No one could move without being followed.
No one could speak without being overheard.
The almost sentient computer system was everywhere.
The prison was billed as "escape-proof," and sofar that was true.
But Danny Romano was not about to believe it... the jail hadn't been built that could hold him. Danny would escape.
Even if he had to permanently change his identity to do it.
At the Publisher's request, this title is being sold without Digital Rights Management Software (DRM) applied.
|Publisher:||Tom Doherty Associates|
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About the Author
Ben Bova is a six-time winner of the Hugo Award, a former editor of Analog, former editorial director of Omni, and past president of both the National Space Society and the Science Fiction Writers of America. Bova is the author of more than a hundred works of science fact and fiction. He lives in Florida.
Ben Bova is the author of more than a hundred works of science fact and fiction, including Able One, Leviathans of Jupiter and the Grand Tour novels, including Titan, winner of John W. Campbell Memorial Award for best novel of the year. He received the Lifetime Achievement Award of the Arthur C. Clarke Foundation in 2005, and in 2008 he won the Robert A. Heinlein Award "for his outstanding body of work in the field of literature." He is President Emeritus of the National Space Society and a past president of Science Fiction Writers of America, and a former editor of Analog and former fiction editor of Omni. As an editor, he won science fiction’s Hugo Award six times. Dr. Bova’s writings have predicted the Space Race of the 1960s, virtual reality, human cloning, the Strategic Defense Initiative (Star Wars), electronic book publishing, and much more. He lives in Florida.
Read an Excerpt
By Ben Bova
Tom Doherty AssociatesCopyright © 1984 Ben Bova
All rights reserved.
The door shut behind him.
Danny Romano stood in the middle of the small room, every nerve tight. He listened for the click of the lock. Nothing.
Quiet as a cat, he tiptoed back to the door and tried the knob. It turned. The door was unlocked.
Danny opened the door a crack and peeked out into the hallway. Empty. The guards who had brought him here were gone. No voices. No footsteps. Down at the far end of the hall, up near the ceiling, was some sort of TV camera. A little red light glowed next to its lens.
He shut the door and leaned against it.
"Don't lem 'em sucker you," he said to himself. "This is a jail."
Danny looked all around the room. There was only one bed. On its bare mattress was a pile of clothes, bed sheets, towels and stuff. A TV screen was set into the wall at the end of the bed. On the other side of the room was a desk, an empty bookcase, and two stiff-back wooden chairs. Somebody had painted the walls a soft blue.
"This can't be a cell ... not for me, anyway. They made a mistake."
The room was about the size of the jail cells they always put four guys into. Or sometimes six.
And there was something else funny about it. The smell, that's it! This room smelled clean. There was even fresh air blowing in through the open window. And there were no bars on the window. Danny tried to remember how many jail cells he had been in. Eight? Ten? They had all stunk like rotting garbage.
He went to the clothes on the bed. Slacks, real slacks. Sport shirts and turtlenecks. And colors! Blue, brown, tan. Danny yanked off the gray coveralls he had been wearing, and tried on a light blue turtleneck and dark brown slacks. They even fit right. Nobody had ever been able to find him a prison uniform small enough to fit his wiry frame before this.
Then he crossed to the window and looked outside. He was on the fifth or sixth floor, he guessed. The grounds around the building were starting to turn green with the first touch of early spring. There were still a few patches of snow here and there, in the shadows cast by the other buildings.
There were a dozen buildings, all big and square and new-looking. Ten floors high, each of them, although there were a couple of smaller buildings farther out. One of them had a tall smokestack. The buildings were arranged around a big, open lawn that had cement paths through it. A few young trees lined the walkways. They were just beginning to bud.
"No fences," Danny said to himself.
None of the windows he could see had bars. Everyone seemed to enter or leave the buildings freely. No guards and no locks on the doors? Out past the farthest building was an area of trees. Danny knew from his trip in here, this morning, that beyond the woods was the highway that led back to the city.
Back to Laurie.
Danny smiled. What were the words the judge had used? In ... in-de-ter-minate sentence. The lawyer had said that it meant he was going to stay in jail for as long as they wanted him to. A year, ten years, fifty years....
"I'll be out of here tonight!" He laughed.
A knock on the door made Danny jump. Somebody heard me!
