Chapter 1: you look good in black
[prelude - 2076]
"Why'd you do it, Gabe?"
"Send those killers to her house."
"Lena, I don't know what you're talking about. Fill me in."
"Why'd you send those idiots after Gérard Lacroix?"
"I didn't! Hell, they weren't even field agents. It never should have happened. Not the way it did, anyway."
"Amélie doesn't know that."
"Amélie should know that, she has the logs. She just doesn't want to."
"Wot? Why not?"
"As long she doesn't know that, there's someone else alive to blame."
"That's shite, Gabriel."
"It is, and you know it. She blames herself. Always has."
"'Course she does, girl. But she also blames me. I was head of Blackwatch, so she's kinda got a point."
The younger assassin just grunted, a "huh" sort of sound.
"Trust me here, having someone else to blame? It helps."
Venom thought about that, for a moment, sizing up Gabriel Reyes through anger-narrowed eyes.
"I'm not so sure it does."
Old Soldiers, Chapter 1: You Look Good in Black
"Gabe!" Lena shouted, running down the stairs towards the former Blackwatch head. "Hi!"
"Lena!" the tall Angelino replied, beaming. "Wow, you look good in black and violet." He picked the younger woman up like a doll, and she giggled. "I still can't believe you pulled this off," he said.
Venom laughed. "Hold on a mo, I'm on Lunar soil." She pressed a set of buttons on her grapple holster, and her clothes went to tangerine, orange, and while. "There we go."
Gabriel Reyes looked over the Overwatch version of Lena Oxton, and considered. "I like the violet better."
"So do I, luv, but - appearances, you know. Does this mean you're in?"
"An Overwatch where I don't have to run black ops? Hell yeah, girl, I'm in! I've been watching you operate, you need someone who can make some plans that work in the field."
"Ah, c'mon mate, we're doin' all right."
"Sometimes, yeah, when you're there calling the shots yourself," he agreed. "But then you look like badly-disguised Talon, and I don't think either of you need that."
"True 'nuff," Tracer smiled. "So you're here to run strategy for Winston?"
"I'm right over here, you know," said the Lunar Ambassador. "It took some talking, but yes, he's in."
"Hi, Winston!" Lena teleported over and gave the gorilla an enthusiastic noogie.
"Hey! Cut it out!" But he still laughed. "You're in a good mood - I take it you have something for me?"
"Here y'go!" She popped a small memory card out of one of her pockets. "Everything we'd hoped for and more."
"Oh, that's great news!" He knew not to ask how she'd got it. "You'll want to see this immediately, Gabe."
"Excellent. And yeah, if that didn't make it obvious, I'm in," said the former Blackwatch head, picking up the card, all smiles... until he wasn't. "But Lena, there are some things you need to know. Amélie too, for that matter." To himself, he thought, Not that I could tell you and not be telling her, even if I wanted to...
Lena looked down at her scientifically-minded friend. "What's this about, then?"
"It's... Jack Morrison," said the ambassador.
"...oh," said the assassin. "Him." She frowned, an unpleasant coldness twisting in her stomach.
"Yeah," said Gabriel, confirming. "Him."
Lena took a long, deep breath. "Right. Let's get the staff together."
[A Lunar embassy conference room, half an hour later]
"I thought Jack was dead," Lena said, anger, nervousness, and some small dismay in her voice. "I thought he died when the UN moved on him, in Geneva."
Gabriel Reyes nodded. "We all thought he was dead. Everyone. When the UN stand-down order came through, I ordered my chain of command to obey it immediately. We knew it was coming, and frankly, we deserved it. I've been owning up to that since it happened."
"Before," Angela noted, charitably.
Reyes looked down at the table in the direction of the doctor for a moment, left whatever he was thinking unsaid, and continued. "Jack, of course, decided he knew better, and I guess we all know how that went down..." He shook his head. "What the hell that man thought he could get by launching a counter-assault, I'll never know."
"He was bound and determined to keep the mission going, no matter what," said Winston. "Maybe it was the statue, maybe it went to his head."
"Yeah, well, it had all come apart by then, he should've figured that out," Gabriel replied. "Public opinion was not on our side."
Mei-Ling Zhou - present in virtual form, at least, from her satellite research laboratory in the north of China - shook her head, looking down. "I can't believe he changed so much. He used to be so nice!"
"And he really just outright refused the stand-down order?" asked Tracer. "I'd read that, but..." She kept tapping the buttons on her grapple, fidgeting. Winston eyed the device nervously, a little worried she might accidentally launch the hook across the room, but kept it to himself.
"Yeah," said the Californian. "Shouted something about the Talon threat and then flat out said no."
"I agree. I evaced my team as soon as I saw where the show was going, and we mostly got out fine. Some of Jack's side of the organisation got out too, but... a lot stayed with him, for whatever reasons." He shook his head. "He always had a knack for putting together a loyal team."
"Yeah," said Tracer, flatly. "Loyal. One direction, anyway."
"Regardless," Reyes carried on, "the UN response was heavy, and his counter was heavier still, but utterly futile. Nobody could've survived the implosion - or so we thought. I sure as hell wouldn't have."
"It's not just a solid pile of rubble, though," Oxton insisted. "There's big sections still intact, deep enough in. Amélie got pretty far down."
Angela contemplated those words. "That was when she retrieved Winston's accelerator, yes? The medical unit near Winston's laboratory... could it have been reached?"
"No idea, luv. She's never mentioned it." Tracer said, nervously.
"Find out, if you could."
"What're you thinking, Angela?" asked Winston.
The researcher and field doctor shook her head. "We had a full compliment of medical supplies there - including ample stocks of regen gel and nanomachines. More than enough for a badly injured man to repair himself, if he knew how."
Mei-Ling looked over to Angela, her expression uncharacteristically severe. "The research unit versions? Do you think maybe he might've..."
"Regardless of how," Reyes interrupted firmly, "there is evidence he's active again. Not openly, but there have been rumours for a couple of years - mostly in Mexico - of a white-haired American soldier vigilante. And I received this yesterday." He threw an image up in the centre of the table - "It's not the best photo in the world, but I'm pretty sure this is him."
The shot, taken in an alley in Dorado three weeks earlier, was from the back, at night, in fog, a bit blurry, and showed a leather-jacketed man, white-haired, with the clips of what could - with a lot of imagination - be a tactical visor showing over the ears. Really, it could've been anyone of that general build - but the way the figure carried himself, that was familiar, and the gun slung over his back - that was unique.
Mei-Ling gasped at the image. «Halla die Walfee,» exclaimed Angela. "I think you may be correct."
"I'm sure you are," Lena said, voice low and quiet. "That's him."
"And if it is," the Angelino said, "given what went down, I'm pretty sure he won't be happy there's an Overwatch not under his command."
"I have to go," Venom said, suddenly again in black and violet. She hit more buttons on her grapple, and talked into her collar. "Widowmaker, message, urgent: Venom heading back immediately. Will brief en route."
"Lena," said Winston, alarmed, "What are you..."
"I owe him," said the Talon assassin, as she strode to the door, old anger drawn across her face. "If he's still alive, I've got a job to do."
"Lena, don't..." called the scientist, but it was too late, she younger woman was already down the corridor. "Athena, raise Amélie, if you can. Route it to my office, I'll be there in a minute. We've got to try to talk Lena down."
"Wow - she didn't used to get that mad that fast," Gabriel said, confused. "Is this about the Slipstream failure? She still torn up about that?"
"Oh yes," said Angela. "She is. Amongst other things."
"For good reasons," Mei said quietly.
"That wasn't even Jack's fault," protested the former Blackwatch head, "Not at all."
"No, it wasn't," agreed Winston. "But not letting me try to save her - that was."
Chapter 2: she'd thought she was okay
[Hover over French dialogue for English translations. Translations are colloquial, not literal.]
Fuck me. What was I thinking? Venom thought, throwing up the throttle on her aircraft. How'd I ever think this could work? Why can't that bastard just stay dead?
A couple of years of therapy and liberal use of the web spread across and through her brain had helped. She didn't wake up screaming any more, at least, not often. But the rage - the rage that still laced through her being like the chronal accelerator which kept her in place in time - hadn't gone anywhere.
I should've known. I shoulda known, she thought, as her craft jumped high towards suborbital space. The old guard had to start showing up. Just bloody had to. And ruin everything.
She'd thought she was okay with Reyes's return. She liked the Angelino, and they needed a strategy expert. Amélie was not exactly thrilled, but then, she wasn't the liaison, and she wasn't going to break the project over it. But this, she thought, this... no. No more. We find him, we kill him, we fix it.
Her thoughts had mostly turned to a stream of comfortingly creative swear words by the time her ship's comms board lit up, with Amélie and Winston both, trying to make contact. She took Amélie's signal at once.
"Cherie, are you..."
"Jack Morrison is alive."
"I've been talking with Winston. I know."
"He doesn't get to stay that way."
The spider hummed a little; Lena could see in her mind the little smile that went with it, and it calmed her just a bit. "I think I agree," the spider said. "Winston does not, yet, but that is not important. Regardless, there are times and places and ways to consider. Please return to base. We should plan."
"Don't worry, sweetie - I'm not flyin' off to Mexico half-cocked. I'm already a third of the way home."
"Good." A moment passed. "I have missed you these last few days."
"I've missed you too, love. How was Calgary?" Calgary, and a minor target. Normally, beneath Talon's radar, but something twigged in the spider's web, and so, off she'd gone.
"Magnificent," replied the spider, warmly. "Not the town, of course, it is provincial in all of the worst ways. But the shot," she continued, voice liquid, "ahh, that was exquisite. I missed you all the more for it."
Venom smiled and relaxed a little more at the tone of her lover's voice. Reunion sex was always good sex, but reunion sex after a kill that made her spider's voice do that? Magnifique, as she would say. "J'ai hâte de t'embrasser encore."
"Très bien, mon bien-aimé," the blue woman replied. "Ton accent s'améliore."
"J'ai étudié beaucoup."
"Ça se voit. C'est merveilleux et je t'aime."
Lena flipped briefly to autopilot, closed her eyes, and breathed. "You're calming me down on purpose, aren't you?"
"Of course. But nothing you've said was wrong. Not even in French."
The younger assassin laughed a little, nodded, then laughed a little more at herself - nods don't make sounds. "Merci." She opened her eyes again, and took the little ship back off automatic. "Love you. Be home soon."
"I'll be waiting. Widowmaker out."
Winston's hail still blinked on the comms pad. Hoo, do I wanna take this? she asked herself. It took a moment. ...yeh, I need to. She punched the acknowledge signal. "Tracer here. Sorry 'bout that, big guy. Got myself into a bit of a race."
On the other side of the signal, Winston slumped in his chair, relieved. He looked over at Angela and Gabriel though the office window, and motioned for them to come in. "It's okay, Lena."
"Nah, it's really not," replied the pilot. "I should've reined myself in, and I didn't. No excuses here, I've got the tools, I didn't use them, it's my fault. I'll do better next time, promise." Gabriel nodded a small silent approval, hearing that.
"Where are you?" asked the Lunar Ambassador.
"Sorry, luv. But nowhere you'd mind."
Heading home, then, he thought. Good. "Our new friend has some more information for you. I'll put it in the expected place."
"Talk to me later?"
"Will do. Tracer out."
"Well," Gabriel said, "at least she owned up to it. That's something."
Winston and Angela both glared at the former Blackwatch lead, but it was Angela who spoke first. "Do. Not. Dare."
Gabriel raised his arms in a shrug. "Hey, I'm not the one who charged out of a staff meeting just because..."
"No," said the doctor. "Do not. This isn't your Overwatch either."
"Whoa, whoa, whoa, doc, this isn't a power play..."
"I know you, Gabriel. Yes, it is."
"No, it's... really not," he insisted. "I'm not a senior officer anymore. I'm done with that."
"Then don't act like one," replied Dr. Ziegler. "You are not her CO, and you are not her father."
"She was already on edge about letting the old guard in at all, other than Angela," Winston said, quietly. "She bought in with you, because she likes you, and she respects you - but I'm the one who really wanted you onboard."
"But Winston, she can't do things like that, not in her position. I'm not a senior officer here, but she is."
"Then tell her that, to her face," said Angela. "Not to us, behind hers. You may say she's a senior officer, but you are not acting like you believe it..." She frowned. "This is not the old Overwatch. Do not bring in its baggage."
Gabriel slowly nodded, and his eyes narrowed. "...damn, doc, you're good. This'll take some serious getting used to, won't it?"
Mercy smiled and let herself look a little smug. "At least you owned up to it."
Gabriel laughed, something he rarely let himself do in the old days, and said, "I deserved that," and the tension drained from the room. "My CO is half my age," he said, rubbing his eyes. "I must be getting old."
Angela chuckled. "She's not really your CO."
"No, but you can't take the Army out of a man. Let me think of her like that for a little while, it'll help."
"As long as it's old Army, and not old Overwatch," insisted Ziegler.
"It is," answered Gabriel, chuckling, and shaking out his arms. "I feel like a First Lieutenant again, showing up, screwing up, getting my ass in trouble... Ana would have a field day if she ever heard me say that."
"Let's not bring up any more unpleasant stories right now," said the doctor.
"Agreed," said Winston, bringing the Morrison dossier up on his displays. "We have enough old soldiers to deal with already."
Chapter 3: A Little Out of Joint in Old Dorado
[All dialogue in chevron quotes is translated from the Spanish.]
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Jack Morrison shook his head, tried to clear it up. Mornings were hard - a lot harder than they used to be, and he didn't know why. He just knew he didn't like it. He'd always been a morning person, even back in the Army.
He did a quick set of forty pushups, quietly, twenty each arm, try to get the ol' blood moving, and it helped. He still felt out of joint, but these days, he always felt a little out of joint. Had ever since the bombing, back in '70. But everybody would feel a little out of joint after that. He didn't even remember how he got out of the complex, but he got out alive - and that's what mattered.
«Morning,» he growled to the small Los Muertos stakeout team in the front room of the small apartment. Araceli waved and Leticia nodded, her combat helmet tipping in his direction as he started some coffee.
«I just made that pot you threw out, gringo», Leticia grunted back at him. «Why you always wasting my good coffee?»
Morrison snorted. «Because I make actual coffee, the kind you drink, not eat.»
«You make tinted water.» She shook her head, but with a little smile. «Americans.»
«Yeah, yeah,» he groused, amicably.
Araceli patted Leticia's shoulder. «Now that the white ghost is awake, I'm taking my turn.»
Leticia nodded. «Get some rest.»
The steamer finished its work, and Morrison drew a cup of the brew. Not bad. Leticia wasn't wrong about it being good coffee. «I'll buy you some more beans later, make up for it. Anything new on our friends outside?»
«Nah, it's all nice and quiet.»
Morrison settled in for the first half of his stakeout shift. He didn't really like working with Los Muertos, but with his history, well, he took what he could get. And Leticia - she had chops. He could respect that. Araceli's just another street rat, no discipline, but Leticia - he could turn her into a proper soldier, if he had time.
«Oh, hey,» she said, «Get out your padd, there's been another show with your old band.»
«What?» growled the former strike commander.
«Something in Vietnam? Maybe in China, I forget. There's pictures this time.»
Morrison almost snarled. «Goddamned Lena Oxton and her so-called Overwatch, what the hell does she think she's doing, pretending to run my organisation...» He found a video taken live on the scene, saving a freighter and crew from a large pirate gang operating around the edges of the south China sea, one armed with a strange new weapon that froze everything it touched. They just want that freeze ray back, they don't give a damn about those sailors...
He watched the video, as the self-proclaimed Overwatch jumped in, with good power, if not in the best of order. Oxton wasn't there, he noted, and the resulting mess lived down to the worst of everything he expected out of a band of wannabe heroes with no god damned sense of discipline. Overwhelming power saved it from being a fiasco, but the sloppiness enraged the soldier, in his mind disgracing the name of Overwatch and everything I built...
«Huh?» said Leticia, startled, looking to her right. «Hey, spooky, where'd you go?»
«I'm right here,» he said from her left, where he just barely stopped himself from punching a hole into the wall.
«Fuck, you can be creepy quiet sometimes, you know that?»
«Part of the training.» He sat back down where he should've been, and shook his head. Discipline, soldier, he thought to himself. One mission at a time.
Leticia sulked at the building down the street. How long can it take to prep a shipment of stolen processors, anyway? Hurry the fuck up and move out so we can steal them back from you, she thought. «We've been here three days! I wish these idiots would get going.»
«Me, too» said Jack Morrison, settling down for another day of hurrying up to wait. «Me, too.»
The sniper round flashed by Jack Morrison's ear, nipping flesh, as he ran zig-zag through the warehouse district. God damn that woman, he thought as blood ran down the side of his face, and he spun around, launching a grenade towards the perch he knew she had to have. His reward was another round by his other ear - but it wasn't a good shot. He'd knocked her down, and that confirmed it.
The shipment had been real. The security had been expected. The sniper waiting for them, though - that had been a surprise.
Sprinting to the left and down an alley, the old soldier charged forward and found Leticia, in a zig-zag run from the other direction. «Spooky?!» she shouted, surprised. «You're still alive!? I thought they got you back in the...»
«No time,» he grunted, wiping the blood from his face with a rag from his pocket. «Join up with me. Where's Ara?»
The street fighter looked confused. «I thought she went with you.»
«Didn't see her.»
«Huh... She must've headed north,» Leticia decided. «Taking the long way home. For us, there's a sewer access two blocks ahead my way, if we can make it.»
Morrison spun around. I really could make her a soldier, he thought, and said, «I shook the sniper out of her nest, we have a window. Let's go.»
They ran, dodging between gates and down tiny side paths. Morrison thought he heard a ricochet, but he couldn't be sure, not completely, not until they could see the access down the end of a narrow walkway, when he looked back just in time to see the glint off a scope. «Get down!» he shouted, and dove behind a skip.
Leticia dove beside him, rolling, aikido-like, to his side, as a bullet ricocheted, grazing her arm. «Jesus! Who the hell is shooting at us? The Maras don't have anybody this good!»
«I'm not sure, but I've got a pretty solid guess. How long will it take to get that door open?» Another round, bounced by the shooter off a wall, whizzed behind them. Given a smoother surface to bounce off of, it would've hit.
«No time at all, I broke the lock when we first got here.»
«Smart. I've made her, and she wants me, you're just collateral damage. I'll lay down suppressing fire, you go for the door. Get it open, get inside, then aim where I was aiming, and I'll dive for it.»
The Los Muertos fighter nodded, and bolted, as Jack sent a flurry of bullets towards the sniper. In a single long, jagged sprint, she reached the access door and threw it open, diving inside, then spun around from the shelter and threw a full clip towards the same spot Jack had sprayed with bullets. A moment later, he was beside her, slamming the door shut as a bullet made a large, angry dent directly in front of her eyes.
«Keep your head down,» he said, smirking, «or lose it.»
«Hooooooooooo...» Leticia breathed out, slowly. «How?»
«There's only one sniper in the world that good,» said the soldier. He bolted the door from the inside and broke the mechanism, wedging it in place, as Leticia motioned down one of the access tunnels.
«If she follows us down here, I have a lot of surprises ready. Keep your hand on the left wall, it's important.»
Morrison shook his head, no. «She wouldn't risk a tunnel. Night vision's not so good since I took one of her eyes.»
«Wait, you know her?» Leticia asked, as she led the way through the foul air.
«We're old friends,» came the soldier's voice from the darkening gloom.
«Some friend,» replied the fighter in the darkness, «trying to kill you.»
A snort from the soldier. «She's been trying to kill me for six years. At this point, I think it's her way of flirting with me.»
«You are messed up, Spooky, you know that?»
«You have no idea.»
The MS-13 grunt poked at the body with her rifle. Los Muertos, she thought, from the arm tattoos. I wonder who? She rolled the corpse over, careful to avoid the blood.
"¡No mames!" she exclaimed. A section of the body - the left side of the head and neck, and part of the shoulder - was simply gone, cut cleanly away, as if sliced neatly off a wax sculpture of a woman.
One of the other guards - Samuel - came over to check the corpse. "¿Qué pedo?"
«Hey, Sam,» asked the grunt. «What kind of gun does this?»
S'funny, someone was just asking after Ana Amari in comments, last chapter... (✿◠‿◠)
Chapter 4: don't you feel better - at least, for now?
The rating on this story has been changed, starting with this chapter; jump to end notes before reading if you want to know why.
I am still not flagging the story as a whole with warnings until it is complete, but I do want to make a point of saying I categorically do not write non-con or underage; those flags will not be set in this story.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Venom lay curled up against Widowmaker, her head on her lover's shoulder, eyes closed. "So glad you're home, love."
Amélie looked down to her lover's hair, sated, for the moment, but not finished, and she tipped her head forward, nuzzling at that spiky hair she knew so well. "I am too, cherie."
She rolled over, rolling Lena over as well, straddling over her wife. Lena squeaked a little in protest - "Aw, I was comfortable!" - but quieted as Amélie brought herself down atop the younger woman, kissing her, gently, holding herself up with one arm as the fingertips of her other hand brushed slowly along her lover's left torso and breast, Lena's body lighting up with blues as her wife's fingers danced along their ways.
Venom gasped a little, returning the kiss, reaching up around Amélie's head and to pull her closer, but Widowmaker pulled back and slid down, tracing down Lena's neck and chest and stomach with her tongue, down to her mons and then further, light following her touch, then head down between her lover's legs, hands now around her hips and thighs, Venom's back arched and Amé pushed her lover back down - can't have you if you flex away from me - Lena's hands weaving through Amélie's hair as she moaned.
Venom wanted, or part of her wanted, to quip about being even more comfortable now, but couldn't, the words lost, the thought lost to what her beautiful blue spider was doing with her amazing blue tongue, until she came, again, shaking with the release, moaning, gasping out, "How do you do that?!" and her spider smiled openly and wide, saying, "You have to be French."
Lena laughed and grabbed a pillow and bopped Amélie with it, crying, "Vive la France!" as her lover rolled away, giggling, this being the only kind of time and the only kind of place where the assassin might openly giggle, alone with her beloved and as safe as she ever might possibly be, warm in her nest with the woman she loved more than anything and anyone else in the world. No rifle, no guns, no mines, no chain - well, not that kind of chain - nothing but each other to hold and adore.
"Y'know," Lena said, as they cuddled back up together. "At some point, we have to get up and get back to the real world."
"I know," said her Amélie. "And it will not be so pleasant as this. But don't you feel better, at least, for now?"
"Yeh," smiled the younger assassin, sleepily. "You?"
"Oh yes," said the senior assassin, again kissing her partner's head. "Much better."
[the next day]
"I think it is important we allow them to take their best shot," said the Widowmaker, sliding the last chair off the wall and into place around the table. They had set up the teleconferencing gear in the practice gym's meeting annex, and were awaiting everyone else's virtual arrivals. "Politically important," she emphasised. The new Overwatch effort may not have been her idea, and she might still consider it dubious over the long term, but she was determined not to contribute to its failure.
The younger assassin did not growl and did not snarl, but the anger that flashed across her face might make someone think she had. Damn, she thought immediately, No. Get a lid on it, Venom! She brought more of the web online, forcing herself to calm. She smiled.
Amélie shook her head. "Please, Lena, don't. Be angry, do not lock this down so far."
Lena looked placidly at her lover, and blinked. "Won't do any good to yell at you, love. And I don't want to ruin last night."
"This is not better. Yell at me," said the older assassin, encouraging her lover with gestures of her hands. "Scream, if you must. We have never had lies, and I do not want to start now - not over someone like him."
Venom lifted the web a little, felt the rage surge, and bit her lip 'till it passed. Careful, she thought. A bit at a time. Another step, and then a third, and then she did in fact scream, drew her pistols, and jinked out to the gym floor, firing as many clips as she could, utterly destroying the "Morrison" practice bot they'd set up earlier, punching at its components hard enough to send machine parts flying across the room.
She hunched atop the remains, panting, and crying. "That's... why."
