Authors: Ben Bova
Tags: #coming of age, #prison, #science fiction, #1984, #intelligent computers, #big brother, #juvenile delinquents
Ralph laughed, low and mean. “Good old Lacey, huh?
That’s cool. I been wantin’ to split that black big-mouth’s head
ever since he became lightweight champ. Hambone and me are going to
have real fun takin’ care of
Hambone nodded and giggled.
Danny didn’t answer Ralph. But somehow he felt
unhappy that it was going to be Lacey.
He hardly slept at all that night. And the next
morning he just sat in class, paying no attention to anything
around him. Danny’s mind was a jumble of thoughts, pictures,
voices. He kept trying to think about the escape plan, what he had
to do to knock out the generator, every detail.
But he kept seeing Laurie, kept hearing her say,
“Then you can forget about me.”
He tried to get her out of his head, but instead he
saw Lacey grinning at him, boxing gloves weaving in front of his
face. He remembered their fight. He tried to make himself hate
Lacey. It didn’t work. Lacey fought clean and hard. Danny couldn’t
“Hey, this isn’t the history class, you know.”
Danny snapped his attention to the classroom. Joe
Tenny was standing over him, grinning. The other guys had left. The
class was over.
“I... uh, I was thinkin’ about... things.”
“Sure you were.” Joe laughed. “With your eyes
“I wasn’t asleep.” Danny got up from his chair.
Joe nodded. “Okay, you were wide awake. Look, why
don’t you just grab a quick sandwich at the cafeteria and meet me
in my office in about fifteen minutes. Got something I want to show
Every nerve in Danny’s body tightened. His chest
started to feel heavy, raw.
He knows about it!
When he opened the door to Dr. Tenny’s office, Joe
was standing in front of his easel, slapping paint on a canvas with
a small curved knife.
“Hi.... Sit down a minute.”
In one hand, Joe held a paint-dabbed piece of
cardboard. He would dip the edge of the knife into a blob of color,
and then smear the color across the canvas. Danny watched him.
Finally Joe stepped back, cocked his head to one side
and squinted at the canvas, then tossed the cardboard and knife to
the floor at the base of the easel.
“What to you think?” he asked.
Danny stared hard at the painting. It looked like
some of the dark blobs were going to be boats. There were the
beginnings of mountains and clouds in the background.
“Okay, don’t answer,” Joe said. “I’m just starting
it. Wait’ll you see the finished product!”
He yanked open his top desk drawer and pulled out a
“Some days it just gets to be too much,” he said.
“Then I’ve got to slap paint around or go nuts.”
Danny, sitting in the chair, said nothing.
Joe puffed the cigar to life. “I’ve been having a
little discussion with a few members of the Governor’s council....
About how much money the Center’s going to need next year. I’m in
no mood to work anymore today.”
“You like airplanes, don’t you? Ever been up in
“Okay, come on. Friend of mine just bought a new
plane for himself. Said I could play with it this afternoon. Want
With a deep breath of relief, Danny said, “Sure!”
They drove to the airfield in Joe’s car. There were
still banks of snow along the highway, brown and rotting. The sky
was clear, though, and the sun was shining.
The plane sparkled in the sunlight. Painted red and
white, it had one engine, a low wing, and a cabin that seated four.
It was parked beside a hangar in a small airfield that was used
only for private planes.
Joe squeezed into the pilot’s seat, and Danny crawled
up after him and sat at his right. The control panel in front of
him was covered with dials and instruments. A little half-wheel
poked out of the panel, and there were two big pedals on the
Joe showed Danny everything: the instruments, the
controls, the throttle and fuel mixture sticks that were down on
the floor between their two seats, the radio.
“Just like in the books,” Danny said.
Joe nodded happily. “Let’s see how she runs.”
Within minutes they were speeding down the runway,
the engine roaring in Danny’s ears, the propeller an
almost-invisible blur in front of him. Danny gripped the safety
belt that was tightly latched across his lap.
