Going into the portal reminds her of being born. Quorra's memory logs have large gaps in their earliest sections, with hardly any mappable data for the first four centicycles, but what she does remember is largely concerned with a spinning sensation, motion cohering as she developed a self which could move, and a sudden sharpness to the light around her as she reached the shore. The clarity of the light is what she calls her first true memory when someone asks --
It's been hectocycles since that's been an acceptable topic of conversation. Basic programs come online with a tingling sensation, they say, sluggish in their bodies until they're fully booted up, like heavy sleepers with no morning caff. ISOs, maybe because they're all born outdoors in the Sea of Simulation instead of in the city hospital, tended to be more concerned with their surroundings than their sensations. When the system was younger, asking about a program's first memories was a popular pick-up line in the ISO bars.
Of course, it's also been hectocycles since there were any new programs born. Early memory logs are often archived as unimportant. Hospitals have long since torn out their old compilation birth chambers and repurposed them as repair/recompile suites for the high-end programs.
Users write in their books that their lives flash before their eyes as they derezz. Quorra wonders, as the portal light coheres into several different wavelengths and splits her across their spectrum, if that's what's happening to her. It's not quite a spinning sensation, but it's the closest mapping she can find.
Then there's a blank in her memory.
Quorra blinks, trying to resolve the date stamps and determine the cause. She scrambles to her feet, hand closing around her disc, and takes a defensive stance over Sam's body. Sam is moving, groaning like he's in pain -- well, Quorra is also in pain. If it's the same pain, he's probably fine. It's very dark here, and few of the lights are sharp. There's a dim yellow light panel in the wall above them and a console with a handful of status displays, but the air here smells like the Outlands and it's gritty, bringing to mind the aftermath of an explosion.
"Sam?" she says. Sam's been through the portal before; he's a User. He'll know if this is a malfunction.
"Oh man," Sam says, pushing himself up onto his hands. "We made it. I -- Dad."
Quorra tucks her hand under Sam's arm and helps him stand. "This is correct, then?"
"What?" Sam says. "Oh, yeah. This is Dad's old lab. It's -- hey, let's move out of range of the laser, okay?" He stumbles away from the console and she follows.
This doesn't look like a place that Flynn would design, but perhaps it's been damaged, which would also explain the smell. Quorra reaches back to touch her disc again, but abruptly processes the memory that it's not her disc at all. Her hand spasms open.
"Hey, are you okay?" Sam says. "I mean, wow. You're here. How did that even work?"
Quorra shrugs. "Flynn never explained the portal."
"But you feel okay?" Sam asks again.
"I feel low on energy, but it's not too bad," Quorra says. She shrugs again, analyzing the motion this time. "And -- did my clothes get damaged? My light circuits are unresponsive and the material feels almost inert."
Sam bites his lip. "Clothing is usually inert in the real world. The User world, I mean. I feel kind of weird myself and, hey, I'm just now noticing the lack of, uh, undergarments. Clean clothes sounds like a really great idea. And a shower. And a pizza. Seriously, all the pizza." He scrubs at his face with his hands.
"Pizza is a food?" she confirms.
"Pizza is one of the best foods," Sam says. "Dad never coded up a pizza, seriously? In all that time?" He studies her for a moment. "Come on," he says, wrapping one hand around her upper arm and tugging. "We have a lot of time to make up for."