Part 19: Shadows of the Past
Part 19: Shadows of the Past
#San Francisco, California
The name on the mailbox read ‘Jessica Blackwood’ and the woman who lived here had almost gotten used to it by now. At first it had been difficult. Someone would call her by that name and she would not react, leading to some awkward questions and lies about a hearing disorder. Now, though, after more than twenty years, things were getting easier. Jessica was her name now and the woman she had been in another life was gone.
Except for a few nights every month, that was.
She still had nightmares sometimes. Nightmares of that infernal place where they were betrayed, treated like something less than human, used by others for their own personal gain. It was over, though, long over. The people who had hurt her and the others were long gone and they had made sure that it could never happen again, neither to themselves, nor to others. The nightmare was over and the memories were fading a little more with every year that passed.
Sometimes she caught herself watching the news or reading the paper and looking for the name of that place. It did appear in the news now and then. Just a few months ago she had seen an article about it. Something about a school blowing up. She wondered whether it had really been an accident or something else. There were things a lot worse than roaming gangs or leaky gas pipes in that deceptively innocent little town. She knew that better than anyone.
Her thoughts were interrupted by the ringing of the phone. Only a few people had her number and she wondered if it might be Steve, up for a little repeat performance of last weekend. It had been a long time since she had trusted herself to be with anyone. Another thing those bastards had messed up in her life. They were dead, she reminded herself once again. The nightmare was over.
“Julia?” a voice on the other end asked.
She froze. No, this could not be! Not now! Not when things finally settled down! Only four other people alive today knew her true name, knew that she had once lived under the name of Julia Fernandez. None of them would call her. They had made a promise never to call each other unless ... unless the nightmare was not over. Julia put a hand in front of her mouth to stifle the sob she felt building in her throat.
“Julia, are you there?” the voice asked again.
“Yes, I ... I am here, Daniel.”
She had recognized his voice, of course, despite not having heard it in twenty years. Daniel Stark, one of the aforementioned four living people who knew her, knew who she truly was. He knew because he had been there as well, one of the few survivors. Daniel, Julia, and three other people had gotten out alive. Everyone else had died.
“It’s happening again, Julia,” Daniel said.
“Are you certain?” she asked him, praying that he would say no. She did not want to go through this again. More than twenty years had passed and she had almost managed to forget.
“My old contacts don’t lie,” he answered, sounding grim. “Sunnydale has appeared on the radar again and the company has sent a covert action team in.”
Julia closed her eyes, somehow hoping that this would all turn out to be some kind of dream. Yet another nightmare in a long string of nightmares, all resulting from that place called Sunnydale. She pinched herself, but apart from a brief flash of pain there was nothing. No waking up in sweat-soaked sheets. This was real. It was happening again.
“Have you called the others?” she asked.
“Henry is on his way, but it will take him a few days. I haven’t reached Allan and Joshua yet. I’m still in New York. You are closest to Sunnydale, Julia.”
He did not say out loud what he wanted her to do and he did not have to. A lot of time had passed, but she remembered their last meeting. The plans they had made in case something like this would ever happen. One of them, whoever was closest, would go to Sunnydale for recon. Hopefully that person would find out that it was all in error, that the nightmare had not started up again.
If it had, though, that advance scout would call in the others. And they would do what was necessary.
“Any details your contacts could come up with?” she asked.
“Fancy new name for the op,” Daniel said. “Special Domestic Operations, if you can believe it. Not sure how many agents are already in place. The agent in charge is a guy named Thomas Burke.”
Julia nodded, the cold and practical part of her mind already going over the things she would have to do. Call in sick at work. Dig up the old stuff from the attic. A dozen other little details. That part of her mind that was screaming in terror went ignored for now.
“One other thing, Julia,” Daniel said. “Apparently this Burke guy has already put some things in motion. My contact could not get a look at the full reports, but there was some talking about some kind of special agent they were recruiting for the team. Someone, and I quote here, ‘superhuman’.”
Julia’s heart skipped a beat.
“There is no hope then, right? It’s happening again.”
“I pray that I’m wrong, Julia.”
“Let us both pray then,” she murmured, then hung up.
Packing her bag was done as if in a trance, her hands taking out clean clothes and bundling them up without any help from her mind. She was miles away already, her thoughts going back to that town she had sworn never to return to unless ... well, unless the things Daniel had just told her were happening happened. They had all sworn an oath that final night, more than twenty years ago.
She went up into the attic and removed the large chest from where it was hidden behind a loose wall panel. She gave the equipment inside a once-over, nodding in satisfaction. It was all a bit out of date, of course, but she had taken care of it, keeping it in working order. Just in case.
The large assault rifle with the phosphor bullets was clean and clicked in all the right places when she quickly took it apart and reassembled it. Two knives with wooden inlays, every bit as sharp as they had been back then. Two handguns with the same ammunition as the rifle, also in full working order. She took extra time checking the belt of grenades. Some of them were of the standard exploding variety, others would release a large cloud of holy water vapor once primed.
She quickly moved the weapons into the old military-style shoulder bag when something else drew her attention. A framed photograph was lying at the bottom of the chest. Without really wanting to she took it out, blowing a thin sheet of dust off it before taking a long look.
The photograph showed nine people in military fatigues, leaning against two green jeeps and smiling at the camera. Eight men, one woman. All of them looked so incredibly young and confident. Invulnerable. There was nothing in the world they could not handle. Her fingers traced the words written on the bottom right corner.
February 17, 1978
A single tear came to her eye as she looked at those young faces on the picture. At that time it had been a major issue for a woman like herself to be assigned to a special operations unit. Unheard of, really. She had had to work ten times as hard as any of her male colleagues to make it and when the assignment came she had been so incredibly smug and proud.
They were the best, the best of the best. When the Seals could not hack it and Delta Force ran in fear they were sent in. Officially their unit had not even existed and they did the kind of missions the congress never learned about. By the time that picture had been taken they had boasted a one hundred percent success rate with zero casualties.
Julia sighed. Two weeks later four of them had been dead and the rest ... the rest had gotten the worse end of the deal. They had survived. Survived to learn exactly what had been done to them and by whom.
A surge of anger went through Julia, anger the kind of which she had not felt since that time. They were doing it again. Once again they sent unsuspecting soldiers who had served their country faithfully and to the best of their abilities into this nightmare and ... with a flash of pain she felt her hand change, skin ripping apart, bones breaking and healing back together in a heartbeat.
Her anger only grew worse as she looked at her hand, fingers elongated into claws, dark fur covering the skin. Not now, she told herself. There would be time for this later. A part of her yearned for the taste of warm flesh, spilling blood just for the beautiful color it took on when it burst forth into the air. No, she yelled at herself. Never!
Only one time had she allowed those urges to control her. Only one time had she allowed the monster they had turned her into to run free. She did not regret it, never had. It held a certain irony that the only casualties of the monster were its own creators and the world was a better place with them gone.
Only maybe it was not. Julia did not know how it could have started again. They had destroyed all the files and all the people in the know where dead now. It was no use to second-guess themselves now, though. Maybe a few files had survived. Maybe someone else had simply had the same idea. It did not matter.
The only thing that mattered was going to Sunnydale and ending this nightmare before it could claim the lives of yet more innocent people.
And if that meant to let the monster run loose once more, than that was what she would do.
TO BE CONTINUED