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He was scouring the Outlands for any signs of the ISOs.

That was the reason he’d give, if there was ever need for one, but he knew there was not. The Leader had given him free rein; he could go where he wanted, do what he wished, unique among programs. Even if Clu happened to find out about this place, he might not care. He believed Rinzler was utterly loyal, and Rinzler had never given him reason to think otherwise.

Would never.

The cave was his secret.

The entrance was at the bottom of an energy pool, just one among many at the base of the cliffs. It was tight, barely bigger than Rinzler’s shoulders, but he was strong and flexible, and he had chipped away at the sharp places with his Discs. It required only a dive, and a turn, and a rough twist as he pushed his shoulders through. He passed through a short tunnel, breathing easy within his helmet, leaving a trail of hexagonal bubbles behind.

He surfaced. The cave was close and quiet inside, lit only by the ambient glow of the energy which filled it to half-height. The light flickered and danced against the smooth, curving walls, and the slap of the waves Rinzler’s movements had raised was loud against the stillness. For an instant it drowned out the soft growl that spilled from his helmet… but only for an instant.

He pulled himself up onto a ledge, folding his legs beneath him in the near-dark. The pose tickled at his memory, but nothing came forth: nothing but the cave, and the many, many times he’d done this there, watching the waves in silence. He turned his head this way and that, admiring the contours of the walls. If he touched them they would be perfectly smooth, the way few things were on the System. A thousand cycles of erosion had made them so; a billion ticks of the system clock, embedded in endless layers of blue.

He didn’t touch them. Instead his helmet folded down, whirring in the dark. No one could see him here. No one would know. His thoughts and feelings were secret, here, as hidden as the cave itself, and he let his eyes slip closed as he tried to read them, reaching for access.

If only he knew what they were.