Dan did try to forget about escaping. He really did. He tried to feel content with his life and with Heleer, and want for nothing, but he just couldn’t do it. The knowledge that there was something beyond the walls ate at him like acid. Every time he was in the SR Unit and felt sand, saw the sky, or breathed cold air, he remembered what it really felt like. Every time he saw Heleer, he knew there was a whole world out there which he knew nothing about. He couldn’t stand the thought. He felt like he belonged out there. More and more, the feeling that he was a prisoner, trapped in his own home, grew.
And yet he came to realize that he couldn’t leave. Not without Heleer, anyway. He might have lived alone before she came, but now the thought of doing so again made him, for lack of a better word, afraid. He was afraid of living without her, but he was more afraid of losing her altogether. And he knew that he would lose her instantly if he told her the truth. That was a price he couldn’t pay. He needed Heleer in his life. It was as simple – and as complicated – as that.
Still, there had been no chance to escape. In fact, for the longest time Dan hadn’t even heard the rumble overhead which he now knew was caused by the machine Darren had flown. He didn’t know what this could mean.
Even though he struggled with being content, there was no reason for anything to change. There was no way to get out, and as long as Dan kept his burning desire to escape under control, Heleer need never find out just how powerful it was.
Five years later, that all changed.
Ever since receiving his gloves, the SR Unit had routinely shut down in the middle of its cycle once every few months, and Dan had gone downstairs into the bedroom. Here, part of the wall would fold down into a narrow table, and Dan would place his hands and arms on this table. Several straps and latches would clamp down on the metal gloves, keeping them still while various scanners ran beneath them. Miniscule robotic arms would unlatch parts of the arm, checking to make sure everything was working properly. Sometimes parts would be replaced, or smaller plates would be switched out for larger ones as Dan grew. The whole process took about ten minutes, after which Dan returned to the SR Unit, and continued as if nothing had happened.
One day, Dan had one of these routine examinations. Blinking a bit in the light (it had been night in the SR Unit), he went down the stairs and over to the wall, where the clamps and straps latched onto his arms. Dan waited patiently while parts of his arms were unscrewed and adjusted.
And then everything changed.
Without warning, there was a violent shaking. Dan was thrown to one side, but his arms remained clamped firmly to the table. He got his feet under him just as the lights flickered briefly, and then died. Dan wondered what was going on. The power had gone out a few times before, always leaving Dan and Heleer stuck in the SR Units, but the shaking was new.
Dan heard a frantic banging upstairs. Heleer! When the power went out, the SR Units shut down, but the doors remained bolted shut. As the walls were transparent, Heleer could see outside… and see that Dan wasn’t in his unit. She knew about his gloves, but she didn’t know that he was bolted to the wall just below her. From what he could hear, she was banging on the wall of the SR Unit. He tried to call up to her, but he doubted very much she could hear him. Nothing got through the walls of the SR Units.
It was at this moment that Dan realized something else, something which made him briefly – very, very briefly – forget about Heleer. With the power down, the Barrier was gone. There was nothing preventing Dan from walking out into the hall. He could escape, here and now.
If he could get free. Dan instantly tugged on his gloves, but they wouldn’t budge. There must have been some extremely faint light coming from the ceiling, because Dan could make out the clamps holding him down. He looked closer. Maybe there was a switch or something he could press.
Half of his arms were dismantled, being held apart by small robotic arms, frozen in the middle of checking for problems. Dan could easily see the collection of boxes, circuits, and devices which made up his arm, but none of them offered a solution to get out. Heleer banged harder on the wall upstairs. Dan had to get to her, to let her know where he was. He also had to escape.
He pulled again. His arms were locked securely in place. Dan tried twisting. He was at least able to twist his arms back and forth some, but he stopped when he saw what they were doing. With most of their innards pulled out, the arms were flexing, bending together, folding. Dan didn’t like the look of that. He didn’t want to break them.
There was nothing for it, however. Dan could hear Heleer still hammering on the walls of her SR Unit. He knew she would be panicked, not knowing where he was or what had happened to him, and being unable to do anything about it. He had to get out. He looked at his arms for a moment, weighing the consequences.
It was no use. Heleer was more important. So he twisted, and twisted, and twist—
Just as two metal devices within his arms touched, there was an explosion such as Dan had never known. A shockwave slammed into him, wrenched his arms right away from the wall – leaving bits of them stuck in the clamps – and threw him the length of the room. At the same time, Dan saw the table he had been sitting at be destroyed. It was obliterated, as it literally blew into a thousand pieces, and then those pieces also shattered, spraying the floor and wall with tiny shards of metal.
Dan slammed against the floor a second later and finally skidded to a painful halt against the bathroom wall. Everything hurt. He couldn’t breathe. He felt as if he had been crushed – a sensation he had only felt once before, when he jumped at the Barrier.
Only one thing penetrated his mind: his gloves. He had seen the devices connect. That was what had caused the explosion. Dan didn’t care that he had nearly blown himself up. Only one thing occurred to him: He could get past the hatch. Between the shaking, the explosion, and being flung across the room, any thought of the Barrier had been driven from his mind.
His vision oddly blurred, Dan bent forwards, trying to see what in his gloves had caused the explosion. He saw several devices, but couldn’t tell which might have connected. He grabbed one arm and twisted it, further and further, trying to see what had happened. He had to be able to do it again.
Two small devices inside his glove touched. Dan saw them clearly. He also saw the blue spark leap between them, and the corresponding blast of energy surge through his glove and out through his palm. The shockwave flew across the room and smashed into the disintegrated table, smashing it into even smaller pieces.
Dan looked blankly at his glove. This was it. He could get out.
The lights clicked back on. With them came the Barrier. It was at this point that Dan realized he was sitting right where it usually was. It turned on with him in the middle of it.
For the most painful two seconds of his life, Dan felt like he was being torn apart. Then the Barrier seemed to make up its mind. Dan was flung back into his home and slammed against the wall with more force than he had thought possible. His mind went black before he even hit the floor.