Amélie walked over, slowly, carefully. "And controlling it directly, as you have been, is fine - in the field. But it is not fine, here. Please. It is safe. Talk to me." She put her hand on the back of Lena's neck, and rubbed the muscles gently.
Venom hung her head, and, slowly, replied, "Nothin' to say that I haven't already. I hate him so much."
"I know. Say it anyway."
"I hate him. Not just for the Slipstream. Not just for that. For everything else, too." The younger assassin flipped over, lying on her back, shoving robot bits aside and staring up from the floor, as her wife sat down next to her, running her hands through her hair. "It's like, it wasn't enough to abandon me after the explosion. It's like, he had to destroy..." She paused.
"Go on," encouraged the spider.
"He had to destroy everybody else, too. It had to be him, or it couldn't be anybody, didn't it? Half of Overwatch died in that fight - I knew those people, we were friends. Hell, I dated a couple of 'em... there'd been this redhead, a flight mechanic named Emily..." She shook her head, no, trying to clear the memory away. "And then Winston was exiled, and Mei abandoned in Antarctica..." Her face went sharp and angry. "Didja know, when he brought on Hana Song, she was fifteen? Fifteen. He made her into a child soldier and nobody even questioned it."
"He hardly had to persuade her," the spider noted.
"Yeh, but he had a responsibility not to. And he did anyway."
The blue assassin agreed, "This life is no place for children," as Sombra's ready light flashed. "It looks like everyone is signing in," she said, as Jesse McCree, Geanna Mariani, and Akande Ogundimu's ready lights followed the first.
"Wow," Lena said, sitting up, wiping the tears away. "Everyone's right on time."
"Jack always had a way of focusing everyone's attention," said the spider. "I am not surprised that this time will be no different. Are you ready?"
"Yeah," Venom said, her head clearer, web completely lifted and still in control of herself. The violence had helped, at least for now, as it usually did. "I think so." She sat next to Widowmaker, holding her wife's hand under the table, and both their displays and cameras lit up. She looked over at McCree's image, and, muting her microphone, asked Amélie, "...is Jesse in his bedroom?"
"It is a small safehouse," the spider replied, with some amusement.
"Yeh, but... isn't that Shimada's bow in the corner?"
The spider discreetly checked, and nodded, just a little. "I think so." She smirked. "That is not what I meant by recruitment."
Venom, who had once been Tracer, and who had once been recruited, stifled a giggle. "The hell it's not."
"Quiet, you foolish girl," the spider said, struggling not to laugh. "Decorum. We have work to do."
I didn't think there would be a sex scene - not even a short one - in this story? It's not particularly explicit, but, well, there is. Surprise! Rating adjusted accordingly.
Chapter 5: don't have to tell me twice
[All dialogue in «angle quotes» is translated from the Spanish]
«Whatcha doin', Spooky?»
Jack Morrison looked up upon hearing Leticia Delgado's question from where he sat with his notebook. Paper, pen, overstuffed chair - old school, like he was. «Updating the dossier.»
«On your old friends?» she asked, putting away her phone, and grabbing an orange off the counter separating the small kitchen from the small living room.
«They're not my old friends,» he growled. «But this attack by Amari, and this fake Overwatch news - maybe it'll help fit some more pieces together.»
Leticia nodded, peeling the orange. Morrison had been hauling that notebook around as long as she'd known him. He'd never let her look at it, and she'd never pushed too hard. But she'd been curious, and if he was going to open up a little, well, it beat sitting around, anxious and bored. «Why you so obsessed with this new Overwatch, anyway?»
He shook his head. «It's not Overwatch. The real Overwatch - my Overwatch - went down with me, when Talon moved against us.»
The street fighter cocked her head to her left. «I thought that was the UN.»
Morrison snorted. «Talon, UN - it's all the same thing, has been for a long time. Early 2068 - a few months before the Slipstream exploded - that's when I started to realise what was really happening, what was going wrong.»
«Talon,» she said, before biting into a wedge, «...controls the UN?»
«Talon proxies. Maybe mind controlled, like Lacroix, maybe conscious traitors, I don't know. But they're pulling the strings. I just have to find them all, cut them all down, show the world what they've done.»
«I know they're terrorists, but that's what they call us, too...» She swallowed the piece of orange.
«They really are, though. More than anyone knows. More than anyone understands. But I'm the one who's seen it.» He poked at his notebook. «I'm the one who's figured it out.»
«You got evidence?» She peeled threads off another piece of the orange. «I mean, if they're that kind of dangerous...»
«It's everywhere you look, once you start to see it. Start with Gérard Lacroix's murder - Talon eliminated him as soon as he got too close. You think he was their mole? Of course not. He just knew too much.»
The young Los Muertos gangster bit into another wedge. «I don't even know who that is.»
«You...? Yeah, I, guess you wouldn't. You'd've been, what, 12? 13?» He chuckled. «Gérard Lacroix was head of Overwatch's anti-Talon task force. Good man. Murdered in his sleep by his wife - or rather, by whatever thing Talon put in his wife's head after they took apart her brain.»
«Wait. I've heard part of this story... are you talking about la blue girl?»
«The killing corpse? The purple assassin? Yeah. The Widowmaker. Second-best sniper in the world. I was friends with the woman they killed to create her.» He flipped to the Amélie Lacroix section of his notebook, filled lately with his notes on her partner, the teleporting assassin known as Venom. «I'm not sure who they killed to create her girlfriend. I thought it had to be Lena Oxton, somehow back from oblivion, because...»
«Lena Oxton... the Widowmaker's girlfriend? Wait, you think the hero of Old London is the spider's sidekick? Really?» Laticia snorted. «Put this in your notebook, I heard about it from the old squad leader. Those two showed up at an arms show together a couple years ago, right? Got disrespected by a some anglo Texans, and killed like a dozen people just to make a point. They're not...»
«I know. The girlfriend part, that's what made me think it might've been Lena.» He tapped the page with the tip of his pen. «Still think it might be. Just can't figure out why they'd keep the lesbian angle. I didn't even think Amélie liked girls, not that there's anything left of her in that machine. But it has to be important, for some reason.»
Hoooo, she thought. This is kind of nuts. «I'm sorry about your friends, Jack. But this - it's a lot to take in.»
Jack looked up at Laticia, and nodded. He trusted her. He hadn't trusted anybody in a long time, and he didn't trust the trust, but it was still there. «It's a lot more to live through.»
She let out a little bit of a 'heh,' and replied, «This's why you don't talk about your past much, huh?»
He nodded, flipping through pages, adding small notes in tinier text. «One of the reasons.» He dotted a couple of lower-case Is and put the book down. «The part I can't get past - there is just no way that the real UN would ever have moved against us. Not like that. They'd never have shut me down, not us, we mattered too much. Not even with that bastard Gabriel turning on us, turning on me...» He'd run through the story too many times in his own head even to get angry anymore. «I don't know whether they brainwashed him or reconditioned his mind or whether he just got bought out, but he turned on us. All those lies at the hearings, all that slander, all those leaks...»
«I remember that part,» she said, finishing the last of the orange.
«Big news, even to the tween set?»
«We watched the hearings in school.»
The solder smirked. «Not surprised - schools are about control. But all that propaganda aside - we mattered too much. The real UN - an uncompromised UN - wouldn't've shut us down. Never.»
She tapped her fingers, one, two, three, four, on the table, working out bits in her mind, before sweeping the peels away. «So... if Talon took over the UN, then...»
He nodded again, this time, approvingly. She gets it, he thought. «Then they have control over a lot of the governments, too. Deep state agents, fingers in key parties, big and small.» He picked the book back up, made a few more notes, and closed it again. «But I'll get it all out there, sooner or later. Once I have it all figured out. Then everyone will know, and we can start to put the world back together.»
The soldier looked down at his empty mug, feeling all talked out. «Hey. You mind making some more of that coffee?»
Delgado looked quizzically at Jack Morrison. «My coffee?»
«Who else's? I can't make it the way you do.»
«You can't... you hate my coffee. You always dump it out, and by the way, you still owe me new beans.»
«I don't hate it, I...» and he remembered, oh, yes, he kind of did, didn't he? No, that's not right, he loved her coffee. Nobody else could get it quite right, particularly not that white-haired... he shook his head, no, that doesn't make sense. «I'm getting used to it. It's kind of growing on me.»
«Ha!» She grinned. «I'll teach you how to appreciate good food yet, gringo. If I do this, you can't pour it out! I have to make a whole pot, or it comes out too weak, like yours. Just, you know, not as bad as yours. Which is terrible.»
«Wouldn't dream of it,» he groused, and stood up. «While you make that, I'll go out, get some more beans. I do owe you.»
«It's been quiet long enough, yah, I think it's safe.»
He nodded his agreement. «You heard anything from Araceli?»
Laticia shook her head, checking her phone again. «No, not yet. I'm worried.»
«Afraid the Maras got her?»
«Worried they might've.»
«I hope not. She's no soldier, but she's... a pretty good kid.»
Delgado smiled, surprised. «Thanks, Spooky. That's the nicest thing you've ever said about her.»
Morrison looked through the edge of the blind from the gang house. Twilight, and all clear - at least, as far as he could tell. Amari doesn't double-dip, he thought. We should be fine, for now. «I'll be back in a few minutes,» he said, throwing his gun over his shoulder. «With dinner.»
«No hunting in city limits!»
«Not even for tacos?»
«Okay, maybe for tacos. You know the kinds I like?»
«'Course I do,» said the soldier, opening the door. «If I'm not back in 15 minutes - leave, and don't look back.»
«Don't have to tell me twice!»
Chapter 6: Terrifying in Flight (I Just Wish We Had a Sniper)
"Letting us take the first shot, then?" Gabriel Reyes asked Venom, eyeing the new intel sent along on sideband. "We got Sombra's location reports - thank you."
The Talon assassin nodded. "Yeh. I..." she frowned. "Gabe, luv, I'm gonna get this out there. I voted no. But I lost, so I'll go along."
"I appreciate that." Reyes gave Oxton a considering look. "You sure, though? The way you stormed out..."
The assassin nodded. "I've got my reasons, and I've made my promises - to Amélie - and I keep 'em." Just ask G/C Henderson, she thought, Oh wait, you can't, he's dead. The memory made her smile, just a little. Small but lasting comforts.
"Glad to hear it. Thank you," replied the tactical advisor. Promises to the Widowmaker? That'd do it. "We collectively - all of us at Overwatch, Tracer possibly excepted - want to bring him to justice, intact. Not just have him disappear again."
Lena "Venom" Oxton snorted, a little. "Might be right about Tracer. But for us - well, it's better than nothing."
Reyes breathed out. Good. "I'm putting together some plans, based upon your intel - and ours." He brought his right hand to his chin, thoughtfully. "I just wish we had a sniper. Closest we've got is Mei, and she's good with that ice pistol of hers, but it's not the same thing."
Venom thought about the problem, and a solution. Would Amélie be okay with it? Yes, she thought so. With the right conditions attached. Maybe even... proud. Let's float it. "You might. Have a sniper, I mean."
Gabriel tilted his head and stared into the screen. "...Amélie's suddenly willing to work with me?"
"No," Venom said. "But I am."
"Since when are you a sniper?"
Another snort. "C'mon, mate, how long have I been with the world's best sniper? Like I've told Winston - she teaches me her tricks."
"I can't see how you have the patience for it. How good are you?"
"I'm good, mate. Not Amélie good, but... good. Very good."
Gabe looked dubiously at her, through the screen. "How very good?"
Venom thought about it. "I keep a list of better snipers than me, right? Amélie's on top, of course; Zhanna Orlov's below her, Shimada Hanzo a few steps down, all that."
She's good enough to keep that list? he thought. But aloud, he kept it to, "Sure."
"Everyone on that list keeps a list like it. Amélie's still on top, but theirs has a question mark, down... maybe below number ten? But on the list."
"And that's you?"
Venom smiled. "Can't confirm that, luv. But."
"You willing to demonstrate that at the embassy?"
"Maybe. There's conditions." She looked thoughtful, glancing down to the side. "I have to check with Amélie. She might veto this."
Gabriel nodded. Talon secret tech, or something like it. Fair enough. "Let me know. It sure would be nice to have a sniper available."
"Honest, luv, it's me," came her voice through the door speaker. "Horizon Angle Delta Vector Seventeen Nine Seven Nine Banana Clown."
The gorilla opened the door, still wary, and Lena Oxton stepped inside out of the sunlight. In the office, she looked less blue around the edges, thanks to the warm lighting overhead, but the tint was still there, and her goggles had a fleet of extra red eyes, in mobile plates, along the sides and top. "I wanted to arrive dressed as Tracer, so's nobody'd notice, but..." She pressed buttons on her grapple, now equipped with familiar and frightening extras, and her suit changed to black and green. "Mockingbird reporting for sniper duty."
"Lena, what did you do?!"
She smiled in a broad way, most unlike her spider, and most like herself. It helped, a little. "Nothin' permanent. I swear. This is just what I look like when I'm a sniper."
Gabriel and Angela came up the stairs to the ambassador's office, and froze in their tracks at Winston and Lena. Angela shrieked a little, and Gabriel shuddered. "That... that is... deeply disturbing. Lena, are you still you?" asked the doctor.
Gold-tinted eyes - regular brown still visible underneath, if you looked closely - darted to Dr. Ziegler. "Guess I shoulda warned ya, huh? Yeh, it's still me in here." Her voice was the slightest bit slower and lower than usual, but clearly still hers.
"What have you done to yourself?!" Angela leaned forward, and Mockingbird stepped fluidly back, with an ah-ah-ah finger motion. "Sorry, doc, no scans. That's the rule if I'm gonna be here like this."
"I wasn't going to. Is it, is it..."
"Permanent? Nah. Nothin' to it, really. Some drugs, some other tricks."
That's a lie, thought the doctor. "Why?!"
"All the sniper traits. Night distance vision. Stability, in motion. Patience - well, for me, anyway. Stillness, too - I can stop my heart for three minutes in this mode and be just fine. But I keep my twitch reflex, and the energy I store up is barmy! I won't need to eat for four days. Which is good," she joked, "'cause don't ask me to read a menu in the dark right now."
Gabriel shook his head back and forth. "Your whole organisation is not right in the brain."
Mockingbird laughed, a very Tracer-like laugh, and that, too, helped. "When we're on the range, I'm gonna be even scarier. I'll ramp down my emotions s'more and turn the spider all the way up." She brought up her vizor's extensions, and her goggles' primary field went dark red.
Winston reached out to her, without words, and she took his hand. "Or maybe I won't." She reset the vizor to standard mode. "Didn't think you'd be this fruck out, big guy. It's okay, honest."
"You weren't here when Amélie killed Gérard, you don't..." He felt her hand. "You're cool to the touch," he said, quietly.
"Not that cool. Just enough to avoid bein' picked up on infrared. Won't fool the best models, but it helps."
"Please say you aren't turning into Amélie. I... I don't want you turning into Amélie."
Mockingbird snickered, saying, "Well, they do say married couples start to look alike," and activated the vizor again.
"Lena, no! Be serious! I don't want to lose you."
She smiled, waved the magnifiers away, and held her friend's hand against her face. "Aw, luv, no. I like who I am. This is fun, but not... as fun. It'll all go away later. But right now, you need a sniper." She lowered his hand, and patted his shoulder. "I can shed most of this in about an hour, if I really need to."
"That's all it takes?" asked the Swiss doctor.
"For me? Yeh, in an emergency. I can throw 'bout half of it off in under a minute, if I really gotta - but it hurts like the dickens."
Gabriel shook his head. Crazy people, Talon - all of 'em. "Where's your rifle?"
Mockingbird, it seemed, had Lena Oxton's famous half-grin, and she flashed it, and flipped her pistols. "Right here." She popped them together, they locked, and the barrel extended. From a pouch, she pulled out a surprisingly conventional-looking scope, which snapped right on top. "But: ground rules. One: no scans. Sorry, doc. Two: I'm not Tracer, I'm Mockingbird. Stick to it, I mean it. No "Lena," no "Tracer," not outside this office. Three: nobody, and I mean nobody, touches my tech but me. Anyone does, I walk away completely, and for good. No more Mockingbird, and" - she said this slowly, and clearly - "no. more. Tracer. either."
She waited a moment to make sure all that had sunk in. "These are the terms. Otherwise, I leave now, no harm done, and Tracer comes back tomorrow wondering if she missed anything. Agreed?"
"Le... Mockingbird, this cannot be good for you," said Angela. "I promise, just a circulatory..."
"No," the sniper said firmly. "None."
The doctor sighed. "You are not the only one here who experiments with her body in extreme ways. You are stressing it more than I think you know. I want to help."
"We do this before breakfast, luv. But, y'know, if you ever want to switch teams, you could do all the scans you..."
"I don't think so," the doctor interrupted. "But how am I going to know how to treat you in the field, if necessary?"
Mockingbird tipped her head, and smiled. "I'll give you this." She held up a small memory card. "Complete treatment protocols for anything that has to happen faster than a Talon extraction team can reach me. You can have it once everything's settled."
"I insist that I be allowed to practice these protocols. At least the physicality of them. In battle," she did not really have to say, "it matters."
"Ah, yeah! As long as your nanos aren't taking samples, that's fine."
"And may I please, at least, examine you later? When this is over? To be sure you've handled this well? Your own doctors may want that data."
Mockingbird thought about it. The compassion was genuine, she was pretty sure, but so was the desperate curiosity to know how all this worked. There would be things for her to find, later, but little she wouldn't've had a chance to see before, and she'd be looking in all the wrong places... good enough, she decided. "They'll already have it, but - deal."
"Thank you." The doctor looked a little bit relieved, if still more than a little concerned. "I accept."
"Winston? How 'bout it?"
"Gabriel, are you willing to work under these conditions?"
The former Blackwatch head nodded. "I've worked under way worse than this. I'm good. Uh, I... accept the terms?"
"Oh, right," said the assassin, "This has to be for the whole organisation." She switched to Tracer colours, and said, "On behalf of Overwatch, I, Lena "Tracer" Oxton, agree to the terms of Mockingbird's service," before switching back. "Sounds like a bloody software license, don't it? That just leaves you, Winston. And Mei, but she's not here yet."
"I don't like it," said the gorilla. "But... deal. No scans, no handling, no anything."
Mockingbird smiled. "Brilliant!" She tossed Angela the memory card. "Have fun with that. The rest of us - let's go shoot some wings off mosquitoes!"
"We've been over this," responded Gabriel, watching as she took the head off a second target on the way down, before even landing on her cliffside perch. "We want him alive." He took notes that started with 'Terrifying in flight.'
"And we want him dead," she retorted. "I want him dead. Don't get me wrong, Gabe, I'm here, I'm goin' along with your plan, but alive's not the sniper's job." From that upper perch, she hit three for four on moving ground targets. Two headshots, one ricochet shot that missed, a follow-up direct shot leaving a grazed neck. That last one would walk away, with medical aid. "Damn."
'Never really stops moving,' the new Overwatch tactics expert added to his notes. 'Highly mobile.' "We just want the tactical visor gone."
She spun around from her nest and ticked a faceplate off the sixth target dummy. "And that's a headshot."
"Tracer's not here, luv."
"Hiya!" She triggered reload, and launched herself to the second perch. He noted she wasn't jinking at all, no teleports, no rewinds, just running, moving with the grapple, and nothing else. Still all about movement, though.
Bang, target down. "No additional shots after the visor's gone." He could almost feel her dirty look from the ground. Bang, another ricochet shot, target missed.
She landed, swore, and took a second shot on the second target, moving within her section's perch point for a direct shot, taking the dummy down. "Not even to save another agent?" She ran a strafe pattern against moving dummies, bang, bang, bang. Four for three, including a domino shot. All perfect.
Jesus, she's good, Gabriel thought. Maybe not Amari good, those ricochet shots aren't working, but... Aloud, he said, "Except to save another agent."
"Short day for me, then." Another reload, and she launched herself into the air, diving to the final shooting perch. Gabriel surprised her with three airborne targets. Bang, down, bang, down, bang, bang, down. "Seems a shame if I have to get all gussied up." She landed and rolled to the third sighting point.
"A short day would be very, very good indeed."
Three fast targets, running along the ground, zagging, all with faceplates - the most human of them all. Three shots, three faceplates off, all targets down. "My way would be even shorter."
"Mockingbird. Please. I know what you are. Don't make it harder."
Lena Oxton breathed in, carefully. She wondered, occasionally, how long she could make this Talon-Overwatch joint arrangement last, and this was one of those times. It's for the best, she reminded herself. If, occasionally, a right pain in the arse. "Sorry, Gabe. I'm workin' so hard to remind everyone it's me in here, maybe I overdid it a bit. Is that it for the first round?"
"Yeah, that's the first set. What'd you think?"
"I liked the surprise skeet, that was fun! But I was sloppy. I can do better, if I drop the banter. And nothin' returned fire!"
"This is a target range, not a combat simulator, what'd you expect?"
"Might fix that."
"If we had the money. You're supposed to know that."
"Maybe Tracer's supposed to know that - I'm not."
Right, he thought. "Mockingbird, secure weapon, and return to start. We'll reset the range for another round."
Chapter 7: is it good enough for you, still?
"Mockingbird!" exclaimed a new voice in the comms, as she and Gabriel landed.
"Mei? That you, luv? When'd you get here?"
"Just when you started on the outdoor range. I watched from the cameras. That was amazing!"
"Thanks! That's a real compliment coming from you! Did you get my terms?"
"I did. They are fine. But Mercy wants to talk to you again."
"Not surprised. I'll head to the main hall right away."
"She said to come to her office."
Lena made a face, and stuck out her tongue. She was on Swiss, not Lunar, soil now. The two buildings were separated by only a small, enclosed courtyard, but it made all the legal difference in the world. "Yeh."
"Good." Dr. Ziegler entered a short command on her keyboard, activating medical confidentiality rules, and outside sounds - already quiet - vanished. "This was good enough for you in London. Is it good enough for you, still?"
Venom thought about it for a moment, and idly flipped her suit back to Talon black and violet. Angela had never violated her trust. She was the first of the old school - the first generation of Overwatch - to come onboard the new Overwatch, and most importantly, the one Venom truly wanted onboard.
Well, her, and Mei, but Mei hardly counted as 'older generation,' having been in cryogenic suspension for all those years. Besides, Mei was a real hero. Mercy was also a hero... mostly. Which made her perfect.
If we're ever going to get her to come over to our team, she thought, we're going to have to trust her. "Yeh. It is."
Mercy nodded, once. "Thank you. Now. What the hell is this?!" She brought up the emergency response protocol for blood loss and shock. It showed how to inject the the contents of a venom mine into Mockingbird's thigh or heart. "This is not funny! How can I treat you if you are putting nonsense into the protocols?!"
Venom laughed a little. "It's not a joke, doc. Not one laffer in there. If I'm going into shock, if my heart isn't pumping and I can't get it to start, and I can't do this myself... do it for me."
"You are joking. This is a deadly poison, and a neurotoxin, and it will kill you."
"This," Venom said, "would kill you. Or... well, maybe not you. Definitely not me."
"Lena, what have you done to yourself?! "
"C'mon, doc. You think we want to get killed by our own mines?"
"I have some idea what's in them, you know. From before."
"Yeh, I figured."
"So you lied to Winston."
"I didn't! Well, not so's it'd matter. Once this is over, I'll come back all rosy-cheeked and brown eyed and faster - and happier - like nothin's ever happened. This isn't me, it's just somethin' I wear, like a spacesuit."
"Except it is part of you." No pretence at that being anything short of a statement. "When?"
Lena grimaced. "'Bout a year ago. We were in a firefight in Jakarta, one of Amé's mines got blown up straight into my face and I was out of jinks."
"Ah, I see," nodded the doctor. "So, not going to let that happen twice."
"Nope. Besides, we can always use another sniper. I wasn't good enough, unmodified."
"And now you are."
"I'm not sure what to do with this. What you are doing is dangerous and disturbing."
"That's bloody hilarious coming from you, doc. The others may ignore it, but I don't."
Angela froze, just for a moment, and Venom charged ahead.
