Geneva was like nothing Sabra had seen before. Paradigm City, for all of its comfortable status as her home, had been a city in decay, a shining metropolitan center surrounded by forgotten people and the remnants of the dreams that had carried them there. From where she was standing, Sabra doubted anyone in Geneva was forgotten, ignored. It was like a city that had embraced the dream of a golden future, that had weathered the fires of the Collapse, and emerged forged and sharp and ready to build a new world.
That may have had something to do with the immense amount of IPSA infrastructure in the city. Sabra stood in a picturesque garden inside the fortified grounds of SOLAR headquarters, a city within the city, admiring the imposing shape of the Alps in the near distance. Around her, barely noticed but still aware of, was the hustle and bustle of men and women in uniform.
There was just something about mountains. Coming from Paradigm, where all one saw was the ocean stretching in all directions, the Alps were weird and alien. They felt like the fingertips of some great hand ready to squeeze around her, to crush her and this city and everyone in it. She just kept staring at them. It was a strange, constricting feeling, like some weird kind of claustrophobia.
When the shuttle had touched down, the Geneva police had come for Sam and Jack first, to take both of them away in cuffs. Sam had laughed, Jack had shrugged, and Chevalier had taken them away. Then, Pavel had been taken away for medical attention, although Sabra wasn’t sure what could be done about a hole through the body and a clipped spine. She could still see it. Hell, she could’ve put her fist through it.
“Stay here,” Aegis had said, and then she had left the shuttle too, Incarnate in tow.
‘Stay here’ seemed like a broad command. She surely meant the grounds of the SOLAR HQ, but part of Sabra wanted to play dumb and stretch here to the whole of Geneva. But given the circumstances, that was a bad idea. Besides, there was no fun in seeing it alone.
So, Sabra had ditched her armor, gone for a walk, and she had ended up here, following marble paths among the trees, flowers and winding water features. It felt like the place one would come to meditate. Above her, a SOLAR aeroshuttle slipped through the air, ferrying a team of superheroes to wherever they were needed, off to resolve some other crisis in some other part of the world. Sabra watched it go, vanishing into the distance.
“The work never stops,” Aegis said, from behind her.
She walked closer, in that stiffly halting way that suggested painful injuries. “Welcome to the safest place on the planet, Fulcrum. You’ll excuse me if I forgot to roll out the red carpet.” Blueshift followed a step behind her, hands in his pockets.
“You’re excused, Aegis,” Sabra said.
Aegis shared a glance with Blueshift. “How imperious she’s become. Saves the world once and suddenly she thinks she rules it.”
Blueshift just shrugged.
It was like they hadn’t spent the flight on the same shuttle. It hadn’t exactly been warm and receptive. Chevalier had tried to lighten the moods with jokes, but only Incarnate had laughed — and that had been disconcerting enough that everyone had written off any further attempts to lighten the mood.
Aegis shuffled over to a stone bench and torturously lowered herself atop it. She exhaled, low and hard, and reached into her uniform jacket for a bottle of pills. Popped one into her mouth, swallowed it.
Sabra gestured to her, then to Blueshift. “I’m assuming this isn’t a social visit.” Of course, there was no assuming anything. The currents carried her onward, and to thrash into them would destroy her.
Strangely, she remembered Miss Massacre.
“Quite right,” Aegis replied. “More of a business call.”
“I’ve never liked salespeople.”
“And I still don’t like comedians. I’m here to offer you a job, Fulcrum.”
Sabra feigned hearing it for the first time. “I might be interested, but I’d like to hear what’s happened to my friends first.”
“Your friends?” There was a derisive edge to the question.
“That’s right. Pavel Fisher, Jack Hudson, and Sam Holley. What’s happening with them?”
Aegis shook her head, chuckling low. “Your friends… Well, Fisher’s alive, but he’s still in reconstructive surgery. SOLAR still hasn’t found a healer who can do spines. The other two… Well, they’re alive, too, and let’s say I know when to sweeten the damn deal.”
