Authors: Ben Bova
Tags: #coming of age, #prison, #science fiction, #1984, #intelligent computers, #big brother, #juvenile delinquents
“It works both ways,” Joe went on. “Make life rough
for yourself and you’ll earn trouble. Work hard, and you’ll earn
yourself an open door to the outside. You’re the only one who can
open that door. It’s up to you.”
“I mean it. I know you don’t believe it, but you can
trust me. You’re going to learn that, in time. You don’t trust
anybody, that’s one of the reasons why you’re here....”
Danny snapped, “I’m here because I nearly killed a
fat-bellied cop in a riot that some niggers started!”
You’re here because the staff of this
Center decided there’s a chance we might be able to help you.
Otherwise you’d be in a
“What d’ya mean...?”
Joe grabbed the chair again and sat on it. “Why do
you think we call this the Juvenile
you’re sick. All the kids here are sick, one way or another. You
come from a sick city, a sick block. Maybe it’s not all your fault
that you’re the way you are, but nobody’s going to be able to make
you well—nobody! Only you can do that. We’re here to help, but we
can’t do much unless you work to help yourself.”
Danny mumbled some street words.
“I understand that,” Joe said, his eyes narrowing.
“I’m part Sicilian, you know.”
“You know everything, huh?”
“Wrong. But I know a lot more than you do. I even
know more about Danny Romano than you do. I know there’s enough in
you to make a solid man. You’ve got to learn how to become a whole
human being, though. My job is to help you do that.”
It was lunchtime the next day before the doctors
would let Danny go. He walked across the campus slowly. It was a
warmer day, bright with sunshine, and Danny felt pretty good.
Then he remembered that he had failed to escape. He
was trapped here at the Center.
“For a while,” he told himself. “Not for long, just
for a while. Until I figure out how to get around those alarms...
whatever they are.”
He had lunch alone in the crowded, noisy cafeteria.
He sat at the smallest table he could find, in a corner by the
glass wall. He saw Lacey walk by with a group of Negroes, laughing
and clowning around.
Danny finished eating quickly and decided to find the
gym. He didn’t have to look far. Just outside the cafeteria door
was a big overhead sign with an arrow: ELEVATOR TO LIBRARY, POOL,
GAME ROOMS, GYM.
He walked down the hall toward the elevator. Other
boys were going the same way, some of them hurrying to get into the
elevator before it filled up. Danny squeezed in just as the doors
“FLOORS PLEASE.” It was SPECS’ voice.
“Gym,” somebody said.
“Hey Lou, you goin’ swimmin’
“It beats takin’ a bath!”
Everybody in the elevator laughed.
The gym was on the top floor. The elevator door slid
open and a burst of noise and smells and action hit Danny. A
basketball game was in full swing. Boys shouting, ball pounding the
floorboards, referee blasting on his whistle. Overhead, on a
catwalk that went completely around the huge room, other boys were
jogging and sprinting, their gray gym suits turning dark with
But at the far end of the gym was the thing that
struck Danny the hardest. A boxing ring. And in it, Lacey was
sparring with another black boy.
Danny stood by the elevator and watched, all the
sights and sounds and odors of the gym fading away into nothing as
he focused every nerve in his body on Lacey.
The guy was good. He moved around the ring like he
was gliding on ice skates. His left snapped hard, jerking the other
guy’s head back when it landed. Then he winged a right across the
other guy’s guard and knocked him over backwards onto his back.
Turning, Lacey spotted Danny and waved. His black
body was gleaming with sweat. His face was one enormous smile, made
toothless by the rubber protector that filled his mouth.
Turning, he saw Alan Peterson standing beside
“Watching the champ? I hear you’re scheduled to fight
him the first of the month.”
“Yeah.” Danny kept his eyes on Lacey. A new sparring
partner had come into the ring now. Lacey was jab-jab-jabbing him
“Were you in the hospital yesterday?” Alan asked.
