Jason would have raised an eyebrow if he knew how. “Hector, I realize that you are otherwise engaged, but such language at the dinner table is still inappropriate.” He cut another piece off the flank steak that Hector had prepared and placed it in his mouth, delicious.
The Hector who had previously been sharing a meal with him at their home did not seem to care about the impropriety. “No, Jason, you’ve got to-” Jason could hear the Hectors in the living room saying the same thing. “Just… come in here.” one of them said.
Jason sighed and set down his silverware before doing as his friend requested. “Very well, what is it?” he asked.
Silently, Hector hit a button on the remote and the news story he had been watching restarted. Jason gave it a moment before speaking. “Yes, Monster is in town. I fail to see how that is-”
“That’s San Diego.” Hector interrupted.
Jason felt his heart begin to hammer. “What?” he said, all trace of levity gone from his voice.
“She did it. I can’t believe- I mean, I knew she was tough but I didn’t think anyone could ever…”
“Oh. I-” Monster. Jenny’s city. Please let him be wrong. “Do you… do you mean that Jennifer has defeated Monster? Is it… is it just a rumor or…?”
Hector shook his head. “No, she really did it. Just wait a moment. Someone got it on their cell. They’ve been playing the clip constantly. Like, all the stations, everyone I’m near, it’s all they’re talking about right now.”
Jason felt like his heart was ripping its way out of his chest. In fact… yes, he could feel the loss of lives. His heart was genuinely beating hard enough to injure him.
“Hector,” he spoke very slowly, very carefully, “I need you to be clear on this. Jenny fought Monster and won. This was captured on film. That film is now being featured on every news channel you have access to and her… her achievement is being widely spoken about. Is that correct?”
Hector nodded enthusiastically. “Yep. I mean… wow. You wouldn’t think a power like hers would let you do something like this. Just an instinctive knowledge of how to impress people, it doesn’t seem that useful and you’d think it’d end up making her into some kind of glory hound but… damn. Monster.” He shook his head in wonder.
“Excuse me Hector, I need to make a call.” Jason turned and left, uncaring if his action or words seemed abrupt.
Once he was in his room, Jason dialed her number. She didn’t answer. He called again. No answer. A message appeared on his screen, text only. It was from Jenny.
JennyA to Jason: Hey! Sorry, I can’t talk right now. They’ve got me running around doing interviews and stuff! Crazy, right?
Jason stared at the screen in silence, struggling to breathe normally, to control his heartbeat. The struggle continued long past the point where he had exhausted his store of lives. There was something wrong with his eyes, they burned and blurred his vision, distracted him from his effort to remain calm.
“Jenny- Are… are you alright?”
“Whoa, Jason! I’m fine! I told you not to worry. You look terrible! What’s wrong?”
“I was… I was concerned about you. I… I heard what happened to you.”
“Hey, no big deal, just a few cuts and some bruises. I was just lucky. Poor Jack and Rachel, they didn’t… They were so brave, didn’t even hesitate. I’m just glad we managed to stop him.”
“Jenny, that is not what I meant. Are you… are you alright?”
“Jason, sweety, it’s okay. I’m fine. I got worse in training and this was for a much better cause.”
“Are you alone?”
“No silly, I’m never alone now. It’s like the eyes of the country are on me and man it’s a big burden, but all I can do is try my hardest to live up to it, right?”
“I’m sorry Jenny. If you can hear me… I’ll… I’ll try to find a way to help you.”
He cut the call.
One Hour Ago
Jason left his room.
“Yeah, what’s up?”
“You have said in the past that you feel you owe me a debt.”
“I do. I really do.”
“Very well. I have a theory. I believe that the man we called Monster, the one here in Phoenix, is a fraud. A copycat or an opportunistic parasite. Find him for me. Now.”
“What? Why are you so-?”
“Find him. Tell me where that man is and any debt is cancelled.”
“O- Okay, if it means that much to you, I’ll help.”
“One more thing.” Jason offered him a single vial of flies. “I will need more.”
“Sure, how many?”
“I will tell you when to stop.”
10 Minutes Ago
James had spent the last few days cut off from the world. Just him, a dark room, and the pieces of his costume. He didn’t want any distractions, anything to take his mind off what he was getting ready for. He wanted this to be special and it was. It really was.
He had the knife, the same type Monster had used during his famous ‘introduction’ video.
He had the suit. Not just simple leather now, he’d placed the metal plates over vital areas and a few more at random- chosen to look as menacing as possible- and attached them with the same kind of crude straps that Monster favored. Luckily, their locations seemed to change with each appearance so he hadn’t had to worry too much about that.
The helmet… that was what he was proudest of. He’d found a piece of bent steel that was almost exactly the right shape. Some work with a rubber hammer and a vice had gotten rid of the almost. After that he’d just needed to weld the top piece and the faceplate in and it was done. Well, plus a bit of padding to get it to fit right. It covered everything but a narrow slit in front of his eyes, did a real number on his vision, but it was worth it.
James put the helmet on, took a deep breath, then stepped out of his car. He looked up at the building, one of the rare skyscrapers in Phoenix that was still in good shape. Mr. Angeles made it a habit to work late. He’d still be here. Anyone else? They’d just be a bonus.
James took another breath, steadying himself, then Monster entered the building.