Today, on Peace, Love, and Comics another special post. My superhero Mystic Man gave birth to my superhero universe. And last May, his first book debuted. Five short stories have followed that, and now we come to the next novel, The Shade of San Juan!
Victoria Gonzalez is The Shade. A self-taught hacker from the beautiful country of Colombia. She’s tenacious, strong, and she loves her country. But she’s still learning how to be a hero. While Mystic Man operates in plain sight, Shade does her best work in the shadows. No one knows who she is, and she wants to keep it that way. Her book is about her growing up and becoming one of the world’s best heroes, right alongside Mystic Man.
I’m proud to announce that I’ll be self-publishing Shade and the release date will be October 15, 2019! She’s one of the best characters I’ve ever written and I can’t wait to show her off to the world. And that’s exactly what’s happening today. Today, the first chapter of The Shade of San Juan. Read, enjoy, share, and get excited because Victoria is coming, and there’s nothing anyone can do to stop it.
The Shade of San Juan
Part 1- Dirty, but Beautiful
Victoria Gonzalez woke up with a weird feeling in her stomach. She didn’t know where she was, and she wasn’t sure what day it was. The only thing she was certain of was that she was hungry. She couldn’t remember the last time she had eaten. A week ago? Two weeks? She wasn’t sure, but the knots in her stomach were sure for her. As she tried to get up, a pain in her back forced her to stay on the ground a bit longer. Not just her back, but her legs hurt too. And her head.
Victoria rolled on her side, attempting to stand, and this time, she was successful. Her clothes were extremely dirty, so she dusted herself off and made sure everything was accounted for. Jacket seemed to be okay and all her tools were there as well too. Her knives and guns were still holstered in their proper places. She felt her face to make sure her mask was still on. It was. She could feel the generators spinning and her eyes were clear as well. Last thing Victoria checked was her hair. There wasn’t a mirror around, so she mainly just checked it for length. It was right around her neck and that was a good sign. She assumed that her pink and orange highlights were there as well. Everything seemed to be in order. That was, until she began looking around.
She was in a house. A house she recognized.
This is my old home, she thought.
Except, the house was different. It was cleaner. Cleaner than it ever was when she lived in it as a little girl. The dishes were clean, the floors had been swept, and most importantly, there wasn’t cocaine on the living room table, or in any other part of the house. Victoria didn’t recognize this house, even though she was born in it. Her body still ached, so she decided to look around for some medicine. She made her way upstairs, and once again, it was the cleanest that she had ever seen it. The bedroom was the same. When Victoria went to the kitchen and opened the fridge, she noticed something inside the fridge that was almost never there. Food. Her eyes lit up, and she almost threw her mask off and began stuffing her face with food. There was pizza, cookies, turkey, chicken, this fridge had it all. When she looked on top of the fridge, she noticed her favorite chips and snacks. There was also lemonade in the fridge. She decided to sit at the kitchen table and enjoy her feast. What she wanted to be a quick snack, turned into a moment of pure bliss. She hadn’t eaten in weeks she guessed, yet alone eat food this good. And it was everything she loved. There wasn’t a spot wasted in the fridge.
After about an hour or so, Victoria put her mask back on and regained focus. It was true, she was born in this house. But, she hadn’t seen it in years, and there was also the fact that it shouldn’t have been standing in the first place.
I destroyed this place two years ago, she thought.
For a moment, she cursed herself because she had let old memories and delicious food cloud her focus and decision making. She began talking into her mask.
“Activate,” she said, and her sight was enhanced with virtual readings and charts. In the corners of her eyes, displays popped up. Some were showing news shows, some were showing articles, but the most were showing old code that she had been working on.
“Computer, where am I?” she asked.
There was a slight beeping noise. The computer was searching.
“Sorry, I can’t seem to locate your position,” a female voice said to Victoria.
“You’re worthless. Well, what year is it?”
“Current date is October 21st, 2017.”
“And the day?” Victoria asked.
“Okay, good.” Victoria got up from the table and began inspecting every corner of the house, something she knew she should have done when she first woke up in this strange place. Why did she let the food and serenity of this place trick her? Why was it able to seduce her? As much as that annoyed her, she couldn’t remember the last time her stomach didn’t hurt, or when she felt this comfortable in a home. There was work to be done though.
She decided to go outside.
When Victoria opened the door, she was expecting to see her old neighborhood. There was another Gonzalez family next door. They had a son, and Victoria remembered playing with him in the summer. There was also a not-so-nice family a couple of houses down from hers. One time, Victoria had a ball go into their yard, and it almost sent their families into a civil war. Down the street was the market, and right outside on the left, was where her dog died. She was expecting to see Colombia when she stepped out that door. Expecting to see her people. A people she was proud of. A people who had been through too much recently. When she opened that door, she expected her work to continue, as it always did, as it always would. As she stepped outside however, she realized that she hated herself even more for indulging in the fridge, and not investigating.
“This isn’t Colombia,” she said. “I don’t know what this place is.”