"You're no more baseline human than I am. Maybe less. Don't take it the wrong way, luv, I think it's brilliant! But you think I don't notice you don't age?"
Angela laughed a little, caught out and knowing it. "I suppose you will not accept that I work out and live a very healthy lifestyle."
"Got that right. S'why I didn't let you touch me before, either."
"I would not have needed to touch you."
Ooh, thought the assassin. Didn't think of that. "Fareeha, too?"
"Not yet. We argue about it."
"I hope you win that fight," Lena said, simply, but sincerely.
"I very much do as well."
A moment's pause from the Talon agent. "You wouldn't have to hide it, with us, y'know."
"Your wife is blue and has a giant spider tattooed on her back. I am not surprised," smirked the Overwatch doctor.
"We have our way, nobody would have to hide any of it."
Angela Ziegler tilted her head a little, and looked wistfully at the Talon assassin in front of her. She had to admit, it was an attractive proposition. It would be wonderful not to have to... no, she thought. Assassins. Maybe on our side, but still, killers.
"If I have to inject this... monstrosity... into your bloodstream, will you turn completely blue? I need to know what to expect."
Venom giggled. "Nah, take a lot more than that! It'll just reset a bunch of systems to baseline, refill my cellular energy reserves, restart my heart... things like that."
"Lena, I am a medical doctor. I do not want to treat you blindly. I know what I agreed to, but I am your doctor. Not Overwatch's. Please, I have to know."
Lena Oxton nodded, thought, in for a penny, in for... not quite a pound, and pulled a stack of very thin, but strong, flimsies from the largest pouch on her costume. "We're takin' a real big risk here, doc. Don't let us down."
"Does Amélie know you're handing me these documents?"
"I did say 'we.'"
"Do I get to to keep them?"
"Nope. You get to read 'em, now, while I'm here. You can take notes, but you can't make copies. Then I take 'em back."
Angela read. The document was intricate, and detailed, and incomplete in certain areas - she was not being completely trusted. It was enough to know how to provide genuinely proper care for a Widowmaker-class assassin - at least, in a conventional sense. But not enough to... I will need that scan.
"This," she said, "must've been very painful to undergo."
Venom shrugged. "Hurt a lot less than the Slipstream. And hurt Amélie more, she went all the way through it."
"And you didn't."
The younger assassin smiled. "I like who I am. I didn't need to..." and she stopped. Dammit.
Angela picked up the sentence, and finished it. "...run from who you were."
The doctor stood up, and handed back the papers. "I'd love to talk with the researchers who came up with this."
"She'd love to talk with you. She's a big fan."
Angela nodded. "I appreciate that."
"Perhaps. But it's not enough. I still need a scan."
"Doc," Venom said, frustration in her voice, "we've been through this."
"No. You don't understand, but you will." She stood up, and straightened her jacket. "I am asking you to trust me in ways you do not want to trust anyone, and that requires a return of that trust, and that requires a demonstration."
Venom looked confused. "What d'ya mean, doc?"
Dr. Ziegler walked to the corner of her office, and picked up a long, metal staff leaned casually against one wall. She tapped it on the floor, and a set of metal hard-light blades popped out from one end. She walked back in front of her patient. "May I borrow one of your pistols? Do they behave normally, now?"
Venom handed one of her twin firearms to the doctor. "Yeh, just point and shoot. I didn't know you had handgun training, though."
"I'm Swiss, we all do." She flipped the safety off, put the pistol to the side of her own neck, and fired a full clip right at her own carotid artery.
Venom shrieked and shot out of hear seat, grabbing Mercy as she slumped down to the floor, staff still in hand, blood and viscera everywhere. "NO! WHAT?! NO! WHY? DOC!"
As the light in her eyes faded, Angela mouthed, silently, "wait"... and then, as she died, she was enveloped in light even as she lay in Venom's arms, light which spread across the floor, and over wherever her blood had spilled, gathering around it all.
Lena jinked back to the far side of the room, in a combination of terror and awe, as the light regathered, formed into the shape of her friend, and vanished... leaving Angela Ziegler, whole and returned.
"Would I have to hide that? " the doctor asked, pointedly.
Lena Oxton fell to the ground, shaking. "Wha... wha... what... you... that was not right..."
Mercy walked over to the young assassin, bent down, and offered her hand. "I am ready to revive everyone in Overwatch this same way, in combat, if needed. Including you - and even Amélie. But I have to know how you work, first. Otherwise..."
"Cor blimey," Venom said, still in shock, taking the Swiss woman's hand. "What are you?"
The much older than she appeared battle medic helped the Talon assassin up off the ground, and smiled. "I am your doctor."
Chapter 8: that which we must not know
Mercy sat, shaking, alone, at her desk, her composure collapsing the moment Lena Oxton had walked out the door.
Mein gott, had I not known, and had I needed to revive her...
She shuddered, and swallowed, hard. She did not like thinking about what might've happened. Not to anyone. Particularly not to Lena.
But now, I do know.
Lena Oxton never really did really read medical documents she signed. In this case - as far as Dr. Ziegler was concerned - that was a very, very good thing, and she pulled up files from the deep scan which had been triggered as soon as Venom acknowledged that the previous documents still applied.
Now, thought the doctor, let's see how you are made...
Her hand stopped, just above the console surface, just above the file. ...No, she thought.
She blinked, surprised at herself. I've done this with everyone else, she thought. Why not her?
No, her mind insisted, again, at war with herself. This is different.
God, she wanted to. So much. So very, desperately much. It was all right there, flagged, sorted, available, ready to open, ready to be known. But...
She would be so angry.
Angela Ziegler leaned against her desk, hands over her eyes. Do not be foolish, doctor, she told herself. She's a patient. She can not be anything else. Your job as a combat medic is to keep her alive, whatever it takes.
And yet. No.
If the not knowing ached - and it did, viciously - the unreadiness for disaster ached even more. Losing Lena, or Tracer, or Venom, or whatever she called herself today? She shook her head, firmly. I can't. I won't. It is unacceptable.
And so, she took a deep breath, and compromised with herself. She pulled the dataset off the scanner, onto a small card, securely deleting the original. Then, she physically moved the card over to the nanosurgeon programmer for her Caduceus staff, and inserted that card into a small slot, compiling the deep-scan data set into the knowledge base for the Overwatch agent known as Mockingbird.
Compilation completed, she looked at the card, now removed, sitting in her hand. The original data, the raw scan, not the abstracted assemblage merged into so much other data, unrecoverable - or essentially so - from the nanosurgeons, and even then not comprehensibly, at least not to human minds - available, intact, only here, in one tiny chip.
So much I could learn, she thought. They'd done impossible things at Talon, and the key to it lay in her hand.
She slid the small protect tab along the edge of the medical data card, and firmly pressed her fingers against the centre. The chip briefly glowed, hot, as it destroyed itself, and then, she threw it away.
As long as they know, she thought, putting her hand gratefully on the nanosurgeon farm, watching as it built a special nanite cluster just for the Talon sniper, that is... good enough. For now.
The opportunity came sooner than expected. An arms shipment, escorted by Los Muertos, task force almost certainly to be led by Jack Morrison - or, as it seems they called him, the white ghost.
Jesse McCree had been the one to catch the rumour, talking with some of his old Deadlock Gang contacts, who, turns out, would be happy if a rival gang did not get to run goods through their territory. And so, they passed the news to him, and he passed it to Amélie, who passed it to Venom, who gave it to Overwatch, and Gabriel Reyes, who built a plan.
Mockingbird lay atop the crest of the hill, silent, even her breath inaudible, even to herself, even she wasn't entirely sure she was bothering to breathe right then, as the small three-vehicle convoy stirred itself, beginning its early-morning trundle out of the two-building ghost town that had once called itself Cloverdale. There had been more here, once, before the climate warmed, but really, it had ended before then, a former bit of a farming town, a little store, a dance pavilion, enough water - just - for a bit of crop and cattle raising, but now, even that last was gone, which is, of course, why they were all where they were.
The sniper had been in her nest since two days before, had watched the convoy trundle its way across the desert and to a stop, loading out into the little stone ruin, and calling it a night. She had not slept; she did not need to, for this watch. Once everyone had tucked themselves in so nicely, so quietly, she'd then confirmed via radio to Gabriel that Jack Morrison was, indeed, in the front truck, and that they were not, in fact, transporting refugees or undocumented workers - there were no innocents to get in the way. Just a simple cargo delivery - maybe the weapons, maybe a side delivery before the main delivery, no way even to know.
Not that it mattered, really.
She watched as the convoy slowly rode its way west, towards her and past burned out soil, past former farm gates, now collapsing along the road, the paint bleached in the sun. She took in a breath, just enough to speak. "They're on their way."
Gabriel's voice in her ear. "Do you have the target?"
Lena allowed herself the smallest of smirks. Less than a kilometre. No breeze, at all. Crystal clear skies. Do I have the target. Honestly, Gabe. But she kept it to herself. "Target confirmed and moving into go/no go. Do I have go?"
Reyes ran through the numbers one more time in his head. Everyone in position for the ambush. A lot more fighters on the Los Muertos side - more than they expected, and it bothered him - but only one hard target. The gang side wouldn't be trying for a capture - they'd be shooting for kills, without hesitation - but Overwatch had surprise on their side.
"Nearing optimal range, Gabe. Go or no go?"
Who knows when we'll get intel even this good again, he decided. "Action confirmed. All team, on my mark - go."
Venom - no, Mockingbird - smiled the spider's smile, and pulled the trigger. Morrison's head jerked to the side as the tactical visor went flying out across the desert in pieces, and he swore, loudly, in Spanish, blinded by his own blood, but not really hurt, despite the proximity of the bullet. The transport vehicle swerved, blocking the road forward, but did not fly out of control, and seconds later he was shouting orders to his team as the Overwatch group moved in from the northeast, from the dried-up spring.
"Visor down," the sniper confirmed, as Mei threw up a wall behind the convoy, Gabriel lay down fire blowing out the front vehicle's tires, and the unlabelled Overwatch carrier blared its orders to drop weapons and be commandeered. Pharah charged into the air, letting loose with a series of rockets aimed at vehicle engines, as Mockingbird readied for a spray of long-range discouragement fire from her position, to keep the grunts under cover. She grinned as she watched the Los Muertos gangsters circle their vehicles and swarm for weapons, and then her grin froze as Jack darted away from her sight, without a visor, then reappeared on the other side of the transport vehicle, with one.
What th'...?! She looked back towards the wreckage of the visor. Yes, there, pieces, still on the ground. She called into comms, "Gabe, he has a second visor somehow, watch it!" just as Jack triggered the device, visual overlay screen appearing almost instantly, knocking Pharah out of the air just as she'd disabled the third vehicle. Mockingbird adjusted her sights and took a second shot, surely hitting him dead on, but somehow apparently not as he just kept shooting through the visor, after briefly jerking to the left.
She waited for a third shot, and Jack's head popped up again, again through the front transport, behind two windows. Mockingbird reacted instantly, and fired. Her vision seemed to blur, and suddenly, it was a Los Muertos grunt splayed out across the sand, her head smashed, and Jack Morrison was still firing.
Nobody's that lucky, she thought, coolly. Something's going on.
Los Muertos got a shield generator running as Mei threw up another wall while taking bullets to the shoulder and chest, saving Gabriel, who had also been hit and hurt by the barrage of bullets. Pharah limped back into the air, got off a single rocket knocking Morrison down, and went down again herself almost immediately, Mercy flying to her wife's side. Gabriel, Mockingbird, and - a moment later - Mercy's fire kept most of the rest of the Los Muertos fighters ducking for cover, as Winston leapt down, shield in place over the wounded Mei, Tesla cannon keeping braver Los Muertos back, as Athena flew in as pickup for the injured.
"Gabriel, Tracer here," Mockingbird shouted into comms, trying to force some emotion back into her voice. "Mockingbird's hit this guy in the head three times and he just shakes it off, something is very wrong. We need to..."
And then Jack fell to the ground, unconscious, and an older woman's voice came over the Overwatch comms, saying, "He's down, but it won't last more than 30 seconds. Get your wounded out while you can, and regroup at my position. Tracking beacon enabled."
"Don't care," insisted the woman in black and green. "I shot the first one off, just like we planned it. It was on the ground, in pieces." She folded her arms. "My sight takes pictures, I can show you."
"But a second visor - that's not possible," Gabriel insisted.
"I know I hit him. I know I did. Three times. There's something we've missed, Gabe. This should've been easy and it was a disaster."
"You look very familiar," said the older woman with the beacon, looking with narrowed eyes at the younger sniper.
Mockingbird blinked, and looked over to the older woman, finally realising who she was seeing. "...no question of it on my side," she said, recovering. "The legendary Ana Amari, in the flesh. You're supposed to be dead. What the hell, mate? And how'd you get on our comms?"
Gabriel glanced away from Mockingbird and brushed dust off his hands, looking resolutely unsurprised. "Ana, this is our sniper specialist, callsign Mockingbird. Mockingbird, this is Ana Amari, apparently not dead."
Ana snorted at her former Blackwatch friend, and gestured over to Mockingbird. "You think that can replace me?"
"You have been dead since 2069," said Winston, stepping in between the new and the old, "as far as we knew." He gave Reyes a look, a look that said they would be talking about Reyes's lack of surprise in the very near future. "She's an independent contractor willing to work with us, and we're happy to have her service."
"I know that kit," said the Egyptian, with a sideways glance back to the younger woman. "And I know that blue tinge. Working with Talon, are we, now? Maybe Jack's not so crazy as I thought."
"Not with Talon, luv," Mockingbird lied. "But I always buy from the best. No second chances in this game. 'Cept for you, apparently. And Jack." She looked around at Angela and Gabriel and Ana, and frowned. "And apparently all you old lot."
Amari glanced disdainfully at the young assassin, then returned to ignoring her, looking back to Gabriel. "And where's the so-called Hero of Old London supposed to be, then?"
Mockingbird glared, anger a flash across her face. No, she told herself. Lena's not here. Ana's trying to provoke you. Realising that, she found she didn't even need to bring up the web further to keep control. It's a game. She knows, she just wants us to admit it. Spill the beans, grams? Not likely.
"We all thought it was for the best if she stayed out of any direct action involving the man who left her to die in the Slipstream." He looked directly into the sniper's eyes. "Knowing you're here, I'd say that was the right call."
"Afraid she'd lose her cool, get hurt?" She made a little unimpressed sound, a kind of pffft. "And yet here you hand whatever they've made of her" - she waved at Mockingbird, without looking - "a sniper rifle. You're fools."
Lena almost spoke up, then almost laughed, but kept her expression flat. Nice try, she thought. "So I shouldn't ask for your autograph, then?"
Winston shook his head at Mockingbird's verbal jabs, and Gabriel crossed his arms, with a frown. "I have no idea what you're talking about, Ana. More importantly - where the hell have you been all these years?"
"Really? You're going to keep up this laughable facade?"
"Whatever. You gonna tell us where you've been all this time?"
Amari glared. "No. But I will give you this." She pulled a small memory card out of a coat pocket. "It's video and notes from a... previous attempt to solve the Jack Morrison problem. If you're going to try to kill him, I need you not to make things worse."
"We aren't trying to kill him," Winston said, taking the card. "We're trying to bring him to justice."
Amari spat at the ground. "There's no justice for what he did, or for what he's become. I thought you understood that."
Well, thought Mockingbird, there's one place we agree. She found she didn't like the agreement. "That's what I thought, too. Maybe I ought t'reconsider the point."
"Does it always make this much noise? Maybe it should be reprogrammed again."
"ENOUGH OF THIS." Mercy glided down from the flat spot on the hillside above, where she had been tending to Mei and Pharah, watching since Ana showed herself, stunned to see her mother-in-law, of all people, reappear from the dead - not her way, but alive and well the entire time.
"Angela, why are you mixed up in this idiocy? I thought you'd know better."
The field medic marched over to the old military officer, and slapped her across the face, hard, staggering her back. "You dare show your face? You dare act like this to my friends, after what you have put us through?!"
"Woah!" interjected Mockingbird, jumping forward to restrain the doctor. "Angela, no! It's fine, she's just horrible!"
"No," she said, looking back, and shaking her arms free, "it is not fine!" She turned back to the old soldier, and pointed to Pharah, unconscious, but recovering. "She mourned you. You ignored her as a child and she loved you anyway and then you died and she put it behind her and now you are here and alive and she is here and wounded and you have not even acknowledged her existence?!"
"I've done what has been necessary, and I've stayed out of the way of the medic while she works. Fareeha will understand that."
"Will she? I hope not! But I will make sure she knows. I will make sure she knows everything. Including how horribly you have just abused our Mockingbird. 'It?! '" She shook herself, as though fluffing feathers she did not have, except in her wings. "You call her an it?! She is a person, not a tool, and you have become a monster."
Quietly surprised, Lena's heart tore, just a little, at the medic's furious defence. "Doc, really, it's fine, she's just digging..."
"I know what she's doing," Mercy said, not looking at Lena. "And I don't care why." She turned to the openly astonished Reyes and Winston. "We should get the wounded out of American territory as soon as possible. They will not be happy with our actions today."
"I agree," said Reyes, taking the opportunity. "Ana, we can pick this up later. Do any of your old dropboxes work?"
"No. Do yours?"
"I'll leave a contact point there, then."
"Thanks. And... thanks for helping out."
"You're welcome. Maybe next time we can work together, make sure the grown-ups are in charge."
Mockingbird's face showed absolutely no sign of emotion, and her hands did not tighten visibly on her rifle.
"We'll talk later," said the former Blackwatch head. "Team - back to the ship. Mockingbird, give Mercy some help with Mei; Winston, I wouldn't mind a little help myself. Let's roll out."
The Lunar gorilla offered his friend an arm, as Mockingbird turned towards the Chinese scientist with a curt "acknowledged." Behind Venom's mask, beneath the web, the assassin roiled viciously, but no hint of that storm made it outside.
Maybe I've got more than one problem to solve, she thought, as she guided the semi-sedated Mei up off the ground. Maybe I've got two or three.
Sorry this one took so long. I'm not good at large action sequences, and this chapter was difficult to write, mostly because of that. I was trying to keep it gamelike, in that it would be evocative of a failed charge onto take a point with a payload on it in game, as opposed to a realistic infantry scenario. I hope it works.
If nothing else, it's way longer than most of my chapters, so at least nobody's being short changed. ^_^
Chapter 10: apologies, myths, and lies
[All comments in «angle quotes» translated from the Spanish]
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
"Mockingbird, got a moment?"
Mockingbird looked up from where she'd been watching Angela tend to Mei and Fareeha on the troop carrier's medical bunks. Still deep in the web, she replied, almost without inflection, "Yes, Strike Leader?"
Gabriel caught the tone and knew what it meant, took a deep breath and decided to take the careful route. "I need to apologise to you formally, Mockingbird, and I want to do it in front of everyone. Tracer, are you still on comms?"
Mockingbird tilted her head, and touched her microphone. In the same flat voice, she said, "Gabriel, Tracer here. Monitoring."
Not even really trying to keep up the illusion, he thought. Damn, she's hella mad. He cleared his throat. "I'm sorry. I should've stepped in against Ana's ... I don't even know what that was ... sooner. Immediately, even."
"She's not under my command, so I can't reprimand her, but I could have stopped it. That's part of my responsibility - to defend my team - and I didn't do it, and I apologise."
"I will not let it happen again."
Lena let herself lift a little of her controls, and shook just a little, taking in a quick breath, quicker than her current physiology needed. A hint of inflection returned to her voice. "...I appreciate that, Strike Leader."
"I hope you will forgive me."
Mockingbird nodded, slowly, and lifted a little more of the web up.
"Tracer, Gabriel - you got all that?" Reyes said, towards his microphone.
"Gabriel, Tracer - roger that," Oxton said, towards hers, in a voice a little more like Tracer's.
"I screwed up, Tracer. I... god, I thought she was dead in the rubble, like everyone else. Seeing her again after all these years... I wasn't ready. And if I'm going to play this role, I need to be at least a little ready for anything. So - I apologise to you, too."
Lena lifted another layer of the web, and a little bit of a smile crept out. "Roger that." She blew out her breath. "Guess none of us were expecting..." She shook her head, and felt a little better, a little less like demonstrating what it meant to be a murder machine, and a little more like a proper Talon assassin. "What d'ya think happened to her? "
Gabe shook his head, slowly, glad to see a little more of Venom in those gold eyes, and just a little surprised by that feeling. "I really, really don't know. Ana never used to be so..."
Fareeha stirred herself from her medical bunk. "...Ana?" she said, "...who...?"
Angela gently intervened to help her wife. "Awake already?" She checked Mei - still out. "Be careful, I've got you in good shape but I'll need to do more when we are back at the embassy."
"No." The rocketeer struggled upwards. "I heard a voice, and it sounded like... and you said... Ana."
Gabriel, Lena, Winston, and Angela all glanced at each other nervously, and the assassin spoke first. "She's gonna have t'find out. I'd want to."
"Tell me," demanded the flying agent, an intent look on her face. "Tell me what I'm afraid I already know."
Angela's face went a little grim, and a little paler even than usual, but she nodded her agreement. Taking her wife's hand, she looked into her eyes and said, "I will tell you everything, but we will start with the beginning." She braced herself. "Your mother... she is alive."
But that isn't what bothered him, or rather, he thought, that's not what bothered him most. He looked down at the dirt, at the wreckage of his tactical visor, and at the one he'd just taken off, the one tied into the neural network inside his head - and back at the one in pieces on the ground.
This... doesn't make any sense, he thought, picking up the wrecked visor. He replaced the one he'd been wearing, and put it through its self-test - it came up fully functional, targeting at one hundred percent, which was pretty damned strange in and of itself, given that it hadn't tested above 85% in three years.
«Did anybody get any pictures of the ambush?» he called out to his surviving team members. «Anybody here armed with a camera, not just guns?»
Leticia pulled hard on something inside a panel, and a second transport roared, glowed, and floated back into operation. «Ha! Damn, I'm good. Sorry, Spooky, you say something?»
«Nice work. Did anybody get video of the attack? Pictures? Anything?»
«Not me, I was getting the shield generator going. Arturo, you got anything?»
Arturo shook his head. «Nothin', sorry. The best shot I got was getting a pistol load into that rocketeer.»
Leticia smiled, grimly. «Nice job. Anybody else?» she called out, but got no positive responses. «Sorry, Jack.»
«Worth a try,» Morrison replied, brusquely.
«That sniper - not the same one, were they?»
«Well spotted. No. Different gun, different MO. God damn, I wish I had some photos.»
«You check the dashcams? Maybe they caught something.»
The dashcams. Of course. They won't have erased themselves yet. What the hell is wrong with me? thought the former Strike Leader, as he half-barked half of a laugh. «Good call.»
The first hadn't recorded anything but the road ahead, and he found the second smashed against a rock next to the road, pieces of windshield scattered around it. Crawling into the wreckage of the last transport - the one beyond repair - he found the third camera's lens had been smashed. But the user interface responded, and he pulled down what video there was into his padd to watch it while the rest of the team moved the surviving cargo to the two functional transports.
Two-side flank attack, he thought, watching the video. Heavy fire from the northeast, sniper and... single infantry on the southwest, maybe. The camera hadn't caught any of the attackers, but had plenty of their work. He watched himself, too, as he came out of the passenger side of the lead transport, face bloodied from the sniper's missed - or was it missed? - shot, the one that wrecked his visor, and blinked as he saw his own face blur, almost mistlike, in the image, then focus again, unbloodied, visor intact.
He replayed the video. It did not change. He played it again. What... what am I looking at here? he thought, touching his tactical visor.
«Any luck?» called Leticia. «We're about ready to move. Bring it with you!»
«No need,» he called back, quietly crushing the camera's control screen, before dropping it on the wreckage of the front seat. «It got trashed early on in the crossfire - nothing worth keeping. Let's head out!»
She stopped herself, mid-thought, remembering her daughter fighting alongside the Talon agent, and considered again. No, she concluded, it can't be all true - not if Fareeha is involved. She's a good girl, she would never go along. Perhaps... perhaps their sniper broke away from Talon. It has happened before.
