Ana walked quietly through halls she had thought destroyed years ago, and that she had resolved never to return to even before their destruction. Unsure how it was possible, she let her hand trail along the cool, painted concrete, the chilly feel against her hand sending a shiver down her spine. She felt more like a ghost than ever, haunting the ruined (yet somehow still standing) home of her past.
The old Overwatch Headquarters building was eerily empty, not a soul in sight. This fact more than anything made Ana sure that this was somehow a hallucination or trick. Not once in the fifteen years she had called the Geneva building home had she ever seen it empty. Even at the most unpleasant hours of the morning, the hallways had teemed with field agents, scientists, staff, and visitors.
She was walking an intentional path, straight to the old Command Center, where she, Jack, and Gabriel had spent many a day and night overseeing missions, bickering, and laughing. As time had gone on there had been more of the bickering and less of the laughing; there had also been increasingly frequent absences from the Blackwatch Commander, harder lines on Jack’s face as he growled into comms demanding to know where Reyes had gotten to.
Pausing outside Command, Ana shivered a little. Gabriel and Jack had forged on for years after her supposed death, but even by then she had known things were reaching a breaking point between the two men. She shook her head, remembering what it had been like to read the news stories, to know that almost everyone she knew in the world had been in that building when it had gone down. The obituaries started to come out as bodies were recovered… people she had commanded, soldiers she had fought beside, snipers she had trained personally. Then Jack and Gabriel. Oh, how it hard hurt to read those words, platitudes emblazoned on her mind even now, despite knowing her boys were alive.
Wondering if security measures even mattered in whatever this place was, Ana set her hand against the scanner and waited while it confirmed her identity. A second later the Command door slid open and she stepped inside.
Jack Morrison spun on his heel to face her, eyes and mouth open wide in surprise.
She smirked. “Nostalgic, Jack?” she asked, raising an eyebrow at his outfit.
He glanced down and grimaced, shrugging. He wore the lightly armored blue coat he had worn during his Strike Commander days, his hair yellow like sunshine, face unmarred by the scars he had picked up during the explosion.
“You, too,” he pointed out, and Ana looked at her own outfit for the first time. She was surprised to see herself in her old training gear, gray sweats that gathered at the ankle, tight white t-shirt, dark brown hair peeking out from under a standard issue scarf. All emblazoned with the Overwatch logo.
“Ah,” she said. “How fascinating.”
She scanned the walls to see what Jack was working on. During their leadership days, Jack had always been juggling many impossible tasks, keeping tabs on open missions and investigations worldwide from this, the heart of Overwatch’s management.
“It helps me keep it all straight,” he said, watching Ana look over the screens that displayed names of known Talon agents and locations of known Talon bases, all with information listed underneath in the style of the dossiers they had kept on people and groups of interest during the glory days. Reaper was at the center, his image displayed side-by-side with Gabriel’s face the way Jack and Ana remembered it. Scowling, scarred, precious.
“What is this place?” Ana asked, studying Gabriel’s face sadly.
“You don’t—oh, of course. You ‘died’ right after the install,” Jack said, nodding to himself.
“One of Winston’s experiments,” Jack said, turning his attention back to the screens and frowning as the display changed to show a list of Overwatch agents, most of whom Ana recognized from her time there. At the top were Jack, Gabe, Reinhardt, Angela, Torbjorn, and herself. “Called DREAM, Durable REmote Agent Mediation. You must have gotten the software install but never activated for the actual program.”
“Software install?” Ana repeated, frowning. It had been standard procedure back then, the monthly updates and installs… so many experimental programs and tech, it was hard to keep up with. Everyone was a little bit a cyborg… or a lot. She had the basics, plus her eye. Health nanobots, comm links, GPS. Apparently this ‘DREAM’ program, too.
“Yeah, you probably signed off on it without really knowing what it was, and then next mission was the mission where you… well. You know.” Jack sighed.
“So, what is it?”
