A thought Pavel Fisher had, during the battle, as Sabra booted The Engineer backward, toppling the dark titan: by God, she’s actually doing it.
He had only seen The Engineer once before. There, in Paradigm City, he had been untouchable. Blueshift, for all of his power and megalomania, had only been able to delay him. When The Engineer had finally struck the defensive line, it had been like watching a scythe through chaff.
With his glaive, knife and unerring spears, The Engineer had cut a surgical swath through the arrayed defenders. Everyone died. Taurine, luckier than most, was left merely maimed. Only the intervention of the Concordiat had been able to bring enough firepower to bear to make the demigod seemingly reconsider his advance, by punching through the island and banishing him to the bottom of the ocean floor once more.
Not one person had managed to lay him out like Sabra had.
No one fights a battle they don’t think they can win, Fisher thought. And Sabra-
“Impel,” Aegis snapped. “Quit gawking! We might not get another chance to get out of here!”
Fisher gestured towards the brawl. “We can’t just leave her!”
Aegis laughed like the grave. “Yes, we fucking can! She’s a precog, Impel—you’ll just get in her way!”
Fisher shook his head. Not because Aegis was wrong, but at the whole situation. Why was Sabra here, and why now? But, more than that, there was still a part of him—some small part—that saw Sabra as the exuberant kid from Paradigm City. Not the superhero, not whatever she had become over in the Americas.
He’d gotten her into this mess. No matter what was going to happen here, he had to see it through to the end.
He owed her that much.
“Then go,” Fisher said. “I know where the SOLAR air pads are. I’ll be there in five minutes, with or without Sabra.”
Then he left them, followed Sabra out into the storm.
The wind had picked up, and the rain had finally started to fall. In the manicured gardens, Sabra and The Engineer fought. To Pavel Fisher, from afar, it looked more like a dance. Strikes that turned into feints that twisted into ripostes. There was something to it—a pattern?
The Engineer’s glaive was torn out of his hands, Sabra’s khopesh spinning with it. His knife came up, held in one of his paired arms, and he stabbed Sabra in the side, under the ribs.
Sabra howled, and tackled him. Reduced the intricate dance to a ground game. Drew her right fist up, and jammed her next punch straight down his throat. Then, shouting out over the wind and the rain, her voice ragged with rage and exertion, she took hold.
And began wrenching The Engineer’s head from his neck. Fisher, unable to stop staring, stopped breathing.
My God, she’s really-
Then, the world shifted, and The Engineer was free.
He found purchase on Sabra’s suit, enough to throw her into the air. And there, it was like time slowed, stopped—or maybe it was only Fisher’s imagination, his horror, his despair—as The Engineer drew his knife free from Sabra’s side, and cut her to pieces.
The first strike sundered Sabra’s armor, the sound of it ringing out across the battlefield. Fisher heard it, felt it. Saw the powered suit come apart around Sabra. It froze his heart in his throat.
Then, Fisher watched The Engineer dismantle Sabra Kasembe before his very eyes.
With his second strike, he took her arms. That was the only one Fisher caught, as The Engineer conducted his retribution with the fury of an injured, slighted god. The display was enough for Fisher to finally understand something, that there was some humanity still left under those unearthly forms.
Sabra had hurt him.
The Engineer’s final blow, vehemently absolute, ripped through Sabra’s chest and helmet, casting her down, smiting her, and hurling her the length of the marble boulevard.
There, Sabra hit the ground hard, bounced, tumbled for a time, and did not rise.
It felt unreal. Sabra lay in the middle of the street, unmoving. Some part of Fisher couldn’t believe it, but what had he expected? That Sabra would just drop in from the heavens with a quip and a smile, and slay a being who had demolished entire cities?
He had. God, it was stupid, but he had. That was why he was standing out here in the wind and the cold and the rain, watching and hoping. Because, even as old as he was, there was a part of him that wanted to believe in the impossible—in superheroes who could save the world.
Movement. Sabra scrabbled about on the road, one leg kicking, flailing with her stumps. Trying to get up, to fight, to not accept what had just happened.
The Engineer stood there like a sentinel, watching her.
Stay down, Sabra. Please, just stay down.
It was like she heard him. Sabra slumped down and slowly, with deceptive calm, stopped moving.
