SJF – Chapter 16

This entry is part 16 of 25 in the series SJF Chapters

background-tile3.jpgThe second day of orientation went very much like the first. Darius and the rest of the new employees watched more training videos, after which they got sized for their work uniforms, and then ate lunch together.

Once again, they sat as a group, talking amongst themselves, with Darius saying very little. Xangtha explained that they’d be getting their assignments after lunch. Darius paid attention to everything she said, all the while keeping his eyes peeled for the beautiful girl from the day before.

By the time he and the others got up to leave the cafeteria, Darius had given up on seeing her. When the doors to the elevator down the hall from the cafeteria opened, the beautiful girl was there with the same people she had been with before. At least Darius thought it was the same people as before. If he had to be perfectly honest, he hadn’t paid attention to the others.

The beautiful girl caught sight of Darius, as did her friends, who giggled when they saw him. He could feel his face flush, and was thankful that his skin was dark enough that she couldn’t see it turning red.

As the beautiful girl and her friends stepped off the elevator, and Darius and his party stepped on, the two locked eyes for a brief moment. Darius felt almost as terrified as when the fire escape broke away from the side of building and he thought his death was imminent. In fact, that moment might not have been as bad as the awkward glance he shared outside the elevator.

The doors closed, and Darius could breathe again. His heart rate slowed down. He hoped that Xangtha and the others hadn’t noticed his ridiculous reaction. When they got back to the orientation classroom, Trang Nguyen, Chuck Maslon and Dr. Sam sat waiting. For the second time in a matter of minutes, Darius’s heart skipped a beat and he had trouble catching his breath. Only this time it had nothing to do with a pretty girl. This time it was panic-induced fear.

Darius knew he had a meeting after lunch with Trang and Dr. Sam—he was supposed to go to her office. But there she was, waiting with Dr. Sam and Chuck Maslon in the classroom.

Did I misunderstand something? Darius wondered. Did I screw up somehow? Are they here to personally escort me to prison?

“We need to talk to Darius,” Dr. Sam said to Xangtha. “Are you done with him?”

“He’s done with orientation,” said Xangtha. “He just needs his assignment and his uniform, but I was under the impression you were handling that anyway.”

“Great. Thank you,” said Trang.

Dr. Sam led Trang and Maslon out of the classroom. Darius followed as Xangtha wished him luck.

I’m going to need it.

Darius followed Dr. Sam and the others to a small conference room down the hall. They all sat around the table, a feeling of dread clinging to Darius like a cold wet shirt. Or maybe it was just the nervous sweat that he felt.

Trang started the conversation off. “The test results are back from the exam you took yesterday.”

“The lady, Xangtha, she said it wasn’t a pass or fail kind of test,” Darius said. He tried to sound cool, despite feeling nervous and his head starting to hurt.

“And it isn’t a pass or fail test,” said Trang. “But that said…”

“That said, you scored exceptionally high,” Dr. Sam cut in. “The academic portion is only part of the exam, but still, you managed to score in the upper two percentile.”

So I scored well, thought Darius. So what? Any spazz could’ve answered most of those questions. But he kept that to himself. Instead, he simply said, “I thought you wanted to meet at Trang’s office.”

“We’re here because Chuck insisted on being part of this meeting, and there’s more room here than in my office,” said Trang.

Suddenly, as if reading Darius’s mind, Dr. Sam realized how it all must have looked to Darius. He smiled his reassuring smile that looked like an old bulldog getting ready to attack. “There’s nothing to worry about. You’re not in trouble.”

“We’re here to discuss the terms and conditions of your service here at SJF,” said Maslon, doing his best to keep Darius feeling afraid.

“I’ve already explained standard operating procedure to Darius,” said Trang. She sounded annoyed.

“These are special circumstances,” countered Maslon.

“Is there anyone here not aware of the special circumstances?” Trang shot back. Clearly she liked Maslon as much as Darius did.

“Darius, have you finished high school?” asked Dr. Sam. He had no need to further discuss anything that had already been discussed at length.

Darius wasn’t sure what his graduating high school had to do with anything, though as a matter of fact, he hadn’t graduated. He felt no pride in it—especially given how important education had been to his parents—and it wasn’t like he hadn’t tried. He’d stayed in school as long as he could, but bouncing around to different foster homes, and in turn transferring to a different school every time, didn’t help his grades. And at some point, none of it seemed to matter anymore.

“No, sir. I didn’t finish high school.”

“That’s what I thought.” Dr. Sam jotted down a quick note on a piece of paper. “Super Justice Force operates a continuing education program in conjunction with City University. There is a program that will allow you to get your GED. This is one of the terms of your time spent in Second Chance. You must get your GED. You’ll only be working eight hours a day, which means we need to find other productive things for you to do. Understood?”

Maslon fidgeted in his chair. Darius could tell he didn’t like where the conversation was going. Maslon didn’t even want Darius in Second Chance, let alone finishing up high school.

“I’ll get all the information together for you, and by the time we meet next week, you can get started,” said Trang. “We’ll come up with a schedule that doesn’t conflict with work, your meetings with me, or your counseling sessions.”