“You’ll drop any charges, and you’ll let them go?”
“Yes,” Aegis replied, like she was talking to a child, “I’ll clear their files, and I’ll let them go if they swear they’ll be on their best behavior forever and ever.”
Sabra frowned. “Why?”
“Because this is a job offer and not a conscription. Because you’ve worked with us before. Because I’m in need of a team technopath after our last one had an accident. Because I lost two members of my team taking out Sentinel. Because you’re a good kid who could do a lot of good here. Take your pick.”
Sabra caught the third comment. She glanced to Blueshift, who just raised his dark eyebrows like he had no idea why she was looking at him. So, Sabra thought, that’s one secret you’re still keeping.
So many things were happening, just like Fisher had said. Everything that had taken place was just the first steps down a long road; the opening moves on a chessboard. Pieces and hands, hands and pieces, each one changing into the other depending on your perspective, depending on the board.
It was everything she had ever wanted, to be a superhero. SOLAR didn’t quite match up to the dreams and stories — but then again, what did?
Aegis said, “I’m waiting, Fulcrum.”
“I’m thinking it over,” Sabra half-lied. “What else do I get?”
Aegis laughed. “Do you mean besides the power to tip over the apple carts of everyone you come into contact with? The joy of getting to be the ones who handle whatever the local empowered groups can’t? The agility that comes with navigating the slow wheels of global bureaucracy?”
“Yeah, exactly. Besides those.”
“We can move your family here — the same as anyone who works in SOLAR. It’s not much, but it’s something. The rest? Well, the pay’s not great, but you can come down here every day and stare at the goddamn fish.”
Her choices were limited now. The causal current that led her to refusing Aegis’ offer lost coherence before she could read where it led. Not because the decision didn’t exist, but because she could no longer commit to it. There was too much behind her now, too much driving her onward.
“Then I suppose I have to accept,” Sabra replied.
Aegis nodded and pushed herself to rising. “Fan-fucking-tastic. This will take a few days. For now, I’ll get you put up in one of the fancy hotels overlooking the lake. Thank me later.”
“Thank you, Aegis.”
“Don’t mention it, kid.” She said, over her shoulder. “Coming, Blueshift?”
“In a moment, Captain,” Blueshift replied, eyes set on Sabra. “I’ll be right behind you.”
It was a conversation that was obviously just for them. Sabra waited for Aegis to be back inside the compound itself before speaking. “I see you’re still keeping secrets.”
“Of course,” Blueshift said. “It wouldn’t be advantageous to our goals if we were to put all of our cards on the table just yet.”
“You don’t trust your commanding officer?”
“Of everyone in SOLAR, she is one of the few I do trust. The Captain is a good woman, and I do not wish to put her into any position that would risk compromising her further. This, Fulcrum, is our fight.”
“Sounds almost like you care about her.”
“Respect, perhaps. She beat me once, you see. Adjusted my perspective.”
“Right,” Sabra replied. “Now, about those goals you mentioned?” She gestured with her chin, as if to prompt Blueshift to answer.
“The same as what I’ve always said they are: saving the world.”
She peered at him then. Blueshift always looked tired, but by now Sabra knew that to be a feint — his stubble, his stance, his demeanor. All of it carefully deployed, all of it tactical elements in the service of whatever agenda he hoped to enact. Today, however, he radiated sincere exhaustion.
“Looks like The Engineer took a lot out of you,” she said.
Blueshift nodded. “Less so than the others. He killed twenty-two capes. The Belisarius will be in dock for six months. But we drove him back to his lair within the trench.”
Sabra nibbled at a thought that had settled in the back of her mind. “The Engineer constructed SHIVA, didn’t he?”
“Yes. At least, he is the leading suspect.”
“Huh,” Sabra said. “Then I don’t think you drove him back. Not really. I think he withdrew once he realized he wasn’t going to win.”