He gestured around the room. “Durable, meaning this place endures as a digital context outside of any single agent’s imagination or mind. Remote agent mediation, as in, anyone with the software can dream themselves here for meetings and communication. We used it for a while to facilitate secure Strike Team meetings, but it wasn’t as effective as we had hoped. Too many variables—most pressing of which was we had to all be asleep at the same time. Can’t be in this DREAM without actually dreaming.”
Ana nodded thoughtfully. “So why is this the first time I’ve ever been here? I’ve had the software all along, right?”
Jack looked her over, then shrugged. “No idea,” he said. “Winston might know.”
“And Gabriel? Surely he has used this tech many times. What makes this safe from him?” Her eyes landed on the masked face of Reaper, white owl skull glaring angrily back, accusing.
Jack snorted, folding his arms. “Reaper doesn’t dream.”
Ana watched him for a minute, his face set with a stubborn meanness that had never graced those handsome features when he had actually been that young. No, despite appearances, this was Soldier: 76, not Strike Commander Morrison. Angry, betrayed, cynical.
“What are you doing here, Jack?” she asked, glancing at her feet and not terribly surprised to see her outfit had changed. She felt her age acutely right now, the weariness in her bones and the sadness in her soul. She knew that if she were to look in a mirror at this moment, she would no longer see the young Captain Amari in workout clothes, but the old, weathered woman she had become.
“Monitoring a situation,” he answered gruffly, and a new image appeared on the screen in front of them.
It was a video feed of the medical wing of the Geneva building, nonexistent except in this DREAM state. And in it….
“Is that Angela?” Ana gasped, stepping closer.
Jack nodded. “It is,” he confirmed. “And the Talon agent known as Sombra.”
Ana jerked sharply toward the door, intending to rush immediately to the doctor’s aid, but Jack caught her arm. “Wait!” he snapped, and she froze. It actually kind of annoyed her how quickly and instinctively she still obeyed Jack’s orders.
“Jack,” she said, almost pleading. “Angie—”
“I told you, I’m monitoring the situation,” he said, pulling her gently back to the screen. “Watch.”
Angela looked over the charts that Sombra had handed her. “And you’re sure this is accurate?” she asked, flipping back and forth between two pages to compare data points. “You’re remembering it correctly?”
“Don’t have to remember when you’ve got the right hardware, doc,” Sombra scoffed, tapping the glowing purple metal embedded into her skull. “Nice thing about a digital interface for this DREAM thing. That chart is downloaded data from my tech to tech. No potential for a memory error.”
Angela nodded, tapping her lips. “It’s very fascinating, this data,” she mused. “The treatment seems to be especially effective at targeting the necroplasia but also increases the risk at a malfunction on the cellular level. If we could adjust the configuration of the plasma fusion….”
“English, doc. Or Spanish.”
“Right,” Angela sighed, committing the charts to memory. “I’ll need three days at least to develop the next formula.”
“Three days?” Sombra echoed, frowning. “I don’t know if this round is sustainable for that long.”
Shaking her head, Angela gestured sharply at the charts. “I know that, but this is… three days is already a very fast timetable, you have to understand. You’ll just have to wait it out.”
“It’s not me I’m worried about,” Sombra grumbled.
Angela softened, flicking her gaze up away from the charts, studying the hacker. “I know. I’m worried about him, too.” She bit her lip. “Okay, let’s do it this way. Give him one more of the current dose, then decrease to half for the next two days while I work. If needed, you can increase his painkiller dosage, but….”
“He’ll just build immunity faster that way, I know.”
Angela nodded. “Three days, Sombra.”
Sombra waved her fingers at her, then disappeared.
Angela settled in to study the charts for another few minutes, waiting for the alarm clock to wake her body. As soon as the buzzing startled her awake, she snatched up her pen and paper and copied the charts from her memory. DREAM memories were much sharper and more accurate than the way people remembered normal dreams, but they still faded too quickly. Perhaps she’d have to ask Sombra about those implants that could bring stored information into and out of the DREAM state….
She rubbed at her eyes, and briefly considered another hour of sleep, but no. A friend was depending on her, and she had only three days. She hoped it was enough.