Joe pulled back slightly on the wheel and the plane
lifted its nose. Danny felt a split second when his stomach seemed
to drop inside him. The ground tilted and dropped away. They were
Danny watched the airfield get smaller and farther
behind them. Joe banked the plane over on its right wing tip, so
Danny felt as if he was hanging by his seat belt, with nothing
between him and the ground far below except the window he was
Then they climbed even higher. The plane bounced and
shuddered through a big puffy cloud, and broke free again above the
Danny could feel himself grinning so hard that it
almost hurt. “This is the greatest!”
Joe nodded. “She’s a good ship. Nice and stable.
They flew for a few moments in silence, except for
the droning engine. Danny looked down at the white-covered ground,
sprinkled with the shadows of clouds. He looked across at the
clouds themselves, floating peacefully. Then he looked up at the
impossibly clear blue sky.
“Want to try her?” Joe shouted over the engine’s
Joe took his hands off the wheel. “Take over. It’s
not hard. Just keep her nose pointed on the horizon.”
Danny grabbed the wheel. Instantly the plane bucked
upward, like a horse that didn’t like its newest rider.
“Steady! Easy!” Joe shouted. “Just relax. Get her
nose down a bit. That’s it....”
Danny slowly brought the plane under control. Under
“Hey, I’m flying her!”
“You sure are,” said Joe, with a huge grin.
Joe showed Danny how to turn the wheel and push the
pedals at the same time, so that the plane would turn and bank
smoothly. He explained how to work the throttle and fuel mixture
controls, how to watch the instruments.
“This is fun!” Danny yelled.
They tried a few shallow dives and turns. Nothing
very daring, nothing very fast.
Finally Joe said, “Look down there.”
Danny followed where Joe’s finger pointed. Far below
them was a group of buildings clustered together, near the main
highway. It took Danny a moment to realize that it was the
“Looks different from up here,” Danny said. “So
Then his eye caught another set of buildings, far
from the highway, tucked away in the hills. These were gray and
massive buildings. A high stone wall stood around them. They looked
like something straight out of the Middle Ages.
“State prison,” Joe said.
Danny said nothing.
“It’s a big world,” Joe said. “You’ve just got to
start looking at it from the right point of view. Lots of the world
is pretty crummy, I know. But take a look around you now. Looks
kind of pretty, doesn’t it?”
Danny nodded. It was a big world, from up here. Hills
stretching off to the horizon; towns nestled among them; roads and
rivers winding along.
“People make their own worlds, Danny. You’re going to
make a world for yourself, a world that you’ll live in for the rest
of your life. You can make it big and clean... or as small and
dirty as it’s been so far. It’s up to you to choose.”
They flew back to the airfield, and Joe landed the
plane. Then they drove back to the Center. Danny was silent,
thinking, all the way back.
It was a few minutes before six when Danny and Joe
returned to the Center.
Danny went straight to the cafeteria. He could hear
his own pulse pounding in his ears. His knees felt wobbly, and he
knew his hands were shaking. His chest was starting to feel heavy.
He fished in his pockets for the pills.
Forgot them! Left them
in my room
Ralph and Hambone were finishing up an early dinner.
Noisy was loafing by the water cooler. Vic and Coop were sitting
off in a far corner.
Danny turned around and walked outside. In a few
minutes the five others joined him.
“Where’s Midget?” he asked. His chest was hurting
“He’s at the administration building, just like you
told him. When the lights go out, he’ll go in the tunnel and cut
the phone line.”
“What’re we waitin’ for?” Ralph said. “Let’s go!”
They walked through the darkness toward the power
station. As they got close enough to see the building, the
maintenance man who had been on duty there came out of the door and
walked past them, heading for the cafeteria. Ralph began to jog and
was soon far ahead of them.
“Come on!” he said. They started running for the
Danny trotted behind the others. He couldn’t run,
couldn’t catch his breath. His mind was spinning: Laurie, Joe,
Lacey, Ralph... flying over the Center, looking at the world beyond
its fences... Lacey punching him... Laurie’s face when she told him
to forget about her....
And then he was inside the power station. It was like
stepping into another world. The place was hot. It smelled of oil.