She almost fell when she stepped outside. There had been a large step in front of this house, one that people always tripped over, whether they were coming or going. When she stepped outside however, she almost fell because not only was the step gone, but the sidewalk was smooth. So smooth in fact, that she could hardly stand. Everything was smooth. Everything was different. Victoria slowly began looking around, and one thing was clear. She was in the future.
There were people outside. They weren’t brown like her, and they looked at her funny for a second, then went about their business. Victoria wondered for a second why they didn’t seem bothered by her, but the more she looked around, the more she understood. Wherever, or whenever, she was, it was beautiful. Everything looked so clean. She was standing on what appeared to be some sort of chrome and the buildings in the distance appeared to be made of the same material. The roads too. What Victoria really loved about this futuristic place was that there was balance. Not even five feet away from her and the chrome sidewalk, was the greenest grass she had ever seen before. And there were tall, healthy trees next to the buildings. There was also a pond close, so she decided to walk over to it. Victoria couldn’t believe her eyes when she got close enough to the pond. It was inside some sort of containment field, and inside, she saw animals and humans interacting. What made her jaw nearly fall to the floor was the way the containment field adapted. It seemed to grow, or shrink, depending on how the animals moved. And water and food seemed to change with the animals’ movements as well.
“My god,” Victoria said. She couldn’t move. “I’ve never seen…this is…perfect.”
She continued to explore this utopia, and she finally worked up the courage to talk to one of the locals. To her surprise, the man was friendly. That was good, because she didn’t want to have to kill anyone. Not here. Not in this perfect place.
“Please, sir,” she started to say.
The man cut her off.
“You’re from a different universe, aren’t you?” he asked calmly.
“What gave me away?” she asked.
“Few things,” he said. “First, your eyes are incredibly wide. To the point I think they’re going to explode. Happens whenever new people come here. Second, your clothes. We aren’t the best dressers here on Earth, but you look a little old school. And third, you seem afraid to interact with the bio-simulator. Come on in, the water’s fine.” The man smiled at Victoria. The entire time he was talking, they were on opposite sides of the containment field where the pond was. She stood there for a second before inching her foot closer to where the man was. As she stepped into the bio-simulator, she noticed the instant change in temperature and the immediate sense of calm this place brought, even more so than the city. The man was still standing there, smiling.
He wasn’t a tall man. Actually, Victoria was trying to recall the last time she saw someone so short. What the man lacked in height, he seemed to make up for in smiles. He hadn’t stopped smiling at Victoria since he finished his sentence. He was wearing what seemed to be traditional clothing in this universe. A gray spacesuit of some kind, with flashing yellow lights on the shoulders, legs, and torso area. Victoria had seen only a few people who weren’t wearing the cheesy suits. The man was also wearing a pair of glasses that looked advanced. Her display had been going crazy ever since she stepped outside, but she had learned how to block it out when needed. Now, she paid attention to it, and gathered information about his glasses. They were a special type of glasses that only scientists wore. Basically, what Victoria could do with the computer in her mind, this man could do with a pair of glasses.
“That’s how you knew I wasn’t from here,” she said. “Those glasses.”
The man laughed a bit before throwing a piece of bread in his hand to the ducks by the pond.
“These things?” he asked. “No, I’m just observant I guess. I haven’t used these things for anything like that in a while.”
“You said I was on Earth.” Victoria said. “How?”
“What do you mean?” the man asked.
“I don’t know this Earth,” Victoria said. “My Earth is filled with death, chaos, and fear. A man like you wouldn’t fare well on my Earth.”
“Oh,” the man started to say still smiling. “You’re from one of those universes.”
“Is this Colombia?” Victoria asked.
The man responded to her question by asking Victoria her name in Spanish. She told him, and they proceeded to talk for over thirty minutes in Spanish. She learned more about this Earth, it’s culture, government, and why it looked the way it did. Victoria was confused by the fact this man didn’t look Colombian, yet alone Hispanic at all, yet his Spanish sounded almost better than hers did. The man, who’s name was Matthew, explained to her that this Earth ran off the idea of true assimilation. And by that, he meant this Earth ran off the idea of respecting different countries’ culture. You had a choice to respect the culture in where you were living or not live there at all. And if you chose to bring a piece of who you were somewhere else, Matthew explained that this Earth had changed how it handled immigrants and diversity. He went on and on about some new foundations and institutions that were built, but all Victoria heard was that people started listening more. Ironic because she blanked out more than once listening to Matthew, so she decided to be a true citizen of this Earth and listen.
By the end of their conversation, Victoria was convinced that this was the greatest place in existence. She still didn’t know how she ended up on the strange Earth. But truthfully, she didn’t care. This place put her brain at rest. A word she hadn’t heard or practiced in a very long time. When she sat down on the plush grass with Matthew she almost cried. Her butt hadn’t been that comfortable in her life. When she woke up not too long ago, in her old childhood home, she felt comfortable. Comfortable because she wasn’t comfortable. Victoria was used to adapting. Used to not feeling comfortable. She had let herself become too comfortable with the food earlier, and she hated herself for it. Now though, she didn’t care. Her body was resting, and she was feeding ducks with Matthew. Victoria decided to lay back on the grass to test its comfort.
