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Reconnaissance

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Anon stalks through the barren neon-lit streets of Tron City, clinging to the sides of buildings and staying in the shadows as much as he can.

There is an ever present red glow highlighting the streets, courtesy of curfew notification banners plastered over every inch of available space on buildings, sidewalks, and billboards.

Anon had left Tron City earlier in the cycle when he had insisted he gather intel rather than Gibson, just as the curfew was about to go into effect. He didn’t have any place to go and didn’t want any sentries or nosey programs on his case—there’s bound to be Clu sympathizers just waiting to turn in a rouge program for some contrived reward offered by Clu.

He’d come back to the city flying on Cloud 9, eager to bring comfort to a certain ISO named Gibson, no last name. He wasn’t thinking logically, and had not remembered the curfew in his euphoric state.

Regardless, Anon needs to bring good news to Gibson, curfew be damned. They have been scouring the Outlands for so many cycles that even the slightest hint of a lead will do them both good.

Further, the ISO is Anon’s to protect, and thanks to whomever resurrected both himself and Gibson, Anon has the chance to do it right this time. There’s no Abraxas virus to infect Gibson, and no suicide mission from Flynn to assure Anon’s derezolution.

Anon figures the curfew is actually a good thing. All he has to do is find a program or two brave enough to be out during curfew. They’d be more likely to be against Clu. He’d Just have to be careful for any potential Clu-sympathizers.

Right on cue, just as Anon rounds a corner, a section of the building to his right recedes, forming a door into which Anon is yanked in to by unknown hands.

Once inside, the door replaces itself and darkness engulfs Anon.

Automatically, Anon grabs the hands on his shoulders and flips whoever they belong to on their back in front of him. Anon grabs his disc from his back, the edges hum and glow to life as the weapon primes itself, and holds it to the neck of the program now pinned beneath him.

“Whoa, hold up there, friend!” The program shouts, holding his hands up in surrender.

The only light in the room comes from Anon’s white circuit lines, and the soft blue glow of the pinned program’s. The pinned program’s face is illuminated by the combined glow, highlighting a wrinkled face, marked with a fearful expression reflected in Anon’s glossy helmet.

Deciding the old program isn’t a threat, Anon clicks his disc off, replaces it on his back, and helps him up.

“Sorry to startle you, son.”

Anon doesn’t respond, deciding its best to keep quiet until he knows more about this program.

“Not a talker, huh? Well, no matter. I’ll take your decision not to derez me as good faith.”

Anon maintains his silence, looking over the program.

“No one should be out during curfew. I hear Clu just authorized a derez on sight policy,” the old program states, “Damn kids will get what’s coming to them now,” he adds, barely above a mumble, but Anon’s helmet picks it up clear as day.

“Here, I’ll help you out of the City,” the old program says and motions to a new door sliding into existence opposite to the one Anon came through.

Anon tilts his head in curiosity.

“You don’t look like you’re from around here,” the old program states, noticing Anon’s curiosity, “You don’t have one of these.” The old program lifts his arm to reveal a red armband, faintly glowing, that looks to have been burned onto the program’s suit.

Anon isn’t too surprised Clu would go to such lengths to keep tabs on programs, and it only furthers his dislike for the dictator. Anon wonders if there are programs without bands; they would be the ones with the best anti-Clu intel.

The old program puts his arm down, and, without a word, exits the room through the newly created doorway. Then, three sentinels replace him and move to surround Anon.

Anon scorns himself for letting his guard down around the old program. He quickly grabs his disc and assumes a defensive stance, his disc humming to life, eager to cut through the air.

“By order of Clu—” One of the sentries starts, but Anon cuts him off with an unnaturally fast disc thrust to the face. The words of the sentry trail off into incoherent and distorted mumbles as the sentry’s face derezzes, the rest of his body following shortly.

Both Anon and the remaining two sentries stand stunned at what just happened. Anon himself had barely registered the attack; something just grabbed hold of him and acted for him. But with Anon still feeling in control of his body.

The remaining sentries recover from their shock and move to attack Anon, but Anon is as fast as before and grabs the staff of the sentry to his right, and impales the sentry to his left in the center of his chest, body breaking into cubes. Anon turns to the remaining sentry who has fallen to his knees.

