Rinzler didn't seem to feel threatened enough to leave.
Which was probably justified, because Ram's own bout of surveillance had taught him that no, he could not take Rinzler in a fight. Oh, he'd go down swinging, but Tron was programmed to be the best warrior around. As Rinzler, he was devastating. Ram would not fuck with that.
After two micro-hex's of being followed, Ram decided to talk to the other program anyways.
Rinzler sees him coming, obviously.
Ram is just about to leave the city after picking up some information, when he spots the usual orange glow on top of a building, a silent, helmeted watcher.
Ram looks up at Rinzler and waves.
Rinzler does not respond
So Ram follows through with what he's been talking himself into doing, and starts to climb up said building. Rinzler clearly sees him approaching, but Ram is taking care to climb slowly, which is enough to get the point across that he's not interested in a fight.
When he reaches the top, Rinzler just stares.
"Hello. Noticed you following me lately. Is this Clu, or just you?"
"…J-juUst me. Ra-am."
"Alright then. Can I ask why? I mean, not that the company isn't nice, but it was a little terrifying at first."
"D-don't know. F-f-fe-eelt li-iike I shOUld?"
"Hey, that's okay. Just for the record, when I wave, that means that I don't mind if you come over to talk with me. Just sayin'. You seem like a busy program, and with those vocal glitches I'm guessing you don't have a lot of people to talk to, and everyone needs some conversation now and then."
Rinzler makes a quiet noise of acknowledgement, but doesn't reply beyond that. Ram talks about nothing at him for a while, before Rinzler snaps his head around to stare intently at Clu's throneship, forces out something about being called, and leaves abruptly.
Ram gains the sneaking suspicion that Rinzler is really under socialized.
And, like a fucking idiot, decides to do something about it.
Rinzler keeps following him. And whenever Ram's alone, he joins Rinzler to talk. Sometimes Rinzler refuses to speak at all, sometimes he sticks to fractured sentences, and sometimes, very rarely, Rinzler will completely hold up his end of the conversation.
As they talk, Ram finds that Rinzler might not be Tron, but he is someone Ram can get along with. They're even vaguely approaching the point of friends. It probably helps that he never needs to see Tron's face again, as Rinzler keeps his helmet on at all times, even though Ram feels bad about being grateful for that.
Their tenuous friendship lasts for nearly three full cycles.
And then things fall apart.
Ram should have known that something was wrong when Rinzler was the one to approach first. He never did that, but, like an idiot, Ram assumed Rinzler was just feeling more social. Or something.
He also probably should have caught the warning sign of Rinzler being more agitated than usual.
But all of that was ignored, when Rinzler cut off Ram's greeting to inform him that he had remembered something, and needed to tell him about it. That he didn't have time now, but he would later, and to meet him at this place at this time, before running off again.
And Ram believed him.
In hindsight, the entire thing was screaming 'trap'. But Ram's processors were so wrapped up in the sudden hope that maybe, maybe some hint of Tron was back, that he couldn't see the danger.
Rinzler had asked to meet him in a building under construction, near the center of the city. It had taken some work to get there unnoticed, but Ram had made it on time, and reached the top floor to find Rinzler waiting, his usual rumble sounding.
"Rinzler? What's going on?"
"So you're the one that's been messing with my program. I should have known. You always did have faulty logic processors."
Ram froze at the voice from behind him, circuits going cold with fear.
Around Ram, an absolutely ridiculous amount of Black Guard began to reveal themselves, surrounding him. Clu slowly walked forwards, grinning lazily, clearly enjoying the trap he had set.
And Rinzler continued to rumble, unmoving.
"So, I was doing a standard check of his code a few microcycles ago, and I found the strangest thing. See, he's not supposed to have friends, or acquaintances, or anyone. Especially not a rebel like you. So, after a full overhaul to remove all the damage you did, I had Rinzler bring you into this little trap here. Didn't anyone ever tell you not to trust the enemy?"
