SJF – Chapter 17

This entry is part 17 of 25 in the series SJF Chapters

background-tile3.jpgDarius arrived for his first night of work ten minutes early. Knowing he’d be working from eleven to eight, he tried to take a nap, but it didn’t happen. He had trouble sleeping as it was, and taking a nap in the early evening simply wasn’t meant to be. Instead, he spent the hours leading up to his first shift studying the Operations Crew section of the Employee Handbook.

“Super Justice Force is a privately owned, government sanctioned organization committed to the enforcement of the law, protection of the innocent, and fighting to ensure justice for all. This is not easy work, and the super-powered heroes, costumed crime fighters and metahumans that make up Super Justice Force cannot do it alone. This is where you, the SJF employee, come in. You are part of a valuable team that we at SJF call Operations Crew, for without you, the most powerful team of heroes in the world would not be able to protect the world.

“Operations Crew is responsible for the day-to-day operations at Super Justice Force Headquarters, as well as all Super Justice Force Secondary Bases of Operation, or SBOOs for short (more on SBOOs in the next section). The duties and responsibilities of Operations Crew are varied, ranging from building and vehicle maintenance, mid- and low-level security, laundry services, cleaning up spills, shoveling snow, and anything else you could possibly imagine. Even the factories that manufacture the Super Justice Force action figures are overseen by Operations Crew. The food prepared at the employee cafeteria is cooked by Operations Crew, who wash all the dishes. And that is just the beginning. Let’s take a look at how Operations Crew really works.

“Some people get confused by the term “Operations Crew,” mistakenly thinking it is a single department within Super Justice Force. In reality, Operations Crew is a collective made up of three different “service teams.” Each of these service teams breaks down into different departments and sub-departments, known as “service branches.” As a member of Operations Crew, you will receive basic training within all three service teams. Eventually, you will be given a permanent assignment on a team, with specific duties related to a particular branch of the team.

“Security and Observation (SAO) is the biggest of the three service teams at Super Justice Force, and plays a crucial role in the fight against crime and the struggle to enforce justice. SAO maintains security at all facilities and performs all of the duties associated with protecting SJF, its properties and its employees. Utilizing a massive network of surveillance systems, SAO also monitors for criminal activity and possible threats to innocent lives. Oftentimes, it is SAO team members who discover wrong-doing in progress before their super-powered co-workers. It is for this very reason that SAO is such a crucial component in the fight for justice.

“Maintenance and Services (MAS) workers are the unsung heroes at Super Justice Force, keeping all the facilities clean and in working order. But MAS is not just about mopping floors and doing laundry. No, there is more to MAS than that. The MAS team maintains every vehicle used by Super Justice Force, from the company cars to the interplanetary SJF Starcruiser. MAS prepares all of the food that is cooked in the employee cafeteria and at the highly rated Justice Café. The employees working the assembly lines that manufacture SJF action figures are all MAS. Even the tour guides and clerks at the Gift Shop of Justice at SJF Headquarters are valuable members of MAS.

“Communication and Dispatch (CAD) is the service team that keeps things running smoothly throughout Super Justice Force. CAD maintains the lines of communication between all the service teams and service branches within SJF. The CAD team also operates the elaborate communications network SJF shares with the military and every law enforcement agency in the country. CAD handles every piece of mail that comes to or goes out of any SJF facility, the shipment of action figures from the factories, and even comic books from the printer. All of these responsibilities and more make CAD another crucial component in the successful operation of Super Justice Force.”

Darius read the entire Operations Crew section of the Employee Handbook, as well as the individual sections for each service team, which went into greater detail. By the time he finished reading everything, it was time for him to go to work, and he still had no idea what he would be doing.

He got dressed, putting on his official work uniform and making sure that his identification badge was properly affixed to his shirt—the Employee Handbook had a diagram showing proper badge placement. Darius didn’t know how long it would take to walk from his apartment in the Tower to Operations Command Central in the Bunker, so he decided to give himself plenty of time.

Nothing Darius had seen in real life could compare to Operations Crew Command Central—O3C. He thought of pictures he’d seen of mission control at NASA, but that didn’t look nearly as impressive. And “impressive” didn’t really begin to describe it. “Overwhelming” was more like it.

This place looks like something right out of a comic book, Darius thought, stepping into O3C for the first time.

Located in the first basement level of the Bunker, O3C was massive. The hexagon-shaped room took up more space than a full city block, standing two stories from ceiling to floor with a mezzanine dividing half of the space into two levels. A massive display of video monitors lined the three walls separated by the mezzanine. The video monitors on two of the walls provided surveillance feeds and news broadcasts from all over the world—a thousand views all broadcasting live. The third wall of monitors showed nothing but feeds from security monitors stationed throughout SJF Headquarters and the Secondary Bases of Operation.

Standing in the middle of O3C, it was possible to see all the monitors at once. Video feeds from security cameras all over the planet flashed across screens. Darius watched the world from his vantage point. It all made him feel tiny and insignificant.

