As it rises, its greeted by a frighteningly lovely man, who leans on his apartment balcony and sips his morning coffee. The concrete and steel creak and groan under his feet, as they -- like the rest of the building -- are rapidly decaying. But he has the feeling that it will hold him, if only for one more day.
Call if faith, if you will. He would.
As he watches the growing light paint the other, much-better-looking apartment towers nearby, his lover/collaborator/partner-in-cosmic-crime comes up behind him. As always, the beautiful man looks like he just escaped from the front row of a Led Zeppelin concert -- paisley shirt, tight jeans, and all -- but somehow avoided lapsing into ecstasy while he was there.
Aaron looks over his shoulder, and the Beautiful Stranger smiles, reaching out to gently take his hand.
(Somewhere in South Sumatra, the ground rumbles, beginning what will soon be a 4.5-magnatude earthquake, but the Stranger does not care, anymore.)
"Can you feel the pieces coming together?" he asks Aaron, standing beside him and watching the sun: "I think this is where it begins."
"Something's beginning, alright," Aaron says, smiling and looking back at the sun: "I don't think it's our thing, yet, though."
"Oh? When does that happen?"
"When it's ready to."
The Beautiful Stranger sighs, squeezing the man's hand: "I love it when you talk in riddles."
"I love you," Aaron says, turning back to look at him: "Even when you do talk."
"Well, can you at least tell me what the pieces are forming?"
"And what does it look like?"
"I don't know yet," Aaron says, reaching out to take his lover's other hand and look at him: "This isn't a set thing I'm handing off to someone who needs to see it. This is what I can see for myself. And we never need to know too much to do our jobs, so I'm only getting small glimpses of the larger whole."
"What can you see?" the Stranger asks, gripping the angel's hands tighter, if only to anchor him to this moment in time.
"A battle, definitely," Aaron says, his eyes going distant: "A lot of death, though some of it may have already happened. And a victory, but I'm not sure for whom."
"Do the good guys win, at least?"
Aaron cocks an eyebrow at that: "Do you really want them to?"
"Well... does it finally get better, now?"
"Oh no," Aaron says, closing his eyes and holding his lover close: "This is where it gets really bad."
And the sun loses some of its shine, just then -- as if it's light has curdled at the sight of their embrace.
* * *
"Well, this is most unfortunate," the Imago says, gently prodding the quite-dead body of Dr. Kyklops with his black and indigo toe: "I do not think we will be getting our planned public apology from him, now."
The body -- what's left of it, anyway -- is lying in the wet sand of Melville Island, off the coast of Australia. Not too far away is the late doctor's rather impressive Sea Saucer, now under guard by a large number of Specials, who are alternating between training their guns on it and the four Slaughterbots they have captured.
Possibly the last four Slaughterbots in the world, now that their attempt to take control of it from the Imago has utterly failed.
"Do we have any idea who killed him?" the one known as Green and Silver asks, looking down at the pathetic, mutilated corpse at their feet.
"Not as yet. But whoever did it must have wanted to hide certain things from us."
Black and Indigo points his hand at what little remains of the doctor's head. His skull is missing above the ears -- the brains and eyes ripped clean away.
And as for what happened to the rest of it...
"Indeed," Green and Silver says, kneeling down and inspecting the corpse, perhaps wondering how far the doctor's signature high-tech monocle has been shoved up his colon, or what exactly happened to his genitalia.
"And this leaves us with an unacceptable intelligence gap," Black and Indigo points out: "The leader will not be pleased,"
"Perhaps we can ask what remains of his army as to what has happened?" Green and Silver muses: "They may also be kind enough to provide the whereabouts of his neural matter."
Black and Indigo nods, and, together, they stride towards the craft -- their hands clasped behind their backs and large, malevolent smiles upon their faces.
By the craft, surrounded by Specials, V-16 looks up at the grassy hills, seeking an answer. A lone figure wearing red returns his gaze, and raises her fist in a final salute. And V-16 knows what this means, and accepts it.
"O Slaughterbots," Black and Indigo says, getting within a few feet of them: "Your war with us is over. Your commander is dead. You are our prisoners."
"What happens to you now depends on how cooperative you would care to be," Green and Silver continues, looking down at V-16 in particular.
"We can torture your circuits for what seems like an eternity to get the information we require, but we would rather you simply told us," Black and Indigo offers.
"It would be less painful for you, and much easier for us," Green and Silver concludes.
