SJF – Chapter 9

This entry is part 9 of 25 in the series SJF Chapters

background-tile3.jpgDarius sat with Butchie and Big Mike for over thirty minutes, while the two security guards gave him a crash course in how things worked at Super Justice Force HQ. Big Mike did most of the talking. Once in a while Butchie would look up from the file he was studying to say something. “The stuff we’re tellin’ ya ain’t gonna be in the Employee Handbook or covered in orientation,” Butchie would interject.

“There’s a lot of Chancers working ‘round here,” said Big Mike. “Make sure you know who’s who. A Chancer always gonna have your back. Especially if you get into a beef with a Long Arm.”

“What’s a Long Arm?” Darius asked.

“Lotta ex-cops work here at HQ. Most of ’em work on the Security One team, with Maslon,” said Butchie.

“Okay, but what’s a Long Arm?” asked Darius.

“You know—long arm of the law,” said Big Mike.

“That’s a stupid name,” said Darius.

Butchie shrugged, like he’d never given it much thought. “Most times Chancers and Long Arms get along—ain’t too much beef,” he said. “But you get two guys workin’ together, one’s an ex-con and the other useta be the cop that busted him, and sometimes it gets dicey.”

That would suck, Darius thought. I’d hate having to work with the cop from the other night.

“Does that happen often—Chancers and Long Arms working together?” Darius asked.

“Depends on where ya get placed,” said Butchie. “You’s gonna take some tests, depending on how ya score, depends on where ya work.”

“Pray you don’t score low on the tests,” said Big Mike. “Otherwise you’ll be a Scrubber—and it doesn’t get any worse than that. If it’s cleaned, polished, mopped or scrubbed in any way, shape or form, it’s done by Scrubber.”

“There’s nuthin’ wrong with bein’ a Scrubber—it’s honest work,” said Butchie. “It just ain’t career work. Some guys, they get into Second Chance, they test low and get stuck scrubbin’ toilets, and that’s what they do. They scrub toilets the entire time they’re on probation, and when probation is up, they either keep scrubbin’ toilets here, or they move to scrub ’em some other place. And that’s what’s really wrong about bein’ a Scrubber—when that’s all you’s ever try to be.”

It seemed clear to Darius that Butchie had been a Scrubber. It also seemed that despite the gruff way he talked, the older of the two guards had a bit more wisdom to share. Darius had questions for Butchie, but before he could ask, the elevator doors opened and Dr. Sam entered the Detention area.

Dr. Sam greeted everyone, mentioned something about getting breakfast, and then told Darius to leave his dirty clothes in the cell. While Darius placed the bag with his dirty clothes back in the small holding cell, Dr. Sam had a brief conversation with Big Mike and Butchie.

Stepping out of the cell, Darius saw Butchie handing Dr. Sam the file he had been looking through all morning. Darius noticed that his name was printed on the tab.

“I’ll need you to do a favor for me later today,” Dr. Sam said to Butchie.

“No problem,” said Butchie as the elevator doors closed on Dr. Sam and Darius.

This time Darius was certain—the elevator moved horizontally instead of vertically. Then it moved vertically. He looked at the panel where in a normal elevator there would be numbers for each floor. This panel was more complex. There were thirty-six buttons on the panel. One for each letter in the alphabet and the numbers zero through nine. Above the panel a digital display flashed an ever-changing combination of two letters followed by four numbers.

The elevator stopped, and the doors opened leading to a hallway of polished marble. Dr. Sam led the way, motioning for Darius to follow. “I feel like pancakes today,” said the doctor.

Darius followed Dr. Sam down a hallway to the employee cafeteria. Dr. Sam ordered pancakes with sausage, and coffee with enough room for extra cream. “Get whatever you want,” said Dr. Sam.

As they ate their breakfast, Darius wondered what was in the file that had his name on it. He tried not to stare at it, but it taunted him.

“At nine, I’ll take you to processing,” said Dr. Sam. “It starts with a complete physical. I’ve taken the liberty to order a dental exam for you as well. Your fingerprints will be taken, a retina scan, voiceprint and full DNA bio-scan. The fingerprints, retina and voice scan are for identification. The DNA bio-scan is for security.”

“What kind of security requires a DNA bio-scan?” Darius asked.

“It’s the only way to keep out unwanted bio-morphs. Shape shifters. A powerful bio-morph could shape shift to look just like you, right down to your fingerprints—provided they had access to the information. But they can’t fake your DNA.”

Never seen a bio-morph before, Darius thought. At least I don’t think I’ve seen one. It’s not like I would know—they can look like anyone.