“Please, I have—” The sentry’s words are cut off by Anon’s disc as it decapitates the sentry, head and helmet falling back, rolling briefly, and then derezing into small cubes, body following.

Anon does not know what is wrong with himself. He looks down as his hands which are holding both his disc and the light staff he took from the now derezzed sentry lying in a pile of cubes before him. The circuits on his arms and hands are glowing blindingly white, along with his disc and the staff and the rest of his body.

Anon drops the staff and it recedes into a baton as it hits the floor. He hears a gasp at the door the sentries came in and sees the old program, who then turns to run as he makes eye contact with Anon.

Anon finds himself running out of the room and tackling the fleeing program. He turns the old program over and presses his disc to his throat.

“Please, don’t!” The old program shouts, “I was just trying—”

“Silence!” Anon finds himself shouting, cutting off the old program. Only, Anon’s voice is now much deeper, distorted, and is accompanied by a dull clicking sound.

“I need intel!” Anon shouts again, voice still altered, pressing his disc harder against the old program’s throat. Anon does not know what he is doing. His actions, and now words, seem to have minds of their own, without Anon deciding to do, or not do them.

“Th-th-there’s a-a club t-two blocks d-down w-where re-rebels hang out,” The old program stutters out, “Th-the sentries don’t g-go there b-because there’s a f-firewall that b-blocks anyone c-coded with Clu’s m-mark,” The old program once again motions to the red band on his arm.

Anon fears for a second that he might press into the old program with his disc and derez him, but thankfully he finds himself clicking off his disc and getting off the old program.

Sure, Anon doesn’t feel bad to derezzing sentries, but a non-combatant program? That’s not Anon, and whatever part of him that did what he did just seems to hold the same set of morals, leading him to believe that it was him that acted and not some rogue element within his code.

His mind once again returns to the fact that he hasn’t been the same since his resurrection. Only now, he knows that it’s not just his thoughts that have changed. Either way, he still feels like himself, and didn’t not feel like himself just now.

So, for the time being, he’ll have to deal with these new changes and hope they don’t interfere with his priority mandate to protect any and all ISOs—well, Gibson—at all costs. Hell, this new revelation of heightened combat effectiveness can only help him protect his ISO more effectively, right?

Sometime during his internal monologue, the old program had gotten up and fled down the alleyway Anon now finds himself in. He had registered the old program’s departure—there isn’t really anything that Anon doesn’t register; being a security program—but didn’t really care about him anymore. If he ended up running to Clu to tell him about Anon, it wouldn’t matter. Anon has no intention of coming back to Tron City once he gets what he came here for.

So, Anon picks the direction the old program hadn’t fled in and makes for the club where the supposed rebels are. He decides to not cling to walls anymore, but simply takes out his light-cycle baton, rezzes it, and speeds away.

+

Anon figures he’s in the general vicinity of the club when he passes through something akin to passing under a warm waterfall. Blue ripples spread from where Anon passes through the anti-Clu firewall and Anon takes that as his cue to dismount his light-cycle. He notices that once he passed through, where there once was just an empty rundown street, there’s now a lone building; nondescript, with no sign or door of any kind.

Anon approaches the building without running into any sort of defenses or programs. But, once he’s a foot away, a circle pops up on the building’s wall and starts to bounce up and down, a smaller circle inside rotating left to right. Once the circle settles, a light flashes from the center of the circle and envelops Anon, scanning him. The light recedes, flashes blue and beeps a cheery tone.

“Welcome, program!” The circle says suddenly in a cool female voice, it’s form expanding and contracting along with the words it spoke.

The circle disappears and is replaced by a rectangular outline in the shape of a door. The surface of the door glows blue and the same voice speaks again, “Please enter.”

Anon stares at the glowing door for a second and then brings his hand up. He moves his toward the door and is slightly surprised when it passes right through. There’s a slight tug, like the door is welcoming him in. Feeling no pain or feelings of derezolution, he steps through the door.

+

Anon finds himself standing in a large room full of programs. The room is bathed in neon light of every color, changing in response to loud dance music pumping from every corner of the room; all the programs moving with the beat. No one acknowledges him or turns in his direction. Anon looks behind him and catches the blue door fading out of existence.

