For as long as he could remember, Danny had been told by his father to never cross the atmospheric border that surrounded his home. In his younger years he had been kept on a sort of leash that would alert his labouring father if he strayed too far away from the house. When he stepped past an invisible point, the device on his father’s belt would whistle, and out he would run, bellowing, demanding to know why Danny had disobeyed him.
As Danny grew older, his father had gradually become more trusting of his son, knowing that the playfulness of youth had withered and his adventurousness had been tamed; but Danny could still expect discipline to follow if he was too close to leaving the atmospheric bubble that granted his family oxygen and gravity.
But now, for the first time in his life, Danny had been instructed, vigorously, to cross the border.
He awoke suddenly to a violent shake from his father, commanding him to get out of bed and run to the workshop. Dazed and hungry, Danny wandered drowsily down the hall before being intercepted and carried down to the workshop. They passed the kitchen, where his mother was hastily unloading everything from every cabinet and drawer, as if preparing a meal out of every possible ingredient they owned.
He didn’t understand why he had been awoken at such a bizarre time, but the fear he could see in his father’s eyes struck fear into him too. In his father’s workshop, Danny was helped into the spacesuit that he had seen his father wear from time to time as he repaired faulty beacons and electrical wiring. It didn’t fit him too well, but his father didn’t care. Danny had to be in it. His father scattered so many of his tools and metals without any concern for his pristine haven of labour in isolation.
Danny tried to ask what was happening, but his father gave no answers, only further instructions. He explained the basic mechanisms of the spacesuit and opened the inbuilt backpack. Danny couldn’t see what he packed inside but he knew they were important things that his parents had gathered in a matter of minutes.
The big door to the outside world heaved open. They were presented with the vast grey wasteland that was their home. The blackness of the sky and the familiar pathway of rocks had not changed, albeit for a meteor shower in the distance. His father had described the belt of asteroids as the freckles of the universe, noticeable in passing but unimportant and boring to everyone. Few people, he had told Danny, chose to live on asteroids – they did not tend to be hospitable places. Anyone who sought to live there would have to ensure his own supply of air, water and warmth, though if one was lucky to choose an asteroid belt near a star or sun, the power supply was limitless.
Danny’s father gave him clear instructions. “Run,” he said, looking dead into Danny’s eyes. “As you reach the border, press the button on the side of the helmet. Cross the border and don’t stop. Don’t look back. Run to the halfway beacon and never look back.” No questions were permitted; Danny was only allowed to run as fast as the weak gravity and the drunken swagger his bulky spacesuit would permit. With a hard push from behind he started running.
He could hear his father shouting at the top of his voice. He dared not disobey his father. He knew the consequences. His father was a strict man, a man of principles. He was Danny’s parent and Danny’s educator simultaneously. Any bad behaviour at home would be known in the classroom; mischief in the classroom went straight to the parent. Both would be punished by a tough judge. Danny’s father may not have known everything about what he taught his son, but he knew how to instil obedience and civility into his sole pupil.
Each day his father would wake early and work on the generators or in the greenhouse before his wife and son had even noticed it was morning. Then he would return home and educate his son. Once he had been satisfactorily taught, his father would finish the day with further work outside.
Danny’s mother loved her husband and child. She would not allow Danny to think critically of his father. She would take him to see the marvellous technology that kept them alive on an uninhabited rock on the fringes of the Halledra zone, all maintained by ‘the man of the house’. Without his abilities and the gift of machining and mineral science, they would not have survived for so long. She cherished him, but she would roll her eyes when her husband and son fought about politics or responsibility or fairness. There was so much that Danny did not understand – something that Danny knew as well.
Danny ran as instructed. He ran by the bots that assisted his father in sustaining the house. He ran by the generator powered by the nearby sun. In seconds, he was at the edge of the bubble. This time, he could hear his father encouraging him to run, not to turn back. It felt like rebellion. It felt like it was a cruel test. Would he be punished for crossing the line or praised for following his teacher’s instructions?
He passed through the bubble and pressed the button. Suddenly, his suit began to deactivate. His father’s voice vanished and the sounds of the robots and the generator went along with it. The electronic display that was blinding half his vision was gone. All he could hear was the sound of his panicked breathing. A single line of green text appeared in his vision.
He read it and choked. He had flicked a switch and made himself isolated and invisible from the rest of the world, save for one eerie sound. The text blurred into nothing, leaving him with the empty grey nothingness that he had been told to run across.