Aside from what he’d read in comic books, Darius didn’t know much about bio-morphs. He was pretty sure that there were no human bio-morphs at all, and that shape shifting was something that could only be done by a select few extraterrestrial races.

After they finished eating, Dr. Sam and Darius made their way back to the elevator, which took them to what looked like the waiting area of an emergency room. “This is the Medical Trauma and Surgery Unit—MTSU,” explained Dr. Sam. “There is a health clinic that provides a variety of medical services, as well as a fully operational trauma center.”

Dr. Sam led Darius to an exam room, where they were greeted by another man.

“Dr. Amir is the head of MTSU,” said Dr. Sam. “I’ll leave you with him, and be back to get you when you’re done.”

Over the next four hours Dr. Amir and other medical staff poked, prodded and scanned Darius’s body, took blood samples, monitored his heart, tested his vision, hearing and muscle strength, and had him pee into a cup. “You look to be in good shape. A little malnourished, but nothing serious,” Dr. Amir said. “Make sure you eat enough. I want to see you again in three months, and you had better have packed on a few pounds.”

Dr. Sam returned after Darius had completed the medical portion of processing, and escorted him back to the employee cafeteria. They sat quietly, Darius eating a double cheeseburger and fries, Dr. Sam having the soup of the day—chicken noodle—half of a turkey club sandwich and a cup of coffee with plenty of room for extra cream.

“There was a mistake in your paperwork. You were supposed to be assigned living quarters, but the order didn’t go through,” said Dr. Sam. “I’m afraid you’ll have to spend another night in Detention.”

“That’s fine,” said Darius. He had spent the night in worse places. Detention was a luxury hotel compared to the abandoned subway stations across the river.

Dr. Sam slurped his soup, broth dribbling down his chin. Darius wondered if Dr. Sam personally escorted around every person entering Second Chance. The thought had kicked around Darius’s mind most of the day, and he started to wonder what Dr. Sam’s real motives were. The harsh truth of the world Darius came from was that no one did something for nothing, and he doubted this world would be any different. Everyone had a motive.

“You do this with everyone?” asked Darius.

Dr. Sam looked up from his soup. “Do what?”

“This,” said Darius. He pointed at the lunch, looked around the cafeteria and motioned his hands to indicate everything surrounding them. “All of this—the lunch, being led around personally.”

Dr. Sam stopped eating. He stared at Darius for a moment, just long enough for the silence to be awkward.

“I’ve been waiting a long time for you, Darius,” said Dr. Sam.

“Waiting for me?”

“Okay, not you, but someone just like you. Second Chance started twenty years ago with a simple: offer jobs and training to ex-cons that they could use when they got out of prison. It took five years just to get the program up and running. The first three years we only offered training and counseling in the prisons. Then we expanded the program to include pretty much every aspect of operations at Super Justice Force. This guaranteed that the guys who went through the program would have jobs waiting for them on the outside.”

“Where do I come in?” asked Darius.

“I knew seven years ago that Second Chance was working. I proved it could work with a ninety-five percent success rate,” said Dr. Sam. “I knew that if we could rehabilitate the people we had been working with—and we’ve worked with some people that seemed impossible—we could help anyone. We could stop career criminals before they became career criminals.”

“And I’m the guy to prove Second Chance can do that?”

“You better be,” said Dr. Sam. “There were others that we could have taken into the program before you came along, but Second Chance didn’t need them.”

“I don’t understand. Why does Second Chance need me?”

Dr. Sam leaned across the table, a fire in his eyes. “Because the mayor’s nephew, who keeps getting busted for buying crack, or some corporate bigwig’s son doing dirt will be catching breaks their whole lives. The entire system is designed to help privileged punks who get into trouble. The moment I took some silver-spoon-in-his-mouth white boy into Second Chance, that’s all the program would be good for.

“If you went to prison, Darius, the chances of you doing anything good with your life would be slim to none. A Bit like you—you’d have been chewed up and spit out. They’d turn you out and pass you around, trading you for a pack of cigarettes. And when you finally got out of prison, you wouldn’t be a man. You’d be a thief, or a hustler, or just some jive-ass animal that preys on those weaker than him.”

“You don’t know me,” said Darius. “You don’t know that’s what would happen to me.”

“It happens to all of them, in one way or another. Prison turns all men—no matter what color they are—into animals,” said Dr. Sam. “Second Chance is barely even putting a dent in the problem. But I’ll be damned if I let this program try something new and it isn’t for those who need it most.”

Dr. Sam went back to slurping his soup.

Darius sat quietly thinking about everything Dr. Sam said. Dr. Sam’s words had weight to them—a weight that Darius could already feel pushing down on him. More than his personal freedom seemed to rest on success or failure in Second Chance.

Nothing like a little pressure, he thought.

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