27.3 Monster

2 DAYS AGO

“I know it’s got to be frustrating Jason, but… honestly I’m glad.  I… I really don’t like the idea of you guys fighting him.  I know what you’re capable of and your boss sounds… well, he sounds like he might be one of the Citadel’s toughest Operatives…”  Jenny looked down, breaking eye contact.

She hated doing that.  Even if she was just talking to him over the com, Jason’s eyes always made her happy.  They didn’t have the full effect like this- like talking to him, it just wasn’t the same- but even the reminder was enough to make her feel better.

“But we’re talking about Monster.  I don’t think there is such a thing as being too cautious.  Especially if you’re right about his power.  I’ve… I’ve noticed that there’s almost always a bit of pressure on me now.  Probably cause of the interview and all the people I’ve impressed since getting here.”  She didn’t even try to hide the disgust in her voice when she said that word.  That was a big part of why she lo- liked Jason so much.  Jenny didn’t have to hide anything from him, ever.

“I mean, as long as he’s been in the public eye, as famous as he is, can you even imagine what he must be capable of if you’re right?”

“I suppose you are correct, Jenny.”  Jason’s reply came at the same time as a beep from her com.  “You often are.  I am simply… frustrated.  We are required to remain on standby, to keep a low profile but otherwise fulfill at least some of our duties.  But the Citadel will not send the therapist I apparently require and Dr. Lizborne is avoiding me.  I am even told that the odds of a Battleground incursion are low at the moment.  Even Lords understand that coming to a city where Monster is known to be active is foolish.”

“Sorry Jason, gotta go.  I’m about to go on duty.” she said.

Jason smiled, that special smile that was so very different from the polite mask he showed to everyone else, that smile that he only ever wore for her, the one that made her heart beat faster.  “Goodbye then.”  He cut the call.

The music started, like a drum beat, low in volume but with a rapid pace.

Jenny stood up, checked her uniform in the mirror.  Black pants, white shirt with the Citadel logo, gun on one hip and a knife on the other, she was ready to go.  She left her room and made her way to the San Diego Citadel Office’s lobby.  She took short, quick steps with her back straight and kept her head up, not looking to either side as she walked.  The overall image was of a young woman that was focused, serious with a strong sense of purpose.

“Operative Awesome, do you have a moment?”  A woman all in white, a senior operative, stopped her on the way.

“Of course, Operative Honor, but I’m due to go on duty in five minutes.”  Jenny gave a mental snort of disgust.  The woman was a low end Strong type with enhanced reflexes and some kind of empathic ability that gave her an edge in a fight.  She also had a reputation for no nonsense professionalism and a high degree of combat pragmatism, even by Citadel standards.  At least this explained why she’d been practically marching down the hallway.

“That’s fine, I won’t keep you.”  Harrington Honor gave Jenny a curt nod.  “I just wanted to tell you, I’m very impressed by what I’ve seen from you so far.  When you first assigned to us, I had concerns.  I’ve seen more than one top grad who had an overinflated sense of their own worth.  Your interview, as much as I appreciated the good it did the Citadel’s perception here and as much as I agreed with what you said, did not reassure me.”

The tall, slender woman held Jenny’s gaze for a moment, seemed to be looking for something.  Whatever it was, she must’ve found it because she gave a slight smile of approval then resumed speaking.

“Your conduct, on the other hand, has been beyond reproach.  You are professional, careful and confident.  In short, you’ve been everything I could have asked for in a subordinate.  Thank you for that and, I think you deserve to know, you’re on the short list for the next leadership position.”

Jenny felt her expression go from sober to a wide smile then back to a more reserved one.  “Thank you ma’am.  I won’t let you down.”

“I know you won’t Jenny.  Best be on your way now.”

“Yes ma’am.”  Jenny resumed her trip to the lobby while Operative Harrington walked in the opposite direction.

Once the older woman’s crisp footsteps had faded, everything about Jenny’s demeanor changed.  All of a sudden, she was walking with a long, loose gait.  She had a bit of a slouch, her hands in her pockets and a cocky grin was on her face as she looked around her.  Every now and then, she hummed a little tune, just loud enough for passersby to hear.

“Hey Jenny, how’s it going?”  It was the city’s other Senior Operative, Gary Gust.

Everything about him seemed to be in opposition to Honor.  He was short, chunky and generally disheveled.  He was also an incredibly powerful aerokinetic.  The man had a reputation as a prankster and general goof off, only trusted with his higher rank because he was utterly focused in the field.  It was no secret that the two despised each other.

Jenny shrugged.  “Well enough, on my way to do a lecture for the kiddies.”

