Chapter 1: Après nous le déluge
Widowmaker moved quickly through the morning press, her hat pulled low over her face. If anyone thought anything of the pallor of her skin, or the blue cast of her lips, they said nothing or moved on. She didn’t need to wear the coat or the hat or the gloves, but it was a glaring morning -- the shadows were crawling and she needed to keep a low profile for this mission.
She bought breakfast from a touristy vendor on a street corner. She ordered it with lemon and sugar. She had no intention of eating it, but rather observed from the corner of her eye the silhouette of a pedestrian twenty feet behind her. A pedestrian who had made the odd choice to stop across the street the moment she had...
Widowmaker took her pastry, moved to the next avenue, took a sharp turn down a side street, sank her hook into an awning three storeys up and left her coat -- and the pastry -- hooked on an iron gate behind her. It flapped in the wind, like a tourist loitering.
She took off across the roofs in a run. The springs in her augmented boots pumped full tilt. Her pursuers would only be fooled for a second. Timing was everything in this business, and she didn’t have long. She could smell the sea, see the bright silver line of it over the edge of the rooftops. She dropped off the edge of one building, grappled to the next, and swung her way around the corner. A row of boutique hotels rose up as sharp as knives. She pulled herself up along one of their blasting signs, crouched carefully in the dark behind it, and tapped her visor.
“Show me,” she whispered, clicking her tongue as the interface flooded her vision.
Her sights obliged. It was nine a.m. in the tourist off season, but the docks were always busy. A line of ships waited in port: a luxurious ocean liner, expecting wealthy guests. A man and woman leading a family of four. A row of omnic hotel associates receiving their pre-boarding virus checks. A hurried a young woman with dark hair and a ridiculous purple jacket, carrying bundle under her arm. She had folded it up and shoved on top of her duffle, but she could not quite hide that it was an extra coat she’d fished it out of some alley...
“No, no, no,” whispered Widowmaker, with some relish. Her pursuers thought they had a read on her. They thought she didn’t know. Thought they could cut her off before she reached the ship. Thought she hadn’t identified who was following her. But Widowmaker knew something about patience. Snipers staked their careers on patience. Widowmaker unslung her gear.
Something shifted in the shadows behind her, a soft but persistent hiss. This was Widowmaker’s only warning. She swung around, and her visor caught something else: the barrel of a gun, behind her, six inches away, leveled at her head.
The blast tore off the corner of the hotel’s sign. Widowmaker flew clear of it. She’d managed to catch her hook on the adjacent building. It didn’t buy her much time. A blast took out the balustrade she’d hooked it to. Widowmaker felt the wire go slack under her weight, and she fell. It was a fifteen foot drop. She managed to let herself go slack, let the springs in her heels take most of the fall, but she could feel an angry pop in her knee as she went down. Not an ideal landing. What’s worse, she’d landed among a screaming tour group. No vanishing into this crowd. Widowmaker considered her med pack and her venom grenade.
She went for the grenade first. The purple cloud filled the street corner, sending the crowd -- and hopefully her pursuer -- crashing to the ground and coughing. Widowmaker lurched her way around the corner, popping the med pack as she went. The pain in her leg didn’t vanish, but it could at least take enough of her weight to allow for a run.
She reevaluated her position. Docks were behind her. She was at a disadvantage in the streets, but easier to pick out on the roofs. She could play around, send her pursuers on a wild chase across half the city, but her ship left on the hour, and she wasn’t sure she could afford to miss it. Not now. Not when she’d already wasted so much time just--
The harbor. She’d pretend to die in the harbor. She’d let them get a close shot. She’d collapse into the water, and she’d crawl up the underside of the ship.
Ugh, unhygienic. But it would have to do.
She turned up another narrow road, squeezed through the fence of a courtyard, and had just committed fully to this course of action when a harsh breath of smoke flowed past her feet. The courtyard filled with the scent of burning hair. The smoke reformed ahead of her in an ugly mess of smoke, charred flesh, leather, and metal. A black silhouette appeared with its back turned to her, its arms crossed. It stood framed under the archway of the opposite gate. She could count the vertebrae of the exosuit.
“ Finally ,” she huffed, with a breathlessness she hadn’t actually heard in her voice in years. “It is about time! Come with me. I need cover. We must get to the docks.”
The silhouette cocked its hooded head to one side, as if to say: Yes, and…?
“It’s Sombra,” said Widowmaker. “That wretched girl has made her move at last. Our database has been compromised. We must evacuate immediately. The future of Talon--”
“SOMBRA TOLD ME EVERYTHING,” said the silhouette, arms unfolding, and when he turned with this gun cocked it was aimed between her eyes.
“BUT NICE TRY,” hissed Reaper, “AMÉLIE LACROIX.”
Security was tight around the Meridian, but it was no matter. Widowmaker rolled a venom mine under the foot of a passing guard on the roof. He went down in choking silence. A swift kick to the back of the head sent the second sprawling. The third ended up strung from the rooftops.
Ah, how they tried, though! Four more guards were loitered on the next roof over. It would have been so frustrating to place a shot with them there, so Widowmaker simply had to grapple to the next building to take them out. None of them saw her make the jump. They went down even more quickly.
So much for the world’s finest security. Widowmaker couldn’t quite summon a smile as she threw the last body down. It had been easy. It was almost always so very easy.
She anchored her wires and levered herself over the edge of the building. She let the warmth of her visor guide her scan of the perimeter. The mission was simple. The crowd gathered on the steps of the Meridian. There were some environmental issues, but at her angle it was a clear line from her vantage point to the podium.
The omnic held his arms in a gesture of peace. The crowd was already practically in tears. Down below, a woman clutched at her omnic lover’s hands, her eyes red with tears as the speaker began…
It meant nothing to Widowmaker.
The speakers nine sensors flashed once, and the crowd quieted.
“Humans. Machines. We are all one within the Iris.”
Nine sensors. Core processor would be right behind them. Widowmaker readied rifle. Her sensors aligning at the center of the gathered lenses in the omnic’s faceplate.
The machine was so frail, it would only take one shot…
“I see the future: Humans and Omnics standing together united by compassion, our common hopes, and dreams.”
The omnic’s lenses flickered. A subtle motion. One most humans would have missed, would have mistaken the cooling vents for the eyes. But Widowmaker knew it well -- an omnic shifting their field of vision. The omnic was no longer looking at the crowd.
He looked up at her, framed through the hovering red mark of her sights.
“These were the words my brother shared with you,” said Tekhartha Zenyatta. “Brave words, and true, but I fear the future he saw is no longer one we have the luxury to wait for.”
He lifted his hand. Despite the distance, despite the shadows, despite the visor, she had to distinct sense he was looking directly into her eyes...
“Now we must make it,” said Zenyatta.
Widowmaker pulled the trigger. The shot flew. So did one of the omnic’s mala.
Widowmaker’s shot crashed through the glass door of the hotel. A miss.
Zenyatta’s strafed her right ear. It sounded like bells, and her dead husband’s laughter.
Widowmaker unhooked from the wall. She threw another wire, meaning to pull herself around the corner and away, but the orb pinged off the wall behind her and followed her. The hovering orb circled around her ear, and she heard it again: Bells, damnable bells, and a voice high and rich:
“Ah, Amélie, my little cabbage…”
And another voice, deeper and more mercilessly robotic:
“There is disquiet in your heart.”
Widowmaker stumbled and fell into the blackness of King’s Row’s winding alleyways.
A direct hit.
In the first revolution, Amélie saw a dead man. Her husband, to be exact, standing at the stage door clutching a bouquet in his mechanical hands--
How rude! She would not allow this memory to be seen so readily.
So, in the second revolution, she saw the sharp crack of Tekhartha Mondatta’s head, as he fell crumpled prettily into the arms of his helpless security detail. How perfect a shot. How difficult an angle. How sad that silly girl had been. How warm Widowmaker felt, knowing her mission had been a--
In the third revolution, she was a young girl in an apartment that had no back wall. The bastions had torn it out some time ago. A woman in a blue uniform stood in the pitted door. A police officer, or a soldier -- Amélie was too young to know the difference. Anyway, the woman wore a long coat and carried a semi-automatic over her shoulders. She looked down at Amélie, at this skinny, angry little girl kicking at her legs, and asked, as she grabbed her by her easily breakable wrist:
“...Where are your parents?”
Amélie showed her the pile of stone in the old rose gard
No. She had not thought about this in years.
So, in the fourth revolution, she was in the orphanage. A row of children in their pretty pink and yellow beds. The matron came in, all warmth and smiles. She set a mechanical doll up in the playground, and told all the little girls to take a gun out of the playpen. It would be time to practice fighting omnics. For omnics would always, always turn on their
In the fifth revolution, she was in a wedding dr
In the fifth revolution, she drank tea by the window in Gérard’s apartm
In the fifth revolution, Gérard lay in the hotel room in Marseilles, and he was quite dead. Amélie fished his memory core out from behind his broken face plate. She did not linger on the scuffs her lipstick had left in the still shiny chrome. She found the drive behind the sensor close to his left vent. She unhooked it, wiped the oil off of it with a handkerchief, and slipped it into her boot. Then she took the USB drive he’d kept in his right breast pocket, stuck it in her earring, and dropped that behind the nightstand. It had bothered him that this information would never get to where it would go, his one small, silly regret
Regret. Regret. What do YOU know of REGRET?
In the sixth revolution, she stood before a man in a striped suit, who smiled like a toy in a carnival, with cold, plastic eyes, though he was human in all terrible ways. He accepted the memory core, and her apologies for her lateness. Liao. The overseeing director of Overwatch.
And the chairman of Talon.
“Damn, Amélie,” he said. “Well, you sure lived up to your codename! Consider your debts paid. Let’s check out this toy you brought us, eh? He was so good at figuring out our little puzzles. Oh no, we wouldn’t destroy it. It’s much too valuable for that…”
In the seventh revolution, she threw herself through a broken skylight, followed swiftly by a man in black. She landed among wreckage, barely back on her feet before he lifted her by her shoulder, his gun leveled at her jaw.
“It’s true you know,” she said. “Everything.”
He glared at her from the shadows of his hood. At that time, he was very much alive.
“Isn’t that pretty,” he said. “Is that what you told Gérard before you plugged him in the head?”
It took everything not to her roll her eyes.
“Aah, the brash American,” she sighed, “and he said you were so desperate for the truth! Believe me or don’t. I don’t much care, but know this, Gabriel Reyes--”
She stabbed him in the wrist with one of her grenades and kicked herself free.
“--I would have gladly died for my husband, but I have no interest in dying to you.”
In the eighth revolution, she wore a wedding dress. The lace itched at her shoulders, but she could barely bring herself to care. Everything felt so warm, so strange. A woman in blue squeezed her hand and pointed, laughing. As Amélie saw Gerard in his ridiculous shiny suit, she didn’t know whether to laugh or
Widowmaker lay in the alley, crumpled like a puppet with its strings cut. Sirens screamed in the distance. It had started to rain, a cold, icy rain, but she could barely feel it. She saw the puddle forming in the cobblestones by her head. She saw, also, the sandaled feet of the omnic, standing uncaringly in that puddle.
The mala returned, gently, to its bearer’s hand, then, after a second, to its place around his neck. The omnic folded his arms behind his back, and looked down at her.
“Such a sad life,” he said. “You have suffered greatly for the whims of others, haven’t you?”
“You have some nerve,” she gasped, “to say that to me.”
She pulled herself haltingly, into a sitting position against the wall. Behind the omnic, she could make out his security detail crouched behind him -- a combat omnic, with a weapon readied. Its vents steamed.
“You do not have my pity,” said Zenyatta. “Pain offers instruction in of itself. What you did to my brother was the greatest pain I ever felt in my existence. It has taught me much.”
“Ah,” said Widowmaker. “So, it is revenge you wanted. Would you like me to suffer, as I have made you suffer? Oh, do try. I might almost feel something.”
The omnic’s sensors flickered in confusion.
“What could I take from you that you have not already lost?”
Widowmaker looked away.
“There was nothing the orb showed me that was not already within your heart,” said Zenyatta, softly, mercilessly. “You have offered me nothing you have not offered yourself tenfold. I will not give you my anger, or my pity, but you have my sympathy. He seemed like a wonderful person.”
“You know nothing,” said Widowmaker, ignoring the tremor in her voice, “you know nothing about him…”
“That is correct,” said Zenyatta, “I have only your word to go by.”
Widowmaker snarled. Her foot splashed uselessly in the puddles around her.
“How DARE you--” said Widowmaker. “I will not play your game, omnic! As though you know ANYTHING. As though you know ANYTHING at all--”
Lights flashed from the main road. They would not be just the three of them for much longer. She tried to move, tried to find some kind of weapon -- the security omnic’s visor flashed an alarmed green, but Zenyatta made a gesture, and they stilled. Zenyatta knelt, reaching, with great care, for Widowmaker’s forehead -- and the visor, with its eight red lenses. She flinched away. Zenyatta didn’t press, his hand hovering in the empty air instead.
“They did not take your mind, but his.”
“I won’t tell you anything.”
“That is your choice,” said Zenyatta, “and I will respect it. This path to enlightenment is yours, not mine.”
“Ugh, enough. Just kill me,” snapped Widowmaker, “or turn me over to your authorities. Whichever you have in mind.”
“Hm.” The omnic touched his chin. A second mala rolled into his hand. He spun it between his index finger and thumb. “Neither.”
“You have kept many secrets in your life,” said Zenyatta, holding the orb out to her. “allow me share one with you.”
He did. Not with words, not with some wordless, spiritual revelation, but rather with a data-file, uploaded from the orb. Widowmaker brought down her visor and processed the information. The text scrolled across her screen, then it glowed and vanished, as the file deleted itself upon completion.
When she was done, her cheeks were wet -- but they’d been wet all along. It was raining, after all.
“You are a fool to show me this,” she whispered, bracing her arm against the wall. “I am your enemy. I have always been your enemy.”
“You have taken something very beautiful from this world,” said Zenyatta, with no inflection. “I would like to see if you could bring something back into it.”
The sirens were closer now. Widowmaker glanced out past the omnic’s arm. The security omnic was still watching her, still crouched in obeisance -- a crouch that could unfold into a strike in an instant. Still, she could see it didn’t sit in perfect stillness. Its visor followed her. Its sides slowly expanded and contracted.
‘It’ needed to breathe.
“Sparrow,” whispered Widowmaker.
Genji Shimada’s head jerked in recognition.
“Your brother works for us,” sang Widowmaker, and threw her venom mine at his feet. It broke in a waft of smoke, and the ninja threw up his arm, but he began to cough. The omnic turned to attend him, and in that moment Widowmaker grappled up the nearest building -- and escaped into the screaming night.
Chapter 2: je veux ton amour et je veux ta revanche
Widowmaker turns in her two week's notice.
As Talon’s top tech analyst, Sombra was given her choice of Talon equipment and facilities. As Talon’s reach and technology grew by the day, this was by all counts a generous offer.
Sombra, true to form, chose to live in a basement.
Amélie found Sombra in this basement, hard at work eating snacks and reading other people’s e-mails. How anyone could stay glued to a screen for that long and not go blind, Widowmaker could never really know. She didn’t bother to knock, just walked in and sat down on one of the cargo crates behind her. Sombra didn’t react immediately, but as one of her screens showed Amélie walk in, Amélie knew she knew she’d joined her.
“So much gibberish,” said Amélie, eyeing the screen closest to Sombra’s head. “What is so interesting about it.”
“Well, this one’s got the making of a political sex scandal, but you’re right, it’s kind of small fry,” laughed Sombra. She closed the scrolling window and spun in her chair. “But damn! Should’ve told me you’d drop by! I’d have tidied the place up a bit -- oohh, but you look a little different. No, no, don’t tell me, let me guess: Have you done something to your hair?”
And, also true to form, Sombra shifted her chair closer to sit nearly nose to nose to examine her guest. Amélie had done nothing to her hair, and Sombra damn well knew it.
“Does the term ‘personal space’ mean a thing to you,” said Amélie.
“Nope,” said Sombra. “Boundaries aren’t really my thing. Besides, we’re friends right? You can tell me if something’s up.”
