27.5 Monster

NOW

“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…

Hate.

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.”


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25 comments on “27.5 Monster

  1. Hope everyone enjoyed their holiday.

    Not… 100% sure on the end to this chapter. Maybe it’s just because of the flashback thing? Not sure. If it feels off, please let me know. Feedback is a good thing.

    Think next chapter will either be Loss or Stasis. (the second is just a short one like Dragon)

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  2. Jason has missed a rather key possibility: James may have been acting as an impostor to set up the San Diego attack.

    Personally, I’m not really willing to go with the “there is not a single Monster” theory. His power profile during his onscreen appearances has been fairly consistent, and also consistent with being similar to Awesome, which matches what he displayed when he beat William. It seems most likely that there is a single person who forms the basis of the identity. There may be any number of other people, Empowered or not, who have used the identity, but they’re imitating someone specific who is still active. Granted, it’s possible that he’s got the power to grant the Monster powerset to other people and all the big appearances are by different people with a mask and borrowed powers, but there’s still only one guy who has the source power.

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    • There also haven’t really been signs of anything not adequately explained by his displayed powers except driving off Powers. He’s essentially demonstrated the ability to kill literally anyone potentially susceptible to a knife and the ability to instantaneously recover from injury, which already cover very nearly any scenario even if he insists on not breaking character by getting a better weapon when the situation calls for it. He disappears between attacks, but he also wears a full-body suit and no one seems to have any idea what he looks like under it, so that requires no explanation.

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      • Rather than Monster being many people, what about Monster being a powerset that transfers between hosts? There may have been multiple “Monsters” and copycats thereof, but only one real Monster at a time. I’m put in mind of Worm‘s Butcher, whose powerset (and psyche) is transferred to the killer of its previous incarnation.

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  3. Am I following along correctly? Jason basically seems to think that Monster is something like an unplanned, non-consensual Dread Pirate Roberts, with a current powerful brand user taking active steps to discredit other users who might diminish the brand. I’m doing my best to fit this to all the facts we know, but it doesn’t feel perfect. Some of the Monsters, real or not, seem to do some pretty remarkable things—one of them apparently gave William Power the worst fight of his life, one of them can control the butterfly effect and snuff out politicians by trashing a convenience store, one of them can win a fight with Melody Shift by resetting himself to pristine condition after being decapitated (and this same one seemed to have some access to future knowledge by knowing when the Fractal boy was joining the citadel, and acting to stop him)….I guess maybe if the right combination of the powerful are running around at the right time, we could get the apparently horrific results of engagment by the Citadel that have happened, and the hands off policy.

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    • I think what he’s going for is that the Citadel may actually have a pretty good track record against the Monster imitators, but whenever they kill one another one pops up, so it looks like everything they do is futile. I’m basically certain that the convenience store Monster and the Citadel raid Monster are the same guy; in the Citadel raid he appeared to have combat precognition and knew to show up at all, which fits with being able to do the butterfly of doom thing. Apparently the butterfly of doom thing is Monster’s signature and why the Citadel actively forbids engagement because he invariably employs it, so I think he’s been active for pretty much the entire time. It is possible that he only acts to preserve the reputation and any attacks that aren’t to retaliate or preempt an attack are done by imitators, though.

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      • I agree, so far the Monsters we have been shown (save James) feel to me like the same person—having it suggested that there might be different people in Monster costumes doesn’t feel like an answer to any questions I had before–I don’t feel less confused.

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        • Jason does say it seems like the least-likely theory. I think he’s suggesting that the real Monster is in fact similar to Awesome and made the San Diego attack because if James had been identified as an impostor it would have fueled the “multiple people” theory and eroded his fear; if he’s apparently unbeatable because different people take up the role in different cases then people would think of confrontations with him as basically being against an Empowered of unknown ability and entirely winnable instead of entirely futile resistance to a nightmare made manifest. Even if no one could beat the actual Monster, he’s been pretty consistent in actively working to convince people not to try; the Citadel has him as off-limits not merely because their attempts don’t work but because it invariably provokes a retaliation much more severe than leaving him alone.

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          • The one thing that a bunch of imposters would explain is why the Citadel hasn’t successfully put together a Nemesis team to counter his powers and take him down; they’re generally pretty good at that. The two other big known exceptions are the Winter King and Tyrant, but the Winter King has kind of already done all the damage he’s going to because his power does not have the climate impact it would generally be expected to, while a team to take on Tyrant would have to be a team to take on Tyrant and literally every Empowered in Europe. Unless they use Gatekeeper, but that would only work if opening the gate won’t allow Tyrant to project his power through the gate to the far side. Which continent would like to volunteer to find out? Fighting Monster is more logistically practical than either, and yet they’ve repeatedly tried and failed. That becomes a lot more understandable if they prepped a team to take on the original and it ran into a guy who has no predictive powers but is invincible and can transform air into fire.

