- 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
Chuck Maslon liked to think he ran the whole show at Super Justice Force World Headquarters. As the head of security, he was in fact one of the six most powerful SJF employees. Only the “supes”—superheroes like Captain Freedom, Nightwatcher and Kid Spectacular—had any real authority over him. But there were a handful of others that could call the shots just like Maslon, and every once in a while something reminded him that the show he fancied was his to run wasn’t really his, and that he was nothing more than a player. A big player, with a lot of power, but a player nonetheless.
Sitting in Detention, at a few minutes past seven in the morning, Maslon was reminded that there were others at SJF with power to rival his own. The two security guards stationed in Detention were, as far as he was concerned, not real security guards. Yes, both the guards had Level Three clearance, but both had gone through Second Chance, which made them criminals. Neither of the guards was a member of Maslon’s elite Security One team—made up mostly of ex-cops, all of whom answered to him and him alone. He knew that Dr. Sam must have pulled some strings to get “Big” Mike Epting and Theo “Butchie” Pirro stationed in Detention.
Maslon came to work for Super Justice Force as head of security six months after The Attack. Before that he’d been the lead detective in the police department’s “Super Squad.” That’s what everyone called the unit of detectives that worked on cases related to metahumans, anyone with super powers, or simply the nut jobs that put on costumes and ran around the city.
Maslon’s actions in the Super Squad during The Attack thrust him into the public spotlight, and during the fifteen minutes of fame that followed, plenty of job offers came his way. He could have taken a job on any police department in the world, and the private sector offered him more money than most people could realistically imagine. But it was the job at Super Justice Force that lined up most with his personal goals.
The aftermath of The Attack wasn’t his first time in the public eye. Long before he had been a cop, Chuck Maslon had been in the Marines, a member of the First Earth Infantry—the first unit of the United States Military deployed on another planet. This was years before the formation of the United Terran Defense Initiative, and just before the legendary Battle of Enceladus.
Earth’s first and only off-world colony had been built on the Saturn moon of Enceladus, where nearly two thousand humans lived and worked alongside an equal number of extraterrestrials from four other planets. Maslon was the youngest member of First Earth Infantry stationed on Enceladus when the Ad-Ahlen Empire attacked; resulting in the human race’s first and most deadly conflict with an extraterrestrial race.
As one of the few survivors of the Battle of Enceladus, and as a veteran of the toughest city in the world—with more superhero and metahuman activity per capita than anywhere else—Chuck Maslon had long since learned how to identify trouble. And as far as he was concerned, Darius Logan was trouble.
Sitting quietly at the guard station, not saying a word to either of the guards, Maslon studied the folder full of files that chronicled the life and times of Darius Logan. When he arrived at Detention, one of the guards, “Butchie” Pirro, had been studying the files, which told the head of security that Dr. Sam, and not some scheduling error, was responsible for the guards on duty.
Dr. Sam had a sneaky habit of making sure his new recruits in Second Chance were looked after by veterans of the same rehabilitation program, who all shared some immoral code of honor. Maslon knew this was part of the reason Second Chance enjoyed such a high success rate—Dr. Sam manipulated the program and bent the rules to ensure that jokers who belonged behind bars stayed in the program, instead of going to prison. This was not, however, going to be the case with Darius Logan.
When Maslon took over as head of security for SJF, Second Chance was already in place. In theory, he didn’t have that much trouble with the program, and if all Second Chance served was petty criminals and small-time losers who were relegated to mopping floors and doing laundry, then he’d have no problem at all. But Second Chance worked with the worst of the worst—hard-core offenders like Magnetic Mauler, the Oblivi8or, El Toro Loco and Otto Rekker—all of whom had a bit too much power and authority at SJF. It was only a matter of time before the program took in someone beyond redemption, and that person would ultimately threaten the security of all that he had worked for. And though he couldn’t explain it, Maslon worried Darius Logan could very well be that person.
Darius showered in the bathroom across from the holding cells in Detention. He’d woken up after the soundest sleep he’d had in years, and it took him a few seconds to figure out where he was. The guards stationed in Detention told him it was okay to use the shower, handing him a towel, a neatly folded pile of clean clothes that must have come from the SJF souvenir shop, and a bag for his dirty clothes.
“You can wear these until we get a chance to wash your clothes,” said the older of the two guards.
Catching a glimpse of himself, Darius stared at his unwashed reflection in the squeaky-clean mirror of the sterile bathroom, and realized that he looked like what his mother used to call “leftover mess gone cold.”
He stood in the shower, letting the hot water rain down his body. It felt like forever since he’d taken a shower, and it had been forever since he’d been in a room that clean.
No roaches. No rats. This is high living. If I could just spend the next few years right here in the shower, everything would be cool.
As the water washed away the dirt and funk, Darius’s head began to ache. A dull pain at first, just behind his eyes, that he figured was from hunger. He always got a headache when he was hungry. But as Darius dried off, the pain quickly escalated. In a matter of moments he had one of the worst headaches he had ever known.
Something is wrong, he thought, slipping into the clothes he had been given. My head feels like it’s going to explode.
The gray t-shirt read “Property of Super Justice Force,” and the dark blue sweatpants had “SFJ” printed on one of the legs. The clothes were too big, but not to the point that they made Darius look ridiculous. Truth be told, Darius didn’t care how the clothes made him look, or even that they were clean. All he could think about was the pain—it was too intense, making him dizzy and nauseous. It was more than just being hungry. Maybe I’m having a brain aneurism or something like that.
Darius walked back out into the main area of Detention. He struggled to keep his balance as much as he struggled to keep from crying out in pain. “I think something is wrong,” he said.
“And what would that be?” asked a familiar voice.
Darius looked up to see Chuck Maslon sitting at the security station.