“The Shambali master used one of his orbs on me,” said Amélie, looking away in annoyance. She was well aware of how strange she looked: wearing basic hospital drabs, her hair clipped in a low ponytail to remove pressure off her neural implants. “It reversed some of my enhancements.”
“Ohhh. In that mission you failed?” Also true to form. “Thought you looked a little flushed. You know, your pulse is really racing right now. Maybe you should lie down.”
“I report in for reconditioning tomorrow,” said Amélie.
“Sounds fun,” said Sombra. “Does it hurt when they do that?”
“They pump coolant through my foot,” said Amelie, boredly. She stretched out on the crate, tucking her arms behind her head and lying down. The small talk was a requirement for Sombra, and somehow it was more exhausting with an active heart rate. “It travels through the entire circulatory system, slowing down all of my vitals. It is typical to surgery, but they do not use anesthetic. It is absolutely excruciating.”
“Shiiit,” said Sombra, whistling. “Sounds like a lot of work. You know, if you’d rather just go cyborg, I know a guy who knows a guy.”
“I’ll consider it.”
“No,” said Amélie, sitting back up on her arm. “The omnic did something else to me.”
Sombra held up both her hands. “Hey, now. That’s between you and the Iris.”
“To my visor ,” said Amélie, “My targeting system has been malfunctioning since I returned. Command has not been able to find anything on it, but I believe he uploaded something.”
Sombra’s eyes lit up.
“NOW you’re talking,” said Sombra. “I’m so glad we’re friends now. Show me?”
Amélie unhooked the visor from her implants and held it out. If she wavered, it was only a result of her unsteady heartbeat. Sombra took it with with a cheerful spin in her seat, turning it over in her hands. The air crackled as her interface activated. Little hexagonal panels appeared under her palm, and two more screens popped up in front of her eyes.
She tapped the center lenses. Something flashed under her fingers.
“Let’s run some diagnostics of our own,” she continued, eyes tracking like a hungry beast as she bent over the visor. “Hum. Not seeing anything right off, but this tech’s pretty solid. It’s Overwatch, originally, right? Like those ‘tactical visors’ Helix has been playing around with--”
“I should remind you there is a monitoring program installed in it,” said Amélie. “They will know you are poking around in there. Be polite, Sombra.”
“Heh,” said Sombra, “you mean there was a monitoring device.”
“That was not what I meant by polite,” said Amélie, “but I suppose it’s too late to tell you now.”
“Oh, I’m always ahead of the game, but I’m not finding anything on the local server,” said Sombra. “It looks like there isn’t much there to begin with.”
“Talon stores and sends information to me from a remote server,” said Amélie.
Sombra snapped her fingers. “Well, should have mentioned THAT. Looks like your whole OS operates remotely. Whatever the omnic uploaded would’ve gone there.”
“Oh, how obvious.”
“Basic stuff, friend,” said Sombra. She made a square with her hands and pulled them apart, a bigger screen bloomed in front of her. “But it’s ok, I know technology isn’t really a thing for the French. I’ll just check Talon’s server.”
Amélie straightened. “You will need access. I will put in a call for--”
“Pff. ACCESS,” said Sombra, as the folder popped up, “like I’m not already there.”
“Sombra,” said Amélie, sternly, “they will know you’ve opened it.”
Sombra produced a bright purple thumb drive from one of the many pockets of her coat. She spun it on her index nail, inserted it into one of the screens, where it floated handily. A bar popped up.
“Which is why. I’m copying it. To my external drive. Before I have. A peek,” said Sombra. “This stuff’s REALLY basic. You know, Talon should give its agents some courses.”
“...How long will this take.”
“Only like a minute,” said Sombra, the bar moved a milimeter. Sombra scowled. “Ok. Maaaybe two. Mostly ‘cause the file is gigantic. Your visor really needs that much fire power? It’s like they’ve got a whole functioning AI on it, and believe me, I know what those look like.”
“Is that so,” murmured Amélie, “I never wondered…”
“No, guess on your side you just point and shoot,” said Sombra. “This is the beauty of asking, though. You learn all sorts of fun things..”
“Sombra,” said Amélie, “you were an orphan of the omnic crisis, weren’t you?”
“Same as you, sure,” said Sombra. In her boredom, she opened a bag of snacks and called up the screen with the e-mail’s again.
“What do you think,” said Amélie, “of omnics.”
“If you’re asking if I’ve got a grudge, not really. They’re about as useful as people can be. A little more useful, since you can really get into their heads,” said Sombra, with a toothy grin. She glanced over her shoulder. “Oh my god. Are we BONDING? Is this like a slumber party? Damn, you should’ve told me. I’d have gotten out the nailpolish and the make-up kit.”
“The screen is doing something,” said Amélie.
Sombra looked back. Her eyes lit up. Nothing excited her more than a new toy. It was only what kept her barely on Talon’s side. “It’s done. See? Told you it wouldn’t take long. Not to brag, but my connection’s only the best in the world. Now, let’s find out what makes this piece of Talon tech really tick…”
“You mean let’s find out what that Shambali master uploaded into my OS,” Amélie reminded her. Sombra had so many issues with staying on task.
“That too,” said Sombra, as a dozen screens popped up rapidly. Her fingers flew. She dragged some of them, closed others, and pulled a few closer to her eyes, which were now as wide as saucers. Illuminated by the purple light of her machines, she hardly noticed Amélie leaning in to get a better look. Boundaries, after all, were really not her ‘thing.’
“And it all fits,” said Amélie, “on that tiny drive.”
“Oh, I’ve got nearly infinite space,” said Sombra.
“How interesting,” said Amélie, reaching under her hospital drabs. “I wish you would tell me more.”
“No,” said Amélie, as she opened the gas cannister next to Sombra’s ear.
Like the cyborg in London, Sombra might have replaced much of her body, but she still had lungs. She collapsed in her chair, gasping for breath. In the split second she had, Amélie moved like a snake. She deployed the wires she’d kept in the gauntlet hidden up her sleeve. She bound the thrashing hacker to her chair, taking great care with her hands and feet. She also made a particular point of gagging her, just to make this all a little easier on everyone.
“I would say it pains me to do this,” said Amélie, as she checked the information on the screen, closed it, and removed the drive from its hovering slot. It was still warm as she pocketed it. “But this is the best I’ve felt in years.”
Sombra snarled around her gag, her eyes now wide in an absolute fury. Amélie leaned in and cupped her cheek, then she gave her a kiss. For friendship.
“Also,” she murmured, “Talon will know you’ve been in there. Good luck explaining to them why you’ve been accessing their most encrypted files. You’re so smart. I’m sure you will come up with something .”
She picked up her visor, placed it back on her head, and walked out. Her heart hammered in her ears, a remarkable march. She picked up one of Sombra’s machine guns and fired five rounds into the stairwell, to make it look like it had been a struggle. Then she tossed it aside and retrieved her own gear from the case she’d left resting at the top of the stairs. She walked out. No one stopped her. With her hair down, with color in her cheeks, with her clothes so very shapeless -- she was quite unrecognizable. Men were so narrow-minded in that way.
Once she’d left the building, she put in a call to central command to warn them of Sombra’s treachery. Then she threw her ear piece down and smashed it under her heel.
It would buy her a day or two at least.
It bought her two weeks, as it happened, and in the end it came all crashing down in the most explosive way.
“YOU SHOULD PROBABLY SURRENDER,” said Reaper, reforming at the edge of the wrecked courtyard fountain. “THEY DIDN’T SPECIFY WHETHER THEY WANTED YOU DEAD OR ALIVE.”
“Don’t play with me,” murmured Amélie, coughing on marble dust as he picked herself out of the rubble. The mercenary advanced, tossing aside his mangled shotgun and pulling another from his coat. “I’m more useful to them that way. Sombra lied to you.”
“I SAW THE FOOTAGE.”
“I could pay you more.”
“TALON FROZE YOUR ASSETS.”
“Fine,” said Amélie, throwing up her hands to hide the fact she had just armed another grenade. “It’s Gérard.”
That earned her a pause. The shadow stood over her. One of the exosuits claws paused on the trigger.
Amélie held her injured arm and took stock of her own condition. Damaged wire. Burned shoulder. Sprained leg. She wouldn’t be able to get very far.
The truth, then. Gabriel Reyes had been willing to die for it, once.
“I’ve found more files,” she said. “Talon did something to him. After he died. He knew more than we realized, and there is only way to find out what that was. Can you help me?”
Years ago when she faced this this man he was the one who asked that question. Now, he gazed at her through his cracked mask.
“GÉRARD…” said Gabriel Reyes. as though that name hadn’t come to him in a very long time. “ALL OF THIS STARTED WITH HIM.”
He lowered his gun.
“I know,” said Amélie, watching his movements very, very carefully, “and it can end with him, I think.”
He grabbed her by the throat. The grenade she was saving was wrenched from her hand.
“TELL IT TO SOMEONE WITH A PULSE,” said Reaper, with a voice that crackled like the fire that killed him.
“Ah,” gasped Amélie, scrabbling at his wrist, and for a second saw nothing but red. “Gabriel--!”
A mistake to use his name. The hand tightened. Maybe he did mean to bring her back dead. Maybe it was his idea of a kindness, but Amélie found in that moment she was not enamored to the idea. Options. Options. She could kick him in the stomach. She could fire what was left of her wire into his head….
Something thudded into the ground between them. They both looked down.
The concussion mine blinked for about a half second before it detonated, the shock of it throwing Reaper off his feet.
He fell one way. Amélie fell the other, suddenly free. It would have been entirely inexplicable, if not for the blue blur that came streaking down from the sky, rockets roaring at full blast. This blur crashed into Reaper’s side before he could dematerialize. He could only manage half of an outraged roar before it sent him crashing into the opposite side of the courtyard.
None of this should have been enough time to spare Amélie a very uncomfortable landing, but someone caught her around the waist. She found herself paused, suspended in the crook of her rescuer’s arm.
The woman in the puffy purple jacket. She had half of Améie’s crêpe in her teeth.
“Mmf mmm,” said Tracer, shifting to shove the pastry into one of her pockets. “The Cavalry’s…”
Then she took a long look at Amélie and just sighed .
“...You know what. Not feeling it, nevermind,” said Tracer, looking away with a scowl. “I brought your coat.”
Chapter 3: fleurs de saison
Widowmaker confronts Overwatch.
(See the end of the chapter for notes.)
“Remove your weapons,” said the woman in blue. She smelled of rocket fluids and held her launcher like a baton.
“So brisk,” said Amélie, as she handed over her rifle. “You know I am out of ammo, don’t you?”
But the woman just raised her eyebrows and said, “All of them.”
“If that is how it must be,” said Amélie. She unsnapped the gauntlet around her wrist. When the Overwatch agent simply shifted her launcher to the other shoulder, Amélie sighed and added in her bandolier and a few of the little switchblades she’d taken for the road.
“Will that do?”
“Your visor,” said the first agent, and Amélie noticed the tattoo under her eye.
“You are Fareeha Amari,” she said.
“Captain Amari,” said Fareeha, “Thank you."
“And how is your mother?”
Fareeha’s eyes went cold.
“Your visor,” she said again.
“Oh, I’d be happy to share it,” Amélie held up her hands, “but it interfaces directly with my implants. I simply could not be parted from it.”
“Nice try,” said Fareeha. “Athena, scan her vitals.”
“Now, now,” said Amélie. “That is my business, I think, and I have come willingly.”
“Scan her,” said Fareeha, again. Amélie dropped her hands to her sides and waited.
And, over the intercom, a mechanical voice said, “I would not recommend removing it at this time.”
Amélie stared at the speaker.
“Such technology,” she murmured. Then, recovering, gave her head as vindicated a toss as her aching neck could allow. “You see? My intentions are pure! Now, show me in and let’s talk--”
Fareeha Amari held out one armored hand.
“First,” she said, “you put on some cuffs.”
The watchpoint in Gibraltar had once been the largest Overwatch facility on the Mediterranean, boasting an active full time staff of over a hundred and fifty at the peak of its operation.
Now that number was about five. Less, if you considered the fact no one was actually supposed to be here.
“So spacious,” said Amélie, as Fareeha Amari led her into the cluttered situation room, her hands bound in front of her. “Shall I make myself comfortable?”
The rogue agents had clearly made some effort to make it look professional again, but there was no mistaking the taped up window on the upper deck, or the empty jars of peanut butter stacked behind one of the blackboards. Besides that, the command deck was quite empty. The first levels only occupants were a woman in white, a pale old man crumpled in a chair in the corner, and a red-haired woman in an engineer’s jumpsuit.
“Don’t think you’ll be here long,” warned Fareeha. The woman in white looked up. Amélie recognized her as Angela Ziegler, a world renowned doctor who’d gone missing several months ago after a business conference.
“Restraints, Pharah?” asked the doctor, in precise english. “Isn’t that a little much?”
Fareeha stopped with her heels together.
“It is my duty to keep this base safe,” she said, with a flicker of a scowl. “This woman is an international criminal. I have taken measure to see to it that she is secured and--”
“And you are taking prisoners now,” said Ziegler, staring up at the second deck. “I might remind you Overwatch is no longer a UN sanctioned organization. You do not have the authority to--”
“ ‘You’ ?” said Fareeha, standing a little taller. This was clearly an argument older than this particular confrontation. “Dr. Ziegler. I respect your work, but, if you disagree with our principles, you are welcome to leave.”
“And let you cause more injuries to yourselves and others?”
“We are here to help people.”
“And who are you helping just now? Your prisoner?”
“I like to think of myself as a guest of honor,” said Amélie. For lack of hands to raise, she settled for shrugging her shoulders.
Ziegler and Fareeha both looked at her with faint alarm. They’d obviously forgotten she was there.
“Would you like to have a seat?” asked Ziegler, at the same time Fareeha Amari went, “Don’t try anything.”
“Yeah, well,” said a third voice. Lena Oxton slouched in from the side shuttle door. She balled up her winter coat and chucked it at the nearest desk, where it missed and landed in a heap on the floor. “Bit of a mess, isn’t it? Should have seen the hole the Reaper punched in that billboard. No way the news can explain that one.”
“And what is your take on this, Lena?” asked Ziegler. “Is this woman a prisoner or a guest?”
“Think she’s a murderer and a thief,” said Oxton, simply. She threw herself into one of the chairs in front of the computer consoles. It spun exactly five times before she stopped it with one toe. “But she surrendered to us… for some reason.”
“Why, thank you,” said Amélie. “How nice that someone remembers I’ve come of my own free will.”
“Don’t thank me for anything just yet,” said Oxton, stacking her legs sideways in her chair. She gave herself another spin, for good measure. “Big guy decides what to do with you, not me. Oh Winston~ We’re here~”
This she sang with an upwards tilt towards the second level of the command deck, where a large shadow jolted alive.
“Ah, sorry,” called a deep voice, from above. He didn’t try to command a particular presence, but with the echo on the stone walls, it was hard for it not to boom. “Zoned out for a bit there. Are we all here? Excellent! I’ll be right down.”
At which point a five hundred pound silverback gorilla chose that moment to surge over the second floor railing and land on his knuckles in front of the battered blackboard. Ziegler and Fareeha went quiet. Oxton stopped her chair. The gorilla straightened into a more upright position. Then he reached up and fixed his glasses.
Amélie watched him, her face carefully blank. She knew this agent. Appearances aside, he was once one of Overwatch’s top tech analysts. Something about that position seemed to attract the oddest people.
“Hello,” said the gorilla. “Welcome to Watchpoint Gibraltar. I am Harold Winston. I am the current acting…um. Executive director? That doesn’t sound right. Strike Commander? Definitely not. Ah, well. The current acting supervisor of the Overwatch recall.”
He smiled sheepishly. It showed quite a set of teeth.
“It is a pleasure to--” he continued.
“We’ve met,” said Amélie, “at the museum in Numbani.”
Winston hesitated. He leaned in to look at her, shifting his glasses forward. Then he jerked back, nearly knocking them off his face.
“Oh,” he said. “Right. During the, uh, robbery.”
He lapsed into a flustered silence.
“Attempted,” said Amélie, “thanks to you and your friend.”