Super Justice Force employees moved around Darius as if he wasn’t there. He had never seen a more eclectic collection of people in his life. His co-workers came in every size, shape, and color imaginable, both women and men, and at least three races of extraterrestrials.

“Can I help you?”

The voice coming from behind him brought Darius back into the moment. Transfixed by everything around, he’d almost forgotten why he was there. He turned to face a man, or something close to a man. Darius was terrible at identifying extraterrestrial races, so he had no clue what he was talking to.

“I’m looking for Manny,” Darius said.

“Have you tried the supervisor’s office?”

The alien pointed to a glass-encased room directly behind Darius.

“Thanks,” said Darius.

Compared to the rest of O3C, the supervisor’s office seemed unimpressive. It sat along one of the six walls, strategically placed across from the middle wall of surveillance monitors. Glass walls on three sides made the office look like a fish tank pushed up against a wall. Inside looked like a typical office, complete with cubicles and work stations.

Darius knocked on the glass door before entering. A woman sitting at one of the cubicles held her finger up to Darius, letting him know she’d be with him in a moment. “Look, just run a full diagnostic for now, and we’ll have someone from MAS get down there right now,” she said to no one in particular.

The woman touched a finger to her ear, then pulled something out of it. Darius couldn’t see exactly what it was, it looked almost like a hearing aid.

“If it’s not one thing it’s another,” said the woman. “Now, how can I help you?”

“I’m supposed to report to Manny,” Darius said.

“He’s running late. Should be here in a few minutes,” said the woman. “Have a seat.”

The woman pointed to a chair at one of the cubicles.

“I’m Amina, one of the other night supervisors,” said the woman.

“I’m Darius.”

Darius extended is hand. Amina shook his hand, all the while sizing him up. A beeping alarm sounded from the small electronic device sitting on the desk in front of her. “Excuse me,” she said, placing the tiny object back in her ear.

Amina began talking to someone, engaging in what sounded like a one-sided conversation about a clogged toilet as she continued to look Darius over. She had a hard stare and a no-nonsense attitude. She didn’t make Darius feel uncomfortable the way Chuck Maslon did, but at the same time he hoped Manny Ortiz was friendlier.

Darius sat at one of the cubicles, trying to ignore Amina staring at him by looking out at O3C. A row of clocks on one of the walls displayed every time zone on the planet. It was 12:05 in the afternoon of the next day in Hong Kong.

The door to the supervisor’s office opened. A large man rushed in, out of breath. “Sorry I’m late,” he said.

“No worries. Everything’s under control,” said Amina. She returned to her one-sided conversation without missing a beat.

The man looked at Darius. “You must be Darius,” he said. “I’m Manuel Ortiz. Call me Manny.”

Manny held out his hand for Darius to shake. He didn’t look anything like what Darius expected—even though Darius wasn’t sure what he expected. Certainly not someone with a face as weathered by age and battle.

Manny looked like he had seen his share of fights, his crooked nose showed signs of having been broken several times, and a half-circle scar cut a line that curved from above his left eyebrow around his upper cheek. At four inches over six feet, and close to three hundred pounds, Manny looked like an ex-football player who hadn’t bothered staying in shape. His frame was still muscular—far from being a flabby mess—but his stomach was bigger than it should have been, and it pushed ever so slightly against the shirt of his uniform, threatening to bust out. Some time in the near future he would either need to get a new shirt, or lose some weight, but he could still probably hold his own in a fight.

“Good to meet you,” said Darius, surprised at the strength of Manny’s grip. Manny’s massive hand swallowed Darius’s hand, clamping down on it like a killer whale biting down on a goldfish.

“Give me a minute to get settled, and then we’ll get started,” said Manny.

Manny set the paper bag he brought with him on top of a desk, typed something into one of the computers and walked over to Amina’s cubicle. He waited for her to finish her conversation, but she continued to talk, either ignoring him, or feeling he wasn’t important enough to acknowledge. Manny turned his back to Amina and faced Darius, rolling his eyes and shrugging his shoulders.

Darius fought to keep from laughing.

Manny continued with his act. He held his hand up to the side of his head, pantomiming like he was talking on the phone.

Darius looked away. It was all he could do to keep from bursting out in laughter.

Amina finished her conversation. “Sorry about that,” she said.

Manny turned around to face Amina, acting perfectly normal, as if seconds earlier he hadn’t been making fun of her.

“That toilet down in VMB1 is clogged again, and we’re short-staffed in MAS tonight,” Amina said.

“Any other crises to deal with tonight?” Manny asked.

“There was an energy surge about an hour ago on the main power grid down near the Cage,” said Amina.

“Probably a standard techno-plasm discharge. We’re about due for one anyway,” said Manny.

“Probably. Still, I’ve dispatched a MAS crew to run a full diagnostic, and sent down two extra bodies from SAO to babysit,” Amina said. “I planned on running down there later, just to check things out for myself.”

