Authors: Ben Bova
Tags: #coming of age, #prison, #science fiction, #1984, #intelligent computers, #big brother, #juvenile delinquents
Danny stared at Joe. Silently, he thought,
be nutty! Not want to come back to my own turf? Crazy!
They got to the schoolyard and, sure enough, there
were a few kids there shooting a scruffed-up basketball at a bare
metal hoop that was set into the blank stone wall of the
Joe stayed in the car with Monster. The kids didn’t
recognize Danny as he got out of the car. They stopped shooting the
ball and stared at him as he walked up, watching him silently.
“Hey... holy cripes, it’s
He broke into a big grin as they ran toward him.
“Hi, Mario. Hello, Sal. Eddie....”
“Danny! Geez... you look like a million bucks!”
“Where did you get them clothes?”
“Hey, you break loose? How’d you do it?”
Laughing, Danny put up his hands. “Hey guys, I can’t
talk to all of you at once. No, I didn’t break out. I sort of got
the weekend off. The guy in the Cadillac back there... he’s from
“Wow! Lookit the dog!”
“Yeah,” Danny said, still grinning. “His name’s
“You got to believe it.”
“So how’re they treating ya?” Mario asked. “You look
good. Getting fat, ain’t you?”
“I been eatin’ good,” Danny said. “The Center’s okay,
I guess. Tough to get out of. I tried a couple shots at it.... They
got a computer running everything. And special alarms, better than
they got in banks. Trickier. Can’t even sneeze without ‘em knowin’
They talked for a few minutes, then Danny said, “Hey,
I’m goin’ over to Laurie’s sister’s place. She still livin’ in the
The boys’ grins disappeared. They became serious.
Finally Mario answered, “Uh, yeah, she still lives there. But...
uh... Laurie moved out. ‘Bout two weeks ago. She don’t live around
here no more.”
Danny felt the same flash of fear and anger that he
had known when Joe pulled him down from the fence.
“What? What d’you mean?”
Shrugging inside his jacket, Mario said, “She just
moved out. Didn’t tell nobody where. Maybe her sister knows. We
Danny grabbed him. “What happened? Why’d she
Mario tried to back away. “Hey, Danny, it ain’t my
fault! A couple guys tried to make time with her, but we bounced
‘em off. We been watchin’ her for you.”
“Yeah, you been watchin’ her so good you don’t even
know where she is.” Danny let go of him.
He sprinted back to the car. Sliding into the front
seat beside Joe he said, “Let’s go over to Laurie’s sister’s
place... back where we were a couple minutes ago.”
“What’s the matter?”
Danny told him as he started the car.
Laurie’s sister had no time for Joe and Danny. She
was trying to take care of three babies—the oldest was barely
four—and do a day’s cooking at the same time.
She was trying to pin a diaper on the youngest baby,
who was doing his best to wriggle away from her. She had him lying
on the kitchen table, within arm’s reach of the stove.
“I told you,” she said sharply, “that she’s okay.
She’s working uptown now, and she’s got her own apartment, with two
other girls. She promised she’d visit you every week, just like
she’s been doing all year. So if she wants to tell you where she’s
living, let her do it. I’m not going to.”
Danny left the apartment with his fists clenched.
Joe tried to cool him down: “Look, she’s been coming
to see you every week, hasn’t she?”
Danny nodded. His chest was feeling tight again, and
he was angry enough to pound his fists into the grimy walls of the
apartment building’s stairway. But he didn’t do that. He just
They walked out to the car and got into it. Joe
started the motor and headed back toward the Center.
“You know,” he said, “I might have had something to
do with this.”
Joe nodded. “Last month Laurie and I had a talk,
before I called you to the visiting room. She wanted to know what I
thought about her working in the restaurant. She knew you didn’t
like the idea.
“I told her there are lots of schools in town that’ll
train her to be a secretary. Or anything else she wants to be. I
gave her the name of a couple of friends of mine who could help her
to get a better job and pick out a good night school.”
Danny couldn’t answer. So it was Joe Tenny. All the
time he was pretending to be Danny’s friend, he was really trying
to get Laurie away.