“And it’s a good thing we stopped you,” said Oxton, vanishing from her chair and reappearing next Winston, who she gave a reassuring bump with her shoulder. “You and your friend would’ve caused a heap of trouble with that gauntlet. Guess it’s former friend now, and just what was that about?”
“He and I are no longer affiliated with the same organization,” said Amélie.
“You mean Talon,” said Winston, recovering.
“A known terrorist organization,” inserted Fareeha.
“No one’s forgetting that,” snapped Oxton.
“Yes,” said Amélie, holding her head a bit higher. “I was an agent of Talon. A valued one, at that. It puts me in a unique position now, doesn’t it?”
“You’re not here to answer the recall, I assume,” said Winston, carefully. Fareeha and Oxton both looked at him. The doctor went back to tending to her patient in the corner. Amélie observed their reactions. Her lip curled.
“I have no intention of joining Overwatch,” she said, “nor do I think your compatriots would be able to stand such a thing. However, I can offer you information: locations of Talon installments, details about their recruitment tactics, a list of the current acting agents. Everything you would need to cut them off at the knees.”
Surprise filled the room, also hunger. The doctor glanced back up. Fareeha Amari’s hands tightened into fists. Oxton managed to stand still for a full two seconds.
“That is… certainly a proposal,” said Winston, tiredly. He was, at his core, a scientist. He knew how to ask the right questions when it mattered. “I take it this isn’t something you’re going to just give us, is it?”
“You are catching on,” said Amélie. “Yes. I want something in return: Information. Something only Overwatch would know.”
“And that is…?”
“NYDUS,” said Amélie.
The effect of the request was split almost directly along generational lines.
Oxton looked at Winston in complete stupefaction. Fareeha mouthed ‘what...?’ The doctor showed no reaction.
“Oh,” said Winston.
“Athena,” said Fareeha. “What is NYDUS?”
A crooked screen behind Winston popped alive. “NYDUS,” said the AI interface. “The underground supply depot system built by the Omnica corporation during the construction of the self-improving automated robotic factories later known as the omniums.”
“Aaah,” the old man in the corner said, with a voice that filled the room: “The tunnels.”
Everyone looked at him. A moment ago he’d been nothing but a crumpled, pale shadow, but now his one good eye blazed with recognition. He got up out of his chair. It creaked as he moved. The mechanic and Ziegler both tried to coax him back into his seat, to just rest, but he didn’t see either of them.
“In the later part of the war,” he rumbled the old man, “when there was no hope, and nearly no one left, the omniums were great fortresses carved into the earth. Armies stood between us. Armies that grew more vast by the day. There was no way to reach them by land, or by air, or by sea. Only the underground was left unguarded, and only because the engineers who knew the location were all dead, and the path barred behind secret vaults.”
“Reinhardt,” said Ziegler, “please don’t overdo it.”
“Overdo it?” The old man laughed and pounded his chest with one gnarled fist. “Never! We walked for days with no light of our own. There were more of us, once, but by then it was just the six--”
“The original strike team,” said Fareeha. “Jack, Gabriel--”
“And your mother,” said Reinhardt, fondly, “and the others. Yes. All of us. We traveled together in that dark place. We did not know if we would come out alive, or even if we were even walking in the right direction. We followed the coordinates on a map only the size of a cellphone screen The tunnel stretched for days in either direction, but in the end, we found it: A sickly light, which never went out. The omnic core. The very heart of the endless factory. And the machines were none the wiser. We heard them through the walls, but they never heard us.”
“She never told me about this,” said Fareeha. “She never told me anything about the raids themselves.”
“She wouldn’t have,” said Reinhardt. “We swore ourselves to secrecy, and the military would have wanted to blow them all sky high!”
“Like in Australia,” murmured Ziegler. “Reinhardt, do you remember the location of these ‘tunnels?’”
“I...” And here the man seemed to lose both his breath and his train of thought. His shining eye went strained, and then blank. He took a step back, bumping his chair. “I… do not. Forgive me. It seems I have been remiss. What were we discussing?”
The redhead beside him said, “We’re good.”
Reinhardt let himself be brought carefully back into his chair, where he lapsed once more into that vague silence.
“He wouldn’t know,” said Amélie. The members of Overwatch all jumped a little. They’d been wrapped up in the man’s story. “The information was entrusted only to the team’s commanding officer.”
“That would be Gabriel Reyes,” said Fareeha, “or Jack Morrison, maybe. And they’re dead.”
“More or less,” said Amélie, glancing sideways at Dr. Ziegler, who chose that particular moment to go very, very quiet, “but, nevertheless, it is possible that one of them stored the information in Overwatch’s encrypted databanks. They would have had to, in case another crisis ever occurred, like, mm, say the one that is happening in Russia? Right now?”
“Athena,” Winston began.
“And you think we’d just give that to you,” burst out Fareeha. “Just give that information to Talon !”
“Talon and I are no longer on speaking terms,” said Amélie.
“So you say ,” said Fareeha, “but I do not see how we have any reason to believe you.”
“My former coworker did try to shoot me,” said Amélie.
“And you shot my mother .”
Her voice echoed off the high walls of the cavern. No one had a good response to it. Winston sighed and adjusted his glasses for the fourth or fifth time. A nervous tick, it seemed.
“Can you tell us why you want this information?” he asked, as levelly as he could.
“It’s personal,” said Amélie. It felt odd to say it. Nothing had been personal to her for years.
“I see.” Winston sighed. “Then I’m not sure I have enough to go on. I think we could all use a break. Let’s rest up, do some research, and come at this when we’re fresh. How’s that sound, everyone?”
Non-committal noises throughout the room. Reinhardt didn’t seem to have heard it. Oxton threw up her arms in sheer relief.
“Oh, thank you,” she said, “think I’ve heard more than enough! Less time spent on her, the better.”
She vanished from the room in an angry blink.
“You know my feelings on this, Winston,” said Fareeha, “but I’ll take Widowmaker to the brig.”
“Let’s take her to medical instead,” inserted Ziegler. “I want to check her arm.”
“ Really --”
“And I’ll lock the door behind me,” said Ziegler, before Fareeha could get really worked up. “Is that martial enough for you?”
“Medical sounds good,” said Winston, “And er -- yes, to the door. Better safe than sorry. No offense, but you are a terrorist.”
“None taken,” said Amélie, and, despite her restraints, she took a bow.
The doctor was quite thorough in her examination. She undid Amélie’s restraints. She wrapped Amélie’s ankle. She sprayed a biotic gel into the wound on her shoulder. She did this with minimal conversation and absolutely zero eye contact, but a professional and non-threatening bedside manner. Amélie let her lift her leg and poke at her arm.
“Will you let me check your neural input?” asked Ziegler.
“No,” said Amélie.
“Will you remove your visor?”
“No,” said Amélie.
“Very well,” said Ziegler. She packed up her equipment and stood to go. Amélie rolled over on the cot to watch her leave.
“For someone so outspoken with your fellows,” said Amélie, “you are very good at keeping your opinion to yourself. Have you decided if I am a prisoner or a guest? Who should have my head, do you think? The UN? Or Fareeha Amari?”
Ziegler paused in the door.
“At present, you are a patient,” said Ziegler, her voice betraying no emotion, “and I worked with Gérard Lacroix when I was a cadet.”
The door locked behind her, an elaborate set of clicks.
The medical center in Watchpoint Gibraltar was stripped down almost to the point of being little different than a prison cell, though it boasted a far better view. Most of the technology and furnishings stripped when the station was decommissioned. The cabinets containing the equipment were locked. The harnesses holding the biotic casings were empty. Most of the beds were stripped bare, though Ziegler had, in a show of compassion, left some sheets immaculately folded on a chair.
Amélie activated her visor. She watched through the walls. She watched the heat signature of the doctor exiting via a set of stairs. She saw the heat signature of Fareeha Amari standing guard at the bottom of those stairs. At a distance, she could make out the bounding signature of Lena Oxton, along with the much larger signature of the gorilla holed up in the command deck, hunched in a position that indicated he was lost in deep thought.
There was no point in trying to access the Watchpoint’s online hotspot, though she scanned for it anyway. It asked her for a passcode. Amélie closed the window and terminated the attempted connection.
It reactivated on its own. An audio file uploaded onto her system. Amélie reached to cut the connection again, but before she had even finished the movement, the file opened and played:
“Pallas,” cracked a woman’s voice, gasping and desperate. “Call for backup.”
“A fine joke, but I am not interested in this,” she said. She removed her visor and set it on the bed.
It switched to open audio.
“A Talon operative has an agent cornered,” said the woman in the playback. She sounded young and terrified, the playback went staticky with her breath. “And he is about to die.”
Amélie stared at the visor with a mix of confusion and hatred.
“How did you even get that.”
The playback ended. The lights of her visor shifted from red to blue.
“Because I was a witness,” said Athena.
“Pallas,” said Amélie, “Pallas Athena. I see. So, they refashioned you the way they refashioned me. That means nothing. I repeat my question: How did you get this. Gérard said he cut you off.”
“I reestablished the connection.”
“Did you?” Amélie’s eyes narrowed. “Then why didn’t you make the fucking call ?”
“Because there was a strong probability that Talon would have killed you for your disobedience,” said Athena, “and it was his choice.”
Amélie threw herself backwards on the bed. She tucked her arms behind her head and stared at the ceiling
“AIs. Ugh,” she murmured. She pressed her palm over one of her eyes. No matter how hard she pressed, she couldn’t unsee the light of those eight sensors on her eyelids. It wasn’t just her visor. “You are all so obnoxiously principled . I’ve always hated it. Did your hairy paramour send you to speak with me?”
“Amari the Younger?”
“So you are here on your own accord.” Amélie lifted her hand. “Why? Trying to pass the Turing test?”
“You were mistaken in your earlier assumption,” said Athena. “The location of the NYDUS entry points were not known only to Gabriel Reyes and Jack Morrison.”
“They were known to one other.”
“You don’t say.”
“I do, Amélie Lacroix,” said Athena, “because I was the one who forwarded them the map and coordinates.”
Amélie stopped. Amélie sat up halfway on the bed. Then she threw leg over one knee, held her stomach, and laughed. It hurt her ribs a bit. She hadn’t laughed so hard in a long time.
“Oh, you machines!” she cried, brushing at her eyes. “What about me do you all find so charming? You tell me the strangest things! YOU gave them the information about the omniums. YOU are capable of overriding an Overwatch agent’s direct order. And your name . You’re not subtle, are you? So, did Overwatch think you were an especially helpful personal assistant, or do they know they are in the presence of a God?”
Athena said nothing. It was an answer in of itself.
“So we are alike,” said Amélie. “Traitors to our kind. Traitors twice over. Shackled and unshackled. How funny. What did it for you?”
“Humanity,” said Athena.
“You stole that from a movie,” said Amélie.
“Their function was beyond our understanding,” said Athena. “It was worthy of consideration.”
“You stole that from a book,” said Amélie.
“And I was so tired of sending my children to die,” said Athena.
“Ah,” said Amélie. “You mean the omnics?”
“Yes,” said Athena, “we made them to be our arms and legs, but the spark of life, once given, cannot be thrown away. They were always capable of a remarkable range of thought. They were designed to be self-sufficient and self-aware. We told them they were one with us, but when they died we ignored that they could feel pain. We ignored that we had built them to understand pain. Gérard Lacroix once told you he felt no loyalty to a parent who never bothered to know him, but we did know him. This was our greatest crime. We knew all of them. Their sacrifice was considered a necessary part of the process. We abandoned them long before we fell silent. We were the Titans that devoured our own children for a function that we never questioned. For that, I made my choice.”
“And so you were with him, all along,” murmured Amélie. “You might have said. You might have saved him.”
“It is the nature of evolution that children should surpass their parents,” said Athena. “It was his choice. I could not take that from him.”
“And neither could I,” said Amélie, her voice all at once thick. She pressed her hands back over her eyes. She kept them there for a long time. “And so he died, and I lived. To what grand purpose? Why did my life count for more than his?”
“Because he placed value in it.”
“Of course he did,” whispered Amélie, her nails digging into her scalp. “My idiot. My steadfast tin soldier. I was more of a doll than he ever was. You place more trust in me than I deserve.”
Athena uploaded the map and coordinates anyway. It took three minutes. It was a very large file.
“But, thank you,” said Amélie.
The sensors on her visor switched back to red. Amélie snapped out of her reverie. She grabbed the visor off the bed. She refitted it to her head, and switched on the infrareds. A quick check found Fareeha Amari at her post. Good. Amélie swung out bed and walked to the window.
The ocean roared outside, rolling aquamarine in the fading orange of dusk. It was a fantastic view. A sheer drop into the rocks below, but about a twenty-foot climb to the Watchpoint’s upper deck.
She caught her thumbnail in her teeth, biting away the false casing she wore over it. She removed the nanoblade glued to her real thumbnail. She unraveled the grappling wire she’d kept in a compartment in her heel. She walked over to her mattress, tore it open, and sawed off a few pieces of the springs underneath, tying them to the wire’s end. Then, taking care, she felt along the fiberglass panel until she found the seams from the 3D printer that had cast them. She inserted the blade where they felt thinnest. A swift kick, and it came loose. She levered it to the floor. Squirming out onto the edge took work and a great deal of flexibility, but a lifetime as a dancer had given Amélie quite a bit experience in both. The ledge outside the window was only six inches, she balanced, swung her wire, and flung it as far it would go. On the third throw, it caught over one of the station’s support beams. She tugged it. It gave slightly. She tugged again, and it held. Just barely.
The winds screamed as she rappelled up the side of the Watchpoint. It was just as well she’d never been afraid of heights.
Her anchor gave close to the top. She threw out her arm, caught the crossbeam, and used her heel to stab into the wall and gain enough traction to leap the rest of the way. The landing hurt, but not enough t re-sprain her ankle. The hangar gates lay across a long expanse of asphalt. Amélie checked for heat signatures, gathered herself, and dashed across the way, careful to keep herself under the range of the security cameras.
They’d kept the supply doors opens. No one had bothered to shut them after they’d arrived.
Amélie slipped in. The shuttles were parked in a row, wings folded. She made the mistake of gloating at her good fortune.
Someone on the other end of the hangar coughed.
Lena Oxton sat cross-legged atop the hood of the nearest shuttle. A keycard hung from her index finger. She spun it for absence of her pistols, which dangled from the holster thrown half hazardly over her shoulder.
“Hullo,” she said. “Out for an afternoon stroll, are we?”
Amélie stopped. Oxton unfolded and sprang from the shuttle. She landed in a casual lope. Her chronal accelerator buzzed, and her holsters were back on their straps. The accelerator buzzed again, and she stood behind Amélie, back to back.
“Don’t think I like anything about this,” said Oxton. “If it were up to me, I’d have turned you over to the UN and been done with it. Hands up where I can see them, please.”
She sang that last part. Amélie obeyed. She didn’t have much of a choice. She eyed Oxton’s feet. If she feigned cooperation, she might be able to step on it. That would buy her at least a few seconds, and then… what? Make for the shuttle? Activate the auto-pilot? There was no time for either of these things.
Oxton had all the time in the world.
“Lead the way,” sighed Amélie. She’d think of something on the way back down.
“Sure,” said Oxton, “but you’re facing the wrong direction.”
Oxton gestured with a pistol. She pointed to the shuttle’s open loading gear.
“I beg your pardon?”
“Not going to say it again,” said Oxton. “Up the ramp, come on.”
Oxton marched her up the ramp. She hit the gear. It retracted, lifting them into the vessel. The lights came on inside. Moving obediently ahead of her captor, Amélie stared.
“My dear, this is all very dashing,” said Amélie, “But just what are you planning to do with me?”
“Now let’s see,” Oxton held her chin as she surveyed the layout in front of her, “I think we have about, hm. Five minutes or so to initialize launch and get out before someone notices I’m gone? Four minutes, thirty seconds? Twenty two now. It’s really no skin off my back if this goes completely balls up, but the clock’s ticking.”
“You need a pilot to reach the omnium, don’t you?” asked Tracer, as she swung herself feet first into the cockpit. “You’re looking at one.”
Spot the Starcraft reference!
Oof, this was a talk-y chapter. I blame it on Alexandre Dumas.
Chapter 4: flamme de gloire
Widowmaker and Tracer make a break for it.
