It's all a matter of timing. A moment of hesitation could mean everything.
Quorra doesn't think this when she pauses at the edge of the lightcycle grid, waiting for two sentries to pass. It occurs to her as she runs for the lightrunner that she might have gone by without being spotted, but what are a few seconds?
ooo ooo ooo
It's all a matter of timing.
Here is what might have happened: the lightrunner would have burst in out of nowhere, destroying Clu's lightcycle in his moment of near-triumph. Sam Flynn would have climbed in, Quorra would have gunned the engine, and they would have escaped into the Outlands.
But what are a few seconds?
Sam Flynn is holding his ground, but he won't be for long. His heart beats a painful, panicked rhythm as he tightens his grip on the humming disc in his hand, scowling at Clu's approaching lightcycle. He's tired and sore, he's scared (though he won't admit it), and he wants nothing more than to—than to what? To escape? To go home? To find out, once and for all, what has happened to his father?
Or to wake up—to escape this nightmare reality, and end what is looking to be the longest night of his life?
The lightcycle speeds closer, a faceless menace in orange and black. Sam clenches his jaw. He's not going to run; he won't give Clu the pleasure. He doesn't know what he's going to do. He just knows that he's going to fight.
He doesn't even get a chance.
Clu draws closer—Sam raises his disc to strike—
—and then pain explodes in his leg, through his leg, and he falls to the ground, dropping his disc. He cries out in pain, tears pricking at his eyes, one hand groping blindly for the wound and encountering the warm stickiness of blood. And he hears, almost in the back of his mind, the continued roar of the crowd, and the hum of Clu's lightcycle suddenly ceased. For a moment he sees a flash of orange—Clu's foot, stepping near him—and then a heavy boot connects with his stomach, and for a moment he can't even breathe. He gasps, he coughs, and he hears Clu's derisive laugh, so unsettling because it's in his father's voice.
And then he hears something else—the loud roar of an engine, and the thud of something heavy against the floor of the grid. Sam manages to open his eyes and half sit up, his weight balanced on one arm, and he sees, very near him and very near Clu, who has turned toward it, a—he wants to call it a car, but it looks more like a dune buggy or something similar, dark and sleek like everything else here.
"Illegal combatant on the grid." The female voice booms out above the noise.
The door to the buggy opens and Sam sees the program driving it, a slim figure wearing the same kind of face-obscuring helmet Clu is wearing now. There is a tense moment of almost-silence between them.
"Illegal combatant on the grid."
Clu laughs again, and he picks something up off the ground—Sam's disc. He doesn't even throw it at the program. He tosses it lightly, and it lands on the buggy's second empty seat.
"Game on," Clu says, and Sam can almost imagine the smirk on his face.
Sam manages to push himself up on one knee. The gash on his left leg is still painful and bleeding, but he wonders, staring at Clu and the buggy just a few yards away, if he'd be able to make a run for it, dive into the buggy, and—
"System failure. Release Rinzler."
The roar of the buggy's engine increases again, and Sam stares, shaking with pain and exhaustion, as its tires squeal and it speeds away, pursued seconds later by three lightcycles in red. Just moments after that, there's an enormous explosion on the far end of the grid, but Sam doesn't know what that might mean for the program driving the buggy. He doesn't get to find out, either, for Clu turns and strides back over to him, his helmet now gone, an unsettling smirk on his face.
Sam glowers at him, and then, quick as lightning, Clu strikes the side of his head. Sam loses what little balance he had, falling once again to the hard floor of the grid, seeing nothing for a moment but a sometimes multi-colored whiteness, his head now pounding along with his injured leg and his heart.
He hears chaotic noise around him—something roaring overhead, another explosion in the distance—and then, Clu's voice (his father's voice, but full of more coldness than Sam could even imagine his father being capable of).
Hands grab his arms, pulling him up. "On your feet," says a harshly electronic voice, far too near his ear. Sam twitches away from the sound, which only makes his head pound even harder, but he doesn't struggle to get away from the programs as they pull him to his feet. There's no point now.
He can barely walk without limping heavily; the gash along his left thigh throbs and burns even when he's only putting a little weight on it. The programs have to almost drag him to the mouth of Clu's ship, where Clu stands waiting, that self-satisfied smirk still on his face. They pause there, and Sam stands up a little straighter, putting as much weight as he can on his good leg and clenching his jaw.
Clu just smirks. "You're a little harder to kill than I thought you'd be," he says.
