- SJF – Chapter 1
- SJF – Chapter 2
- SJF – Chapter 3
- SJF – Chapter 4
- SJF – Chapter 5
- SJF – Chapter 6
- SJF – Chapter 7
- SJF – Chapter 8
- SJF – Chapter 9
- SJF – Chapter 10
- SJF – Chapter 11
- SJF – Chapter 12
- SJF – Chapter 13
- SJF – Chapter 14
- SJF – Chapter 15
- SJF – Chapter 16
- SJF – Chapter 17
- SJF – Chapter 18
- SJF – Chapter 19
- SJF – Chapter 20
- SJF – Chapter 21
- SJF – Chapter 22
- SJF – Chapter 23
- SJF – Chapter 24
- SJF – Chapter 25
Darius sat in the main reception area of Personnel. He had eaten breakfast with Dr. Sam, and considered himself lucky that his face and hands weren’t swollen. Butchie had given him some ice packs to keep the swelling down, and taken his clothes to make sure Karlito’s blood was washed off.
He didn’t know why, but Darius felt nervous. For too many years his life had been lived one uncertain moment to the next. This moment, sitting in the Personnel office at Super Justice Force Headquarters, shouldn’t have been any different. And yet it was.
He had gone largely ignored and unnoticed more than half of his life. No one expected anything from him, because no one cared. All of that changed overnight. There were people watching him—waiting to see if he succeeded or failed. He wasn’t invisible anymore.
When he walked through the two large glass doors that led into Personnel, the receptionist talking on the phone held up a finger to him, indicating that it would be a moment before she could help him. She pointed to the plate of cookies sitting in front of her, motioning to Darius, letting him know to take one.
It’s too early for a cookie, Darius thought. He picked one up anyway, just to be polite, and took a seat.
The receptionist finished her phone call and turned her attention to Darius. “How can I help you, sweetie?”
Darius waved the piece of paper Dr. Sam had given him, his mouth still full of cookie. “I’m here for orientation,” he said as soon as he swallowed.
The receptionist didn’t even look at the paper. “You’re scheduled to see Trang Nguyen. Her office is down that hall, second door on the left.”
“Thanks,” said Darius.
“Take another cookie.”
“If you don’t eat it someone else will. Besides, you’re too skinny.”
Darius ate the second cookie in three bites as he walked down the hall. It had been a long time since he’d had a homemade cookie. Uncle Kenny certainly didn’t make cookies, and there weren’t any in juvenile detention. In fact, he was pretty sure none of the foster families had cookies either, especially not homemade ones. He tried to remember the last time he’d had a homemade cookie, but he couldn’t.
Darius knocked on the second door on the left, and a woman’s voice told him to come in. An Asian woman dressed in a bright red sweater that matched her red lipstick and red earrings, sitting behind a desk cluttered with paperwork, greeted Darius. .
“You must be Darius,” said Trang, motioning for Darius to sit on the other side of her desk. “I’m Trang Nguyen, your contact in Personnel here at HQ. My official title is Status Supervisor. Think of me as a cross between a guidance counselor and parole officer.”
“Guidance counselor and parole officer,” Darius repeated. He quickly looked around the room, taking in the certificates and photos on the wall with a single glance.
“That means I will be your best friend and possibly your worst enemy as long as you participate in Second Chance,” said Trang, her matter-of-fact tone balancing out her smile. “Every participant in Second Chance comes here from prison, either after time served, or while they are still on probation, and as such they are all bound by certain rules of conduct. All Second Chance employees report to a Status Supervisor.”
Trang shuffled through the pile of papers on her desk until she found just the right one. She studied it for a moment, and then placed it on top of the cluttered mess.
“I don’t know how much was fully explained to you, so I will give you a quick rundown,” she said. “You’ve opted to enter into Second Chance, a rehabilitation program operated by Super Justice Force. This program is designed for convicted criminals who have already spent a significant amount of time incarcerated. In the history of this program, we have never had a participant who has come to us without first serving time.”
“I’m also the youngest,” said Darius.
“Also the youngest,” repeated Trang. The smile faded from her face as she stared intently at him.
An odd feeling came over Darius that he hadn’t felt in a long time, not since he’d lived down in the Caves with the metahumans.
“Are you a telepath?” Darius asked.
“No,” said Trang. “I’m an empath. I can read true emotions, and to a certain extent I can feel what others feel.”