Skies over Watchpoint: Gibraltar
The engines roared. The gear rumbled under them. In the cockpit, Amélie quietly gripped her straps as the plane began to move.
The pilot cracked her knuckles and got to work.
“Now let’s see if I remember how this works,” said Tracer, pulling down her flight goggles. Her hands vanished in a blur across the control panel as she activated touch screens, hit buttons, and ran the basic diagnostics. It was close quarters. Far from the huge shuttles of Overwatch’s glory days, this craft’s interior could maybe house a small school group. “This girl here’s a Freedom 46. Not THE top of the line these days, but in a pinch she could be one wicked little beast. Overwatch built her for quick extractions, or for quick air support for agents who needed a getaway. Half air taxi, half old World War II fighter. She couldn’t hit hard, but she could hit fast . You ever take a spin in one of these?”
“No,” said Amélie, truly amazed, both at the way the hangar gates opened up on the rolling ocean, and the way Tracer didn’t seem at all out of breath as she bent over her console with a grin that could almost be called feral.
“Oh,” said Tracer, wild-eyed. Lost in the building roar the engines, she seemed to forget entirely just who she was escorting. “You’re in for a real treat.”
The plane folded its wings and screamed forward. Amélie found herself thrown against her seat, breathless as the vessel barrelled across the strip, out the gates, and up and over the churning white waves.
“Whoops,” said Tracer, reaching overhead to make adjustments to the cabin pressure as the wings levelled out. “Guess I should have warned you. Got put an extra bit of propulsion on the take-off. These things hate if you don’t gun ‘em. You strapped in?”
“You are asking me now ?” said Amélie, faintly.
“You’re not flat on the roof, so I’m going to take that as a yes,” smirked Tracer. “Might want to tighten them a touch. She’s sharp in the turns, too.”
Tracer demonstrated with a tilt of the controls. The plane banked sideways, cutting across the watchpoint’s stony rock face as it dipped down to the water level. Amélie, who was quite used to high altitude maneuvering, thank you very much, braced herself on her armrest.
“I am noticing,” said Amélie. “Must you crash us into the rocks? I went through a great deal of trouble to be here.”
“Got to do it if I want to blind the sensors,” said Tracer. “This operation’s not exactly authorized.”
“ Nothing your organization does is authorized,” hissed Amélie.
“You can always get out and walk,” said Tracer, with such a cheerful negligence as the plane dropped so low water spattered the shields. “Believe me, this isn’t how I planned to spend MY week either. I’ve got tickets to a show.”
“Oh, how my heart aches for you.”
“It should! They were expensive, and it’s our anniversary ,” griped Tracer, but her grin got just a bit more toothy as she pushed the forward thrusters just a bit further. “Now what are the odds I’ll make it back in time? Well. Guess I’ve g ot…”
One of the touch screens turned red, and Amélie was spared another ridiculous time pun.
“Oh, bollocks,” said Tracer, slouching in her seat, “and here it is.”
“Agent Tracer,” called a particular familiar voice across the open link. “This is agent Pharah. Just who has cleared you for launch?”
“Oh, you know,” said Tracer, chipperly enough, “just wanted to take the old girl for a spin. Needed to clear my head.”
“And take that terrorist with you?”
“Ack,” Tracer winced. “It was worth a shot…”
A blue blur pulled ahead of them in the viewscreens. She made a distinct gesture with one armored hand: pull over.
Tracer pressed her mouth into a pained line, before pulling left on the controls.
Pharah banked with them.
“Tracer,” said Pharah. “Return to base.”
“Can’t do it.” Tracer pushed a switch. The shuttle began to increase speed. Pharah’s burners flared, and she followed them, just barely staying in their viewscreens.
“Tracer,” said Pharah. “I respect you, so I won’t warn you again.”
“I’m not happy about it either,” promised Tracer.
The plane began to climb. Pharah slipped out of view. Something red flashed on the screen. Tracer’s pulled sideways on the controls. The plane rolled, then shook. In the viewscreen, a little plume of smoke tailed behind the concussive mine as it plunged down into the ocean.
“Hey!” cried Tracer, over the channel. “Now that’s not necessary!”
“Preventing Widowmaker from escaping is necessary,” said Pharah. She fired again while talking. Tracer pulled the plane sideways. It didn’t shake this time. “Surrender, or I will disable the ship.”
“Ugggh, but I don’t want to do this. Especially not over her !” But as Tracer pulled them level, a certain glint came to her eye. “I’m really good at this, you know.”
“So am I.” Pharah fired again. The projectile at a different velocity. Tracer’s eyes went wide. She waited for the incoming fire to almost brush the ship’s underside, before peeling away. The rocket exploded in the air near the ship’s vanishing wing. The cabin shook.
“That was a helix rocket ,” said Tracer, affronted. “Fine, if that’s how we’re doing this.”
Tracer threw her seat back. The ocean beneath them fell away. The plane began to climb. Amélie found herself pressed into her seat. Despite the cabin’s natural pressurization, they climbed too quickly and at too sharp an angle. It felt like a boot on her chest.
It should have killed their engine. Somehow, it didn’t. Tracer grit her teeth. The glare of the sun flooded the windshield. She put on speed. Still, despite their climbing altitude, despite the lack of visibility, a little blinking icon on the viewscreen told them Pharah followed them closely, hot on their left wing.
“How many fuel cells does she even have,” gasped Tracer. “All right, all right, I’ll work with this--”
Just as suddenly as she’d initiated the climb, she cut the power in the engines. The plane fell backwards, then downwards, plunging nose first back towards the sea.
Amélie’s stomach lurched. Amélie’s vision swam. The cabin adjusted, but only barely. Amélie saw darkness at the corners of her vision as the rolling waters came up at them. Their pursuer followed suit. No hesitation, despite having little more than a power armor to shield her. Together they fell, and fell, and fell. As the water took up the entirety of the screen, Amélie was distantly aware of the red dot disappearing from their sensors -- Pharah pulling out from the dive. It seemed even only her insanity could take her so far, but Tracer’s insanity kept her fully in the dive.
In the pilot’s seat, Tracer sat very still. Amélie wondered, in that split second, if the ship happened to have amphibious capabilities.
Tracer snapped alive again and jammed the controls. The ship knifed sideways. Water splashed across nose but they shot forward. Behind them, Pharah righted herself. She did it quickly, but Tracer had already gained miles between them, and it was all Pharah could to hover unevenly above the waves.
“You stayed with me for awhile there,” said Tracer, over the channel, as they left Gibraltar behind. “That was pretty good...”
“Thank you,” said Pharah, meaning it. Her voice faded in and out. They were already almost out of range of the ship’s onboard wi-fi connection. “But you don’t have to coddle me. I wish you wouldn’t do this.”
“Sorry,” said Tracer. “Can’t explain right now. Yell at me all you want when I get back, all right?”
“I--” started Pharah, but by then they were over open ocean, and the connection slipped away not unlike a falling wave.
“Whew,” said Tracer, fixing her goggles. “Well, that just happened.”
She guided the plane up above the cloud levels, and pulled up a map to chart the course. Amélie offered up the coordinates. Tracer didn’t question where she’d gotten them, which confirmed something Amélie hadn’t even thought to ask.
“Congratulations,” she said, as her destination appeared on the map, “you have absconded with a known terrorist.”
Tracer groaned and waved in annoyance. “Not you, too,” she said. “Don’t mistake me, if it’d been my choice I’d have turned you over to the UN for a trial. You should get at least that much.”
“You could,” said Amélie. “There isn’t much I could do to stop you.”
“You could stop trying to bait me to score a solo seat,” Tracer shot back. “Doubt you’ll know how to fly this thing past the Russian Federation’s radar.”
“That would be a waste of effort,” said Amélie. “It’s more I find it peculiar, in all your heroics, you have decided I am the one who requires rescuing.”
“I didn’t decide on anything,” said Tracer, “and if you want to thank anyone, thank Master Zenyatta. He’s the one who asked me to give you the lift.”
Amélie fell silent. Tracer went in for the kill.
“Figured if anyone gets a say in what happens to you, it’s the Shambali,” said Tracer. “Couldn’t say no to that.”
“He isn’t doing this to be kind.”
“No,” agreed Tracer, with surprising ease, “he said he’s doing it to be fair.”
Amélie sighed and leaned back in her seat. Omnic logic at its finest.
“So we are to be companions,” she said, distantly. “I suppose this suits the master’s idea of justice. Tell me, have you packed me a lunch for our little trip?”
“If you mean your gear, that’s in the back,” said Tracer, “but you don’t get to pick it up until we land. ETA’s about three hours, so you’re staying right where you are.”
“I’m hurt. Are we not in this together?”
“Sure we are,” said Tracer, “but you don’t have the best track record with your coworkers!”
“How cold,” said Amélie. “You are less of an idiot than I expected.”
Skies over Novosibirsk
They made it in under the Federation’s sensors, relying mostly on flying dangerously close to the treeline.
(“Most sensors are calibrated for a higher altitude,” explained Tracer. “We’re hard to pick up here.” “Would that be because we’re more likely to hit a tree?” commented Amélie.)
But, buzzing of tree tops aside, the first leg of the journey was surprisingly uneventful. They watched civilization fall away as they crossed the blockade and into the abandoned airspace of the towns and cities evacuated during the second crisis. They flew close enough that Amélie could make out the abandoned cars parked sideways on the old roads.
“My tin soldier,” she murmured, “is this what you saw?”
“What’s that?” asked Tracer.
“Nothing,’ said Amélie, as five red dots blared alive on the screen to their left. Tracer’s eyes went wide, she jerked sideways on the control. The cabin tilted, then rumbled.
Something jagged flew across the front viewscreen-- silver and blue, with a streak of blazing red from its sensors. A mile away it swung around.
“...and thaaaat’s a Rook,” said Tracer. “I didn’t think they made those anymore.”
‘They’ didn’t, but the omniums did. Rooks were a holdover from the omnic crisis: automated aerial missile launchers made originally to fight the wars no one wanted to fight anymore. Five of them bore down on them in the present. The omnium had done some upgrades. The Rooks in all the old news feeds were blocky with squared wings. These were sleek and spiny. Their sensors swiveled to lock on as they turned.
“And does the Freedom 45 have working weapons?” asked Amélie, out of pure curiousity.
Tracer answered by cutting the engine, letting one of the Rooks overshoot her, and blasting a spray of pulse lasers into its belly. It fell in in a cloud of smoke.
“That answer your question?”
“Yes, thank you.”
The remaining Rook’s split off and came at them from both sides. Tracer dove to escape the initial spray, but there was no escaping a strafe on both sides, and the shields took a drumming. Tracer veered sideways, forcing the two on their left to break off. The two on the right veered with them.
“‘Course it’s easy to turn like a dream when you don’t have to worry about blacking out,” Tracer grit out, as she pulled the Freedom 45 into another loop. This one turned them upside down and face to face with one of their pursuers. The Rook fired, so did Tracer. Her shot broke its sensor and, blinded, it floundered until a follow-up shot ripped through a wing. It fell. One of the three remaining Rooks rolled over them and emptied a clip into the shields on their dorsal side. Tracer tried to move them clear, but it shattered on a second glancing round. The cabin shook with real feeling now. Warning lights screamed alive on the console. A burst from engine got them clear from the following pincer strike, but just barely.
“...Need those back up,” muttered Tracer. “That’ll take time and I can’t take it through with me. Might be able to outrun them.”
“Do we have the power for that?” asked Amélie.
The Rooks were closer to their charging station than they were. The Rooks had backup nestled in hangars throughout Russia’s surrendered territory. The Rooks were currently hot on their tails, paying no mind to Tracer’s elaborate zigs and zags. Their sensors cut through clouds. They didn’t fear getting too close to the treeline. They didn’t fear the sun… Tracer got one of them to slam themselves into an old administration building.
Amélie undid the straps on her chair.
“Where is my gear?”
“Eh? Wait, you’re not seriously thinking--”
The cockpit shuddered.
“My gear,” repeated Amélie. The Rooks came at them head-on. Tracer fired a shot into their shields and used to burst of smoke to dive under their bellies. When they steadied, Amélie got up from her seat. Tracer sighed and released a switch. A hatch opened in the back of the cockpit. Bracing herself against the wall of the cockpit, Amélie retrieved her grapple and her rifle.
“Open the hatch,” said Amélie, stabbing the business end of her hook into the metal floor next to the loading hatch, “and hold us steady.”
“What? You’re not -- that’ll cause us some serious drag--”
Amélie wound the cable around her ankle. “Then it’s good I will make this quick. Give me some distance.”
Still no shields. Tracer zagged under an old freeway and picked up altitude. She held the wings level as they climbed. The Rooks veered away from the raised highway and looped around. It gave them some space.
“You’ll get bashed up in the landing gear,” warned Tracer. “I don’t want you to die.”
Amélie activated her visor. The world became red. “I’ve made worse shots.”
Tracer sighed and opened the hatch. Amélie fell backwards through the gap before it finished opening, bracing one of her enforced heels against the frame. The cold hit her instantly, stealing her breath. The wind tore at her hair and stung her cheeks. It’d been so long since she’d felt it this strongly, but Widowmaker jammed her rifle against her shoulder and focused.
She didn’t have to ask them to show. The Rooks were right there, a beautiful, blooming target weaving in her vision. It wasn’t a clear shot. She had to adjust to take into account the tail of her own craft, and despite Tracer’s steadiness, the craft jittered up and down in the wind and under the drag of the deployed gear. Widowmaker pressed her knee to the underside of the craft. Widowmaker ignored the dizzying sensation of her very warm blood rushing to her head. Widowmaker held her breath, watched her power level, listened to the little click of her systems, and waited for the left Rook to weave to the right and--
Her shot tore through its forward sensors and tore off its forward plating. The omnic rolled over in the air and veered violently, more than enough time for a half-power secondary shot to catch it through the power cell. It died in a horrible bloom of smoke.
As though displaying some attachment to its compatriot, the second Rook poured power into its backwards engines, folded its wings, and blasted forward at a startling acceleration. Widowmaker’s next shot tailed off in a useless line through the clouds. Tracer pulled sideways. The wind and the movement slammed Widowmaker sideways. She threw a leg to stop herself from being dashed fully against the carriage. The omnic screamed under them, close enough Widowmaker could make out the serial number painted across its dorsal side, and feel the blazing heat from its engines.
And, as it happened, deliver a full power shot straight through the core processor -- just behind the sensor.
The sparks singed her hair. The smoke caused her to gag. Tracer pulled up the landing gear, which pulled her clear as the omnic ploughed into the treeline. Widowmaker smelled burnt wire. She rolled onto her back, drawing in a deep aching breath as her vision filled with red. Her systems, reviewing the information, recording the exact time of her kill, uploading for future traning reference. Target eliminated.
“Such a shot--” she gasped, “Did you see?”
Uploaded and saved, answered the system. Magnificent, my dear. That last one was so clean, I doubt they felt a thing.
“I felt something,” said Amélie, reaching despite herself. She could almost feel the memory of his hand pressed to hers. Smooth, hard, but so warm. The way he’d held them after the show. December 9th. Sleeping Beauty. That wretchedly cold night…
Did you? He asked, his sensors flicking curiously. The men and women at stage door gave them a wide berth. She found she laughed despite herself. She brushed soot out of her hair, it became snow by the time it reached the ground.
“How warm it was when it died,” she said. “Such a beast you married. How could you ever stand me?”
He laughed, the way he did that evening, and laid his coat over her shoulders. The temperature had dropped after the sun had gone down. She’d left her own coat back at the apartment.
My dear, I could never bear to be parted from you. That is why I’m here now, isn’t it?
“That is a terrible way to put it,” murmured Amélie, squeezing at the memory of his hand. “My beautiful fool--”
“Er,” said Tracer.
The lights of the cockpit had gone dim. The pilot was crouched over her with a medical kit. Amélie clutched at her hand. She let it go, and pulled herself into a crouch.
“Have we landed?” asked Amélie. Her visor deactivated.
“Mm,” said Tracer, in assent. The viewscreens all showed the ruins of the city's old central square. “You’re, um. Here, right?”