“I’ll go,” said Manny. “I’ve got to show Darius around anyway.”

Amina glanced at Darius. The cold, hard stare she’d given him when he first came into the office faded, replaced with something else. Darius couldn’t tell, but she almost looked worried.

“You’re taking him to the Cage? On his first night?” she asked.

Manny nodded and said something about it being better to get “these things out of the way sooner instead of later.”

“C’mon, amigo, follow me,” Manny said to Darius.

Manny walked to the back of the supervisor’s office. The entire back wall of the office was a massive vault. He pressed his right palm to the security pad next to the door, and then punched a series of numbers into the keypad next to the scanner. The heavy steel door opened. Manny stepped inside, motioning Darius to follow him.

“This is where we keep the expensive toys,” said Manny.

Darius quickly scanned the room. To the left was a case filled with weapons—machine guns, UltraStun 500s, and portable techno-plasm cannons.

“They don’t trust me enough to let me play with those,” Manny said, pointing to the guns. “Don’t matter to me though, ‘cause only a puta uses a gun.”

Manny moved to the other side of the vault. He opened a storage cabinet, pulled out a leather belt, a large black flashlight, and a box. He handed the belt and flashlight to Darius. “I’m sure you know how these work,” he said.

“I think I can figure it out.”

Darius followed Manny out of the vault. The door closed automatically behind them.

“It’s got a safety feature. The door can’t close if anyone is inside,” said Manny. “It didn’t used to be like that. But two years ago someone got locked inside and suffocated to death.”

“Really?” asked Darius.

“Of course not. I’m making that up,” Manny said with a laugh.

Manny returned to the cubicle where he’d set his paper bag. He pulled up a second chair, motioned for Darius to sit next to him, and then logged on to the computer. He handed the box he brought with him from the vault to Darius. “Open that up, while I set you up on the computer,” said Manny.

Darius opened the box and pulled out an electronic device that looked like an old-school smart phone. The device was a bit too big to fit in the palm of his hand, and couldn’t have been more than a quarter of an inch thick.

“Looks like some kind of cell phone or something,” said Manny. “But it ain’t.”

“What is it?”

“That, amigo, is your Personal Communication Unit—PCU for short. It needs to be activated before it’ll work,” said Manny. “But believe me, that’s the most valuable tool you got. Keep it with you at all times. Once it is activated, it’s plugged into the entire SJF communication grid. You can access any video surveillance unit here at HQ, or at any Secondary Operational Bases. Its got a built-in video feature, so you can capture and transmit information live, directly into the system. There is also an emergency transmitter and GPS.”

“Darius, make sure he shows you how to disable the live video feed,” said Amina. “The last thing you want to do is transmit a signal of yourself sitting on the toilet.”

“Thanks for spoiling the fun,” Manny said.

Manny had Darius read off the serial number on the back of the PCU. He entered the numbers into the computer, and a moment later Darius’s PCU activated.

“Now, you just need to enter a personal access code,” said Manny.

He scooted his chair out of the way, turning his back so he couldn’t see the password Darius entered into the computer. Darius typed S-I-M-O-N into the computer. His PCU beeped. The Super Justice Force logo appeared on the screen with a message that read, “Welcome to the Super Justice Force Communication Network.”

“You’re now plugged in and live, homes” said Manny. “That’s an amazing piece of technology, but very simple to operate. Read the manual, and if you have any questions, ask anyone. But here’s the best part.”

Manny took his PCU from the holster on his belt, dropped it on the floor, and then smashed his foot down on it. He picked it up and handed it to Darius.

“These things are pretty indestructible.” Manny said.

Darius examined Manny’s PCU. It looked as new as the one he had removed from the box. Darius handed the unit back to Manny.

“Okay, make sure you get this out of the box,” Manny said. He held up a small, cylindrical device and placed it in his ear. “If you see people walking around, talking to themselves, either they’re using one of these, having a conversation with Invisiguardian, or they’re crazy.”

Darius removed the device from his box. It was just over a half inch long, tapered so that it could fit easily in the ear canal, with a button set into the larger end.

“It’s a two-way remote transmitter—sends and receives signals,” said Manny. “Allows you to keep your hands free. I’ll show you how to use the whole thing once we get started. You ready to do this, amigo?”

Darius nodded his head.

“That’s all you got for me? That little baby nod?” asked Manny. He nodded his head, mocking Darius more than imitating him. “You’re rollin’ with Manny now. You can’t act like no puta.”

Manny laughed and slapped Darius on the back. It was a gentle slap—meant in good fun—but it almost knocked Darius off his feet.

I’d hate to have him hit me for real, Darius thought. He’d turn my bones to dust.

“Now, one more time. You ready to do this, amigo?” Manny asked.

“Yeah,” said Darius.

“I don’t know,” said Manny, shaking his head. “Sounds kinda weak. We’ll have to see.”

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