He's not the only one crying, here. The SPYGOD SCOUTS who are huddled around the two of them, making sure Thomas stays alive, are wiping their eyes every so often. One of them is openly weeping, and holding up Green Man's head so he can look at his own son.
The only dry eye in the house is Mr. USA. And that's because he doesn't dare cry; not here and now, and not over this.
As far as he's concerned, he doesn't deserve to shed tears over this, seeing as how he engineered the entire thing. He may not have known how it was going to go down, exactly, and certainly not like this. But he knew that Green Man wasn't going to survive the encounter with whatever monster was awaiting them in the treehouse, and that makes him as good as guilty for murdering him.
Justice will have to wait, though. He can only stand and watch, and occasionally pray to God that he's done the right thing, and made the right choices. Because right now he isn't sure of anything.
At some point Green Man shakes, spasms, and then stares up at the ceiling through wide, wet eyes.
"Father..." he says: "Is that you...?"
He blinks once, then twice, and then stops seeing. His breath leaves him, and a SCOUT does the decent thing and closes his eyes.
Only then does Mr. USA take his leave, feeling all the while like a thief sneaking away from the crime.
He follows the direction the others went, hearing voices up ahead, through an open archway. He can hear familiar voices, but not all of them are the ones he traveled here with. Puzzled, he picks up his pace, stepping into the light and seeing Myron and Doctor Power seemingly about to come to blows about something.
"What is going on here?" he says, loudly, as he enters the room. This disrupts everything, and all heads turn to look at him.
"Is he...?" Mark asks.
"The Green Man is dead, yes," he says, nodding: "The Scouts are looking after Thomas. Do we know where we're taking him?"
"That's just what we were.... discussing," Mark starts to say, gesturing to the others, who are either standing or sitting around a large table with a map rolled out across it.
"What's to discuss?" he asks, coming up to Doctor Power, who's taken a step back from the table. Myron has also done the same, though he's still glaring at the superhero.
The arch-magician blinks when he looks at Mr. USA, and then nods: "I was wondering when you were going to drop the disguise, (REDACTED)."
"Yeah, I could never fool you, could I?" he says, extending a hand. When Doctor Power shakes it, he's surprised at how weak the magician's grip is.
"Doctor Power's telling us he can't teleport Thomas to the nearest hospital," Myron says, patting the map: "Apparently, he's only got enough energy left for two more jaunts, and not the three it'd take to get Thomas to a hospital, and then him back here, and then all of us to !@#$ing Antarctica."
Mr. USA looks at the map, and feels his heart skip a beat: "That's the Ice Palace."
"Apparently, while we were fighting Moloch, the First Lady and her two girls were kidnapped by Dr. Yesterday," Mark adds, walking closer and gesturing to Wayfinder, who's sitting at the table with his great-granddaughter, who's well-armed and dressed like she stepped out of a zombie survival movie: "Fred got the order to call Doctor Power and get Wayfinder on the case, and this is what we've got."
"The bastard is here," the old man says, tapping a large laboratory: "I can't read him too well, since he's not who he was, anymore. Not really. But I know her, and this is where she is."
"For now, anyway," Doctor Power says: "He gave the President a half hour to surrender or he was going to start hurting them. And that was about twenty minutes ago-"
"Twenty-five," the great-granddaughter says, tapping her watch: "Which gives us a minute to plan and four minutes to save them. We'd have had longer, if you hadn't started arguing-"
"I can't believe the best magician on the planet can't teleport that kid to a !@#$ing hospital," Myron growls: "Or even heal him-"
"Oh, you better believe it, boy," the man says, pounding his fist onto the table and pointing at Myron's face with the other hand: "I have been jumping all over the !@#$ planet, today. Taking people here and there, doing this and that. I'm lucky I can even put up with your bull!@#$-"
"Enough," Mr. USA says, stepping between them: "Doctor, I know you have your limits, but what can you do for Thomas? I promised his mother I'd do right by him."
"They say there's medical facilities in this building, somewhere," Winifred says: "I'll stay behind with them and help them find it. I'll make sure he lives."