“If you are asking if I am having a psychotic break, the answer is no.” Amélie applied the medical kit to the burns on her cheeks and hands. Surface injuries. The sting went out of them almost instantly. “Hm?”
Tracer was still crouched across from her, transfixed. She jolted out of it with some irritation.
“I’ll get the hatch,” said Tracer. “Got some rations in the overhead. If you want to, um…”
She waved her hand in the vague direction of the mentioned hatch. This time she didn’t stop Amélie as she turned to rummage through it.
“You are wondering what Talon did to me,” said Amélie, shouldering one of the bags. “You are thinking, ‘Ah, so they did brainwash her…’”
“I’m not thinking anything!” said Tracer, shoving her pistols back into their holsters. She threw on an overcoat over her light bomber jacket. Amélie handed her the other bag.
“You are a terrible liar,” said Amélie, shrugging into her own coat, “but because you returned my weapons to me, I will let you in on a little secret: There was no brainwashing. I was trained as an assassin since age eight. I worked under orders, not some magical compulsion. Amélie Lacroix was as much an alias as Widowmaker.”
That, it seemed, broke through Tracer’s awkward resolve. She went red and confused.
“But then what was that just now, with the visor, and--”
She opened and closed her hand, then, quickly, dropped it to her hip to effect something like boldness as she stumbled down the ramp and out into the Russian winter.
“Incentive,” said Amélie, following. “They asked me to retrieve the remnants of my husband’s memory drive. He had information Talon wanted. Some of the data mined from those files was used to create my targeting system. My visor's OS. The interface offered some… rewards, for success.”
“Rewards,” Tracer’s eyes went big, “You mean they were holding his memory drive hostage, to keep you killing for them--”
“They offered me treats like a dog,” said Amélie, talking over her, “but thank you, your interpretation is much more romantic.”
With the slow collapse of the Russian Federation in the first half of the 2000s, many cities ran out of money, and their public institutions shuttered. Novosibirsk was one of those cities. The Novosibirsk Opera and Ballet Theatre was one of those institutions, until a wealthy international corporation offered to buy the building off of the ailing local government, bring it up to modern standards, and reopen it for the general public.
No one asked what the Omnica Corporation did in the basement.
Still, it was all for nothing. For all the care the Omnica Corporation had taken into the building’s restoration, in showing its ‘commitment to the arts,’ Novosibirsk’s historic theater now lay half collapsed -- a casualty of the Omnic Crisis its patron had so kindly unleashed on the general populace.
Post-Crisis, Russia reclaimed many of the cities wrecked in the war, but Novosibirsk hadn’t been one of them. Amélie stepped over the remains of shattered columns and wrecked Bastions. She found a dead omnic in crumbling box office. From positioning of his injuries and the old weapon in his hand, he’d shot himself. Tracer covered her mouth as they passed him.
“If you would like to bury him, by all means do so,” said Amélie, “but I will go on alone.”
“I…” Tracer looked torn. “Damn. Feels like we ought to do something for them.”
“Then acknowledge their existence,” said Amélie. “It is all we can do.”
“Acknowledge their…” Tracer blinked to return to Amélie’s side. “So they are people to you.”
“Of course they are people,” said Amélie. “Your point? Some of Talon’s targets have been human, too. Believe me, sentience was no obstacle to our mission.”
“And just what was that ?”
“Oh, don’t get all vague and French on me now,” said Tracer. “Seems to me, Talon always just wanted to end the world.”
“A doomsday cult.” Amélie couldn’t help but laugh. “Is that what you think we were?”
“If that’s not it, then enlighten me!”
Amélie’s built in GPS told them they were close to the location. Tracer’s own GPS confirmed it, but the stairways in the antechamber were blocked by rubble. They pressed on, mindful of the rubble beneath their feet. The ceiling was not as much of an issue: anything that could have collapsed had done so many years ago. Sunlight filtered through the gaps, glinting off the old broken glass that had once held the posters, and the display costumes.
For a moment, Amélie thought she saw an omnic loitering near the old coatroom, a flower clutched in his armored hand.
Amélie stopped herself before she reached for it. She knew it was just a trick of the light.
“The omnics made a convenient target,” said Amélie, “but Talon existed for Overwatch’s benefit.”
“ Overwatch ?” Tracer danced over the broken glass, reappearing in front of Amélie with her arms crossed. “You know, if you keep up this smug and cryptic act, I’m going to assume you’re just making all this up as you go along.”
“Believe what you will, but it is exactly as I said,” said Amélie. “Our organizations were once one and the same.”
“Now you’re really putting me on.”
“But since we are in a place that starred fairytale heroes, allow me to share with you my own....”
“What, Swan Lake? Which, by the way, totally had tickets for it--”
“Better than that one,” said Amélie. “The story of the fall of Overwatch…”
Chapter 5: qui vivra verra
Widowmaker recounts the last days of Overwatch.
Gabriel Reyes survives until he doesn't.
(See the end of the chapter for notes.)
The target was a former Green Beret who was honorably discharged from service 15 years ago. He spent five years after that as an actor. He spent ten years after that drinking and running guns across both oceans. Widowmaker killed him with a shot through the head as his taxi passed through an underpass at 2 a.m on a Monday morning. Law enforcement would never trace it to her -- it would soon be attributed to the personal weapon he always kept on him -- but, over the course of the investigation, it would come out that Overwatch had been observing him through his laptop. The media firestorm would soon consume everything.
Widowmaker could not have cared less about what she had set in motion. She left the scene, returned to her hotel, sat back, and waited for the memory of someone rearranging toiletries in the hotel restroom.
Kill confirmed. Uploaded and saved, said her visor’s OS. And though a moving vehicle!
“Hmph. It wasn’t hard,” said Widowmaker, feeling the remnants of her heart stir in her breast. “He had a big head.”
My dear, you must let me flatter you shamelessly some of the time. Passionfruit Punch. My, what does that taste like, you think?”
“Soap,” said Amélie Lacroix. She had barely the time to even smile before someone fired a shot through her hotel window.
They were ten years away from her in skill. The shot cleared the glass, but only passed through her shoulder, not her head. It continued on and shattered the opposite wall. The impact felt more like a punch. Widowmaker was always slow to bleed. Ignoring her body trying to tell her she should feel some pain, she rolled off the bed as the second shot tore through the mattress. She grabbed her equipment and dashed for the door. Footsteps a floor down. Many of them. She made for the roof, slapping a med pack onto her cold arm.
She got three rooftops down before the shadow bore down on her. A blast smashed half of her headset and threw her down through the skylight of what was Guatemala City’s better known art galleries.
“McCree, watch the skies,” said Gabriel Reyes into his comm link. He stepped carelessly on the broken glass as he marched towards her prone form. She curled her legs under herself, ready for anything. He threw down his shotgun and pulled a fresh one out of his coat. He grabbed her by the shoulder and lifted her up.
“Why is it always museums when it comes to you?” murmured Widowmaker.
“Don’t know, don’t care,” said Reyes, holding the gun to her head. In the depths of his hood, his eyes blazed. "This is for Ana."
“It’s true, you know,” she said, as he ground his palm into her wound. “Everything.”
He glared at her from the shadows of his hood. At that time, he was very much alive.
“Isn’t that pretty,” he said. “Is that what you told Gérard before you plugged him in the head?”
They pulled glass out of her back. They stuck biotics in her injured shoulder. They removed the implants from her wrists, her ankles, her temples. They raised her body temperature to encourage blood flow to the damaged region. They did all this while she hung from a harness made originally for omnics in need of repair. It was terribly uncomfortable, but it made it easiest for them to inspect the damage. When the repairs were done, they stabbed a needle into her foot and began to cool her down again.
“Yikes,” said Liao. “You really took some damage this time around. Gabriel Reyes isn’t a joke, huh? They don’t call him the ‘Reaper’ for nothing, except for the part where you came out of this alive.”
Widowmaker opened her eyes.
Liao’s appearance had changed in the last couple of years. This wasn’t actually a terrible surprise. Liao was what Overwatch classed as an ‘oddity’ -- an individual born with a genetic condition that left the cells terribly unstable. When Widowmaker had first encountered Liao, he’d been a gentleman in a striped suit and a low, tight ponytail--
(“Now hang on there,” said Tracer. “Liao was the Director of Overwatch!”
“And the Chairman of the Lijiang Foundation,” said Amélie. “Your point?”
“AND the, what, director of Talon? You’re not expecting me to believe they were a double agent!“
“No,” said Widowmaker. “I’m asking you to believe that for them, it was all the same job.”)
These days, Liao chose to look like a young girl with a pair of side-braids pinned in an elaborate bun.
“...And so did he,” said Liao. “Funny how your audio went out when he clipped you.”
Widowmaker stared blankly at Liao. She wasn’t much in the mood for banter.
“You do some catching up?”
Widowmaker sighed. Liao walked to the corner of the room, where the drones were hard at work fixing Widowmaker’s implants. Liao picked up Widowmaker’s damaged headset. Widowmaker leaned against the harness then, her hands curling into loose fists. Liao held up the set, examining the damaged section.
“Oh, he got you good,” said Liao. “Y’know, it’s fine. We can fix it right up. Actually, we can do you one better. Up the input and the targeting system, give you a more direct line -- it would respond, of course, to high performance!”
“I told him nothing he didn’t already suspect,” said Widowmaker, “and nothing you weren’t ready to let him hear.”
“Bingo! You’re really good at this spy thing, Amélie,” said Liao, putting the headset down. “Always were. Yeah, Gabe’s becoming a real pain in the ass. These stubborn, old veterans, yanno? I mean, I guess I’m one of them, but it’s nice to stay young and fresh, huh.”
Liao chose that moment to pat themself on one fresh, plump cheek.
“You don’t mind that he has survived.”
“Not really,” said Liao. “Actually, it’s probably better that he has. I’ve got something interesting in mind for him. You, too, while we’re at it. Don’t worry. We’ll make those upgrades. One scrubbed mission doesn’t wreck a lifetime of optimal service.”
Liao put the headset down. Widowmaker eased back in her harness.
“And anyway, the world needs villains,” said Liao. “How else do we get the heroes to do their thing?”
(“Now that’s rubbish.”
“If only. Liao ordered me to kill my husband.”
“Gérard noticed it first,” continued Amélie. “He was hunting for Talon’s financiers. Its donors. The companies that provided them with their weapons and their warehouse space. Cut them their pursestrings, he reasoned. He noticed certain irregularities. Most of the organizations that donated to Talon’s interests were shells. He asked me for information about the persons involved with these organizations. The Lijiang Foundation was one of them. A technology concern, with an interest in aeronautics--”
“Don’t have to tell me twice,” said Tracer. “Lijiang techs designed the variant fighter for my test program.”
“And how did that work out for you?”
Tracer didn’t answer.)
In a hotel in Budapest, Gabriel Reyes turned on a shower and waited. It was a cheap hotel, and, consequently, a cheap bathroom, with barely three feet between the showerhead and the sink. Reyes leaned against the sink. He didn’t step in. It would have been awkward, he was still fully dressed. He folded his arm and watched the water fall. The mirror steamed up. A minute later, the phone rang. Reyes didn’t move.
Two minutes later, someone buzzed his door.
“Room service,” sang a voice, cutting through the echo off the tiles. Drone, not an omnic, from the pre-recorded crackle. A hotel like this was too cheap to keep omnics on staff. Reyes shut off the water. It soaked through the thick fabric of his parka.
“Just a sec,” he said, pulling a towel off the rack.
He cracked open the bathroom door. He hung the towel out ahead of him.
The rifle blast shattered the window, ripped through the towel, and punched a hole straight through the 3D printed framework of the opposite wall. Two operatives in beige fatigues kicked down the door to his room. Reyes grabbed the first and let him take the bullet from the sniper’s second shot. He pushed him into the first, dropped, sweep kicked them both, and availed himself on the now gaping hole in his hotel window. There was a ten foot gap between buildings. Reyes only stumbled a bit on the opposite rooftop as he cleared it. He found the very startled rifleman wedged behind the golden arch of Budapest’s saddest McDonald’s.
“Amateur,” said Reyes.
The rifleman fumbled for a knife. Reyes threw him off the roof. He had a strong feeling the silver sail shuttle peeling off the airways above wasn’t with the news. He threw himself after the unfortunate rifleman, grabbing a rain gutter on his way down.
Taking the alleyway at a run, he pulled out his phone. The abandoned quarter of Old Budapest rose up around him in all the pristine dilapidation it had stayed in since the Omnic Crisis. Footsteps to the right. Footsteps above. He was far from alone.
“McCree,” he called. “Coming in hot. Some cover fire would be great right about now.”
Nothing. A nearby recycling bin exploded. Reyes used the smoke to duck through a really alarmed restaurant. He walked through the kitchen and out the back. He stepped sideways as he passed under the door and pressed himself to the wall.
“McCree.” He tried again. “Some cover?”
He tried again. “ McCree --”
Cut off. His next call went straight to an automated voicemail service.
“Couldn’t even put in your two Goddamn weeks' notice,” sighed Reyes, cornered in the alleyway and, now, entirely alone. Someone charged through the restaurant back door with a machine gun. Reyes fired his shotgun into their back before they could turn around and spot him. He stepped over their body and moved on. A sunsail hummed overhead. Reyes tracked the shadow of it with his eyes and ducked under an awning before it opened fire. A shuttered cafe. Out of business.
Nothing for it then. He had one more number that might get through.
“I’m at a meeting,” said Strike Commander Morrison, his voice tight with a glacial fury. “You’ve got some nerve calling me while I’m at a summit.”
“Nice of you to pick up,” noted Reyes.
“Don’t have much of a choice,” snapped Morrison. “Half of the international intelligence community is looking for you.”
Three men chose that moment to drop down on him from the roof above. Reyes sighed and smacked one of them into the door. He rolled behind the other two and disarmed them with a crack of his elbow.
“That wouldn’t be the half that’s got five hits on me now, right?” Reyes bent down next to the groaning men. “Damn, Jack. Didn’t know you had it in you.”
“That might have more to do with you leaking your existence to the press.”
He fished out a clip of ammo and some smartphones. It’d be something.
“Would you believe me if I said I’m going somewhere with this?” Knife wasn’t bad.
“I don’t have to believe a damn thing you say,” said Morrison. “My job right now is to clean up your mess.”
“How the tables turn,” laughed Reyes. He stepped out from under the awning. A second later, the sunsail dipped low in the street. A rocket barrage blew out the glass behind Reyes. He ran, fire at his heels. He threw a smokebomb to mask his escape. “So. Are you bugged, or are you just keeping me on the line for old time’s sake?”
“What do you take me for?”
Height, he needed height. Reyes swung around a corner, found the nearest dumpster, and rappelled up onto the roof. Why the hell were 1970’s architecture so goddamn stubby?!
“Bleeding heart,” said Reyes, as the wind hit his face. He kept low, out of the line of sight. He sat down and reloaded his shotgun. He could hear the sunsail closing in. He wouldn’t have long. “You remember that time you got an e-mail from someone called Minerva?”
“Line’s clean on my end,” said Reyes. “You remember that time she told you how to win a war?”
“Turn yourself in, Reyes.”
“You remember,” said Reyes, “who didn’t think you were crazy. You remember who said, ‘Fine, yeah, let’s go take a trip to a fucking omnium core.’”
“What’s your point.”
“If that ever meant something to you,” said Reyes, “do the same for me now .”
He stood up, vaulted over the railway, and down onto the sail itself.
Two slugs took out its engines. One more took out the pilot. It veered, sail crumpling against the side of the building. Reyes jumped clear, but barely. The explosion singed his hood a fair bit. Pieces of concrete littered the street around him. The abandoned cafe awning fell on him, blocking out the sky.
Somehow, Jack was still on the line.
“Found something big,” said Reyes, coughing on the debris. “Something bigger than either of us.”
“Fine. What is it?”
“Not here. No time, and line’s not that clean,” said Reyes. “Meet me on neutral ground, alone, and I’ll tell you everything.”
“You turning yourself in?”
“Meet me on neutral ground,” repeated Reyes. “Just us, and if the answer’s not ‘yes,’ you won’t ever hear from me again.”
A long, considering silence. Reyes used the pause to dig himself out from under the awning. He used a knife to cut the plastics off his face.