Angela looked up from her work with bleary eyes when someone knocked on her door. Turning, she saw Jack leaning on the doorframe, holding a cup of coffee up in offering.
“Thank you, old friend,” she sighed, rolling her chair back and accepting the coffee as he entered and settled next to her on a stool.
“How’s it going?” he asked, looking at the computer screen with her work on it.
She gave an irritable huff. “As badly as expected,” she groused. “I am working with incomplete data, no current samples, and archaic equipment.”
“And yet you continue to pull out miracles,” Jack said, eyebrow arched over his coffee mug as he took a sip.
She knew he meant it as a compliment, but the work was frustrating and she missed having colleagues who could look at her data and see more than a compilation of numbers and medical terms. Hearing even a beloved friend like Jack call her work a miracle just made it more obvious how little anyone understood of the genius and sacrifice that went into cranking out the life-and-death formulas and solutions.
Still, she forced a smile. “I do try,” she said, sipping the coffee.
Jack eyed her closely, then grunted and drained his coffee. “What do you need?”
“Time, money, and current samples,” she said immediately.
“I can’t do anything about time and money,” he replied slowly, and his tone of voice tipped her off that something was up. She sat up straighter, watching him intently as he gathered his thoughts before continuing. “But if you can wait a few days for the current samples, I might be able to help.”
“How?” she said.
“We got some intel from Ana recently,” he said, eyes not meeting hers. “I know where Talon is going to be in two days’ time. I can meet them there.”
“Intel from Ana?” Angela repeated incredulously. “Nobody has heard from her since the Egypt mission went to shit.”
Jack’s eyes flicked up from his coffee mug, blue meeting blue, before lowering back to study the dregs of the life-giving liquid as if he could read the future in them.
“Jack,” she said sharply.
He sighed and stood, and she didn’t bother to hide the irritation on her face. He clearly wasn’t going to give up more information about Ana right now. “I’ll get you the samples, Angie. It’ll take a few days.”
“Fine. Be careful. Just because we’re collaborating on this little side project doesn’t mean Talon won’t take the opportunity to kill you if it’s presented,” she said, turning her chair around before he could reply and going back to carefully measuring saline solution for the new formula.
Gabe was doing the thing again. The thing she hated. The thing Gabe knew she hated.
The thing where he lectured her.
God. Did he actually think she listened to him at all during these things? She picked at a nail, flicking away a tiny fleck of dirt that had someone buried itself under her immaculately clawed manicure.
Hm, something had changed. She looked up and around, trying to discern what was different. Oh, Gabe was done talking, minutes earlier than anticipated. She filed the data away—perhaps her disinterested slouch and lack of eye contact had actually decreased the length of his lecture. She would try again next time and see if it would work regularly.
Their eyes met and Gabriel rolled his mightily, more sass than when Widow had explained to Akande that no, she would not consider a more “appropriate” outfit for missions.
“So, have you finished the diagnostics?” Sombra asked.
“Did you listen to a single word I just said?” Gabe sighed.
“No, obviously. Don’t ask stupid questions. The diagnostics?”
Gabe stared at her for a minute, then propped his elbow on the table and rested his forehead on his hand, rubbing at his brow. The very image of a put-upon dad, at the end of his patience. She smirked.
“You still haven’t told me what you’re doing with the data, or who this mysterious doctor you’re consulting is,” he said.
“Who cares? It’s working, isn’t it?” Sombra said, wagging a hand in the air to dismiss his concern.
“I care, Sombra,” Gabe said, and something in his tone made her pause, another witticism withering on her lips. He still had his face covered, but through his fingers she saw the wisps of black smoke curling up from his nose. Her heart fell a little. “It’s my fucking body. My life. I’m putting a lot of trust in your hands.”
“I know, Gabe. I won’t let you down. That’s why I need the new data before I meet my contact tonight.”