"And I'll help with that," Mark says, stepping next to her: "So maybe the rest of you can go...?"
"I will go," Skyspear says: "I am fully rested and ready."
"I'm staying here," Wayfinder says: "This is enough excitement for one day, but Yanabah can go with you."
The woman looks like she's going to protest, but something about how he looks up at her silences anything she might say.
Mr. USA looks at the group he's got. Doctor Power, Skyspear, this woman he's never seen the full mettle of, and...
"Myron, are you joining us?" he asks, getting the idea he doesn't even need to.
"Oh yes I am," he says, glaring at Doctor Power: "And you, magic man? You said you could do two trips?"
"Yes," the magician says, somewhat wearily.
"Does it matter how much you're carrying on both?"
"No. It's the trip itself that's the drain on my mana, not the mass-"
"Oh good," he says, smiling and putting his broken sunglasses on: "Then I have an idea..."
* * *
"Alright, then," SPYGOD says, just after delivering the coup de grace to the Imago he's been shooting full of holes for the last five seconds, and then aiming at antoher: "Mister Ten, tell the Dignitary to not !@#$ing arm its weapons. Not !@#$ing yet, anyway."
"Why not?' the man says, wincing as he sees how many Imago have just teleported into close proximity: "I could make very short work of these things."
"Because we're getting !@#$ing close enough to the Flier for its !@#$ reflex weapons to be in range," he says, kneeling down as Lady Gilda does a barrel roll, taking two Imago out of the picture by cutting them in half: "If they kick in, every !@#$ gun it's got is going to open the !@#$ up, and then your shields are going to be !@#$ing swiss cheese before you can get a good bead on her."
"I think my shields can handle your Flier's weapons."
"Uh, hate to !@#$ing tell you this, but one of the hard targets we had it designed against was the Dignitary," SPYGOD admits, somewhat sheepishly: "Just in case it fell into the wrong !@#$ing hands, you understand."
"Of course," Mister Ten says, scowling.
"And that's what we !@#$ing had. !@#$ only knows what the !@#$ they've put into that thing since they !@#$ing took it over. They could have big !@#$ weapons in there that'd make what we had look like !@#$ing pop guns. One good volley and we might be !@#$ing toast."
"And then this battle would be over," he says: "Perhaps I should have had Hanami stay with us."
"Oh, I think she's !@#$ing good where she is," SPYGOD says, noticing how low his ammunition is getting: "You let me handle these tin !@#$ers. You just steer the !@#$ boat and keep those shields up."
"I will do that," the man says, wondering how the android is doing, and worrying more about her than himself.
"And while we're doing that," SPYGOD says, reaching into his pants pocket to pull out a small box he's been keeping on hand for quite some time: "I think it's time we !@#$ing called in the cavalry."
With that, he opens the box, presses the big red button inside it, and then shoves it back into his pants. And then he goes back to shooting the hordes of Imago, large and small -- laughing all the while.
* * *
Her name is Florence Foster Jenkins. She's 17 years old. And she's just gotten the call that her country needs her.
A little over a year ago, she was walking to school and saw a little boy toddling into traffic. Then she saw that there was a big, red humvee coming down the road way too fast, and heading right for him.
And she just knew, from the way the driver was busy changing CDs or something, that he wasn't going to stop the car.
She didn't even stop to think. She ran right out into the street and pushed the toddler out of the way, so he didn't get hit.
She did, though, and suffered multiple fractures, a concussion, and some severe internal damage. She was in the hospital for a couple months, and when she came back she had casts on her arm and leg, and talked slow, as if she had to really think about whats he was saying.
After the casts came off, she limped for a time. And she still had a few problems talking and walking at the same time. But everyone said she was lucky -- so !@#$ lucky -- because, as smashed as that humvee was, she should have been killed by it.
And there was some truth to that -- she was really !@#$ lucky. Just not how they thought.
The truth was that she hadn't been so much as bruised by the accident. She was in what the doctors said was a "self-induced reparative coma" for most of the day. And when she woke up -- hungry, thirsty, and confused -- there was a man standing by her bed with a can of soda, a candy bar, and a very serious look in his one eye.