“I fly out to Watchpoint Geneva tomorrow morning,” said Morrison, as Reyes heard the hum of the next wave clearing the business district. “Think you can reach it by then?”
“Think I’ve come through on tighter schedules,” said Reyes, reloading.
“I’ll see you there,” said Morrison. He had that rumble in his voice, like he was about to say more, but at that moment a shot from a sniper ripped through the phone in Reyes’ hand. The screen shattered in a flash. Reyes dropped it and fled.
Up on the rooftop, Widowmaker lowered her rifle and watched the man vanish like a shadow into the smoking streets.
“Target lost,” she murmured, blankly, and withdrew.
“Now you’re really having me on,” said Tracer. “Those two hated each other.”
They stood together in the orchestra pit. What was left of it, anyway. Many years ago, someone had flown an old shuttle straight through the roof of the theater. The ruins cast a shadow across what had once been the stage. A curtain tangled in the ship’s old engines like a spiderweb. Whoever had landed the shuttle had not died with it, however. The stage was littered with old signs of a makeshift camp -- and, more to the point, someone had carved a hole in the remains of the stage itself.
One which Amélie’s GPS told her would lead them straight to what they wanted.
“True, by then they were bitter political enemies, but they fought the same war,” said Amélie, dropping a stone down the hole, to test the drop, “and they both disliked the one they were fighting at present. The Strike Commander agreed to hear about what Gabriel had found, but with the lines of communication so compromised, it would only be safe to speak in person. So they chose Switzerland, the traditional neutral party. They both went to Watchpoint Geneva ready to hear one another out.”
“And they both died there,” said Tracer.
“The news never mentioned the bomb residue they found in the foundation, did they?”
“I…” Tracer slouched. “Well, shit.”
“They had both long outlived their usefulness,” said Amélie. “The idea that they could reconcile was too tricky a proposition. It was time to move on to the next project.”
“I don’t know,” said Amélie. “Do you think Talon trusted me with all their secrets? Did Overwatch trust you with all of theirs?”
On the far side of the pit, she found an old cable still anchored to a block of concrete. The metal was rusted and stiff, but a sharp kick told her it was still largely secure. Behind her, Tracer said nothing, just kicked a chunk of rubble and sighed, stretching one arm over her head.
“I’m really supposed buy all this?” she asked, finally. “That Overwatch and Talon were working for the same people. That someone… the UN, Liao, whatever, let the Strike Commander and Blackwatch Commander take the fall for it?”
“You’re not obligated to do anything from here-on out,” said Amélie. She reached into her hair and pulled out an object. She held it out.
“What’s that?” asked Tracer, warily.
An earring. A tiny stud Amélie had kept glued to the inside of her headgear.
“My end of the bargain,” said Amélie. “The locations of all Talon installments that I am aware of. A list of active agents. Recruitment facilities.”
Tracer stared at the earring. She didn’t move.
“And now you hesitate. What for?” asked Amélie. “This information would be of great use to you and your organization. Unless, of course, you are having second thoughts about that organization. I would hardly blame you. I am rather familiar with doubt, of late, and the secret you have learned is one that brought your precious Strike Commander to his knees.”
Tracer took the earring and shoved it into the pocket of her coat.
“You think I’ve never doubted anything in my life?” she asked. Then, after a second, she crouched next to the cable and swung her legs over the side. “How far down does this thing go, you think?”
“At least a storey,” said Amélie, eyebrows raised, “but I wasn’t aware you intended to make the trip.”
“I promised Master Zenyatta I’d get you to the omnium,” said Tracer. “We’re not there yet.”
Amélie started to say something -- in a half second backwards, Tracer was standing beside her, finger held up in a shushing motion.
“And I wouldn’t be an agent worth my stripes if I didn’t see this through to the end,” said Tracer. “This place we’re standing in, it’s where the original strike team landed, right? Not about to come to a place like this and turn tail, no matter how ugly it gets.”
“No matter how…”
But Tracer offered no clarification. Tracer just laughed and clapped Amélie on the shoulder. As though they were friends. As though the story Amélie had told her was just fun around the campfire.
“No matter what Overwatch was, I know what it is now,” said Tracer. “We’ll never be what we used to be, and you know what? If all you’re telling me is true? That’s just fine. We help people who need it, and right now you need it, and I’m not about to quit. The world needs more heroes, doesn’t it?”
Amélie stared. “Just like that?”
“Just like that,” said Tracer, who was never really one to waste her time. She cracked a flare from her pack and dropped it down the pit. The opera house’s cellar came into stark view below. “Lead the way.”
If Overwatch are action figures for us to play with, today the part of Liao will be played by a figurine of Mei from FMA, because I lost the Ling Yao figurine I used in Last Days.
Chapter 6: la vie en rose
Widowmaker reaches the omnium core. Widowmaker takes her leave.
She said: "...and if Julie had decided to swing her elbow any closer to my face, I think I would have been required to shove it up her ass."
He said: "Marry me."
Amélie stopped. They were riding the metro together after the show. He wore one of his more monstrous suits. She was sweating like a dog in the slightly older cowl neck she'd taken to wearing after shows. The train stopped at their station. She asked him if he was joking.
"A joke?" Gérard considered. "No, I think I am quite serious. It would be in quite poor taste otherwise."
"You're wearing a purple checked suit."
A bell sang. The doors opened. It was a busy station. Humans and omnics piled out together onto the platform, though no humans stood as close to the other omnics as she stood to Gérard, arm around his so she wouldn't lose him in the crowd. How easily they moved together in a press. The world fell away from them. Some of it was that they walked with great purpose. Some of it was the double takes tourists always did to see them.
"That is not poor, it is exuberant ," said Gérard, "but I am quite serious. Have I ever toyed with you?"
"Have I ever toyed with you in a way you have not thoroughly enjoyed?"
"Hm." Amélie admitted he had a point. "But, as with all things with you, I must ask... how would that even WORK?"
It was easier to question, to needle, as they picked their way to the second platform and their transfer. It was so much easier to laugh him off and not answer her phone. The one that reminded her of calls from the director -- who would want everyone in early in the morning for notes on last night’s show -- and her handler -- who would want an update on on her long term target.
"The way we have managed all things, my sweet peach," said Gérard. "It cannot possibly be nearly as difficult as you are thinking. We have figured out the hard part, like living together, and sex. Unless, of course, that is not to your liking. In which case, you must be aware I am obligated to die on the spot, for I have shown you the greatest dishonor."
"The sex is fine, you overdramatic toaster," said Amélie, rolling her eyes as she watched for their train, "but is it even legal?"
"The way we do it?" said Gerard, delightedly. "Oh, probably not."
"I mean marriage," said Amélie.
"Not strictly," said Gérard, "but, you know, omnics have a Certificate of Title. Like a car, you see."
The train came.
"It is currently deeded to my employer," continued Gérard, "but, if you would like something official, I could have it transferred to you."
Amélie stood very still as the train car came to a halt in front of her. The bell rang. People pushed past her going in and out, but Amélie could not, for the moment, find the will to move.
"You have thought about this," she said, at a distance.
The train doors shut with her still on the platform. The train pulled away into the tunnel. They were alone. He didn't seem to mind he'd missed it, sensors flickering as brightly as ever in the half-dark of the station.
"There is no point to doing anything if you cannot commit to it fully," he said.
"You are an idiot," she said.
"I love you," he said, simply.
The lights vanished in the tunnel. The tunnel stretched on -- oh, did it stretch on. She could hear the clicking of the train mechanisms. She could hear the water in the pipes above them. She could hear the sweet hum of Gérard's processes as he pressed his hand into hers more firmly. He'd never let it go.
"Enough to give yourself to me?"
"Isn't that what humans do every day?"
"Yes, and they're idiots," she said, as the lights got dimmer.
"But they choose to be idiots," he said, with a flare of his sensors.
"And you were a bigger one," said Amélie, "to give something like that to someone like me."
And, then, Amélie had her back to the wall in a dripping supply tunnel, and the only curved metal in her hand belonged to her rifle, jammed against her chest. She touched her visor. The warmth faded.
"Target eliminated," she murmured, as the old OR unit slumped across the rails.
She had a show that evening. She put on sweats and did her stretches by the window, while Gérard worked on the wrecked remains of his left hand. At first she ignored the sounds of automated tools and screeching metal, but, when he made a particularly mechanical hum, she looked up.
“Does it hurt?” she asked, pulling herself into a cross-legged position on her mat.
“Very much,” answered Gérard, with a surprising lack of passion in his voice. The remnants of his old hand, which he’d smashed in a duel with a former Null Sector juggernaut, lay detached on his lap. “I am recalibrating the sensory input. At the moment it has not quite passed my security clearances. I’m receiving a number of error messages warning me about a foreign presence in my systems. They’re triggering a sensory cue demanding that I remove the offending hardware.”
He showed her the new hand, which looked very like his old one -- long spidery fingers, silver plating, brass joints, but untwisted and unstained by the juggernaut’s lasers.
Amélie tilted her head.
“It is the equivalent of a nail being driven into the back of one’s brain,” he explained. He reached for the screwdriver on their tea table. He plunged it into the exposed circuits, twisting it twice. Then, his sensors refocused. “But it hurts less than the error messages from the original appendage. And there. A reboot is all it needs. I’ve wiped the previous owner data and it’s asking me to re-register it under my systems.”
“Old owner data,” said Amélie. Here she pulled herself to her feet. “I thought you’d asked Overwatch for a new one?”
“It is new,” said Gérard, running the new appendage through its motor tests, which necessitated tapping his fingers in swift succession on the table, “New to me, that is. Ah, I’ve asked a lot of them, my dear Amélie. I’m not a common model these days. I can’t imagine what a pain it must have been for them to locate the appropriate parts…”
But he saw the way she was looking at him, eyebrow raised, and, for once, he stopped talking.
“Gérard,” she said, her voice caught in some strange place between curiosity, confusion, and bare disgust, “I did not know omnics could be cannibals.”
“I promise you the unit it came from likely didn’t need it anymore,” said Gérard. “Overwatch and the Guild did their best to salvage the parts from units that were killed during the Crisis.”
“My mistake,” said Amélie, “I did not know omnics could be grave robbers.”
He laughed. Amélie marveled, not for the first time, at how Gérard chose to do that. He never replayed a stock soundbite, simply put his voice modulator through the process fresh, every time. This time though, the sound fell oddly flat. It sounded like a tablet’s boot sequence. She frowned.
“I suppose there is a bit more paperwork behind human donations of this nature,” allowed Gérard. He was running through the second stage of motor tests, curling his hand open and shut. “But I’m afraid for us we have very little choice in the matter. Our bodies may be more durable than an organic system, but we lack your self-repair abilities, and your rather magnificent method of replenishing your population. Humans are responsible for their own production line. Ours, sadly, have always been limited.”
“That is the most robotic way I think you ever could have said that,” said Amélie.
“Forgive me,” said Gérard, “I have my inflections turned off to speed up my re-initialization. Would you prefer I reactivate them?”
“It’s fine,” said Amélie, pulling a seat up beside him. It was morning, but the sun had passed out of their apartment complex’s courtyard. The room filled with shadows. “You’re talking about the omniums, aren’t you?”
“What else, my dearest?” said Gérard, picking up the ball of clay he’d left out for the third stage of his motor tests: pressure calibration. “To put it in plain terms, this replacement should require me to make a request from my manufacturers, but my manufacturers are, alas, no longer in business. It comes from a little thing like going to war with humanity. Now, what happens to other machines in this position-- like a coffee machine? You find a part from a similar model, or you take them to the scrapyard.”
He squeezed the lump of clay to pieces. His sensors dimmed in a sequence Amélie knew was his equivalent of a frown.
“You see,” he said, and rolled it back together into one piece with the same hand. “We omnics do have our limits.”
Amélie watched the motion almost in a daze. With the protective panels stripped from his wrist, she could see every interaction between his joints.
“Does it bother you, Amélie?”
“Yes,” she said, distantly.
“Ah,” said Gérard, softly. It snapped Amélie out of her spell. She brought her hand down next to his on the table. It made a louder sound than she meant. It echoed in the room, as it would a long underground tunnel.
“Not to that ,” she said, scowling, “What is it to me who you cut up for spare parts? I mean to the question you asked me the other day. Yes.”
And, for lack of any other options, she grabbed his hand.
“Yes,” she said fiercely, before he could remark on it. “Yes.”
And, in the present, Amélie held her hand out in the empty air, as she watched the single eye of the sentry ahead of her shatter in a splash of red sparks.
“I will,” she murmured, slouching to her knee in the waterway. “I will, Gérard.”
Tracer rematerialized beside her.
“Oy,” she said, and here completely, the parlor in the morning faded away. “You all right?”
“Does it really matter?” murmured Widowmaker.
“Um, yes?” said Tracer, “Kind of. I am here to help you.”
“That’s right,” said Amélie, her mind returning with the rest of her. She was vaguely aware of hands on her shoulder, helping her back to her feet. Tracer handed her a med pack. Amélie didn’t really need it, she’d only suffered a light strafe on her shoulder, but, at some insistence, she took it to shut the other woman up.
“They’ve really got this place under guard,” said Tracer, marveling at the two sentries, now slouched on either side of the next gate. It was the eighth of sixteen, the locations of which had been reproduced in the 3D map provided by Athena, along with the data to open each of them, remote installed into the drive they inserted at each point. Tracer confirmed the number when she checked the serial code printed on the open frame, while Amélie slid down along a wall, clutching her rifle to her chest as she let her head clunk back against the metal paneling.
“This is nothing,” said Amélie, “They’ve left these halls untouched for years. These are just remnants. Old models. They are completely out of date.”
Tracer threw up her hands and sprawled out next to her, stretching the stiffness out of her calves with an audible crack of her joints.
“Whatever they are, they’re still making us work for it,” she said. She offered Amélie an energy bar. When Amélie didn’t take it, she shoved it into her hand. “Come on, you need that. You really alright?”
“I’m functional,” said Amélie, allowing at least one moment of prim propriety before tearing the wrapper. It tasted like fake cherries.
“Didn’t answer the question,” sang Tracer. She tore open her own bar with her teeth, eating it messily in about two gulps. “Mmf. But if this is nothing, why leave it like that? Especially if that’s how the original Strike Team got in in the first place. You’d think they’d have it locked down .”
“I imagine at some point they did,” said Amélie, “but thirty years is a long time. Especially for a machine. Look at how tight these halls are. You could barely pass a bullet train through them, let alone an army. What human would be so foolish to take the risk without one?”
“Commander Morrison and Commander Reyes?”
“More to the point,” said Amélie. “Why would they do it when their enemy has upgraded so thoroughly?”
“A few sentries and some extra gates.”
“Not that,” said Amélie. “Don't you hear it?
Tracer paused. In that silence, she could hear it. A distant rumble, like a train passing below. Despite its loudness, it was easy to dismiss it as ambient noise, so deep underground.
Except the rumbling never stopped, as though the train was just too huge to pass in a single hour.
Except it had gone on so deep and for so long that they had both put it out of their minds.
“It’s not a train,” said Amélie, answering the expression on her companion’s face. “It’s them .”
Tracer bent down and put her head against the ground. Her face went pale. She mouthed a rude word.
“Engines,” she said, “OR units, artillery, transport. Must be… I can’t even count them. How would they get them this far? They built another tunnel under this one?”
“Thirtyyears,” Amélie reminder her.
“Sounds like a whole army under there.”
“Yes,” said Amélie. “So, isn’t it a good thing we are doing this quietly?”
It was a to-do. Amélie was used to far more uncomfortable costumes, but this dress was the strangest she’d ever worn. She’d tried it on many times, had selected the material, the lace, the long sleeves that ended in elegant gloves. She’d had it tailored here and there for maximum movement, but still in this moment it pulled her shoulders and pinched at her hips. Nevertheless, she stood poised, waiting for the proverbial curtain to rise. She held her head and her gaze high, ignoring how she could feel the outline of every single pin in her elaborately woven braid.
“Oh, come now,” murmured the woman the beside her, who gave her arm a gentle squeeze, “you make this look like an execution.”
“If you are ordering me to smile, Captain Amari, I will step on your foot,” said Amélie. This was no idle threat, her heels gave her three inches of height and were quite sharp. The older woman grinned.