“There’s no soap in the shower,” Darius lied.
“Is that all?” Maslon asked. The tone of fake concern in his voice sickened Darius.
Darius nodded his head. He wasn’t about to tell Maslon about the excruciating pain. Something told Darius that his pain and suffering would be Maslon’s pleasure, so he kept it to himself and focused on the moment.
“I thought I’d pay you a visit before you start your new life here,” Maslon said. “I’m concerned we got off on the wrong foot yesterday.”
“If you say so.”
Despite Maslon’s cordial tone and smile, Darius wasn’t buying whatever he was selling. There was something about the way Maslon looked Darius directly in the eye. It was the way a bully stared at someone they were trying to intimidate.
“My views on Second Chance are no secret around here,” said Maslon. He shot a quick glance at the guards, looking at them with the same disdain he showed Darius. “I’ve seen the program work for some people, while others fail miserably. Personally, I don’t like Second Chance. I don’t like the people in it. And if I had my way, the program would be shut down. Am I making myself clear?”
“Yes, sir,” said Darius.
The fake smile on Maslon’s face faded. Darius knew it wasn’t a good idea to piss him off. Clearly he didn’t like Darius. And clearly he had come to bully Darius—to intimidate him. That wasn’t going to happen.
Maslon slammed the file he’d been reading shut, and tossed it to one of the security guards without looking. “I’m going to be watching you. Everything you do, I’m going to know about it. And when you screw up, and you will, I’m going to bounce your ass out of here and off to prison so fast it will make your head spin.”
My head is already spinning. And pounding. And burning, Darius thought. The pain felt like a hot knife digging into his brain. But the pain was a good thing. It kept him distracted enough that he didn’t say exactly what was on his mind to Maslon, which would have only led to trouble. “Is that it?” asked Darius.
Maslon stood up and walked to the elevator, pressed the button, and the doors opened. He stepped inside. Holding the door open, he turned back to face Darius. “Don’t get too comfortable here,” he said. “You won’t last. Bits like you never do.”
The elevator doors closed and Maslon disappeared. Darius returned to his holding cell and sat on the bed. The headache started to fade almost as quickly as it had come.
This place sure is going to be fun, he thought, with this tracking device around my ankle and that idiot breathing down my neck.
“Maslon is a ball-bustin’ sonovabitch.”
Darius looked up to see the older of the two security guards standing in the entrance of the cell. The guard’s name tag read “Pirro.”
“I hadn’t noticed,” Darius said.
“The name’s Butchie,” said the guard, extending his calloused hand to Darius.
“First rule at Second Chance: don’t let Maslon bust ya balls,” Butchie said. “And believe you’s me, he’ll try. He tries to break everyone.”
“What’s his problem?” Darius asked.
Butchie shrugged. “Beats me. I’m thinkin’ he’s got cape envy.”
“Sure, cape envy. Ya ain’t never heard of cape envy?” said Butchie. “That’s what happens to some guys when they spend too much time around the supes—people in capes that can bend steel in their bare hands and leap over tall buildings and all that crap. They start to feelin’ inadequate, so they do things like yell at their wife or kick their dog.”
“Does Maslon have a wife or a dog?”
“Probably not. Which is why he picks on guys like you’s.”
A giant mustache covered Butchie’s upper lip and part of his mouth, making it impossible for Darius to tell if the guard was smiling or not.
“Hey, my coffee’s getting’ cold,” said Butchie. “You’s wanna come out and join us?”
Darius followed Butchie out of the cell, and the two joined the other guard at the security station. “That’s Big Mike,” said Butchie, pointing to the other guard.
Big Mike offered a half-hearted wave and went back to reading his magazine.
“How old are ya, kid?” asked Butchie.
“I’ll be seventeen in a few days.”
“I didn’t know they took ’em that young in Second Chance. They send ya here straight outta juvie?”
Darius didn’t quite know how to explain his unique position in Second Chance. But sitting at the security station, it dawned on him that he might be explaining it a lot, whether he wanted to or not. He couldn’t hide his situation from others—not without being a liar. And not without being a fool for thinking others would believe his lies.
“I got sent here instead of going to jail,” said Darius, keeping it simple.
“Ya came here insteada going to jail?” asked Butchie.
Darius nodded, figuring it better to say too little than too much.
“No wonder Maslon was up in your face like that,” said Big Mike, putting down his magazine. Suddenly the conversation interested him. “He must really hate you. Normally he doesn’t pay personal visits like this.”
Not knowing what to say, Darius shrugged, hoping his silent would say whatever it was Big Mike wanted to hear.
“Something you’s’ll learn ’round here is that there’s two types of people,” said Butchie. “There’s them that hate Chuck Maslon, and them’s that don’t like him much.”
“Maslon is a scumbag,” said Big Mike. “He hates all Chancers—don’t matter who they are or what they did.”
“What’s a Chancer?” asked Darius.
“Anyone who’s been in Second Chance,” said Big Mike. “Maslon treats all ’em like they’re guilty until proven guilty. Once a criminal always a criminal, in his book. And the worse the crime you did, the more he’ll hate.”
“Yeah, well, I got caught with eXXeLL,” said Darius.
“eXXeLL? Wow. That’s big time,” said Big Mike. “I could see him developing a special hate for you.”
“And I beat up a cop.”
“You beat up a cop? Were you high on eXXeLL or something?”
“No. I just know how to fight.”
Big Mike looked Darius up and down, trying to imagine him beating up a cop. “Look kid, I don’t know you,” he said. “And I may never see you again after today—HQ is a big place—but let me tell you this: watch out for Maslon.”
“Don’t let this clown freak ya out, kid,” Butchie said. “Just keep ya nose clean, and do ya best to stay outta Maslon’s way.”
“How hard will that be?” asked Darius.