The Engineer turned away, resumed his path towards SOLAR HQ. The obsidian giant didn’t even glance in Fisher’s direction—his point had been made, all resistance crushed.
All Fisher could do was stand there and think: how on Earth am I going to explain this to Incarnate?
The moment she saw him again, she’d ask about Sabra. And some aspect of her mind, whatever passed for it, was built out of a computer system that had put Europe to the torch. Hell, she had gone on a one-robot crusade to break Sabra out of prison.
Maybe it’d be better not to tell her. Maybe it’d be better just to stand here, amid the ruins of Geneva, and pray for deliverance.
It came in the form of Perseus and Kallisto, of all people, the latter supporting the former under her arm. His right ankle was twisted and broken, his skin sunburnt red. Despite everything, he looked remarkably proud of himself.
“Hey, Pavel,” Perseus said.
“You look like shit.”
Fisher sighed. “And you’ve got more pep than usual.”
“Slight concussion,” Kallisto said. “I think. I’ll explain later.” She gestured behind him, to the street and Sabra’s corpse. “Was that…?”
Fisher nodded. “Yeah,” he said.
Fisher shrugged. “It doesn’t matter. Nothing does. Look, there’s a SOLAR shuttle with our names on it. Let’s get out of here.”
With that, he stepped away, towards the SOLAR air pads. He’d figure out how to tell Incarnate, although only God knew how you told a robot that their lover was dead.
“Not without Sabra,” Perseus said.
Fisher paused, closed his eyes. “Perseus-“
“Perseus, that’s the concussion talking—Sabra is- Sabra is dead.”
A slight pause.
“No,” Perseus said.
Before the entrance of the SOLAR complex, The Engineer paused.
“Pavel,” Perseus continued, like it was the most obvious thing in the world. “Sabra…”
“She’s getting back up.”
Sabra rose up from the asphalt like an avenging angel. She took one halting step forward, half bent over herself, and then another. With every step, she brought herself upright. Something incandescent twisted around her head—a subtle corona.
The Engineer whirled about, raising his left hand. From somewhere distant, somewhere in the ruins of Geneva, his unerring killing spear returned to his hand like a thunderbolt.
For the first time, Fisher saw an expression on the Transcended’s face—his glowing green eyes wide. Fisher figured they shared the same thought, as Sabra drew herself up to her full height.
“That’s impossible,” Fisher whispered.
Sabra took another step forward, thunder booming out, threw her head back to the heavens, and roared. Her forearms were burning with golden fire, light streaming out of the gouged split in her helmet.
The Engineer cast his spear like a javelin. Fisher heard it break the sound barrier, saw its passage shatter the ground and the gardens and the benches, the windows that had to be two whole city blocks away.
Sabra took another step forward to meet it, twisted past it, grasping the spear that never missed in both hands, turning with it in one smooth motion-
-and threw it back.
Fisher didn’t see the impact—he heard it, felt it reverberate through his bones. The Engineer pitched back, impaled dead center. He staggered back, three arms wide, stricken and wounded.
Sabra, her eyes set on The Engineer, hadn’t even broken stride.
“Pavel,” Kallisto said, eyes wide. “You’re a superhero, right? Please tell me you know what’s going on.”
“I don’t…” Fisher said. Thunder rumbled, and he realized that it wasn’t the thunder—those were Sabra’s footsteps. The marble cracked and broke around under her feet, hanging in the air around her.
“I don’t have a goddamn clue. But, I think-“
The corona around Sabra’s head flared bright, ignited into a burning, fiery mane. And above it, a blazing halo.
No, not a halo, Fisher realized, with dreadful awe. A sun disc.
“Mother of God.”
The Engineer wrenched his spear free and threw it aside. He raised one hand to his torso, in pain or disbelief or both. Then, he turned his three eyes on Sabra and raised his arms, hurling his disassembly field straight at her.
Sabra raised her head, bared her teeth—her fangs. A furnace ignited in her throat, flames licking past her lips, and Sabra roar erupted as a weapon, blinding and apocalyptic. Brighter than the Sun, more focused than any laser.
Sabra annihilated The Engineer’s field, the field that even Blueshift had only been able to stop, and then struck the Transcended himself. Split his left arm from his body.
“Look at the sky!” Perseus shouted. “Holy hell, look at the sky!”
