- Day 38 -
"I'll get it!"
I jump up, dropping the book I had been shelving into the soft lap of the small armchair which is sitting awkwardly in the middle of the floor, and bound down the short entryway to the door. Sam looks up from the "bubble level" he has been battling with, what is probably a precautionary word tangling on his tongue. Our new apartment is spacious and white walled with windows everywhere, and it has a real, proper door unlike the garage we've been living in; a door which has just been knocked on. More because I want to seize the opportunity to actually test it out than because I'm concerned about who is on the other side; I make a point of putting an eye up to the peep-hole before reaching for the doorknob. Through what seems like a narrow glass tunnel, looking distorted and rounded because of it, I can see Lora Bradley with her arms full of what looks like a . . . what's the word . . . large basket.
"It's Lora," I call back to Sam, and he emerges at the end of the entryway as I open the door.
I start talking before I've really gotten the door open, but she doesn't seem to mind. She's an older woman, but not so ancient looking as Flynn was and considerably peppier, with blonde hair and playful blue eyes with little creases in their corners. She's practical, but feisty, and you can tell it by the smile which is always flirting with the corners of her mouth, even under her most serious expressions.
"Hello Quorra," she says, "how's the move going?"
Sam strides up behind me.
"Slowly," he grumbles. She throws him an indulging look.
"That's generally how moving goes, last I checked."
I try not to laugh, but I do, and it comes out as a silly, snorting, barking kind of sound which I try to mask as a cough. Lora smiles at me, and Sam rolls his eyes. I elbow him gently in his side, and he shakes his head at me before looking up at Lora again.
"What's in the basket?" he asks.
"Housewarming present," she says, "and you'd better take it from me before I drop it. Three bottles of wine and a new DVD player are heavier than you'd think."
"Well there goes the surprise," he says, chuckling as he takes it from her. She shrugs.
"What makes you think we need three bottles of wine?"
"Alan thought you should have a red, I told him you're young and are going to want champagne. After arguing about it in the liquor store for ten minutes we just gave up and bought one of each plus a Chianti for when we visit," she grins impishly. Alcohol intimidates me, personally, so I'm more daunted than amused by the idea of three very expensive bottles of it, but Sam looks more or less un-phased.
"I guess we'll need to throw a housewarming party, then," he says, and Lora nods at him approvingly. Bored with the exchange, I interrupt before either of them can say anything else about social obligations and distilled grapes.
"Lora, do you want to see what we've done with the place so far? I have a picture I could use some advice on hanging."
I'm not lying. Sam found me a giant panorama of a sunflower field, and I can't decide if I want it over my bed in my room, or if it would be better over the mantel. Though he hasn't said so, I think Sam would prefer it stay in the bedroom . . .
Lora's expression crumples a little, albeit good-humoredly, as she answers me.
"Thanks, but not today hon. I've got a pile of papers on my desk at home that I need to get through if I want to get to sleep before eleven tonight," she sighs, rolling her eyes up to the ceiling, "but Alan and I are breaking for dinner at six, and you're welcome to join if all of that . . . IKEA assembly starts to get to you. Call me cheap, but I was thinking Olive Garden."
Sam and I eagerly agree, and Lora departs, leaving us with an armful of alcohol and housewarming gifts that we have no idea what to do with, seeing as our every possession –including our disassembled shelving— is scattered either on the floor, in a pile, or in a box somewhere. We settle for unceremoniously dropping the whole basket onto our newly constructed coffee table.
I return to my book, cradling it in my hands for a moment before shelving it, appreciating the smooth texture and vibrant green color of the hardback cover. Books are one of the few constants between my old home and my new one, and they help to push away the sense of displacement that sometimes creeps over me. I love them whether I've finished reading them or not.
Just as I lift my arms to place the book on the shelf, though, I am overcome by a sudden, disarming wave of nausea, and a burning beneath the silvery emblem –which Sam says now looks like a tattoo— on my arm. I swallow hard, glancing up at Sam to see if he's noticed me flinching. He hasn't, just as he didn't yesterday, or on Monday.
This is the third time it's happened this week.
Tattoo is technically the wrong word for what's left of my circuits, really. Sam started calling them that, and it's how I explain them to people like Lora and Alan, who want to know why there are tiny ringlets over my collar and a long diagonal band of white running from one of them, across my torso and all the way down my right leg. Not every circuit made it from the grid to this world, but my most distinctive markings did, and they raise some questions. Sam calls them my "connect the dots" tattoos whenever someone asks about it, and I've always laughed with him. I have a perfectly symmetrical set of former lightlines on my back, too, like a chalk outline from a crime scene TV-show (which I find disturbing and Sam thinks are fascinating) around where my disc used to be. And of course there's my arm. Of all the weird markings on my new body, that's the one that I get asked about the most. Everyone wants to know what it means. I usually tell people it's a symbol I invented when I was a child and tattooed to myself when I was a teen, which is weird for me, because I've never really been either. Programs mature so much faster than humans . . . and we're born ready, in adult bodies. The way the users change over time still amazes me.
