Authors: Ben Bova
Tags: #coming of age, #prison, #science fiction, #1984, #intelligent computers, #big brother, #juvenile delinquents
Danny managed to take two steps toward Lacey, and
then the hurricane hit him. Lacey swarmed all over him, anger and
pride mixed with his punches now. He wasn’t smiling. He wasn’t
worried about whether Danny might be sick or not. He attacked like
a horde of Vikings, battering Danny with a whirlwind of rights and
Danny felt himself smashed back into the ropes, his
legs melting away under him. He leaned against the ropes, let them
hold him up. He tried to keep his hands up, to ward off some of the
punches. But he couldn’t cover himself. Punches were landing like
hail in a thunderstorm.
Through a haze of pain, Danny lunged at Lacey and
wrapped his arms around the black waist.
He leaned his face against Lacey’s chest and hung on,
his legs feeling like rubber bands.
The crowd was making so much noise he couldn’t tell
if Lacey was saying anything to him or not. He felt the referee
pull them apart, saw his worried face staring at him.
Danny stepped past the referee and put up his gloved
hands to fight. They each weighed a couple of tons. Lacey looked
different now, not angry any longer. More like he was puzzled.
They came together again, and again Danny was buried
under a rain of punches. Again he grabbed Lacey and held on.
“Go down, dummy!” Lacey yelled into his ear. “What’s
holding you up?”
Danny let go with his right arm and tried a few
feeble swings, but Lacey easily blocked them. He felt somebody
pulling them apart, stepping between them, pushing him away from
Lacey. Through blurred eyes, Danny saw the referee raising Lacey’s
arm in the victory signal.
Somebody was helping him back to the stool in his
corner. The crowd was still yelling. Danny sat down, his chest raw
inside, his body filled with pain.
“The winner, in one minute and nine seconds of the
third round... Lacey Arnold!”
Joe Tenny was bending through the ropes, his face
close to Danny’s. “You okay?”
Danny didn’t answer.
Another man was beside Joe, frowning. Danny
remembered that he was one of the doctors from the hospital.
“Get him back to the locker room,” the doctor said,
angry. “I’ll have to give him a shot.”
“Can you stand up?” Ralph’s voice asked from
somewhere to Danny’s right. He realized then that he couldn’t see
out of his right eye. It was swollen shut.
“Yeah... I’m okay....” Danny grabbed the ropes and
tried to stand. His legs were very shaky. He felt other people’s
arms holding him, helping him to stand.
Lacey was in front of him. “Hey, Danny, you all
“Sure,” Danny said, through swollen lips.
Back in the locker room they sat him on a bench. The
doctor stuck a needle into Danny’s leg, and within a few seconds
his chest started to feel better.
The doctor growled to Tenny, “You should never have
let this boy exert himself like that.”
Joe nodded, his face serious. “Maybe you’re
“I’m okay,” Danny insisted. His chest really felt
pretty good now. But his face hurt like fire and he felt more tired
than he ever had before in his life.
“This whole business of staging fights is wrong,” the
Joe said, “If they don’t fight in the ring, they’ll
do it behind our backs. I’d rather have it done under our control.
It’s a good emotional outlet for everybody.”
Danny turned to Ralph, who was sitting glumly on the
bench beside him. “Guess I didn’t do too good.”
Ralph shrugged and tried to cheer up. “Yeah, he
smacked you around pretty good. But that one sock you caught him
with was a beauty! Did ya see th’ look on his face when he hit the
floor? I thought his eyes was going to pop out!”
Just then Lacey came by, a robe thrown over his
shoulders and his gloves off.
“Good fight, Danny. Man, if the ref didn’t stop it
when he did, my arms was going to fall off. I hit you with
everything! How come you didn’t go down like you’re supposed to?”
He was grinning broadly.
“Too dumb,” said Danny.
“Smart enough to deck me,” Lacey shot back. “Got me
sore there for half a minute. Well, anyway... good fight.”
Lacey stuck out his right hand. The tape was still
wrapped around it. Danny was surprised to see that his own gloves
had been taken off by somebody. He looked at his hands for a
moment, then grasped Lacey’s. It was the first time he had ever
shaken hands with a Negro.
