SJF – Chapter 19

This entry is part 19 of 25 in the series SJF Chapters

background-tile3.jpg“It don’t matter what section you’re assigned, there’s reports to be filed,” said Manny. “Make sure you keep on top of your paperwork.”

After their tour of HQ, Darius and Manny returned to O3C, where Manny explained the proper way to file reports for different service teams and service branches. Everything was done electronically, and everything had to be reported. Mopping a bathroom floor or changing a light bulb required reports that needed to be filed.

I can’t believe there’s this much paperwork, Darius thought.

Everything at Headquarters operated on a set schedule, from security sweeps to sweeping the floor in the main lobbies. Using both a computer and a PCU, Manny showed Darius how to access different schedules.

Darius tried to keep his mind from wandering to other topics. Lack of sleep made it difficult to focus at three in the morning. He needed something other than filing reports and checking schedules to keep him from nodding off.

“How did you get in Second Chance?” Darius asked.

He regretted asking the question the moment the words were out his mouth. It violated the sacred rule—never ask a convict what they did. Locked up in juvenile detention, no one asked anyone what they’d done. Some guys bragged about their crimes—they were idiots. Others proclaimed their innocence—many were liars. But no one ever asked anyone what they did. Everyone knew that.

“I’m sorry,” said Darius. “I shouldn’t have asked.”

“Ain’t nothin’ to be sorry about, amigo,” said Manny. “You’ve gotta own the things you do. Even the bad things. And back in the day, when I was El Toro Loco, I did some loco mierda.”

“That was you?” Darius asked in disbelief. He remembered reading an issue of “Supercriminal Showcase” that featured El Toro Loco—the Crazy Bull. “You had that mask with the thing! You were like…like…”

Manny cut him off. “I was a malo hombre—a very bad man. Selfish. Reckless. I hurt a lot of people, amigo. My older brother would beg me to quit—but I loved the life too much. Then him and his wife were killed in The Attack, and their little girl was left an orphan. I was the only family she had, and I had to do right by her. Turned myself in, right here in this very building.”

“And just like that they gave you a job?”

“It’s more complicated than that. Let’s say I was given ‘special consideration,’ and my first job that didn’t involve stealing,” said Manny. “Some day I’ll tell you the whole story.”

Darius wondered what his life would have been like if someone stepped up to take care of him the way Manny did for his niece. Instead, he got Uncle Kenny, an endless parade of foster families, and the dirty floor of an abandoned subway station.

“Your niece is lucky she had someone like you to look out for her,” Darius said.

“No, I’m the lucky one. If it wasn’t for her, I probably never would have turned my life around. She’s grown into a beautiful woman, works here part time, getting ready to start school at State University. And that’s my story.”

“She’s beautiful?” asked Darius. He thought briefly about the girl he’d seen the in the cafeteria, wondering what department she worked in.

“Gorgeous,” said Manny. “Anyone goes near her, I’ll kill ’em.”

After touring much of HQ, lessons in using the computer systems, PCUs, filing reports and accessing schedules, exhaustion had set in. Only halfway through his first shift, Darius didn’t know if he could make it. He fought to keep from yawning as he followed Manny to the employee cafeteria.

Darius had never seen the employee cafeteria so empty. Usually it was crowded, staff hustling in the kitchen, Operations Crew members grabbing a meal during a break, conversations between co-workers. But with the exception of two people leaving as Darius and Manny entered, only one person sat in the cafeteria, eating Chinese food out of to-go containers.

Darius didn’t recognize the lone diner, but there was no mistaking his costume. He wore a tight-fitting suit that looked like it was made out of space—outer space.

Pictures of the elite Galaxus Alliance Corps were one thing; Darius had seen plenty of those. Seeing an actual member of GAC in person was something different. If he wasn’t so tired, Darius might have been excited.

With members from all over the universe—and according to the comic books, other dimensions as well—the Galaxus Alliance Corps enforced the law throughout the known galaxies. The GAC were police officers and soldiers, patrolling the cold vacuum of space, fighting for justice on distant planets in alien star systems. The incredible powers of each Galaxus came to them from the Mhadra Turas, an ancient race of symbiotic life forms that bonded to host bodies.

