Jennifer & the Debriefing, Part II: Sunnydale
A/N: See chapter 1 for disclaimer, spoilers, notes on AU, and why Xander has his eye back.“But how can this many people – this many children – all die or vanish, with no outcry? This should have made every newspaper and news program in the country!”
Jennifer nodded unhappily. “Yes sir. But as far as we’ve been able to tell, it wasn’t even making the town newspaper or local news programs, which suggests a local cover-up that goes all the way to the top. Even stranger, it wasn’t being reported to the state authorities as part of the state crime statistics, which is illegal. We checked. The state of California has one specific rule for lack of reporting into the state and federal crime databases: incorporated towns of a population under one hundred without an elected sheriff can avoid the reporting rules. Most of the towns like that go ahead and report anyway, since it’s not a serious burden. In 1990, the state crime database had a list of the four incorporated towns under one hundred people that had not reported in: Fossil, Dry Lake, Morris Creek… and Sunnydale.”
Dr. Jackson quickly asked, “But doesn’t the sheer size of the high school and the number of deaths mean that the town population had
to be well over a hundred?”
Jennifer smiled. Man, it was good to work with a smart audience. She said, “Yes. A lot larger than a hundred. We searched every database we could find, and we got vastly different numbers for the town’s population. We knew the ‘under 100’ number couldn’t be right. The graduating classes from Sunnydale High are all larger than that, even after all the deaths and missing person reports. We found a picture of the ‘Welcome to Sunnydale’ sign on another webpage, and the sign claimed the population was around 38,000, at least for the year the sign was last updated. But that didn’t match anything else we found. Sunnydale received state and federal grants for small cities, which would mean that their population had to be over 50,000 and under 100,000. They were invoking federal law enforcement guidelines that were for cities of at least 100,000 people. They had an airport and a train station, even if the main tracks were a good fifty miles outside the city limits, and flights were normally only from other California and Nevada airports. They also had a full-sized zoo, which normally suggests a population of well over 400,000. On the other hand, they had only one Starbucks, which is fairly unusual for any town over about 20,000 people, although they did have at least half a dozen non-franchise coffee shops that we know of through advertisements in the campus paper. They had a university: U.C. Sunnydale. There was also a small college, Crestwood College. They had two large public high schools and at least one private high school that we could find. They had a light industrial area, a heavy industrial area, a large warehouse district, a port area with docks, and two different high-tech areas, one of which had apparently folded before Harris started high school. According to state records, they had three city morgues, each one of them roughly the size you’d expect for a city the size of Los Angeles. Also, according to state records, they changed the official coroner about once or twice a year. The old coroners? Dead or missing, apparently, because they don’t show up anywhere afterward. We’re still trying to find even one of them. Plus, there were forty-three churches, nine funeral homes, and thirteen cemeteries. Large, currently-active cemeteries, not tiny frontier cemeteries that are no longer used. Those numbers tend to go with cities of around two million people or larger. But based on computer analysis of the records from the state and regional power and water companies, we estimate the town appeared to have roughly 88,000 people as of the spring of 1999.”
“What about the federal law enforcement guidelines you mentioned?”
Jennifer looked over at Sergeant Harriman. He would spot the regulations issue. Well, she was going to talk about that eventually, anyway. “Yes. That’s another really weird thing about Sunnydale. They used some federal guidelines to keep the California Highway Patrol and the state police from entering the city limits. In fact, they used an old 1870’s law to keep the state police forces from coming within a much larger boundary set by the original drafts for the town. State forces were not allowed to enter Sunnydale even if they were involved in hot pursuit of felons. You’d think this would be a loophole that everyone running from the law would use. I called my old Academy roommate and got her to connect me with her uncle, who’s still with the CHP.” She didn’t mention that she wasn’t on good terms with her old roommate, so it had been a fairly uncomfortable call. But that’s what happened when your Academy nickname was ‘Mini-bitch’. Especially if you deserved to have a nickname like that. She went on, “He told me that no one in the criminal community wanted to use that loophole. There was something about the town, or the town’s police force, that scared them a lot more than hot pursuit by the California Highway Patrol. Not to mention that there’s nothing around Sunnydale, so the problem didn’t turn up very often. When he told me that about the town, I asked if the town police force was that tough, and he laughed out loud. He said the Sunnydale police force was fifty percent incompetence, fifty percent corruption. He told me that his people assumed there was a corrupt core that deliberately hired the most incompetent idiots to fill in the rest of the force. If there was real crime going on in Sunnydale, he wouldn’t be surprised if the town police were directly involved in it.”