To his surprise, Danny was something of a hero the
next morning. He felt good enough to go to his reading class, even
though his eye was still swollen, and really purple now. His arms
and legs were stiff and sore. His ribs ached. But he went to class
“Here comes the punching bag,” somebody said when he
came into the classroom.
“Look at that shinner!”
“Tough luck, Danny. You showed a lot of guts.”
“First time Lacey’s ever been knocked down.”
“Goin’ to fight him again next month?”
Danny let himself sink into one of the chairs. “Not
me. Next fight I have is goin’ to be with somebody a lot easier
than Lacey. Like maybe King Kong.”
Mr. Cochran came in, looked a little surprised at
seeing Danny there, and then put them all to work.
Laurie was shaken up when she visited that week and
saw Danny’s eye. But he laughed it off and made her feel better. By
the time she came back, the following week, Danny’s face was just
about back to normal.
By that time, Danny had enough of Joe Tenny’s voice
on tape to do the job he wanted to. One afternoon he went back to
the language classroom. It was empty.
The booths in the back of the room had big tape
recorders in them. Danny worked for more than an hour, taking
Tenny’s words off his pocket recorder and getting them onto the big
machine’s tape in just the right way. Finally, he had it exactly as
he wanted it to sound:
“SPECS,” said Dr. Tenny’s voice, “I want you to turn
off all the alarm systems right now.”
It didn’t sound exactly right. Some of the words were
louder than others. If you listened carefully, you could hear
different background noises from one word to the next, because they
had been recorded at different times. Danny hoped SPECS wouldn’t
He got his faked message onto the tape of his pocket
recorder and erased the tape on the big machine. Then he headed
back toward his room.
“Tonight,” he told himself.
It was nearly midnight when he tried it.
“SPECS, you awake?”
The TV screen at the foot of his bed instantly glowed
to life, “I DO NOT SLEEP, MR. ROMANO.”
Danny laughed nervously. “Yeah, I know. I was only
“I AM NOT PROGRAMED TO RECOGNIZE HUMOR, ALTHOUGH I
UNDERSTAND THE BASIC THEORY INVOLVED IN IT. THERE ARE SEVERAL BOOKS
IN MY MEMORY BANKS ON THE SUBJECT.”
“Groovy. Look... Dr. Tenny wants to talk to you. Can
you see him here in the room with me?”
“THERE IS NO TV CAMERA IN YOUR ROOM, SO I CANNOT SEE
WHO IS THERE.”
“Well, you know Dr. Tenny’s in here, don’t you?”
“MY SENSORS CANNOT TELL ME IF DR. TENNY IS WITH YOU
OR IF YOU ARE ALONE.”
“Okay, take my word for it. He’s here and he wants to
tell you something.” Danny flicked the button of his pocket
Dr. Tenny’s voice said, “SPECS, I want you to turn
off all the alarm systems right now.”
Danny found that he was holding his breath.
“ALL THE ALARM SYSTEMS ARE SHUT DOWN.”
Without another word, Danny dropped the recorder onto
his bed and rushed out of his room.
He made his way swiftly toward the fence. It was a
warm night, and he knew every inch of the way, now that he had put
in so many weeks on the clean-up crew. It was dark, cloudy, but
Danny hurried through the trees and got to the fence in less than
twenty minutes. He had taken an asthma pill just before calling
SPECS, and had the bottle in his pants pocket.
He got to the fence and without waiting a moment he
jumped up onto it and started climbing.
A strong hand grabbed at his belt and yanked him down
to the ground.
Danny felt as if a shock of electricity had ripped
through him. He landed hard on his feet and spun around. Joe Tenny
was standing there.
“How... how’d you...?”
Joe’s broad face was serious-looking. “You had me
fooled. I thought you were really starting to work. But you still
haven’t got it straight, have you?”
“How’d you know? All the alarms are off!”
Shaking his head, Joe answered, “Didn’t you ever stop
to think that we’d have back-up alarms? When the main alarms go
off, the back-ups come on. And SPECS automatically calls a
half-dozen places, including my office. I happened to be working
late tonight, otherwise the guards would’ve come out after
“Back-up alarms,” Danny muttered.
“Come on,” said Joe, “let’s get back to your room. Or
are you going to try to jump me again?”
Shoulders sagging, chin on his chest, Danny went with
Dr. Tenny. When they got back to his room, Danny trudged wearily to
his bed and sat on it.