Everything Darius knew about the GAC he had read in comic books. “Adventures of the Galaxus Alliance Corps” was one of his favorite comics—after the Captain Freedom comics. Every issue of “Adventures of the Galaxus Alliance Corps” featured the daring exploits of a team of Galaxus, led by a human named Max “Galaxus” McKool. The guy sitting at the table, eating Chinese food, looked nothing like Max McKool. With his shaggy blonde hair and barely noticeable stubble of a beard just starting to grow in, this particular Galaxus looked more like a rock musician or professional surfer than he did a cosmic defender of justice.

The Galaxus looked up from his food, saw Manny, and broke into a huge smile. He stood up from the table, grabbed Manny, and wrapped his arms around him in a huge bear hug. “Manuel, amigo! Como esta?” asked the Galaxus.

Manny, who wasn’t exactly small, looked like he might break from the embrace of the Galaxus. “Muy bien,” he gasped.

The Galaxus released Manny from his bone-crushing embrace. Turning his attention to Darius, he extended his hand. “Hey, my name’s Zander. Zander Boeman. Everyone calls me Z-Boe.”

“I’m Darius,” he said, gripping Zander’s hand. A sudden energy surge, the likes of which Darius had never felt before, pulsed through his body. It felt intense—like fireworks going off inside his body—and happened so quickly Darius wasn’t even sure if it had happened. He wondered if everyone who shook hands with a Galaxus felt the same energy surge, and for a moment, Darius worried about contracting some sort of cosmic cancer.

Z-Boe didn’t even seem to notice. And as quickly as the sudden rush of energy had moved through Darius’s body, it vanished. Darius convinced himself it had something to do with the symbiotic life forms that gave Z-Boe his power. Or maybe he was just really tired.

“Mind if we join you?” asked Manny.

“Hey man, mi casa es su casa, or something like that,” said Z-Boe.

“Mi mesa es la mesa,” corrected Manny.

Darius and Manny joined Z-Boe at his table. Zander offered the others some of his Chinese food—there was more than enough for everyone. Manny already had his meal, packed in a brown paper bag, and Darius felt self-conscious.

“I don’t see you carrying your lunch like Manny here,” said Z-Boe, noticing Darius hadn’t packed a lunch. “Dude, you on some kind of diet?”

“I’ve got a meal voucher card. I was going to use it to get something out of the vending machines, but I forgot it,” Darius said.

“Blah, blah, blah,” said Z-Boe. “If you don’t eat some of this stuff, there’s gonna be trouble, bro.”

“You better eat something, amigo,” Manny said. “You don’t want to piss off Zander Boeman on your first night.”

“No doubt, man,” said Z-Boe laughing. “No doubt.”

Since there were no plates, Darius ate out the boxes. He tried to stuff some pork fried rice into his mouth using chopsticks without looking foolish. It was a futile attempt, even though Z-Boe kept showing him what to do. “Hold it like a pencil, bro,” Z-Boe said.

Despite his help, it still didn’t work. Darius spilled food all over himself, while Z-Boe handled the chopsticks like a pro, or at least like a guy with super cosmic powers that made him one of the most powerful men on the planet.

Manny rummaged through his paper bag, pulling out his meal—a sandwich, bag of chips, hardboiled egg, an apple and a slice of cake. “Oh, I almost forgot,” he said, sliding the plastic-wrapped piece of cake over to Darius.

“What’s this?” asked Darius.

“My niece baked a cake the other day,” Manny said.

“What’re you giving it to me for?”

Manny smiled at Darius. “Think about it.”

Darius thought for a moment, but had no clue. He looked over at Z-Boe, but he didn’t know either and just shrugged.

“I give up,” said Darius.

“Happy birthday,” said Manny.

Darius had forgotten. It was his birthday—seventeen years old—and he had completely forgotten.

“Dude, no kidding? It’s your birthday?” asked Z-Boe.

Darius nodded. He couldn’t believe he had forgotten his own birthday.

“Well, happy birthday, bro,” said Z-Boe, high-fiving Darius.

The moment the palms of their hands slapped together, another surge of energy passed through Darius’s body. And again, the Galaxus didn’t seem to feel a thing.

“Sucks that you gotta work on your birthday,” Z-Boe said.

“Beats being in prison. Ain’t that right, vato?” said Manny.

“Word up,” said Z-Boe, this time hi-fiving Manny.

In his entire life, Darius had never met anyone like Zander Boeman. Loud and gregarious, with a smile that never seemed to fade and a booming laugh that needed very little to get going, Z-Boe was the complete opposite of Darius. The sort of person that was everybody’s new best friend, Z-Boe made whoever was around him feel like there was nothing to worry about.