Anon starts wading through the crowd and after several minutes, the room shifts, as if moving with Anon. Where once there was only a room full of programs, there are now counters and tables. On the tables are male and female programs dressed in almost nothing, circuit lines running freely from head to toe across bare forms.

When Flynn created the grid, it took on the form of the outside world. Programs looked like humans and had all the parts to match. There are slight differences, but one can find similar comforts of the outside world within the grid, just with a twist—the grid having evolved on its own.

Anon takes in the sight around him, having never experienced anything quite like this. Ever. He stands unmoving in a crowd of dancing programs, occasionally being bumped. To say Anon was awestruck was a bit of an understatement. He had no idea programs could do some of the things he’s seeing being done before him, and is only broken out of his trance when a program slams into him.

“Hey watch it, fucker!” The program shouts—human curses were among some of the things to translate to the grid. Anon doesn’t respond, still shell-shocked.

“If you aren’t going to dance, get off the dance floor,” another program says sternly to his right.

Anon concedes and backs off the glass floor, which, he notices, changes color along with the beat of the music. He isn’t here to cause trouble and getting into an altercation wouldn’t help him. He starks walking over to a counter and doesn’t miss the stares he gets from programs around him as he moves through the crowd.

He wonders what they’re all staring at him for when the bartender addresses him suddenly, “Hey, you! No helmets aloud!”

It clicks with Anon then why he’s getting stared at, and remembers what Gibson said to him just before he left: about retracting his helmet and how it’d earn other programs’ trust. So, Anon does just that, helmet retracting into his suit with a whoosh and soft click. The full volume of the room hits Anon then and he struggles for a second as he gets used to the environment, already missing the comfort of his helmet.

“Hey cutie,” a voice says behind him, and Anon turns to face the owner.

“Ooh, and better from the front.” A female program says, dressed in what can be only described as a hooker’s outfit, complete with three inch heels, breasts popping out and all.

Slightly uncomfortable, but unfazed, Anon addresses her.

“Hi,” is all he can seem to say in response.

“And a voice to match,” she continues, “the name’s Candy.”—human creativity had also translated to the grid.

Anon, oblivious, makes no attempt to gives Candy his name, and wonders how she could compliment him on his voice after only one word.

“Can I get a name, honey?” Candy asks.

Anon thinks for a moment. Flynn hadn’t given him a name, but Gibson did.

“Anon,” he replies.

“Ooh, kinky,” Candy says, leaning into Anon.

Still oblivious, and more uncomfortable, Anon moves away from Candy.

“Oh, am I not your type, honey?” Candy says with pouty lips, noticing Anon pulling away from her.

“Ah, come on Candy, leave the poor guy alone,” A voice says from behind Anon and Candy.

They both turn and look up at the ninety percent naked male program on top of the neon lit counter Anon had found himself back into, currently gyrating his hips in obscene ways. The ten percent of clothes the program has on are a pair of pitch-black briefs that hug the program’s well-coded ass and bulge, and a pair of black combat boots.

Upon noticing the male program, Anon becomes transfixed. He can’t seem to take his eyes away from his body and its movements. Candy notices and lets out a huff, “Oh, pooh. Fine, you can have him,” she says, and then storms off.

“Oh, don’t mind her,” the male program says as he stops dancing and sits down on the counter, legs dangling off the side, and placing hands on the edge of the counter. Anon’s head becomes level with the program’s chest and Anon pictures a hoodie draped over his shoulders and looks up expecting green eyes. Only, he sees blue ones bordered with black eyeliner and glitter, and sandy blonde hair.

“My name’s Rocky,” the program says with an award winning smile, extending his hand for Anon to shake.

“Anon,” Anon replies, tentatively taking Rocky’s hand.

“Hello, Anon,” Rocky says back, smile broadening, and replaces his hand on the counter.

Anon has no idea what to do or say next and finds himself drawing a blank and ends up staring at Rocky’s chest, imaging once again a hoodie on his shoulders.

“You like what you see?” Rocky asks, smile turning into a grin.

Anon feels his face flush and he turns away to look into the crowd of dancing programs.