“So what’s my punishment going to be?”
“Punishment?” Joe made a sour face. “You still don’t
understand how this place works.”
Danny looked up at him.
“You’re punishing yourself,” Joe explained. “You’ve
been here about a month and you’ve gone no place. You’ve just
wasted your time. As far as I’m concerned, tomorrow’s just like
your first day here. You haven’t learned a thing yet. All you’ve
done is added several weeks to the time you’ll be staying
“I’m never getting out,” Danny muttered.
“Not at this rate.”
“You’ll never let me out. We’re all in here to
“Wrong! Ask Alan Peterson. He’s leaving next week.
And he was a lot tougher than you when he first came in here.
Nearly knifed me his first week.”
Danny said nothing.
“Okay,” said Joe. “Think it over.... And you’d better
give me the tape recorder.”
It was still on the bed, where Danny had left it. He
picked it up and tossed it to Joe.
Danny sat slumped on the bed for a long time after
Joe left, staring at the black-and-white tiled floor.
A month wasted.
He looked up at the TV screen. “SPECS,” he
The screen began to glow, “YES, MR. ROMANO.”
“You didn’t tell me about the back-up alarms,” Danny
said, with just the beginnings of a tremble in his voice.
“YOU DID NOT ASK ABOUT THE BACK-UP ALARMS.”
“You let me walk out there and get caught like a
“THE BACK-UP SYSTEMS GO ON AUTOMATICALLY WHEN THE
MAIN ALARM SYSTEMS GO OFF. I HAVE NO CONTROL OVER THEM.”
Danny got up and faced the screen. “You lied to me,”
he said, his voice rising. “You let me go out there and get caught
again. You lied to me!”
“IT IS IMPOSSIBLE FOR ME TO TELL A LIE, IN THE
“Liar!” Danny crossed the room in three quick steps
and grabbed the desk chair.
he screamed, and threw the chair into
the TV screen. It bounced off harmlessly.
Danny picked up the chair and smashed it across the
screen. Again and again. The hard plastic of the screen didn’t even
scratch, but the chair broke up, legs splintering and falling, seat
cracking apart, until all Danny had in his hands was the broken
ends of the chair’s back.
“I AM CALLING THE MEDICAL STAFF,” said SPECS calmly,
“YOU ARE BEHAVING IN AN HYSTERICAL MANNER.”
“Dirty rotten liar!” Danny threw the broken pieces of
the chair at the screen and cursed at SPECS.
Then he turned around, kicked the side of his desk,
then knocked over his bookcase. The halfdozen books he had in it
spilled out onto the floor. Danny reached down and took one, tore
it to bits, and then ran to the door.
A couple of medics were hurrying up the hall toward
his room. Danny ran the other way. But the door at the far end of
the hall was closed and locked. SPECS had locked all the doors
“Come on son, calm down now,” said one of the medics.
They were both big and young, dressed in white suits. One of them
carried a small black kit in his hand.
Danny swore at them and tried to leap past them. They
grabbed him. He struggled as hard as he could. Then he felt a
needle being jabbed into his arm. Danny cursed and hollered and
tried to squirm away from them. But everything was starting to get
fuzzy. Soon he slid into sleep.
He awoke in his own room. Early morning sunlight was
coming through the window. The broken pieces of the chair were
still scattered across the floor, mixed with the pages from the
torn book. The bookcase was still face down. He was still in the
same clothes he had been wearing the night before, except that his
shoes had been taken off.
Danny sat up. His head felt a little whoozy.
One of the doctors entered the room without knocking.
He checked Danny over quickly and then said, “You’ll be okay for
classes this morning. Have a good breakfast first.”
As the doctor left, the TV screen lit up. Joe Tenny’s
face appeared on it.
“Got it out of your system?”
Danny glared at him.
Joe grinned. “Okay, you had your little temper
tantrum. You’re going to have to fix the chair by yourself, in the
wood shop. We’ll give you a new book to replace the one you tore
up, but you ought to do something to earn it. Maybe you can work
Saturday morning in the laundry room.”
Danny frowned, but he nodded slowly.
“Okay,” said Joe. “See you in class.”
It can’t be escape-proof
, Danny told himself.
There’s got to be a way out
, he answered himself.
But you ain’t
going to find it in a day or two