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            Twenty years have come and gone since their Grid-side adventure. If not for Quorra’s sheer alien existence, he might’ve let Dad’s increasing confusion and Roy’s constant skepticism about the Grid being a real place convince him it had all been a dream, or something. Lora, weirdly enough, had been the first to believe them completely.

            Maybe ‘cause it explained how Alan disappeared when Dad reappeared, he thinks, eyeing the faded Flynn’s Arcade sign before the traffic releases him to roll up onto the sidewalk.

            There’s nothing particularly different about this day, Sam thinks as he pushes down his kickstand long enough to unlock the front of the arcade and roll his motorcycle inside. He relocks the doors, pulls off his helmet, and flips the breaker, wincing as My Heart Will Go On screeches its way back on track in the jukebox. Thankfully, the song’s almost over already, its Irish flute quickly fading under the true ambience of the room.

Note to Self: update the LPs again, he thinks before heading straight to the TRON game hiding the stairwell to Dad’s old secret office. And don’t let Quorra choose ‘em all this time, he adds with an eyeroll as Kissed by a Rose starts up.

            There’s nothing different, he muses, but there’s a strange prickling under his skin that’s left him increasingly restless over the last few days. He has no plans to do anything different from his periodic check-in and maintenance of the Grid computer. Sam has no expectation – not even a hope, really – that Alan might be in the office when he walks in, and yet . . . something in his gut tells him he’s on the cusp of change.

            He refreshes the flashlight, adds his latest note to the diary of Welcome Back letters he began a couple years after Dad gave up, then sits down at the desk to see what, if anything, has happened since the last diagnostic he ran.

            Though he doesn’t really need to – it’s been, what, three, four months since he was last here? – Sam blows, then wipes the touchscreen free of dust with one arm, waking the computer from its doze.

            02:03 min to Aperture Clearance, the computer reads.

            Huh. Lucky bit of timing there . . .

            The prickling under his skin becomes a shiver of excitement as he watches the countdown, a crazy idea coming to the forefront of his mind. He could . . .

            01:15 min to Aperture Clearance.

            Not letting himself think it through too much, Sam yanks his phone out and shoots a warning text to Quorra, Roy, and Lora – and, after a brief hesitation, adds Dad to the list, too.

            00:30 seconds

            He hits SEND, sets the phone aside, and braces himself against the desk with a deep breath as he hears the laser power up behind him.




            Here goes noth-

*  *  *  *  *

            The jolt is pretty much the same – maybe even a little more jarring, since he doesn’t have someone else shielding him, this time – but the sudden pressure of being underwater is the real shock to his system. Sam can only thank his training and the air already in his lungs for preventing him from taking an instinctive gasp for air that doesn’t exist.

            He still flails briefly, but then stills, trying to feel out where his buoyancy would naturally take him. When that doesn’t work fast enough, he releases a few tiny bubbles of air, and chases them towards the surface.

            His lungs are screaming by the time he breaks through. He gasps, pants, coughs a couple times, then orients and swims to the nearest shoreline.

            He might hear someone scream as he stumbles his way onto dry land, but he’s too focused on catching his breath and calming his pounding heart to really notice.

            He’s just about ready to sit up and see where he is – realize what he’s done – when pain shoots through his shoulder. Any latent doubts he might’ve had about his childhood visit to the Grid flee when he jerks up to see a masked figure in red-lit armor standing over him with a beam katana pointed at his face.

            “Aw, hell,” Sam says, voice still rough with strain. He flops onto his back and raises his wrists for handcuffs (or whatever equivalent they have here), and says, “Take me to your leader.”