The Muslims that the Lion brought over from Africa, a few weeks ago, all get up, shower, and go to their makeshift mosque on the third floor. They pray there, and, when they're done, they get dressed and come down to the dining hall for a meal. It's usually strange, prehistoric fruit -- the small, venous oranges that taste like raspberries are everyone's favorite -- and cold cereal, though every so often one of them gets a notion to try making eggs or pancakes for everyone.
Today is such a day. Perhaps emboldened by Crocodile's Friday sermon, yesterday, the Fist has attempted to make berry waffles using the small, red, and extremely tart fruits that grow from parasitic plants high up in the tree. The results aren't too bad, provided one is liberal with the syrup, but the general consensus is that next time, a few berries may go a long way.
Halfway through the eating, a lone, wan figure walks into the dining room. He looks at the others, nods at them without smiling, and then gets himself some juice from the refrigerator and a breakfast bar from the pantry.
"Would you care to join us, Green Man?" The Lion asks: "We're needing some more input on these waffles we've made..."
"I think they are delicious," Crocodile bellows, tossing another piece up into the air and chomping on it before it hits the table: "Clearly the Fist has gone into the wrong line of work."
"I think they need more butter," Skyspear chides, reaching to take some more.
"I think you should save some for the people who eat later," the Fist chides back, snatching the tub away from her before she can take as much as she'd planned. Everyone laughs at that (except Skyspear, of course.)
"No thank you," the Green Man says, trying to leave as gracefully as possible: "I didn't mean to intrude. Please forgive me."
"It's hardly an intrusion, my friend," Man of Steel says, gesturing to the rapidly-diminishing pile of waffles: "You may have my share, if you would like. I am unable to eat, after all."
"I am not your friend," Green Man mutters, and then is gone from the room.
Someone coughs, someone laughs nervously, and then they go back to eating as though he hadn't been there at all.
"So what's his story?" Man of Steel asks the Wall, who very graciously helps himself to his metal-skinned ally's share.
"Oh, him?" the Wall says, sighing: "I have heard many stories, and I do not believe they are all true. But if even a tenth are correct, then he is indeed a sad fellow."
"I hear he was supervillain, once," Skyspear weighs in, dejectedly eating her non-buttered waffles: "Quite the assassin, they say."
"Really?" the Fist says: "I heard he was in the employ of the American Government, not that long ago? He tried to catch SPYGOD after he shot the President-"
"After he was accused of shooting the President," the Lion gently corrects: "It was a deception, my dear. A very large and cunning one at that."
"I hear he was a superhero before he was a supervillain," Running Spear says, wiping his mouth with a paper napkin: "He might have even been someone's sidekick, once, but I do not remember whose."
"Well, one thing is true, at least," the Wall says: "That poor boy in the medical wing? The one they have on life support, who is so badly burned that no one will look at him for long?"
"Yes?" Man of Steel asks, sensing he's gotten to a juicy nugget of gossip at long last.
"That is his son," the Wall says: "A son he did not know he had until he came here, and saw him for the first time-"
"Oh my friend," the Lion sighs: "That is not something I think anyone here needed to know."
"Well, it is the truth."
"Some truth is best spoken in silence," Crocodile says, and something about the way he says it dulls the edge of the conversation, so that no one seems eager to take it any further down that road.
"Butter," Skyspear demands, snaking the tub back from the Fist to break the quiet: "These are delightful, but they need more butter."
"Your waist would disagree-"
And there is laughter, and playful bickering, and yet more laughter echoing out of the dining hall, down the corridors, and around a bend, where Green Man sits by the frame of a window, eating and watching the Sun creep above the dense foliage.
He could kill all of them. He knows this. He could walk back into that room with a decent knife and have them all bled within a few minutes.
(All except that Man of Steel, of course, but he's sure he could find even his weakness, given enough time.)
He could do it. Maybe someday he will.
But not today.
Today he has promised Thomas he'll read something to him, and that seems a lot more important than getting back at a roomful of gossiping Muslim heroes.
Especially since, if he's right, they'll all be dead soon, anyway.
* * *
"You don't mind if I join you, do you?"
The voice shakes the scraggly-bearded man's world, and rouses him from his stupor. He looks up from the sidewalk he's been staring at for the last hour or so, here on a bench in Chicago's Portage Park, and focuses his green eyes on the robed, hooded figure that's more or less just appeared in front of him.
"Is that yes?" the fellow asks, stooping down a bit: "Is that no?"
"No you don't mind, or no you do?"
"I don't... don't care..." Green Man says, looking back down at the ground.
He looks like !@#$, quite frankly. He hasn't bathed in ages, his clothes are dirty and torn, and his beard is so overgrown that he looks like just another bum. Thanks to the Imago, all the homeless are being cared for, so no one really gives him any notice, but it's clear to anyone who looks at him for long that something is seriously wrong with him.
