I took us god knows how long to get our battered bodies back to the apartment after our encounter with the A-class organism.
All three of us were shaken up, exhausted and hurting. None of us were in any condition to do anything but nurture our wounds.
Sandra had gotten the worst of it. After taking multiple mind blocks and mind enhancers, the side-effects and withdrawals were harsh. The worst of it happened right after the battle, but her mind was in an uproar much longer. Even hours after we’d made it back, she was still shaky, numb and delirious.
I wasn’t much better off. I’d suffered from a concussion and apart from my wrist, multiple other bones in my body were broken and in dire need of restructuring.
Even Theodor had suffered a great deal during this battle. So far, his mutated body had healed all injuries over the course of a night, but it even his body had a limit.
One thing was peculiar about him, though. While Sandra’s and my mind had been subjected to assaults by the creature’s powers, Theodor seemed to have been uneffaced in that regard.
“Only thing I felt were the thing’s direct powers, when the fucker pushed me back, but that’s about it,” he explained. “No visions, no mind pressure, nothing like that.”
“It could’ve to do with that parasite. Whatever this thing was, it might have given you some sort of immunity from mental powers,” Sandra reasoned.
“Well that’s great and all, but that fucker didn’t need his mental powers to crush me. Even worse, that thing’s still out there, right?”
Both Sandra and I nodded.
Sandra had gotten into contact with headquarters as soon as her withdrawals were down to a manageable level.
They analyzed all her information and the data of our fight, but all they did was to tell us to keep an eye out for further developments. As soon as additional personnel were available, they’d send us support, but they were still lacking in manpower.
Sandra also told them that there was no hint of the creature’s location and that it might hide its presence. Headquarters wasn’t much help. Sure, they could find signatures remotely once they fully emerged. Finding something that could avoid Sandra’s surveillance network, though, was out of the question.
When I heard that, I couldn’t help but curse.
“So what they’re saying is that we have to sit this one out and wait till the thing shows itself again? Is headquarters fucking insane? With a creature like that on the loose, who knows what will happen the next fucking time it shows up! And they send us support as soon as they’ve got the manpower available? Is that a fucking joke?!”
Sandra gave me a curt, angry nod. “Guess that’s headquarters for you.”
“All right,” Theodor spoke up. “I’ve heard you mention this shit all the fucking time, but what exactly is this ‘headquarters’ you’re talking about?”
“It’s the organization we’re working for,” I answered matter-of-factly.
“Thanks genius, totally didn’t realize that,” he spat at me. “What I mean is, who the fuck are they? The government, MIB, the army?”
“No one knows,” Sandra started. “They keep themselves in the background most of the time. All I know is that it’s an old and powerful organization.”
“So what you’re trying to tell me is that you’ve got no clue who you’re even working for?”
He broke into a laugh, shaking his head in disbelief.
Sandra glared at him, but nodded.
“There’re the Adjudicators, of course. They’re part of the organization’s higher echelon and overview the activities of the exterminators. No one knows who’s above them, however, and even they might not know.”
“All right, so you’re telling me there’s some secret organization out there that’s not only able to afford all sorts of high-tech bullshit, but that can also hide any and all evidence of those damn monsters out there? They must be filthy fucking rich,” Theodor cursed.
“Yeah, or they got rich sponsors,” I joked.
Sandra turned, giving me a strange look.
“What? Who knows, maybe they provide companies with information and materials or god knows what in exchange for a bit of money.”
“That’s impossible. You know what article 437b of the codex states, right Dylan?”
When I gave her an empty look, she sighed in frustration and cited it from memory.
“Any personnel involved in the sale of either materials or organic matter discovered during an investigation or the sharing of information thereof is to be punished by death.
I couldn’t help but burst out laughing.
“Yeah, sure, except the higher-ups, I bet. Come on, Sandra, you’re the smartest person I know. You can’t seriously believe that they differ from any other fucking organization out there.”
“All right,” Theodor cut us off. “How about we argue about the woes of capitalism another day? What I want to know is how long has this headquarters of yours been around. You’ve both worked for them for a while, so you’ve got to know things, right?”
I laughed once more. “Not me, no one tells me a fucking thing around here.”
Sandra looked from me to Theodor and I could see she was unsure about how much she could share. Eventually she sighed.
“I’ve worked in headquarters’ archives and I’ve seen various documents. If those writings are truly by the organization than it’s much, much older than anyone would guess.”
“What the hell’s that even mean? What sort of stuff you found there? Latin?”
“Yes, Latin. But I also found writings in Ancient Greek, and even Aramaic and Sumerian.”
“Yeah right, next you’re going to tell me that Gilgamesh was the first exterminator, right?”
Theodor asked laughing, but Sandra merely shrugged at his remark.
“Or the first reported incident in history,” she mumbled.
“Freaking hell. If you’re serious than this shit has been going on since forever!”
“It’s presumed by some scholars that these types of incidents have always been occurring.”