“That’s a pretty strong statement for a police officer,” said Colonel Carter. Jennifer knew Sam had dated a cop for a while, so she probably knew what a police officer wouldn’t say outside the station house.
Jennifer agreed, “Yes ma’am. However, I think I can back it up. We ran a check on police department employment information since the Sunnydale Crater. Not one single member of the Sunnydale Police Department has found employment in any police department in the entire state since the collapse. We found thirty-three rejections and no acceptances, even in areas where they’re short on police officers. I’m conjecturing it has something to do with the inability of the Sunnydale police to do anything sane about these deaths.
“Just look at the three major causes of death I mentioned before. Barbecue fork accident, gangs on PCP, and wild animal attack. None of these makes any sense. How could you die from getting stabbed with a barbecue fork, even if several of the school newspaper accounts mentioned that the stab wound was to the side of the neck? How could you believe in gangs on PCP when there was no current PCP-related gang activity in California, and all the gang activity was connected to unrelated drugs? PCP pretty much passed its heyday by 1990. How could you accept wild animal attacks when Sunnydale had so little stray and wild animal activity that in 1983 the mayor officially combined the animal shelter manager and the dogcatcher, and made it a part-time job? That was in one of the school paper articles we found, which was apparently written because a couple students lost their part-time jobs in the change. And how could you have that small a stray animal problem in an area like Sunnydale? With the coastal California weather there, they should have had enormous problems with homeless people and stray animals. They had such a small homeless population that they didn’t even bother with a real homeless shelter. According to the online records of the area Catholic diocese, the most that Sunnydale needed was a temporary shelter arrangement once or twice a year in the basement of one of the churches. Every other city up and down the California coast has a homeless problem that’s dozens of times worse. For some cities, it’s hundreds of times worse. So where were the homeless people in Sunnydale?
“We managed to get into the databases of five major HMOs that provided care in Sunnydale.” She didn’t bother to keep the disgust out of her voice as she said, “Apparently, they had no problem with insuring these people, since I’m guessing they tended to die before they got seriously ill with anything.” No one objected to her comment. Most of the room nodded in agreement. This really was just plain wrong. “Most common visits to the ER? Serious loss of blood, usually due to ‘barbecue fork accident’, usually to the neck, although occasionally to the wrist or forearm or inner thigh. Second most common? Wild animal attack. Both of these were sometimes listed along with the notation ‘assault by gang members on PCP’ or ‘assault by person wearing mask’ or ‘assault by person with deformed face’, whatever that means. The times of the visits also skewed heavily toward nighttime, for some reason. The frequency of these particular comments suggests they’re some sort of code the ER workers used for some sort of activity they didn’t want to discuss openly. Although there were some really bizarre spikes of atypical admissions. In Xander Harris’ junior year, there was a spike of bizarre admissions in a single two-hour period on Halloween night. The next year, there was a spike one night when a large number of adults were admitted for confusion, loss of impulse control, and behavioral changes, including what must have been half the staff of the hospital. All these cases were listed as ‘cured’. By the next morning.
“That’s impossible,” insisted Colonel Carter.
Jennifer nodded. “I agree. But there’s more data like this. Later in that same school year, at graduation, Harris’s high school exploded.”
