Authors: Ben Bova
Tags: #coming of age, #prison, #science fiction, #1984, #intelligent computers, #big brother, #juvenile delinquents
“I don’t mean your body,” Joe said, pulling up a
chair and straddling it cowboy-fashion. “I mean your conscience...
Danny shrugged. His side twinged.
“You made the right choice. It cost you a couple of
teeth and a few broken bones, but that can all be fixed. You’ll be
out and around in a week or two.”
“You...” It hurt, but he had to say it. “You
Joe gave him that who-are-you-trying-to-kid look. “We
knew that you were going to try a break. But we didn’t know where
or when. You covered up your tracks pretty darned well. If you
hadn’t been so smart, we could have saved you the beating you
“I... the asthma... it went away.”
Nodding, Joe said, “The doctors told me it would,
sooner or later. You didn’t have anything wrong with your lungs. In
your case, asthma was just a crutch... a little excuse you made up
in the back of your mind. Whenever the going got tough, you started
to wheeze. Then you could flake out, or at least have an excuse for
not doing well.”
Danny closed his eyes.
“But when the chips were down,” Joe went on, “you
ditched the excuse. No more asthma. You stood on your own feet and
did what you had to do.”
“How’s Lacey?” Danny asked.
“When we got there, after Lacey called us, he was
trying to pry Hambone and Ralph off of you. They never laid a
finger on him... thanks to you.”
“We would’ve never made it,” Danny mumbled.
“That’s right. Even if you got out of the Center,
we’d have tracked you down. But it was important for you to try to
Joe pulled his chair closer. “Look, what’s the one
thing that’s kept you going ever since you first came here? The
idea of escaping. Don’t you think I knew that? Every prisoner wants
to escape. I was a prisoner-of-war once. I tried to escape fourteen
the idea of escaping to help you to
grow up,” Joe said. “Why do you think I told you the Center was
escape-proof? To make sure you’d try to prove I was wrong! All the
teaching and lecturing in the world couldn’t have done as much as
that one idea of escaping. Look what you did: you learned to read
and study, you learned how to work SPECS, you learned how to plan
ahead, to be patient, to control your temper, you even learned to
work with other people. All because you were trying to escape.”
“But it didn’t work....”
“Sure! It didn’t work because you finally learned the
most important thing of all. You learned that the only way to
escape jail—all jails—for keeps is to
Danny let his head sink back on the pillow.
“And you played fair by Lacey. I think you learned
something there, too.”
Looking up at the ceiling, Danny asked, “What
happened to the other guys?”
“Vic and Coop are in their rooms. They’ll stay in for
a week or so, and then we’ll let them start classes again. I’ll
have to start paying as much attention to them as I did to you. I
don’t think they’ve learned as much as you have... not yet. Same
for Midget and Noisy, except that one of the other staff members is
in charge of their cases.
“Ralph and Hambone are here in the hospital,
upstairs. They’ve got emotional problems that’re too deep to let
them walk around the campus. I’m afraid they’re going to stay
inside for a long while.”
Danny took a deep breath. His side hurt, but his
chest felt fine and clear.
“Look,” Joe said. “When you get out of the hospital,
it’ll be almost exactly one year since you first came to the
Center. I think you’ve learned a lot in your first year. The hard
way. But you’ve finally learned it.”
“Now, if you’re ready for it I can start
teaching you. In another year or so, maybe we can let
you out of here—on probation. I can see to it that you get into a
real school. You can wind up studying engineering, if you want.
Learn to build airplanes... and fly ‘em.”
In spite of the pain, Danny smiled. “I’d like
“Good. And it’ll be a lot cheaper for the taxpayers
to send you to school and get you into a decent career, than to
keep you in jails the rest of your life.”
Joe got up from the chair.
Danny found himself stretching out his right hand
toward him. The teacher looked at it, then smiled in a way Danny
had never seen him do before. He took Danny’s hand firmly in his
“Thanks. I’ve been waiting a year for this.”
“Thank you, Joe.”
Joe let go of Danny’s hand and started to turn away.
Then he stopped and said:
“Oh yeah... Laurie’s on her way here. She wants to
see you. Says she’s still got to give you your Christmas
“Great!” said Danny.
Joe pulled a cigar from his shirt pocket. “You two
have a bright future ahead of you. And I can tell about the future.
I’m part gypsy, you know.”
More ebooks you’ll enjoy from