- 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
“This can’t be real,” said Darius, more to himself than anyone else. He stared at an underground warehouse full of lifeless ACU-64s, the most deadly weapon since the atomic bomb. Some people called them Killbots, a pretty accurate name.
If he could throw up again, he would. But his stomach was empty. Darius felt a wave of emotions that he could not even begin to categorize. Fear and anger and hate and sadness and just about every bad feeling he had experienced over the last eight years, all rushed through him at the same time. His body shook. His fists clenched and unclenched, over and over again.
None of this makes sense, he thought.
He tried to look away, or at least close his eyes, but he couldn’t stop staring. “What is this?” he asked. His voice sounded distant to him—like it came from someone else very far away.
“They can’t hurt anyone. They’re deactivated. Dead,” said Manny.
He stood next to Darius.
“Dead? My parents are dead!” Darius exploded. “My brother is dead! That’s what killed them! Those things killed my family!”
“Those things killed a lot of people,” said Z-Boe, trying to reassure Darius. “And a lot of us lost people we loved.”
“And that’s supposed to make me feel better?” asked Darius.
Life hadn’t been easy since his family had been killed in The Attack. In fact, Darius’s life had been terrible. He fought for many years to get to a place where he felt in control of his emotions—a place where the anger and fear didn’t run out of control—because he knew whenever he didn’t keep his cool, he always got in trouble. But standing there, in front of the massive underground warehouse filled with deactivated Killbots—the same machines that had butchered his family—he felt himself losing all control.
A fire burned in his eyes when he looked away from the machines, staring directly at Manny. Darius felt all control slipping away, the rage coiling around his brain like a boa constrictor, squeezing out all rational thought. Anger and pain screamed inside of Darius, demanding to be expressed in the language he spoke most fluently—the language of violence.
Darius wanted to hit something. He wanted to hit Manny. He needed to hit Manny, the person who brought him to see the things that had killed his parents. Manny had brought him face to face with the monsters that haunted his dreams, chasing him night after night to the point he hardly ever slept.
You hit him, and it’s all over, Darius said to himself, trying to calm down. You’ll go to prison. Maslon will have won.
“You can hit me if you want to,” Manny said.
Manny stood beside Darius, staring at him the way Darius’s father used to do. He made no jokes, and didn’t smile. He just stood there, a calm picture of strength, seeing all the things inside Darius that threatened to rage to the surface—the anger and the hatred and the fear and the sadness. Manny saw the ticking time bomb that called itself Darius Logan, and prepared to take the brunt of the explosion.
“Hit me if you want,” Manny said a second time, speaking more clearly, making sure he was understood. “I’m cool with it.”
Darius slowly shook his head, searching for the right thing to say. The smell of his vomit helped push aside all other thought. “I need to clean up my puke,” he mumbled.
“Don’t worry about it,” said Manigo, already cleaning up the mess. “It happens more than you’d believe.”
Darius watched the guard mop up the pool of vomit. He looked over at Manny, trying to find just the right thing to say. “Why?” Darius asked.
“Why is Manigo cleaning up your vómito?” Manny asked.
“No,” said Darius. He turned back to look at the lifeless ACU-64s. “Why?”
“Because you needed to know, and you needed to know now, not six months from now,” said Manny.
“Some people can’t be in the building knowing they’re here,” said Z-Boe.
Darius had forgotten that Z-Boe was standing there.
“And if you are one of those people, we might as well find out now,” said Manny. “No point in wasting your time.”
Darius wanted to tell Manny that there had to be a better way of telling him about the ACU-64s. But he knew there wasn’t. Even if Manny had given him some sort of warning, Darius knew his reaction would’ve been the same. What would Manny have said? “Hey, Darius, down in the fifth sub-basement we have a warehouse full of deadly robots that killed your family. Wanna see?”
Manigo finished cleaning the vomit off the floor. Darius self-consciously mumbled his thanks to the guard. He felt like a kid for having puked—like some little sissy who pissed his pants after having seen the bogeyman hiding in the closet.
“How you feelin’, amigo?” asked Manny.
“How do you think I feel?” Darius replied.
“Yeah. Whatever that is,” said Darius.
“It’s kind of what you smell like right now,” said Manny.
“Those things should’ve been destroyed,” said Darius.
“I agree one hundred percent,” said Manny.
“Then why are they here?”
“Even if we tell you why, it won’t make sense,” said Z-Boe.
“You sure you don’t wanna hit me instead, amigo?” asked Manny with a slight smile. “That would be easier than tryin’ to make sense of this.”
“I still may hit you, but first I want answers.”
“That sounds fair to me,” said Manny.
“They’re here because of money,” said Z-Boe. “These things represent billions of dollars the government spent developing a new weapon. Believe me, there were a lot of us that wanted to see them properly destroyed.”
“Doc Kaos hacked into the control mainframe of those things. They went crazy and killed what…8,000 people? And you’re telling me that they’re down here because someone is worried about how much they cost?” said Darius.
“That’s exactly what he’s tellin’ you,” replied Manny.
“Those machines killed 8,000 people! They killed my parents! My kid brother—he was only a day old!”
“I told you it wouldn’t make sense,” said Manny.
Z-Boe placed his hand on Darius’s shoulder, and gave it gentle squeeze. Again, a strange surge of energy raced through his body—both overwhelming and soothing at the same time.
“I’ve been through a lot. I was on Enceladus—lost my whole family there,” said Z-Boe. “Honestly, The Attack was the most brutal battle I’ve ever experienced. And I’m telling you—man to man—that no one was more vocal than me about seeing these things destroyed. But the government wasn’t going to let that happen. It took months to come an agreement.”
“What kind of agreement?”
“The ACU-64s that weren’t completely destroyed were deactivated. Super Justice Force would store the ACU-64s here, under heavy guard, until someone figures out how to make ’em operate correctly,” said Z-Boe. “That was the best compromise that could be arrived at.”
“So they want to try and use them again?” asked Darius.
“Not if I have anything to do with it,” said Z-Boe.
“Not if any of us have anything to do with it,” said Manny. “These things are the deadliest weapons ever created, but as long as they exist, if they’re here—in this building—I feel safe. Much safer than if the government held on to them.”
Darius turned back to face the open room. The cause of every bad thing that happened to him over that last eight years lay motionless in the giant containment facility. He had countless nightmares of ACU-64s chasing after him, coming to finish off what they had started when they killed his family. These machines were the things he feared the most. The things he hated the most.
He walked into the warehouse. Neither Manny nor Z-Boe nor the guards made an attempt to stop him. Darius reached out and touched one of the machines. It felt smooth and cool and lifeless. Darius knew exactly what he touched; but the lifeless machine knew nothing of Darius. It had no clue how much Darius hated it and all the others just like it. And though Darius knew this, and though he knew the ACU-64s could not hear him, it didn’t stop him from calling the machines the most vile curse words he could think of.