Sam Flynn wants, in that moment, to shake free of the programs gripping his arms and deck this bastard, who cares if he looks like his father. Several variations on this theme run through his mind, but he instantly thinks better of them. He has a feeling Clu would kill him if he tried something like that and—he thinks of his leg, still throbbing and bleeding a little.
If he can bleed here, he can probably bleed out.
Sam Flynn only glares at him.
"Hm. Well. Lock him up," he says to one of the programs. "And guard him. Closely."
He walks away and Sam is forced forward again, still limping as they half-drag him onto Clu's ship and into a small chamber he hadn't noticed on his first visit here. One of the programs pushes him roughly inside; the door hisses shut behind him and he is alone in the tiny room. He collapses against the wall, sliding down until his body hits the small bench installed there.
Sam leans back, closing his eyes. He doesn't know what's going to happen next. He's not sure he wants to guess.
After a while, he sleeps.
ooo ooo ooo
Quorra shakes as she drives through the Outlands, back to the safehouse. She tries not to glance at the seat beside her, empty.
Empty save for the disc of Sam Flynn.
Even after she arrives in the safehouse garage, she sits, silent and shaking still, staring at Sam Flynn's disc. She doesn't know how she's going to tell him, but she knows she has to. Sam Flynn… it has to be—it can only be Flynn's son. Clu wouldn't have gone to such elaborate trouble for a random program. Perhaps for a random User, but… She shakes her head. After a moment, she picks up the abandoned disc and climbs out of the lightrunner.
The safehouse is dark. He meditates in the center of the room, and as she approaches, the disc held loosely in her left hand, he speaks.
"Quorra." His voice is a low, husky whisper. "I dreamed of Tron. First time in years."
She says nothing, but kneels beside him, bowing her head.
"I'm afraid something's happened."
Her grip on the disc tightens. "Something has happened," she says quietly.
There's a brief silence, and then Flynn speaks again, his voice suddenly strained. "Quorra."
She looks up at him. He stares intently at the vast window that reveals the Outlands and, in the distance, the city. She follows his gaze, and knows instantly what has captured his attention.
Shining in the distance is the clear, white light of the portal to the Users' world. Flynn turns to her, and she can see that he is shocked. "Quorra, what...?"
She swallows and says, her voice still quiet, "I was at the lightcycle grid when Clu showed up. He… he had a User, and he went up against him in a match. I tried to intervene, but…" She holds up the disc. "All I got was this."
Flynn doesn't even glance at the disc. "Who was it?" he asks, and she knows exactly what he means.
She doesn't know how to tell him gently. She wishes she did.
She wishes, for just a moment, that she had been better—that she had intervened at the right moment, that she had saved Sam Flynn, that she had averted this inevitable heartbreak.
She can do nothing but tell him, though. He wants to know.
"They said his name was Sam Flynn," she says, her voice just above a whisper.
His eyes widen for just a moment, and then he closes them and bows his head. "Thank you, Quorra."
She says nothing. There's nothing to say.
Gently he takes the disc from her hand. Then he stands and walks forward, out to the window opening to the Outlands. She watches him, but does not follow. She stays kneeling, silent.
ooo ooo ooo
He stares at the portal, then looks down at the disc in his hand. He takes it in both hands and opens it. The portrait of a young man appears with a flicker of blue-white light, and for an instant he feels as though he is nothing, as though he is floating, cut off and drifting away from the solid world beneath his feet.
He shouldn't be able to recognize him, not after twenty-one years and well over a thousand cycles, but he can see in this face a bit of himself, and a bit of Jordan as well. It's Sam, his son, his wide-eyed, mop-haired kiddo, all grown up now.
And he's here, on the Grid.
Flynn sighs and closes out the disc. The portrait of Sam vanishes with a flicker-flash of light.
It's an obvious trap, almost too obvious. He knows what Clu expects him to do with this revelation: he expects him to act rashly. To rush back onto the Grid to rescue his son, or to take advantage of the Portal, and attempt an escape to the real world.
Either course would give Clu ample opportunity to accomplish what has eluded him for these thousand cycles: to acquire Flynn's own disc, the master key, and escape to the real world himself. Flynn knows he cannot allow that to happen, especially now, with the Portal open and ready to be used.
He looks back up at the star-like point of light in the distance, and then his gaze drifts down to the city, where Sam is no doubt being held.
He can't do nothing, either, he realizes, not while Sam still lives. He watches the horizon and calms and organizes his thoughts, trying to decide what course of action to take next.