The TV show was of little interest to Jason, an overly convoluted romantic comedy with an unnecessary framing device. Supposedly, it was about a man telling his children how he met their mother however it seemed to dwell more on a series of foolish decisions the father and his friends made in their twenties. Jason was certain that they would have all been much better off spending less time in a bar and more effort bettering themselves. Regardless, an assignment was an assignment, at least he was done for the day.
He turned off the television and opened a program on his communicator. Shortly, the device made a beeping noise and Jenny’s face appeared on its display.
“Jason!” She was smiling, happy to see him. He felt himself relax, a tension he had barely been aware of left his body.
“I didn’t think you’d call so early today, what’s up?”
“Nothing of any consequence. I have begun my regular duties here and this seemed like a good time to call.”
“Wait, you’re on duty now?” she asked. “No offense, it’s always good to talk to you, but should you really be calling me on the clock?”
He nodded. “It is allowed.” Despite her difficulties, Jenny had always taken her responsibilities seriously. It was one of the things he found admirable about her. “I am unsure how such things are handled elsewhere, but I am simply on-call. So long as I am ready to respond quickly in the event of an emergency, my time is my own.”
She blinked, surprised. “Wow, yeah, that really is different. They’ve got us running around all the time. I mean, it’s not like we do patrols the way they show in comics or anything but there’s something for us to do. Minor crimes, speaking at schools and stuff, consulting with companies about their security, stuff like that.”
“I imagine it is the result of our different personnel. I believe that Hector is able to accomplish much of what you describe on his own while Operative Grave and myself are only required to act in the case that significant force is needed.” he said.
“Grave? The guy with the blood and the…?” Jason nodded. “Yeah, I’ve heard of him. Apparently he spent his first few months after training here in San Diego. It… it sounded like things were pretty bad back then. I don’t know if I’d be comfortable working with someone that had a power like that.”
“Yes, fighting next to someone with poisonous blood could be very dangerous without the right power. I believe that is part of why Hector and myself were assigned here. His individual bodies are expendable and my self healing would allow a short timeframe to remove the blood safely. Well, I hope that is the case but would prefer not to test it.”
She smiled again. It made him happy to see. “Well, better you than me I guess.”
“How are you adjusting to your own new role?” he asked.
Her smile faded. “It’s… well, it could be worse. San Diego has a big Empowered population but not a lot of crime. Mostly we just end up responding to the kind of thing that’d be routine police work, noise complaints, trespassing, domestic disturbances, no big deal if the people involved couldn’t fly or shoot lasers from their nostrils or whatever.”
“That is… not what I meant. I am aware that the interview you did was shown first, and most heavily, in San Diego. Has the increased popularity had an… adverse effect on your power?” She turned away but not before Jason saw her face. Hers was the only one he could reliably interpret and the look of bitter disappointment was unmistakable.
“Yeah, kind of. It’s… it’s not too bad when there’s a crowd. I guess all the conflicting viewpoints leave me with- with a sort of middle ground. I end up acting like a generic ‘ideal girl.’ That could be worse. My teammates…”
Jason felt himself glaring, not at her but at… something else. “Have they hurt you? Taken advantage or-“
“No. Nothing like that. It’s just, the whole thing, my popularity and the kind of stuff I was saying, it affected them as much as anyone else in town. So now they’ve all got some image of me in the back of their heads and I’m around them all the time.” She sighed. “It means any time I’m alone with one of them they’re paying pretty close attention. That… that seems to enhance the effect on my power. How I act can vary pretty strongly based on who’s around and… It gets pretty disturbing sometimes.”
“I’m sorry Jenny. I imagine that must be very difficult for you.”
She gave a small shrug. “I’m used to it. The same thing happened with the different cliques in my school, a bit during training too. At least talking to you still helps.”
He smiled. “Good, I was concerned that the effect would be diminished by distance.”
“It’s… it’s not quite as good as having you here in person would be. I think it’s better with the coms than it would be with a phone though, the picture makes it seem more immediate so you pay more attention. At least, I think that’s the case. I’ve got some time off coming up in a few weeks though, maybe I could visit?”
Jason’s answer was interrupted by a knock at his door. He checked the time then stood up to leave as he answered her. “I would enjoy that. Please excuse me for now, I need to help Hector with something.”
Jason and Hector shared an apartment. They each had one bedroom. A third had been converted for equipment storage, primarily Hector’s but Jason had a small incubator with a number of his fly vials inside. The fourth was more specialized.
The plastic sheeting crinkled beneath his feet as Jason followed Hector in. There was already a group of a dozen or so Hectors waiting, crowding the relatively small room. They nodded politely as Jason approached and turned their backs. Quickly, efficiently, he reached out to each in turn and snapped their necks, careful to sever the spinal cord so that their physical suffering would be minimal. Once that was done, he stacked them neatly beside the pile of corpses already present.
He’d begun just before watching his assigned television program and interrupted it approximately every twenty minutes as new Hectors came ‘off duty’ and approached him for disposal. The earliest ones were already beginning to visibly dissolve. Good, this would work better than he had feared when his friend mentioned the idea.
Finished with the tedious but necessary task, Jason left the room to see what his friend had prepared for dinner. He had been smelling what he thought was fresh baked bread for some time now and was very much looking forward to trying it.