She regretted doubting the grass the second her body hit the ground. It was like a bed. A real one, not the thing she usually slept on. Victoria closed her eyes and breathed in the fresh air of this new Earth. She didn’t mean to close her eyes for such a long time, but she did. And she didn’t care. When she woke up however, she woke up to the same pain from before. At first, she joked in her mind that the grass wasn’t that comfortable after all.
Her eyes struggled to open at first. When she fell asleep, she was surrounded by the calm bio-simulator, soothed by the water of the pond, and engulfed in Matthew’s kindness. A different type of atmosphere greeted her this time. It was an atmosphere she was used to however. What was once clean artificial grass, was now nothing but rocks and dirt. Instantly it made her back tighten up again. The once calming sounds of the pond were now the loud, obnoxious sounds of machines in the distance. They weren’t that close to her, but with her enhanced hearing, she heard them all too well.
Victoria found herself in a forest and it didn’t take her long to realize where she was at. She started walking and soon enough, she noticed that everything was how it should be. Whatever that wonderful place was, whoever Matthew was, it was all gone now. Victoria was near her base’s entrance now. It didn’t look like much, and that was the point. This was the “front” entrance. A small tree stump that served as a slide. She had imprinted a code into the tree stump, so that it raised up when she entered the code. Victoria had hoped that the code didn’t work. She hoped that maybe she would turn around and Matthew would be right there, laughing at her struggle to kick a tree stump. Maybe this was the work of the bio-simulator? But those thoughts went away the second the tree stump raised up along with five others surrounding it. Victoria sighed as she jumped into the hole and on the slide. When she landed, everything was where she remembered. Even her unfinished sandwich and drink were by her computer.
The one thing she missed about the strange world she just visited, was the weather. From the moment she woke up just now, Victoria had been sweating, and she hated it. She took her jacket off and immediately went to the bathroom to wash her face. Anger filled her heart as she tried to understand what was going on. Why did she awake in a model of her own house? Why was that world so perfect? And most importantly, how was that Colombia so perfect? And why couldn’t she do the same for her country? She wanted to cry. Nothing was beyond explanation in her mind, but with everything going on recently, her idea of normal had been shattered. This didn’t help. Victoria fell to the floor and began to cry. At first, it was just small tears, but eventually it turned into a sob. And truth be told, she didn’t know why she was crying. She couldn’t even remember the last time she did cry. But she couldn’t control herself, and she continued to cry.
Eventually, she stopped crying, but she didn’t move off the floor. Victoria just laid there and waited. She knew that something would eventually make her move from her bathroom floor, she just didn’t know what. While she was laying there, of course she couldn’t get the bio-simulator out of her mind, but something else was bothering her. Something that she had just thought about at that very moment. Something she didn’t concern herself with in while in that strange place, and she hated herself for not being more skeptical.
There weren’t any brown people there, she thought.
Maybe she just didn’t look hard enough. Maybe her observational skills weren’t as good as Matthew’s. No, that wasn’t it. Victoria could try and lie to herself all day, but she knew what was true. In that beautiful, wonderous world, there were no people of color. How can you have a Colombia without brown people? Without black people? Without the smell of mama’s home cooking? Without the laughter and play of little brown boys and girls? It was all starting to make sense to her now. Whatever that world was, whatever she just saw, it wasn’t Colombia. It wasn’t her home.
The display in her eyes began to flash red. She told the computer to shut up and went to check what was happening. On her monitors, there was a medley of colors. Problems and distress signals all throughout her country. The top left screen caught her eye first. It was a protest in Medellin. In the middle, her top two monitors showed a shoot out between police and a terrorist group outside Cali. And on the bottom right, the monitors showed what they always showed. Outside the tourist city of Santa Marta was a small village. One where women and children were kept. Forced to be pawns in Colombia’s horrific sex trafficking ring. The video feed was the same one Victoria showed Isaac Eckspo, the Mystic Man. Setting up surveillance in this area nearly blew Victoria’s cover. The mess she created, caused one of the girls to be savagely beaten to death by the men. Every night she watched them. Every night she plotted how to free them.
She activated a program on her computer and all the monitors went blank for a moment. Schematics of the facilities near Santa Marta appeared. For months, Victoria had been planning the escape of those women and children. She wanted to keep it as quiet as possible. It was kind of her thing.
Her thoughts flashed back from Santa Marta to the weird, supposed Columbia. She knew one thing for certain after seeing that strange place and meeting Matthew. It was real. She hadn’t the slightest clue how she ended up there, but it was real alright. Maybe she was meant to see it. Maybe she needed to see what could be of her real Colombia and help propel it into that future. Brown people and all.
I like the sound of that, she thought. So, Victoria sat down at her computer and began staring at her monitors. She took a bite of her sandwich, then sipped her drink. She sat there and contemplated a brighter future for her people. For her Colombia.
Thank you for your support with my stories. Pre-orders for Shade will be up shortly! Thanks for reading!