            Also, I can’t believe I only just figured out why no one knows who Einstein is in this setting. Historically Einstein moved to America in 1933; Tyrant got his powers in 1921. So, uh, extra don’t mess with Tyrant.

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          • Good point on the least likely theory bit-I think I’ve misinterpreted what Jason really thinks. I think he brings up the no real Monster theory, but swerves back to there being both a real Monster and some impostors, some of whom Monster might care about discrediting, and some of whom Monster doesn’t mind.

            One thing: reading along, it seems like a leap by both Jason and the audience to assume that what James has done is the cause of Monster carrying out his pantomime with Jenny. People are making a lot of inferences, and I don’t think a foundation has been laid to make that conclusion reasonable. But as I seem to be having some confusion with this chapter, maybe I’ve missed some evidence for that theory.

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        • To be fair, that mental trick doesn’t always work. Can you think of a single explanation that would make you feel less confused? If so, please let me know. Either the whole thing is easier to guess than I think it is or I’ve made a monstrous mistake.

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          • Well, my current theory is that there’s one Monster, who is the guy people actually mean when they’re talking about Monster and the only one besides James and technically Bruce we’ve seen “on screen”* and very probably the guy who beat William Powers because the onscreen appearances fit with being similar to Awesome, and an unknown number of other guys who dress up as Monster and may be in part responsible for the Citadel not being able to counter him because the real Monster arranges for teams created to counter him to run into an impostor they can’t beat. Or maybe they can’t beat him because he’s basically omnipotent.

            I’m in the camp that James was set up as a diversion to let the real Monster fight Jenny under appropriate conditions for as-yet unknown reasons. Jason seems to think that Monster decided to go after Jenny when he did so that when James died everyone would know that the real Monster was elsewhere, because otherwise people would believe the collective identity theory and a series of people who sometimes win and sometimes lose is less scary than a single unstoppable entity, and Monster’s only clear motive is intimidating people into not fighting him. I can’t buy that theory because he attacked Jenny and let himself appear to be defeated rather than slaughtering Intervention Prime. Either boosting her power was the end in itself or it’s an important step in an ongoing plan.

            As for my power theory, I’ve yet to see any reason to question “like Awesome, but with more powerful reality-warping effects, better foresight, and a different focus”, though I don’t think we’ve identified the focus correctly yet. His large-scale killings send the clear message “do not fight Monster. You will always lose and it will always be worse than not fighting him” but his other actions are unclear. His generic killings seem pretty random and small-time for fear.

            *Again, with the caveat that he may be what Worm would call a Master type and loans his power out to associates for specific instances. For these purposes that’s not too distinct from him being a duplicator who only maintains one additional copy at a time.

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          • I don’t know about that “trick” working or not working–I’m doing my best as a reader to to let you know how the story reads to me, what is going through my head. I don’t know the answer to the Monster puzzle, and don’t have any great guesses now that we’ve been nudged away from the idea that he is a darker version of Jenny. I’d like to think there’s some explanation you could put forth eventually as to why and how he does what he does, and I’d definitely be disappointed if you have not fleshed out in your own mind certain teasing crumbs you’ve left us (what happened with Power fought him? How did the folks in Oakland die? Etc.).

            Anyway, let me put my “not less confused” thing better: the idea that there is no “real” Monster whatsover, that it is a Dread Pirates Robert situation with people of different powers doing different things at different times, isn’t one that I bought (though I guess I’d buy the idea of a power that jumps from person to person, turning them into Monster). What we’ve been shown, save James, feels like the same Monster to me, and if there is something you meant to do to foreshadow a different result, to create an Aha! moment when this possibility is raised, I failed to pick up on it. That’s what I’m saying

            But on rereading I see that Jason does seem to think there is one real Monster (the one we’ve seen, I guess), with some imposters floating around. And that I buy. So maybe the only issue here is that I got confused by how Jason explained what he was thinking—and if I’m the only one that did, that sounds like my problem.

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          • Covaliu: Judging from comments I’d say that no, the confusion is fairly well spread around. I hope it’s clear that yes, that is deliberate on my part. I think I may need to rework this scene a bit though. Jason isn’t supposed to be thinking too clearly at this point (and I hope that’s evident) but it still feels a little too… disjointed? to me. Regardless, thanks for the feedback and the speculation in general. I really enjoy it and it’s very fulfilling to see that level of involvement from readers.

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  4. Wait, so impostors are adding to the legend, but Monster acted to prove that James were a fake? Even before James died and anybody had any doubts? Jason, that just does not make any sense.

