There was a celebration, of course. It wasn’t much of one, Jack thought, and that was fine, because he had never been one for celebrations that were much of anything. But, for what felt like the first time in his life, three days after he had been released from his holding cell, there was a lightness in his chest that allowed him to feel content.
Sabra leaned across the table, the setting sun behind her. “Okay,” she said, grinning. “You two have to level with me here, did Aegis really make you swear to be on your best behavior?”
Next to him, Sam laughed. “Yeah. But I had my fingers crossed, so I don’t think it counts.”
“Forever and ever,” Jack added. “An oath’s an oath, Sam.”
“Oh, please. I’ve never met an oath I didn’t break.”
It really wasn’t much of a party. The celebration was just three people around a table in some bar in the higher levels of one of Geneva’s many skyscrapers. Jack had never been to Geneva before, and he hadn’t seen much of it from inside his cell, but it was clearly a city that had built upward instead of outward. It was a smart decision, but the bar was so far up that even Jack had a moment’s vertigo when he looked out the window. It looked expensive – with stylish staff, upscale decor – and that matched the ludicrous prices.
Luckily, they had a hero.
Sabra had taken it on herself to foot the bill with her new ‘SOLAR money.’ Between that and the blue beret she was wearing, replete with the silver wreath-and-nsoramma pin, Jack figured that things had worked out better for her than for him. But he was alive and, really, that was all he wanted. Most of the time it was just Sabra and Sam talking, and that was fine because he was content to just be.
It was a strange feeling, but it didn’t hurt.
“So,” Sabra began, “Where’re you two going now?”
“That’s a good question,” Jack said, and he looked to Sam.
Sam stared right back at him, and kept staring as she drained her glass. “What? Why’re you looking at me?”
“Because you’re wearing a dress. But seriously, I figured you’d have an idea.”
“I told you back in Australia that I was happy with being arrested, or dying. Now, they’ve let me go and, as far as I can tell, I’m not dead.” She shrugged. “I’m just going to drink until it makes sense.”
“I’ll drink to that,” Sabra said.
Jack smirked. “You’ll drink to anything.”
Sabra shrugged, smiling that ridiculous smile of hers. “Well,” she said, looking past him. “Look what the cat dragged in.”
Jack frowned at her, confused, then turned in his seat. There, rolling his way across the bar floor, was Pavel Fisher. The unimpressed expression on his face was familiar, even if the wheelchair wasn’t.
“What on Earth are you doing here?” Sabra asked him.
“Yeah, nice to see you too, Sab,” Fisher replied, settling at the table. “Thanks for the invite, by the way.”
“Man, I tried, but the hospital told me you weren’t leaving for another day. How’d you even get here?”
“The chair has wheels, Sab.”
“Uh, yeah, I know that. But what I mean is, how did you find us?”
“Oh, that,” Fisher said. “That was easy. I just got in contact with Incarnate, who pointed me over here. It’s Geneva. Nothing happens here without the IPSA knowing. Besides, what was the hospital going to do? Wrestle me out of this chair?”
“You got new hands,” Sam pointed out, then fixed Sabra with a look. “Where is the girlfriend-bot anyway?”
“Work,” Sabra muttered around her glass, just as Fisher raised his hands and gave them a flex, saving her from any further embarrassment.
“Just temporary ones,” Fisher said. “But they’ll do the job until the hospital gives me better replacements.”
Sabra nodded. “Can you still…?”
Fisher extended one hand towards Sabra’s glass, and it popped from her hand to his. “Absolutely. It’s strange. Sort of need to judge it all from the end of my wrist, not my hand as such.”
“I didn’t think you capes could get powers back,” Jack said.
“Me either,” Fisher replied with a shrug. “Maybe I never really lost them, I just thought I did.” He set the glass down, slid it back across the table to Sabra.
Sabra collected it up. “Anyway, good timing, Pavel. We were just talking about what we’re all going to do now.”
