City of Darkness

City of Darkness

by Ben Bova

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Overview

He's passed his college entrance exams with flying colors. He can do pretty much whatever he wants. But what teenager Ron Morgan wants most is for his father to quit telling him what to do. Quit running his life. What better way to unwind than having a last blowout on Labor Day in the domed playground of Fun City: Manhattan.

Inside the dome, however, Ron loses his wallet and identity card. Worse, he's trapped when the dome closes for the season. There's no way out. Gangs roam the street. Food is scarce. Ron is on his own.

All Ron wanted was some fun. He'll be lucky to escape New York alive....



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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781429910668
Publisher: Tom Doherty Associates
Publication date: 04/01/2007
Sold by: Macmillan
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 160
Sales rank: 1,022,934
File size: 898 KB
Age Range: 13 - 18 Years

About the Author

Ben Bova (1932-2020) was the author of more than a hundred works of science fact and fiction, including Able One, Transhuman, Orion, the Star Quest Trilogy, and the Grand Tour novels, including Titan, winner of John W. Campbell Memorial Award for best novel of the year. His many honors include the Isaac Asimov Memorial Award in 1996, the Lifetime Achievement Award of the Arthur C. Clarke Foundation in 2005, and the Robert A. Heinlein Award “for his outstanding body of work in the field of literature” in 2008.

Dr. Bova was 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. His writings predicted the Space Race of the 1960s, virtual reality, human cloning, the Strategic Defense Initiative (Star Wars), electronic book publishing, and much more.

In addition to his literary achievements, Bova worked for Project Vanguard, America’s first artificial satellite program, and for Avco Everett Research Laboratory, the company that created the heat shields for Apollo 11, helping the NASA astronauts land on the moon. He also taught science fiction at Harvard University and at New York City’s Hayden Planetarium and worked with such filmmakers as George Lucas and Gene Roddenberry.


Ben Bova (1932-2020) was the author of more than a hundred works of science fact and fiction, including Able One, Transhuman, Orion, the Star Quest Trilogy, and the Grand Tour novels, including Titan, winner of John W. Campbell Memorial Award for best novel of the year. His many honors include the Isaac Asimov Memorial Award in 1996, the Lifetime Achievement Award of the Arthur C. Clarke Foundation in 2005, and the Robert A. Heinlein Award “for his outstanding body of work in the field of literature” in 2008.

Dr. Bova was 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. His writings predicted the Space Race of the 1960s, virtual reality, human cloning, the Strategic Defense Initiative (Star Wars), electronic book publishing, and much more.

In addition to his literary achievements, Bova worked for Project Vanguard, America’s first artificial satellite program, and for Avco Everett Research Laboratory, the company that created the heat shields for Apollo 11, helping the NASA astronauts land on the moon. He also taught science fiction at Harvard University and at New York City’s Hayden Planetarium and worked with such filmmakers as George Lucas and Gene Roddenberry.

Read an Excerpt

City of Darkness


By Ben Bova

Tom Doherty Associates

Copyright © 2003 Ben Bova
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4299-1066-8


CHAPTER 1

"And the girls ... wow!" said Ron Morgan.

"What about them?"

"How'd they look?"

Ron was sitting on the edge of the swimming pool, his feet swishing in the heated water. It was a cool, clear, late summer night. Eight of his buddies were clustered around him on the astroturf of the back yard. The only lights were the pool's underwater lamps, which threw strange shimmering shadows on the boys' faces.

"New York City girls are something else," Ron told them. "It's hard to describe. They're not prettier than the girls here at home, but ..."

"But what?" Jimmy Glenn squeaked in his cracking voice. "Don't hang us up!"

"Well ..." Ron searched for the best words. "They sort of — well, for one thing, they dress differently. Sharp. Like they want to be seen. I guess that's it. They know what it's all about, and they like it!"

"Not like Sally-Ann."

"That dimwit."

Ron went on, "They want guys to notice them. They even stare right back at you when you look them over."

One of the boys laughed. "Dude, I'm going to talk my dad into taking me to New York City before the summer's over."

"Your dad must be okay, Ron — taking you to the City."

"Hey, he likes it too, you know," Ron answered.

"Is the City really that great, Ron? I mean, for real?"