    I personally thought that Monster’s power was acting to create an impostor, either as a distraction or to create more fear, or give him a future body. Well we don’t know his motives, but a guy randomly turning from a cosplayer into a copycat killer when he just put a helmet on seems like something Monster’s power could do.
    But if this guy cosplaying made the real Monster to act then that’s putting a cart before a horse. The great Monster having to prove something to the world just because a loser puts on a helmet… that makes him less scary, not more.

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    • I don’t think that “cart before the horse” can ever be an accurate statement when you’re talking about a precog.

      It ties back in to Timeless Decision Theory. If James was going to do a Monster impersonation, at some point in the future, that might be enough to control Monster’s current actions. Note the way that Monster ends up killing Fractal, and indirectly killing that guy who wanted to set up a Nemesis team.

      All that being said, I disagree with Jason blaming James for forcing Monster to appear. I think that Monster forced James onto his course. It’s kind of like Simurgh’s ability to turn people into “guided missiles.”

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      • I am not speaking about cause and effect here. I am saying either Monster caused this for whatever reason he has, or he is less scary because a random cosplayer can force him. James is driving Monster in Jason’s theory. And Monster’s reactions according to Jason is “Oh no, people may doubt me. Let’s make an appearance and let somebody beat me up just to prove that the other one is a fake”. That does not make sense.

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        • I did say that I thought Jason’s reasoning was off, but your point makes a bit more sense, now. That said, the idea that Monster’s hand could be forced by some loser wearing a helmet is scary in its own way. Mostly because the dumbest person on the continent can set off killing sprees by being selfish.

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  5. Just an interesting note to those getting tied up in cause-effect paradoxes – we don’t know right now if this is still part of the effect. One thing we learned from Jenny is that sometimes it’s the power in the drivers seat. Consider the following equally likely possibilities-
    1. Monster wanted control of/influence over Jenny, and having an impostor was neccessary to divert attention (or Jenny’s power, which is incidentally fueled by attention and expectations)
    2. Monster’s butterfly effect is currently in motion, and one of the dominoes is Jason going absolutely apeshit
    3. Monster himself is purely reactive, and his power orchestrates situations go force him to act
    4. This has all been purely Jenny’s power in action.

    I think 4 is the least likely, but I can’t help but imagine a scenario in which Jenny’s power arranges to free her from its influence via Jason. IMHO, that would be pretty Awesome.

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    • I have a horrible feeling it’s the other way around i.e. your 2nd point, part of Monster’s attack is to get Jason in on the ‘play’. He’s demonstrated some resilience to Jenny’s powers because of being emotionally stunted, but also is slowly succombing somewhat to it. Monster and Jenny fight and now Jason want in on it to protect her and I think will be more vulnerable to either of their reality warping because of that. Hmm… maybe he’s being set up as the doomed semi-sacrificial love interest? Especially if he does fully unleash his power at some point and become a benchmark in ‘holy shit, he did HOW MUCH damage?’, as that just theatrically intensifies the effect of then killing him. I’m making wild guesses at this point based on drama, albeit that it seems to be pretty much how their powers work.

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  6. I’m totally loving the flurry of updates for however long it is sustainable. Who says reading is dead? 🙂

    This chapter sort of disrupts my sense of disbelief in that some things are kind of extreme.

    I think I could be sold on Jason’s actions, but or feels a bit abrupt at the moment. Jason is emotionally unstable. He recently “lost it” when he thought Hector died. He’s trying to come to grips with his emotions, so instead of lashing out and “losing it”, he’s “striking back” and become sadistic. Could be the Monster power, or that HE might be becoming a Monster of his own, but the degree he needs to inflict pain feels a bit extreme at this point.

    His reasoning… yes, it’s clouded, but is it something he would arrive at based on his experiences? I’m not sure… I’m going to have to reread how Jenny explained her power. :p

    James becoming a murderer was kind of jarring. Feels like it was added so Jason doesn’t appear as cold-blooded, but James went from being a small-time copycat to psycho seemingly overnight, from shoplifting to casual murderer. Again, could be the Monster power in play, but feels like a stretch for the time being.

    To speculate, the Awesome power works depending on her audience, so when Monster was her sole audience…? The fun is just beginning, I think. :p

    Having said all that, it’s a sign of an engaging story to have people spending time speculating- spending a little real time in the world is your creation. Thanks again for the read, Unillustrated!

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  7. If monster and awesome are the same powerset with opposite poles.

    the person stuck inside monster might have gone to the school knowing monster would take over and was trying to setup someone that could eventually free him.

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    • Doubtful. If his power works the same way he’s long past the point of making independent decisions even without direct witnesses.

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