The huge generator machinery, crammed up to the ceiling, seemed to
bulge out the walls. The metal floor-plates throbbed with the
rumbling beat of power, and almost beyond the range of human
hearing was the high-pitched whine of something spinning fast,
Nobody could hear Danny wheezing as he stood just
inside the doorway. Nobody watched him struggling his hardest, just
The light in the generator room was bright and
glaring. Lacey stood up on a steel catwalk that threaded between
two big bulky piles of machinery, about twenty feet above the
“Hiya guys!” Lacey called out above the whining hum
of the generator. “What d’you want?”
“Come on down,” Ralph said. He walked over to a tool
bench near the door and picked up a heavy wrench. Hambone
Danny stared at the generator. He had only seen
pictures of it before, drawings and diagrams on SPECS’ TV screens.
Now it looked huge, almost alive. And he had to kill it, make it
silent and dead.
But before that, Ralph and Hambone were going to kill
Lacey clattered down the steel steps to the
“What’s going on, man? What you doing here?”
“Grab him,” Ralph snapped.
Hambone wrapped his beefy arms around Lacey’s slim
body, pinning his arms to his sides.
“Hey... what you....”
Ralph started toward Lacey, raising the heavy wrench
in his big hand. The others stood frozen by the door.
Danny shouted, “Stop it!”
Ralph spun around to face Danny. Suddenly Danny could
breathe, his chest was okay. Even the shakes were gone.
“It’s no good,” he said to Ralph. “Stop it. Forget
the whole thing.”
“What’re you pulling?” Ralph’s face was red with
“I’m saving us all from a lot of trouble,” Danny
said. “Forget the whole deal. Breaking out of here is stupid.
They’ll just catch us again.”
Ralph started to move toward Danny, his knuckles
white on the wrench handle. “Listen kid... we’re getting out. Now!
And you’re going to....”
Danny slid over to the tool bench and reached for
another wrench. “Forget it, Ralph. I’m the only one who knows how
to knock out the generator. And I ain’t going to do it. I changed
my mind. The deal’s off.”
They stood glaring at each other, both armed with
heavy metal wrenches. Then suddenly Hambone yowled with pain.
Lacey was loose and streaking up the steel steps to
the catwalk. Hambone was hopping on one foot. “He kicked me!”
“Stop him!” Ralph screamed, pointing at Lacey.
Vic and Coop started for the stairway. Danny knew
exactly where Lacey was heading. There was an emergency phone on
the other side of the generator. He dashed toward the stairway,
too, past Ralph, who seemed too stunned to move.
Danny barged into Vic and Coop at the foot of the
steps, knocked them off balance, and got onto the stairs ahead of
them. He raced to the top, two steps at a time. Then he stopped and
turned to the rest of them.
“Before you can get to him you got to go through me!”
Danny shouted, holding the wrench up like a battle weapon.
can hold ‘em off long enough for Lacey to make a call
With a roar of rage, Ralph pushed past Vic and Coop
and boiled up the stairs. Hambone came up right behind him. Danny
swung his wrench at Ralph, then felt an explosion of pain in his
He began to crumple. The wrench slipped from Danny’s
fingers as another blow knocked him to his knees. He looked up and
saw Ralph’s furious face. Beside it was Hambone’s, no longer
grinning. The wrench in Ralph’s hand looked twenty feet long. Danny
tried to raise his arms to cover his face, to protect himself. The
wrench came blurring down on him. Danny saw sparks shower
Somewhere, far off, he could hear people yelling,
screaming. But all he could see was bursts of light going off
inside his head; all he could feel was pain.
Danny awoke in the hospital. He blinked his
eyes at the green curtain around his bed. His head felt heavy, like
it was carrying pounds and pounds of cement on it. He reached up to
touch it. It was covered with bandages.
Then he realized that he could only move one arm. The
other was wrapped in a heavy, stiff cast.
The curtain opened and Joe Tenny stepped in, grinning
Danny tried to answer, but found that his mouth was
too swollen and painful.