You can’t trust anybody,
to himself silently.
Nobody! Especially not Joe Tenny!
Monday morning, at breakfast in the cafeteria, Danny
looked for Ralph Malzone.
“Hey listen,” he said, sitting beside Ralph at a
small table. “We got to get out of here.”
“Sure,” said Ralph through a mouth full of cereal.
“Build me some wings an’ I’ll fly out.”
“I’m not kidding! Trouble is, guys have been trying
to break out one at a time. What we got to do is get a bunch of
guys to work together. That’s the only way.”
Ralph shook his head. “Been tried before. SPECS an’
all those alarms and automatic locks and everything... you couldn’t
get out o’ here with an army.”
“Oh yeah? I know how to fix SPECS and everything
“I ain’t kidding!” Danny snapped. “You listen to me
and we’ll be out of here in a couple months. Maybe sooner.”
Ralph put his spoon down. “How you goin’ to do
“That’s my secret,” said Danny. “You just do what I
tell you, and you’ll be out in time for the opening game of the
baseball season. But we’ll need five or six other guys. Can you get
“I’ll get ‘em,” said Ralph.
Christmas morning Danny spent in his room, talking to
“Where’s the electricity in the Center come from?” he
SPECS’ calm, unhurried voice answered, “THE CENTER
HAS ITS OWN POWER STATION, LOCATED IN BUILDING SEVENTEEN.”
The TV screen showed a map of the Center. There was a
red circle around building seventeen. Danny saw it was one of the
smaller buildings, near the administration building. It was the
only building on the campus with a smokestack.
“Suppose something happened to the power station,
where would the electricity come from then?”
“THERE IS AN EMERGENCY POWER SYSTEM, ALSO LOCATED IN
“And suppose something happened to the emergency
system, so it didn’t work either?”
“ALL ELECTRICAL POWER IN THE CENTER WOULD BE SHUT
Danny thought a moment, then said, “If all the
electrical power was shut off, what systems would stop?”
SPECS’ calm, unhurried voice answered, “THE CENTRAL
HEATING AND AIR-CONDITIONING SYSTEMS, ALL ALARM SYSTEMS, THE
SPECIAL COMPUTER SYSTEM....”
“Wait a minute. What about the phones?”
“THE TELEPHONE SYSTEM IS POWERED SEPARATELY, FROM
OUTSIDE THE CENTER.”
“Show me how it works.”
A drawing appeared on the TV screen, showing how the
telephone system was linked by a cable to the main power line of
the telephone company. Danny saw that the power line ran
underground along the highway, and the cable connecting into the
Center came to the administration building through a tunnel.
that one cable, and all the phones are dead.
It was well after lunchtime when Danny finally said,
“Thanks SPECS. That’s all I want to know. For now.”
The TV screen went dark. Danny sat at his desk, not
hungry, too excited to eat, thinking about how to knock out the
power station, the emergency system, and the phone line.
The screen glowed again, “MR. ROMANO.”
“YOU HAVE A VISITOR. MISS MURILLO.”
Danny shot out of his chair and to the door without
stopping to get his coat.
He sprinted across the campus to the administration
building, through the wintry windy day. There were lots of visitors
today: parents mostly, grownups trying to look happy when they were
really miserable that their kids had to spend Christmas in the
But Danny didn’t see it that way. He saw adults
faking it, laughing too loud, bringing presents to their kids that
they never got when the kids had been at home. Danny wondered what
his father would have been like, if he would have lived. His mother
was still alive, probably, wherever she was.
He found Laurie in one of the small visitors’ rooms.
She was wearing a new dress, a dark green one. And her hair was
different. It was all swept back and smoothly arranged.
He blinked at her. “Hey, you look different... like,
all grown up.”
“Do you like the way I look?” Laurie was smiling and
trying her hardest to look as pretty as she could.
Danny said slowly, “Yeah... I guess so, I... never
saw you looking so... well, so fancy.”
She stepped up to him and kissed him. “Thank you. And
“Merry... Hey! I almost forgot! What’s all this about
you moving to someplace uptown? What’s goin’ on?”
Holding his hand, Laurie brought Danny to the sofa by
the tiny room’s only window. They sat down.
