Dan’s determination in SR earned him a lot of painful bruises and barely enough energy to crawl out of the SR Unit. Despite the soreness of his muscles and the pain of his bruises however, he was happy. He had never given up. He hadn’t let the soulborgs win.
He steadied himself against the side of the SR Unit as Heleer emerged from the one next door. She looked at him quickly, her eyes noting his various bruises.
“What happened?” she asked, a hint of concern in her voice.
“I tried to climb a mountain,” Dan said. “They didn’t want me to.”
He could tell Heleer knew what he meant. She could guess, at least. She looked over his bruises once more, and then moved towards him, standing between him and the camera on the far wall.
“Please stop,” she said, taking his hand and squeezing it gently on the important words. “Please, please stop.”
Dan, however, had spent the better part of a day refusing to listen to more or less this exact message. His anger roused at her words.
“Why?” he said, not bothering to squeeze. “Why?!? Don’t you know what’s out there? Don’t you—”
Dan stopped. Heleer’s look had shifted from one of pleading to something completely different. She had taken a small step back, and was now looking at him… warily. With caution. But also with a hint of an anger Dan felt all too familiar with. Dan had never seen her look that way before.
“What?” he asked.
“My mother once said the same thing,” Heleer said. Her voice had changed. It was harder, colder. It was still her, but she sounded as if she were forcing herself to talk. Dan said nothing. Heleer had never talked about her mother before, or her father for that matter.
Heleer took a step closer to Dan. “Do you know what happened to my mother, Dan?” she asked.
Dan shook his head. He found the change in Heleer a little disconcerting.
“She was killed,” Heleer said abruptly. “Killed because she was obsessed with getting out. She was like you, always talking about what could be ‘out there’, and never realizing what was directly in front of her.” She took a step closer, until she was mere inches from Dan’s face. She looked him right in the eyes. “She always needed more; what she had was never enough. Never. Even though it was right in front of her.”
Heleer held Dan’s gaze for a moment longer, and then left, going down the stairs quickly. Dan was left standing there, looking at the camera. He couldn’t help but notice that it hadn’t followed Heleer at all, but instead remained focused on him.
So that was it. Part of it, at least. Dan knew there had to more to the story, more to the reason Heleer so feared anything beyond the walls. But he wasn’t stupid. He knew now he had hit a nerve with her. He wanted to understand, to know what had happened, but he had to be careful. He didn’t want her to shut off completely like she usually did.
Dan found Heleer sitting on the bed. The light was on in the bathroom, but she was ignoring it. She was sitting on the edge of the bed, staring at the floor, not moving. Dan sat down next to her.
“Is that why you don’t want to get out?” Dan asked. “Because of your mother?” He kept his voice gentle, not wanting to upset her anymore than she already was.
Heleer looked up at him briefly. Dan could see a new emotion on her face: sadness. Sadness mixed with something else, something very close to disappointment.
“No,” she said, looking back down at the floor. “Not really. I might have wanted to leave, once, but my mother’s impatience drove it from my mind. She gave me no time to make up my own mind; everything was about leaving, and leaving now. My mother was reckless, impatient, and obsessed. And I won’t be like that.” She looked up at Dan again. “I’m happy here; trying to get out can only bring trouble.”
That night, long after the lights had gone out, Dan was still awake, watching the outline of Heleer as she slept. What she had said hadn’t been lost on him. Part of him was excited that her mother had been like him, driven to escape. But that was only a small part. Most of him had listened to Heleer, and slowly, very slowly, he was beginning to realize something.
He couldn’t get out. Not right now, at least. He knew how to get into the Shaft, but he didn’t know what to do after that. He still wanted to get out, but Heleer had made him realize that he had to be patient. Until he knew exactly how he would get out, there was no point in being impatient and making a mistake. He doubted very much he would get more than one chance to escape; he couldn’t afford to not think it through.
Patience was a foreign idea to Dan. Until Darren had come, Dan had no experience with patience or impatience, simply because he had nothing to be patient or impatient about. He knew when everything would happen, and the opportunity to be impatient about something had never arisen. He knew the schedule. He knew everything would happen when it was supposed to.
This was different. He didn’t know when he would escape. He didn’t even know if he would escape. Without any promise of when or if it would happen, he had become impatient, wanting it now. But now he realized he couldn’t do that. He would have to follow the schedule and wait. Think and wait. He had never tried to be patient before, but he decided it was worth a shot.
Dan woke while the ceiling was still dark. For the first time in two days, excitement wasn’t coursing through him. His mind didn’t immediately turn to thoughts of escape. Instead, he simply lay there, looking up at the dark ceiling, faintly lit by the blue glow from the Barrier. It was completely silent. The only sound was Heleer breathing next to him, a soft in and out, in and out, its rhythm tempting Dan to close his eyes and go back to sleep.
He did close his eyes, but he didn’t go back to sleep. He remembered what Heleer had said last night, and what he had decided. ‘I will be patient,’ he said to himself. Saying it in his head seemed to make it more real.
He listened a while longer to Heleer breathing, and after a moment remembered something. She had described her mother as impatient, obsessed, and reckless. Reckless. Dan had no trouble believing that if Heleer hadn’t said anything, he would have taken the first opportunity to escape. And he probably wouldn’t have gotten very far.
Dan realized that Heleer had probably saved him. He knew how to get the Shaft open, and maybe he could get the hatch open somehow, but then what? The soulborgs would find him and bring him back.
Dan opened his eyes. Or maybe they wouldn’t. Hadn’t Heleer said that her mother had been killed because of her obsession? Dan watched the ceiling, thinking. What would the soulborgs do if he tried to escape? Surely they wouldn’t outright kill him? Dan didn’t know. He couldn’t know. He didn’t have enough information. Whatever the soulborgs would do, Dan doubted it would be good.
He turned his head and glanced at Heleer. She had undoubtedly saved him. She had kept him from making a mistake, possibly a deadly mistake. And what had he done in return? Nothing. He had been obsessed with escaping.
‘Just like her mother,’ he thought to himself. He remembered the look on Heleer’s face when she had told Dan about her mother. He remembered the sadness. ‘I won’t be like that,’ he told himself. ‘I won’t be obsessed and reckless. I’ll get out. I will. But when I do, I’ll have a plan. When I do get out, it will be for good.’
Dan began to see Heleer differently after that. The realization that she had kept him from doing something reckless made him pay more attention to her, and listen to what she said. He greeted her with “good morning” when she got up and told her “good night” when they went to bed. He listened to what she said when they ate, and by letting her talk, began to learn more about her.
Heleer must have noticed the change. It was obvious that Dan was paying more attention to her, and almost none on trying to get out. Eventually, she asked him if he still wanted to leave.
Dan had to reply that he did. Heleer’s face fell, but Dan wasn’t finished. He tried to choose his words carefully. “I do still want to get out, Heleer, but there’s no point in worrying about it. I don’t know how to get past the hatch, and even if I did, I wouldn’t know what to do after that.” He remembered what she had said about her mother. “Until I have a plan… I might as well enjoy what I have.”
Heleer glanced at him. She looked like she wanted to frown, but a smile still escaped her. They both knew it was what she wanted to hear, but it was true. Dan would wait. He would be patient, and wait for an opportunity to escape.
And when it came, he would be ready.