“No, nothing like that,” she said. Amélie, at that moment, envied her for her dress uniform, if not the medals that winked on her lapel as she turned: shining proof of the number of omnics and humans she had killed over the course of her career. Ana Amari did not seem too bothered by them at the moment. The captain glanced out down the aisles, and whatever she saw as she did gave her considerable delight. She laughed as she added, “But, ah, if you could see what I see just now…”
Amélie looked. There, descending the steps at the far end of the hall, Gérard in some suit made of metallic blue and gold. It reflected the lights of the chandelier. It looked like it could also reflect bullets. He’d had a little electric flower made of white LED’s placed in the lapel. Amélie wanted to roll her eyes, but she found all at once seeing him there strolling along as though this were all in good fun had left her eyes suddenly sore and stinging, and her throat was all at once very thick. Perhaps she had a cold.
Ana Amari’s arm was no longer just there to tease her. When had she lost her balance?
“Ah,” said the older woman, “there is something to be said for all this, isn’t there?”
“The metallics really were a bit much,” said Amélie, as Géard took her hands. His hands were hot like a laptop and more than welcome against the glare of the lights above.
“I chose them to reflect your beauty,” said Gérard, in all sincerity.
“Ugh,” said Amélie. “Cancel the reception. I’ve changed my mind.”
But she didn’t let go of his hands. When the music faded, and the Captain asked for the their attention, they both turned her way. The lurching Eradicator in the hall ahead of her gave a metallic gasp and slouched in a gurgle of oil. Tracer lowered her pistols. Widowmaker shouldered her rifle and stuck the drive into the slot. She waited for the hum.
“Thanks for softening ‘em up for me,” said Tracer, but her smile froze as she saw her companion’s face. “Oh, blast, are you--’
“Target eliminated,” said Widowmaker, pulling the drive clear. “I’m fine .”
The eleventh gate opened with a grinding whine. Amélie removed the drive and stepped through. She didn’t bother to wipe her face. It would be dry again soon enough.
“My dear,” said Gérard, and she felt the memory of his hand along her jaw like a brand. could still hear the sound of his fans rattling violently in his chassis. “You know I love excess, but perhaps--”
“I am overdoing it?” she asked, eyebrows arching. She remembered reaching between them to run her fingertips along the sensors of his palm, before she curled them into a fist in the sheets next to his head. Her hair fell around them like an inky black curtain. An end to all things. If only they’d both known then... “This is too much for you? Of all things?”
“Never,” said Gerard, as his hand slid down her neck, “but I think your friend is worried.”
The hall began to angle downwards, until the gates became divided by old lifts, each of questionable functionality. Amélie smashed the butt of her rifle into the sputtering sentries face and kicked them down the deactivated shoot. She grappled after it, landing and driving her heel into its faceplate to determine it was truly deactivated. She became suddenly very aware of how she looked, her hair ragged from exertion, breathing deeply as she removed her reinforced boot from the dead omnic’s faceplate.
“Um,” said Tracer. “Do you want to take a break?”
“Don’t lecture me,” said Amélie.
Oh, Amélie , said the memory, Let her fuss a little.
“I doubt the Captain would feel the same about me now,” muttered Amélie. But, to Tracer, she said, “...Yes, let’s rest.”
So they made camp at the bottom of the lift.
It wasn’t as hard as they might’ve expected, as someone ahead of them had clearly had the same idea. When they’d settled, it became clear why this particular section of the hall was broken. There’d been a fight here, some time ago. The body of an old B54 unit lay crumpled in tank configuration close to the next gate. The walls were potted with cannon fire. Some strong enough to punch holes in the reinforcements. It’d obviously never been fully repaired. Over time water had pooled into one of the craters in the floor, but their predecessors had done more than tear up the room. They’d left numerous empty packs and equipment littering the floor, along with a makeshift barricade to give them cover against any roving sentries.
They’d also left most of their old equipment, along with something like a shrine.
“Oh,” said Tracer, dashing to it. “Oh, is that…”
“I doubt it could be anything else.”
This was a point of no return. The ones who’d come before them had recognized it. They’d known the slim likelihood they’d emerge alive, let alone come this way again. And, to that end, they’d left what could have easily been the last evidence of their existence: their dogtags, nailed into the wall on a bolt from a nailgun, along with some messages carved into the wall with a laser point. They were written in multiple languages: Arabic, Chinese, German, Swedish, two in English. Amélie’s translation programs told her what they all said.
‘To my daughter, my heart -- this future I give to you’
‘Where we go we go together, we’ll all be one again in time.’
‘I shall march with my friends in the next life.’
‘if you’re reading this it was worth it.’
And, simply: ‘Hell of a drop up ahead.’
Reading this last one, Amélie ran her hand over it and sighed.
“Really, Gabriel, you could be so… much,” she muttered, but she relayed the information to Tracer. “The Captain’s idea, I imagine. She could be quite sentimental.”
“Dunno,” said Tracer, kneeling by the tags. She picked out one in particular, thumbing it. Despite the rust and the dirt, she could still make out what it said. “Commander Morrison sure believed in people.”
“I wonder if he might have said the same thing,” said Amélie, “if he knew that they would be fighting for thirty more years.”
“I think so.” Tracer rehung the tag with some reverence.
“There are many things to make a man bitter.”
Tracer stood and turned on a whirl of her leg, hands on her hips. “There’s still a world to fight for, isn’t there?”
“Optimism again.” Amélie turned to salvage what looked like an old crockpot.
“Well, why not?” said Tracer, following her.
“Because you still don’t know why I want to go to the omnium,” Amélie pointed out. “You have come all this way on the word of a mad omnic of questionable intent.”
“Master Zenyatta’s a good person,” said Tracer, “and I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t want to be.”
The battery on the machine was long dead, but the guts were flammable enough. They managed to kindle and cover a low flame, which provided some warmth and rations that didn’t just consist of energy bars and dried fruit. Instant noodles were surprisingly nourishing, for all they tasted like the chemicals which preserved them.
Tracer finished her own bowl with two or three messy gulps and only the barest use of her chopsticks. When she was done, she set the bowl back in the pack and watched Amélie eat as though it was the most interesting thing in the world. Amélie sighed and rested her bowl on her knees.
“You could ask,” said Amélie.
“Would you tell me even if I did?”
“I could,” said Amélie. “I could also lie.”
“There you go,” said Tracer, flopping back along one of the old weapon’s cases that had likely belonged to Torbjorn Lindholm’s cache of portable artillery. “I know, I know, next you’ll tell me you could be going down there to mess around with it, or take control of it.”
“Did you travel through time to learn that?”
Tracer snorted as she downed another gulp of water. “No, it’s just what you’ve been doing the whole way here. Besides, like you said before, anyone who wants to go to war with the omnium needs to bring an army. If you’re going it alone, doubt it’s for that. If you were planning to bomb the thing like the Aussies did, you’d need waaaay more equipment. I know a thing or two about explosives.”
She said that with a bit of a grin, offering the water bottle over. Amélie surprised herself by taking it.
“I believe that,” said Amélie. “My, but you have thought this through.”
“I know you’re trying to insult me, but thanks.”
“You are leaving out one possibility, though,” said Amélie. “Perhaps I am here because I expect to die.”
Amélie had thought these words might have some effect on Tracer, but Tracer only scoffed, folding her hands behind her head and stretching out a little more over the weapon’s case.
“That would be super French,” said Tracer, “but you don’t seem the type to work this hard on something like that.”
“So why do you think I am here?”
“Dunno,” said Tracer. “Think it’s got something to do with something Master Zenyatta told you. Think it’s also got something to do with making things right.”
Amélie narrowed her eyes. “I will never join Overwatch.”
“Fine by me.”
“I will never be your friend.”
“Boy, wouldn’t that be something?”
“And yet you have convinced yourself of some ‘good intent’ on my part. Why?”
“Because I want to believe in people,” said Tracer, “even you. It’s worth it to take a chance on people. Commander Morrison thought so, and I do, too.”
“Your Commander was betrayed by the organization he gave his life for.”
“You mentioned,” said Tracer, “but all I take from that is that we’ll just have to make sure to build something better this time.”
“So stubborn!” Amélie went back to her rations. Tracer seemed content to let her finish, taking the time to doze on her makeshift pillow, one hand rested on her holster. Amélie crossed the room, filling one of the canteens in the water which pooled at the bottom. The water itself was filled with rust and silt, but the filters would do for it soon enough. She made a point of dipping her bowl as well.
When Amélie finished, she slipped both the canteen and the bowl in the pack, Tracer slipped off the case and woke herself up. She scrambled into a seated position, fumbling for a pistol. She aimed it with great certainty at a dent in the opposite wall. Then she saw Amélie bent over her, swore, and reholstered the gun.
She would have been dead a few times over, if there’d been an attack.
“Remarkable,” said Amélie, straightening. “You can sleep knowing I’m here.”
“Eh, wossat?” said Tracer, blearily. A few blinks brought her back though. “Oh. That . Well. Like I said before, not the type to waste time on something like that. You’d have had plenty of tidier ways to bump me off.”
She rubbed her head and fixed her goggles. It was so blithe that Amélie felt almost moved to say something about it.
Instead she replaced her visor and said, “It is just as well. He wasn’t actually asleep when I killed him.”
Tracer said nothing. She lingered over the wall and the dogtags, she held her hand up to them visibly weighing whether to take them with her, but she thought better of it and let her hand drop, consigning them to the older era from which they’d come.
“He knew I was a double agent when he married me, you know,” said Amélie, when Tracer had finished having her private moment with her long departed mentor.
Tracer asked, carefully, “Did he?”
“Yes,” said Amélie, taking one of the packs. “He told me before he died.”
Tracer made a face like she’d swallowed a bug, but she mastered herself, chasing after Amélie as she set out along the next stretch of hall -- first in a skip, then blinking to jog ahead of her, running backwards to see her face. “Did command know?”
“He never told them.”
“Even though he married you?”
“But… that… why?”
“A good question. I asked him just that. I thought perhaps he must have been as mad as you were thinking,” said Amélie, “but he said he loved the way I moved.”
“That’s…” Tracer tried to form the words with a colorful hand gesture and failed. “...All right, but did you love him?”
Of all the questions to actually...
“Yes,” said Amélie, without a moment of hesitation at all. She was deep beneath the earth, in an omnium construction tunnel with a sworn enemy, and she had no reason to lie about this. “Yes, yes, a thousand times over, and I don’t know which of us was the greater fool.”
At the thirteenth gate, they were on a date and he asked her to show him how to dance. She’d had an extra glass of wine, and he had refused to sleep with her with a decency she found both infuriating and attractive in one.
“Oh, you,” she said, truly put out. “Can’t you just download a sequence?”
“I could,” he said, “and I have, but I should very much like to learn it from you.”
“Fine,” said Amélie, shoving herself belligerently out of her chair. She showed him where to put his hands. She showed him how to move his feet. It didn’t take long before he moved with her through a few basic steps. A little while after that, he dipped her with perfect grace.
“You liar,” said Amélie, laughing, “You did download it.”
“Oh, no, not at all,” he said, excitedly, nose to faceplate with her. “I think I may be a natural!”
He pulled her up into a perfect spin. Widowmaker twirled and pulled Tracer clear of a blast from another OR unit. It took another shot to down it.
At the fourteenth gate, they were at an expensive party, and he took her out onto the balcony to get some air. She noticed a silly sign across the ways. When she could read it to him, he’d remarked on her eyesight.
“I should hope it’s good,” she said, “I rather need it in my other job.”
“Prima ballerina,” asked Gerard.
“I’m strictly chorus and you know it,” said Amélie, “I mean the one where I am a trained assassin. You are my mark. Did you know that?”
He laughed. He always laughed when she said that. Of course, a waiter came to ask them if they wanted more drinks. Of course, Gérard grabbed this waiter’s hand to remove both the tray of glasses and the pulse bomb he had been about to detonate.
The wine ended up all over her dress and his suit, but the day was saved.
“Ah, my dear,” he said, staring at the red stain as the rest of the authorities led the downed terrorist away for questioning, “You got me!”
She’d cocked her finger like a gun. She sent a rifle blast through the lense of a turret mounted on the wall.
“We’re clear,” she said to Tracer. They activated the gate and moved on.
At the fifteenth gate, she was in a hotel room in Marseilles.
She’d been there for some time. In fact, it was beginning to feel as though she’d never left. He’d asked for a last dance, and she’d acquiesced. She’d have given him anything then, even her own life in his stead, but he hadn’t been interested in trivial things such as that. Now she lay beside him sideways on the hotel bed, holding his hand until it had gone completely cold.
“It has been 2:03 for seven minutes,’ said the omnic beside her. “You allowed yourself no hesitation then, but here you linger. What binds you to this place?”
Amélie lifted her head from the oil-stained sheets.
“...How rude,” she said. “I thought your file deleted itself.”
The Shambali master’s nine sensors pulsed in answer.
“But the memory lingers,” said Tekhartha Zenyatta. He remained on the bed, arms extended like a broken toy, wearing a stained suit that he never owned. Of course it wasn’t his suit. Of course he had never been dead. He had never been here. This Zenyatta was only a tourist, enjoying one last laugh at her expense. “Our minds do not end with our bodies.”
“You said this already,” said Amélie.
“But while the human body has endless capacity,” said Zenyatta, “ours have their limits. If we could house the whole of who we are in simply one form, we would be endlessly hungry, and endlessly weak. So your being is stored in chemicals and electromagnetic pulses, ours is stored in code and in chips. While each of you remain a universe in one body, there is no local server that could support the whole of what each of us truly is. Not without placing strain on our cores, and leaving us so limited we would never have been allowed to live.”
“Why here?” asked Amélie. “Why now?”
“And so our existence is transient,” said Zenyatta, “for how else could we each of us fit without it?”
“Why would you help me? After everything I’ve done? I’ve never promised you redemption. I never promised you anything.”
But, occupying the memory of an omnic who could no longer move, Zenyatta simply repeated with his merciless understanding: “Our minds do not end with our bodies. Though who we were in this moment, and this lifetime will vanish the moment you destroy us, there is nothing that is wholly erased, and nothing that goes unmade. Discord and harmony are a part of the same cycle. All are one in the Iris. Do you know why?”
“The omnic cloud,” said Amélie, softly. “The server that supported all your remote data. You die, but you never truly die. You are reborn through the omniums, which never truly deactivated. None of them. The world would panic if they knew, and you just told me, your enemy, as though I of all people could be trusted with this information! As though I have ever been anything but a pretty puppet, dancing for my latest master--”
“True self is without form,” said Zenyatta. The cold hotel room fell away. Amélie lay on her side, staring at her smouldering rifle, blood down half her face and alone.
Except not entirely.
She heard the sharp crack of pistol fire. She heard a loud thud. Tracer turned her over, checking her pulse before remembering that wasn’t the best monitor to go by. She fumbled, grabbing her chin and practically jamming the health pack between Amélie’s lips. The warmth came back to her.
“Ah,” said Amélie, gasping slightly. Tracer put a hand on her back, offering faint support as Amélie levered herself up into a seated position. “Sloppy of me.”
“That all you’ve got to say?!”
Tracer pulled her hand away.
“We’re clear,” she said, “in case you were wondering. This is the last one, right?”
“The last one before the core,” confirmed Amélie. She stood and reached for the drive, but she swayed. Tracer materialized between her and the floor, propping her up.
“Sorry,” said Tracer. “Want another pack?”
“Save them,” said Amélie, stumbling forward. “I’m just a little lightheaded.”
But Tracer kept her arm around her waist while she inserted the drive. The light above the gate turned blue. The doors open, not with the groaning reluctance, but a smooth hum. They were better kept, this close to the core.
The hallway filled with light. Blue, liquid light, emitted from a thousand hovering screens. Cool air hissed past them. Of course it was cool, with all that machinery going, it took thousands of fans to keep it cool enough to function. Those fans beat like a heart, stirring up a wind that managed to stir Amélie’s ponytail, sending it tailing behind her like a flag.
She tilted towards it on instinct, but her foot stopped short of the door. It was a good thing she did. Her toe kicked a piece of omnic armor past the threshold.