Gary made a face at that.  “Ugh, better you than me.  Luckily, I haven’t had to do one of those since you got here.”  San Diego operatives gave a monthly lecture on the nature of Empowerment at the local public schools, elementary through high school.  “It’s almost like someone rewrote the schedule just to make that happen.” he said with a teasing grin.

She stuck her tongue out at him and made a rude noise before answering.  “Honestly, I don’t really mind.  They can get a little dull but the younger kids are pretty cute.  And… I remember what it was like when I first popped, how scary it was.  If we can teach ’em what to look for early enough, maybe we can save a few of ’em from goin through the same thing.”

Gary’s answering nod was a little more serious, though the grin was still there.  “Yeah, I pretty much felt the same way.  Part of why I didn’t like giving ’em was because I didn’t feel like I could really connect with the kids.  I was always afraid they were just tuning me out.  But, judging by the feedback we’ve gotten, you aren’t having any problem in that area.  It’s why I’m putting you up for higher rank when the next promotions come around.  Don’t tell Ms. Stick-up-her-Butt or she’ll fight me on it no matter how much you deserve it.”

“Thanks I’ll- I won’t let you down Gary.”

“I know you won’t kid.  Now get out of here, can’t keep the munchkins waiting.”


Jenny was the last one through the doors of Park Village Elementary School.  Jack Surge was, unsurprisingly, the first.  He was a Dillon type, a ridiculously powerful one too.  Not only could he control and generate electricity with enough voltage to compare with an honest to god lightning bolt, he could even convert his body to the stuff.  The guy was always bouncing around, restless, eager to do something.

In contrast, Rachel Run was almost eerily still.  She could move fast enough to break the sound barrier and do some other really impressive tricks, some kind of ability to directly manipulate momentum,  but she gave off an air of… waiting was the only word Jenny could think of.  If she didn’t have something specific to do, she’d just stand or sit in place, not moving for minutes or even hours at a time.  Even when she was in motion, she barely made a noise and rarely spoke.  Frankly, not that Jenny ever got to be frank with anyone other than Jason, the woman gave her the creeps.

No one met them at the front which was… not normal.  The other two didn’t seem to notice anything wrong, just went right in and headed for the auditorium.  They’d both been here enough to know their way around.  Jenny heard the low oboe music she associated with a horror movie, right before things went to hell.  She wanted to warn them, tell them something bad was about to happen.  She just kept walking, right behind them.

There wasn’t anyone in the hall.  Early afternoon, too late for lunch, so there shouldn’t have been many but no one?  Jack and Rachel were both pretty obviously starting to sense something was wrong.  Rachel began moving her head around, scanning the area with slow, wide turns.  Jack stopped bouncing all over and focused straight ahead.  He was right about to open the auditorium door when Jenny shouted.

“Oh god no!  Look out!”

They both turned to face her, puzzled looks on their faces.  They didn’t see the too familiar figure come around the corner, moving with silent grace.

“What is it Jenny?  What’s wrong?” Jack asked, tense.

Jenny felt her mouth open again, her arm raise to point.  Too slow, it was all too slow and the music was picking up and-

A knife spun through the air.  Not designed for throwing, it was off balance and wobbly but it hit Jack point first, sank into the back of his neck.  It wasn’t a deep wound but he dropped to the ground like a puppet whose strings had been cut, blue-white lightning already curling out from his body.

Oh god oh god ohgodohgoditwashim!

Rachel seemed to glow with golden light beneath her skin.  She spun back around, her hand already going for her own knife in the same motion, and three things happened.

A pulse of electricity came from Jack, undirected and unfocused.  Jenny felt her hands spasm and her hair stick up.  Without thinking about it, she knew their gear was dead.  Wrist coms, earbuds, cameras, all of it was fried and useless.

Monster- oh god why was he here he was supposed to be in Phoenix not right in front of her- raised his fist and drew it back like he was getting ready to throw a punch.

Jenny stomped on the back of Rachel’s left foot, right on her Achilles tendon, just as the woman started to move.

Oh god no.  Jenny was whimpering to herself in her head but she had utterly lost control of her body by this point.

Jenny’s stomp turned Rachel’s blurring lunge forward into an ungainly stumble.  She should’ve had enough time to recover.  Maybe the jolt was what did it.  Electrical shocks had a bad effect on the human nervous system.  Instead of righting herself immediately, Rachel stumbled again as she caught Jack’s twitching body with her right foot.  That was enough to send her into a full on sprawl.

Rachel Run’s speed wasn’t based on how fast her legs moved.  She was more like a ground bound flier than a generic Speed type.  That meant that as both her feet left the ground in what should have been a total face plant, she was still accelerating forward.