“Hey, it’s alright. I don’t mind the attention,” Rocky says, “besides, I don’t think it’s me you’re really looking at, right?”

Anon turns back to Rocky at his comment, with a confused expression, slightly worried the distractingly semi-nude program had read his thoughts. Rocky smiles again when he sees Anon’s face, taking his reaction as confirmation.

“What do you mean?” Anon asks, genuinely curious.

“I’ve seen that look you’ve got before. Most people have it when they need to pass off their attraction for another person onto someone like me. It’s like you’re looking at me, but through me at the same time, picturing someone else,” Rocky explains plainly, but with no hint of condescension or disdain for being thought of as nothing but a piece of meat.

“Oh, I see,” Anon says in response, and feeling guilty, adds, “I’m sorry.”

“Hey, man, don’t be. I don’t mind the attention. I kinda get off on it. Plus, you’re more attractive than most people that come through here.” Rocky says with a wink. Anon flushes again and feels the urge to put his helmet back on. Rocky just laughs playfully, “Aren’t used to being complimented are yah? It’s kinda cute.”

If Anon could get any redder, he’d light up the entire goddamn room, and makes to leave the counter. Rocky jumps down from the counter and grabs Anon’s arm to stop him from leaving, “Hey, I’m sorry.”

Anon, surprisingly, doesn’t react defensively to Rocky’s grip and stops. Rocky and Anon are standing on level ground now; Rocky is slightly taller and broader, Anon notices.

“I didn’t mean to make you upset,” Rocky says. Anon feels his face cool off and looks at Rocky, who is looking apologetic and sincere.

“It’s fine,” Anon huffs, and Rocky brightens, smile returning to his face like he won the lottery.

“Hey, just talk to this guy, alright? Tell him how you feel,” Rocky says, turning serious. Anon stiffens at the suggestion, unsure of what would happen if he brought up his feelings to Gibson, “he could surprise you,” Rocky adds, noting Anon’s introspection.

“Maybe,” Anon says.

Rocky's smile falters slightly, “when you're ready, then,” and then grins devilishly, “but, you've got to tell me all about it when you do it, alright? It's my fee for all this free advice I’m giving you.” Rocky claps his hand on Anon’s shoulder and Anon imagines it's Gibson smiling at him, with his hand on him.

“You've got that look again,” Rocky says, with a knowing smirk.

“Sorry,” Anon blushes.

“You're so cute. There's no way this guy will say no,” Rocky chuckles.

Anon tries his hardest to scowl at Rocky, but it recedes into an amused grin as he allows himself to hope that maybe Gibson could appreciate his affections and possibly return them. His thoughts return to the time when Gibson first asked to see his face, and the look of joy that Gibson got when he let him.

“But, hey, don’t think about it too hard, alright? Then you’ll be doing nothing but second guessing yourself,” Rocky says in his serious tone, almost like talking to a child, “Okay?”

Anon nods. He likes Rocky. Not in the same way he likes Gibson, but as a friend. Maybe even his first one, other than Gibson, of course; but Anon feels like he and Gibson can be more than friends. Hopefully.

Perhaps it was Anon’s subconscious telling he’s think too much and has forgotten something, but he then realizes why he came to Tron City, and this club, in the first place.

Rocky, sensing there’s more to Anon than just unresolved attraction, says, “was there anything else that you came here for? I mean, I’d be flattered if you came here just to see me, but I don’t think a guy like would come to a place like this just for fun.”

“Uh, yes. I actually came to get some intel,” Anon replies.

“Oh, yeah? Well, you came to the right place, then. There are secrets all over this room,” Rocky says mustering with his hands, “and lucky for you, I’ve heard all of them. You’d be surprised what people say when they ignore a guy like me,” he adds with a proud smile, still no resentment toward being considered a piece of meat, “what do you want to know?”

Anon considers this, and whether or not he should reveal that he and Gibson are looking for ISOs, and that Gibson is an ISO for that matter; remembering his run in with the old program, a.k.a. Clu sympathizer. He doesn’t think Rocky would betray him, but the less people know about them, the safer they will be.

“I’m looking for programs who are willing to fight Clu,” Anon says, deciding to start broad.