“Well, I see you got a job out of all this. Congratulations, although that’s mostly for the beret. But as for what I’m going to do?” Fisher leaned back in his chair, eyes toward the ceiling. “Are you going to believe me if I said instructor?”
“No,” Sam said.
“Depends on what you’re instructing,” Jack added. “And who.”
Fisher continued, “When this all began, I thought Sab here needed someone to show her the ropes.”
“I don’t need someone to show me the ropes,” Sabra said, grinning. “Because, man, I put people on the ropes.”
“Yes, yes, you’re fantastic, Sab. I’m not going to say I was right or wrong on that count, by the way. But it got me thinking. The IPSA Academy in New York is always looking for instructors and teachers, preferably ones with real experience.”
Jack raised his eyebrows. “You mean Capetown.”
“Sure, if you want to use that name for it,” Fisher replied. “Either way, I think what little good I can really do at this point is just to pass on my knowledge. Running around the world like this was hard enough on me as it was, and that was before I got a hole in me. I don’t think I can change the world by going out there, but maybe I can do it by teaching the next generation.”
Sabra nodded. “I think you’d make a great instructor, Pavel. I mean it.” Then, she gestured to his wheelchair with a wave of her hand. “So, this chair thing, is it a permanent deal?”
Fisher laughed. Then he shook his head, taking a moment to catch his breath, clutched his side. “Christ, Sab, don’t do this to me. I’m just remembering how when we first met, you asked me about my hands. Never change.”
“I don’t plan on it. But it’s a serious question!”
Fisher shook his head, waved down one of the staff, placed an order. Then, he gestured to Sam and Jack. “How about you two? You can’t be going back to your old life after all this, I hope.”
Jack kept his mouth shut. The answer was an obvious no. He had never wanted to kill people, it had just been something he was able to do better than others. He had thought that it was the path to being a hero, a legend, but that was just a dream, a fantasy. But even knowing all that, Jack was painfully aware that his skills were limited, and his prospects more so.
And all things take the path of least resistance.
“I hope not,” Jack replied, frowning. “It’s not what I want to do.”
“Well, Jack,” Sabra said, “What do you want to do?”
“I don’t know. Just… not what I was doing.”
“Well,” Sam said, with the comfortable sigh of good-natured long-suffering, “I suppose that’s better than what you say most of the time.”
“Yeah. I suppose it is. I don’t know if I can ever be normal, but I think I can do some kind of good out there. It’s a big world.”
Silence as everyone took a drink. Then, Fisher nodded. “I could lean on my old boss for you. I can’t promise much or even anything, but they weren’t the worst outfit. It wouldn’t be much, but it’d be a start.”
“What’d they do?”
“Private security and intelligence, threat assessment. Consider it the white-collar version of what you used to do, and you wouldn’t be that far off.”
Jack ran that idea around his mind. “It’s a start,” he said. “And at this point, I think I’m grateful for any new start I can get.” The next word was hard. “Thanks, Pavel.”
“Don’t mention it. Remains to be seen if Asadi will humor me again.”
The little party went on. It was quiet and conversational and strangely pleasant, even if Jack was still struck by the feeling of being on the outside looking in. Sabra did most of the talking but, when Jack cracked that barrier and spoke up, everyone seemed happy to listen.
Very strange. What was stranger was the awareness that he was only beginning to feel comfortable with them all. Were they friends? That was what Jack wasn’t sure about, but they seemed to be people who liked having him around, even if he didn’t understand why. That, he thought, felt good enough for now.
But even he was aware of the looming melancholy. That, soon enough, they would all be broken apart. Life would take them in different directions. Sabra would remain here, Fisher would head over to New York, and he and Sam would go wherever they would go. Despite everything, life went on.
But he’d remember them, and maybe even fondly.
All of a sudden, he was standing, and Jack raised his half-empty glass. By now, he couldn’t remember what was in it. “How about a toast?”