“Tonight?” Gabe asked, looking up, and Sombra cursed herself a little. Until right then, she had managed to keep the dates and times of her contact with Angela a secret from him, not wanting him to get clued into how she was communicating with her. If Gabe put together that she was meeting the “mystery doctor” while she slept, he would quickly put the rest together about the DREAM state, and from there it would be impossible to keep Angela a secret.
“Just give me the diagnostics data, Gabe, and let me handle the rest.” She held out her hand expectantly and after a long stare, he produced a memory stick from a pocket and smacked it into her palm.
“Tell your ‘contact’ that the pain from this last batch feels like the fuckin’ flu,” he snapped, standing up. “Aches and chills. And I’m so tired.” He was gone before she could reply.
She plugged the memory stick into her cyberbiotic hand implants and began the data transfer. “I know, Gabe,” she murmured. “I know.”
“What? Are you sure this is accurate?” Angela demanded, tracing a finger down the column of numbers that meant very little to Sombra.
“I don’t know why they wouldn’t be,” Sombra answered as she looked at the numbers, wishing they made more sense. Angela had taught her a great deal about the tests and chemicals that Sombra had to manage on her own, but most of it still went over her head. “Is it good?”
Angela tipped her head to the side, eyes widening for a moment as she arched her eyebrows. “It is… interesting. Not good, exactly, but possibly very helpful. I just need those live samples….”
“What live samples?” Sombra demanded.
Angela looked up, startled. Sombra watched as she ran back over her recent words, grimaced at the way she had phrased them, and then tried to think up a cover story. Brilliant as she was when it came to medical research, and despite her quick thinking and exceptional executive skills in combat and high-risk situations, Angela Ziegler remained a very bad liar.
“Did I say… those live samples? I meant, I wish I had some live samples,” she said, looking away from Sombra hastily. “It will be very hard to make sense of this new data without some testing material.”
“Who else would even be able to supply you with live samples?” Sombra demanded, not even pretending to buy Angela’s story. “I can’t, and I’m your only Talon contact. And Gabriel remains in the dark regarding your involvement.”
But the doctor was suddenly very busy not listening to Sombra, putting on a show of being immersed in the data and not listening. Jesus, was this how Gabe felt when Sombra ignored him? It was irritating.
Well, it wasn’t like Ziegler would get her live samples without Gabe knowing. No way to get vials of his, uh, “blood” (did Gabe have real blood? Sombra didn’t actually know) without tipping him off. Maybe he’d be more forthcoming than blondie.
“Alright, doc, I haven’t got all night. Whatcha got for me?”
Angela looked up, suddenly paying close attention again. Sombra rolled her eyes, then forgot her grievance as she noted a new, metallic glint on the inside of Angela’s wrist. When Angela noticed her gaze, she covered the metal implant self-consciously.
“Just a little biomemory,” she said, frowning at Sombra. “Don’t even think about hacking it, or our deal is permanently off.”
“Who, me?” Sombra asked, feigning innocence before cackling at Angela’s unamused look. “Wouldn’t dream of it, prom queen. What’s it for?”
Angela relaxed a little, producing a memory stick from her pocket and plugging it into the biomemory port. “After you told me about using your… enhancements to bring data back and forth from these meetings, I thought it would be wise to do the same.” She handed Sombra the memory stick, a DREAM construct that wasn’t necessarily but helped facilitate interaction in a natural, easy way. Technically, Angela could dump her data directly into DREAM’s RAM, from which Sombra could then draw it out and store it in her own. Ah well, the doc was new to cyborg enhancements; the memory stick would do. Sombra downloaded the information.
“Everything you need for making the next compound properly, as well as detailed instructions on how to respond to possible… side-effects.” At Sombra’s skeptical look, Angela continued. “I’m taking shots in the dark, here. Well, not quite the dark, but it’s like… playing Russian roulette. I’m missing the most crucial information: where the bullet is, but I know Gabe can’t wait for me to find out.”
Sombra nodded. After making sure Angela had downloaded all of the information to her new biomemory implant properly, she booted herself from the DREAM state and woke up.
“Welcome back,” Reaper growled from the corner. “How is Dr. Ziegler tonight?”