- 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
Darius felt exhausted. He’d been awake for over twenty-four hours, and even though he usually had trouble sleeping, he felt like he would fall asleep in the backseat of the car being driven by Chuck Maslon. Dr. Sam sat in the front passenger seat.
“Where are we going?” Darius asked.
“Your new home,” answered Maslon, a hint of contempt in his voice.
Darius couldn’t tell whether Dr. Sam noticed Maslon’s tone. The doctor seemed to ignore much of what Maslon said.
“We’re going to Super Justice Force Headquarters,” said Dr. Sam. “There is, among other things, housing facilities at HQ. You’ll be staying there.”
“What about my stuff?” asked Darius.
“What stuff?” asked Maslon.
Darius didn’t own much. A few tattered books and some beat-up clothes that made him look homeless were about all he had as far as worldly possessions went. But there were also the pictures—a handful of old photographs he had managed to hold on to over the years that provided the only proof he once had a family. The pictures meant more to him than anything else. “I have some stuff, clothes and pictures and things.”
He tried to downplay how important the photographs were. Darius could go the rest of his life wearing just the clothes on his back, but he had to have the pictures that he’d found in the bottom of a box in his Uncle Kenny’s closet.
He had asked Kenny many times if there were any pictures of his mother and father, and his uncle told him there weren’t. The thing was that Darius remembered his mother sending at least one picture. It had been taken a few weeks before his parents died, and Darius remembered his father arguing with her about it. “Do you really think my brother cares?” Dwayne asked.
But Janae sent it anyway, and even though Uncle Kenny claimed he had no pictures of his brother, sister-in-law and nephew, Darius was convinced otherwise. It took him a long time of secretly rummaging through Kenny’s stuff, before he found the photos in a box filled with junk. He wasn’t going to lose them now. He didn’t care if the STATU around his ankle made his whole leg explode, or if going after the pictures meant going to prison, he couldn’t live without the photos.
“We’ll make arrangements to get your things in the next few days—after you get processed,” said Dr. Sam as the car pulled up to the world headquarters of Super Justice Force.
Darius had spent a lot of time doing research for the essay that won the citywide competition when he was eight. Part of his prize included a guided tour of Super Justice Force World Headquarters. And even though he hadn’t read many comic books in the last seven or eight years—or many books, for that matter—he still felt he knew a lot about Super Justice Force and their HQ.
The largest man-made structure in North America, Super Justice Force World Headquarters had been named one of the modern wonders of the world. The original headquarters had been built nearly forty years earlier, when the first Captain Freedom, a man named Jake Kirby, Sr., originally formed Super Justice Force.
Jake Kirby was the son of Dr. Jacob Kurtzberg, the foremost scientist in the study of metahumans and super powered humans. It was Kurtzberg who identified the “twenty-fourth chromosome,” the genetic disorder resulting in Kurtzberg-24 Syndrome, which gave human beings super powers. Considered by historians to be the first real costumed superhero, Kirby used his powers to help fight crime and protect humanity as Captain Freedom. His comic book adventures thrilled a generation, and his real-life adventures gave them hope for a better tomorrow.
There were other superheroes at the time, dressed in colorful costumes, fighting crime and defending justice, but none were as recognizable or popular as Captain Freedom. The Protector fought crime using a high-tech suit, and became the first crime fighter to get a major corporate endorsement deal, turning superheroics into a viable business venture. Validus was rumored to be an alien from another planet. The original Super Justice Force consisted of Captain Freedom, the Protector and Validus, who joined forces with five other lesser-known heroes to thwart the first of two alien attacks.
Over the years, Super Justice Force grew into the largest team of superheroes and crime fighters in the world. With over one hundred fully active members and another fifty affiliate members—not including Teen Justice Force—SJF maintained operating headquarters in six cities, and had at least one hero on active duty in all fifty states. Recognized by the federal government as a privately owned law enforcement agency, SJF worked in conjunction with local, state and federal agencies, and every member of Super Justice Force was fully licensed and deputized. Both the team itself and individual members earned money from endorsement deals and royalties from film, television and comic book revenue, not to mention action figure sales and whatever they earned from personal appearances.
The massive structure looming before Darius had been built twenty years after the construction of the original HQ, and took up the equivalent of six full city blocks. HQ consisted of four buildings clustered together, with a fifth building on the other side of Super Justice Force Memorial Park. The original headquarters, called “the Mansion,” looked almost like the White House with its grand columns and sense of importance, and served as the main entrance to HQ. Directly behind the Mansion, “the Tower” stood thirty stories tall. “The Dome” stood to the east of the Tower, and it looked like a high-tech sports arena. Wedged between the Tower and the Dome, only five stories tall, stood “the Bunker.” And on the other side of the park stood the fifth building that comprised SJF Headquarters, “the School.”
The five buildings comprising HQ were a sight to see. At a glance, the buildings looked separate—especially the School. But the four main buildings connected on the ground level, the second floor, first basement, and through an intricate series of tunnels and corridors, while the School was connected to the other buildings by series of underground passages. All of this made the five buildings one massive structure.
