“Now remember,” Sam said as Quorra removed her helmet and he put the Ducati on its kickstand. “It’s fine to slip up around anyone else, worst case scenario they’ll think you’re a little fruity, or a tourist. But tonight, stick to our story and try to act like you’ve been here all your life, alright? And if all else fails – not that I think it will – you were raised in a cult and you’d rather not talk about it. Alan and Lora... they know me better than anyone, and they care more than anyone. If anyone’s gonna notice something strange going on around me, it’s them.”
Quorra gazed up at the hilltop house in awe. Like Flynn’s hideout and Sam’s (soon-to-be former) dwelling, it came with a view. Warm light poured from the windows, and beyond that, Center City blanketed the valley like a system glittering in the night. Like home.
Sam put a hand on her shoulder. “Hey, I’m serious.”
“I’m listening,” she assured him, smiling and reaching up to give his hand a squeeze. “I know how much they mean to you. I’ll try not to disappoint.”
Sam smiled crookedly. “You’d never disappoint. And don’t get me wrong – they’re cool, they won’t judge you for being a little odd. But since you’re with me, they’ll be paying attention, and if they think there’s something off about you, they’re going to wonder. They spent my younger years fighting off leeches and conmen and other shady types who thought Gram and I’d be easy targets, and that’s not an instinct you lose easily.”
“I’m far too loveable to fall prey to such ill-founded suspicions.”
Sam wrapped his arm around her shoulder and paid back her squeeze tenfold. “Conversely, they’re just as likely to think you’re another one of my rescues. And then they’d want to do whatever they can to help. ’Cause they’re cool like that, and you’re just that loveable.”
“Relax, Sam,” Quorra said cheerfully. “Nobody’s out to delete me here. I’m not worried, so neither should you be.” She wrapped her own arm around his waist, and together they walked up the driveway. “But you’re right, we’re not ready for their involvement yet. First we need to be able to prove our story in a way that is safe and stands the test of common sense.”
“So glad you didn’t have any of this ‘common sense’. Made things much easier.”
“Your own words, Sam Flynn!”
Sam reached for the bell, but Quorra beat him to it.
“I can’t believe I’m going to meet the Users of Tron and Yori!” she whispered, all but bouncing on her feet with excitement. “Their programs are legendary. The Protector of the Grid and the Portal Guardian. Heroes from an ancient system, codestream-crossed lovers... Oh, I so hope they can update them to be compatible with modern operating systems.”
“Shh,” Sam warned as the door opened to the lady of the house.
“Hi,” Quorra squeaked, shining like a Christmas tree even without her circuit lights. “I’m Quorra! You must be LoraB. I’ve heard so much about you!”
“And nothing but good, from the sound of it,” Lora replied, laughing. “Come in, come in, welcome. Here, let me take your coats. It’s lovely to meet you, Quorra.”
“And it’s good to see you again, Sam.”
“You too, Lora. Alan,” he added, nodding to Alan, who joined them from the living room with a wide smile and a robot-print apron.
“Sam.” The men shook hands, and then Alan turned to offer his hand to Quorra. “And the lovely lady from the arcade. I’m Alan Bradley. Nice to finally meet you properly.”
Quorra shook his whole arm. “The honour is all mine, sir. I’m Quorra.”
He seemed to be expecting something, but she couldn’t think of what. “Yes, Quorra.”
“Verne,” Sam supplied.
Quorra slapped a hand to her forehead like she’d seen the people in sitcoms do. “Yes, my second name! Of course.”
“Verne like Jules?” Alan asked.
Quorra’s eyes went wide. “You know Jules Verne?”
“Sure I do.”
“I mean, his books are so old, he –” She had to pause to add some breath to her words. “– he died such a long time ago –”
Alan smiled and gestured to his apron. “He’s one of the founders of science fiction. I wouldn’t be a very good fan if I didn’t know Jules Verne.”
