Chapter Seventeen – Guilt

Dan was only truly out for a few seconds. When his awareness returned, all momentum had ceased. Beyond that, Dan knew very little. Every inch of him was overpowering his mind with pain, and his head felt hot and tight, like pressure was building up inside it, ready to burst out. He couldn’t move at all.

Dan dimly saw two feet approach him at a run. They were metal feet; soulborg feet. He was lifted up quickly. All was darkness. And then he was falling. Or no, he wasn’t. He was still. But he felt like he was falling.

Dan blacked out again.

A few seconds later he was back, his vision clearer this time. He was on his bed. The lights were off again. Dan blinked. Things started to come into focus. He tried to move his arms, but couldn’t.

Two figures appeared in his range of vision. One was RR. Dan recognized her instantly. The second was Heleer.

Heleer ran to him the moment she saw him, RR close behind. Dan tried to get up, but RR put a powerful hand on his chest. “Keep still,” she said, her voice calm and unhurried. “You’ve sustained multiple injuries. Moving will make them only worse. Do not touch his arms,” she added to Heleer in a sudden stern tone. Heleer withdrew her hand quickly. Curious, Dan looked down. He felt his stomach contract.

The arm he had twisted was ruptured. The metal glove was perfectly intact, but Dan’s upper arm was split in several places, blood rapidly sliding down the skin and splashing onto the already soaked bed. Dan looked further. A line ran down his body, just left of center. It was black, like a burn line. At least on the edges. The middle was pure white. It was also perfectly clean. The clothes had been blasted away in the line, and Dan could see white skin all along the line. Just white. There was no trace of red or even the faintest pink anywhere. The sight alarmed him. How could his skin be the wrong color?

The panel hiding the Shaft slid open and something came out. It was metal, but it wasn’t remotely humanoid. It quickly approached Dan on four wheels and came up on his right side.

“This is a robota, Dan,” RR said in her calm voice. “Lie still, and it will fix your injuries.”

Dan did as he was told. He was in too much pain to do anything else. The robota reached out a long arm, and Dan felt it pressing against his head. Then he felt nothing at all. All pain ceased. With horror, he saw other arms unreel from the robota and begin to explore his injuries without the slightest amount of pain. He could feel nothing.

Somehow, RR kept him from moving, panicked though he was. In the end, Dan lay back on the blood-soaked pillows, just waiting for it to be over. He saw Heleer watching him, and latched onto her light brown eyes, trying to draw some measure of calmness from her. This didn’t work. Probably because she looked as scared as he felt.

After what seemed like many hours to Dan, during which the ceiling lights flickered on and off sporadically, feeling began to return. At first Dan was sore. Then feeling returned to his arms, and he felt pain. It was much better though. He looked down and saw that all the injuries had been mended, long red lines the only sign left. The faint white line still ran the length of his body, but color was slowly beginning to return to it. Dan felt winded, as if he had been trying to climb a mountain all day. He could barely keep his head up.

Only when the robota had finished completely and returned to the Shaft, did RR speak again. “You’ll be fine now, Dan,” she said. She leaned towards Dan slightly. “Now tell me: what happened? How did you get out of the wall unit?”

Dan looked up at her. He had always had the impression that she knew everything. Was this some sort of trick question?

Dan was on the verge of explaining how something had connected inside his gloves, but just before he did, he happened to glance behind RR and saw the camera on the far wall. For the first time Dan could remember, it wasn’t watching him. It wasn’t watching anything at all.

The camera was pointed straight down, hanging limply from the wall. It was off. The camera was actually off. Of course. The power was still out. That’s why the lights had dimmed and the Barrier had dropped. Some of it seemed to be back on (the lights were working at the moment), but the camera… If Dan was right, RR had seen nothing. She really didn’t know what had happened. She didn’t know what his gloves could do. Dan glanced at the Shaft. She didn’t know that he had a way to get out.

Could he risk it? If he made something up to keep his gloves a secret, and RR already knew the truth, then she would know he was planning something. But if she didn’t know… Dan had to try.

“I’m not sure what happened,” Dan said, assuming what he hoped was a confused voice. “There was some sort of explosion at the table, and I was flung back. The Barrier came back on right on top of me, and the next thing I remember is waking up here.”

