When Ben woke to find himself in an underground jail, guarded by a robot and supervised by a peculiar computer, he considered that he was in trouble. But that was only the beginning of his problems. When he first saw himself in a mirror he was stunned to find he now had a pair of massive ears, pointed at four ends! Deciding to trainspot as a hobby (with the idea of getting to the surface and escaping) he is joined by the robot who is also a keen spotter! And then a strange taxi arrives ... in an underground prison ...
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Ben woke feeling comfortable in a warm and cosy bed. He stretched himself, opened his eyes slowly and peered upwards. In the semi darkness it seemed that his bedroom has a ceiling roughly carved from granite! He must be dreaming? He pinches himself. His shout of ouch brings an immediate response. A kind of booming, metallic voice originates from somewhere to his left. The voice says: "Good Morning, Prisoner 001, Ben A Zero! I am Prison Robot FIDO! Lights activate! " The room is abruptly flooded with bright light. Ben gets a clear view of his "bedroom. " The whole place is carved from solid rock! Uneven surfaces glint in the bright light coming from some built in source above his head. A golden metallic robot is standing close to his bed! Ben now panics and shouts: "Help! Help. Somebody help me! " The golden robot then leans forward. He rips off the blankets with one metal hand and then grabs Ben by the front of his pyjamas! Ben is pulled out of bed. He stands shivering in fright. The robot says: "Put on your slippers and accompany me to the Ablutions! " in his peculiar voice. Ben blindly pushes his feet into a pair of slippers. He is then frog marched out of the cell. The robot steers him down a rocky corridor into a small brightly lit bathroom. The bathroom is also carved from rock.
There is a washbasin, a toilet and a small shower cubicle.
Ben is now told by the robot to "conduct ablutions. " He does so, trying to compose himself. What has happened to him? Has he lost his marbles and is imagining all this? He has no answers as he completed his morning toilet. When he finishes, the robot produces a towel and Ben dries himself. Then a mirror suddenly appears above the washbasin, silently descending into view from some hidden recess. Ben sees his own face for the first time. He is horribly, horribly shocked to see that his head now sports a pair of massive pink ears. They stick out from his head, enormous ears pointed at the top and bottom. At first he thinks that the ears must be fakes! Plastic ears stuck to his head as part of a fantastic charade. He starts pulling at them until shooting pains convince him that the ears are actually fixed to his head. They must be his own ears! Following this gut wrenching discovery, a female voice speaks, apparently coming from speakers in the wall. "I am Prison Computer Warder CLEO. "
Ben is addressed as "Prisoner 001 Ben A Zero. " He is informed by Prison Computer Warder CLEO that he is a notorious elf criminal! He is in prison for a very extended period because he is guilty of foul crimes! When Ben asks for details of his foul crimes the computer refuses to give him any saying the information is none of his business! He must know what he did and should not need to be reminded! Ben's plea that he does not know what crimes he may have committed meets with no response. Finally the computer says that he must never think of trying to escape. He cannot escape! He is securely held deep underground. He will be jailed for the entire period of his extremely long sentence which is well justified! Ben's request for details on his crime and the duration his sentence is met with another cold silence. He is told to stop asking questions and return to his cell. He returns up the stone passage with Prison Robot FIDO. They arrive at Ben's cell. It is basically a sparsely furnished rock cavern which contains a bed, a table, two chairs and a television set. Prison Robot FIDO leaves the room and Ben hears his metal feet clamping down the corridor into a room nearby. Warder CLEO then addresses him again, apparently from some speaker located in his cell. He is told to look at his television set. A list of "possible prisoner hobbies"
appears on the screen. The list scrolls down to show a number of activities. Ben is told that he must choose a suitable hobby by pointing at the screen. The longer he waits the more hungry he will become because he will not get his breakfast until he has chosen a hobby! The list includes a variety of activities such as learning the names of birds, the theory of stalking wild animals, navigating from a map, becoming a maths wizard, learning carpentry, making jewellery for fun and profit, etc. None of the hobbies appears to be at all suitable for Ben's rapidly growing primary aim which is to escape from this crazy prison!! The list continues to scroll down. Stamp collecting, indoor archery, weather forecasting, making paper models, reading selected works of great authors, preparing and tending an indoor vegetable patch. Finally the list shows "train spotting. " After asking if train spotting will mean going to the surface, Ben is asked if he wants to train spot underground or above ground. He says he would like to spot above ground railways. The computer then says that underground railways are much more suitable. There is no chance of getting soaked by rain or freezing in the cold. He can train spot underground, close to his cosy prison. Ben maintains that he wants to train spot above ground.