Another knock, louder this time. "Hey, you in there?" a man's voice called.
"Y ... yeah."
The door popped open. "I'm supposed to talk with you and get you squared away. My name's Joe Tenny."
Joe was at least forty, Danny saw. He was stocky, tough-looking, but smiling. His face was broad; his dark hair combed straight back. He was a head taller than Danny and three times wider. The jacket of his suit looked tight across the middle. His tie was loosened, and his shirt collar unbuttoned.
A cop, Danny thought. Or maybe a guard. But why ain't he wearing a uniform?
Joe Tenny stuck out a heavy right hand. Danny didn't move.
"Listen, kid," Tenny said, "we're going to be stuck together for a long time. We might as well be friends."
"I got my own friends," said Danny. "On the outside."
Tenny's eyebrows went up while the corners of his mouth went down. His face seemed to say, Who are you trying to kid, wise guy?
Aloud, he said, "Okay, suit yourself. You can have it any way you like, hard or easy." He reached for one of the chairs and pulled it over near the bed.
"How long am I going to be here?"
"That depends on you. A couple of years, at least." Joe turned the chair around backwards and sat on it as if it were a saddle, leaning his stubby arms on the chair's back.
Danny swung at the pile of clothes and things on the bed, knocking most of them onto the floor. Then he plopped down on the mattress. The springs squeaked in complaint.
Joe looked hard at him, then let a smile crack his face. "I know just what's going through your mind. You're thinking that two years here in the Center is going to kill you, so you're going to crash out the first chance you get. Well, forget it! The Center is escape-proof."
In spite of himself, Danny laughed.
"I know, I know...." Tenny grinned back at him. "The Center looks more like a college campus than a jail. In fact, that's what most of the kids call it — the campus. But believe me, Alcatraz was easy compared to this place. We don't have many guards or fences, but we've got TV cameras, and laser alarms, and SPECS."
"Who's Specks?" Danny asked.
Joe called out, "SPECS, say hello."
The TV screen on the wall lit up. A flat, calm voice said, "GOOD MORNING DR. TENNY. GOOD MORNING MR. ROMANO. WELCOME TO THE JUVENILE HEALTH CENTER."
Danny felt totally confused. Somebody was talking through the TV set? The screen, though, showed the words he was hearing, spelled out a line at a time. But they moved too fast for Danny to really read them. And Specks, whoever he was, called Joe Tenny a doctor.
"Morning SPECS," Tenny said to the screen. "How's it going today?"
"ALL SYSTEMS ARE FUNCTIONING WELL, DR. TENNY. A LIGHT TUBE IN CORRIDOR SIX OF BUILDING NINE BURNED OUT DURING THE NIGHT. I HAVE REPORTED THIS TO THE MAINTENANCE CREW. THEY WILL REPLACE IT BEFORE LUNCH. THE MORNING CLASSES ARE IN PROGRESS. ATTENDANCE IS ..."
"Enough, skip the details." Joe turned back to Danny. "If I let him, he'd give me a report on every stick and stone in the Center."
"Who is he?" Danny asked.
"Not a he, really. An it. A computer. Special Computer System. Take the 's-p-e' from 'special' and the 'c' and 's' from 'computer system' and put the letters together: SPECS. He runs most of the Center. Sees all and knows all. And he never sleeps."
"Big deal," said Danny, trying to make it sound tough. Joe Tenny turned back to the TV screen, which was still glowing. "SPECS, give me Danny Romano's record, please."
The reply came without an instant's wait: "DANIEL FRANCIS ROMANO. AGE SIXTEEN. HEIGHT FIVE FEET TWO INCHES. WEIGHT ONE HUNDRED THIRTEEN POUNDS. SENTENCED TO INDETERMINATE SENTENCE IN THE JUVENILE HEALTH CENTER. FOUND GUILTY OF ATTEMPTED MURDER, RIOTING, LOOTING, ATTACKING A POLICE OFFICER WITH A DEADLY WEAPON, RESISTING ARREST. EARLIER CONVICTIONS INCLUDE PETTY THEFT, AUTOMOBILE THEFT, ASSAULT AND BATTERY, RESISTING ARREST, VANDALISM. SERVED SIX MONTHS IN STATE PRISON FOR BOYS. ESCAPED AND RECAPTURED ..."