Fisher glanced up. Above them all, the clouds were cyclonic. Whirling and churning, faster and faster, and he didn’t have to guess who was the source of it.
“Eye of the goddamn storm,” Fisher said. “I guess that settles it.”
When he glanced back to the fight, The Engineer had summoned his glaive, and Sabra was as tall as he was. Her form had changed and, past the burning aura, where he could glimpse the woman, Fisher couldn’t see the difference between Sabra and her armor anymore.
There were no theatrics this time, no spinning. The Engineer thrust his blade at Sabra’s heart.
Sabra shattered it with one hand, raised her other up behind her, blazing claw stretching to the heavens-
-and, with one monumental swing, smote The Engineer down to one knee. Maimed him irrevocably. Half of his face came away, breaking apart, his jaw shattering on the ground.
Someone slid to a stop next to Fisher. Out of the corner of his eye, only impressions: a brown leather jacket, a tan head half-shaved, a golden eye.
Desperada said, staring at Sabra, “Is that-“
“Maybe,” Fisher said, glancing to her. “I don’t know. I’ve never seen anything like this before. I don’t think anyone has. I would hazard a guess that something like this has only happened seven times before on this planet.”
“Fuck me,” Perseus said.
“You said it.”
Fisher turned his gaze back to the battle. There, The Engineer had lurched away from Sabra, crippled and mutilated. And Sabra, like a cat with a mouse, had let him go one step, two…
She leaped on him at three, punching her claws straight into his back and out through his chest. Like a puppet, she forced The Engineer to his knees, and then bent him down and back against himself.
Then, with one final pull, Sabra ripped him in half.
Something detonated. A wall of force slammed into Fisher, launching him from his feet. He lay on his back a moment, staring up at the whirling sky.
After a few breaths, Perseus asked, “Did we win?”
Kallisto ventured, “I guess so.”
Fisher climbed to his feet. Some distance away, now, Sabra still stood. There was no sign of the armored woman, just a vague shape amid the unrelenting intensity. Ever as far away as he was, Fisher felt his skin scorching. The flames pulsed and flowed out from her core, trailed behind her like vast wings.
Desperada took a step forward, peering at Sabra, her expression unreadable.
Had she come here with Sabra? She must have. Did she know something about this?
No, Fisher thought. But someone else does. Blueshift.
A flash turned the gloom into alabaster daylight. Sabra flared again, and this time it was a flash that was bright enough that it seared Fisher’s eyes, forced him to raise a hand to shield himself.
When he had recovered, the SOLAR gardens were burning in Sabra’s firestorm. Her hellfire form had intensified, her flaming aura expanding, her wings stretching higher, and spreading as if to encompass the whole world.
“If we won,” he said. “Then why the hell isn’t she stopping?”
“She told me,” Desperada said.
“Told you what?”
“What she was here for, why she had to come,” she said. “Sabra came here for the head of the IPSA, your Director-General. She holds him responsible.”
“For what?” Fisher asked.
“Everything, I believe. Sekhmet has come for justice, if possible. But she will settle for vengeance if necessary. To destroy the machine, and all the people who would restore it.”
Fisher’s throat ran dry, and it wasn’t from the heat. It was from the realization. Hadn’t he thought of the games being played in the halls of power here in Geneva, of finding the ones responsible and making a mess of their boards?
Sabra was going to flip them all over. Break the boards and crush the pieces-
And burn the remains to ash. The reason no one has seen something like this before, Pavel, is because no one has survived bearing witness to this process.
“Vengeance?” Perseus murmured, getting it. “But Sabra wouldn’t…”
“Wouldn’t she?” Kallisto asked.
Fisher, staring into the apotheotic inferno, found himself reaching up to his neck, seeking Mark’s medallion. He clutched it tight, hard enough that it dug into his hand. Like it might protect him.
“It doesn’t matter,” Fisher said, “Because that’s not Sabra anymore.”
Next to him, out of the corner of his eye, Fisher saw Jack figure it out, too. Saw him reach for Kallisto’s hand, here on the edge of the apocalypse, and hold it tight.
“That,” Fisher said, staring directly into the firestorm of an incipient divinity, caught between awe and terror, “is the eighth Transcended.”
How desperately he wanted to hear Mark’s voice one more time here, at the end.
“May God help us all.”