The eldest sniper packed away the inactive beacon, her rifle, and her dart pistol, crisply snapping the case shut, satisfied for now. And even if Jack's not completely wrong, he's still become a monster. And monsters must be destroyed.
She headed down the hill, towards her camouflaged flyer.
All of them.
I know I said in comments to the previous chapter that this one might take a while since I was out of town doing shows, but surprise! It just kind of fell out of my head all at once.
"She's alive." The rocketeer looked up at the ceiling from a small private berth in the medical wing. The nanosurgeons and biotic field had done their work, and both she and Dr. Zhou were fine, all checked out and ready for action - at least, physically. "No call, no letter, no hint she'd survived, and now... this?"
The combat doctor sat by the bed, holding her wife's hand. She shook her head. "It's..."
"I can't believe it," Fareeha continued, unheeding. "I can't believe she's still alive. I just can't." She squeezed her eyes half-shut, still looking at the ceiling, but really, looking at memories. "We buried her, years ago, how...?"
"I remember." The funeral - like so many, at the time - had lacked a body. But there was a ceremony and a marker and a reception and most of all that empty feeling that wouldn't ever entirely go away, as much as Angela might try to fill it, a feeling of finality that did not sit well with being undone. "I had no idea."
"I know," said the soldier, gently squeezing that slender hand. "How could you have?"
"Are you angry at me for hitting her?"
Fareeha snorted. "I... no? Why? I don't think so. It sounded to me like she deserved it. Had I been awake, I think I might have given her more than a good slap - but I don't know." She rubbed her forehead with her free left hand. "She is my mother, and I always loved her, but she has always been like that, and now this, and now I don't know what to think."
"It feels unreal to me, even now, and I was there," said Angela. "I saw her myself, with my own eyes, but..."
"'Unreal.'" Fareeha sampled the sound of the adjective. "That's a good word for it." She shook her head. "I know, at some point, this will sink in. But right now, it hasn't."
Angela leaned down on her lover's shoulder, and no, that did not work. "Scoot over, there is room," she said, sliding onto the berth with her wife. "I am still very angry at her."
Fareeha put her head on Angela's shoulder. "I'm not surprised. I will be too, I think, eventually." She took a deep fortifying breath, trying to steady herself. "But she's right about one thing - about doing what is necessary. It's a military ethic, and I do understand it."
"Schiisdräck. It's just another excuse. She has always found excuses."
She has indeed, Fareeha thought, though she did not want to admit it. "You are not from a military family," she deflected. "You wouldn't understand."
"Don't give me that," she replied, poking her wife with pleasant indignity. "I'm Swiss - we are all military, in one way or another."
"Real military," goaded the Egyptian, a little smile on her face.
"Oh ho ho, is that how we are going to play this?" she chortled. "Do I have to slap you today as well? I remind you whose army has not lost a war in two and a half centuries."
"Do I have to remind you who hasn't fought a war in two and a half centuries?" retorted the rocketeer with a bit of a smile, for the moment.
"Because no one dares fight us," she said, with customary Swiss satisfaction. "Of course."
"I certainly will not fight you, not in the face of that logic," said the rocketeer, a quiet wryness in her voice as the sound of it went soft. "I surrender."
"Another glorious Swiss victory! But so easily?"
Fareeha rolled onto her side and wrapped her arms around her wife, and let out a long, low, shuddering sigh. "Would you just... hold me, for a little while, until we have to go upstairs?"
Oh, beloved, Angela thought, is it starting to register with you? "Of course I will. Come on, love, let it out." She pulled her lover's head against her chest, and slowly, softly petted her head as she quietly started to cry. She put away her angry thoughts about Ana Amari, and comforted her wife, instead - a far better and more immediate concern. "I'm here for you," she whispered, "as long as you will have me."
Hopefully, she thought, forever.
It's about time I showed this story deserves that pharmercy tag, don't you think?
Chapter 12: i'm pretty sure what i saw, but i could be wrong
"I'm pretty sure I know what we're gonna see on this video," Venom said, back in her Tracer garb, but still more than a bit blue at the edges and entirely gold in the eyes. "'Cause I'm pretty sure I know what I saw." She gave Angela Ziegler a pointed look. "But... I might be wrong."
Most of the current members of Overwatch Lunar Embassy sat around a table in the ambassador's workshop - even Fareeha, though her thoughts clearly chased rabbits elsewhere. Lena glanced over with more than a little sympathy - she hardly even remembered her mother, and couldn't even imagine what it would be like to have one return from the grave.
"If everyone's ready, I'm going to start with Ana Amari's recording," Winston said, to general assent. "I haven't looked it yet - Athena's just finished deep-scanning the media for anything... inappropriate... to our systems."
He sat quietly in his temporary quarters on the small Los Muertos compound just south of the New Mexico border. He could hear Delgado outside, running her fighters through the training regimes he'd taught her, with that new man, Arturo, acting as her second. Jack smiled to himself, hearing the noise. If we're not careful, I'm going to end up with a pretty good strike team here. Already got one that's not half bad, he thought.
The former - and, arguably, again - Strike Commander looked at the drive a third time, thought, the hell with it, and linked it to his padd. A notice came up, saying the file system was damaged, and he let it repair itself, which took only a couple of minutes, and produced a slightly larger video file.
Morrison dodged into view, and the sniper fired, again, quickly - Venom could see Jack all but centred in her sight - and again, that blur, and then, Morrison is fine, and dodging away, and one of the fighters with him is dead on the ground.
"What th'..." said Reyes, as Mercy blinked, and looked confused. Mei looked at the screen, and back to the doctor, similarly confused. "What just...?"
What the hell, he thought.
He stopped the replay, and backed up the video, and ran it again, in slow motion, frame at a time, zoomed in as before, tracking his own movement manually.
The scientist nodded, and motion stopped.
"...re-run that last shot at Morrison, slowly."
The sniper's scope tracked the soldier, a second fighter next to him, close by, but not unduly close. The shot rang out, just behind the former strike commander's motion, but still clearly a headshot. Then the blur.
He stopped the video, and studied the frame carefully. The compression wasn't too bad, but the resolution could've been better. He zoomed out, and saw the side of the truck in as sharp a focus as it had been a few frames before - just the upper part of his face became an indistinct mass.
Winston nodded. "I agree. Whatever this is, it's a real effect."
"Sorry luv, but the news gets worse. I saw exactly this happen," Venom said, "though my sight. I didn't talk about it yet, 'cause I figured maybe I blinked" - though she knew damn well that was impossible - "or maybe someone ran between me and Jack right as I took the third shot. But I know I had him dead in my sights, and when I fired, somebody else was dead on the ground."
"You took a kill shot?" asked Reyes.
"Third time, in that mess? Bloody right I did."
Mei looked unhappy and Gabriel frowned, but found he couldn't really argue. "...fair enough."
Venom nodded. "Step through, frame at a time?"
He flipped through the last set of frames. Nothing more than what he'd already seen - a broken visor, a blur, and an intact visor, in that order. It didn't make any sense. Nothing in the Soldier Enhancement Programme could do anything like that.
Unless it wasn't the SEP.
Winston blanched, and spread the key frames across the display. Gabriel looked more than a little ill, himself. "I have seen some fucked up things in my life, but that..."
Venom looked over to Dr. Ziegler, her anger controlled, but not entirely concealed. Angela said nothing, staring intently at the images. "Doc? You gonna say somethin'?"
He remembered finding one, no, two, and applying them both, and passing out as another blast hit the base.
And then he remembered nothing until he awoke, having somehow made his way outside, having scavenged a UN uniform from one of the Talon soldiers, and feeling more than a little out of joint, like he didn't fit back together quite right, like everything was just a little off, or a little more than a little off, and he remembered putting it out of his mind and concentrating on getting away, getting as far away as possible, before Talon's UN puppets could get ahold of him, and make him pay for his defiance.
What were you working on down there, Angela? he thought to himself.
"Pretty sure we just saw it," replied Venom.
"What are you talking about?" asked Winston.
"Angela?" the assassin prompted.
The medic shook her head. "I know what you are thinking," she said to Venom. "But you do not understand. My experimental nanosurgeons were not capable of doing what we just saw. Not even the most advanced ones."
Mei jumped in, supporting the doctor. "It's true! I knew that generation, this was not in their operating parameters."
He cleaned his knife, put it away, and pulled out a pistol to replace it. He stared at the medium-caliber firearm, not sure he was ready to do what he needed to do, then chided himself for not being enough of a soldier. Enough of a man. It worked.
"Delgado!" he shouted.
"Yeah, Spooky?" she replied from outside.
"Pistol's acting up. Gonna fire a couple of test rounds in here, clear it. Don't freak out."
"Sure you don't want to go to the range for that?"
"It's fine, I've got a fire box."
"Oh, okay. Thanks for the warning."
Dr. Ziegler rubbed her temples. "I agree that is what it looks like. But it cannot be what I made. If nothing else - I am careful! None of my experimental versions will, or even can, remain active for so long. The last time he could've had access was when the UN moved against the Geneva watchpoint, and nothing from that generation could survive."
"The evidence," said Winston, "indicates otherwise."
"It can't be!" She slammed her palms atop the table. "None of the experimental models from that era could!"
Venom narrowed her eyes at the doctor. "None of 'em? You sure about that, doc?"
Dr. Zhou leaned over to Dr. Ziegler. "I don't think you should rule it out, I could help you go over the old records, over everything that was in there when the fighting happened..."
Angela looked over to Mei-Ling gratefully. "I really don't think it's necess..." and she blinked at a thought, and looked back to Venom. Is... that what you think? Venom's face caught the doctor's surprise, as she realised that the researcher hadn't actually put it together herself yet, and the Talon assassin just nodded, and the doctor bit her lip. "...I... it has been some years, and that was a tremendously hectic - even chaotic - time. It... we should investigate. I would very much appreciate your help in that, Mei."
"Sure, Dr. Ziegler," confirmed the eco-biologist.
"Thank you," Venom replied, nodding. About time.
"God damn," said Reyes, "Could it be more than just him? Could others be... infected?"
"Absolutely not," said Angela. "My nanosurgeons would've impressed themselves with the initial contact DNA, it would be impossible for them to spread successfully. All" - she stressed, pointedly - "of my technologies rely on that. All of them."
Do it, you coward, he thought to himself. God damn it, just do it.
And he fired.
The pain was brilliant and sharp, more than he expected, but muted itself quickly. He felt suddenly almost like he was in a dream, half asleep yet fully awake, as he watched his foot splatter, then turn into a greyish and pink mist, and reform, in front of his eyes.
"No!" interjected Mei, with unexpected force. "That's not what we agreed!"
Tracer, or Venom, looked over to the Chinese scientist. "We agreed Overwatch gets first shot, then..."
"No!" she insisted, even more forcefully. "I will not go along with that!" She looked straight into the assassin's gold eyes. "You are not the only one he abandoned to her death. He abandoned my entire team and I want him tried for that. I want it exposed! I want my friends to be..." she choked a little, and suddenly she was crying, "I want my friends to be remembered! I want justice for them! In court, with it all exposed for the whole world to see him for the monster he is!"
Lena blinked, and blinked again, shocked by the intensity of the normally cheerful woman's outburst, and leaned forward, "Oh wow, Mei, I'm sorry, I know what..."
"No, you don't know!" The small woman shouted. "You know what it's like to disappear for years and wake up in the future but you do not know what it is like to wake up and find all of your friends dead because he couldn't be bothered to send a rescue ship! He knew we were in cryogenic suspension and still alive. At least with you, he thought you were probably dead, but with us, he knew we were alive, and just decided to let us die!"
She continued in a small, quiet voice, "And most of us did. Slowly. In the cold. As the power ran out."
Nobody knew what to say. Gabriel and Winston knew it wasn't that simple, but knew better than to open their mouths. Angela just leaned over to the smaller woman and offered her hand, and Fareeha just sat quietly next to her wife, comforting her in turn. And then Venom found her voice, at last. "I'm... I'm sorry, Mei. You're right."
Lena "Tracer" Oxton took a long, slow, deep breath, and let it out. "I withdraw my motion. Our friends will remain on stand down. Overwatch will try again."
I'd envisioned this as two columns, parallel sections vertically aligned with each other across the page, but there's no reasonable way to do that on AO3 (or tumblr), and even on Dreamwidth it'd be difficult. I also considered alternating left-right alignment, but with extra margin control, but decided that just looked messy. So I went with alternating sections and dividers.
Were this print, I'd've at least done a two-columns mockup, to see if it worked in real life. And my publisher would, presumably, hate me. XD
"Good girl," Amélie cooed to Ourson, her little black tarantula, a surprise gift from Lena the previous Christmas. "Back into your habitat. I will give you two crickets, one at a time."
She'd spent an hour cleaning Ourson's tank, replacing the soil, cleaning the little shelters where the spider liked to hide, scrubbing the shallow water dish, making sure the spider-safe plants were healthy in their hidden pots. The curlyhair didn't really need, or care, about the plants - but Amélie liked how it made the enclosure look more real, more like the Costa Rica from which the species originally came.
"I think you will be moulting soon," Widowmaker said, quietly, more to herself than to Ourson, who surely knew the truth of it better than her keeper. "I should make sure you are happy before you begin." The large spider did not need very much care, really - as pets go, Lena picked a nicely low-maintenance animal - and Amélie did more than really necessary, and enjoyed it.
"Go on," Widowmaker said, prompting the spider to the ground. It took a moment, but Ourson figured out that this was her home, and stepped lightly onto the new bedding. A moment later, and then there was a cricket, and she pounced, frighteningly quick, surrounding it with her legs and stinging, venom paralysing her prey in moments. Amélie cooed again, "oh, you were very hungry, weren't you? Well, there will be another once you are finished with the first."
When she was very young, Amélie had a fear of spiders, which she now found a little embarrassing, and more than a little ironic. But that was long ago, before she knew herself how to sting.
"Amélie!" shouted Lena, bursting in from the landing pad's exit corridor. "I'm home!"
The Widowmaker replaced the habitat's lid and turned to her lover, smiling the broad smile reserved only for her, and spread her arms wide. "Come to me, cherie!" The two women collided and spun around in the common room that they'd started thinking of a little bit as the family room, which is fairly silly for a Talon base, but not untrue despite it. "I am so happy to see you again." She leaned back and looked into Venom's brown eyes. "I see you've been dropping the sniper kit - have you checked in with Dr. Mariani yet?"
"Nah," said the junior assassin, "I wanted to see you, first." She kissed her wife, gently. "I've missed you so much. Overwatch is wretched. Please tell me we have a mission this week, I want somethin' to go right."
The spider chucked. "Oh, no, I'm so sorry." She returned Venom's kiss, and pet her head gently, running her fingers through that mop of hair. "A mission - pleasantly, we do, and it should be stimulating. I was saving that news for tomorrow, but... what happened?"
"Lemmie get checked out by th' doc first," said the occasional sniper. "It's a long story."
"You're doing well," said the Sicilian doctor, from behind her scanner console. "Could you shift your eyes the rest of the way back, please?"
"'Course, doc." Lena pushed the last of the gold out of her iris. "How's that?"
"Very good. Dilate your pupils, let me check the cornea? Thank you." The doctor had Venom look across eight compass points as small white lights danced around Lena's vision. "All very good. No visual centre confusion around the lack of blind spots?"
"Nothin' I've" - she chuckled - "...seen..."
Dr. Mariani smiled. "Yes, yes, your jokes are terrible. But your eyes are not. Shift dilation back to baseline? Thank you. Yes, everything looks very good."
Venom blinked a bit - shifting her iris felt like nothing, but somehow, dilating and undilating her pupils still felt just weird.
"Well, this is all, ah, very healthy," she said. "There is one thing, but - do not worry, this is not a health question, you are fine. Did you use your chronal accelerator as Mockingbird?"
"Yeaaaaaaah," said the assassin, stretching the "a" sound. "Sorry. I knew it might mess up your data collection, but when Angie pulled that little demonstration of hers, I just... wasn't ready for it. I teleported across the room."
"I thought so. Quite understandable, from what you described." She smiled wistfully. "I wish I could've seen it myself."
"Some of the data got messed up?"
"Eh, there is a... very small bias shift. I can, ah, compensate, yes. It is probably from the slipstream - unless you happened to be near a powerful antineutron entanglement array at some point."
"Wot's that then?"
"A big hummy thing, might make you tingle."
Lena laughed. "Amélie didn't go with me on this one, doc."
The doctor smirked. "I didn't think so. But I understand, your ambassador friend, he is a scientist, yes? He might have one."
"Might do. Want me to ask him?"
"Eh," she waved her hands, "it is not important. I will remember it can happen." She closed the padd and shut off the scanner. "Your blood chemistry is perfect, your metabolic tests are exactly on track - you'll feel warm for a little while, like usual, eh? And hungry in, ah, probably a few hours. Drink extra water until you feel the hunger. Good?"
"Yes'm. And... thanks for comin' out on such short notice."
"It is no problem, I want these readings for my own work, you know. Thank you for letting me take them." She backed away from the examination table and motioned to the door. "Now, shoo, get out of here - I want to make the last ferry home."
"Roger that. Thanks, doc!"
Venom fanned herself as she sat on the couch, back up to her normal temperature, and feeling it. "Terrible, yeh?"
Widowmaker - sitting across the low driftwood-grey coffee table, apart from her wife until she fully recovered - frowned, and shook her head. "I do not know where even to begin." She cast about, and picked one topic of the many. "I would not think one of Gabriel's plans would be so fragile. I know that no plan fully survives first contact with the enemy, but still."
Lena nodded, and drank from her rather tall glass of water. "It's not all his fault. The intelligence wasn't accurate, and those weren't ordinary Los Muertos street rats, but t'be honest - we were sloppy. And y'can't be sloppy like that."
"I hope you, at least, hit your shots," the elder sniper said with sardonic amusement.
The younger assassin snickered. "'Course I did, luv."
"So now, it is our turn?"
"Nope. I've agreed to give 'em another shot."
"When you voted against even the first?" She gave her wife a thoughtful look. "I am surprised."
Venom frowned. "I... I didn't want to. I moved to hand it over, in fact. But..." She ran her hand through her hair. "Y'shoulda heard Mei. You'd understand if y'did. Her whole team got left to die in Antarctica..." She shivered. "I'm not the only one who wants t'see him pay. She just wants it done all out in the open."
The spider hummed, and sipped at her afternoon glass of wine. An Italian table wine, a bit sweet, but not so far as a dessert wine, with hints of almost apricot. "Public justice, courtroom justice - but there is no small amount of revenge to that, as well."
"I dunno?" Lena said, sipping again from her water. "Mei..." She looked over at her wife with half a smile, not sure how to put together the words, realised she was trying to say two things at once, and picked one. "She's not like that. She reminds me of... who I used t'be, y'know? I used to believe in all that a lot more than I do now - and I don't want to be the one to take it from her."
Amélie gave her a knowing look across the top of her wineglass. "You know the only justice he'll face is whatever we deliver ourselves."
"Oh, yah, I know." Lena leaned back against the couch. "If I thought tryin' him would do any good, I'd maybe have different ideas - no matter how much I hate him. But they'll rehabilitate that bastard in nothin' flat. You and I both know it. People like him never get what's comin' to them."
The spider smiled. "Which makes this exactly the sort of job you like us to take on."
"Not so sure of that, either. You haven't seen the video yet. Lemmie show you."
She replayed the Amari video, highlighting the key points, and then her own, more recent video, showing the identical outcomes. "We'll need Angie's help to take him down - keep him from doin' this trick - and even she doesn't know how to make that happen yet. Figurin' it out's gonna be hard work. I don't think she'd do it to help us kill him - but for Overwatch, for a capture? She'll sort it in a week."
Widowmaker frowned. "That is indeed a complication. But I can't imagine even the best nanosurgeons could restore an adequately pureed brain, and I have some delightfully messy rounds."
Venom's grin returned, this time properly wicked. "Maybe. I like the idea. But I'd rather not risk it - you didn't see her revival demonstration." She frowned, and maybe even shuddered a little. "That was scary, and I know from scary. If he can do that..." She shook her head, and put it out of her mind. Why ask for trouble?
"It sounds to me like we should get her and Doctor Mariani together sooner, rather than later." She pointed with her wineglass in the direction of the base's medical laboratory. "Even if it's not on our preferred terms."
Tracer took another sip of her water. "I did get her to admit she's not ageing."
Amélie hummed, a little pleased sound. "So, at least, that much was accomplished."
"Yeh. Baby steps."
"So. The plan is that we let Overwatch fail again..."
"I'm gonna do my level best to help 'em succeed. I have to. But yeah, assuming..."
"...then we know how to kill him. But if we're wrong, and they take him into custody? Can you live with that?"
"Then..." the junior assassin scowled. "Then... I suck it up. Overwatch hands him over to the ICC, they score big political points, which'll help keep PETRAS act pressure down to a simmer. He gets off light - least, for a while, 'till he's out of the news." She smiled a very hungry smile, "And then, when everyone's forgot him again, we take him out for good. On the quiet. Everybody wins."
Widowmaker smiled. "Ah - the best of both worlds. Finesse, across time."
"I can in fact time-travel, love." She took another big draw of water, and felt her stomach shift. "Oooh, there we go. There's the ol' appetite. I am peckish. Feel like dinner?"
"I thought you would never ask."
"I would kill for a tissue sample right now," Angela said, looking over old, old notes.
Mei-Ling laughed. "Oh, I don't think you would!"
"No, but I would think about it." Dr. Ziegler leaned back from the screen. "At least I have some idea where to start. But there are so many variables..." She started a third batch of nanosurgeons, the variant least likely to have been in her lab at the time - but she couldn't rule it out.
A timer dinged, and Mei-Ling reached over to the results display. "First production batch is ready!" She looked over the properties data, comparing the theoretical characteristics against sampled. "Wow, it's been so long - these were so much less effective! But they match the old data very well."
"Thank goodness for offsite backups," said the senior researcher, leaning over to check the results herself, and nodding approvingly. "Let's hope the others match so closely."
"What's this other set of nanites over here?" Dr. Zhou brought up the other batch's synthesis input panel. "These are... very different! Much smaller!"
The medical doctor nodded. "And, at the time, highly experimental. If there's any way my work is causing what we've seen... it will involve those."
"...wha...? Oh! Good morn..." She looked around, seeing the overnight lights. "uh... What time is it?"
"Two a.m. - otherwise known as the middle of the night, when none of you should be awake. I'm getting Angela to bed. You should go sleep in your own quarters as well, unless you enjoy neck cramps."
Mei straightened her glasses and blinked her bleary eyes. "Yes." She shook her head. "She was supposed to awaken me at midnight when the latest test run completed! I wonder what happened?"
Angela stirred at the desk, at most half awake. "'S running again," she muttered. "G'back t'sleep, Lena."
"...Lena?" giggled Mei. "Dr. Ziegler, this is Mei-Ling!"
"Please, Dr. Zhou," said Fareeha, "Go get some rest. I will take care of this blonde mess."
Mei laughed, sleepily. "Blonde mess? You're so mean!" She yawned, a very big, and very deep, yawn. "That is probably a good idea though. I will be back in the morning. Good night, Angela!"
"...what?" said the medical doctor, finally awake enough to know who was in the room with her. "Oh, hello, dear. Good night, Mei."
"Come to bed, wife. Now." Fareeha pointed towards their quarters, as Mei made her way sleepily out the door.
Her wife shook her head, no. "There is another test running, it will finish up around four..."
"And it can sit there happily until nine. You do this every time you get into a big project, and your work suffers for it, and you suffer for it, and I suffer for it. And we agreed, I do not have to suffer for it anymore."
"This is only the third day," she guessed, with faked confidence.
"This is the fourth day, and is when you made me promise to stop you."
"I did not!" she insisted.
"You are a terrible liar," said her wife, "and you know it."
"I'm not, really," the doctor said, with a little sad smile. "Except to you."
"Bedtime," said the flying agent. "Now."