“So you meant to tell me that those freaking monsters have always been around? Guess that explains were all those old tales and legends come from.”
“I sometimes wonder if the term ‘monster’ might not be ill chosen,” Sandra mused. “In the end, they are nothing but visitors from different realities, many of which arrive here by sheer chance. They might be horrible to us, but-“
“Yeah, pretty sure those twisting shape-shifting bastards would win a freaking beauty contest back at home,” I couldn’t help but joke.
“How’d someone like you end up being an exterminator, Dylan?” Theodor suddenly asked.
“I mean, with miss mentalist here, there’s a pretty damn good reason, but you’re nothing but a normal guy, aren’t you?”
“Yeah, thanks for that asshole,” I cursed and gave him the finger.
Then I told him how my friends and I had been attacked by some creature years ago and how I’d been conscripted by an Adjudicator.
Sandra was quiet the entire time and listened intently. She knew about Julie, about what had happened to her, but I guess my mind had been too scrambled up for her to get the entire story.
I was most surprised about Theodor, whose face showed a sad, somber look as he listened to my story.
“Shit man,” he brought out in true and heartfelt honesty.
“Once I’d accepted the Adjudicator’s proposal, they subordinated me to a seasoned exterminator. You know, get some training lessons, learn how to handle all the weaponry and get some mandatory teachings about the creatures I’d have to take down. After a couple of months, the guy wished me the best of luck and fucked off wherever he’d come from.”
“First time I hear about training,” Theodor mumbled.
“It was pretty much in the field, handing incidents right here in the city and the surrounding area. Back then, though, there wasn’t much going on here. Most of my training comprised this guy beating his lessons into me. You can imagine how great a time it was.”
“Cry me a river,” Theodor laughed. “So, what about you then?”
With that, he turned to Sandra.
“You were chose because of those abilities of yours, right?”
Sandra looked away for a moment before she shook her head.
“It’s a long story, and I’m not sure we’ve got the time to-“
“Fuck yes, we do! We’re just sitting here, anyway. None of us can do anything in the condition we’re in. That thing’s fucked off to god knows where and no others have shown up for two days now. So, yes, we’ve got time for your story.”
Sandra’s face turned dark. She gave him a cold, hard look, but nodded.
“I grew up in the Ukraine. My home was a small town in the middle of nowhere. If you can even call a few dozen houses and some old stores a town. We were one of those old, backwater communities who suffered in any period of recent history. It was a wonder our small community was still even around. Still, we might have been poor, but we weren’t unhappy.”
A slight smile showed on her face as she seemed to reminisce in the memories.
“Sometimes I wish I could go back there, I wish,” she broke up for a moment, shaking her head.
“My father worked as a day laborer, hard and honest work, he called it. My mother worked as a teacher at our town’s small school. She always scoffed at my father’s words, but they were deeply in love. I was the youngest of three children. It was probably my mother’s profession that got me interested in books, reading and old cultures. Life in such a small community is dull, especially for children, so I often used books to flee to more exciting periods of history. Greece, Babylon, Rome, the Middle Ages, you know. I often wished that I could be swept away from our town and be transported to those more turbulent times in history. I wasn’t unhappy, I was just a child. Still, each night, I wished something would happen and then,” she broke up staring at nothing.
“It did, right?” I asked.
After a moment of silence, she continued.
“At first it was animals. A stray cat vanishing, a goat going missing, chickens being torn apart, that type of thing. People were scared, thinking of wild animals, wolfs mostly. Some men set out into the woods, but they found no hint of any wild animals.”
“But it was no wild animals, right?”
“No. The reason they’d found nothing was because the creature was already right in our midst, or better, they were.”
I looked up and was about to say something, but Sandra continued undeterred.
“It was a parasite. A kid must’ve gotten infested while playing outside. Within a week, half of the kids in the village had become secondary hosts. And of course, no one suspected a thing.”
“How d’you get away?”
Sandra gave a short, pained laugh.
“I guess, I wasn’t popular. No, that’s not true, I was just too into my books and spent all my time at the school’s library. My mother always tried to chase me out, telling me to play with my siblings or find friends, but I never did.”
There was another break, and she took a deep breath.
“I still remember the evening, that goddamn evening when all hell broke loose in our town. The creature had grown its cluster and must’ve decided it was time to take over the town. Right after dinner, I’d hurried back to my room and buried myself in another book. When I heard my mother screaming, I rushed for the door, opened it, but, I, I,” Sandra broke up for a moment, unable to continue.
“My siblings, they’d transformed into something else. I saw them tear into my father, saw them tear him apart. I was so scared and just stood there, paralyzed by fear, watching it all. It was my mother who saved me. She rushed towards, pushed me up to the window and outside. Before I left, though, I saw Ivanov’s, my brother’s face. It was torn apart, split open, nothing but a gashing maw. And just as I was about to help my mother, he came for her. There was nothing…”
“Fucking hell,” I mumbled.