“To what?” Sabra asked, laughing. “To kicking ass and taking names?”
Sam grinned. “Works for me.”
“I don’t know,” Jack said. “But I was thinking friends. Because even though we’ve lost them, we can always remember them as they were.”
For a moment, he was struck by how ridiculous the thought was. But then Fisher raised his shot glass. “To Katherine,” he said. “The Golden Age will never die.”
Sam raised her glass, too. “Sn–” She began, caught herself. “Jocasta. Wherever she is.”
Sabra’s mood had snapped into melancholy, but she held her glass high. “Derrek.”
“Elias,” Jack said, and drained his glass. Across the room, he spied a tall man with red hair. Just for a moment, just for a second, he saw Elias, his smile, and felt the warmth of his way of making you feel like you were the most important person in the world, even when you knew it was a lie.
And then the moment passed, the man turned and it wasn’t Elias or even a shadow of him, and all Jack thought was, Goodbye, old friend. It hurt, deep in his chest, but it was already scarring, fading. Healing.
Later, the group moved to the outside balcony. The sun had set, and Geneva had come alive with artificial lights to compensate. Sabra leaned up on the balcony, staring toward the Alps. “It’s funny,” she said. “I always thought we needed a team name.”
“Like what?” Fisher asked.
“Yeah, that’s the problem, I never got that far. Names are hard, man.”
“I think we’re still a team, name or not. Friends, even, if I’m not presuming too much.”
Friends. That was strange but okay, too.
“I’ll allow it,” Sam said.
“There’s actually one more thing I wanted to mention,” Fisher said. He glanced about, checking how far away the clusters of other people were. Far enough, Jack thought, especially with the general murmur of the patrons to block anything out.
“Something’s been bothering me about this whole incident,” Fisher continued. “I mentioned this to Sabra when we were on the aeroshuttle. But it’s about everything that’s happened. Something’s going on here, and I’m going to find out what it is.”
“You’re not a spy,” Sam said.
“No,” Fisher agreed. “I’m not. And to be honest, I was pretty bad at the job I had for FireWatch. But this is different, because it’s about more than this one event, really. Hell, I think it’s about more than anything Blueshift’s done. Maybe it goes all the way back to Preceptor – I don’t know. But I need answers, and I think the Academy is a good place to catch up on my reading.”
“And you’ll be there as an instructor,” Sam said, grinning. “How absolutely devious, husband. I knew you had it in you.”
“What can I say, you and the boy rubbed off on me.”
“If you need to blow the place up,” Jack said, “I’m sure we could swing by. It’d be like old times.”
“Somehow, I don’t think that’ll be necessary. But if I need it, you two will get the first right of refusal.”
“So,” Sabra said. “I guess we’re still a team then. But seriously, I still can’t figure out a name.”
Neither could anyone else, at least not one that everyone else agreed on. Eventually, the night wore on and wore down. Fisher was the first to leave, but was then followed by Sabra who claimed she had to make sure that he was actually going to get back to the hospital. But she paused to hug him and Sam, and then she was gone.
Jack watched her go and then, for a time, stood on the balcony and looked out over Geneva. There was something familiar about it all, like something out of a dream he didn’t quite remember. He finished his drink and, for a time, didn’t think about anything at all.
Sam nudged him in the side. “So, you ready to go? Place is closing up.”
“Yeah,” Jack said, and he took one last look at Geneva from the balcony. “Where’re we headed?”
“That’s a good question,” Sam replied, gathering up her jacket. “I figure we find a hotel and think about it in the morning. You know how long it’s been since I had room service?”
Jack walked along with her, toward the exit, and whatever lay beyond.
He said, “We still don’t have much of a plan, you know.”
Sam smiled. “I know. But we’re both cats, aren’t we? And they always land on their feet.”
“Yeah,” Jack said, and he took one final look behind him. “I guess we do at that.”
And then he stepped outside, and into the future – and whatever lay beyond.