- 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
It took Darius and the others two hours to complete their tests. Once they were done, Xangtha gave the group a brief lesson in how the elevators worked—which was surprisingly complicated and confusing—and then she escorted the small group to the employee cafeteria.
The employee cafeteria, she explained, was different from the restaurant located on the first floor next to the gift shop. The cafeteria remained open twenty-four hours a day, but the kitchen was only open from six in the morning until ten at night.
They all ordered their lunch, and sat together at a table big enough for eight. Eating in silence, Darius listened to the conversations going back and forth between the others. One of the guys asked Xangtha about payday, and if the credit union at SJF was any good. Another one of the guys seemed more concerned about whether he should have ordered something different for lunch.
For a moment, Darius thought about joining in the conversation, but he had nothing to say. I have no idea if the Yankees have a chance of making it to the World Series, he thought. And I don’t care.
“You don’t talk much, do you?”
Xangtha’s voice pulled Darius out of his private world, bringing him back into the moment.
“Not really,” he said.
“This whole place can be pretty intimidating at first. If you have questions, don’t be afraid to ask.”
Both Xangtha and Darius went back to eating their lunch. Darius thought about asking a question, anything to make him appear to be more social, but then one of the other guys asked about parking, and there was no longer the pressure to make conversation.
The cafeteria was crowded, mostly with people wearing some type of uniform, although some were dressed in business suits. At one table sat a man dressed in a bright green suit with yellow trim that matched the yellow mask he wore. Darius didn’t recognize the costume or the hero wearing it, but he recognized the woman sitting with the guy in green as Smoking Ace. Her costume had changed, but the cloud of smoke that hovered around her was a dead giveaway.
On the other side of the cafeteria five people sat together at a table—three women and two men. They looked to be around the same age as Darius, and seemed to be friends. Darius couldn’t hear what they were saying, but their laughter traveled across the room.
The uniforms they wore all looked the same—black pants, a magenta, button-down shirt and a black tie. Darius had seen others wearing the same type of uniform giving tours when he first arrived at HQ.
He tried not to stare at the five people laughing loudly, looking like they hadn’t a care in the world, but he couldn’t help himself. The most beautiful woman he’d ever seen sat at the table, and he couldn’t take his eyes off her. She wore her long, curly black hair pulled back in a ponytail, and when she laughed, Darius could see her perfect smile.
At some point one of the other girls at the table noticed Darius staring, and must have said something to the others, because they all looked over at him. Mortified that he had been caught, he quickly looked down at his food. When he looked up, they were no longer looking at him. He had only mattered in their world for a brief moment. But then the beautiful girl looked back over in his direction, and even though she smiled at him, he felt totally embarrassed.
The beautiful girl and her friends all got up to leave at the same time. Darius tried not to be too obvious as he watched them walk past. The beautiful girl looked over at him, smiled, and offered a tiny wave. Darius didn’t know what to do. He wanted to wave back, but fear left him paralyzed, and before he knew it, she was gone.
All Darius could think about as he finished his lunch was the beautiful girl. And when he returned to the classroom, he still thought about her. His life, up to that moment, had been all about surviving. And when you’re rummaging through a garbage can looking for edible discards, or trying to avoid getting punked in the shower at juvenile detention, there isn’t much time to think about girls.
Back in the classroom, Darius and the others sat in front of their computers. Over the next few hours, they watched a series of training videos. Captain Freedom hosted a video about safety on the job that covered everything from emergency evacuation procedure to lifting with your knees instead of your back. Each training video ended with a recap of everything that had been presented.
“Don’t forget to lift with your knees, and if it’s too heavy, get someone to help you,” said Captain Freedom. “And don’t forget, the first step to safety on the job begins with you.”
By the time they were done with the training videos, Darius was ready to call it a day. Xangtha excused the others, telling them to be back at nine the next morning. She told Darius to report back to Trang Nguyen’s office, and told him what code he would need to enter for the elevator.
Darius arrived at Trang’s office to find her and Dr. Sam in the middle of a conversation.
“No one ever said this was going to be easy, but we will make it work,” Dr. Sam said, his back to Darius.
Trang caught sight of Darius standing in the doorway, acknowledged him with a slight smile, and returned her attention to Dr. Sam. “I’m sure we will.”
“The lady from orientation said you wanted to see me,” Darius said.
Dr. Sam turned to face Darius. The doctor looked exhausted. “Good to see you, Darius,” he said, sounding as tired as he looked.
“How was orientation?” asked Trang.
“Seems to be going good. I learned about lifting with my knees.”
Dr. Sam seemed to brighten up a bit. “Good. Very good.”
Trang shuffled through some of the papers on her desk. “Tomorrow after lunch, you need to come back here for a special meeting.”
“What kind of meeting?” Darius asked.
“Well, we are going to finalize some of the guidelines of how to deal with you,” said Trang.
“What Trang is trying to say is that in addition to giving you your work assignment, we’ll be coming up with a schedule for you to follow,” said Dr. Sam.
“We will also be finalizing protocol for how your day-to-day life will be while you’re living here.”
“Speaking of living here, your apartment is ready. You have a new place to call home.”