“I’ve got a new job and a new apartment,” she said
happily. “I’m sharing the place with two other girls. We all work
in the same building. I’m a clerk in an insurance company. They’re
teaching me the job as I go along. It pays a lot better. And I’m
going to school at night to learn how to be a secretary.”
Danny frowned. “But why? What for?”
“For me,” Laurie said. “Danny, try to understand. I
love you, honey, I really do. But I can’t just sit in my sister’s
place and work in the restaurant for years and years.”
“It won’t be years....”
“Shush,” she said, putting a finger to his lips.
“Listen for a minute. Dr. Tenny told me that he’s trying to make
you into the best person you can be. That’s what the Center’s for.
Well, I’m trying to make myself the best person I can be.”
“I don’t like it.”
“Don’t you see? When you get out, Danny, I want to be
something more than a skinny kid with a dirty apron. I want to be a
, somebody who can do things. Somebody who can help
you, not drag you down.”
Danny remembered something. “You been going out with
She nodded. “Only on double dates, or with a gang of
people. Nothing serious, honest, Danny.”
“I don’t believe you.”
Laurie’s eyes widened. “Danny, honest...”
“I been sittin’ here and you’ve been goin’ out with
other guys. Movin’ uptown, getting big ideas. Joe Tenny’s put you
up to this! He’s tryin’ to get you away from me!”
“Danny, that’s crazy....”
“Oh yeah? Well, you’ll see how crazy it is!”
He got up and stormed to the door.
“Wait,” Laurie called. “I got you a Christmas
“Give it to your new boyfriend!” Danny slammed the
door shut behind him.
There were no classes between Christmas and New
Year’s. Danny spent every morning in his room, studying the layout
of the power station, learning every inch of the building.
“Hey SPECS, it looks like most of the time the power
station runs itself.”
“THE POWER STATION RUNS AUTOMATICALLY. I WATCH IT AND
“Don’t they have a guard or somebody in there?”
“A GUARD STAYS INSIDE THE STATION AT NIGHT.”
“Are the doors locked at night?”
“What about the day time?”
“A MEMBER OF THE MAINTENANCE CREW IS ON DUTY AT THE
POWER STATION AT ALL TIMES DURING THE WORKING DAY. HE HAS NOTHING
TO DO, HOWEVER, SINCE I AM IN FULL CONTROL.”
Danny laughed. “You mean he goofs off?”
“I DO NOT UNDERSTAND YOUR WORDS.”
“He don’t stay on the job. He goes to sleep or takes
a walk outside or something like that.”
“HE OFTEN LEAVES THE STATION FOR HALF AN HOUR OR SO.
BUT HE ALWAYS LEAVES A STUDENT AT THE STATION, SO THAT SOMEONE IS
PRESENT AT ALL TIMES.”
“A student... one of us kids?”
On New Year’s Day, Danny invited Ralph up to his
room, and asked him to bring the five boys he could trust.
They were an odd-looking gang. Ralph introduced them
as they came in and sat on Danny’s bed and chairs.
Hambone was even bigger than Ralph, but where Ralph
looked mean, Hambone looked brainless. He wore a silly grin all the
Like a happy gorilla
, Danny thought.
“He don’t look it,” Ralph said, “but old Hambone is a
fighter when he gets mad. Took a squad of cops to bring him
Hambone nodded happily. “I broke an arm on one of
‘em.” His voice sounded as if his nose was stopped up, like a
prize-fighter’s voice after he’s been hit too many times.
The next boy was Noisy, who got his name because he
hardly ever talked. He was about Danny’s own size. He just nodded
when Ralph introduced him. But he watched everything, listened to
every word that was said. And his eyes burned with a fierce glow
that made Danny wonder what he’d done to get into the Center.
Vic and Coop were two ordinary-looking guys. Midget
was the last of the gang. He was a kid of fifteen who looked like
he was only twelve. He was smaller and skinnier than even Danny.
He’s the guy who goes into the tunnel to cut the phone line,
“Okay,” Danny said to them. “Now we all want to get
out of this dump. And we’re going to do it. My way. I know how to