"Oooooooh - fine, then. You are correct, the quality of my work does suffer." She rose from the desk, and stretched so tall. "And this is important. I should get some better sleep." She shut off the lights, leaving the systems running.
"Any progress?" asked Fareeha, as they walked out into the hallway together.
"I'm..." Angela sighed, frowning a little. "I'm afraid I think so. This refined test will tell me for sure. We were getting nowhere until Mei-Ling suggested that he'd probably thrown down one of his old biotic field grenades, and if he activated everything all at once... I can't anticipate all the interactions. But I can make some guesses." She yawned, hugely, and stretched her arm across her wife's shoulders. "Carry me."
"You know what? I will." And she lifted the doctor off the floor, in her arms, effortlessly, like she had three years ago, and the Swiss woman laughed, delighted.
"What was that about Lena, though?" asked the Egyptian, as she continued down the corridor, apparently unburdened by carrying her wife.
"When you were still half asleep, you heard us, but you called Mei-Ling 'Lena.'"
"Yes," confirmed the rocketeer. "Are you still worried about her?"
"Honestly?" She put her other arm around Fareeha's neck, helping carry some of her own weight, or at least transfer it. "I am. I didn't know her so very well before, back in the sixties, but over the last year... she's done so much good, and yet, she's..." She fiddled with the words in her head, dancing around the simplest ones.
"An assassin," said her lover. "A political killer. Not the kind of career change I'd've expected, given her old records."
"It hurts, a little. I... I kind of adore her, when things are not so bad, when she's being Tracer and meaning it. Seeing her shift like she does, in the eyes, when she's set off..."
"The golden irises?"
"No. Those - you know, those are pretty. She's absolutely gorgeous, a person who is also an artwork - you haven't seen her accelerator when she's really showing off, artwork is the only word - and to me, the gold completes her. No," she shook her head, "it's the anger."
"Should I be jealous?" joked the rocketeer. "I can be angry, too."
"Never," said the doctor, smiling, patting her wife's chest.
"And her rage frightens you."
"It saddens me." She nuzzled her head up against Fareeha's neck. "We lost her once, to the Slipstream, and everyone mourned - I don't want to lose her again, to anger, to rage, or... to... whatever might kill someone in her line of work. I don't know if I could handle it." She let her eyes close, but tried not to fall asleep. "I can't accept death, not the way you do."
"I'm not convinced I can accept returns to life. You're handling her being back much better than I'm handling my mother's sudden return."
"Well - I've had more time." She shifted a bit as her wife turned down the residential corridor. "I've become quite fond of Lena, you know. Even if I don't let myself show it."
"You do, to me."
"Of course! But to her - I'm her doctor, that's all I can be. It's all I should be, ethically. Anything else is just asking for trouble."
"And you never do that."
"Never," giggled the doctor. "Not ever."
"Well," said the rocketeer. "Here we are. If you'll open the door, I'll carry you across the threshold again."
"You are so good to me," said the doctor, smiling, and undoing the lock.
At 10:01:01, it had that ear again, as if never lost, and it blinked, and groomed itself, and, finding everything in place, went back to running around in its cage, as if nothing had ever happened.
"Well," said Mei-Ling, quietly. "I think we've found it."
"Yes," whispered Angela. "Now, all we have to do is... find a way to make it stop."
[Yes, this is posted a day early, because I was starting to pad it for no reason just because I was feeling fiddly. Now I won't.]
"Still no sign of him?"
"Nope. Not a word. He's laying low - real low."
Tracer leaned against the table set off to the side of Gabriel's office, against the north wall. "It's been weeks."
Gabriel shrugged. "Intelligence is like that."
"I know, I know," she said breezily, but not without a hint of irritation. "So were the Forces."
The strategic advisor snorted knowingly. "It's no coincidence that 'Hurry Up and Wait' has been a running joke in every army ever."
"There's got to be some reason, though. He won't just have buggered off."
The Angelino nodded. "Most likely. Who knows what it is, though."
"It bothers me, luv, it really does." She fiddled with the buttons on her grapple, a nervous habit. "He's doing something. Don't know what, but... it bothers me."
"Me too. But Morrison'll surface when he's good and ready." He flipped through more pages of intel, some from his own sources, some from Lena's friends. "We just need to be good to go when he does."
[three months later]
"So that's how it's going to be, is it, Oxton?" Morrison said, still feeling strange, still feeling sluggish, still feeling as he had since the beginning of the assault when Ziegler had let fly that flare, that burst of light, and his convoy fell under assault again, for the second time in three months. But he kept dancing, around and away, low on ammo, lower on allies - at least, ones still standing - and he wasn't going to go down. Not if he could help it.
He'd broken away from the main corps, trying for high ground to launch his grenades, but this time, the tactical visor had stayed off, thanks to Ziegler's new toy. "The last Overwatch survivor, finally brought down by Talon?"
"Damn you, Morrison - don't tempt me," Lena Oxton snapped back before thinking, pistols aimed but not firing, still circling her target - but as Tracer in orange and tangerine, no matter how much she wasn't wanting to play that part right then. She gestured to the patch on her shoulder. "We're Overwatch, not Talon, and we're here to take you in for charging and trial. We're not here kill you."
"You? Overwatch? Don't make me laugh. There's no real Overwatch, not anymore. Not since the attack. Not since '70."
"Jack, please! Just stand down!" shouted Mei-Ling, peeking around from behind her ice wall. "You'll have a chance to defend yourself. The ICC will hear your case. You will have your day in court!" And I can't wait to testify against you, she did not add aloud.
Where the hell is Delgado's team?! the former Strike Commander thought, stalling for time, running for distance. He snarled at the scientist. "A show trial in front of that puppet theatre, before I have all the evidence of what's really been going on? I don't think so." He fired another few rounds at Oxton, trying to conserve his remaining ammo. "Of all the people - of all the people, Mei - you? Working with Talon, like the rest? I thought you were better than that."
What the bloody hell does he know?! thought Venom, dismayed. He must be bluffing. Got to be. "What is it with you and Ana, anyway? Is everything Talon to you, now?" She glanced around, the briefest of looks. C'mon, Gabe, I can't do this forever. Where are you? Rally the rest of the troops, already!
"Roger that," came her subvocalised reply over comms. "But it's me and Mei against him and he's not being talked down. How long you gonna be?"
"It's a proper strike force on their side. We're wearing 'em out, and we'll win this, but it's gonna take a few minutes. Keep him entertained 'til we can bring the party to you?"
"We'll do our best, but he's getting away from us."
"From you? "
"I'm holdin' back, luv. Playin' my part."
"Right." He rolled between boulders, firing suppression rounds, getting closer to the front line as D.va - who had finally responded to the recall a week before - charged in on their the right flank with a round of minirockets. "We'll get there as soon as we can."
Wow, he's just... out on his own somewhere, isn't he? thought the teleporter. "Jack, this is barmy - what are you even on about?"
"Like you don't know." He threw a volley of gunfire at the teleporter, hitting her arm, and she let out a little "yipe!" before rewinding the damage. "Like that," he said. And like they did to me, he thought. But I'll turn it back against them. I'm the one who can. He backed away, again, further and further from the main fighting, and felt a little better, a little faster, a little less stuck.
"This," she said, teleporting behind him and clocking him hard on the back of his head with the butt of her pistol, wanting to do so much more, but being so very, very good, and hating it so very, very much, "is your fault. Or the Slipstream's. Or both." She teleported away as he turned and fired, calling, "And being stuck there for five years? Definitely on you." She punctuated the 'definitely' with four rounds of fire, two on either side of his head, bullets whizzing just past his ears.
Mei-Ling ran as fast as she could, and as hard as she could, throwing up walls to slow him down, catching up just a bit. "Jack, you must stand down! You can outrun me, but not her, and the rest of the team will be here in very soon. You have no chance!"
"I always have a chance," he growled. "I survived your entire assault force - this? This is nothing." I just need to get a little further back, he thought. Almost there. I can feel it.
And then, suddenly, he was there. His tactical visor reappeared, materialising, as if formed from nothing. Tracer saw, and jinked to the side, shouting, "MEI! GET DOWN!" and she threw her stinger, sticking it to his left arm, all but reflexively...
...and the soldier's whole body turned to mist, not as, but just before the bomb exploded. She teleported away, last one...
...and the mist followed, and she ran, ran like she'd never run, oh shit, oh shit, oh shit, seven seconds, just give me seven...
...which was when the the solder's grenade hit her back, hard, followed by the solder's last clip of assault rifle rounds, and she fell, limp, onto the ground, and did not get up.
"LENA!" shrieked Mei, and she charged, throwing spears of ice at the Strike Commander, who sneered, but retreated, choosing the better part of valour, being out, finally, of both grenades and ammo, at least for now. "MERCY!" she shouted into comms, "GET HERE RIGHT NOW, TRACER DOWN AND NOT GETTING BACK UP!"
"We're en route," said the combat medic over comms, "they're retreating and we are on our way!"
Dr. Zhou looked with growing horror at Tracer, who seemed to be struggling to reach something, and not bleeding out, at least, not quickly, and she didn't know how that was possible with a hole that big in her back, How are you alive?! How are you moving?! she thought, but she fired, and fired, and fired, after the Strike Commander, missing, putting up a wall at the end, as he ran out of sight. "MERCY!" she called again. "SHE IS DYING!"
Lena struggled, trying not to black out and succeeding, reserves draining but there is time, there is more than enough time, reaching for one of the hidden venom mines in her pouch but her shoulder wasn't quite working, looking at Mei, mouthing something Mei could not understand. "No! Don't try to move, Angela is on the way!" the researcher said, grabbing Lena's arm, and Lena fought her, getting stronger, not weaker, no, Mei, no, let me, let me get... but she could not draw air, so she could not speak, and then...
"Helden sterben nicht!" shouted the doctor, arriving, as the look in Tracer's eyes screamed No! as loudly as she could make it scream, before she was taken by fear, terrified of what could...
...it was cool. So cool. Unexpectedly so, but not cold, not painful, not like tearing and shifting flesh, nothing like pain at all. She tingled, all over, and somehow, she found herself still aware though it, still awake, still thinking, floating, weightless, glowing, and then suddenly, it was over, and she was standing, and whole. She grabbed at her chest in panic, where some of the rounds had exited, and teleported, successfully, and rewound, and teleported again, and everything - everything - just worked.
She looked around through golden eyes, seeing the world in sniper-sight, and that's when she knew, and again, became cold.
"...you perfected it?!" said Mei, and Angela nodded, briefly. "Yes. A couple of years ago. But... Lena, please!" she shouted, "Do not teleport any more! I need to get you back to the ship at once, for an examination! Please!"
The assassin froze, stopping in place, perfectly still, and tested her web, tested her systems, and found everything right back where it should be - for Mockingbird, anyway.
She hit a set of buttons on her grapple, flipping her armour back to Tracer tangerine and white, but left her eyes gold as she said - with very little inflection in her voice at all - "Yeh. Clearly. And, Mei, luv... you witnessed all this... you need to tell the rest of the team. Fill them in, tell them what he can do now."
She popped the sight off her rifle and separated it back into its component pistols - Tracer wouldn't have that - and re-holstered them both. "Let's go."
Medical data flashed by on the panel over the ship's examination table, and Dr. Ziegler looked at it, but without enthusiasm, or even her regular focus. She knew it all already - she knew that Lena was in perfect health. In every way. She just prayed the woman didn't know...
"I didn't think you could do your resurrection trick without a deep scan," Venom said, in a pointed but quiet voice. "Much less invoke all... this."
The doctor considered the monitor readouts, intently, but Lena did not let it lie.
"That is what you said, isn't it? That's what I seem t'remember."
Angela closed her eyes, took a deep breath, and exhaled, shuddering. Well. This is it, then. She swallowed, hard. "That's right. I can't."
Venom's face set, grimly, into an angry frown. "Yeh. That's what I thought. When?"
"In my office. When you agreed you were still my patient. It was automatic, but that is not a defence - I knew it would happen, and I let it."
Lena nodded. "Antineutrino entanglement scanner, maybe? Ordinary scanners won't work."
Angela blinked her eyes open, surprised, looking towards her patient. "Yes. Still considered experimental. How did you know?"
Lena smirked. "Had a hunch."
"So." The assassin propped herself up, carefully, on her elbows. "You lied to me."
"Yes. No. Yes. It was part of the paperwork you signed, back in London, technically, but... yes. But I never looked at the data. Not even once, I swear to you. I have no idea how you work. I did not violate that confidentiality. I swear."
Venom coughed, a mockery of a laugh. "If that's true, luv, then how did...?"
"I wanted to violate it," she broke in, looking down though wet eyes. "So much, I wanted to. But I didn't. I couldn't, I knew how you'd..." - she finally thought about the question - "I... I compiled it all into the Mockingbird revival database, destroyed the original, and prayed I wouldn't have to use the result. Or that you'd agree, before I did."
"Why would you do that?" Oxton looked down, towards the deck. "Dammit, doc, you know what I said I'd have to do."
"I did not touch your tech," the doctor insisted, desperately clinging to that technicality.
"I am my tech," refuted the assassin, "and you know it."
"Please, no, you don't have to do this, I truly do not know," said the doctor, an edge of fear in her voice.
Oxton shook her head, no. "Don't think that's good enough... 'cause it's not."
Angela shuddered, surrendering to the inevitable. "...I know."
"Well, then." The Swiss woman set her chin, but it was wobbly. "I will quit Overwatch."
"Ah, no, mate, they need you." Lena sat, swinging her legs over the edge of the table. "More than they need me, t' be honest."
"That's a lie, and you know it."
"Is it? I don't think so." Venom rose from the medical bunk. "They've got a tactical planner, now - one who isn't me." She spun her pistols, just trying to feel normal again, and re-holstered them. "Winston can keep the team together just fine. Tracer..." She shook her head. "She's just an act, s'far as I'm concerned." Flipping her armour back to black and violet, she continued, "One I'm not sure I'm comfortable playing anymore."
"Please don't do this."
"Give me a reason not to, doc," she said, finally pushing the gold from her eyes. "I've put a lot of work into this project, I've really wanted it to fly, but it's become pretty clear that it's..."
"Please don't punish all of them because I decided I'd rather see you hating me than lying dead on the ground," whispered the doctor. "They didn't know." Sobbing all at once, the damn breaking, she looked over to the smaller woman, entire face wet. "It's not their fault."
Venom froze in place, hand just short of the Talon retrieval beacon, and Angela desperately kept talking.
"I swear to you, I do not know how you work. No one does. The data is gone - completely - except within my nanosurgeon farm, and even it doesn't understand, it's not intelligent, not really, and the data is too enmeshed with other data to retrieve. Even I couldn't do it. Hate me," she begged the assassin, falling to her knees in front of the smaller woman, "hate me, if you must, I have betrayed your trust to keep you alive, I freely admit that and I will accept your hate - but I could not accept your death a second time."
Venom felt dismay at the outburst, confused, ...what is going on...? and the doctor stared back down, down, down at the floor. "Just... don't leave. Don't do it. Please. Don't."
Please. Don't. The words rang through Venom's head like a shot not fired, and, unwanted and unexpected, a tear fell from her own eye, as it dawned upon her to ask, "Are you in... lo..."
She did not finish the word. She didn't have to. "...I'll..." she swallowed, shocked, and wiped her face with her hand. It was still cool to the touch, even to her own. "This is really bad. I'll have to tell Amélie what you've done."
"I do not care. I will confess everything."
"I can't tell you what she'll decide to do. I don't honestly know. But whatever decision she makes, I'll accept it."
"For whatever it's worth, doc - I do believe you, when you say you don't know how we work."
"You do?" Angela looked up at Lena, blinking, surprised.
"Yeh. If y'did... you'd know you didn't need to do that."
"We are bloody hard to kill. And... y'did think you were saving my life. With Mei being in the way, stopping me from healing myself... maybe you even did." She bit her lower lip, thoughtfully. "I don't hate you," she said, as she stepped back outside, "...but now I know I can't really trust you, either."
Mercy's gaze dropped back down to the transport's deck. "I'm sorry."
"I want to believe that," Venom said, regret in her voice. "I really do. I think I even might."
"But... for the record? I want it logged. You are no longer my doctor."
Angela Ziegler just nodded, accepting the fact.
Lena Oxton stepped down past the end of the boarding ramp, spotting the rest of the assault team returning from the ambush, not at all far away now, with prisoners. Mei-Ling waved, the scientist's broad smile sharing her relief, and the assassin bit her lip and turned back to Dr. Ziegler, quickly, without acknowledging it. "Tell everybody the truth about what happened, 'cause I will if y'don't. And probably will even if y'do. But for now..." She pressed the retrieval beacon's activator switch. "I'll see ya... when I see ya."
And with that, she teleported away.
[Special thanks to bzarcher for feedback on this chapter, particularly regarding the need for the first section to exist at all.]
Chapter 16: where the scattered pieces go
[All text in «chevron quotes» is translated from the Italian.]
Ana Amari blinked, and looked again, more closely, zooming her sight further in.
Same woman, before and after. Unquestionably the same woman. I knew it. She shuddered a little, despite herself. Knowing, that was one thing - seeing the transformation happen, that was another. Tracer is Mockingbird. And most certainly the Talon assassin 'Venom,' as well.
How many ways have they split her? How many people is she? And... Angela is her controller? She can trigger the changes? That, I did not expect. The sniper held her position as Mockingbird flipped her costume back to Tracer, and disassembled her sniper rifle into her paired pistols.
It's all true, she thought. He's not mad. He's a monster, but they're all monsters - he's just been the one talking about it.
She scanned the distance as Morrison retreated, trying to regroup with the rest of his strike force. What do I do? What do I do, now? She looked towards the small number of Los Muertos fighters being taken in by the "Overwatch" strike team, and then, towards the distance, where Morrison and his cadre had retreated.
Those poor prisoners, she thought, looking back at the captives. 'The Dead' is all too apt. Who knows what demons they'll make out of you? But the numbers were bad, and the range was worse. She might, she knew, put them out of their misery, but would most certainly be taken herself in the aftermath. Unacceptable.
In the other direction, Morrison, Jack Morrison, her personal demon, surviving by stealing others' lives, consuming the living to fuel himself and his quest for vindication, to prove everything he's ever said about 2070 was true.
She weighed the options as both groups receded further into their relative distances. Scylla or Charybdis, Scylla or Charybdis, she thought. There are no good choices. But one cannot hide from duty. Oh, Fareeha, my poor daughter, knowing you are mixed up in this... She swallowed, hard. But... better the devil you know. And if he's been right about this much... maybe he's been right in other ways, as well.
I will send a message to Fareeha, warning her off. She'll listen, she has to.
She pulled up her sight, and slid discreetly back down the little slope on which she'd lain. Morrison, then. God help me.
"Yes," nodded the medical doctor, trying to force herself back into a semblance of her normal self. "I have made a terrible mistake. Lena is... Lena is perfectly healthy. But I must ... I have to ... I ..." she rubbed her temple with her left hand. Get yourself together, doctor! She took a deep breath and fortified her nerves. "I will explain, once we are back to Geneva, and the prisoners are safely secured away."
"But you saved her life! What went wrong?"
"I swear, I will tell you everything, I will tell everyone everything, but - prisoners."
Mei nervously nodded as the slower-moving assemblage of captives and Overwatch agents made their way to, and up, the hatchway ramp. Winston, Pharah, Reyes, and D.va looked around, seeing no sign of Tracer, and Fareeha looked at the doctor first, concern in her eyes.
Ziegler set her chin. "Tracer is well, but has departed via her own transport. I will debrief everyone once we have returned to base - but not before. Also, I must examine the Los Muertos personnel once we are underway." She looked at the angrier of the two fighters. I know her, she thought. I've seen her before. Somewhere. Where?
Winston nodded, a little sad, but accepting what he mistakenly thought he understood. "Athena, prepare for immediate liftoff. I'll be piloting us home."
"No military trouble?" asked Svetlana, Taviano's security escort, who did not drop anything.
"No military trouble," she acknowledged. "Security trouble, but - not that kind. You can stand down. And strap in, for that matter, we're boosting off right now."
«Then it's not a medical emergency?» the combat nurse asked, as Lena dashed past him, onto the primary deck.
«A bit of yes, a bit of no. Once we're in the air, I'll have you check everything you can, but I need a full workup as soon as possible.»
«Dr. Mariani will be waiting for us on arrival. Is it safe to take off?»
«Yes,» she said, hopping into a crash couch, and slipping on the internal comms headset. «First priority is to get out of here. Who's piloting?»
«van Vliet» he said, strapping himself in, in turn. «Combat experience.» "Svetlana," he called over to his escort, in English. "You good to go?" and gave a thumbs up as the Russian signalled her readiness.
"Hey, Clara, thanks for coming," Venom said, into comms, as soon as the nurse secured himself down. "Patch Amélie into the onboard comms and burn the boosters, I need home right now."
"Rockets first, patch-in later. Emergency launch in five, four, three," said the pilot, "two, one," and the ship threw itself up and forward at the usual four Gs.
«Tell me what's going on,» said the medic, over headset comms.
«Ziegler did what we were afraid she might,» the assassin replied, grimacing. «And worse. One minute, I'm injured but still playing Tracer, the next, I'm healthy, but all in black and green and sniper-style. Sure hope nobody on the other side saw it.»
«No wonder you want a workup. Are you feeling normal?» he asked, quickly. «Are your internal systems reporting anything atypical at all, no matter how small?»
«I feel fine, and no, all clear. I'm hoping you can verify that once we're back in international airspace.»
Nurse Bonsignore nodded. «I'll hope there's nothing interesting to find.»
[three hours later]
"You're certain she's well?"
"If there's anything wrong with her," said the doctor, "I can't find it. Her specifications match exactly the, ah, standards we set, the last time we ran them." She tapped her lips thoughtfully with her right pointer and middle fingers. "I should've complained more about the reading drift I saw. The problem, though, it's just so difficult to know, with her unique condition. It complicates everything."
"But meanwhile," said the Widowmaker, "she is fine."
"Was it necessary?"
"What Ziegler did, to keep her safe? Eh. I cannot say for sure, I did not see it. From what she says, it was a bad wound, very bad - emergency, yes - but I think she would have recovered. Definitely time to get her injected, get her stable, call us in. But for anyone with, ah, only experience in more baseline patients? It would seem necessary."
"How do you feel about... Ziegler?"
"Disappointed. I think Lena's right, we can't trust her, not on her word, but..." She shrugged, hands out and up. "But that is not so unusual. Perhaps with some leverage, it would come out all right."
The Talon assassin smirked. "I do not think there is any dirt to be had on the good doctor."
"I am not so sure about that."
Dr. Mariani nodded. "She worked with Moira O'Deorain. No one in Overwatch was completely, ah, clean? Clean. Except your wife, somehow. But... O'Deorain..." She shook her head. "I work with professional assassins, yes? By comparison, I feel I have nothing to hide."
Amélie laughed. "That is... probably fair. When may I see Lena?"
"As soon as this last scan is done. I'm making new images, to be safe."
"I offer my resignation as Overwatch medical officer. It will not, I promise, change your or Overwatch's status in any way, but I have committed a ... serious ethical violation. I have made that kind if mistake before, and have tried to do better, but... failed myself, as much as her... and I think it is necessary to..."
The doctor had explained what she'd done earlier, in an all-hands meeting. It had been difficult - even to an essentially sympathetic audience - but necessary. This was the logical next step.
"Are you out of your mind? Angela, we need you."
Angela smiled a wan smile. "That... was her opinion, as well."
"Look, Ange, I..." he shook his head. "Frankly, I think you were right. You've made the same scans of all of us, and she should've had the sense to say yes, particularly with the security precautions you took. And from how Mei described her wounds, I think you were right to revive her, too."
"She says it was not necessary."
"Angela, it's Lena. Call her Venom, call her Tracer, call her Mockingbird, call her whatever, she's Lena. She was a test pilot and now she can bend time and she literally thinks she can survive absolutely anything."
"She was still moving with a 15 centimetre hole in her back. I'm not sure she's wrong."