Within the walls of the HQ were living quarters for active members of Super Justice Force, housing for participants of Second Chance, SJF corporate offices, a fully functioning medical clinic with a trauma center, and the most elaborate communications network in the galaxy. The maintenance shop serviced the various vehicles used by SJF members, including the SJF interplanetary ship, which could take off and land from the Dome when the retractable roof opened. The Kurtzberg Metahuman Research and Training Center, located in the School, was the leading research facility for both metahumans and those with Kurtzberg-24 Syndrome, offering full training for mutants and those with powers, as well as a private school for students in grades five through twelve.
The most recognizable part of HQ, the Mansion served as the main public entrance. Everyone entering HQ passed a giant statue of the original lineup of Super Justice Force members. Both impressive and beautiful, the inscription at the base of the statue read, “Justice For All.”
A security station inside the main foyer greeted all visitors checking in, while uniformed men and women directed people to their destinations. Visitors taking the guided tour of HQ moved to the right, toward the SJF Museum, gift shop and restaurant. Other visitors moved to the left, going toward the SJF research library and the primary entrance to the corporate offices.
Dr. Sam and Chuck Maslon led Darius into the building just as a busload of tourists arrived. The tourists stood in a single-file line, taking pictures as they waited to pass through the security station, which looked like the x-ray machines at airports—only more high-tech. Only four of the five x-ray machines were being used. Dr. Sam led Darius past the tourists to the fifth machine, flashed some sort of identification badge, and he and Darius were waved through.
Darius looked behind him and saw Chuck Maslon still at the security station. Maslon made a show of removing a gun from his shoulder holster and handing it to one of the security guards before passing through the x-ray machine.
Who needs a gun in a building full of superheroes? Darius thought. It just made Maslon that much more of a joke.
“I’m sure you’ve noticed by now, Chuck doesn’t have the most endearing personality,” said Dr. Sam. “He takes his job as Head of Security very seriously. And he doesn’t trust anyone.”
“Sounds like he’s fun to be around,” said Darius, trying not to sound too sarcastic.
“Not everyone can be the life of the party,” said Dr. Sam with a smile. Dr. Sam smiling looked like an old bulldog baring its teeth before attacking.
Maslon caught up with Darius and Dr. Sam at an elevator that faced the gift shop.
“We taking him to processing?” asked Maslon. He adjusted his gun in the shoulder holster in a way that seemed to be a show for Darius’s sake.
“He can be processed tomorrow,” said Dr. Sam. “He needs some rest.”
“I think it’s a mistake to not process him now,” said Maslon. He talked to Dr. Sam, but looked directly at Darius.
“Processing will take at least four hours, and Darius hasn’t had any sleep,” said Dr. Sam. “I’m taking him to Detention. Tomorrow he can be processed.”
Dr. Sam led Darius on to the elevator, but Maslon did not follow. “He’s wearing his STATU. There’s nothing to worry about,” said Dr. Sam as the elevator door closed.
Darius knew it wasn’t the last he’d be seeing of Maslon, but for the moment, he felt relieved to have him out of sight. He had no idea what the days—and even years—to come had in store. He did know for certain that at some point in time he would have trouble with Maslon.
“He’s going to be waiting for you to mess up, Darius. And if you do, he’ll know about it,” Dr. Sam said, as if reading Darius’s mind. The elevator moved, but Darius couldn’t tell which way it was going. At first it felt like the elevator moved horizontally instead of vertically.
When the elevator doors opened, they arrived somewhere that looked like a futuristic version of a small-town jail. Two men sat at a security station. Both looked a lot like cops. Dressed in dark uniforms with an official-looking badge pinned over the left breast of their shirts, name tags and photo identification over the right, they wore the same uniform as the security guards at the entrance to HQ. Neither man had a gun, but one had an UltraStun 500 in a holster on his belt. And with an UltraStun 500, he didn’t really need a gun.
On the other side of the station were what looked like jail cells—only without bars. Darius looked around the room to get a better sense of his surroundings. The lack of windows made him wonder if they were underground. There was little by way of decoration, although a large clock on the wall told him it was almost four o’clock.
Even without the bars, this place looked a bit too much like a jail, which made Darius uncomfortable. “Is this where I’m going to be living?” he asked.
“No, this is Detention. It’s primarily used for holding suspects until they can be transported to jail,” explained Dr. Sam. “And sometimes, we hold people here right after they get out of prison, before they get processed into Second Chance.”
Dr. Sam greeted the guards, Sullivan and Martin, and then introduced Darius. “I’ll be taking Darius to Processing in the morning,” said Dr. Sam. “In the meantime, make sure he gets some dinner, and tell whoever comes on for the next shift that I’ll be back at eight in the morning.”
“We’ll make sure they have him ready,” said Sullivan.
“If you need anything, just ask Sullivan or Martin,” said Dr. Sam, getting back on the elevator. “I’ll see you tomorrow morning.”
As the elevator doors closed and Dr. Sam disappeared, Martin led Darius to one of the holding cells. They waited a moment while Sullivan deactivated a force field.
The room looked just like a jail cell, complete with a small bed, a sink and a toilet. Darius dreaded the thought of using the toilet with no privacy at all. The look on his face must have said it all.
“There’s a bathroom right down the hall, if you want some privacy,” said Martin. “We’ll be right outside if you need anything.”
Darius sat on the bed and waited for the force field to be reactivated, but it wasn’t. He heard Sullivan and Martin outside talking about the baseball game from the night before. And then he fell asleep.