"That's enough," Joe said. "Bad scene, isn't it?"
"So it's why you're here."
Danny asked, "What kind of place is this? How come I'm not in a regular jail?"
Joe thought a minute before answering. "This is a new place. This Center has been set up for kids like you. Kids who are going to kill somebody — or get themselves killed — unless we can change them. Our job is to help you to change. We think you can straighten out. There's no need for you to spend the rest of your life in trouble and in jail. But you've got to let us help you. And you've got to help yourself."
"How ... how long will I have to stay here?"
Tenny's face turned grim. "Like I said, a couple of years, at least. But it really depends on you. You're going to stay as long as it takes. If you don't shape up, you stay. It's that simple."CHAPTER 2
Joe Tenny went right on talking. He used SPECS' TV screen to show Danny a map of the Center and the layouts of the different buildings. He pointed out the classrooms, the cafeteria, the gym and shops, and game rooms.
But Danny didn't see any of it, didn't hear a single word. All he could think of was: as long as it takes. If you don't shape up, you stay.
They were going to keep him here forever. Danny knew it. Tenny was a liar. They were all liars. Like that lousy social worker when he was a kid. She told him they were sending him to a special school. "It's for your own good, Daniel." Good, real good. Some school. No teacher, no books. Just guards who belted you when they felt like it, and guys who socked you when the guards weren't looking.
If you don't shape up, you stay. Shape up to what? Get a job? How? Where? Who would hire a punk sixteen-year-old who's already spent half his life in jails?
"We gave you a good room," Joe said, getting up suddenly from his chair. "Your building's right next-door to the cafeteria."
Danny snapped his attention back to the real world.
"Come on, it's just about lunchtime."
He followed Joe Tenny out into the hallway, to the elevator, and down to the ground floor of the building. Danny saw that somebody had scratched his initials on the metal inner door of the elevator, and somebody else had worked very hard to erase the scratches, They were barely visible.
They pushed through the glass doors and followed a cement walkway across the piece of lawn that separated the two buildings. Danny shivered in the sudden chill of the outside air. Tenny walked briskly, like he was in a hurry.
Groups of boys — two, three, six, eight in a bunch — were walking across the campus grounds toward the cafeteria building. They were talking back and forth, joking, horsing around.
But Danny's mind was still racing. I can't stay here. Can't leave Laurie alone on the outside. Some other guy will grab her. By the time I get out, she won't even remember me. Got to get out fast!
Joe pushed open the glass doors of the cafeteria building. It was warm inside, and noisy. And it smelled of cooking.
"DR. TENNY," called a loudspeaker. Danny thought it sounded like SPECS' voice only much louder and with a bit of an echo to it. "DR. TENNY, PLEASE REPORT TO THE ADMINISTRATION BUILDING."
"Looks like I miss lunch," Joe said, glancing up at the loudspeaker. Danny saw that it was set into the panelled ceiling. There was a TV lens with its unblinking red eye next to it, watching them.
"Have a good feed, Danny. The rest of the day's yours. Move around, make some friends. SPECS will get you up at the right time tomorrow morning and tell you which classes to go to. See you!"
And with a wave of a heavy, thick-wristed hand, Joe headed back for the glass doors and outside.
Danny watched him go. Then a half-dozen boys pushed through the doors and walked in toward the cafeteria. They were laughing and wise-cracking among themselves. No one said hello or seemed to notice Danny at all.
Turning, Danny headed for the food. Around a corner of the hallway was a big, open, double doorway. Inside it was the cafeteria, noisy and busy with at least a hundred boys. They were standing in line, waving across the big room to friends, rushing toward tables with trays of steaming food, talking, laughing, eating. They moved as freely as they wanted and they all seemed to be talking as loudly as their lungs would let them.
The tables were small, four or six places each. In a few spots, boys had pushed together a couple of tables to make room for a bigger group.
Danny remembered the dining room in the State Prison. You marched in single file and ate at long, wooden tables that were so old the paint was gone. The wood itself was cracked and carved with the initials of fifty years' worth of boys.
This cafeteria was sparkling new. The walls, the tables, the floors all gleamed with fresh paint and plastic and metal. One whole wall was glass. Outside you could see a stretch of grass and a few young trees.