“Well, that’s just about everyone here,” Rocky says, motioning with his hands to the rest of the room, “but, that’s a hard thing to do here in Tron City. It’s Clu’s main base of operations, and he’s shut down any all attempts at a coup. This club is the only safe place left in Tron City. It just appeared one day. That voice that greeted you when you came in was already here as well, and, ever since, this place has been a safe haven for anyone against Clu, and he’s never been able to get in. No one knows why.”

Anon’s spirit drops slightly at Rocky’s words. There might be no hope against Clu if what Rocky says is true. This club sure isn’t the beachhead needed to fight against Clu, especially if it contains the only programs left willing to resist the maniacal dictator.

“But hey, it isn’t all bad,” Rocky says, noticing Anon’s face fall at his explanation, “While Clu might have locked this city down, I hear he hasn’t had as much success with another city, named Argon. There are rumors the renegade that’s giving General Tesler a hard time, is, or at least knows Tron.”

“That’s impossible,” Anon states, “I saw Clu derez Tron.”

“Many say they saw Tron fall to Clu, and believe it,” Rocky replies, “but, believing that he somehow survived gives others hope.”

“They are mistaken,” Anon says solemnly.

“Yes, they may be. But, can you take that chance?”

Anon looks at Rocky curiously, wondering once again if he can read his mind.

“You don’t look like the type to stay here and wait for others to fight for you,” Rocky says with a knowing, yet endearing smirk, “And a guy like Tron could really tip the scales against Clu.”

“I’m not looking to fight,” Anon says without thinking, “only to protect.”

Rocky smiles warmly, making the connection in his head, “This guy means more to you than just attraction, doesn’t he?”

Anon blushes, and avoids eye contact with Rocky.

“Tron is your best bet, Anon. You can’t pass up the possibility. At the very least, he can give you the advice you need to make the decision you already know you need to make.”

Rocky has to be a mind reader, Anon decides. He looks back at Rocky and gives him an affirmative head nod. Rocky returns the gesture. He’d grown quite fond of Anon in their short little chat, and can only hope the best for him and his friend.

“I need to leave the city,” Anon states.

“Come on, I’ll show you the secret back way,” Rocky says excitedly. He grabs Anon’s hand and pulls him along. Anon, surprisingly, allows himself to be lead away.

+

They wade through the crowd of programs moving to the beat, breaking from the crown after a good minute. Rocky starts to jog, Anon following suit, their hands still connected. Anon has to resist the urge to observe the way Rocky’s nearly naked body moves, finding it quite hard to do when Rocky’s in front of him.

After another minute, the sound of the club dies away and the lights disappear from view. It’s dark now, the only light coming from Anon’s suit and the soft blue circuits lines on Rocky’s bare skin.

Then, Anon notices a faint blue light in the distance. It grows into the blue circle from outside the club, bouncing gleefully as they approach it. It seems to be suspended in the air this time, instead of on a wall.

“Hello!” The circle says cheerfully, in the same cool feminine voice, once they find themselves standing front of it.

“The Outlands, please, just outside of town,” Rocky addresses the circle.

“Here we go!” The Circle says, and then disappears. It is replaced by a rectangle of blue light, just like the one Anon went through to get in the club.

Rocky turns to Anon, and takes Anon’s other hand, “this is you,” he says.

“Thank you,” Anon says, wishing he could say more to express just how thankful he is.

“It was a pleasure, Anon,” Rocky says with a smile. He then leans in and kisses Anon softly on the cheek. He lets go of Anon’s hands, and smiles fondly at Anon.

Anon finds himself blushing profusely, face no doubt beet red.

“Don’t forget to talk to this guy,” Rocky says, sternly but playfully.

Anon nods, and then turns to the rectangle. He pauses just before entering the doorway of light, finding himself speaking without thinking again, “Where can I find you?” He says, turning to face Rocky.

“Well, I’ve always wanted to see what life is like in Argon. Perhaps we might run into each other there,” Rocky says with a smile, and then turns and starts walking back in the direction of the club.

Anon watches Rocky’s receding form, and smiles fondly. He then turns back to rectangle of light, and steps through.

He has much to tell Gibson.

+++