“Does he know about his movement restrictions?” Maslon asked.

“Chuck, how is he supposed to know about something we just decided this morning?” Trang asked.

She let out an audible sigh, and made no attempts to hide the roll of her eyes. Her contempt for Maslon almost brought a smile to Darius’s face.

“I know you’ve heard this a million times, but I will repeat it to make others happy,” said Trang, shooting an icy glance at Maslon. “You are unique to Second Chance, and the rules and regulations that apply to others are different for you…”

“Because technically you are under arrest and in the custody of Super Justice Force,” finished Maslon.

“I’m also the youngest person to go through Second Chance. And the first to skip prison altogether. The future direction of the program depends on me,” said Darius. “Is there anything I’m forgetting?”

Darius wanted to throw in a swear or two, but thought it might be best if he didn’t. His head pounded, and Maslon only made matters worse.

Still, Maslon’s negative attitude inspired Darius in a weird way. Any doubts Darius might have had about himself were slipping away, if for no other reason than to prove Maslon wrong.

“As long as you are in the custody of SJF, you will adhere to movement restrictions that have been determined for you,” said Maslon. He sounded like he had been rehearsing his little speech.

“Movement restrictions?”

“You are allowed to move throughout the buildings of this facility as your security status permits. You may only leave the buildings of this facility if you are accompanied by a SJF employee with Level Four security clearance or higher.”

“Is that all?”

The challenging tone in Darius’s voice upped the tension in the room. He wanted the conversation to be over. He wanted to be as far away from Chuck Maslon as possible.

“Your STATU has been programmed to allow you to go no more than two blocks in any direction outside of SJF property. Anything more than two blocks will be considered an escape attempt on your part.”

“Which side of the second block do I have to stay on to keep from attempting an escape?”

Trang did her best to stifle a laugh. She enjoyed the show between Darius and Maslon, and especially appreciated the fact that Darius wasn’t backing down. If Darius had any hope of getting through Second Chance, he couldn’t let Maslon bully him.

“We tried to come up with something that was fair, while taking into consideration your status,” said Dr. Sam. “You can be granted special consideration for movement outside of these facilities, with prior approval of two employees with Level Four clearance or higher.”

All things considered, Darius didn’t have it too bad, especially considering the alternative. Having to stay within two blocks of Super Justice Force Headquarters sounded better than any prison he could imagine. Not being able to venture more than a couple of blocks past a building where he had his own private apartment was a small price to pay, and much easier to deal with than getting shanked.

“Is there anything we’ve discussed that doesn’t make sense to you?” Trang asked.

They had already talked to him about how well he had scored on his test. I’m not as stupid as some people think. They also talked about him getting his GED. That would make Mom and Dad happy. Finally, they had discussed where he could and could not go. I’ve had less freedom.

Only one thing had not come up yet. He almost didn’t want to ask, afraid of the answer. He asked anyway. “Where have I been assigned?”

“Well, that’s something we need to talk about,” said Trang. “We have a potential problem.”

That doesn’t sound good. What kind of problem? he wondered. With my luck, I’ll be sent off to be a Scrubber.

“Captain Freedom called me first thing this morning, wanting to know the results of your tests,” Trang said. “When I told him, the only thing he said was, ‘Put him with Manny.’”

“How’s that a problem?” Darius asked.

“Three weeks ago, Manny was promoted and transferred to night shift,” said Trang. “He works from eleven at night to eight in the morning. That can be a brutal shift.”

“We’re concerned about your ability to work those hours,” said Dr. Sam.

“Who is Manny and why does Captain Freedom want you to put me with him?” Darius asked.

He thought he saw a glimpse of irritation on Maslon’s face. It was hard to tell, because Maslon always looked irritated.

“Manny is the new night shift supervisor of Operations Crew. He came up through Second Chance—one of the program’s biggest successes,” said Dr. Sam. “He’s one of the best employees here at SJF.”

“Manny Ortiz is a crook and a thug,” said Maslon. “I fail to understand why no one else sees this. Putting a Bit like this with a Bit like Ortiz is a joke. The only good that will come out of it is we’ll be rid of this punk sooner, because there’s no way he won’t screw up working with Ortiz.”

Trang and Dr. Sam tried to ignore Maslon’s little rant as best they could. Dr. Sam seemed to tune Maslon out completely. It wasn’t as easy for Trang, who shot him a quick look of anger, then quickly turned her attention back to Darius. She gave him a forced smile of reassurance, as if telling him to not worry about anything Maslon had said.

Nothing Maslon said phased Darius. If anything, it gave him confidence. Captain Freedom wanted Darius to work with Manny, but that meant nothing compared to Maslon’s hostility. Maslon’s disdain for Manny Ortiz—whoever he was—told Darius something important.

Any enemy of Chuck Maslon is a friend of mine, Darius thought.

Darius looked Maslon directly in the eye. He had his doubts about being able to handle the hours, not to mention whatever job he might have to do. But he had no doubts about pissing off Maslon. I might as well give him a real reason to hate me.

“No problem,” said Darius. “I can handle the night shift.”

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