Monster’s fist hit Rachel right where her neck and her shoulder met.  Jenny could hear the crack.  It still echoed in her ears as the corpse hurtled down the hallway, crashed into the wall.  She could hear the panicked, pain-filled whimpers coming from Jack Surge.  The knife hadn’t killed him, just crippled him apparently.

The music was gone.  Jenny stood there, helpless, as Monster walked toward her.

She watched him bend over to get his knife back, saw the red line that was drawn across Jack’s throat when he stood back up.

Monster walked towards her as Jenny stood completely still, begging her power to act with every fiber of her being.  Shoot him, stab him, run the fuck away!  Anything!  Just don’t-

She turned her head to the side and tilted it slightly.  He raised the knife, still covered in Jack’s blood, and put the tip just below her right eye.  He made a small, swooping cut.

Oh god not this.  She was on Monster’s leash now.

Jenny raised her left arm, offered it to him.  He made a deeper cut, just above the elbow.

She wept and she screamed inside her head, but it didn’t matter.

Jenny put out her right hand and Monster set his knife in her palm, like he was handing it to her blade first.  She squeezed hard, hard enough to cut to the bone, then threw the knife down the hall.  He drew her gun for her, then held it while she took it in her left hand.

He took a few smooth steps backwards, neatly avoiding Jack’s corpse as he went.  Jenny raised the gun and fired, five times in rapid sequence.  Monster ran at her while she did it, twisting and turning his body so she only hit the metal plates he had strapped to himself.  It would have been an incredible display of skill if she hadn’t been able to tell that she’d been aiming for the metal rather than his flesh.

Monster collided with her and Jenny dropped the gun as they both fell to the ground and began grappling.  It was a series of lightning fast grabs, throws and collisions punctuated by brief pauses as one or the other waited for their partner to get a better grip or change their stance.  Monster was sent into a stand of lockers hard enough to dent them.  Jenny broke one of those little windows in a door with the back of her head.

Eventually, they stopped.  Monster helped Jenny stand up and she took a few steps toward the auditorium then turned back to face him.  He one step to his left, putting him right in the center of the hall, facing her.  Jenny took a stance that was vaguely similar to the kind of martial arts pose you’d see on TV.  Her right hand was next to her chin, elbow in to protect her body.  Left hand forward, both legs bent with left foot pointing towards Monster.

He was facing her full on, slightly crouched with both arms spread.  She met his eyes, brown, dead eyes.  In that moment, she wondered if Jason was right, if he really was just like her with a flipped around goal.  It didn’t matter, not really, but it didn’t feel… didn’t feel quite right.

That was the last thing Jenny thought, right before the auditorium door opened behind her and a tiny head poked out to see.

“I won’t let you get to them!” she shouted.

Monster took a single step forward and leapt at her, arms stretch wide.  She took a step of her own, turning as she struck forward with her right hand.  The palm strike should have been awkward, off balance.  It shouldn’t have sent Monster tumbling back to land on his side before he scrambled up and away.  But it did, probably looked awesome, too.

Jenny didn’t see the small child’s jaw drop in awe, didn’t see the cell phone he had pointed at her.  She didn’t see it, but she knew it was there anyway.  Jenny knew because she could feel the music surge as she spoke and Monster ran.  “I’m Citadel.  We stand between you and them, Monster.”

I’m sorry Jason.  That was last thing Jenny thought before the music grew so loud, louder than it had ever been.  Even as she thought it, Jenny felt a sick certainty that it would be the last thing she’d ever be allowed to think, the last thought that would really be her.

No more Jenny, just Awesome now.


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34 comments on “27.3 Monster

  1. Oh. Dear.

    It would appear I was entirely correct when I said that having Jenny fight Monster would be an incredibly terrible idea.

    Also raises the question of why Monster suddenly opted to be driven off on video, since this apparently marks the first time ever he’s allowed himself to appear to be defeated.

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      • Urg I see. Once the impostor is killed nobody will be sure if Jenny drove away the real Monster or the Impostor. She’ll still be Awesome, Monster will still be scary.

        This whole scene make me think of a movie set, actors playing a scene, then preparing another and playing it… I don’t know what the difference between Monster’s and Jenny’s power but look like they where close enough to collaborate.

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  2. Wow, that was awesome!

    …ok, not really. I wonder what the choreographed fight was for when no one was watching – did Monster want that? I thought maybe it was for cameras, that she started shooting the moment they came online after the power surge, but then they cooperated obviously again afterwards. Hmm.

    Also, “I’m Citadel. We stand between you and them, Monster.” Oof. That’s directly opposed to Citadel policy (for good reason!) and it’s about to be broadcast everywhere… I suspect a lot more operatives are about to be forced to die to monster or face public outrage.