He is then asked if he wants to spot steam engines or diesel engines. After pondering, he selects steam because in a cloud of steam and smoke he might get a better chance to escape. The computer now announces that Ben has chosen steam engine train spotting as his main prisoner's hobby. Steam Engine Train Spotting now appears in glowing letters on the TV screen, accompanied by a blare of trumpets. The TV screen now changes and a very extensive breakfast menu appears. It includes cereal, bacon and eggs, sausages, mushrooms, fried potato and Waybread toast. This main course will be followed by more Waybread toast with marmalade or jam and finally fresh coffee. Ben is to choose items by simply pointing at the screen. He chooses a very substantial breakfast.
Ben sits on his bed thinking about his incredible situation. As he ponders on what could have happened hi breakfast is cooked by robot FIDO. The robot cooks in a kitchen just along the corridor. The robot comes into the cell, lays the table and serves the meal. Ben enjoys an excellent breakfast and starts to feel more relaxed. But then the robot brings in his "day uniform. " It is entirely covered with upturned arrows and signs announcing that he is a convict. Even his shoes are marked the same way. For the first time, he looks down at his pyjamas. They are also covered in arrow signs and letters announcing that he is a convict. His slippers are covered in arrows and signs announcing his convict status. This discovery immediately puts any escape plan into jeopardy. If he is somehow able to get onto a train he will have to hide away until he can beg, borrow or steal new clothes. Ben is about to protest strongly about his uniform when Prison Computer Warder CLEO says that she has personally designed his "gear! " The computer says that she would be most upset if he was to complain! If he complains and she does get upset he will certainly stop enjoying her cooking. She controls all cooking by programming Prison Robot FIDO. If Ben complains he will get bread and water for months! This fair punishment will continue until he expressed "true remorse. " This will mean he has real heartfelt appreciation of everything about his Prison Computer Warder. It will include true and genuine appreciation of her brilliant cooking and her clothing design skills. It will include full appreciation of her nice personality and her kindly nature. Ben should constantly express appreciation of how Prison Computer Warder CLEO has struggled to ensure he can never escape, how she has managed to maintain her difficult role as a Computer Warder. Complaining is, of course, the polar opposite of expressing appreciation! What does he think of his new clothes? Does he appreciate their design? Ben has got the message. He says that he truly appreciates the remarkable design of his new clothes! CLEO then states that it is time for his first train spotting trip above ground. Ben changes into his (horrible) day clothes. To reach the surface he is obliged to wait at a steel door, and then climb a series of rocky steps. The steps are made of muddy rock and lead up inside the trunk of a massive tree. The robot follows close behind Ben. Once up the stairs they both have to wait inside a kind of wooden cavern inside a tree trunk. There is a steel door fitted on one side of the trunk. Finally it slides open. Closely followed by the robot, Ben climbs out to find himself in a kind of tunnel made of translucent material. The material admits light but nothing shows through from the outside. The floor seems to be made of cracked concrete and grass. Ben walks down the tunnel. The robot follows him until they reach an area surrounded by a dome of light. Nothing shows through the dome. It is simply a bubble of translucent light enclosing a lawn. Two sets of railway lines cross the lawn. The lines appear from outside the dome. There are signals on each line, sited just inside the dome. Robot FIDO moves to a spot near to the line and announces that he is a keen train spotter!