Written for this picture by noirstalk.
His system was all surfaces.
Four walls. Ceiling. Floor. All smooth and clean, force as much as structure. A blank read. Or not blank. Blocked. He was locked out.
His system glowed. Light and power, all white-edged blue that gathered in eight disk-sharp corners with matched precision. It hurt to look at. Visuals were still locked past adaptation, and there was no helmet to filter the light, to map targets and threats for him to track or break or end. No targets here. No threats. Just flat, perfect walls that glowed cold and blue and lifeless. Quarantine.
He was the threat. The program knew that much. A threat to their system, a threat to the tangled chaos past the opaque walls. Always a threat, always broken, always wrong. He’d been kept before. He knew that, too. Hard not to know. Not to drive himself in circles through the shattered loops of protocol and reprimand and memory. Processing was disjoint, connections linked and split and impossibly broken. Imperfect. But not past repair, not past re-use.
If he were useless, he wouldn’t have been kept.
Eyes stayed open, head low, shoulders drawn in their perpetual hunch. But there was nothing to look at, nothing to feel, no data to scan or read or process. No pain. Quarantine, but no feedback, no crackling shock built into walls, no internal limits or overrides to keep him still. Not that it mattered. They didn’t need pain or lockdown to hold him here.
He’d traced the outlines of his cage, red-lit lines dim contrast on the impossibly smooth walls as he’d placed a hand to ping and query. But he had no permissions here, and response didn’t come. It wouldn’t. Not for a hundred micros, a hex of millis, not for cycles, if they didn’t see the need. And he knew far better now than to think pings or calls or broken, voiceless screams would ever get an answer.
Not from them.
He’d sat back down. Stayed there, knees drawn up, head bowed. Waiting to be used. A stray misprocess caught, just for a moment, and something smiled inside, weary and lost and helplessly amused. Memory. He used to fight his cages.
Another micro of flat stillness, and he reached behind. His disks were docked—had loaded in with him, matched and synced and melded in one unit. A quiet click and it came free. Head tilted, just slightly, at the sound, sharp and quick and neat in audio. The first sound since he’d come here.
His noise was gone.
A moment’s lag. Or a micro, or a milli, but internals reported under sixty nanos, even if he could have laughed at the concept of trust where his own functions were concerned. A moment, then, and the joined disk came around. He stared at it. Flat circle, regulation size—both parts operating in the same space, no excess resource draw. The red-orange line of light traced the inside, bright and sharp with steady charge. His circuitry was dim, but from inactivity, not drain. He wouldn’t derezz here.
He would never, ever derezz here.
Grip curled around the blade, fixed tight, locked rigid, strained past hold or grasp or reason with force enough to shatter a weaker disk. But even inactive, even shut down, his code was stronger than that.
Then why am I weak?
The second sound. Audio registered effect before cause, noise before source. A harsh, rattling catch—high and sharp like the whine of an unpowered engine. Edged panic rose through the program’s processing, stare darting up to search for the input, break it, make it stop. It had to stop.
There was no input, here.
The sound cut, sudden and abrupt, hate and loss and shame curling in his core. Vocals weren’t permitted, speech not a function, but sometimes, somehow, it slipped through. No surprise, at this point. He was made of errors, past any standard or revision that could be applied. He couldn’t be fixed. Not that 'coulds' mattered, here. They had found him, and they would fix him. Pull him apart. Rebuild. Rewrite. Repurpose.
Rinzler lowered his head and waited for the users.