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    • There’s also the question of whether Jenny’s speedster sabotage was Monster’s power, Monster thinking it would be awesome if that happened, or Jenny’s power thinking it’d be more awesome if she were the only survivor. Or all of the above.

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    • I think it was for sound effects. The visible cooperation ends the moment someone looks out of the door. Until then it sounded like a throwdown between two extremely powerful combatants going all out.

      The speedster sabotage was probably Monster’s power taking control. He had to be the only witness before he could manipulate her via her power.

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  3. When I started reading Citadel, I thought that Monster was set up as an “excessively cool” villain. Too cool, maybe, in that it’d be really tough to actually flesh him out without it being something of a let down. So let me say that you didn’t just make good on the expectation set up earlier, you exceeded it by such a margin that I’m having to resort to looking up words of praise in my thesaurus to try to capture just how dope this chapter was.

    The thing that’s so disturbing about Monster and Jenny’s powers is that so long as somebody’s observing them (or will be observing them within some time period) there’s no way of penetrating the façade. There is only the awesome/monstrous surface; whatever’s on the inside is obscured insofar as it conflicts with the image.

    It makes me think of action heroes in especially lucrative franchises long past their prime. The actors might hate the script and even grow to despise their fans, but it’s too much money to pass up, so they keep quoting catchphrases and reheating tired plots as long as the audience keeps paying.

    It’s interesting, too, that Monster has such a phobia of surveillance equipment. Maybe he’s trapped in his own private hell, too, and is just trying to contain it insofar as he can.

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    • I never though Monster was set up to be “cool”. Villains can be cool, even murderous ones, but they need to have a clear reason for their killing and avoiding innocent victims help. For example, horror movie villain have a logic to them, even if they kill innocent and normal people, you can get what drive them. For Monster we have no idea of his motivations, he’s just terrifying.

      Also given his first appearance I don’t think Monster has any phobia of surveillance equipment. He only seem to destroy recordings if his face is shown and to kill any witness who might have seen it. Probably because his face might give his real identity away, and if people dig at his past they could understand him or fear him less.

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  4. For a while now, I’ve been comparing (in my head) Citadel with Worm while reading Citadel. I just realized that I think Citadel is better than Worm.

    Unillustrated, thank you for writing Citadel it is awesome. (;

    Liked by 1 person

    • Wow, thank you. Worm is, depending on how you count it, either my third favorite book or my second favorite series so that means a lot to me. (Dresden files / Changes and Name of the Wind, if you’re curious about the others)

      Liked by 1 person

      • The Name of the Wind is definitely one of my favorites, as is the Dark Tower series by Stephen King. I’ll take a look at the Dresden Files, seeing as your other two favorites are also in my favorites, it’s gotta be worth my time. (:

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        • Keep in mind that the series as a whole is on top but the early ones especially suffer from ‘first book’ syndrome. I won’t say stick with it till book 4 or whatever, give it a shot and I hope you like it. I would recommend not bothering unless you like/find appealing the urban fantasy subgenre though.

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      • Its hard to rate books/stories.

        Citadel, Worm, Dresden and Name of the Wind are all good stories. they all have their strengths and weaknesses.

        I like the ideas and power interaction in Citadel and Worm.
        I like the mashup of magic and modern day and detective noir in Dresden.
        I like the prose in Name of the Wind.

        To me the hardest thing is the discipline to keep writing. The more you write the better your prose. The more you write the better you can express your ideas, and the more ideas you will have.

        Don’t get discouraged, and keep doing whats working for you.

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  5. Hey, maybe Monster will get a happy ending! He might be thinking that it’d be awesome if Jenny killed him so he could be free. And his power decides, “Meh… What the hell? Let’s set up evidence of imposters so he’ll still be terrifying, even if he’s not alive.”

    It might make for a good resolution for the “wish-plosion” of their powers interacting.

    As an aside, if I worked for Citadel, I’d probably try to arrange for the two to meet. Then again, I’d probably be barred from making any major decisions, due to the fact that I want to throw unstoppable forces at immovable objects. Actually, if I worked for Citadel… I’d probably end up in Analysis until Monster killed me.

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    • Having slept since posting, I have a new, less pleasant theory for what happened in this chapter.

      Jenny did not beat Monster. She beat a Citadel operative pretending. I remember that Bruce Richards was panicking about what to do about her. What if they came to the conclusion that they needed to lock her into the role of “Heroic Citadel Operative”?

      The tool in Phoenix pretending to be Monster was “created” by Monster’s power, in order to prevent his terrifying legend from dying so easily.

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