RR didn’t reply. She stood there watching him for several seconds. To Dan, it seemed like a long time. Too long.

“Very well,” she finally said. “You will have to stay in bed until you are fully healed.” Dan felt his newly healed muscles relax. “The SR Units are currently not operating, so both of you will stay here for the remainder of the day.” She turned and started to leave, but then paused and looked back at Dan. “The Barrier is down at the moment,” she said calmly, as if this were just another part of the schedule. “It will be back up shortly. Do not leave. If you leave, you will not be able to return when the Barrier comes back on.” She then turned and left through the Shaft.

The moment RR had mentioned it, Dan’s eyes had flicked to the Barrier. She was right; it was gone. There was no faint blue glimmer, no slight distortion in the air. He could see the outside hall clearly.

Even with the knowledge that his gloves could penetrate it, Dan had never seriously considered somehow escaping through the Barrier. He knew he would have to deactivate it somehow, and he didn’t have the slightest idea where to even start. But now, with the hallway so invitingly open before him, Dan was ready to leap out of his bed the moment RR left. He didn’t however. He forced himself to remain where he was.

Out of the corner of his eye, Dan could see Heleer watching him. He had promised he would never try to escape, but they both knew that such a desire didn’t disappear overnight. Dan also didn’t know if Heleer believed the promise he had made. She likely believed he had tried to forget about escaping, as indeed he had, but did she believe that he had really abandoned the idea completely? Dan doubted it, if the look she was giving him now said anything.

Dan knew only one thing for sure: he had made a promise, and he knew full well that if he broke it now, he would lose her forever. If he was ever to escape, he would have to convince her to come with him first.

So Dan sat there, resolutely not moving, even though every muscle was yearning to see what was in the hall.

After a moment of silence, Heleer sat down on the bed next to Dan. “Does it hurt?” she asked, nodding towards his arm.

Dan moved his fingers experimentally. It did hurt, but it definitely felt better than it had a few short minutes ago. He shrugged his shoulders (that hurt too, he realized). “Some,” he said.

“What happened?” Heleer asked.

Dan’s first instinct was to tell her all about his gloves, but he paused. The last thing he wanted to do was lie to her again, but was telling her what had happened the best idea? Without his gloves, he had no way to escape. He knew Heleer would never do anything to harm him… but she could easily tell RR about his gloves if she thought doing so would keep him here. Would she go that far? Dan glanced at her, wondering.

It wasn’t worth the risk.

“I’m not sure,” he said, opting to lie as little as possible. “There was some sort of blast. The table was destroyed. My gloves were too. I don’t really know what happened.” Technically it was all true.

Heleer looked at his reddened arms with sympathy. “Can I do anything?” she asked.

“I could use some water,” Dan said, realizing how thirsty he was. His mouth and throat were all dry.

Heleer got up and went to the bathroom. There was a dispenser of small paper cups next to the sink, and she came back a moment later holding one carefully in both hands. She didn’t give it to him though. She stood by the side of the bed for a moment, looking at him with an odd expression on her face.

“What?” Dan said.

Heleer handed him the water. “I doubted you,” she said, still looking at him with the same expression. “For a moment, when RR mentioned the Barrier, I thought you would run. But you didn’t.” She sat down on the side of the bed again and looked at him. “You stayed. Just like you promised you would.”

Dan wasn’t thirsty anymore. It had been hard enough lying to Heleer. It had been bad, knowing that she probably didn’t believe him. But now it was much worse. Now she did believe him, and though it made no sense to him, Dan felt guiltier than he ever had. He looked into her eyes, and knew he had to tell her. He had to tell her that despite his best efforts, he still meant to escape. He had to say it now, before she went further. But he couldn’t bring himself to say the words.

Heleer swung her legs up onto the bed so that she was sitting next to Dan, resting against the sparse pillows (the robota seemed to have cleaned them of Dan’s blood). “My mother would have left in a heartbeat,” she said. “I thought you were like her: impatient, obsessed, unchanging… But you’re not. You’ve changed. You’re different now, and… and I’m glad that you are.”

Not knowing what else to do, Dan drank his water. Beside him, Heleer leaned back against the pillows, a contented peacefulness on her face. Dan glanced at her out of the corner of his eye. He couldn’t say anything. He couldn’t bring himself to destroy that happiness.

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