And he told her the truth.
Since then, she and her parents had been very careful. They had told no one what had really happened. They went to a "doctor" who helped her fake her injuries, and coached her on how to behave, and what to say and do.
And at night, when she was supposedly at home studying, the "doctor" helped her find out just how lucky she was. He helped her discover her strengths and weaknesses, her powers and limits. He told her how to fight and how to run for cover. He gave her tips on teamwork and how to take orders, and -- maybe more importantly -- when to disobey them.
He told her how to be a hero, for want of a better word. But he also told her not act like one until she heard it was okay. And he gave her a large, metal box, along with a key, but told her not to open it until that day.
(He also told her that if anyone else opened it early, it would blow up, so she should hide the key well.)
After 3/15, her Doctor left her a strange message, telling her to stay quiet and do nothing, no matter what happened next. She was told to sit tight and play along until she received a message from the man who'd talked to her the day she'd woken up. Her Doctor said she'd know it when she heard it, and not to look for him, or show off her powers in public.
And now, seven months after that day, when the world is coming down around her head, and the only safe place is here in Neo York City, she's picked up her cellphone -- which should not be working, right now -- and gotten that message at last.
Three small words: "Open the box."
She's not sure the uniform she found in the box really works for her, but it's just something for now. She doesn't know who else might be out there, fighting in the air and the streets, but she knows somehow that when she uses the belt communicator, they'll find each other.
And she doesn't know what's going to come next, except that today is the first day of the rest of her real life.
Her name is Florence, but call her the Red Wrecker. She's 17 years old. Today, she is a Superhero.
And she is far from the only one.
* * *
Gosheven's trip into the heart of the restructured Flier has been very educational, to say the least.
If the journey from the prison cells told him all he needed to know about the Imago's grand and glorious past, the march to the central area, where they've been given their orders, has given him an eyeful about their philosophies. None of them are particularly gentle or kind, and what little he's able to read (courtesy of absorbing some of their language when he took their form) reminds him of the sort of pompous, self-congratulatory !@#$ he read about in ancient history classes at school.
Is this the fate of our world? he wonders as he sidesteps the large groups of Imago, all running to their beamout platforms to enter battle with the world he's trying to save: To be conquered by the same kind of disgusting people we evolved from?
He doesn't know for certain. All he knows is that there's a mystery, here, and he's getting closer to solving it. Some strange conundrum at the heart of the Imago that, if unearthed, could lead to their end.
All he has to do is pull that secret out, and he may yet win back the world...
Except there's a distraction, here, too.
He can feel him before he sees him, thrumming inside of a containment sphere, somewhere on the deck below. Gosheven smiles and, slipping into a side passage, allows himself to turn to vapor, the better to go into the ventilation system and travel down a floor, unseen to any.
Once he's there, inside what's either a special prison cell or a he slips back out and up. He assumes his normal form once more, the better to be seen by an ally, however many degrees removed.
"You remember me, paleface?" he asks New Man, who's looking up at him with a look he normally associates with people coming out of a serious drunk.
"You..." the older man mumbles through the glass, twitching just a little. It's all he can do to move his head, given that they stuck him into a glass sphere that's just large enough for him to be wrapped around himself in a human ball.
"Yeah, me," he says, looking around for some sort of control station: "I kind of hid out on your ship after I set you up. Hope you don't mind."
"They're using me..."
"I figured as much," he says, reading the panel closest to him, and then looking around a nearby corridor to see if any Imago are stationed nearby.
(Of course they aren't -- smug !@#$s.)
"What are we... you..."
"Well, SPYGOD told me, and I quote..." he says, changing his voice: "'Find out what they're doing, and then !@#$ up their !@#$ before they can attack us.'"
New Man just looks at him, obviously confused by hearing SPYGOD's voice from his former prisoner's mouth.
"So, since I know what they're up to, how about I let your !@#$ out of that giant snowglobe, and then you and I can go find some !@#$ to !@#$ up? Unless you'd rather sit in there for another seven months or so...?"
"Let. Me. Out." New Man says, no longer even remotely confused.
And so he is.