He took a place at the end of the food line. The boys moved along quickly, even though some of them were talking and kidding back and forth. Soon Danny was taking a tray and a wrapped package of spoon, knife, and fork. All plastic.
It surprised him to see that there were no people behind the food counter. Everything was automatic. Boys took a bowl of soup, or a sandwich, or a metal-foil dish that held an entire hot dinner in it. As soon as one piece was taken, another popped through a little door in the wall to replace it.
"You're new here, aren't you?"
Danny turned to see, in line behind him, a tall boy with sandy hair and a scattering of freckles across his snub nose.
"My name's Alan Peterson, No, don't tell me yours. Let me see if I can remember it. SPECS flashed pictures of all the new guys on the news this morning. You're ... emm ... Danny something-or-other. Right?"
Alan grinned. "See, I got it. Almost."
"Yeah." Danny reached for a sandwich and an apple. The only drinks he could see were milk, either white or chocolate. He took a chocolate,
Stepping away, Danny looked around for a table.
"Come on with me," Alan said cheerfully. "I'll sit you down with some of the guys. You ought to make friends."
Alan steered him toward a six-place table. Three of the seats were already filled. Danny stopped suddenly.
"I ain't sittin' there."
Danny jerked his head toward one of the boys at the table. "'Cause I don't eat with niggers, that's why not."CHAPTER 3
Alan looked at Danny in a funny way. Not sore, but almost.
"Okay," he said softly. "Find your own friends."
He left Danny standing there with the tray in his hands and went to the table. Another black came up at the same time and sat beside Alan.
Danny found a small table that was empty and sat there alone, with his back to the doors and the food line. He was facing the glass wall and the outside.
He ate quickly, thinking, Don't waste any time. Walk around, see how big the place is, how hard it'll be to get out.
He got up from the table and started to walk away. But SPECS' voice came from an overhead loudspeaker:
"PLEASE TAKE YOUR TRAY TO THE DISPOSAL SLOT IF YOU ARE FINISHED EATING. THANK YOU."
Danny looked up at the ceiling, then turned and saw other boys bringing their trays to a slot in the wall, not far from the table where he was. With a small shrug, he took his tray to the slot.
He watches everything, Danny thought as he glanced up at one of the TV cameras in the ceiling.
It was still chilly outside after lunch, even though the sun was shining. Danny thought he had seen a jacket — a windbreaker — among the clothes on his bed. But he didn't bother going back to his room. Instead, he jammed his fists in his slacks pockets, hunched his shoulders, and headed toward the trees that were out at the edge of the campus.
He didn't get far.
From behind him, a soft voice said, "Hear you don't like eatin' with black men, skinny."
Danny turned around. Two blacks were standing there, grinning at him. But there was no friendship in their smiles. Danny thought they might be the two boys who had been at the table Alan tried to steer him to.
For a moment they just stood there, looking each other over. There were a couple of other boys around, white and black, but they stayed a little distance away. Out of it. Danny could feel himself tensing, his fists clenching hard inside his pockets.
One of the blacks was Danny's own height, and not much heavier. The other was tall and thin, built for basketball. He had sleepy-looking eyes, and a bored, cool look on his face.
"That true, skinny?" the tall one asked. "You don't want to eat with us?"
Danny swore at him.
"My, my, such language," said the smaller of them. "Real rough one, this guy. Hard as nails."
"Yeah ... fingernails."
They both laughed. Danny said nothing.
The tall black said slowly, "Listen baby. You got a problem. You're bein' put down in the schedule to fight Lacey here, first of the month."
Lacey nodded and grinned brightly. "So start workin' out in the gym, Whitey, or you won't last even half a round."
"Yeah." The tall one added, "And in case you don't know it, Lacey here's the lightweight champ o' this whole Center. And he ain't gonna be playing games with you in that ring. Dig?"
Excerpted from Escape Plus by Ben Bova. Copyright © 1984 Ben Bova. Excerpted by permission of Tom Doherty Associates.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
A SLIGHT MISCALCULATION,
THE LAST DECISION,
MEN OF GOOD WILL,
BLOOD OF TYRANTS,
THE NEXT LOGICAL STEP,
THE SHINING ONES,
A LONG WAY BACK,
STARS, WON'T YOU HIDE ME?,
FORECAST: THE WORLDS MODELER,