Chapter 11.7 (Fisher)
It was such a simple word. But Pavel Fisher realized he had never understood the true meaning of the word at the same time he opened his eyes and found himself blinded by the afternoon sun. But that wasn’t a true pain, that was just his brain telling him to close his fucking eyes.
That discomfort was nothing compared to the actual pain, to the ache that spread and pulsed throughout the whole of his body. It was a throbbing sensation that went well past the wear and tear and abuse that came with just the right combination of age and a hundred empowered confrontations in his younger years.
But that wasn’t the true source of it. The agony radiated out from a rough ring in his side — the edges burned and hurting, and there was just nothing at the center of it.
That was not a good sign.
On the ground, Fisher forced himself to breathe. In through his nose, out through his mouth. The air carried a wispy stench of burnt, melted armorweave. It lingered in his nostrils and on his tongue. It was a very distinctive smell, and it always said dead cape.
But he wasn’t dead, was he?
Fisher groaned, and someone pressed something cold to his neck. There was a sharp pain, then cool relief. A hazy figure loomed over him, resolved into a fair-skinned woman with ashy blonde hair, pale brown eyes and an expression of strange, sardonic relief.
“Well,” Sam said. “You’re not dead.”
Fisher’s throat was raw and dry. Took him a second to swallow so he could talk, and another to actually find his words. He settled on, “How?”
“I patched up the wound as best I could and pumped you full of just about everything we had in the medkit.” She shrugged. “You’ll hold together until we get out of here. Well, maybe.”
Nodding, Fisher turned his gaze downward, to catch a glimpse of the painful ring, but Sam grabbed him by the chin before he could spot it. She turned his eyes back to her own. “I really don’t recommend that.”
“Honestly, Pavel?” Sam asked. “Worse. Your chances aren’t great.”
“But not great’s better than zero.”
“Well,” Fisher said, and glanced to the clear blue sky and the grassy hills and the ruins of Golden Age history scattered around. “I guess there’s worse places to die.”
“No good places to die, chief,” Sam replied. “And you don’t really wanna do that.”
“I guess.” Fisher flailed at the ground with his stumps. “Help me sit up. I’m not dying on my back like this.”
Sam did so. She hauled him against a rock, helped him sit up. Fisher avoided glancing down at whatever damage Monkey’s weapon had done to him. He leaned back, rested his head against the rock, and listened to the birds.
“Where are the others?” Fisher asked.
“Sabra and her robot went in after Monkey. While I was patching you up, I think our baby boy slipped away and went inside, too.”
“Yeah, ‘thanks for saving my life,’ that’s what you could say.”
“I’m not ungrateful. But the mission–”
“Wouldn’t be changed at all by anything I could do. What’s one more gun going to do in there?” Sam reached into a pocket on her vest for her cigarettes and lighter, lit up. “No killer robots, though, so I guess it’s not going too badly.”
“True. Thanks for saving my life.”
“Don’t mention it. I’m serious about that. I’ve got an image to maintain.”
Fisher laughed, but only a single syllable – the pain put an end to anything more than that.
It occurred to Fisher now that his heart was going a mile a minute. What had Sam pumped him full of, and in what combination? On the one hand, Sam was only a scientist in the sense of being able to apply force to certain areas of the human body. On the other, she was a grunt and probably knew the basics of how to keep someone alive. But still, somehow, the idea that his life was hanging by a chemical thread was not reassuring.
The ground shook. That wasn’t reassuring either. And when that happened, and Fisher tried to move his legs, the impulse ended somewhere at his hips.
Ah, Fisher thought, like it had happened to someone else. That explains a few things.
“Sam,” Fisher said, to take his mind off it. “What’s happening?”
She grunted in reply and Fisher turned his head toward the entrance to SHIVA’s underground lair. The rumbling intensified, a deep vibration that pulsed through Fisher now and again.
“Shit,” Sam said, and crushed her cigarette butt beneath her boot. “Don’t ask me.”
Seconds later, Jack came racing out of the entrance. Then, seconds after that, came Incarnate, red hair in the wind. And, on the heels of them both, a great plume of dust and debris as SHIVA’s lair collapsed from the inside out. Behind the pair, Fisher swore that the mountain shuddered and sagged – but that could’ve been the drugs and pain affecting him.
Incarnate reached them first. Jack pulled up nearby, hands on his thighs, sucking in long, gasping breaths.
“Where’s Sabra?” Fisher asked. “What the fuck happened?”
“Monkey’s dead,” Jack gasped. “Engineer brought the mountain down on us.”
Incarnate turned back toward the gateway, peering through the thick haze. “Sabra was just behind me.”
But if she was, she wasn’t now.
“I don’t think she made it out,” Sam said. “Sorry, bot.”
Fisher closed his eyes. He knew that the news should’ve hurt, but it didn’t quite connect. For Sabra to come all this way just so she could succeed and die – it was astoundingly unfair. But when had life ever been fair?
It would’ve been nice, though. Just this once.
“We have to go back for her,” Incarnate stated. “She may still be alive. Her armor–”
Jack shook his head. “Even if the armor survived, the concussive force would’ve killed her regardless.”
Incarnate didn’t move.
“Incarnate,” Fisher said, speaking slowly. “We can’t stay. We have to go. If the Concordiat wasn’t aware of what’s happened here before, they will be now. We need to get out of here before they come to investigate. And that’s,” he said, “That’s going to be a problem for me. I’ll need your help.”
“What?” Jack asked. “Why? How?”
“My legs are, shall we say, non-functional.”
“Oh,” Jack replied. And then, like he wasn’t sure what to say. “Shit.”