Ram glared, practically shaking in anger.
"I know what you did to him. You're a monster, and you can't hold Tron down forever!"
"Really? I find I prefer him when he's... ah, down." Clu said, grin turning into more of a leer. It took a picocycle for the administrator's insinuation to register with Ram, but as soon as it did, Ram's disk was in his hand and activated, and he was flinging himself at Clu with a scream of rage.
And then the Black Guard attacked.
This wasn't Ram's first system-ruling dictator. The guards were a problem, sure, but not one that could hold him down. Ram practically danced around them, derezzing guards left and right, and slowly yet surely making his way towards Clu, mostly with the express purpose of putting a disk through his stupid grin.
Clu didn't even react when Ram reached him, wasn't even alarmed about him stabbing forwards with his disk-
Probably because Ram was tackled before he could finish the attack.
In a mockery of their first real meeting, Ram and Rinzler went tumbling sideways, before once again stopping with Rinzler on top. Disk activated, and held to Ram's throat.
But not cutting.
"Excellent, Rinzler. Just hold him there for me."
Ram struggled as Clu approached, yelled in protest as the admin reached under his back, swore violently as he pressed a hand against his disk-
And then gave a near-silent whimper as he was forcefully sent into a shut down. The last thing he saw was Rinzler's helmet, staring down at him.
Ram came to inside of a cell.
He really wished he could say it was the first time he had experienced that.
As his memory's loaded up, he scowled at the wall.
There really wasn't anything else to say. Fuck. Fuck, fuck, fuck.
Clu had figured out what Rinzler had been up to. Clu had put a stop to it. And was probably going to put a stop to Ram as well.
He gave his cell an examination, and was unsurprised to find it top security. Not even he could get through that.
He was left in the cell for thee full microcycles, with nothing changing except his rising boredom and falling energy levels. This was probably done on purpose, as by the time they came for him, he could barely walk from the depletion, and had to be dragged along by the guards.
When they threw him in a new cell, he almost didn't get up. A faint glow was enough to get his attention, and he looked up to see a single glass of energy waiting for him, small and impure. A pittance, really. Barely enough to run for a nano-hex.
Ram drank it anyways. He was desperate.
Really, he got better rations from the MCP.
Once the energy filtered through his system, he was able to see enough to detail to notice what kind of cell he was in.
They were putting him in the games.
Right on time, the cell began to rise, the deafening cheers of the arena reaching his audio processors.
"Fuck, fuck, fuck." He hissed, undocking his disk as his cell was moved to meet his opponents.
He beat every match he was in.
Again, not his first tyrannical ruler.
Still, it probably hadn't been best move to win every single match. Back with the MCP, winning every match meant getting to live to go back to your cell and do it again next microcycle. In this arena…
Winning meant facing Rinzler.
As Ram was dropped into the arena of his corrupted best friend, Rinzler entered, heralded by the sound of his endless broken rumbling.
It wasn't much of a fight.
For what it was worth, he lasted five entire nanocycles, which was more than most of Rinzler's opponents could say. But Ram was tired and low on power, and Tron had always been the better fighter anyways.
One stumble was all it took.
He had meant to slip between the arcs of Rinzler's disks, the calculations of their angles having ran the second they were thrown, but the low energy levels made him lag slightly, one leg not quite landing right, and causing him to miss his calculated mark-
One of Rinzler's disks ripped through his chest.
There was a burst of pain and fear, the feeling of falling apart, his code breaking down under the damage-
The crowd cheered wildly as the final program was derezzed.
For his part, Rinzler caught both of his disks, returned them to their dock, and stared at the pile of voxels that used to be a program. For a long moment, all he did was look, a slight hitch in his rumbling that few would have been able to notice.
And then it evened out, and he turned away, calmly exiting the arena. Returning back to Clu.
Behind him, the remains of Ram were left to dissolve back into the system.