"I'm not willing to bet she was right." He slid the letter back across his desk to the doctor. "As far as I'm concerned, you should burn this. I can't force you to stay - if you quit, you quit - but I'm sure as heck not accepting any resignation offer from you."
"Thank you." Dr. Ziegler took back the envelope, and smiled, just a little. "Then... I will need more oversight, and we will need to do something to regain their trust. Even if she and Amélie forgive me... I have damaged our relationship. I must repair it."
The Lunar Ambassador nodded. "There, at least - I agree."
"Has she answered any of your calls, yet?"
"No. I was about to try again, when you knocked."
"I will leave you to it, then."
"Do you want to try?"
The doctor hesitated. Yes, she thought. "I... no. I think it would not be best."
"I... no, I'm not. I... may I sit down?"
"Of course! Pull a chair up on my side of the console. Even if you don't make the call, you should be here if they decide to answer."
"I'm not sure I should do that, either." She pulled over a chair, sat, and rested her face on her hands. "I am emotionally clouded. All of these decisions - they didn't come only from medical determinations, they came because I have become... too fond of Lena."
"But we're all fond of..." A small moment passed. "...oh."
The doctor grimaced, embarrassed. "Oh."
"Does Fareeha know?"
He chuffed a big chuff of breath. "...does Lena also...?"
"I do not think so. It is my problem, not hers."
"That does make everything more complicated."
"You're telling me?" laughed the doctor. "I... have always had a tendency to feel a little too much for my patients. It is what drives me, but it is a problem, and it is why I maintain such strict professionalism, particularly when I do not feel so professional. But... this time, it went too far."
"Can you handle it?"
"I'll have to."
"Maybe I should be the one to make that call again, after all."
"I think so."
Winston offered his hand, palm up. "Thank you for telling me everything, Angela."
"Thank you," she said, taking it, just for a moment, "for not accepting my resignation."
The gorilla laughed. "Never. Now - out of my office. I'll try to contact Lena again."
To: Fareeha Amari
Subject: If you are still you, leave Overwatch at once
I am sorry that I have not written you all these years, but I have been hunting a very particular monster who has been responsible for far more personal evil than I had ever previously imagined, and my silence has been necessary to that end. I never wanted to leave you alone for so long, but I thought I had no choice.
Now, I have found out that I have been chasing the lesser devil all this time - and that you are involved with the greater of the two.
I know who Lena Oxton is. I know everyone Lena Oxton is.
Leave Overwatch at once. If you have any sense at all, leave Angela, as well - I know that is hard, but I know what she's done, and if she is still making the same decisions, there is no redeeming her. While you still can, before you are remade, I beg you - leave her and Overwatch behind.
There is much more I wish I could tell you, but I can't, not yet. But someday, and hopefully, soon.
To: Jack Morrison
Subject: We need to talk.
Don't ask how I have this address, it is not important. What is important is that I have learned that you may not be so crazy after all. I have information about Talon that you want and that you would pay any price to get.
We need to talk, in person, just you and me, like old times. Unarmed, and in public, but where we can speak Arabic and reasonably expect not to be understood - assuming your Arabic is still any good.
(Well, let's be honest, it never was any good. But if it's no worse.)
If you're willing to meet, under these terms, reply within two days. Otherwise... I will explore other avenues.
Capt. Ana Amari
Chapter 17: do not hold any of it back
Fareeha read the letter again, face grim, shaking a little, enraged. How dare she. How dare she?!
"Angela! Come here, please!" she called into the other room. This will have to go to all of Overwatch, but... she should know, first.
"Fareeha? Are you all right? You sound..." Her wife leaned around the doorframe and saw that, in fact, her wife was tightly, rigidly angry. "Oh, no. What is it, liebchen?"
"Come here, and hold me, while you read this."
Angela stepped quickly forward to the flying agent's chair and wrapped her arms around her neck, reading over her shoulder. "...I... I... this has to go to the entire team."
"I know. I wanted you to see it first."
"Do not hold any of it back, send it unedited."
"That is not why." The Egyptian turned in her chair to face her wife. "I've decided. I will do it. I want to do it, now. How long will it take to prepare a set of nanites for me?"
Angela gasped, and covered her mouth with her left hand, her heart leaping, and she stepped half a step back, then threw herself around her wife, holding her tight, so tight, so unready for that declaration. "I... That is not the reaction I..."
Fareeha held her wife gently, pulling her head against her strong shoulders, her eyes closed, brushing her fingers through her wife's hair. "I know."
"But... why? I am..." The doctor took a long, deep breath, and pulled back. "I... have committed a serious ethical lapse - it was not my first - and ... I have wanted this for too long. I, I have to be sure. I have to know. You are not doing this just to spite your mother?"
Fareeha laughed, a little bitterly. "No."
"Have I put pressure on you? Have I been..."
Fareeha chuckled and smiled. "No."
"Then... why? Why now?"
Her wife grew quite sombre, quite quickly. "I..." She pursed her lips and looked at the floor, and did not speak for a moment, and then not for another moment, and not for another moment after that. She covered her eyes with her hands, then covered her entire face, sliding her palms slowly down, collecting her thoughts. Softly, looking up, but to the distance, she began, "I was always taught life had phases, and that it mattered to go through all of them." She bit her lip. "That they all have a purpose. That everything has a time, and a place, and that all the phases of life are equally valuable, in different ways. Part of that is... that age brings wisdom."
"I do not disagree," said her wife, softly.
"Mother - Ana - believed in that, particularly. That the wisdom of age is important to humanity. That there is value - and knowledge - in understanding the decay of time, in understanding" - she looked at her own strong arms, and her own strong hands - "that this does not endure."
Angela Ziegler nodded, and her expression subtly changed, as her thoughts raced ahead of her wife's speech.
"I have lived long enough to understand that, at least, a little. But - if she... if this is what she calls wisdom..." She glared back to the screen, with its softly glowing text, anger in her eyes. "This is not wisdom, it is insanity." Her gaze whipped back to her wife, and she looked deep into her eyes. "Is this what awaits me in old age? This... paranoia? This capriciousness? This... madness? I will have no part of it. I beg you to save me from this."
Angela met her wife's sight, falling into the dark pools of her eyes, reaching across to her wife, touching her cheek and chin and hair. "I have wanted nothing more in my life." She closed her own eyes, for a moment, and opened them again. "But ... I have to do this correctly."
"Whatever this is," she gestured to the text on the display, "it is not genetic. If it is environmental, it is not in you. You carry nothing that makes this inevitable, or even likely. I do not know what has happened to your mother, but ... I do not think, not even for a moment, that you would share her fate."
Fareeha nodded. "Good." Slowly, she looked down again, contemplating Angela's declaration carefully for seconds, then for a minute, then for another, before looking back up. "But it doesn't change my decision. The only reason - the only true reason - I have said no, is my belief in what she taught me." She reached over, and touched the display, with its texts, with its threat. "I no longer have good cause to think it has value."
"I'm sorry," said her wife. "I'm so sorry."
"I'm not," said her lover. "Illusions do not suit me." She shrugged. "Besides, it's not like you can't turn the nanites off."
"No," acknowledged the doctor. "But they will begin repairs immediately. You will lose your scars, over a period of weeks. They are part of your life, your experience, and they will fade completely, over time."
The younger soldier nodded. "They are mostly hidden, anyway."
"Not from me," smiled the doctor. "I treasure them, as they are a part of you."
The flying officer snorted. "They hurt in rainy weather, you know that. They bother me every time we visit my father. This one, in particular," she pointed to the left side of her ribcage, "I will be most glad to see this one gone."
"You will look younger. Not very much, but somewhat. Overwatch ignores it, in me - but they may not, in a field soldier. In you."
"I will demonstrate to them that I do not care what they think."
"Then you are absolutely sure?"
"Yes," she said, mind clearly made up. "I have no idea what it takes to start the process. If I could take the first dose, receive the first infusion, whatever the procedure might be - if I could do it right now, this very instant, I would."
Angela laughed, just a little - "I have been waiting to do this for so long..." - and sat in her wife's lap, and kissed her, breathlessly, tightly, hard. Her lips tingled against her wife's, like electrics, but without the shock, and Fareeha felt her pulse quicken, and it felt to the rocketeer almost as if their hearts were moving into sync as the electrics moved across her skin, and her eyes widened as the low, persistent, ignored ache in her left shoulder faded, and she realised... Now. And she pulled her wife against her, harder, and they kissed until neither could avoid breaking away for a breath, as hard as they fought against it, and so they broke away, both panting, both shaking, just a little.
"That... was not what I expected... in a nanite delivery system." She laughed, in little huffs, feeling somehow light, somehow bubbly, all over. "But I approve of it."
Her wife took a deep breath, giggling throughout, no, more than that, but she did not have words for the kind of burbling elation running through her mind. "I," she laughed, "I thought it would be a gift on our honeymoon, but I've kept it to myself until you were ready... I am so happy... but... how do you feel?"
The Egyptian laughed, and pulled her wife back against her body. "I feel, doctor, like I need another dose."
Angela grinned broadly, eyes alight like stars. "You don't, but - isn't it convenient I just happen to have one ready?" She leaned in, and they kissed again, 'till nothing else mattered at all.
Two hours later, Fareeha forwarded Ana's message to the rest of Overwatch, flagged "Mission Critical - Urgent," recommending most strongly that regular Embassy staff be warned, that Swiss and UN authorities be notified, and that Athena step up security on all exterior access points. "If Ana Amari has decided to play it like this," she said, in her forward, "we need to take her seriously. I will do what I can to talk her back to sensibility, but this is a threat, and it should be treated as such. And so, unfortunately, should she."
The assassin hit [Acknowledge Signal] on her padd, and jumped in first, saying, "Fine," exasperation in her voice. "I'm here. First things first tho', did Angela tell you..."
"Check your mail. Right now. I'll wait."
Lena glared, angry again. "No. First. Did Angela tell you what happened?"
"Yes," said the scientist, "We know. The whole team. We know all of it, I'm pretty sure. She offered her resignation, I refused to accept it. Lena, check your mail right now. It's important."
Lena looked sideways at Winston, anger in her eyes, but pulled up her Overwatch mail in another window. "That's quite the thread you've... got..." She blinked. "...oh."
The scientist nodded. "That's why I haven't been letting you cool down. I'm sorry, but you can see why."
"Wow," said the Talon assassin. "This is bad." She read Ana's mail - and Fareeha's commentary and recommendations - again. Or maybe, she thought to herself, it's good. Maybe now they'll just step aside. She looked back towards Winston. "Do you know what this means?"
"Fareeha is trying to talk to her. No luck so far, but she's still trying."
"Do you know what this means? Winston, I need to know."
"...yes. I do."
"Good." She sighed and shook her head. "I tried, luv. I really did. I could've solved this weeks ago. But I was nice, and I played it your way... and look where it's got us."
"We don't know that. And I don't like your way of handling these things. I'll never like it, and I'll never not prefer our way, and I'll never stop insisting we get first shot, when it's our jurisdiction. But..." he looked down and to his left. "You had a right to know about this mail. Even if I knew how you'd react. Even if I knew what you'd do."
You made sure I was informed, the assassin realised. You didn't delete the mail. You even called my attention to it. She breathed. Bloody hell, this has to be hard on you.
Lena's face softened a little, and she smiled a sad smile. "Thanks, big guy." She closed her eyes. "I need to talk to Angela - using my codes. I'll drop a new set of keys in the usual place; she'll need access to that drop, or you'll need to ferry the files." She looked back at her old friend. "Will you do that for me?"
The ambassador nodded, deciding not to ask why. "I will."
"No, you're not. You're glad you've got a reason."
Venom snorted. "Fair cop. I really am sorry, though. Not for what we're gonna do, but for how hard it is on ya."
"This is not the first time I've had to be a little complicit... but it may be the most difficult."
Lena nodded. "I didn't want..." Damn you, Morrison - do you have to destroy everything you touch? "I didn't want to put you in that position again. That's all."
"Look, Lena," said the scientist. "Just don't go out of your way. Not with Ana. I know what Jack's done, that's one thing, but Ana..." he said miserably, "Do what you have to, just... don't be extra about it. Can you at least do that for me, if not for Fareeha? Please?"
The Talon agent thought about it, hard. If we can get the video, if we can get that damned gun of hers before she hands off imagery... then she's just another batty old conspiracy theorist who doesn't make any sense. And we don't risk losing Pharah. She gave Winston a dubious look - the most dubious of looks - and set her upper lip, but nodded, just a little. "I'll try. No promises."
"None expected," he said, knowing it was the best he'd get.
She pressed a few buttons on her padd. "I've dropped new codes for Angela. You'll relay 'em?"
"She'll have them in a few minutes."
"Thanks, big guy. For all of it, but... particularly for not trying to hide this from me."
"These were colleagues of mine once, Lena. Yours, as well. Don't make me regret this any more than I already do. Please."
"Gloves off, luv. We're gonna do what's needed." She shook her head, and tapped the tabletop in front of her. "But I'll do my best t' keep it to that."
"Thank me when it's over - if y'still want to. Y'may not. But right now..." She put her hands on the table. "I need to debrief my team."
"Good luck," Winston said, "...I think."
Lena smiled, ruefully. "Best I'll get?"
"Best I've got to give. Winston out."
Chapter 18: if anything, you should be proud
[All dialogue is in translation from the Spanish.]
«Hey, so,» Gabriel said, sitting at the small table in the detention cell, «I don't know your name, not for sure, but - mine's Gabe. Gabriel Reyes.»
The Los Muertos fighter said nothing, just glaring at him from across the little room, not at the table, leaning, against the far wall.
«I know, I know, you don't want to talk to us. So now you're probably expecting some sort of good cop/bad cop deal, here? Or maybe for me just to try to beat it out of you, I dunno. But that's not what we do.» He pulled out a pack of cigarettes, and pulled one out. «Mind if I smoke?»
Her eyes flicked to the package. Morley. The most popular brand in Mexico. She didn't smoke, but Arturo did, and he smoked that.
«I'm not gonna, if you don't say it's okay,» Reyes said. «Lot of people don't like the smell, but I find it relaxing.»
She kept her silence.
«Just as well,» he said, putting the cigarette back in its package. «Angela's been after me and Jesse to quit for years, but I figure - our line of work, lung cancer'll be the last thing that gets me.»
The corner of Laticia's mouth twitched, just a little. Gabe pretended not to notice, and poured himself a glass of water from the small pitcher at the table, and poured a second glass from the same pitcher. Glass wasn't really right, of course, the cups were paper, and the pitcher was plastic, but close enough. He took a sip from one, and put the other on the far side of the table.
«You shouldn't feel bad about losing, yesterday,» he said. «You did well - better, even, than you did in New Mexico, a few months ago. It's just that this time, we knew to take you seriously, and bring in bigger guns. If anything, you should be proud.»
He picked the cigarette pack off the table, put it into his shirt pocket, and pulled out a small candy, which he popped into the side of his mouth. «Supposed to help y'quit. Don't think I believe in it, though.»
He played with the wrapper, making crinkly sounds with the plastic. «Morrison - he's a lot of things, good and bad, but one of 'em's being a good field commander. He picks good people, and he's really whipped you into solid shape. We went into the army together, back in the day. Used to be friends, though that's,» he chuckled, «...long over. Yesterday felt a little like old times.»
Again, a little twitch in the fighter's eyes. He hasn't taught them anything about interrogation, though, he thought. Good.
«You know,» he continued, taking another sip of water, «we're not looking for anything about Los Muertos. As far as we're concerned, that's a Mexican problem, with Mexican jurisdiction. We want to bring in Jack, hand him over to the international criminal court - not for anything he's done with you, but for what he did, before, in Overwatch. He got a lot of my friends killed.»
He leaned back a little in his chair, and finished his glass of water. «You hungry? I'd think by now you'd have to be. I know you didn't eat breakfast, but given what the Swiss call breakfast, I can't say I blame you.»
That got a smirk. Just a little one, but a smirk.
«It's not too late for breakfast, you know. C'mon, sit down. You need to eat, and you don't have to talk.»
He opened the bag he'd brought into the room, and pulled out two covered plates, sealed in large airtight plastic bags. As soon as he broke the seal, the spicy scent of huevos con tortilla filled the small room, and he pulled the plates from their bags, and set them both across the table.
«I made these myself, just before I came in, when they told me you didn't eat. I'll eat with you, so you don't think we've done anything to it. You want the left or the right?» He saw her react to the scent - he wasn't a half-bad cook, and he knew it. «Or, we can combine them, or I'll try anything you want first - whatever makes you feel a little safer. We know Morrison's kind of... out there, these days. Who knows what he's been telling you, am I right?»
Laticia stepped forward, slowly, towards the table, and sat down, giving him her best glare, saying nothing.
«Thanks. So. Pick a plate? Or...»
She picked a plate, then saw there was no fork, or spoon, and looked back up as Gabriel handed her a plastic utensil. «Sorry, no metal. But it'll get the job done...» and as he said that, she pushed the plate back, and took the other one in its place.
«Fine by me,» he said, smiling.
She looked at him, and waited.
«Oh, me first?»
She nodded, and he smiled. There we go, he thought. And now we're talking. «No problem.» He took out his own plastic fork, took a big piece of egg, chewed, and swallowed. «If I say this was my grandmother's recipe, would it be too much of a cliche? I think so, but it's true, so I'm stuck with saying it. She'd never forgive me if I didn't tell people where it came from.»
Laticia smirked, took a taste from her own plate, and then took a second, much larger bite, immediately. Americano can cook, she thought. Damn, this isn't half bad.
«There aren't a lot of things I can make, not right,» he said, between his own bites, «but this is one. I make it whenever I feel homesick. It's LA, not Mexico, but she was from Mexico, and she brought it with her. For me, it's grandma's kitchen.»
She snorted, amiably, just a little, between her own bites, and drank a little water. «I don't remember either of my grandmothers,» she surprised him by saying.
He didn't let on. «I'm sorry about that. I really am.»
A shrug, and she kept eating. «It's what it is,» she said. «You're pretty good at this.»
«Interrogation.» She shook her head, disappointed in herself. «As soon as I nodded, I knew I'd fucked up.»
«I should be good - it was my job, or one of 'em, when I was working for Morrison. And hey, I'm glad you're talking. Makes it less weird in here.»
You worked for Morrison? she thought. «But you're not getting anything about Los Muertos out of me,» she insistently.
«Not even going to try. On my honour.»
«So,» she said, considering that between bites, «why aren't you just dumping me over to the Mexican police?»
«Good question. We've got a few reasons. First, I've already said. We're not Interpol. Second, we're hoping you tell us a little more about where Morrison might go hide. Third... we've got some video we think you'll want to see, first.»
«Video? Of what?»
«Part of it, maybe you can tell us. You're in it. So's Jack.»
She took another big bite of spicy egg. «Your ambush?»
«Nope. One of yours.»
«Huh.» She looked at her paper cup. «You got any coffee? This wants coffee, not water.»
«Kind of, but not the real stuff. The strongest thing we've got is espresso.»
She shrugged. «It'll do.»
[the next day]
«So,» Delgado said, «you guys shoot this video?»
Laticia sipped her mango soda and leaned back a little bit in the padded conference room chair. It was a lot more comfortable than the detention cell's bolted-down metal.
Gabe shook his head, no, as he pulled up the file. «We don't have that kind of surveillance. We acquired it from the shooter.»
«Shooter?» she said, inquisitively. «Shooter... or sniper, maybe?»
Reyes looked over at Delgado, with half a grin. «You surprise me again. Yes. Do you know who?»
«Don't you?» replied the fighter, with a smirk.
«Yes,» he said, «I do.»
«Prove it.» She took another pull from the can.
She still thinks I'm digging for Los Muertos, he thought. Fair enough. «How 'bout we trade? I'll give you the last name, you give me the first?»
«Deal,» Laticia nodded.
«Ana.» She grinned. «We have a winner! Ding ding ding ding ding ding ding! You know her?»
«She was with us, back when Morrison was in charge. His XO, more or less, on the Overwatch side. How do you know her? Or is that Los Muertos territory?»
«Nah,» she said, waving her hands dismissively. «Morrison talked about her after she tried to kill us, or, mostly, him. He says shooting at him is her way of flirting.»
Reyes grimaced. «I don't think she's flirting.»
«I didn't feel flirted with, I felt scared. She's good. How'd you get video out of her?»
Gabe thought about it a couple of seconds before replying. «She gave it to us herself, a couple of months before she decided we were all Talon stooges, or actual Talon ourselves. I can't say why, but...»
«Wait,» the fighter jumped in, «she's bought into Spooky's crazytalk? I thought that's why she was trying to shoot him.»
Gabe stopped futzing with video files, and sat down beside the Los Muertos fighter. «...is that what he thinks? That we're secretly Talon?»
«Yeah,» she nodded. «He keeps this notebook. Very secret. But he'll talk about it, if he's tired enough. You guys are Talon, the UN is Talon, the governments are Talon, everybody's Talon, he's the only one who knows, blah de blah de blah. Don't get him started.»
«You ever get a look at this notebook?»
«He fell asleep with it open once, I looked over his shoulder. Lots of tiny words and lines connecting boxes. He thinks its some kind of master dossier, and maybe it makes sense to him, but to me, it's garbage. Is Talon even real?»
«Absolutely,» the tactical lead nodded. «It's not a large organisation, though.»
«Bigger than you?»
«Yes, but not really - we have similar scopes of operation. It's... kind of complicated.»
She sucked in her upper lip on the right side, and ducked her head just a little, thinking. «...Is 'complicated' another way of saying he's not completely wrong?»
Christ, she's sharp, he thought. «No, he's wrong. Before 2070, Talon was all but a nonentity, a lot smaller than we thought even then. It didn't get any real traction until 2071, after Overwatch fell, and its reach is still very limited. It's...» He took, and released, a big breath. Do I gamble this, here? His gut told him yes. «We... communicate, in certain limited ways. They see themselves as kind of a peacekeeping operation, like we do. They just use assassinations to do it.»
«Huh,» she said, suspicion in her voice, but it didn't stop her from taking another big drink of her soda. «Sounds like bullshit.»
He shook his head. «It's not, at least, not completely. I don't like it, but I used to run covert ops, back in the original Overwatch, and we did some... pretty nasty things in the name of peace ourselves.» He tapped the tabletop with his fingers. «Do you remember the big news last year, that foiled bombing in London at an Omnic Rights rally?»
«Yeah,» she replied. «Biggest 'nobody got hurt' news ever. Things seemed to calm down a lot after that.»
The former Blackwatch commander nodded. «There were two women involved. One, Lena Oxton, of Overwatch, was identified in the press. The other wasn't ever identified at all, but they were both involved, and on the same side.»
Her eyes went wide. «The other woman in that picture that went everywhere... she was a Talon agent?»
He nodded. «One of their best. We know who. And now you know one of our biggest secrets - not that you could prove it.»
Holy god, thought the Los Muertos fighter. «So are you after Morrison, or are they?»
«We both are.» He poured himself some water.
«Why, particularly?» she asked, gaze intent. Wait, wait, wait, I know this guy. Somewhere. Where?
He took a sip. «We want to hand him to the ICC for trial, for crimes under his leadership at Overwatch. They...» he tilted his head back and forth, «They just want to cut to the chase and kill him.»
She stared at Gabe, intently. This guy, this guy... I know you. I didn't realise it before, how do I... She jumped, in her chair. «I know you. I remember you.»
«The public part of my testimony wasn't that long ago,» he said, nodding. «I don't look that much older, do I?» he said, with half a grin.
«You're, you're that guy. You're that Reyes? You're the dude who blew the whistle on Overwatch?»
«I am,» he said, taking a drink of his water. «One of many.»
«...and now you're helping bring it back?»
«Back, but different. No covert ops, no Blackwatch. None of it. Not this time.» He crushed his cup. «We're not making that mistake again. Not if I can help it.»
The guy who brought it all down. Wow. She blinked. «Morrison's kind of obsessed with you, you know. You're all over his weird little book.»
«Can't say I'm surprised.»
She nodded, slowly, taking it all in. «And this video?»