“There’s a story going around....”
“Yeah, I was.” Danny still watched Lacey.
“Are you sick? I mean, will you miss the fight? You
can’t fight anybody if you’re sick.”
“I ain’t sick.”
Lacey floored his new partner, this time with a left
“I ain’t sick!” Danny snapped. “I’ll fight him the
first of the month!”
“Okay, don’t get sore,” said Alan. “It’s your
The loudspeaker suddenly cut through all the noise of
the gym: “DANIEL FRANCIS ROMANO, PLEASE REPORT TO DR. TENNY’S
OFFICE AT ONCE.”
Danny felt almost relieved. He didn’t want to hang
around the gym any more, but he didn’t want Lacey to see him back
away. Now he had an excuse to go.
“I’ll take you,” Alan offered.
Danny said, “I can find it by myself.”
He had to ask directions once he was outside on the
campus. Finally, Danny found the building that the boys called “the
front office.” It was smaller than the other buildings, only three
stories high. The sign over the main door said ADMINISTRATION.
Danny wasn’t quite sure he knew what it meant.
Inside the door was a sort of a counter, with a girl
sitting at a telephone switchboard behind it. She was getting old,
Danny saw. Way over thirty, at least. She was reading a paperback
book and munching an apple.
“Where’s Joe Tenny’s office?” Danny asked her.
She swallowed a bite of apple. “
office is the first door on your left.”
Danny went down the hallway that she had pointed to.
The first door on the left was marked:
DR. J. TENNY, DIRECTOR.
Instead of knocking, he walked back to the
switchboard girl. She was bent over her book again, her back to
Danny. He noticed for the first time that there was a clear plastic
shield between the top of the counter and the ceiling. Like
bulletproof glass. He tapped it.
The girl jumped, surprised, and nearly dropped the
book out of her lap.
“Hey,” Danny asked, “is Tenny the boss of this whole
She looked very annoyed. “This Center was Dr. Tenny’s
idea. He fought to get it started and he fought to make it the way
it is. Of course he runs it.”
“Oh.... Uh, thanks.”
Danny went back and knocked at Joe’s door.
Joe’s office was smaller than Danny’s room. It was
crammed with papers. Papers covered his desk, the table behind the
desk, and lapped over the edges of the bookshelves that filled one
whole wall. In a far corner stood an easel with a half-finished
painting propped up on it. Brushes and tubes of paint were
scattered on the floor beside the easel.
Joe leaned back in his chair. He squinted through the
harsh-smelling smoke from the stubby cigar that was clamped in his
“How’re you feeling?”
“Sit down. The smoke bother you?”
“No, it’s okay.” Danny saw that there was only one
other chair in the office, over by the half-open window.
Sitting in it, he asked, “Uh... did you tell any of
the other guys about, eh, what happened yesterday?”
“About you trying to escape?” Joe shook his head.
“No, that’s no business of anybody else’s. SPECS knows it, of
course. But I’ve ordered SPECS to hold the information as private.
Only the staff people who work on your case will be able to learn
about it. None of the kids.”
“Quite a few people saw me carrying you into the
“Yeah... I guess so.”
Joe tapped the ash off his cigar into the wastebasket
next to his desk. “Listen. You’re going to start classes tomorrow.
Most of the kids spend their mornings studying, and use the
afternoons for different things. You’re expected to work a couple
of hours each afternoon. You can work in one of the shops, or join
the repair gang, or something else. Everybody works at something to
help keep the Center shipshape. Otherwise the place would fall
Danny frowned. “You mean it’s like a job?”
“Right,” said Joe, with a grin. “Don’t look so glum.
It won’t hurt you. You get credit for every hour you work, and you
can buy things in the Center’s store. SPECS runs the store and
keeps track of the credits. And it’s only a couple hours a day.
Then the rest of the day’s all yours.”
“A job,” Danny muttered.