And suddenly Quorra was square in Alan’s personal space. “What was he like?”
Sam may or may not have groaned out loud; Quorra’s attention was elsewhere.
“Excuse me?” Alan didn’t seem to know whether to back away or stand his ground.
“Jules Verne! What was he like? He died a long time ago, so Sam didn’t know him personally, just from his books. But you were born a long time ago, so you did know him as a person, right?”
“I’m not that old!”
Quorra’s face fell.
“Um –” Sam said.
“And here everybody’s always saying he looks so young for his age,” Lora quipped.
“Oh. I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to offend.” Quorra forced a laugh. Laughter always helped break tension, right? Right! “I’m sure you keep yourself perfectly up to date and compatible with the latest developments. This is just still so new to me, I’m not used to the human time scale yet.”
“The human time scale?”
Her eyes became impossibly wide. She shot a frantic look at Sam, who bore a matching, though better disguised, expression of ‘oh shit’, and clapped her hands over her mouth.
Alan, in turn, shot a look at Lora. “Looks like we organized a sci-fi convention without realising it.”
Sam perked up.
“A what?” Quorra blurted out.
Alan and Lora looked on with identical raised eyebrows.
“We uh,” Sam said, rubbing the back of his head and forcing little laugh of his own. “Quorra and I have been sort of play-acting the past couple weeks. Cowboys and aliens kinda thing. I’m the cowboy, she’s the alien. Sometimes we slip up and stay in-character around people who aren’t in on the joke.”
Catching on, Quorra slapped her forehead again, with extra theatricality. “You’re right, I didn’t even stop to think about it. How awkward.”
“I’ll say,” Lora said, looking a little stunned, yet also faintly amused. “After all those years of Sam acting like a cat near a vacuum cleaner about the subject, I didn’t think the day would ever come.”
“What day?” Quorra asked, puzzled.
Sam’s face reddened at an alarming rate. “That’s not what I meant.”
“I feel like I’m missing something here.”
“It’s okay Sam, we’re all adults here. Alan and I are no stranger –”
“Honey, we agreed not to tease him.”
“Alright, I’m sorry. Consider the subject dropped. You’ll have to forgive me for assuming, though. Like I said, Alan and I –”
“Huh?” Quorra asked. Then Lora winked at her, and suddenly all the User oddities began to click into place. “Oh.” A smile spread slowly across her face. “Oh.”
“Oh come on, not you too,” Sam groaned.
“Your family mistook it for a mating ritual.”
“Yeah, but can we not discuss that in front of my family?”
Quorra knew enough about Sam’s strained relationship to the Bradley-Baineses to realise they may have blinked back some sentimental tears at ‘my family’. She had also learned enough about User sensibilities by now to ignore it.
That, and this new flustered Sam was fascinating.
“Why didn’t you tell me it could be a mating ritual? Nobody ever told me your kind had such fun ones.”
“Good, because considering who taught you about mankind, I definitely didn’t need that visual.”
“Ah, to be young and able to channel your inner prude cowboy without cracking up,” Lora said, leaning into Alan and pressing a hand over her heart.
Sam hid his face in his hands.
“Oh, come here,” Lora said with a laugh, pulled his hands down, and stood on her tiptoes to press a kiss to his cheek. “Let’s eat. You’re skin and bones.”
“She’s only saying that because she didn’t do any of the cooking,” Alan said.
“Shush honey, let me mother the boy while I can.”
“I made plenty for everyone, though,” Alan assured Quorra, while Lora and Sam went ahead into the dining room. “Knock yourself out.”
“I will, Alan-1,” Quorra promised.
Reaching back to untie his apron, he gave her an odd, but fond look. “I’ve accumulated a lot of usernames over the years, but that’s one I haven’t heard in a long time.”
“Should I not call you that? I can drop the act if it’s too much.”
“No, you don’t have to stop unless you want to.” Alan-1 smiled at her. “Knock yourself out, program.”