"I was hoping I could talk with you, for a while," the man says, sitting down next to him: "I can't stay long, though. Sooner or later someone will notice me, and then, well... you know how that goes."
"I know who you really are," the man says, leaning over: "I know what you can really do. I know what you did, and sometimes I even know why."
More silence. Maybe an extra blink or two.
"I also know what was done to you, in Florida," the man says, straightening up a bit: "Chinmoku. He showed you something, didn't he? Something terrible."
More blinks. A slow movement of the eyes from the sidewalk to the man.
"Since then, you've been wandering. You left the COMPANY before 3/15, and you've been wandering ever since, right under everyone's radar. And I have to hand it to you, Green Man. You've done an excellent job of hiding in plain sight. Something your mentor taught you, all those years ago?"
"Yes," the Green Man says, really not wanting to think about that right now.
"Well, like I said, you've done a great job. The whole world's just passed you by, and here you are, broken and waiting for what you saw to come and collect you."
"How do you know?" Green Man asks: "Who are you?"
"I'm the leader of the resistance," the man says, standing up: "And I'm here to collect you."
"I'm not... no..." Green Man says, trying to get up and get away from this crazy man: "Not going to..."
"You are," the man says, and makes a gesture. Suddenly there's a hand on Green Man's shoulder -- a hand that wasn't there a second ago -- and then they're all somewhere else.
* * *
The medical wing reminds Green Man of the summer camps he used to attend as a child. Wooden cabins full of sick kids, coughing and needing help going to the bathroom. Sunburns and cuts, rashes and bug bites, with the smell of band-aids fighting for dominance with the occasional whiff of diarrhea or vomit coming from the well-utilized bathroom.
Of course, in this place the mediocre facilities are provided by people who can perform the miraculous, and so there are high-tech treasures laying down amongst the meager. Small, portable medical scanners lay on rolling tables, along with machines for instantly setting broken bones, vials of liquid cure-all, and the like. A machine not unlike a torture device sits in a corner, ready to do extremely delicate surgery by remote, and other great and amazing things are on display alongside it.
None of them being worth a !@#$ to poor, young Thomas, who sits in a 'room' off in the corner, made from sealed, soundproofed sheets of thick, clear plastic, and arranged something like a gerbil cage for humans.
"Back again?" the middle-aged doctor asks, getting up from his scintillating reading as Green Man walks in: "This is becoming something of a habit. You aren't actually growing attached, are you?"
Green Man just smiles and extends his arms for the white, sterile robe he'll have to wear in the next room over, where his son languishes. The doctor gets it for him, and has him cover his shoes with sterile pads, and put a mask over his mouth and nose.
"How is he doing today?" Green Man asks.
"Worse," the doctor sighs: "His blood Pressure's dipped down a bit. I've worked to counteract it, but it's not good. He's also not getting as much benefit from the IV as he should..."
"He's dying, isn't he?"
The doctor looks at him, and shakes his head: "He's been dying since he got here. I don't know what's keeping that young man going, really. Maybe his mom, maybe the grace of God, maybe you."
"Maybe," Green Man says: "But thank you for your honesty. It's very refreshing. Have you always had such a sterling bedside manner?"
"You should have seen me in Iraq," the doctor says, and gets ready to open the airlock door that leads to Thomas' room: "Desert Storm was no !@#$ing picnic, pal. You get used to telling young people that it's time to make peace with their Gods way too quickly, and after a while you just sort of forget they might want you to be gentle about it."
"Oh, I remember, " Green Man says, smiling: "I was there, too."
"Oh? What regiment?"
"I'd have to kill you if I told you," he says, walking through the door: "And I don't think that's going to help things here at all, now is it?"
The doctor just scowls and slams the door behind him. And then there's a hiss in the small, sealed room, and the door to the larger, plastic box opens up.
And in walks the Green Man, smiling to see his son.
* * *
"You have to be joking me," Green Man tells Mark Clutch, a little over two weeks ago when he first came to B.A.S.E.C.A.M.P 4: "A son? I have a son?"
"You do, yes," Mark says, having a sip of the coffee he poured for himself, and not for his guest. They're sitting in his office, though it's anyone guess as to how long Green Man will actually be inside it.
"How is that possible?" Green Man asks, smirking: "I don't think I've been... well... alright, maybe I wasn't too careful a few times, but mostly-"
"It was seventeen years ago, give or take," Mark says: "You were what and who you were, back then. And you were working closely with Martha Samuels. A little too closely, as it turned out."
The man's smirk is erased, and replaced with what might be curiosity: "Martha?"
"Yes. My wife's cousin Martha, back when she was the Talon, and her father was the Owl."