«You're in it, like I said. We thought... you'd want to watch it. It's you, Morrison, and a bunch of other people we don't know. We think it's your team against the Maras, but we aren't even sure about that, or why. But Amari's trying to kill Morrison, and we think you'll want to know how that went.»
«Show me,» she said, sharply.
«This video's a little grisly. I won't insult you by suggesting you can't take it, but, now you know.» Reyes hit play.
The video showed an MS-13 cargo carrier, escorted, though a familiar street. «Oh yeah,» Delgado said, «I remember this. We were on stakeout for like three days waiting for the Maras to ship these stupid stolen processors so we could steal 'em back. Ha! There I am, there's Jack... oh god, it's Ara, I miss her, she never came ba... WHAT THE FUCK?!»
She stood and spun around on Gabriel. «WHAT THE FUCK DID YOU JUST SHOW ME? PLAY THAT AGAIN. SLOW.»
He nodded, silently, and ran the footage a second time, at half speed. Laticia watched the display, tracing Araceli's progress with her finger, until Morrison was shot, and his nanite clouds enveloped her, and took half her head to repair his own. She sat, hard, shaking with rage.
«He... he lied to me. He said, he said, he didn't know where she went, that maybe she'd circled north, he didn't know what happened...»
Reyes blinked. «I... didn't know she was someone personal to you. I'm sorry. I would've warned you.»
«She was my cousin,» she said, angrily. «We were kids together. Oh god, Ara, you... that bastard.» She punched the holographic screen, which accomplished nothing, not even making her feel better.
Gabriel stood, slowly. «I really didn't know. Do you want to be alone? I'll leave, wait outside.»
The Los Muertos fighter snarled at the video, paused on the spotlessly re-formed head of Jack Morrison. You motherfucker. You lying son of a bitch. You goddamn traitor. You...
She punched the table. At least that felt like something. It hurt, but not the tabletop, and fortunately, not even her knuckles, except two, now bleeding. Carefully, slowly, she opened both her hands, and placed them palms-down on the cool, tan laminate.
«No,» she said, firmly, eyes narrowed. «He killed family. Probably the last family I had.» She looked back to Gabriel. «You want me to help you take this fucker down?»
«Yes,» he said, simply and plainly. «We do. We'll offer...»
«Don't care. He killed family, and lied to my face about it; I'm on fucking board. Where do we start?»
Chapter 19: the only way out is through
Angela Ziegler looked over the boxed-up contents of her laboratory, everything safely put away, new access codes on the doors and cases. The last round of prepared auto-aid kits - capable of handling most of the sorts of injuries an Overwatch agent was likely to encounter in the field - were neatly stacked on the cart outside her office, ready for transport up the elevator and across to the Lunar embassy.
She picked up her bag and backpack, and grasped the cart's handle, making her way to the elevator, then up, to the courtyard, where Fareeha and Winston waited for her, at the line marking the boundary between Swiss and Lunar territories.
"One last time, Angela," the scientist said, "Are you sure about this?"
The doctor nodded, firmly. "I care about this project as much as you do, Winston. We are needed, and... we need her. If this is what is necessary to repair the damage I caused, so be it."
"Then... thank you. And good luck." The ambassador took the cart from his friend, and wheeled it aside, well into Lunar territory.
"You look very much like you need a hug. I know I do," Fareeha said.
"Yes, I do. But - think of it as just another mission. We have been apart before."
"Not like this."
"It's just Lena, liebchen. She's not so frightening as all that."
"But it's not just her. It's all of Talon, and you are going into the heart of it."
"I know. But I should not be gone for so very long." The two embraced, kissing both fiercely and tenderly, before Angela broke away and stepped back to the Swiss side of the line. "They want no one else in the courtyard, so..."
"Come back to me," said the rocketeer, as she stepped back, into the Lunar Embassy's entryway.
The courtyard now clear, the doctor pulled a violet hexagonal device from her bag, and placed it on the ground in front of her. "The beacon comes in two parts. I don't know why, but I know they will respond quickly," she said quietly, knowing her wife could still hear her nonetheless. Then, from a small, round, metal box, she extracted a smaller, round, black device, clicked its power cell into place, and depressed the top button until it beeped, twice. "That's all there is to it." She looked up, looking for a ship. "See you when I see..."
And then she vanished.
Gabriel almost let himself laugh a bit. "Talon has a top-level software and hardware hacker - I don't know her real name, but she's head of the Sombra collective, the one behind that hacking spree last year. That teleporter trick has to be her work."
Hana flipped the image showing Angela's disappearance onto her personal padd, examining it curiously, as Winston said, "An extraordinarily powerful tool, regardless."
"I wasn't worried," said Fareeha. "Not any more than I already had been. If Talon had wanted to kill her for what she did, they'd've already done it." Or, she thought, at least, tried. "They wouldn't hide behind special effects."
Winston shook his head, no. "I wouldn't've cooperated - ever - if I was afraid of anything like that. Widowmaker is very strange, in some ways, but she is also very rational." And still Amélie, he thought, but could not say. "There are confidences I'm keeping, but it comes down to one thing: they trusted us, and we blew it, and now we have to trust them."
Fareeha nodded in agreement. "Exactly."
"So what are you worried about, Ree?" asked Gabriel.
The rocketeer's expression grew sober. "I worry about... what Angela might decide she needs to do."
"Yes," she heard the unnamed woman reply, the one who had blindfolded her, the one with the Talon patch on her shoulder. "The way forward is flat. Follow my lead and the direction of my voice, please."
The doctor stepped carefully along a hard-surfaced walkway. It sounded like concrete, but could've been stone, or anything like it, really. She heard the sounds of seagulls, nearby, and sandpipers, in the distance. "When may I remove the blindfold?" she asked, nervously, when she suddenly felt the sun fall away from her skin with a last pair of steps, and she stopped, at a half-height metal gate. Behind her, she heard a door close.
"Now," said the pilot. "Here, I'll do it," and she removed the cloth.
After the blindfold, even the inside seemed bright, bright like midday. Behind her, a grey metal door sat framed in a small concrete entry leading back, presumably, to the aircraft. Directly before her, the gate, unlocked. And ahead, a stairwell down.
"Don't worry," said the pilot, "it's quite safe. Please proceed."
Through concealed camera feeds, Venom and Widowmaker watched Dr. Ziegler walk down the cement stairs. Everything was being recorded, of course. Perhaps they couldn't entirely trust Angela Ziegler on her word alone, but having just a bit of leverage changed the situation entirely. And if proof of active cooperation with a globally-notorious terrorist organisation didn't count as leverage, well - what would?
"I'm surprised she went along with this, honestly," the teleporter said. "But I'm glad she did."
"I am, as well," said the spider. "But I am... less surprised than you, given what I remember, and all you've said. I do not think she is as much of a rationalist as she likes to believe."
"Wot," she said, a small smile quirking up on one side. "You sayin' she's doin' all this just 'cause she's fallen for me?"
"No," her wife replied, "but... that is part of it. She has strong emotions."
"She's married! And - the doc? Strong emotions? You serious?"
"The first," smirked the spider, "I do not think has to matter so much. And the second... I suspected, even in the old days, but is it not obvious now? Everything she's done screams it. Particularly at the end - she didn't even try to triage you, she just swept in like a goddess and rebuilt your body." Her smirk relaxed into a smile, almost sympathetic. "As one who controls her own passions tightly, I recognise it in another. It is part of why I am not so angry at her... poor decision-making."
"Oh, yes. Seeing her again, even if in video - it is enough to confirm it. She may hide it from you, and from her current friends - but not from me."
Venom shook her head, and grinned a little. "Y'know... knowin' that... I almost wish it was returned."
"I have always found her quite attractive. And I suspect she is an absolute beast in bed."
"Oh, now, don't you start."
Widowmaker laughed. "Do not worry, cherie, we were only friends - if close ones. And... one time, perhaps a little bit more. I think I will remind her of it." She squeezed her wife's hand. "But it was not serious. I have already fallen, I have no need to fall again."
"I wouldn't mind tho'. As long as y'always came home."
Amélie leaned over and kissed Lena. "J'adore."
"Aw," said the junior assassin, blushing just a little. "I love you too."
"Doctor Ziegler!" said the grey-haired woman, motioning to a chair, as the pilot disappeared quietly back out to the hallway. "It is an honour. Please, sit down. Would you like anything to drink?"
"Some water would be lovely," said the Swiss woman, as she sat. The older woman nodded to her companion, who scooted over for a bottle of water, and two cups of hot tea, from the sidebar.
"I am Dr. Geanna Mariani, and this is my nurse assistant, Taviano Bonsignore. And it is a pleasure, finally, to meet you."
"I suspect I am familiar with your work?"
"More than you should be, I think? But yes."
"Not actually so, but what I know of it is miraculous," Dr. Ziegler said, sincerely. "You have been described to me as a fan of mine - I am, I think, an admirer of yours. But... amongst other tasks, I have a data delivery to make. Will anyone else be attending?"
"Ah, I'm flattered. Thank you. Yes, and they should be here any moment," she said, as the second set of doors opened, and Venom and Widowmaker - both in full Talon field gear - stepped out. "Ah, there you are!"
"Venom," said the Overwatch doctor, nodding, carefully neutral, getting a small but polite smile in return. "Widowmaker," she said, nodding again, a little wary despite herself.
The senior assassin smiled. "It has been a long time, Doctor Ziegler, has it not? Perhaps too long." She reached out her hand to the Swiss woman, who offered her own only to find her fingers brought to cool, blue kips, and gently kissed. "But there is no need to be so formal. Surely, Angela, you have not forgotten Tripoli."
She remembers, thought the doctor, relief cascading through her. It is you. It was always you, the whole time. I knew it. "Of course I haven't," she whispered, smiling, and kissing that cool blue hand, in turn. "It truly is wonderful to see you again in person... Amélie."
Chapter 20: you really, really should
«Look, friend, all I'm trying to tell you is that big trouble is coming, and it's aimed straight at your guy. Cut him loose.»
Sombra made a little frustrated noise as Flores didn't answer immediately. He'd been fighting her on Morrison since she first contacted him about it. «Look, Olivia, this isn't...»
«Don't call me that.»
«Sombra, this isn't - you aren't with us anymore. We all know it.»
«But I'm still your friend, friend. Or aren't I?»
He sighed. «No, no, you are... I just... he really, really knows what he's doing. Militarily. We're so much more effective now, we've thrown the Maras completely out of the whole state. The police are starting to think of us as maybe not even so bad.»
«And when he turns on you, like he turned on Laticia and Araceli?»
A moment, and then another moment, silence, over comms. «He didn't... look, we don't know what happened to Araceli...»
«I do. I told you. I've seen it.»
«That - it makes no sense. It's impossible.»
«You want the video? I can see about that.»
«And Laticia, she's turned state's evidence, sold us out to Overwatch! Why shouldn't he...»
«Is that what he says? He's a liar. Well, he was a liar before. Look, have I ever lied to you?»
«About anything important.»
«And I'm not lying to you now. You heard what Talon did to that Mara cell in El Salvador, right? Do you want that? Because that's what you're going to get.»
She could almost hear him thinking.
«...can you get me that video?»
«I think so. Want to clear it with my source, first. Very delicate, you know? Don't want to alienate them.»
«Sure, sure. Let me know.»
«I will. Sombra out.»
The hacker leaned back in her chair. "Well, how 'bout it? I figure we let him sweat for a day or two, then hand it over."
Lena smiled. "Sounds good. I don't want t' have to tear through Los Muertos to get to that bastard. They're just kids, mostly, and none of this is their fault." She fuzzled Sombra's hair.
"Quit it, rapido! This hair takes time!"
"Make me!" Lena giggled, and, of course, made it worse, as she and the hacker got into a hair-messing competition that the teleporter could only win.
Angela looked on, mildly astonished, from the couch across the room where she sat, surrounded by notebooks. Yesterday's meeting of the minds had run late into the night, followed by a massive exchange of documents in the morning, after breakfast and some more personal catching up with Amélie.
She looked around, again, a little overwhelmed. She'd handed over a data chip, and had not imagined getting stacks of paper to read, in exchange. Dr. Marani wasn't so much old-fashioned in her record-keeping, as prehistoric. It looks like so much more, when it's all physically in front of you, she thought. But it painted a crystalline picture, nonetheless.
A burst of laughter caught her attention, and she looked up. Lena's so relaxed, here, she thought, contemplating what she was seeing. And arguing against killing, rather than reminding us she's an assassin over and over. She gazed intently at the roughhousing Talon agents. It's because... she's just Lena here, isn't she? Not Tracer. Just ... herself, and she doesn't have to insist on anything to remember that. She shook her head, and went back to reading lab reports.
"Agh, you win, stop it!"
"Yeah!" The assassin punched the air. "Venom wins again!"
Sombra got out a hairbrush and began working her hair back into place. "You know, it'd go a long way if he heard it from Laticia himself."
"What, get her sprung, you mean?"
"Something like that. It'd carry a lot of weight."
"Hmf," said the assassin. "Somethin' to consider." She glanced over at the Overwatch doctor. "If we have to. Don't quite want t'be asking favours at the moment. Not 'till we've got everything else sorted out."
"What's Overwatch gonna do with her? They aren't police or courts or anything. They have to hand her over to somebody, eventually - why not us?"
"What would happen to her afterwards?" Angela asked, suddenly.
Lena shrugged. "...let her go, I guess? Back to Los Muertos?"
"With what she'd know, by then? How could that work?" She leaned forward, intently. "You could never let her go. Not with her knowing what she would about Talon, combined with what she does about Overwatch. She'd be a threat." She leaned back, and shook her head. "I cannot risk that."
The assassin frowned. "We wouldn't, but... I get your point, I guess."
"What if we kept her at arm's reach?" suggested the hacker. "Your friend, Gabriel."
Venom grimaced. "He's not really..."
"Fiiiiine, your colleague, whatever. When we decamp to Mexico, he goes too, brings her. We co-ordinate at a distance, he lets her go back to the gang when the job's done."
"That's not bad, luv. Whatcha think, doc?"
Doc, she thought. Well. That's an improvement. "I think... Overwatch could go along with that. Obviously, it is not my final decision, but... I think so."
"It'd help. But... y'seem to have got used to the idea we're gonna finish off Morrison awfully quick."
The doctor leaned forward, face in her hands, elbows on the glass table in front of the couch. "He's my fault," she said, resigned. "At least... partly. And I saw - well, I did not quite see it, but I saw the results when you were tried to bring him in alive." Her hands closed to loosely-held fists, forehead pressed against them, carrying the weight of her head, of her thoughts. "If he is willing to do that to you, or worse, to Mei-Ling... then he is no longer the man I once admired."
"Makes it easier, then?"
"I have always been a field medic, and then a doctor, first. But I have also always been a soldier. Just like him. Just like Fareeha. Just like you. But even with that, I am not on a mission to kill him." She lifted her head, and looked Venom in the eyes. "I am here to do my best to save my mother-in-law. If helping you kill him does that... so be it."
"Wow, this got somber," interjected the hacker. "Where's the fun in that?"
The assassin snickered as Angela frowned, and she swatted at her friend's head. "Right, then! It's late. Go flirt with your girlfriend - didn't you say you'd call her tonight?"
"Ah, she's used to it," Sombra said, nonchalantly - but also packed up her physical kit in one quick swipe.
"You complete reprobate - go call her. Now. She hates it when you're late."
"Don't have to tell me twice. And don't disturb me, we'll probably be verrrry naughty."
"Out!" Lena picked a cushion off one of the chairs and threw it at the Mexican woman as she fled, missing, Angela suspected intentionally.
"So... Lena - may I still call you that? Or is it Venom all the time, here?"
"This is my home, doc. You're at my house. If it's not Lena here, where is it?"
"I think you know what I mean."
Venom managed a half of a smile. "Yeh. I guess I do." She sighed, retrieved the cushion she'd thrown, put it back on the chair where it belonged, and flumped down on it. "Honestly, I wish you wanted to be here. I'm not in love with you, but... bloody hell, doc. Of all the old crew, you were the one I wanted back. You were... you were the one I trusted. Maybe it was London, maybe it was... I dunno why. I just did."
"I have already made my apologies..."
"I know. I'm not lookin' for another one. I'm just..." She waved her hands around. "I want that trust back."
"But that's not why I'm here."
"No," she admitted, "I guess not."
"So then, Lena - why am I here?"
Lena smirked at the Overwatch doctor. "Helpin' us kill Morrison's not enough?"
"All you need is my field suppression device. I could've handed that to you in Geneva." She didn't pretend it would be any less involvement that way, not to herself - but it didn't require a trip to any secret bases. Or, apparently, homes.
"Fair enough. But with us, you've handy, if things go wrong. And, like you said, maybe y'can help us not have to kill someone else."
"Yeh. We take down Morrison, we get any video she might have of that little mistake of yours... she gets to live."
"How would I do that?"
"No idea. That's somethin' for you to figure out with Sombra."
"Lena," she said, leaning forward. "I appreciate that you're trying. But..."
"Again," the assassin stressed. "Trying, again. I hope you get that, luv, 'cause like you just said, last time tryin' it this way got me a hole in my back big enough for Zarya to put her fists through."
"But you would not be trying if you did not have some other reason to bring me here. She'd just be on your kill list. We both know it." She scowled. "Why am I really here? Not my reasons. Yours. You want trust back, between us? Tell me this."
Lena looked around, tapped the surface of the table with one finger, got up, and closed the door.
"All right, then," she said. "Didn't want t'get to this 'till later, but fine." She sat back down. "Remember how you said I didn't look any different, first time y'saw me, back in London?"
The doctor nodded. "You still don't, not really. It's only been a few years, after all - for you."
"Yeh - it's still explainable that way, for me. So far, anyway."
Lena gave Angela a long, thoughtful look. She's not this good a liar, she decided. Not with stuff like this. "Y'really don't know."
"Lena..." the doctor said, confusedly. "Would you please just tell me?"
The Talon assassin bit her lower lip, nodded, and took a deep breath, before continuing. "You're not the only one not gettin' any older, luv."
Dr. Ziegler started, leaning forward. "You're not... Dr. Mariani hasn't talked about work anything like this. If not her, then how...?"
"That's the trick, innit?" She sighed. "We don't know. Somethin' to do with the slipstream, we're pretty sure, but ... no idea what."
"...and Amélie is, isn't she."
"Yep. Nothin' you'd notice yet, particularly not on her - we're both hard to kill, and awfully durable. But... she is."
"That time I asked you about Fareeha? Hoped you'd win that argument?"
"You knew, already? About yourself?"
"That's what you want out of me, really, then, isn't it."
"Yeh," she nodded. "I..." Fear - real fear - flashed across her face. "I... sometimes, when I rewind, I..." She swallowed, hard. "I see things. Other places. Other us. Dunno if it's real, not for sure, but sometimes, sometimes... I see myself... at her grave. It's a hundred years from now, and she's long gone, and I'm still... me. As I am now."
She shuddered, and sniffed a little. Lena reached over, pulling a tissue from her pocket, offering it to her.
"I couldn't take that, doc," she said, taking the tissue. "I won't lose her. I won't. Not to that. Not to anything."
Dr. Ziegler nodded, eyes soft. "That... is something I understand. Fully."
"I still hope y'get it sorted with Fareeha. I like her."
For the second time since arriving at the small Talon base, Angela Ziegler smiled a genuine, broad, reflexive smile. "Then... I have some good news for you."
Lena blinked, and sat up straighter, eyes wide. "She..."
"And it's worked?"
"As far as I can tell, everything is perfect. Her scars started fading within hours. Not so much that she can see it, yet, but..."
Lena Oxton breathed heavily and deeply. "So ... there's hope. It's not just you anymore."
"If you can do this for us... t'hell with all of it, luv. I'd forgive you anything. Forever."
Lena laughed, her old laugh, the kind of laugh that cut straight through to Angela's heart, and the doctor, too, laughed, in kind, so relieved. "I am sorry for what I did, but really, I am not sorry at all," she said, huffing halfway to giggles. "I know what you must have been going through, now, and honesty, it all makes so much more sense..."
"It's been workin' on me, luv, not gonna lie," Lena said, shaking her head, eyes wet, but with a smile. "Maybe... maybe it's made me a little too extra, can't say..."
"Does Amélie know?"
"'Course she does. We don't keep secrets."
"Well. That explains all this," she said, pointing to the stacks of lab notebooks and research notes. "You were so angry that you thought I'd figured you out, then I get here only to have all this thrown at me..."
"In trade. The doc - our doc - has been wanting a colleague for a while."
"Certainly, but still - the dichotomy... well. It is now explained." She shook her head. "My approach will not even have to change. Just the specifics."
"Still killin' Morrison, you know that."
"Don't spoil the moment."
"We don't lie, luv. Not internally. It's somethin' Talon's got over Overwatch."
"Really. It's not just me an Amélie. We are what we are, we don't pretend we're anything else. Secrets, sometimes, sure, y'gotta keep 'em. But not lies."
The doctor let out a little bit of a laugh, a heh sound, almost appreciative. "No wonder you're so... thin, at the upper levels. Well. I suppose there is something to be said for Talon, after all."
"Big step up from the old Overwatch."
"All too true."
"I'll take that as a compliment!" Lena snarked, cheekily.
"You should," the doctor agreed. "You really, really should."
"Oh god, Ange..." She leaned forward, like the doctor had, head in her hands, eyes and smile visible through it. "You'll really do this. You really will."
"If I can."
"Thank you. Oh... I..." She leaned forward, and took Angela's hands, tightly, in her own. "Thank you."
Chapter 21: prophesies and confirmation [bias]
[All text in «chevron quotes» translated from the Arabic. All text in "double quotes" translated from the Spanish. All thoughts in italic translated from the native language of the thinker.]
[Geneva — 2070]
The blue-helmeted Spanish soldier stepped around another piece of debris - a large chunk of glass, heavy, thick, still attached to a piece of wall, and partly buried into rocky ground. Probably fell from pretty far up, she thought, looking around it.
Infirmary, she read, knowing at least that much English. Ironic.
She pulled on it, and it tilted a little to one side in response - not buried deep, not much larger than it looks. Recording its location, she continued on, following the fall pattern of the outer tower's shell. Most of the complex had fallen inward, not outward, the result of the implosion device used to bring it down and end the Overwatch resistance - but some parts had flown out, and away.
She made her way to the next large chunk of debris. ¡Cáspita! she thought, that's a big one! Large enough to have been a small room, or even two, flattened, collapsed in on itself, it lay strewn across several square metres of mountainside, the trail left behind by its impact clear in the landscape.
I wonder if it's more of the infirmary? She logged its location as she walked towards it, skirting its outer perimeter. Something... huh. Something's... hot? Is that steam? What is that?
As the mist flowed towards her, she did not have time to draw, much less fire, not that it would've made any difference, not that she'd even have considered it - it's not as though anyone can shoot the fog. And indeed, it wouldn't've made any difference at all. All she had time to do was recoil in horror and fear as her hands, first, then her arms, and then the rest of her, melted away.
Several minutes later, Jack Morrison awoke, and shook his head, violently, confused, feeling deeply out of joint, trying to place himself. What the hell... how did I get out? He looked down at himself, in UN blues. Or into this uniform?
Must've blacked out, he thought, and looked around, evaluating the situation. The battle was over, the complex in ruins, UN forces above, up the mountain, where Overwatch HQ had once been. We've lost. God damm you, we've lost. He looked the other way, down, towards the lowlands. I guess... it's time to live to fight another day, he thought, and followed the water down, running, running, running away.
«It's been a long time,» the sniper said, changing to Arabic.
«Not that long,» the mercenary retorted, looking up from his chair in the small outdoor restaurant on the outskirts of Tampico. «You were just shooting at me a few months ago. Nice replacement eye, by the way.»
«Thank you,» the former captain said, archly. «By all rights, I ought to be shooting at you now. But... I have been astonished to discover that you seem to be the lesser of monsters, so, here I am.»
The soldier took a drink from his tall glass of ice water, followed by a sip from his whiskey, before pointing to the opposite chair. «Well, if you're here - want to take a seat? Or are you going to stand there and glare at me like some sort of angry owl?»