“To a certain extent.”
“My empathic powers aren’t strong, thankfully.”
“Yeah, that would suck,” said Darius. He had briefly known a telepathic metahuman who had been driven insane by the thoughts of other people. Darius couldn’t imagine reading other people’s emotions would be good for someone’s sanity either.
“Darius, how much has been explained to you?”
Darius stared into Trang’s eyes. “I will be your best friend and possibly your worst enemy,” is what she had said to him. With her empathic abilities that was more than some dramatic statement. Darius wondered how much of his emotions she could feel.
“I’m the great experiment,” he said.
Trang nodded her head. “I might have phrased it differently, but that sounds about right. You will report to me three times a week for the next sixth months. After that, we will drop down to once per week for six months. You will also have one group counseling session a week, and one private counseling session—most likely with Dr. Sam. Expect random drug tests frequently. Whatever department you are assigned to, the supervisor will be filing weekly reports. If there are any problems, if for some reason things don’t work out, you will go to jail.”
Darius nodded his head. “I’ll be fine.”
“Have you had a chance to study your Employee Handbook?” asked Trang.
“No, ma’am. I never got one.”
Rolling her eyes, Trang let out a sigh. At first Darius thought he’d done something wrong, but then she muttered to herself, “We work for an organization that has battled the Masters of D.E.A.T.H. and hostile aliens, but they can’t get the new guy an Employee Handbook.”
She turned around in her swivel chair to face the bookshelf behind her, and grabbed something off of it. She turned back around to face Darius, typed something into her computer, and then handed him the “Super Justice Force Employee Handbook.”
“Read this,” said Trang. “It covers everything you are going to need to know as an employee of SJF. That is yours to keep as long as you work here, but we ask for all copies back from employees who leave the company.”
Darius flipped through the book. The size surprised him—over three hundred pages.
“Since you didn’t get an Employee Handbook, can I assume no one has explained your housing situation or food to you?” asked Trang.
“Not really, ma’am. Dr. Sam said I’d be staying here. Somewhere.”
Once again, Trang rolled her eyes and let out a sigh. This time Darius knew it had nothing to do with him.
“Please, call me Trang. Ma’am makes me feel old.”
“Okay. Sorry about that.”
“While you’re participating in Second Chance, you will be staying in the Transitional Employee Housing Program. Some of the people who come here do so directly from getting out of prison, and they have nowhere to live. TEHP provides them with temporary housing until they can get a place of their own. Normally, a person can only stay in TEHP for up to six months. You, Darius, will be our first permanent resident.”
“Beats a prison cell.”
“That it does. You will also be provided a Meal Voucher Card that will cover your food. Usually those are only good for a month. I guess I’ll have to look into how that will work for you.”
Trang shuffled through some more papers, said something about making sure Darius had his identification badge before he left Personnel, opening an account for him at the credit union, and then found what it was she was looking for. She handed two packets of stapled pages across the desk to Darius.
Darius glanced at the packets: “Level One Security Protocol and Regulations” and “Second Chance Code of Conduct.”
“These are the rules that would apply to you if you had come to Second Chance as a parolee. Honestly, we’re going to be making up the rule book for you as we go along,” said Trang. “But assume that everything spelled out in those packets applies to you, because it does. Just know that there will be more additions as the needs arise.”
They don’t even have rules for me yet, he thought.
There was a knock on the door, and the receptionist came in to the office carrying a large manila folder that she handed to Trang. She smiled at Darius as she left the office—the kind of smile a grandmother would give.
Trang opened the folder and pulled out a stack of papers. “Well, it looks like you passed your physical exams,” she said examining the papers. “That means you’re cleared for orientation.”
“That’s good,” Darius said.
He never doubted he would pass the medical exams.
Trang reached into the folder and pulled out a plastic card with a metal clip on the back. “Keep this with you at all times,” she said, handing the card to Darius.
Darius studied his identification badge. The front of the badge had a holographic image of Darius that turned from one side to another—like he was slowly nodding his head—giving a full view of his face and both sides of his profile. His name appeared directly under his picture, and under his name green letters spelled out “L1 Trainee.” The back of the badge had a metal clip on the end of a thin, retractable wire.
“Congratulations,” said Trang. “You are officially an employee of Super Justice Force. Now we just need to get you through orientation, and get you an assignment.”