Ron smiled. He had an even-featured, good-looking face. Like all the boys around the pool, his teeth were straight, his eyes were clear, his lean teenaged body was strong and unblemished, thanks to a lifetime of carefully regulated diet, vitamins, exactly eight hours' sleep each night, and the school's physical fitness programs.

"It's the only city they open up, isn't it?" Ron answered with a question. "All the other cities have been closed down, haven't they?"

"There's still a couple cities open out West," said Reggie Gilmore.

"They're just little ones."

"San Francisco's not so little!"

"Yeah, but Mr. Armbruster in Social Consciousness class said the Government was going to close down San Francisco next year, too. They had an epidemic there this summer."

"It's a lot better out here in the Tracts," one of the boys said. "We're safer and healthier."

"You get an A for social consciousness, Leroy!"

All the boys laughed, except Leroy, who knew that all believed the same way he did, even though they kidded him for admitting it openly.

"New York is wild," Ron said, taking over the conversation again. "The streets are jammed with people. You can hardly walk. Stores everyplace. Not just shopping centers, but all over the place! You can buy anything from clothes to stereo TVs without walking more than a block."

"But it's real unsanitary, isn't it?"

Ron nodded. "Absolutely! The streets are filthy. How can you keep them clean, with so many people pushing around everyplace? And they've got old-fashioned gas-burning cars in the streets. The pollution! And the noise! The cars and horns and people talking and shouting ... it's crazy. No wonder they only keep the City open during summer vacation. It's too unsanitary for people to live in New York all year 'round."

"Where do all the people go, after the summer's over?"

"Back to the Tracts, dumbhead! Just like Ron and his dad, right?"

"That's right," Ron said. "They close the City after Labor Day and everybody goes back to their homes. Then the next spring they open it up again, for the vacation season."

"Man, I'd like to spend a summer there!"

"Can't. They only allow you to stay two weeks, at the most."

"Two weeks, then. Cheez!"

The boys were silent for a few moments, and the night was silent with them. No crickets, no mosquitos, no sounds of life at all. Nothing except the darkness and the softest humming of the methane-fueled generator, which provided electric power once the sun went down.

Ron splashed at the water with his feet.

"The girls are really terrific, huh?"

With a laugh, he answered, "More than that. They've got something they call bedicabs driving around along the streets. With a meter and everything."

"What's that for?" Jimmy asked.

The other guys hooted at him.

"Ohhh!" Jimmy finally got it. "Okay, so I'm a slow learner. Do they charge by the mile or the hour?"

After they quieted down again, Ron resumed, "When you leave Manhattan Dome and start out for the train station to go home, they put you on a special bus — it's sort of like an ambulance. They take off all your clothes and get rid of them. Then they make you shower and they cleanse you with all sorts of special stuff. You have to stick a tube down your nose and all the way into your lungs —"

"Yuchk!"

"Yeah, but you've got to get rid of the carcinogens you breathed in while you were in the City. And the germs. You pick up enough germs to start an epidemic back home, the medic told us."

"Well, cancel my trip. I'm not going through that."

"I am," Ron said. "I'm going back to New York City before they close it for the winter."

"You are?"

"Yep. And this time I'm going alone, without my dad. There are a lot of things to see and do that he wouldn't let me into. He always thinks he knows best ... treats me like a kid."

Jimmy asked, "Does your father know you're going back alone?"

"No. And don't anybody tell on me, either."

They were still talking about New York City when the ten o'clock whistle went off.

"Damn!"

"Curfew time already?"

"I bet those security cops ring it early on us."

"They can't. It's automatic."

The boys got up slowly, grumbling. Ron pulled himself to his feet.

Jimmy came over beside him and asked softly, "Are you really going back to New York City?"

Nodding, Ron said, "You bet. I don't know how I'm going to do it, but I'm going."

"There's only a week or so left before Labor Day. Don't they close the City after that?"

"Yep."

"Wish I could go, too."

"Come on along!" Ron said, enthusiastically. "It'd be terrific, the two of us."

"Naw, I can't. My folks wouldn't let me."

"Don't tell them!"

Jimmy scuffed at the astroturf with a bare foot.

"They'd kill me when I got back. Naw ... I just can't."

Ron didn't know what to say. He just stood there.

"Well ... g'night," Jimmy said.

Ron shrugged at him.