“I was crying, screaming for help, but chaos enveloped the entire town. Screams came from everywhere. People were out in the streets, trying to rush away from those things that had once been their own children. There was so much blood, so much. I don’t know how, but I somehow made it to an old shack. When I came to myself again, the police had arrived. Or, who I thought was the police. They found me right there, in that same shack. I think they’d have killed me too, but they must’ve realized I was still human. I remember little about that day. There’re vague images of townspeople lying discarded in the streets, of houses burning, of those men…”
“Let me guess, they got rid of the entire town?”
“How in the hell could they’ve let things get so bad?!” I cursed.
“Because it was a town in the middle of nowhere. Headquarters doesn’t care about a small town or a village being destroyed. There’s no one nearby, no surveillance drones, no exterminators, nothing. It’s only when things get too bad, when the signature becomes visible, that they send someone out. Most of the time they’ll torch everything. The creatures, the buildings, the survivors, all of it.”
“So, why didn’t they kill you as well?” I probed.
“I always thought it was pure dumb luck, or compassion, but I found out that my abilities first manifested that day. After I was saved, they sent me off to what they called an orphanage, but it was an internment camp for kids like me. Headquarters ran the whole place. They always need new personnel, workers, archivists, researchers and exterminators. They brainwashed us to follow the doctrine of some shadowy organization. Then, after years, I was put into a more specialized facility.
“Let me guess, they put you into one for mentalists, right?”
Sandra shook her head.
“No, there was nothing like a mentalist facility in the Ukraine. Mentalists are rare, Dylan. No, they put me into one for research and archival. I didn’t excel in sports, combat or mechanical ability, but I was the best in terms of raw intellect and information procurement. So I was trained to become one of headquarters archivists.”
“Yes, until they discovered I could do certain… things. They knew about my potential, as they called it, from the moment they found me in that shack, but for years I hadn’t shown a hint of any powers. When they manifested again, though, they lost no time. They sent me to their European center of operations in Rome.”
“Let me guess, the Vatican?” Theodor asked.
“No, nothing like that. Like I mentioned before, this organization’s older than even the Vatican. It doesn’t matter though. Things were different there, terribly different. I was nothing but a lab rat, a special one, one they could teach and mold into a so-called mentalist.”
Her face grew angry again, but it wasn’t her usual temperamental anger. No, this was a different, deep set type of anger.
“They didn’t know where my abilities came from. Some suggested it was an innate talent, other said it might be because of my prolonged exposure to a large parasitic cluster. Either way, I was there for years to hone and perfect my abilities. And I did.”
“And once that was done, they sent you out like a trusty little lapdog, right?” Theodor asked, not bothering to hide the sarcasm in his voice.
Sandra glared at him, but shook her head.
“No, I guess I was too important an asset. They kept me in Rome to use my abilities in different ways. Research, analysis, technology, things like that. That’s how I learned all that I know today. The archives in Rome are vast, but they are still only one of many across the globe. I was only sent out into the field when there was need of someone with my unique talents and knowledge.”
“That’s why they sent you here, right? Because of those markings, the writings and the rise in signatures.”
When she nodded, a new thought hit me, and it hit me hard.
“You knew something was going to happen here, didn’t you? Headquarters knew all along that those writings and the increasing frequency in incidents meant that something was about to happen in this town. And no one fucking told me a damn thing!”
“Dylan, I’m sorry. As per article 87c, higher ranking personnel are not allowed to share classified information such as this with simple exterminators and-“
“Simple exterminators, hm? So tell me, why didn’t they send more people here? If they knew all along that shit was about to hit the fan, why did they only send you?”
“Because the possibility of it an A-class organism like that showing up was basically zero. They sent me here to investigate, to analyze the situation. Yes, headquarters assumed something was coming, but they never suspected that-“
“Well and look where it fucking got us!”
Sandra was quiet, not saying a word.
Suddenly she cringed, rubbing her temples, and I could see pearls of sweat on her forehead.
“Hey, you okay? Maybe you should lie down again if you’re-“
“No. I, I don’t know, there’s this pressure. It feels as if something’s reaching out to me. I can ward myself off, but if it’s growing in intensity,” her voice trailed off.
“Shit, let me guess.”
“Yes, it’s that thing. It’s trying to infiltrate my mind. It knows who I am now, what I am, and it knows I’ve got knowledge, knowledge it needs.”
“Are you telling me that thing’s doing… research?” Theodor who’d listened quietly so far cut in.
“Yes, and there can only be one reason for it.”
“It’s preparing for something,” I cursed.
“Shit, isn’t that great? Isn’t that fucking great! First, I’m left completely in the dark and now we’ve got this thing preparing for god knows what!”
“Yo, you’re not the only one who’s got no clue about-“
“Just shut up, Theodor!” I cursed and with that I left the room to vent my anger somewhere else.
I couldn’t believe this mess, couldn’t believe any of it.
Fuck monsters and fuck this entire goddamn situation.