"This Unit is not inclined to cooperate with you," V-16 says: "But we do have a final statement from our commander."
"And what might that be?" Black and Indigo asks, taking a step closer and leaning into the Slaughterbot's face.
"Go !@#$ yourselves in the !@#$ with your own !@#$s, !@#$-!@#$s," V-16 says, holding up its hands and flipping them both the bird.
The sea saucer explodes before either of the Imago can come up with an appropriate reply. The blast incinerates an entire area of the beach, the Specials, all four Slaughterbots, and what little remains of the pathetic, elderly supervillain who would have been king of the world.
The Imago are not so much as scratched, but by the time they come to their senses and understand what has happened, METALMAID is long gone.
* * *
The Violet Demon's computer is "ringing," again -- indicating that the "Scarlet Factotum" is trying to get in touch with him for the tenth time in as many minutes. But he's not paying any attention to it.
Instead, he's changing clothes, and wondering at how surreal it is to be doing this within earshot of three actual, proper superheroes.
"So have you decided on a name, yet?" The Owl asks him through the door.
"Well, 'New Man' would be really redundant," he says, pulling on the thick, white shirt he's been holding onto since this whole thing started: "Besides, we don't know that he's dead, yet."
"He hasn't been seen since 3/15, hon."
"True. But energy can neither be created nor destroyed, merely transmuted. And besides, what's the number one rule of superheroes and supervillains?"
"If there's no body, they're not dead," the Talon says.
"Perhaps not," Doctor Power says: "But it would still be a good way to honor him. And I know your father well enough to know he wouldn't mind."
"Yeah, well, I'm still not sure about the whole generational hero thing. No offense, of course."
"None taken," the Talon says, and something about the way the kid says it makes up his mind for him.
"Alright then," he says, opening the door and stepping out in his white costume with purple accents: "I will take his name, if only for today, and if only to honor his memory. But I reserve the right to change it when it's all over."
"I think we can agree with that," the Owl says, rising to shake his hand: "Welcome to the Freedom Force, New Man. Your father would have been proud."
"And I already am," Doctor Power says, clapping a hand on the young man's shoulder: "If you're all ready? You're the last group I have to deposit in place. And then it's just a matter of waiting for the signal, and dealing with your target."
"I'm ready," the Talon says, cracking her knuckles and thinking of Thomas, and some very unchristian payback.
"I'm very ready, Doctor," the Owl seconds, thinking of her father, and her son, and Los Angeles.
"And I guess I was born ready," New Man says, putting on high-tech sunglasses that crackle purple in time with his heartbeat: "Let's go change the world."
The bearded man says nothing, and bangs his staff on the floor. Seconds later, the four heroes are gone, leaving the room deserted.
And the only noise is that of a confused and desperate robot calling the person she thought was her best friend in the whole world, and wondering why he won't pick up.
* * *
"Is anything wrong, sir?" Hanami asks as her boss looks at his cellphone and grunts.
"Certain idiots don't feel like answering my calls," Mister Ten snorts, and slams it down on the bright, white table he's sitting at. Behind him, through a large window, the Tokyo skyline is nothing but lights and motion.
"Not many of our agents are able to contact us at this time, sir," she says: "I managed to get a message to the man from Planet Green, but it will take him a while to get here-"
"That fool is useless!" the man says, banging his hand on the table: "What is he going to do? Stand there and tell us what we already know? I do not need indestructible men from other planets, Hanami. I need machines of war on this one!"
"And this is all we have to offer," she says, gesturing to the office around them: "Unless...?"
"No," he says, getting to his feet: "Absolutely not. And you know why."
"Very well," she says, bowing: "Shall I wake the Dignitary, then, sir? Shall I tell him that he must change, and stride into battle once more?"
"Yes," Mister Ten says, sitting back down and looking at what's left of his cell phone: "It is what we promised, and it is what we will do."
"Very well, sir-"
"But tell him we do not move until certain events have occurred," the man insists: "We must not give them a reason to strike Tokyo from above. Especially as we have no defense."
"Oh, but we do, sir," she says, smiling: "You simply will not allow me to use it."
And with that she's gone before he can say something, but what could he say? She's right, and he knows it.
"!@#$ you," he says, but it's to himself. For being soft. For putting his own feelings in front of his job.
For falling in love.
But then, as he was reminded so many times by so many of his charges -- some of them now long-gone -- it really is the only thing worth fighting for.
"I love you," he says, looking out the window. And he does.
But he has no idea if it will be nearly enough.