Ana shrugged, pulled out the chair, turned it around, and sat, facing the table. «You'll forgive me, I'm sure. I'm just finding it more difficult than I expected to look at the man who got Reinhardt so meaninglessly killed though anything other than a rifle scope.»
Morrison winced. «He was a good man. Loyal, to the end - unlike a lot of people I could mention. I miss him.»
«I do, too.» She glared. «Obviously.»
«You're not being fair, though. It wasn't me.» He picked up his whiskey and took another sip. «It was Talon. I know you'll never believe that, but...»
«I have cause to change my mind, on that. Or at least, to reconsider. You gave the orders, but... you may, after all, have had reason to give them.»
Morrison put down his shot glass and stared at his former executive officer. «You... what?»
«I told you, in my message - I had new information.»
He nodded. «You said you had information about Talon. Information I'd want to see, that'd I'd pay anything to get.»
«Yes. It regards Overwatch, as well.»
«And? What's the price?»
She snorted. «I've never been in this for money, Jack.»
He nodded. «I know. None of us were.»
«At least there's that.» She flagged the waiter, walking by, and asked - in Spanish - if he could bring her a strawberry soda. He returned with a can and a tall glass of ice, a few moments later.
"I'll get it," Morrison said, also in Spanish. "Just add it to my bill."
Ana's head tilted, just a little. "Your Spanish is much better than your Arabic. You'd pass for a Madrileños."
Morrison just snorted. "I've had a lot more cause for practice."
"I suppose so."
«But... you were about to say?»
Ana took a long drink of her soda, put it back down, took a deep breath to fortify her resolve, and dove in. «The person calling herself Lena Oxton - whoever or whatever she really might be - is a Talon agent. She is, specifically, the Talon assassin known as Venom. She is also the supposedly-freelance sniper Mockingbird, and the so-called Hero of London, Tracer.»
The former strike commander slammed his hands on the top of the table. «I knew it! I knew it wasn't her.» This is what I've been waiting for, he thought. Vindication. At last. «She was probably the sniper who shot my tactical visor in New Mexico... but can you prove it?»
«I'm not even finished with what I know.»
«Please!» He leaned forward. «Go on!»
«She appears to change who she is, becoming different people to suit a task - I have video of this, of her changing from Tracer to Mockingbird. She can be any of them, and possibly even more people - I do not know.»
«Of course... I never thought of that. That explains so much. She can't be the only one. Maybe they're all shapeshifters.»
«I... don't know that, either.» She closed her eyes, pain across her face. «But I do know... that my daughter's wife is her handler, and she is the one who controls the changes. Or, at least, she is one person who can.»
«Your...» He thought about it. «Angela?! Angela Ziegler was the mole?»
The old soldier dipped her head, once. «It appears likely. In the video I have, she changes Tracer into Mockingbird, using that 'healing staff' of hers. Clearly, it does more than we ever imagined.»
«So.» He took another sip of his whiskey, imagination running with this new information, galloping along unhindered. «Reyes, Ziegler, and Oxton, all Talon, all guiding the new "Overwatch," all under the nose of the Swiss and the UN. Or with their cooperation.» He let out a long, slow breath. «You're right,» he agreed, «I would pay anything to have this.»
«I believe it's clear now that the entire Overwatch revival effort is a Talon project - for what purpose, I do not know.»
«And... if Angela's involved...» He dreaded the answer to the question he was about to pose. «...Fareeha's involved, too?»
Ana's eyes closed, her face scrunched into a knot of pain. «I... I fear so. God, Jack, I stayed away too long, chasing after you... I should've been there, I could've kept her from that witch... I contacted her, when I contacted you, begging her, telling her what I knew, telling her, leave Overwatch, leave Angela, while she still could... if she still could...»
His mouth set into a firm line. «She didn't?»
She shook her head. «No. I... I have to presume she... can't. Or doesn't want to, given her messages back to me. I have to presume... that she isn't who she was. That she...»
«...I fear my daughter is gone, Jack.»
Her mask broke, and all at once, she dissolved, in sobs, and Jack Morrison took her in his arms, comforting her as best he could in his own gruff way. «Ana, I am so, so sorry.»
She cried for a moment, then, as quickly as she broke, she forced herself back together, sniffled heavily, coughed, and sat back up. «My apologies, Jack. That was... unprofessional.»
«No,» he disagreed. «It was natural. I've never had a daughter to lose, but... she was kind of all of ours... we all cared for her, very much.»
«And you... you're... not exactly who you were, either. Don't lie. I know.»
He looked into his whiskey, did not take another sip, and looked back up. «I've done some awful things, Ana. Things I didn't even know I was doing. They - they made me a monster, too. During the attack, I stumbled into Angela's lab, thought I was patching myself up...»
Her eyes widened. «So, that's how...»
«I can't be sure, but - I think so.»
She shuddered. «Even back then, she was... with them. Working on such unspeakable things. And we never knew.»
He nodded. «Is that why you've been after me all these years?»
«No - not originally. I thought you were a monster, but... only metaphorically. I thought I was avenging Reinhardt. But then I saw what you could do, and... put pieces together, and had another reason.»
«I can control it now. It, it took a while, but... I can control it.»
«And you didn't even know, until,» she shook her head, «when?»
«Someone - Mockingbird, I think - shot off my tactical visor, last year, on a convoy run. Then I had another one, suddenly, somehow, and the old one was on the ground, broken. There was dashcam footage, and then... I spent a few months shooting myself to watch what happened. Learning to control it.»
«Desperate times, Ana. Desperate times and desperate measures.»
Ana looked into her former CO's eyes, thinking, for longer than he was comfortable, but she didn't care. He wasn't so wrong, about the owl-like stares. After several moments, she nodded, curtly, once. «So. Now, I have the pieces I have been missing, and you have the pieces you have been missing. What can we do with what we've both made?»
Morrison gave his executive officer half a smile - he knew he'd passed a test, even if he didn't quite know what kind. «I know this - the governments are corrupt. They're all in Talon hands, or, at best, Talon-infiltrated. So we have to take the fight straight to the heart of the beast.»
«That's a tall order, Jack.»
«It is. But I've been building Los Muertos into a real fighting force - I wasn't even entirely sure why, it just felt like I needed to do it.» He took a long drink of his water. «Guess I've finally figured out why.»
Captain Amari nodded. «My message to Fareeha - or...» barely suppressed pain flashed across her face, «...whatever she is now - will have tipped them off. If we're going to act, it will have to be soon.»
«All the more reason not to waste any more time here.»
«No,» she said. «Jack... it's been a long while. We should... if we're going to be working together again, we should take a little time. Catch up.»
The strike commander smiled a very old smile. «Hardly feels like any time at all, to me. Feels good to talk again, too - despite everything. It's almost like picking back up where we left off.»
«I guess we haven't changed as much as we like to think, have we, Jack?»
«Guess not. You still like corn cakes?»
«They make good ones here.» He let himself relax, just a little. «Let's... just have brunch. Catch up, like you said. For a little while.»
She nodded, and then looked over to the waiter who had brought her soda before. "Excuse me?" she called, in Spanish, bringing the young man back over. "I think we're finally ready to order."
Chapter 22: I keep underestimating you
[All text in «angle quotes» translated from the Spanish.]
Laticia Delgado strapped herself in to one of the Orca's passenger chairs as Gabriel sat beside her, not strapping himself in. She looked at him, confused, and he smiled. «It's a soft launch. Strap in if you want, but it's going to be a long ride and I'm not sitting here the whole time.»
«Oh,» she said, pulling on the shoulder belts. «Don't you always strap in for takeoffs and landings?»
«On civilian flights, sure.» He shrugged. «You know what, it's never a bad idea.» And he strapped himself in, too. "Athena, we're ready whenever you are."
"Thank you, Strike Commander. Departing."
«How long a ride is this?»
«Don't want to attract attention, so we're flying commercial speeds along a standard route. It'll be a good 14 hours.»
«Huh,» she said, disappointed. «I thought Overwatch would have something, I dunno, more... sciencey?»
«We could get there in under an hour if we went suborbital. But Jesus Mary and Joseph, those Sparrowhawk flights are noisy and uncomfortable. And expensive. And they attract a lot of attention. But mostly... ever pulled four Gs before?»
«Pulled four... oh!» She sat up, excited by the idea. «No. Is it fun?»
Gabe grinned at the Los Muertos street fighter, surprised. «Honestly...? Yeah. It's kind of fun. But if you aren't trained up, it'll knock you unconscious, and I don't want to have to deal with an unconscious passenger if we end up going through customs.»
«Too bad,» she said, slumping back down a little. «Probably never get another chance at something like that.»
«You know it'd probably knock you out and you'd still want to try it?»
«Yeah!» she boasted. «Not many people get to do anything like that, Angelino. I'd do it in a heartbeat!»
Reyes snorted, a little, in friendly way, and as the Orca reached cruising altitude. I keep underestimating you, he thought. I wonder if... and he shook his head, and took off his seat belts. «Well, we have fourteen hours, and I brought some games, and some movies. Also, snacks, and breakfast, for later. What'd you like first?»
"Yes, I am quite ready" the doctor said. "I did, after all, pack lightly."
"Anything fragile nice and sorted away?"
"Yes, I followed your instructions carefully."
"Been to the W.C.?"
"Great. Let's get this thing moving, then!"
Lacroix and a second woman greeted them at the door at the top of the stairs, transport ready, outside. Ziegler stood expectantly, looking at the person she presumed to be the pilot.
"You... want something?" van Vliet said, confused.
"I... presumed I would be blindfolded," the doctor replied.
Clara shrugged, and glanced over to Amélie. "Is this another one of your..."
"No, Clara, she is not," she said, with a slight smug smile. "And a blindfold seems unnecessary." She opened the door to the path, and to the small transport, almost invisible except for the pad lights, black body lost against the 4am sky.
Onboard, van Vliet stowed Dr. Ziegler's luggage and then went to the flight deck, as Widowmaker handed out fake passports. "These are already stamped with dates of entry. Sombra will add them to Mexican border control's systems once we're safely down. But show them to no one, if you can avoid it."
"Course not, luv," Lena said, smirking at "Linda Oxford"'s information, memorising it, quickly.
"I know you know," her wife replied. "But..."
"...what kind of name is 'Angelica Steenbakker'? Why have you saddled me with that monstrosity? It is terrible! And the picture is worse."
"It is a photograph that will, I hope, remind you not to use it," the blue assassin said, and her wife laughed.
"Everyone ready?" Clara called from the front cabin, as Tracer put on her headphones, motioning to Angela to do the same.
Angela smirked back at her. "It is hardly the first time I have been in a military transport, and you know it."
Widowmaker checked everyone, sat down, strapped in, and pulled her helmet's microphone into place. "Passengers and payload secure. You may launch."
"How long a flight is this going to" the doctor said, as the transport shot forward, then up, pulling just under 4Gs.
Oh my, she thought, feeling a bit fuzzy around the edges. It's been a while since I've been on one of these... I'd forgot how... She felt her brain start to fuzz, jut a little, before her nanites intercepted the problem, solving it. She turned her head, as best she could, looking over to Widowmaker, placidly sitting down the row from her, unperturbed, as if between stops on the metro.
"Amélie, do you feel all right?" she asked, with a bit of effort. "Are you feeling any unanticipated effects?"
"I am built for this," she replied. "But I admit... it does feel easier than usual."
"I'm good - thanks for askin'!" Venom interjected, between them, and Widowmaker reached over, and bopped her forehead with one fingernail. "Ow! Careful, love, four Gs!"
"Were I not careful, you would not be conscious, ma petite agace."
"That's funny, normally y'don't like me quiet," she said, leaning over a bit, as if to bite her wife's shoulder.
"Clara," Angela asked, over comms, in German, "are they always like this on missions together?"
"Yes," van Vliet replied, also in German. "You had better get used to it now. They will not stop."
The doctor chortled. "Thank you. I will try."
"It took me months."
"I understand completely."
Ana thought her way through the timeline again. It could work... but it requires a lot of very large leaps.
"Who else could've brought in exotic matter? It had to have come from the moon." He gestured with his hands, one by his face, open, the other, in front of his chest, a fist. "You can't generate it on Earth, not safely, not in any quantity, or more countries would've done it by now. He caused the Slipstream failure, to create her, and he brought her back from it, him and Ziegler, when he was ready. He used them both to get back down planetside. This time, of course, with diplomatic immunity - and, no doubt, more exotic matter."
He shook his head, a grim smirk on his face. "If it wasn't so diabolical, it'd be genius."
"He and Angela stayed in contact, doing joint research, while he was exiled, didn't they?" She flipped through parts of her own research, confirming. "And if Angela is Venom's controller," she said, "and his primary contact on Earth, while he was in exile..." She thought, harder. "I remember Lena - the real Lena - as a good woman. She would never have done this willingly. So ... Ziegler took control of Lena... how? Using the same technologies she developed in making Widowmaker?"
"No doubt. Lacroix was probably the testbed."
"And that initial meeting in London was probably some sort of... check, to see that her control systems were still functioning."
"Exactly. See how it all fits together?"
"Loosely, at best," she said. "It's just possible, given what we know. But we'd never be able to prove it."
"I agree. Not without a confession. But I think - I think if he was out of the way, no longer directing everything, Ziegler might be pressured enough spill the beans. And once she broke, we could get it all out in sun. Blow the whole thing wide open. Maybe - maybe - even make her put your daughter back together, if it's still possible."
Ana's anger flared, and she tamped it back down. "If there is any chance for that, we must take it."
"Of course. The question is - how? We'll never be ready to launch an assault on Geneva - no matter how much I train up Los Muertos, they're still a regional gang. Even if I picked a few of the best - if Delgado hadn't been captured - a commando assault would be suicidal."
"If we see her again, we'd probably better assume she's being... controlled the same way."
The soldier's face fell. Damn. She's right. That's one more debt to be repaid. "Maybe. I have no idea how long the process takes."
Ana thought on the news briefing she'd read that morning, eyes darting up. "Jack... Winston's going to be in Northern California next month."
"You should pay more attention to the news," she chided, pulling the article up on her padd. "'Lunar Ambassador Winston to visit Stanford.' He's getting an honourary physics doctorate. If we could somehow get ahold of his travel plans, and better yet, his security arrangements..."
Morrison grinned, fiercely. "Then we'd have a shot at the literal heart of the," he chuckled, "of the literal beast. Great catch, Ana. Let's see if we can reel it in."
"Life's easier when y'don't have t'give a fuck about customs," Lena said, grinning. "This direction's easier - makes leavin' so late worthwhile. Goin' back's not so much fun." She stretched, and yawned.
"Indeed," the Widowmaker agreed, as van Vliet opened the hatch just in time to see Sombra came walking up from the little Tamaulipas safehouse to meet their flyer.
"Hola, amigas!" she called, waving. "'Bout time you got here."
Widowmaker waved back, and checked the time on her grapple. "It is just after 10pm, locally. We have melatonin tablets inside; I suggest that we all use them to get a good night's sleep. We should all be well rested before we begin."
Chapter 23: how did you know, before I did?
[All dialogue in «angle quotes» is translated from the Spanish. Amélie's thoughts are translated from the French.]
Amélie awoke, early. She often woke before Lena, regardless of where they were, but she didn't mind that. Usually, when it happened ahead of the alarm, she'd doze, and wait, so they could rise together. But sometimes, it there was time, she'd slip out, sneak over to the kitchen, make coffee and tea and get out cheeses and creams and preserves and the morning's good bread, delivered, and the scents would reach over, across, to their bedroom, and awaken her partner, and she'd stumble out, eyes still half-closed, usually remembering to put on a shirt, following the delicious smell of breakfast, and she'd say, "y'know what this needs? Bangers!" and she'd grab the sausages she'd bought a day or two before out of the refrigerator and get to work, and everything would be wonderful.
This was neither of those sorts of day.
The spider plucked at her web. What is it? she thought. It is... something. What?
She didn't really care all that very much about this mission. Morrison had been someone her husband knew, the person to whom Gabriel Reyes reported. They'd met, no doubt, at some function or other. But his time for shaking the world had passed, taking care of him - justice, of a sort, their way - was important to Lena, and so, she was willing to put Talon behind it. And finding herself thinking about that, she let her mind trace that strand further, further down, lower, into thinner, lesser strands - but strands nonetheless.
And she was very surprised to discover that for some reason she did not know, some reason she didn't understand, something had changed.
Jack Morrison, left to his own devices, was going to do something very bad indeed. And it had to be stopped, before anyone else even knew it could happen.
"How did you know?" she whispered, shifting up, and looking at her wife, sprawled across the bed, arms akimbo, hair even moreso. "How did you know before I did?"
Lena stirred just as the alarm rang the chimes of Big Ben. She blinked, groggily, looked up at her wife, and smiled. "G'morffin'," she managed, flopping over onto Amélie's legs.
The assassin smiled back at her partner, but there was a firmness to it. "Get up," she said, firmly, sliding out from underneath. "Something has happened. I must find out what. Suddenly, I think, this mission may be... important."
Perhaps Sombra has had more luck, she thought, climbing out of her lotus position and off the bed. Or perhaps we can make it not matter. She pulled on the rest of her field kit, and walked into the safehouse's living room, where Sombra sat, intently, poking at virtual keyboards and screens, Lena and Angela keeping each other company, occasionally watching.
"Nothing, araña - sorry." Sombra turned around, facing the spider. "If he's done something, it's too quiet even to make my ears. And I don't miss much."
"Gabe's almost here, though. I was about to talk to my old friend again, too. See what he thought about our little video."
"Good," Amélie nodded. "I'll make some coffee. Anyone else?"
Lena waved her off, holding up her mug of tea. Angela smiled, though, and said, "I would. I always liked your coffee."
"Sadly, this is not the best version," the assassin smiled back, fondly, "...but I will do what I can with what I have."
I've missed her more than I realised, she thought, as she walked into the kitchen, glancing over the cluster of information monitors Sombra had set up for her, but seeing nothing new. She pulled the pitcher of water and coarse coffee grounds from the small refrigerator, pulled out a filter, and drained the cold brew into a second pitcher, giving it a taste.
Much better, she thought, pouring two glasses half-full, adding milk, some sugar, and ice, and tasted. Yes. The beans are good. It is just a shame the water is so hard. Still, it will do.
She walked out in time to hear Sombra speaking in increasingly agitated Spanish with her friend in Los Muertos.
«What do you mean, he left?» she said, confused.
«He left! This morning! We'd watched your video and were trying to figure out how to get rid of him without getting ourselves all killed by whatever the hell that was, and he walked in and says he has an outside job, needs to take a couple of weeks to work on it.»
«Well... did he say anything about where he was going?»
«We weren't about to ask, we were just glad he was gone. We're gonna pick up and relocate before he comes back. You're gonna tell your friends in Talon about that, right?»
«Of course I am - and you're welcome.» She thought for a moment. I think he's telling the truth, but we'll have to check... «Did he say anything about where he was going?»
«No - just that he had to get training for some special mission. He wouldn't tell us what, or when, or where - he just made some joke about the animal at the heart of the animal? Which I kind of think probably worked better in English.»
Lena largely kept up, listening as the Spanish went by, and looked confused for just a moment before her eyes went wide, and she whispered, "No!" She looked up at Amélie, who looked confused by the metaphor.
"The animal - the beast. The beast at the heart of the beast," she whispered, as Sombra joked with her friend, trying to weasel out possible training locations without actually sounding like she wanted the data. "I think that means us, and I think... I think the beast means Winston."
Angela's eyes went wide as Amélie tested the idea and nodded, eyes half-closed to slits. It fits, she thought. "It is possible. We must send a warning."
"Embassy security's pretty good. I'm pretty sure he's safe as long as he stays in Geneva," Lena said, nodding, as Sombra told them to shut up, can't they tell she's talking to her friends? And the junior assassin waved everyone into the kitchen.
"I knew we should've just capped him from th' start," she said, closing the kitchen door behind her. "Could've avoided all this."
"I did not take this seriously enough," her wife acknowledged, adding another cube of ice to her coffee, and motioning to Angela if she wanted another herself.
The doctor frowned, not at the ice, but at the entire situation. "I do not speak Spanish, and did not catch enough of your English - what is going on?"
"Jack's bugged out, luv. He's headed off somewhere - don't know where, Sombra's workin' on that - t'get ready for some mission, and I think that mission is Winston."
"Winston?!" the doctor exclaimed. "Why? That makes no sense."
"'The beast at the heart of the beast' is what he told Los Muertos, yah? Given what we know about his obsessions, I'm pretty sure we're the beast. Which means the beast at the heart of it is Widowmaker..."
"Let him try," she sneered.
Venom giggled, briefly, before getting serious again, "...or Winston, if y'want the 'joke' t'make any sense, right?"
Angela sipped at her coffee - quite good, still - and thought. "Ana thinks," the temporary Talon field medic said, "...that she knows 'everyone' you are. Given what she said in person, we can assume that means Talon. She also said that I'm involved. Which means she thinks I am involved with Talon..."
"Not wrong, now. Ironic, innit?"
"Quiet, I'm thinking..." she said, not wanting to think about that too closely, "...and if Ana thinks that, then... what? She thinks I am your... contact? Your superior?"
"...her creator, perhaps? Perhaps also mine." Amélie sipped her coffee, still thinking, as the other two women looked at her, surprised, and she shrugged. "That ludicrous set of documents from the investigation - if Overwatch and Blackwatch actually believed the official story about my 'abduction' and 'conditioning' to be who I am..."
"You're thinkin' that all came from her?" asked Lena, half a smile on her face.
"No. But if she went to Jack, after sending that letter to Fareeha..."
"...it could've come from him," Venom nodded. "Yeh. He signed off on both reports..."
"And he's latched onto Winston, because, because..." The doctor stood up very straight, very tall. "Because of your accelerator! Of course! It couldn't just be me, because I am a medical doctor, not a physicist - it would have to be Winston!"
"It almost makes sense," the Widowmaker said, "in an oddly... detached-from-reality sort of way."
"We need to get Gabe in on this," Lena said, shaking her head. "He knew Jack best, before. And that Los Muertos fighter, Delgado. She might know something. She said he talks in his sleep."
"It means bringing her in on this side of the fence," Angela frowned. "Please do not do that."
"He can talk t'her, we can talk t'him. He should still be an hour out of customs, we should try t'raise him. I'll do it."
The door opened, and Sombra walked in, her expression a combination of bemusement and outright disbelief. "You guys aren't going to believe what I think is going on."
"Yeah?" Venom grinned, happy to have an even better reason to kill Jack Morrison. "Wait'll you hear our version. But g'wan, luv - you first."
Ana Amari looked around the pocket valley not too far outside Jalpan De Serra, a hidden spot deep in the nature reserve. Under a canopy of forest, a small, single-storey house sat in good order. But the interesting parts were around it - the cleared, low-level training camp hidden from overhead view, boxed off in most directions by steep slopes and cliffs.
"Pretty sure it was originally cleared during the war," Morrison replied. "Local resistance against the Omnics. Deep cover. Well hidden. People stay away - bad memories, I guess." He chuckled, a little. "I try to encourage that."
He pointed with his rifle over towards a particularly green patch. "Latrines used to be over there, I think. Found a bunch of old tent stakes, too. Probably didn't want anything too permanent, so they'd just tent up and go."
"Either that, or it was a campground," she smirked. "So this is where you go to hide."
"Hide, or think, or train, Ana. Different things, but it's a good place for all three." He gestured towards the house. "C'mon inside. It's comfortable - I've got a combination of solar and geothermal, and there's an uplink towards the top of the cliff. I figure we'll want to get to San Jose a week before Winston arrives, and until then, we should just lay low, and plan."
I don't like it, Ana thought. It is too steep, and the cliffs are too close. "A hidey-hole is also a trap, Jack. You know that."
"Nobody else in the world knows I know about this place, Ana. Not anymore. If there's any safe place in the Western hemisphere..." He opened the door, and threw his knapsack onto the couch against the far wall of the small living room. "...this is it."