The boys filed through the back gate in the fence that surrounded Ron's house. They fanned out, each heading for his own house. All the houses on the long curving broad quiet street were the same. Each had a broad back lawn of astroturf with a swimming pool and the same low, imitation-wood fences. In each of the houses, the parents sat watching TV, like good citizen consumers.

The Tract houses went on, street after street, row after row, for as far as Ron knew. The only break in their ranks was the big shopping center, where all the fathers worked in offices on the upper floors of the store buildings. The train station was next to the shopping center, underground, beneath the parking lot. The train ran through a deep tunnel, so Ron never saw where the Tracts ended and the City began.

Ron stood beside the pool for a long while and looked up at the stars. The sky was completely clear of clouds. The Weather Control Force wouldn't start the nightly rain for another couple of hours. Up there now in the blackness he could see sparkling Vega and brilliant Altair. And there was Deneb, at the tail of the Swan — the stars of the Swan stretched halfway across the summer sky in a long, graceful cross, slim and beautiful.

If only Dad could see how beautiful it all is, Ron thought. If only ...

Then he remembered the National Exams. The tests that settled what your career would be. The tests that fixed the pattern of the rest of your life. If you did poorly, the chances were that they would put you in the Social Services, or worse, in the Army. But if you did well — incredibly well — maybe you could get to spend your whole life studying the stars.

They'd tell him how he scored on the tests tomorrow.

Tomorrow was going to be The Day.

Tomorrow.

A movement of light caught his eye. Far down the row of houses, a silent patrol car was gliding along the emptied street. The security patrol, making certain that nobody was out past curfew.

Ron shook his head and headed for the house. He knew that his parents were watching TV: Dad in his den and Mother in her bedroom. Mother never felt very strong, so they seldom had friends over. Ron went straight up to his room without bothering either of his parents.

Before they close the City down, I'm going back to New York, he told himself again. No matter what the National Exam results are, I'm going back.

CHAPTER 2

Ron woke up.

His eyes snapped open and he was awake. Not groggy at all. Eyes wide open, mind clear and sharp. He could hear the morning music and news coming from his alarm stereo, the newscaster's soft voice purring along in cadence to the "easy listening" music. The sun was streaming through his bedroom window. Very faintly, Ron could hear the water circulating in the solar-powered pumps between his bedroom ceiling and the roof.

A moment ago he had been sleeping, dreaming something ugly and scary. Now he was so fully awake that he couldn't even remember what his dream was about. He lay on his back, staring up at the ceiling. He had painted patterns of stars up there on the blue paneling: Orion, the Dippers, the Lion —

The Exam results, he suddenly recalled. Today's The Day!

Forever Day.

He got out of bed and walked quietly to the sanitary stall. The needle-spray shower felt good. The hot-air blower felt even better. Ron looked at his face in the stall's mirror. He had never been very happy about his face. The nose was too big and the eyes were too small. Ordinary brown eyes. Brown hair, too. Just ordinary.

He had seen a few guys in New York with long hair, really long and flowing. It looked weird at first. Ron stared at his own short-clipped hair. Nice and trim. Everybody wore it that way at home. Easy to keep clean. Sanitary. Ordinary.

He wondered how it would look if it were long, long enough to flow over his shoulders. Then he pictured what his father would say. Or scream.

There was some dark brown fuzz on his chin, so Ron rubbed in a palmful of shaving powder and rinsed it all off. Now even his mother would agree that he looked clean and sanitary.

Pulling on a t-shirt and shorts, Ron noticed how quiet the house was. The alarm stereo had shut off, of course, as soon as he'd gotten up from the bed. It's early, he told himself. His mother stayed in bed most of the time; doctor's orders, she said. Dad didn't have to leave for his office for another hour. Ron slid his feet into his plastic sandals and went downstairs.

His father was already in the kitchen, sitting at the breakfast counter with a cup of steaming coffee in front of him, watching the morning news on the wall TV.

"You're up early," said Ron's father. "Nervous?"

Nodding, Ron answered, "Guess so."

Mr. Morgan was nearly fifty years old. His hair was gray and thin, with a bald spot showing no matter how he combed it. Ron had seen photos of his father when he had been much younger — he had been tall and trim and he was grinning happily in those pictures. Now he was heavy, almost fat. And he seldom smiled.

Someday I'll be just like him, Ron thought. Rich and overweight and old. Unless ...

