The reflected tide of cosmic judgement washed over the One.
The One placed its six arms forward, attempting to try and manipulate the energies, to absorb or dissipate them somehow. For a moment, the tidal wave of star speckled force stopped as if it hit a vertical dam wall.
Behind the One was the Rift, the greyscale tear in space that acted not just as a dimensional gate to earth, but also as the main node of connection for the Grey to coordinate and function. If the One did not stop this attack here and now, it would inevitably sunder the Rift apart, leading to the end of this invasion.
However, the outcome of this struggle was already decided. The attack, capable of turning a planet into ashes in one fell moment, was multiplied again by the reflective properties of the Hero's shield. It was not an attack that any being that existed within the scope of reason could hope to survive.
"Your challenge…was worthy," said the One. The carapace around its fists began to crack, leaking white energy before its arms disintegrated entirely. And with that, the wall that kept the flood of reflected power broke down.
The energy wave coursed past the One. Its form crumbled apart like sand caught in an ocean wave. Powerful streams of force flowed into the Rift. Like a sink, the Rift absorbed the entirety of the colossal attack. The color drained grey scar in space briefly filled in with light, revealing a network of webs shining with vibrant, rainbow iridescence.
Only for a brief moment, however.
The Rift closed upon itself in an abrupt instant, zipping shut to show nothing but the emptiness of space. But it was a welcome stillness to the Hero. He floated freely with a smile on his face, floating against the weightlessness of the universe with satisfaction.
The satisfaction of victory. Of being the Hero again, the Hero he had always wanted to be. To save the day for an entire world – he felt as if he had reached the height of his life. He thought, just maybe, if he faded now, he would be happy with what he had done.
Blood trickled from his closed eyes, and when it left the protective shield layer that covered his skin, it froze up in the cold embrace of space. His shield layer began to fade as well, a mesh of hexagonal green outlining his body starting to become visible in brief flickers.
The countless little shields he placed over each of his cells to protect himself from danger, to keep his body intact and functioning in space, was now disappearing. He turned around, reaching his arm back out towards the planet he called home, where all his friends, his lover, his unborn child, all the many lives that now had a future because of him, resided.
Through the frosty touch of space, a hand of warmth clutched the Hero's back. It was not a gentle touch, nor much of a caring one. Fingers wrapped around the base of the Hero's neck like a man holding a dog by the scruff.
"Looking to die so quickly?" A voice crackled into the Hero's earlink. He had thought it had been toasted in the cosmic scale confrontation he had with the One, but since it was within his ear canal, it had been protected by his body shield.
"Yeah." The hand pulled the Hero away from the empty, lonely stretch of space and back towards home, towards the planet where the lives that owed their tomorrows to him awaited.
"You…why did you come here?" said the Hero. Seth Solar, like many villains, had been freed after the invasion of the Greys as humanity could spare nothing against the formidable approach of the aliens. If even variants could side with humanity, then it was just a matter of upholding a duty as a human, as a denizen of earth, for the villains to fight as well.
During the five years of conflict, Seth Solar had developed his powers to new heights, reaching higher even than his father to become one of the strongest war powers against the Greys.
"Because I pitied you," said Seth Solar. "And because I'm the only space flight capable Alter left. Without me, you'd spend a couple hours out here turning into an ice block, and I don't think the world wants that."
Seth Solar flew towards earth with the Hero in his one remaining hand. The other had been torn off by an elite Grey that had taken the cholorokinetic powers of Valkyrie.
That Grey was the final opponent Seth had taken out before the Rift closed and all the Greys dissipated, their extradimensional existences unable to maintain material form without the support of the Rift in this foreign realm.
The Hero smiled.
"In the end, your pity got you far," said Seth Solar. "It never broke you down under its weight. It actually gave you strength. I saw that and reconsidered how I thought about things. I thought maybe I should try it out, too."
"That's not pity," said the Hero. "Feeling for others, for those that have less, and fighting for them, to bring them up - it's not pity. It's understanding, it's empathy, it's...being a hero."
"Yeah, well, to me, it's still pity," said Seth Solar. "I see the weak beneath me and pity their miserable existences. But now, instead of ignoring them or letting them break each other apart in their weakness, I'll use my strength to make them better. More than the weakness that they are.
That should keep me out of jail after this, at least."
"Hah, we'll see about that," said the Hero.
The two shared a silent moment of camaraderie as they returned to earth. For the past five years, they had been companions in war. Granted, their start was rocky, filled with more than a few fights with each other, but in time, all that wear and tear, like a broken bone mending, had built their bond back strong.
"Try to put me in jail in your condition, and you'll be seeing me as the world's new ruler from the afterlife," grumbled Seth. "But for now, you can't die. You've got your dumbass Adam to see. And Elaine's carrying a miniature version of you.
A girl, by the way."
"A girl, huh?" said the Hero. He never would have expected to get the news of his child's gender reveal out in space with both his eyes popped, but fate worked in mysterious ways.
"Just hope she isn't as self-righteously annoying as you are," said Seth.
More years passed.
In those years, the world built itself back.
The Hero, with his triumphant victory over the One and the Grey, was given influence beyond measure. He had the hearts of the entire global populace. In contrast, all other symbols of power before the Greys were gone or vastly damaged.
Corporations were mere shadows of themselves. The Alterhuman Agency had dissolved entirely. The Panopticon had last over 90% of its drone forces. World governments were thoroughly hurting.
There was a massive power vacuum to fill and an even bigger rebuilding project to handle.
The Hero, with the aid of his close friends, filled that vacuum and tackled the project. The Hero wanted the world to be better than it had ever been, when there was so much infighting and ceaseless conflict over dwindling resources.
The Hero still valued freedom, but he did not want life to be a race. A struggle to the top that involved trampling down on others to get there.
The Panopticon and the Hero collaborated and created a halo around the planet, constructing a shield that prevented any beings from other dimensions from entering the world ever again.
The Hero brokered peace between the Voice and the world's governments and corporations, creating a tentative balance between wild and civilization.
Finally, the Hero made sure to rebuild everything back with progress in mind. Consolidating techno talent from across heroes, the Panopticon, private interests, and villains, the Hero and his friends rebuilt cities with a utopian ideal in mind where machine worked and man rested.
There were many struggles, many conflicting interests, but in time, across the years, the Hero finally managed to create the world of hope he once dreamed of. A world that the man he used to look up to, the former number one hero Vanguard, could only dream of.
Yet, like any dream, it was all destined to end-