Even Tron City had not escaped the destruction Flynn had caused. Having at last reached the very outskirts of the once-great city, its namesake could see many places where the buildings had been partially destroyed in the blast. He wondered how many unfortunate and unsuspecting programs had been killed without even knowing what hit them.
Flynn, is this going to be your legacy?
No. I won't let it be.
Glancing upwards, he noticed that the once-prominent End of Line club building was glaringly missing. He remembered leaving there in pursuit of Flynn, on Clu's instructions, only a few megacycles earlier, so what could…oh, he knew. Of course, Clu had destroyed it to erase any witnesses.
Tron had chosen to edit the settings of his armor in order to conceal the T-symbol on his chest, which had made him so iconically recognizable in the past. At one time, he had been proud of wearing it; to him it had represented freedom and justice. Now he was too ashamed of himself to wear it. He felt that he had done far too many wicked things to warrant bearing that symbol, which had, at one time, given hope to so many.
He was a dishonored soldier, unworthy of his war ribbons.
And at the moment, he seriously doubted he would ever wear it again.
During his time as Rinzler his helmet had been a mask, hiding his true identity from the rest of the Grid, but Tron wore it now with some relief. He didn't want anyone knowing who he was, not yet. There were too many potential questions that could be asked, too many ugly truths that would be revealed. No, for now, he had to remain anonymous. Just another nondescript program.
The more pressing problem, however, was the massive guard patrols moving throughout the city. He'd been waiting outside Tron City for a couple megacycles, trying to figure out their patrol times and patterns so that he could slip into the city unnoticed, but had been unsuccessful so far.
His concentration was so completely focused on the problem in front of him, that he failed to hear the footsteps behind him until a young woman's voice said, "It looks pretty bad, doesn't it? The damage to the city was pretty extensive."
Tron whirled around to face the speaker, immediately bending into a battle-ready crouch, his discs appearing in his hands. His opponent was a solitary program: a slender female with long, black hair pulled back into a braid.
"Whoa, there," the girl said, holding her hands up in surrender. "I'm not your enemy."
"That remains to be seen." He glared at her circuitry, which glowed a bright yellow. "You're a renegade."
"Aren't you? Anybody hiding from Clu is a renegade, regardless of their circuitry color. You and I are on the same side."
"We are not on the same side." Regardless, Tron allowed himself to relax slightly, and he put away his discs. The girl was alone, and the terrain wasn't right for an ambush. He glanced back at the city limits, asking the question that had been troubling him for the past several megacycles. "How many were derezzed?"
"In the blast that happened seventeen megacycles ago? I don't know; several hundred maybe. They're still tallying the names. Why?"
He grimaced beneath his helmet at the estimated number. So many programs killed. And how many more would be found?
"What are you doing out here?" he asked harshly, trying to bury some of his pain with his suspicion of her.
The girl folded her arms and shifted her weight onto her left foot. "I think I should be asking you that. It's way past curfew. Any program caught outside the city after curfew gets sent to the games. Everyone knows that."
Then what are you doing out here? He cocked his head to one side inquiringly, but said nothing.
She must have caught his implication, because she responded with a knowing smile, "I don't have to worry. I don't get caught."
Oh, you don't, do you? And why is that?
"Where are you from?" the program asked, abruptly changing the subject. When several microcycles passed and he didn't respond, the girl's lip curled down into a displeased pout. "The silent type, huh."
"Tell me," he said, keeping his voice rigid as he struggled with sudden, irrational anger, "if it's so impossible to get in or out of the city after curfew, then how did you do it?"
"I have my ways."
She was baiting him and it irritated him more than it should have, but he didn't really care enough to wonder why. Closing the distance between them, he put a heavy hand on her shoulder and spoke in a tone that demanded a straight answer. "Tell me."
"All right!" she said, flinching at his firm grip. "All right, I'll tell you! But first, you have to promise me that what I'm about say, you will never reveal to anyone. If you do, I can't guarantee you'll live very long."
"I see." He'd figured that she wasn't working alone. "I'll keep my mouth shut."
"Um…could you let go? Please? You're hurting me." There was a slight catch in her breath as she spoke.
Glancing down, Tron realized that he was practically crushing her shoulder in his grip, and he snatched his hand away like he'd been burned. What is wrong with me? Why did I do that? I didn't even realize… He watched the girl rub her shoulder with a pained look on her face, and felt suddenly guilty. "I'm sorry," he muttered.
"It's all right, I guess. Now listen carefully," she began, her tone perfectly serious, lacking the playfulness it had had before. "The guard patrols are organized so that each group is always in sight of at least one other, eliminating any gaps in their security. Once curfew hits, nobody's getting in or out undetected unless they use the catacombs."
"A sophisticated network of tunnels beneath the city. They were built during the Purge by programs who were sympathetic to the ISOs and tried to smuggle them out."
"The guards don't know about these tunnels?"
"Oh, they know about some of them, and they keep watch over the entrances they've discovered. But it's nearly impossible to map the entire maze of tunnels, and it's also very easy to get hopelessly lost unless you know exactly where you're going. The guards don't venture very far inside, for fear of wandering around forever."
"And how do you know about these catacombs?"
"I don't think that's any of your business," she responded tersely.
"Oh, I think it is. How do I know that you're not trying to lead me down there to get me lost, like those guard programs?"
"You don't. But right now, I think you have no other option than to trust me."
Tron wanted to disagree, but knew that he had no chance alone against hoards of repurposed programs. He might be able to hold his own for a while, but he knew eventually he would be overwhelmed. After all, it had happened before. "I would at least like to know what you're planning to get out of this."
"Well, I may…request your…assistance on occasion."
"Aha. It figures." Tron crossed his arms. "What kind of assistance?"
The girl huffed a little indignantly. "That's really beside the point!"
He'd had enough of this. Leaning forward menacingly, Tron put his helmeted face very close to hers and said in a low growl, "If you think I'm going to let you use me in repayment for your help, you're very much mistaken. I have very specific reasons for wanting to get inside Tron City, and I won't let you be an obstacle to my plans. Once you get me inside, our acquaintance is over. Is. That. Clear."
She gulped visibly and said in a whisper, "Crystal."
"Good. Now, show me the entrance to these catacombs."