“You can learn a lot from some honest work. And
you’ll be helping to keep the Center looking neat. You might even
get to like it.”
“Don’t bet on it.”
Joe made a sour face. “Okay, I’m not here to argue
with you. You have a visitor. She’s in the next room.”
Nodding, Joe said, “You can spend the rest of the
afternoon with her. But she’s got to leave at five.”
Without another word, Danny hurried from Dr. Tenny’s
office and burst into the next room. Laurie was sitting on the edge
of a big leather chair. She jumped up and ran into his arms.
After a few minutes, Danny pulled away from her and
closed the door.
“How are you?” They both said it at the same time.
Laurie was a little thinner than Danny remembered
her. And sort of pale. She was a small girl, almost frail-looking,
with hair and eyes as dark as Danny’s own. Danny knew prettier
girls, but no one like Laurie. Of all the people in the world, she
was the only one that needed Danny. And the only one that he
“You look good,” she said.
“You look great.”
“Are they treating you okay?”
He nodded. “Sure. Fine. This is more like a school
than a jail. How about you? Everything okay?”
They moved slowly to the couch, by the room’s only
“How’s Silvio and the other guys?” Danny asked as
they sat down.
“They’re all right.... Danny, are you really
Laughing, he said, “Sure. I told you. This ain’t
really a jail. I nearly broke out of here yesterday. Looks easy.
Hardly any guards. I’ll probably be out in a couple weeks. Soon’s I
figure out a couple things.”
Laurie’s eyes widened. She looked frightened. “Danny,
don’t do anything they can catch you on. If you get into more
“You feel like waitin’ around for five years?” he
snapped. “Or ten? Twenty? If I can break out, I’m goin’ to do it.
Reason the other guys don’t try it is ‘cause they’re too soft. They
got it too easy here, so they stay. Not me!”
“But they’ll just hunt you down again and bring you
back. Or maybe put you in a worse place....”
me to stay?”
“No. I mean....”
“Listen, I got it figured,” Danny said. “Soon’s I get
out, we grab a car and get up to Canada. Then they can’t touch
Laurie just looked scared. “All the way to
“Just the two of us. We can start all over again.
I’ll even get a job....”
“Me, too,” Laurie said. Then she started to say
something else, stopped, and finally said, “Oh, Danny... I wanted
to tell you. I got a job now. I’m helping my sister in the
restaurant where she works....”
“Waiting on tables?” Danny felt his face twist into a
Laurie nodded. Her voice was very low. “And...
cleaning up, helping in the kitchen.”
“I don’t want my girl doin’ that kind of work!”
“Well, I need some money...” She looked away from
him, out toward the window. “I want to be able to live on my own.
And the bus to come here costs money.”
Danny’s frown melted. But he didn’t feel any
Laurie went on, “Dr. Tenny said I could come once a
week, if I wanted to. And he said he thought you could do real good
here. Maybe get out in two years.”
“I’ll be out in a couple weeks,” said Danny.
“Please... don’t do anything they’ll catch you
“I’ll be out in a couple weeks,” Danny repeated.
Laurie left at five. Danny went over to the cafeteria
and picked at his dinner.
Ralph Malzone pulled up a chair and sat beside Danny.
He looked much too big for the thin-legged plastic chair.
“Hey, I heard you was sick yesterday. Not going to
back out of the fight with Lacey, are ya?”
Danny pushed his tray of food away. “No, I’ll fight
“Good,” said Ralph. He leaned across, took a slice of
bread from Danny’s tray, and started buttering it. “C’mon over to
the gym tomorrow afternoon. I’ll show you some tricks. Help make
you the new lightweight champ.”
Nodding, Danny said, “Sure.”
Danny got up to leave. Ralph was still picking food
from his tray, so Danny left it there with him.
When he got back to his room and shut the door, the
lights turned on and the TV screen lit up.
“GOOD EVENING, MR. ROMANO,” said SPECS. The screen
spelled out the words.