Steve tells Tony how sorry he is to see him like this. He'd been looking forward to more of their arguments. He believes Stark will beat this situation - he always does because he accepts no limitations. Steve contrasts this with someone like himself who is loyal to an institution - and accepts limitations imposed by that loyalty. But when Tony returns he will still have to face the fact that a trusted friend (Carol Danvers) did this to him.
But now Cap has things he wants to tell Stark. 1st that he's not the man Tony thought he was. 2nd that he expected something like this to happen - because the heroes in latter years have spent more time fighting each other than battling the villains. He knows Tony would say that he was fighting Captain Marvel (in Civil War II) for noble reasons, but Cap thinks that really Stark was unwilling to accept the authority of anyone, Carol or the Inhuman precog Ulysses. Despite the fact that he'd declared himself the ultimate authority in CWI.
Cap blames it on the corrupt system they live in. But now the people of the USA have demanded that someone concentrate on protecting them instead of indulging in macho conflict. And this afternoon they started to get that.
Flashback to the afternoon where Steve Rogers was sworn in as the new Director of SHIELD at the Capitol (in front of many of the superhero community). A commentator remembers how Cap took this role before (after Norman Osborn's Dark Reign). But this time he has greater powers - the new SHIELD Act (CA:SR#10) which gives him increased resources and control, especially in any national emergency.
Some are worried about the danger of dictatorship, but most trust Cap and many think we need someone who will speak for the people and clean up the mess made by his predecessors.
1 duo who don't like the turn of events are Hawkeye and Red Wolf. But Clint Barton doesn't think he'd be welcome among the superheroes at the do because he killed Bruce Banner. And anyway he'll leave them to worrying about Thanos, etc. He and RW have a job to do helping ordinary folks.
Back in Washington Wasp (Nadia Pym) finds Spider-Man (Miles Morales) watching proceedings from a distant rooftop. He says he's not in the audience with the rest of the Champions because he too figures he'd be a spectre at the feast. Because of Ulysses prophecy that he'd kill Cap at the Capitol. Wasp thought that wouldn't happen now CWII was over - but Miles says it just hasn't happened yet.
Steve Rogers is making his acceptance speech. He says he understands people's fear of the world that has become incomprehensible - he felt the same when he was revived from decades of suspended animation. But he believes that the nation's core values will sustain them against the threats they face now:- New Hydra spreading hate and committing terrorist acts. Alien races attacking Earth (the latest being the Chitauri detected in CA:SR#8). And long-running foes who want to "tear down everything we've worked so hard to build" (here we see Baron Zemo and Red Skull though I don't think that's who the audience is supposed to think of).
Then he 'admits' that those who should have saved them (in this context the superheroes) were too busy fighting amongst themselves and vying for power. But now SHIELD will stand up to make people feel safe again.
Cap also says he understands some commentators' concerns about 1 person having so much power. He himself was reluctant to accept it and had originally suggested someone else for the job (we see Sharon Carter who turned it down in his favour in CA:SR#10). But he will shoulder the burden and use the powers granted him until such time as they are no longer necessary. And he ends by urging all to join him in the task of building a better world.
Now Steve is talking to comatose Tony again. He hopes Tony would have been impressed, but he thinks Stark would have found some reason to oppose him. But really it would be because Stark could never believe in anything or anyone other than himself. And Tony could never inspire people like Rogers has done because they knew he thought himself smarter and better than them.
There was a party after the investiture. Black Panther offers Cap the support of Wakanda. Sharon Carter will continue to help him. The Amadeus Cho Hulk picks a fight with Sasquatch because Alpha Flight work for Captain Marvel who Cho holds responsible for Bruce Banner's death. Danvers is there and shames him into leaving.
Some days ago Carol had a meeting with the President where she told him about the new invulnerable planetary defence shield that would keep aliens out, in particular the approaching Chitauri fleet. She doesn't want him to listen to Captain America over this because he will be biased because she got the system from Maria Hill the SHIELD Director Rogers is replacing (after Hill's trial in CA:SR#9-10). A short while ago (the end of CWII#8) the Pres offered her the kind of authority he's now given Cap. Now she's just asking for autonomy in space, while Cap can be in control on the ground.
Back to Steve and immobile Tony. Rogers recalls what happened during House of M when Scarlet Witch gave her super-friends their fondest wishes. And Carol Danvers as Captain Marvel became the world's most popular superhero. Steve thinks that is what drives Carol - she fought Iron Man in CWII to prove to the world that she was the better hero.
The 2 Cap's had a quiet word together at the party. Steve's not happy about what Carol's doing. He thinks now is the time for them all to pull together, stop the divisions that tear them apart. Danvers still thinks that successful actions will bring everyone round to her point of view.
He asks where Maria Hill has disappeared to but Carol continues to deny knowing where she want after handing over the plans for the defence shield. He doesn't think the shield is a good idea - it will isolate Earth from the rest of the universe as well as keeping them out. Even if it succeeds it's still wrong, and ends don't justify means. We have to have beliefs we stand for or it's not worth surviving.
Now back to Steve and Tony for the last time.
In Secret Invasion people learned not to trust their neighbours. All the super-infighting means they no longer trust the heroes. The heroes may have saved the world many times but it doesn't feel like that to the people - and they're angry. The Terrigen mist has been turning their friends and family into Inhumans and they don't appreciate being called bigots for not embracing them. The heroes live in a bright hi-tech future where they usually even come back from death. (Tony Stark even built his own futuristic city in his 2013 series.) But most people feel they've been left behind.
Now the current Hydra-infected Captain America makes clear what he stands for. It seems that Steve knows that his current ideology is different from that of the old Cap. He claims that in all their previous confrontations Steve had let Tony win because he liked him so much. (We see images of Civil War I and Cap's assassination.) Current Steve thinks old Steve was weak. He didn't have the courage to do "what must be done".
Returning to the original theme of this conversation Steve is angry that Tony is in a coma. He hopes that his revelations will wake Tony so that he can see what Cap is going to do to his bright future. He's going to tear down the US power structure and create a better world forged in fire. And Ulysses showed him what that future would be like.
It was in the vision Ulysses communicated of Spider-Miles killing Cap in front of a ruined capitol building (CWII#5). While everyone else concentrated on that act, Steve looked around and saw the world. We see snapshots of this:- Open recruiting for Hydra. Hydra checkpoints. Armed Hydra Agents overseeing Hydraphilic news reports. The US flag replaced by a Hydra 1, and schoolkids pledging allegiance to it. Concentration camps for mutants/aliens/Inhumans, and Hydra Youth chasing down 'different' kids. Hydra craft in the skies, and a Hydra rally in front of the ruined Capitol.
And the comic ends with the announcement of the 2017 Event called Secret Empire.