A reserve member of Super Justice Force, and the official liaison between the GAC and SJF, Zander lived in an apartment at Headquarters, but seldom fought crime the way other members did. He spent more than six months out of the year away from Earth, which made his life difficult. “I miss my girlfriend,” he told Manny and Darius. “And do you know how hard it is to get decent Chinese food when you’re not on Earth?”

Darius always imagined the life of a Galaxus as being one of non-stop adventure, but Z-Boe made it sound lonely, boring and uneventful. Instead of tall tales of battles with the Ad-Ahlen Empire, Zander talked about being stuck doing mostly administrative work at the Enceladus Colony on the moon of Saturn.

“Enough about my paper-pushing in the far reaches of the solar system,” said Z-Boe. “What’s going on here?”

“Same old stuff. The big news is that Barb Smalley got promoted. She transferred out to San Francisco, runnin’ the whole facility out there,” said Manny.

“Get outta here,” said Z-Boe. “Who did they replace her with?”

Manny’s face split with an ear-to-ear grin. He pointed at his identification badge. “Me,” he said.

“No way! You made L4 Supervisor?”

“Me and Otto—the only two Chancers to make L4 Supervisor,” Manny said, not bothering to mask his pride.

“What did Chuck Maslon have to say about you getting promoted?” Z-Boe asked.

“He crapped a brick sideways,” said Manny. “He fought it every step of the way—wanted one of his Long Arms to get the position.”

“Look at you,” said Z-Boe, his smile bigger than Manny’s. “Congrats, bro. That is awesome!”

Z-Boe high-fived Manny, and then high-fived Darius—as a matter of principle. “This guy is the Man,” Z-Boe said to Darius, pointing at Manny. “They don’t get more righteous than this guy here.”

“Gracias,” said Manny. “But I gotta tell you, these new hours are killing me.”

“I heard that,” Darius said, stifling a yawn.

“There’ll be plenty of time to rest when we’re dead,” said Z-Boe. “Any other news?”

“Tunneller and Firepower are back,” said Manny.

“I thought they quit and joined that operation down in Florida.”

“Yeah, the Florida League of Power went bankrupt and fired everyone,” said Manny. “Most of these small-time hero teams can’t stay in business. They can’t get decent endorsement deals, especially when their best guys are Firepower and the Tunneller. Captain Freedom felt bad, so he brought ’em back.”

Z-Boe laughed. “Well, I guess the city can breathe more safely knowing those clowns are around. Remember the time Tunneller accidentally cut through that gas line uptown, and then Firepower ignited the whole thing?”

Manny buried his face in his hands and shook his head. “It was blind luck no one got hurt in the explosion,” he said.

“Individually, Tunneller and Firepower are just your average do-gooders with great intentions but limited intelligence,” Z-Boe explained to Darius. “But you get these two together, and I swear its like Stupid and Stupider.”

Darius didn’t know much about Tunneller or Firepower. They were newer heroes who’d come onto the scene when Darius had other things to pay attention to, like staying alive.

“What about Lady Themis? She still around?” asked Z-Boe.

“Where is Lady T gonna go?” Manny asked.

“Dude, the last time I talked to her, she was talking about giving it all up. She was dating some football player or something.”

“That didn’t last,” said Manny.

“Watch out for Lady T, bro,” Z-Boe said to Darius. “She’s cool. And dude, she looks even better in real life. But don’t let her start talking to you, or she’ll bend your ear all night about her man problems. How a chick that hot can have such bad taste in men is beyond me. They teach ’em how to fight in Amazon Land—or wherever she’s from—but they don’t teach ’em about picking decent guys.”

According to all the magazines, Lady Themis—the Warrior Woman of Justice—was the most beautiful woman in the world. It struck Darius as unbelievable that she would ever have problems with men.

“He’s not kidding,” said Manny. “She’ll go on forever. It doesn’t matter who you are. Sometimes, she’ll call my niece at two in the morning, crying over some guy.”

“She calls Elladia for advice?” asked Z-Boe.

“Yeah, at two in the morning, Lady Themis is calling my seventeen-year-old niece for dating advice. I don’t even let Elladia date, but Lady T still calls her,” said Manny.

“Okay, you guys have convinced me, I’ll stay away from Lady Themis,” said Darius.

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