Blueshift looked to her. “Explain.”
“Well,” Sabra said, “Jack was right. The Engineer had some kind of connection to Hawthorne. I felt him there, in the fight, whenever he could put his attention across the world.”
“That explains a few things,” Blueshift replied. “And that’s a new strategy. It isn’t like any of the Seven to be so indirect. With their power, they simply don’t need to. So, I wonder why. Why SHIVA, and why now?”
Somehow, the idea that this all had been The Engineer’s attempt to be subtle was not a comforting thought. For a time, they both watched the water run through one of the little streams.
“I got a taste of that power,” Sabra said. “He tried bringing the mountain down on top of us when we beat him.”
Blueshift frowned at that, and he looked at her. Open confusion played across his face, and Sabra felt a strange sense of joy at that. “That can’t be right,” he said. “For all their transcendental power, their range is quite limited. The Engineer especially.”
“I know what I saw, Blueshift,” Sabra countered. “What I felt. I almost died.”
“I do not doubt that, but I doubt the conclusion you reached based on the data before you.”
“Well,” Sabra said, shrugging. “I think we’ve got all the time in the world to think about that now. Either way, we blackened all three of his eyes. He got kicked back to his hole, he lost his supercomputer, and I crushed his tool beneath my boot. Whatever he set out to do, he failed.”
“Don’t be too optimistic too quickly, Fulcrum,” Blueshift replied, shaking his head. “Without knowing his goals, we cannot say whether The Engineer truly failed. Engineering has two distinct meanings, after all. Regardless, it’s good to see that you survived.”
Sabra felt herself smirk, despite everything. She fought down the urge to flex. “Was it ever in doubt? I still intend to kill him, you understand. Part of the reason I said yes is because you guys have the best equipment, the best training, the best knowledge.”
“And you’re going to help me do it.”
Blueshift nodded. “Of course. So, here is my first token. He’s aware of you now, Fulcrum. The next time you encounter him, you will have his full attention.”
She could still picture him clearly in her mind, his darkly beautiful form, his three arms, his three-eyed gaze. But there was no such thing as an invincible cape, not even him.
“I’ll be ready,” she said.
Blueshift smiled. “I hope so,” he said. “But for now, I hope you enjoy Geneva.” He began to walk away, heading down the marble path, back toward the SOLAR compound. “Give my regards to Incarnate.”
He had taken five steps away before Sabra spoke again. “There’s one more thing, Blueshift.”
He paused mid-step but didn’t turn to look at her.
“You and Ironheart,” she said. “You know so much more than you’re letting on. The armor, the sword — you had to build them, you had to have them ready.”
“Very perceptive, Fulcrum.”
“And I don’t think Aegis sent you to Australia at all, did she? You came in Ironheart’s shuttle. So you and Ironheart, you knew.”
And you don’t always agree.
Blueshift turned his head, a ghost of a smile on his face. “Correct. Like I said, you are not the first precognitive cape to have existed. But you might be the first where everything aligns in just the right pattern. We’ll see. Buena tarde, Sabra.”
Sabra watched him go. For a time, she listened to the wind through the trees, the bubbling of the water, the hum of electric cars in the distance. So similar to her home, yet so different. She looked back to the Alps, and found them less intimidating than they had been just minutes before.
First the mountains, some part of her laughed, then the Transcended.
She actually did laugh. A few uniformed men and women turned to look at her, but didn’t stop whatever work they were doing to keep the wheels of global bureaucratic world-saving turning. Christ and Allah, Sabra reflected, her father would hate this place.
Then, she reached into a pocket of her softsuit, pulled out her phone, and dialed a number.
The line picked up on the first ring.
“Hey, papa,” Sabra said, smiling. “Is mama there? Great, because I’ve got news. You’re not going to believe this. Are you sitting down? See, I’m in Geneva, and…”