“Users frag it!” Paige hisses out past clenched teeth, fingers clenching spasmodically on an outcropping of code. She plasters herself as well as she can along the outer edge of the tower, toes seeking out a thin ledge, one of the only things between her and a messy derezzing some hundred levels below.
The one time Pavel has to be smart about things, she seethes. Making sure her footing is secure, she reaches upwards again. This time she doesn’t slip.
Disable window alarm, she repeats to herself, each word reinforced by the way she has to double-check handholds, making sure her weight is evenly distributed. Watch for hallway patrols. Avoid three guards; two by the door, one inside.
Sometimes she wishes her uniform was a nice glossy black. Inconspicuous. But Tron – and now the Renegade – is a symbol, bright and shining and unafraid. The white is a dare. It says: ‘come get me, if you can.’
Hacking through the window goes smoothly. She rolls into the room and lands on her feet, disc in hand. Nobody is there, although system-monitoring screens flicker idly in standby mode.
There’s only one door. She presses her ear to it, and when she hears no movement she activates the touchpad that allows her to step into the hallway. The mission objective is near the center of the building, close to the (heavily guarded) elevator and away from any other exit. This has to be the bratling sub-Commander’s doing – so many guards stink of Pavel’s wasteful habits, but the instinctive grasp of tactics and space isn’t his style. Pavel would have put them right on the top floor and filled the sky with Recognizers; this is much more subtle.
Well. Paige smirks. That’s fine. It just makes things easier for her.
She winds her way through the corridors, always ready to key open a door or leap to brace herself against the ceiling. Luckily, she doesn’t run into any patrols until she scouts around the next corner and glimpses a dull red glow. She nearly whacks her helmet against the wall, she pulls back so fast. There’s no sound of movement, though, so she looks again. Two guards, stationary, posted on either side of a doorway.
Looks like she’s found her target.
They go down with twin dull thumps, her disc knocking them out cleanly in a one-two bounce off their helmets. This door has a lock – she clamps the hacker provided to her over the keypad and keeps watch, tense and wary. Silence, previously her friend, now seems to press down like an accusation.
The beep of a valid code makes her twitch. She steps though as the door slides open, eyes darting, but nobody is there.
Thank the Users. She breathes out slowly and reaches white-gloved fingers toward a desk—
“Well, well. Fancy meeting you here.”
“Improvement mods,” the scientist offers, but cringes back at Tesler’s glare.
“Improvement mods,” Tesler finishes, glowering. “This is still a prototype – one of a kind. Your task is to keep it safe until I can take it before Administrator Clu, understand?”
“Yes, sir!” All of them except the scientist bark. Paige goes on to venture, “What resources—“
“No.” Tesler cuts her off. “Pavel, I’m making this your responsibility. Give your trainee some experience on Commander level assignments.”
“Oh, absolutely, sir,” Pavel says, smirking at Paige. “It would be my honor.”
“General?” Paige questions, teeth gritted.
“You’ve earned some time off,” Tesler says. “I’ve been pleased with your work these last few cycles. Relax. Practice your music.”
“Of course, General,” Paige says. She shoots a smug look at Pavel as she leaves to keep up appearances, but her mind is churning.
Calm. Perhaps this isn’t as bad as she’s making it out to be. If the mod disc disappears under Pavel’s watch, power will tip in her favor; after such a serious error, Tesler will be slow to trust Pavel with anything of importance for a while. And downtime will allow her to act freely.
Yes, this could be a good thing. All she has to do is go back to her quarters to allay suspicion, and then the real work can begin.
“How’s it running, Ren?”
“Ren, we haven’t seen you in a while!”
Paige waves but doesn’t stop to talk, signaling later to any program that approaches. She finds Tron where he usually is: the central hub, a living space dug into the raw code of the Outlands. It isn’t nearly large enough to house all the programs outside, let alone everybody in the Resistance; there must be a mission planned that she doesn’t know about for so many programs to be gathered there.
“Renegade!” Tron doesn’t quite smile at her, but the deep frown he usually wears softens. “What are you doing here?”
“There’s something big running in the processes,” Paige says. “After you’re done with whatever is going on outside, we should discuss it.”
The hub, despite acting as Tron’s living space, is really more of a command center. Tron himself stands in front of a communication console; a couple of other programs sprawl across couches or raised seats in front of their own screens. There are too many witnesses present to talk openly.
“Outside,” Tron sighs. “Yes, there’s a raid planned. Do you want to go along?”
Paige taps her fingers against her thigh. The improvement mod disc is important, but…
“Absolutely,” she says. “We’ll discuss the new issue when I get back.”
“Be smart,” Tron warns.
Paige tilts her head, hip cocked, insolent. “I always am.”
Tron snorts and turns back to his console, long fingers flying over holographic data. Paige wriggles her own in response even though he’s no longer looking and heads back outside. This time she exchanges greetings with her fellow rebels: an arm-clasp, hand gripping below the elbow and forearms pressed together, the angle just off enough that circuits don’t touch. It’s an intimate gesture, but they’ve earned it. She’s been though battle with each of these programs; they’ve saved each others’ processes more than once.
“So who’s heading up this raid?”
“I am,” a voice rumbles from behind her. Paige turns sharply, nearly smacking the taller program in the chin with her helmet.
“Renegade.” Cutler spreads his arms in welcome. “Haven’t seen you in a long while.”
“I’ve been busy,” Paige retorts, but she steps in close and slaps companionably at his back.
“But we haven’t exactly been idling, right?” He nods at the programs around them and there’s a laughing roar of confirmation. “And we’re running hot tonight. You coming along?”
“Wouldn’t miss it for all the admin privileges in the system,” Paige says. “Where do you want me?”
“Well, since you’re lit up so pretty…”
Two left, two right, Paige signals, looking to her right. Her partner this raid, a program named Lysa, nods.
Tron Squad (Paige didn’t get to pick the name) consists of six members, all reasonably competent in combat, and all a little bit touched in the root files. Nobody else would want to be the distractions, after all.
Paige nods back at Lysa and they both lean low over the body of their lightcycles. Paige counts silently to three before twisting her wrist and engaging her cycle’s battle mode. Nearly immediately a bolt of orange energy streaks by their helmets.
“Go!” Paige shouts, pushing her lightcycle as fast as it can run. “We take out the guards before running the barricade!”
“Left or right?” Lysa shouts back.
She cuts drops out of battle mode for half a milicycle and swerves hard to the right. She can feel Lyra cut behind her and re-engages, leaving an impenetrable ‘X’ for any ‘cycle that could want to ride between them.
Another half-milicycle, and she hears a crash.