Of course, most of living here amazes me. All things considered, I haven't been here that long . . . Which is why I've decided not to say anything to Sam yet about my arm. For all I know, this might be normal for me, and has just taken this long to surface. I don't know. And if there is something wrong I don't know what he could do that wouldn't involve re-uploading the grid, zapping me back into it, and repairing me there. Seeing as I have no desire whatsoever to go back there after what they did to my people and how many innocents died just for us to get out last time, and since I'm not even sure it would be possible to re-upload it anyway, that doesn't seem practical. Whatever it is, I'll figure it out on my own. Sam has enough to worry about . . . starting with that bubble level.
He's trying to hold it to the wall while sticking something called a "command strip" to the back of a picture frame with his other hand, propping the frame awkwardly on his knee while he restless with it. I step over a pile of boxes and loose tools to take it from him.
"Honestly Sam," I laugh at him, and he just shrugs at me. I shake my head and take one of the command strip things, too, struggling to read the instructions on the back. I know how to read, of course, but I process things differently now than I used to, and it's more difficult this way. Sam says I'm an incredibly fast learner and a quick reader, but I feel so impossibly slow most of the time . . . apparently crunching a series of two numbers over and over again goes a little more quickly than reading something word by word or letter by letter. Or at least, that's how I understand it. Binary made more sense when it was just how my thoughts moved in my head than it does out here; though Sam did his best to explain it. He's tried to explain a lot to me.
Some days it's easier to take in than others. Computers are at once fascinating, and nauseating. A working system is wonderful, like the one on Sam's laptop. I can feel how satisfied the programs are when I touch it . . . but then there's whatever is happening in some of the Encom computers. I don't know what bothers me about them, exactly, but using them makes me feel like I'm no better than Clu himself. Maybe it's the "cloud" they're hooked up to, too many users programs in the same space feels weird to me after a system as homogeneous in its origins as the grid. Maybe it's something else. Whatever it is, I hate being near it, and I refuse, refuse to actively engage in it by using one of their computers.
Sam looks at me expectantly, snapping me back to reality. My thoughts tend to meander sometimes. I shake my head once as if that will somehow force them to settle, and finish pushing the strip onto the back of the frame.
"You know, we should probably get lunch soon," I say as I take another strip from him and stick it onto the frame. Sam looks startled.
"Is that significant?"
"We ate an hour and a half ago."
"Well an hour is a long time, isn't it?"
I'm sure I make a face at him, pursing my lip or lifting an eyebrow or a little of both, but I try not to. That I'm hungry all the time isn't his fault, after all. I'm trying to learn to eat only three meals so long as the sun is up, and keep it to five in a 24 hour period, but doing a pretty mediocre job of it. I'm constantly, constantly snacking on things. It had been getting better, up until about a week ago, but now I've reverted and it's as bad as when I first got here, as if I can't get enough energy for some reason. I had two bagels a bowl of cereal and half a pint of orange juice this morning, plus some of those soy-meat sausages that Sam bought for me, and I'm still starving. What I could really use is some pancakes . . .
Actually, that's a great idea.
"Well," I tell him, "when it is lunch time, we should make pancakes again. With fruit. Please."
He throws a despairing look at the kitchen, which is currently home to a haphazardly stacked, absolutely chaotic collection of boxed cookware. Sam rarely cooks but he knows I want to learn, and he purchased far more pots, pans, spoons, ladles, and meat-pounding-mallet-thingies than I could ever possibly need simply because he had no idea what I would need. There must be four skillets over there . . . and Use—Lor—goodness knows how many spatulas.
"Right," I sigh, turning towards him again, "I'll go through that next!"
I shove the picture frame back into his hands and run to the bookshelf, putting them away as quickly as I can (without being rough with them) so that I can move on to our hilariously over-furnished new kitchen... and the pancakes. Sam chuckles over my enthusiasm, and I almost have to laugh at myself, too. All of these human needs, and this whole new world, and I'm excited about a circle of roasted batter no bigger around than an identity disc. (But they're kind of cute, as far as foods go, really. Especially the tiny ones that Sam likes to make, a little bigger than a cookie so he can just eat them plain with his hands.)
It doesn't seem wrong to be excited though. It's silly, but a good silly, because the fact of the matter is that this is my life now. Press conferences and packing and having to eat for my energy and showering without wasting time playing with the hot and cold water knobs and reading without using numbers as letters and— well, everything. And to think, I've barely even begun here. There are so many tiny details the books could never really have shown me, which Flynn never prepared me for, and they're so absolutely, wonderfully absorbing because they're all still new to me. I felt old in the grid. Trapped. Frozen. Here is . . . freeing.
The magic is in the details, and it helps me to block out the nagging sensation that there is something important that I'm ignoring, that –by leaving the grid to hang in that tiny little device around Sam Flynn's neck— when it comes to abandoning the place that gave birth to me, I am no better than his father.
Author's note: Many thanks to ScribeOfRED and Tumblr's Maccasmiz for beta-ing this chapter!