"She had a child?"
"Well, both your child, technically. I'd just as soon wish it was parthenogenesis, but we did a DNA test. It's yours."
"Oh, please," the man smirks, waving his hand: "Is that what I was kidnapped for? I was snatched from my delightfully dour reverie, given an emotional facelift, and brought here to planet dinosaur so I could be told I have a bastard?"
Mark's up and moving before he can even think, eager to slam his fist into the man's jaw. The man's also moving, but doing so faster than can be seen, so that, before Mark realizes what's happened, he's sprawled in a corner, holding his sprained wrist.
"Let's try that again, shall we?" Green Man says, getting up and confiscating Mark's coffee: "You brought me here so I could be informed that I have a son? That is.... wonderful. Truly the defining moment in my adult life."
"I can tell you're thrilled," Mark says, getting to his feet and cradling his hand: "I knew this was a mistake."
"Why? Because I'm not crying and falling all over myself at the news?" Green Man says: "I've worked for enough dodgy employers to recognize this sort of recruitment tactic. Frankly, I expected better-"
"This isn't about you," Mark interrupts: "Why the !@#$ would we want to recruit you? We need heroes, here, Green Man. I know the government gave you a clean bill of health, but don't think you've changed at all."
"Then what do you want me here for?"
"It's about Thomas."
"His name is Thomas?"
"Yes. Thomas Samuels. He's 16 years old, smart and talented, and he looked like his mother... and his father."
"'Looked,' you said," Green Man repeats: "I don't like the sound of that."
"No, you shouldn't," Mark says, opening the door to his office and gesturing to the hallway beyond: "But it's why we brought you here. He's always wanted to know about his father, and he doesn't have a lot of time for real answers."
"What's happened?" Green Man asks, following quickly: "What aren't you telling me?"
On the way to the medical wing, Mark tells him everything he never wanted to know. But it isn't until they actually get there, and he sees Thomas lying in that sterile chamber, that he realizes exactly why he came here, to this place.
But suddenly everything makes sense.
* * *
"Hello, dad," Thomas rasps, his voice barely audible over the hissing machines that keep him breathing.
"Hello, son," Green Man says, walking over to a chair by the boy's bed and sitting down: "How are you feeling?"
"A little stronger, I think," the shell that was a boy says, twitching his burned, stumpy limbs: "Dunno... maybe I can move more today."
"Maybe," Green Man says, leaning back and smiling, trying not to register the terrible smell that's coming from what's left of his child: "But you must conserve your strength, Thomas. You're not going to do anyone any good if you push things. I know the doctor's told you that."
"He doesn't tell me anything," Thomas says: "He comes in and takes my temperature, makes sure my drips are working, and changes my tubes. I try to talk to him and he just grunts."
"Well, he's not the best conversationalist," he says, planning some interesting revenge on the fellow: "But, speaking of that, you wanted me to read you something, today?"
"Yes, please," Thomas says.
"Something from the Bible, again?" Green Man says, reaching over to take the well-thumbed book from its nearby table: "New or Old Testament?"
"Actually..." Thomas says, trying not to cough: "Could you read something you want to read?"
Green Man blinks: "What do you mean?"
"Well... I don't know what your favorite chapter is. We never talked about that, and... I'd like to know. I'd like to hear it."
"Well," Green Man says, wondering what the !@#$ he could possibly tell him about that subject: "My tastes in religious literature are a little... off, I think is the right word. Are you certain?"
"Yes, please," Thomas says, blind eyes looking around the room: "It would mean a lot to me, dad. It'll help me to get to know you better."
"And you really want to know me better?" Green Man says, realizing what a horrible thing that might be.
"I think I can do that," Green Man says, opening the book to any old page: "Lucky for us, this copy has the Apocrypha. Have you ever read it?"
"No... Grandpa said it wasn't really part of the Bible, so I didn't really look into it..."
"Really?" the man says, smiling: "Well, he's right. The Church had a big sit-down, many centuries ago, and decided what went into the Bible and what didn't. Some things couldn't be confirmed too well, and some things were really strange, or maybe too off-message or off-putting to make the final cut. But I find there's some very interesting things in here, especially in the Gospel of Thomas. Funny coincidence, eh?"
Thomas smiles and tries to laugh, but it doesn't work so well. Green Man has to help him clear his throat, and then, once he's sure he's not going to choke to death on his own phlegm, he sits back down, cracks the book open to any old page -- as this copy of the Bible does not have the Apocrypha within it -- and takes a deep breath.
"This is one of the parables that Jesus spoke to people," Green Man says: "It's a bit archaic, so I may clean it up a bit. Is that alright?"
"Sure," Thomas says, closing his useless eyes: "Tell the story the way you want to, dad."
And so he does.