“You’ve destroyed her.” Jason repeated.
It hurt. Every breath, every beat of his heart, every tiny motion he made tore him apart. Those pains were gone in an instant, taking a single drop from the bottomless well of lives he held. It had taken Hector almost an hour to find this… this man for Jason. He had spent that same time duplicating countless vials of flies. Jason could feel the burning in the back of his head. This was too much, too much for his power to handle.
“I should kill you.” He took off his glasses, met the man’s blue eyes.
James could see- could see what was about to happen to him. It was there. It was all there in the boy’s eyes.
“No.” His knees hurt. He’d fallen to his knees without a thought, the act forgotten. “Please don’t.” He couldn’t look away. The boy, James could see his death in the boy’s eyes and he could see…
“But I will not. Not yet.” That weird voice, wavering between dead calm and…
It didn’t seem strong enough, but there wasn’t any other word for it. James couldn’t imagine what he’d ever done that’d make someone feel that.
“First, I want you to-”
“- SUFFER.” Jason screamed the last word as loud as he could.
If someone had been watching, they would have seen his throat tear itself apart, his jaw shatter. They would have seen all the glass in the area shatter, fall from the sides of skyscrapers like a horrifying waterfall. More accurately, if anyone else were close enough to witness, they would have reacted in the same way as the man who was dressed like Monster.
He fell to the ground, moaning piteously, and feebly clutched at his head. Jason could see blood leaking from his helmet.
Jason walked forward, knelt by the man’s broken body. He reached out with both hands and, so very carefully, inserted his thumbs into the eyeslit of the man’s helmet. With calculated motions, Jason tore it apart. Jason needed to see his face for this.
“I am going to tell you a story now, share a theory I have.”
Slowly, very slowly, Jason straightened the fallen man’s arms and legs, letting him rest on his back. Even acting with caution, he was certain that his actions were damaging the man. Bruises on his skin, perhaps broken bones, irrelevant compared to the internal damage he had likely caused with that shout.
“Once, there was someone who Empowered. The reason why is not really relevant, probably something innocuous. It was the nature of the power that matters here. You see, this power was not a tool, it acted on its own.”
He reached out with thumb and forefinger, squeezed the tip of the man’s left pinky.
“It sought to engender a certain mindset in those who interacted with its host. It did this by altering the world around itself. It was limited at first, perhaps affecting no more than its host’s body and the bodies of those around it. The combat applications are obvious. The Empowered would take actions without planning, enemies would make mistakes that aided it.”
He repeated the motion, moving up the finger until nothing was left of it but a red ruin.
“Eventually, the power learned. I do not know if it was simple experience or just the effect of more people being aware of the Empowered, their added viewpoints and perceptions allowing it a greater scope of action.”
Jason switched to the next finger and treated it in the same way.
“Given time, this process would mean that the power could act on such a scope and so often that there was no real way to counter it and the Empowered would never be able to act on their own. They would spend all of their time in the power’s grip, nothing more than an embodiment of that mindset.”
All five fingers on the left hand were destroyed. Jason shifted to reach the right.
“You are probably thinking that I am describing Monster, the real one.” Jason spat in disgust and the concrete next to his victim’s head shattered. “Perhaps I am but, if so, he has something in common with a friend of mine. Jenny, she-” Something was wrong with his eyes. He rubbed at them. Felt his face collapse under the pressure then right itself. “She is stuck now, trapped in that hell.”
Jason placed his hand upon the man’s, resting it with as little pressure as possible, then rolled it. He left the man’s hand as a film on the ground.
“I do not know if they genuinely work in the same way. I have read what the Citadel has available on Monster and it seems possible. There are other theories that seem to fit as well. One of the less likely is that there is no Monster. Rather, not a single Monster, but many. People like you.”
He did the same with the other hand.
“People like you, putting on a costume and acting out their little fantasies of power. It explains some of the strangeness that surrounds him. How he seems to disappear between acts of violence, why his power is so inconsistent and how he seems to survive what should kill anyone and how he defeats people he should not be able to. Obviously, there must have been an original. But, in this theory, he is irrelevant now.”
He squeezed the man’s arms from wrist to shoulder, bit by bit.
“What I have no doubt of, is that this is your fault. There have been other copycats. There must have been. I think that most were like you.”
Jason finished his treatment of the man’s second arm.
“Worthless. Unimportant. But some, some had power of their own. They merely borrowed a frightening name. They would have added to his legend with their acts, confused the Analysts with conflicting information, and given further fuel to his fame when he returned after their deaths.”
He shifted downward, began working on the man’s feet and working his way up.
“He could not let you diminish it. Monster’s appearance in San Diego was for no purpose but to prove you were a fake. You did this. You made this happen.”
Nothing was left intact but a torso and a head. Jason leaned over, staring into his face.
“I hope I am wrong. If I am not, then Monster is almost literally the sum of all fears. He is the worst that this nation can imagine and Jenny has just been placed in direct opposition to him. She will be raised up to be the sum of their inspiration, their hope, and she will have none of their own.”
Jason wanted to see the man suffer, but he was dead. Had probably been dead for quite some time. His face was caked in blood, his eye sockets empty of everything but a red goo. Jason wanted to shatter what was left, tear out his heart and crush his skull, but no. It was better that he leave something to be identified.
“People will scheme and plan to rid themselves of a Monster. They may be too afraid to act at first, but eventually they will find a way. They will never choose to throw away their hope.”
Jason stood up and turned away from the corpse. Normally, he would use a lighter for this but it would shatter in his hand no matter how careful he was now. Instead, he simply held his breath and waited for his pool of lives to diminish to a safe level. When it was gone, he spoke to himself.
“So I will do it for them. Whatever it takes, whatever I have to do, I will have her back. I will save her.”