Sam nodded. “Yeah. Blast clipped his spine on the way through.”
Fisher’s words echoed in his head. That bad, huh? Yes, that sounded bad enough. He felt panic encroach upon his thoughts, but Sam’s life-preserving cocktail seemed to keep it at bay.
“Just…” Fisher began, gesturing to Incarnate with a stump. “Just give her five minutes.”
They did. The thick plume from SHIVA’s final collapse thinned out into a dusty haze. Incarnate stared at the collapsed entrance all the while, not moving. Her expression didn’t change, and Fisher wondered if she could even experience sadness. But then, finally, she turned around. “I can carry you, Pavel.”
“Thank you,” Fisher said. “And I’m sorry.”
“Hold that thought,” Jack said. “Holy shit.”
Fisher followed Jack’s eye line. There, a figure stomped through the dust with a distinctive armored silhouette, the eyes on their leonine helmet shining through the haze. Sabra.
The dust parted before her. Sabra stopped, reached up to her back, and hurled her khopesh away – to the ground, behind her. It clattered against some battlefield ruin. Then she reached up, took her helmet in both hands, and removed it. She dropped it to the ground, to her right, and spat to her left.
Even this far away, Fisher could read the disgust on her face.
But with what?
It passed. Sabra turned to look at them all, and her face split in a cocky grin. “Sorry I’m late,” she said. “I’ve just been buried with work.”
Incarnate broke into a run. Before Fisher could say anything, Sabra had already caught her charge, spun her around herself with the grace of a dancer, dipped her, and pressed her lips against her own. Despite everything, despite his warnings of the Concordiat, Fisher gave them their moment.
And then another.
And one more.
Then, Fisher cleared his throat. “Ladies.”
Sabra brushed some of Incarnate’s red hair back behind her ear and set her down. That grin of hers was so much wider. She made her way towards the trio, her armor dented. “Nice to see you alive, Pavel,” she said.
“Only barely. Still might not make it.”
“I believe in you.”
“Belief can’t do much for my legs.”
Sabra shrugged. She stepped forward, set her armored arms under his knees and around his back, and hauled him up. “Then I’ll carry you,” she said. “As far as you need.”
The sun was setting by the time they crossed the border separating the Concordiat territory from the rest of the world. Fisher wasn’t sure how long it took, because his recollection was broken up by periods of blissful unconsciousness – and every time he felt himself on the cusp of that into that nothingness, he was certain that he would never wake up.
But he always did.
However long the journey took, Sabra carried him all the way. The mood, at least that Fisher was aware of, was somber in the way all great victories were. But despite the dull agony, he felt relief, happiness, and pride.
Just as Blueshift had said, there was an aeroshuttle in SOLAR colors waiting for them just on the other side of the border. Aegis, as surly as ever, limped over to meet them.
“Well,” Aegis said, “I see Incarnate’s finally let her hair down but don’t the rest of you all just look like shit. You especially, Impel. I can see right through you — and that’s actually fucking literal this time.”
“Nice to see you too, Aegis,” Fisher replied.
“Take him aboard,” she told Sabra. “I’ll tell Chevalier – big guy, knight’s helmet, can’t miss him – to set up the autodoc. It’ll hold him together until we get back to Geneva. If he’s made it this far, he’s fine.”
“You’ve got it,” Sabra said, and carried him up the ramp and into the shuttle. Fisher turned his head, looked past Sabra’s shoulder guard to see the others. Aegis was following, with Jack and the others in tow.
That was good. Whoever Jack and Sam had been in the past, they weren’t those people anymore. Where would they go from here? Where would any of them go from here, for that matter?
This shuttle was different, arranged into sections. Sabra carried him into an area off to the right side of the shuttle, secured from the rest of the cabin space. Hanging from the roof was an autodoc, all black metal and shining edges, limbs folded over each other like a dead spider or hungry praying mantis.
Sabra set him underneath it, on the metal operating table. It was cold, even through his armorweave, through the pain, through the meds.
“You’ll be fine, Pavel,” she said.
“I don’t feel it.”
Sabra snorted. “Yeah,” she murmured. “Me either.”
“You saved the day, Sabra. Hell, you might’ve saved the whole damn world. It’s okay to smile. It’s over, we won.”
“Did we?” Sabra asked. “In life like this, can you ever possibly win? This isn’t a win – games end when you win, and this one’s still going. Everything just keeps on going. Sure, it’s over. It’s over, only that it isn’t.”
“We’re prepping for launch,” Aegis called. “Chevalier, make sure our injured guest is ready for the journey. If he dies, you’re fired.”
“I guess that’s my cue to get out of here,” Sabra said. “I’ll see you in Geneva.”
“Wait,” Fisher said. “Sabra.” Sleep was rushing up to claim him, although it might’ve been death. But either way, he had to say something.
She paused at the doorway. “Yeah?”
“There’s something going on here. With Blueshift and Ironheart. Something bigger than us. I don’t know what and I don’t know why. But just, when we get to Geneva, be very careful.”
“I know, Pavel,” she replied. “We’re just pieces on someone else’s board.”
“Yeah. Just pawns.”
“Maybe. But we don’t have anything to worry about. Not yet, anyway.”
“What do you mean?” Somehow, that was surely going to become the four most common words he’d say to Sabra. What had she seen?
“We have nothing to worry about in Geneva,” Sabra said, turning back and smiling, and her words followed him down into the nothing of sleep or death. “Because the only thing that’s going to happen there is that Aegis is going to give me a job.”
“And,” Sabra added, “if a pawn goes far enough, then she can become a queen.”