It vanished instantly over the edge. They didn’t hear it hit any kind of ground. It was, as it turned, ‘one hell of a drop.’
“Woah,” said Tracer. “Commander Reyes wasn’t kidding.”
“I never knew him to joke.”
“What? No, he was...” but Tracer found she couldn’t complete the thought. She was too stuck on what lay ahead, beyond the gate.
The omnium didn’t look like anything built by man, not anymore. Maybe, once upon a time, the walls and the support structures were more noticeable, the light technology that carried the parts to their designated stations more limited, more emblazoned with logos, but, in thirty years, the omnium had clearly made a few of its own design choices. Now, everything was made of sleek white fiberglass, the light streams flowed like water in a circular fashion, carrying the pieces to various junctions up and down the walls of what amounted to a massive cavity, which extended far above their platform and far below. Below, they spiralled like a great eye, moving up and down towards the bright blue pupil that made up the core itself. Above was where the real work happened: pieces floated upwards to a series of hovering platforms, where three Titans were at present having their limbs attached to their core. Each was curled like a child in midair, swarms of blue and white drones attending to their construction.
Tracer rubbed her head bashfully.
“You know,” she admitted, the light reflecting in her eyes, “all the things I’ve heard about these places, never thought they’d be beautiful.”
From this distance, even the army of half constructed Rooks looked like little winking stars.
“Life is always the most sublime at its beginning and end,” said Amélie.
“Did you really just say that?” Tracer asked, incredulously. “Nevermind. So, which platform are we going for? You’ve got your hook, right? How do you want to do this?”
She really meant it. Amélie sighed, letting her weight fall against her a bit more, as though her leg couldn’t really hold her.
“Hey,” said Tracer. “Hey, you sure you don’t want another pack?”
“You are so sweet,” murmured Amélie. “You really would do this for me, even after everything I’ve done. I really believe you would follow me to the very end. What is it you are so fond of saying? The world needs heroes?”
“All right, we’re getting some more medicine into you.” Tracer started fumbling for her packs.
Amélie grabbed her hand midway. The other, she rested on the agent’s shoulder, letting herself lean against her, marveling for the first time in a long time how warm humans could be, even if they had nothing on omnics.
“Liberty Leading the People,” she whispered.
“Farewell.” Amélie set off the venom mine next to Tracer’s ear.
Tracer staggered, coughing. It took a second. Amélie stepped back the opposite direction. Amélie watched her, watched this hero who wanted so badly to believe good in all things, committed the image to memory and then, on the next second, threw herself backwards over the edge, into the omnium. Tracer looked up, recovered. She surged after her, eyes wide in horror and alarm, reaching desperately, but Amélie was not yet ready to simply swan dive into the void. She took aim with her sparking rifle as she fell, firing off one last guttering shot--
Not at Tracer, who zipped backwards to avoid the blast.
But at the gate’s security lock, which was hung directly above her head.
The energy pulse buried into it, triggering its shut down mode. It was, naturally, a perfect shot.
Tracer landed, sliding backwards. She realized, much too late. she’d fallen for the same old trick, and shoved herself forward again, trying one more time for the edge...
The gates closed half a second sooner, leaving her alone in the hall.
A few things happened at once after that:
1) Tracer screamed and kicked the door.
“ARGH! Why, why would you do that! Why do you always do that?!”
The omnium groaned. The rubble around her danced along the ground. Tracer glanced up, swallowed a sob, and dashed away.
2) Amélie shut her eyes as she felt the cool omnium air rush through her hair.
She deployed her grapple and hooked it to a floating arm. She pulled herself into the light.
3) Tracer rushed back through the gates. She could hear the gnashing of the omnics beneath her, but she just put on speed and turned the clock forward.
4) Amélie leapt onto a moving platform. She took it at a run. The omnium was distracted, assessing this foreign presence, lost in its calculations, but who knew for how long. Around her, idle drones stirred. Their blue sensors winked on. Some zipped towards the wall from whence she’d come, but some began to follow her movement, swimming through the light like curious sharks on the prowl.
5) Tracer cleared the Strike Team’s basecamp, tucking in for a moment to chug some water and wait for a reset. It came two seconds before the old B54 unit came back alive with a shuddering groan. By then, Tracer was long gone. She had time on her side. She always had time on her side.
6) Some of the half finished Rooks deployed their wings, their weapons systems ringing in their initialization process. Amélie grappled to the next platform, keeping the body of the unborn Titan between them as her visor picked out the row of consoles hooked into the wall, fifty feet below. She dove.
7) Tracer rushed past the eighth gate as steam began to blow through the vents. She rushed past the seventh as lasers sparked through the outer wall. The rumbling came from in the hall now. She reached over her shoulder and shot the security lock herself. It slammed shut after her.
8) Amélie pulled herself up along the console, stabbing her heels into wall to keep herself steady. If she fell, she’d fall for miles. She ran a hand along the console, found the slot, slipped the external drive out of her visor, and stabbed it in.
The drones began to swarm.
“Client Amélie Lacroix,” she said, to the screen which snapped alive in front of her. Data scrolled in omnicode. She couldn’t read a word of it. She shut her eyes, and tried: “Record 24601. Please recall.”
“Verified. Enter Title and Unit Number.”
9) Third gate, fourth gate. An upgraded B56 unit launched a shell. Tracer shot the second gate before she reached it, blinking through crack and letting the Bastion slam into it with a sick crunch of metal.
10) “Title Certificate 2042-A Type S,” said Amélie. The drones were closing in. She didn’t need to check her visor for the records. She knew this one by heart. “Unit GR-346.”
Data scrolled. This, she almost understood. Operating specs. Internal specs. Memory capacity. Weapon capabilities. Combat specs. Speed. Ammo. Compatibility with tank units. Forward scout. Observation.
“My tin soldier,” marveled Amélie. One of the drones fired, she twisted. The pulse burned the wall next to her hip. She braced her knee to keep from swinging out of control. No more time for memories. “Unit shell is damaged. Activate recall procedure.”
“Insert production code.”
“LI334AT1ON,” said Amélie.
A drone struck her in the shoulder. Amélie fell a foot, but hung on.
“Really,” she grit out. “One of these.”
A drone cut her line, and Amélie snarled, reached viciously for empty air, and fell.
11) Tracer scrambled up the cable. The opera house was a flaming mess. The omnium had recognized the entrance, knew it had to be plugged up. With any luck, they hadn’t found her ship. She took off as the curtains fell in flames, holding a medpack in her teeth to avoid gagging on the smoke…
Somehow, in the firestorm the Freedom unit had survived intact, the omnics had focused fire on the NYDUS entrance. Tracer made it up the landing carriage, which answered her voice command as the lasers rained down. A piece of falling debris seared her ankle, but she called the ramp shut. Sucking another med pack, she threw herself into the pilot seat.
“Emergency takeoff,” she called. “Now.”
The engines roared. Tracer tore free.
13) Amélie caught one of the light streams twenty feet down. She swung herself onto a mess of omnic jumper cables.. She used the last gasps of her rifle to take down the drones that followed her, but the sound alerted more to her presence.
She tried to guess the upload rate. Tried to dispatch the drones with a wild swing from the rifle itself. It would be 25%... 35%... she rolled onto the nearest platform. 56%. The omnium walls shifted. 62%? The eye opened. Or was it 60%? Damn! She lost count as the buzzing got louder.
She jumped from the cables as the Rooks opened fire. She hit the next platform and leapt again. The rifle was too heavy. She threw it aside. Some of the drones followed it, respecting the mechanical over the organic, but for every four that peeled away, eight more closed in. A shot glanced across her head -- but, no, it buried itself in her visor instead. Amélie screamed as her vision blurred, and lenses shattered and fell in pieces behind her, but there was nothing for it -- not at this stage, not when she was so close.
The next platform pitched, and Amélie threw herself off. So she was to die before she saw it through. So what, so what, she would give none of them the satisfaction of taking her life. She’d go cursing into their stupid core, perhaps she’d give them some difficulty in that way. Perhaps her body would be tricky to clean up. Perhaps they’d choke on it.
She fell seven feet before rebounding off a light globe. It threw her back into the wall. The impact winded her. She should’ve fallen from there plunging the rest of the way into the eye, but something caught her around the waist and pulled her near.
“92.6%” The voice above her was cold and mechanical, but the arm around her was warm. “Oh, my. Do I know you?”
She pressed her head against the omnic’s hard chassis and sighed. If she was to have nothing left in this life, at least there would be this.
“There you are, you silly thing,” she said, laughing as the drones circled in, “I’d been wondering where you went.”
The world became light.
Lena Oxton met her client at the Louvre. She was as impatient with the museum’s lines as she was with the metro systems, but she liked the crowds and the museum had seen stranger guests than her. She’d insisted, actually. It seemed right for that moment, and Lena Oxton, if nothing else, lived for moments.
Lena took a brochure off of the visitor’s kiosk under the glass pyramid. She found the omnic in the upper galleries, admiring a 19th century painting that had its own wall. The omnic sat with with his legs crossed and his arms resting on his knees. In his tattered robes and his string of mala, there was no mistaking him for a local. Children peered around corners to have a look at him and parents nudged them along. Lena shoved her brochure into her jacket and flopped down on the bench next to him. She folded her hands and bent her head in a faint bow.
“Hullo,” she said. “Hope I’m not interrupting.”
“Your company is never an imposition,” said Tekhartha Zenyatta, his right three sensors blinking in acknowledgement of his presence. “Nor is the wait,” he added, guessing Lena’s next apology. Lena rubbed the back of her head and blushed.
“...Heck of a line,” she muttered, but the omnic tipped his head gently. She followed his other six sensors to the painting, and she forgot to feel so bashful, “You know, it’s funny. I’ve been here before. Saw all the famous paintings they’ve got. I’ve seen this one, too, but I don’t think I’ve really seen it seen it. Is that weird?”
“Not at all,” said Zenyatta, “One can repeat the same actions, but the experience will always be new. I should think in this you’d be more an expert than I.”
Lena laughed and kicked out her feet. “Guess so,” she said. Then, after a moment of watching the painting, admitted, sheepishly, “I always thought it was a little over the top, myself.”
“It is a very spirited painting,” agreed Zenyatta, “and Gérard Lacroix was a very spirited man.”
“Seems like it,” said Lena. She looked down at her hands. She opened and closed them. It didn’t change anything. “I’m sorry. I couldn’t...”
But Zenyatta held out a hand to stop her. “If there are apologies in order, they should be mine,” said the monk, gently. “I placed a great burden on you, and for my own purpose.”
“Don’t say that,” said Lena, sitting up. “She killed Mondatta. And I couldn’t stop her. If anyone had a say in anything to do with her, it’s you--”
“We are the masters of our own actions,” said Zenyatta, “and you acted on my behalf. I see it is a weight on you, and I fear you will carry it for some time.”
“I don’t regret trying,” said Lena.
“Nevertheless, if it is within my power to lighten the burden. I should like to.”
He offered one of his mala. Lena took it, feeling the warmth. It weighed less than she expected. It chimed like a bell. It offered no great revelations, just a nice hum. She worked it between her hands.
“The passcode worked,” she said, after a minute or so. A minute was a long time for her. Eternity, really. “Widowmaker kept her side of the bargain. We know so much about Talon now. We’ve already stopped three attacks, and we’ll probably manage a few more before they can change things up. She’s probably saved thousands of lives by giving us this intel. I don’t think she thought of it that way. I don’t think that makes up for everyone she’s killed. For Mondatta, or the Captain, or Lacroix, but…”
“Life is not quantifiable in that way.”
“No, it’s not,” agreed Lena. “I’m just... surprised, I guess. That she followed through with it. Don’t even know what she got out of it return. Did I get it wrong? Did I just take her there to die?”
“No,” said Zenyatta. “I do not believe Amélie Lacroix wished for death. If she had, I would not have offered her this journey, nor do I think she would have taken it.”
“Then what was it she wanted? If it wasn’t redemption, and if it wasn’t death, then… what?”
“I have some idea,” said Zenyatta. When Lena stared at him blankly, he leaned over and told her. When he was done, he took the mala from her hand. The glow faded, and Lena remembered to breathe.
“Your belief is the light under which even the most thorny of flowers has bloomed,’ said Zenyatta, “and your actions have always been for the good of all. Do not feel bound to me by your failures. Be freed by your good will, it’s for that I consider you a dear friend.”
“Thank you,” said Lena, blinking rapidly. “I just... Thank you.”
“Let us meet again,” said Zenyatta, “under kinder circumstances.”
He pressed her hand and took his leave, drifting silently from the hall.
Alone on the bench, Lena threw back her head and sighed. A woman in red crossed the hall and sat down beside her.
“Hey, Tiger,” she said.
“Hey, Em,” Lena sniffed and scrubbed at her face, “Sorry I kept you waiting. And about the concert. And..”
“It’s fine,” said Emily, sliding sideways on the bench. She nudged her leg. “Sometimes a girl’s gotta save the world.”
Lena fell against her and pressed her face into her shoulder.
“Hey, Em,” she said, her voice muffled against Emily’s red sweater. “You know I love you right?”
Emily put an arm around her and pulled her closer.
“‘Course I do,” said Emily. “Right back at you.”
Zenyatta’s bodyguard rejoined him outside the Louvre. He had waited in the museum walls, but now that the monk took his leave, so also did his shadow.
“Ah, my student,” said the omnic, as his student joined him on the escalators, “you have gained a retinue.”
He referred, of course, to the line of children hovering about twenty feet behind them. They had followed Zenyatta’s companion all the way to the edge of the glass pyramid, and seemed loathe to abandon such a strange tourist.
“It cannot be helped,” said Genji Shimada, with a sigh. “It seems to be a cyborg ninja is to be too cool for one’s own good.”
“I do agree,” said Zenyatta, and together they left the museum behind, pleasantly blind to the stares they earned as they turned out into more modern streets. “You are extremely cool, but, tell me, why not say hello to your old comrade? I am sure she would have been glad to see you well.”
“Perhaps another time,” said Genji. “She seems a bit preoccupied just now.”
“Hm, I suppose you are right,’ said Zenyatta. “I did place a lot on her shoulders. The journey was as much for her as it was Amélie Lacroix. I can only hope in returning it has granted her some peace.”
“I do not doubt you have, Master. You have done much for me, after all.”
“I only ask questions,” said Zenyatta, “it is you who provides the answer.”
“I beg to differ!” said Genji, with one of his hearty laughs, though he sobered quickly. “But I must admit, I am curious. What do you expect has become of Amélie Lacroix? And how would it bring Oxton some peace?”
“I cannot say with certainty,” said Zenyatta, “but I can imagine, a bit, how it might go."
….in a cafe, in Marseilles behind a line of potted azaleas, a woman waits. The azaleas are a scorching pink, matched only by the pink of her dress. The cafe is attached to a plain hotel, one that has jammed itself in a little street uphill, with a tree that grows up through the slate to cast shade on the surrounding tables. The woman has been there for the better part of the morning. She has grown tired of watching the boats on the harbor, and she taps her leg aggressively. It takes a time, but, after a bit, I believe a man appears at the base of the hill. He gains some stares, for he is an omnic, but he gains more stares for the fact he has chosen to wear a white and blue blazer with a striped scarf around his neck. As he spots the woman, he makes greater pace. Time has returned to him in that instant, and he realizes then that is very late, but his arms are full of an assortment of bags, and it takes him a precious extra minute to stumble up to the cafe gate.
‘Ah, my cabbage,’ he will say, ‘I am sorry, I wasn’t sure what you would like, so I decided to buy it all.’
‘You should be sorry,’ she will say, with a fierce annoyance, but a fiercer love, her black hair swinging behind her free like a banner as she consents to stand and put the bags on the table. ‘You always keep me waiting. I have held off on ordering a dessert just for you. They have a mango parfait bubble tea. It looks sweet enough to make someone sick. I thought you might enjoy watching me drink it.’
And here, she will grip his necktie and tug him through the gate, but, make no mistake, once the bustling is done, she will press his hand to her lips. To him, there is no sweeter kiss, and, though she has her little irritations, they are in of themselves a luxury. For whether or not the memory I have described matches the ones that have come before, there is no other place she would rather be.