She nodded. “As a heart attack. The graduation ceremony took place in the school courtyard. The explosion was centered in what – according to a map of the school we downloaded off one of the memorabilia sites – would have been the school library. The mayor, the school principal, three other city officials, eight students, one teacher, and four parents were killed. The bodies of the principal and city officials were never recovered. Not even traces. The eight students and one teacher and four parents who died? Barbecue fork accident or wild animal attack, according to the school paper. The people taken to the ER? Not one single person with burns or blast damage. There were fourteen people with broken bones or torn ligaments or dislocated shoulder, half of them with defensive wounds on their knuckles and arms, as if they were in a riot instead of an explosion. Several of them were also listed as having our perennial favorite: loss of blood due to barbecue fork accident. And here’s the best part. The police and fire department decided it was a gas leak, even though the downloaded school map suggests there wouldn’t be any gas lines in that part of the building.”
“So there was a massive cover-up there for… years?”
Jennifer said, “Possibly for decades
. Maybe even since the city was founded. But these are just the events we could track down in one night of computer searches. One year later, there was a city-wide laryngitis epidemic. Every single person in the city came down with extreme paralytic laryngitis and couldn’t make any sound at all. Not even a whisper. And they all came down with it simultaneously
. No diagnosis made, and no cause found. According to assorted HMO records, various doctors at the hospital ruled out poisons, bacterial infection, viral infection, prions, and physical trauma. Roughly twenty-four hours later, it was gone and every single person in town was completely cured. The HMOs all agreed it was a hoax and refused to pay out for any hospital visits.”
“How’s any of this possible?”
Jennifer went on. “A year after that, there was a sudden spike in cases of insanity. The psych ward was full to overflowing for months. The patients were found wandering the streets or were reported by their families. And the onset was more or less instantaneous. People who were perfectly fine and asymptomatic hours or in some cases minutes
before they were found, people with no history of mental illness or instability of any kind, were suddenly staggering, whimpering, babbling basketcases. They came in like this, averaging about one every other day, for five straight months, after which the patients busted out of the ward en masse and apparently converged on a downtown construction site instead of wandering off aimlessly. And that was it. The problem just stopped for no apparent reason, and no new cases were ever admitted. All patients presented with confusion and inability to function. All the patients had the same symptoms. None of them responded to drug therapy, either. And no one ever found a reason that there was this unnatural constant rate of incidence. Even better, no one ever called the CDC and reported this.”
No one commented. In fact, several people sat there with their mouths open.
“Now here’s an oddity we can’t figure out. Another oddity we can’t figure out. Only one of these patients ever got better, and she got better without medical help. Tara Maclay, who was brought in by… Xander Harris and one Willow Rosenberg. Remember that name, because it will be reappearing. Maclay had the same symptoms. She was checked out of the hospital by Rosenberg. And then, only a month later, the HMO records say the home visit by the Psych Ward’s visiting R.N. found that Maclay was completely cured. No symptoms or disability whatsoever. We have no explanation for this, and we don’t know what Harris’s connection with it is. But it’s suspicious in itself, and even more so when you note that this occurred shortly after the mass breakout happened.
“The next year, there was a twenty-four hour period where the entire town was singing and dancing uncontrollably. The ER doctors even wrote their reports for the HMOs in iambic pentameter. It’s unbelievably creepy reading those reports. And then the effect was gone as if nothing had ever happened, even if there were supposedly fatalities. From dancing. The doctors decided it was ergot poisoning, probably in the town water supply. Which wouldn’t explain why everyone was cured overnight with no treatment. The next year, the entire town evacuated in the five days before Sunnydale fell into a giant sinkhole, and no one could explain why they left. Everyone reported a feeling of unease and a sense of a looming threat, and they just fled their homes. Everyone, including the police and fire departments and other emergency personnel. Maybe that’s why none of these jerks could get jobs as policemen afterward.
“There may be more, but this is all we could find in the available time, with no Sunnydale records available. But I think there’s one possible explanation for all of this.” She took a deep breath and put her ass on the line. “I think the entire town may have been subject to a foothold situation for decades.”