The wall TV showed a handful of soldiers walking slowly, painfully, through some jungle growth. They looked all worn out: shoulders sagging, mouths hanging open, shirts dark with sweat, eyes red and puffy. One of them had a blood-soaked bandage wrapped around his middle. His arms were draped over the shoulders of two buddies, who were half carrying, half dragging him along. All but two of the soldiers on the screen were black. The only black people Ron had ever seen were on TV.

The TV newscaster was saying: "... and only sixteen Americans were lost in this skirmish near the Amazon River delta. Fifty-four enemy dead were counted and verified, and ..."

He sounded so damned cheerful! Ron stared at the soldiers. He knew they were his own age, or maybe a year older, at most. But they looked like old men — old, old men who had seen death so often and so close that nothing else mattered to them.

The TV picture suddenly snapped off. Ron felt himself jerk back a little in surprise. His father had turned it off.

"You don't have to worry about things like that," his father said.

Ron looked at him. "If I didn't do well in the Exams —"

"You won't be drafted, don't worry," Mr. Morgan insisted. "Even if you flunked the Exams, I can buy your way out of the draft. The draft's not for kids like you, anyway. It's for those poor slobs — those bums who couldn't hold down a decent job even if you handed it to them on a platinum platter."

"But —"

"Don't worry about it, I'm telling you." The older man's voice went up a notch, which meant he wasn't going to listen to anything Ron had to say on the subject.

"Okay, sure." For a moment Ron stared at the now-dead TV screen. He could still see the young-old soldiers.

Then he went around the breakfast counter and pulled a package from the freezer. The cold metal foil made his fingers tingle. He put the package in the microwave cooker and thirty seconds later out slid the package, sizzling hot. Ron grabbed it and put it in front of his father quickly, before the heat could get to his fingers.

Mr. Morgan peeled back the metal foil to reveal steaming eggs, pancakes, and sausages. He looked up at his son. "Where's yours?"

"I'm not hungry," Ron said.

His father huffed. "You ought to eat something. Get me some juice, will you? At least have a glass of milk. You shouldn't start the day on an empty stomach."

Ron got the juice and the milk. He drank half a glass of ice-cold milk and watched his father eating. But he kept glancing at the clock on the wall, next to the TV screen. The call will come at nine o'clock, he knew. They always call at nine sharp.

An hour and a half to go, and the seconds-counter on the digital clock was crawling like a wounded soldier dragging himself through jungle mud.

"I ... I'm going out to the garage," Ron said.

His father stared at him a moment, then said, "All right. I'll call you when the Examiner phones."

"You're not going to work today?"

With a tight smile, Ron's father said, "I'll wait until the Examiner calls."

Ron nodded and headed for the back door.

It was cool and pleasant outside. The night's rain had washed the sky a clean and cloudless blue.

The garage was really more of a workshop than anything else. The family electric car always stayed out on the driveway where the neighbors could see how big and new it was. It took so much electrical power to run it that Mr. Morgan had to keep it plugged in to the garage's special power- charger all night. Once he had backed out of the driveway without disconnecting the cable. It snapped across the windshield like a whip, crazing it into a million spiderwebs of cracks. Mr. Morgan spent an hour hopping up and down on the driveway next to his car, screaming at everybody about everything except his own forgetfulness.

Ron had fixed the cable and the plug. He had also wanted to try to put in the new windshield, but his father wouldn't let him. Mr. Morgan took the car to a repair shop, where they charged him six times what Ron thought the job was worth. But Ron did change the socket in the car, so that it would automatically disengage and release the cable when the car began to move.

"That's pretty good, son," Mr. Morgan had said, with genuine astonishment in his voice.

So Ron clanked around in the garage workshop for more than an hour. He deliberately avoided looking at his wristwatch. Instead, he worked on the electronic image booster that he was building for his telescope. It would allow the instrument to pick out stars that were far too faint for an unboosted telescope to register. With this electronics package, Ron's telescope would be almost the equal of the big reflector in the school's observatory.

"Ron!" His father's voice.

He suddenly felt hot and cold at the same time. His guts seemed to go rigid, and he could hear the blood pounding in his ears. Stiffly, Ron walked back to the house. Through the back door into the kitchen, across the dining area, and into the family room.


(Continues...)

Excerpted from City of Darkness by Ben Bova. Copyright © 2003 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.
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