It was a risk being out here. Satya knew that. She’d been here a few times before, when she’d had the time and could pull herself away from whatever project she’d been absorbed in. But these botanical gardens were one of the only places in Rio de Janeiro where Satya knew she could step out from under Vishkar’s watchful eye.
The neat stone walkways, wide enough for at least two lanes of foot traffic, met perfectly chiseled stone walls high enough that Satya had often seen tourists using the flat surfaces atop them as elbow rests or makeshift tables for food and drink. Only beyond these walls rose the vast jungles of exotic plants. Every inch of the gardens was meticulously maintained, and Satya had always been comforted by how neat and spotless the place seemed to be. Nature, while beautiful, was often chaotic, but here its beauty was fully realized in order
Satya had stopped to wait on a carved stone bench in the corner of a large, square alcove. The gardens were like a maze, the paths only ever making right angles, and Satya had chosen a remote corner where several benches offered a brief respite from one of the longer stretches of walkway. It was quiet here, and the tall green fronds all around hid the area from view. From where she was sitting, Satya had a full vantage on both entrances, spaced evenly in the centers of the walls that formed the corner opposite hers. A smaller square of walls at the center of the alcove, supporting a neat floral arrangement, could provide cover if need be.
She hadn’t tied up her hair like she always did in her public appearances, instead leaving it down like she had on her covert missions. She’d also neglected her usual Vishkar headpiece and uniform, and had mostly hidden her recognizable cybernetic arm under the long sleeve of a light grey sweatshirt. Overall, she was more confident in her disguise than she’d expected to be, and was in fact quite proud of the hardlight guitar case leaning against the bench at her side. Street musicians often performed here – Satya could hear the faint sound of a violin, likely being played in one of the more frequented areas of the gardens – so it was less suspicious than a suitcase, and inside it she’d managed to fit her mission outfit, hardlight visor, and photon projector, along with several changes of clothes and everything else she would need for the journey ahead.
Whoosh, whoosh, WHOOSH.
A streak of blue light in her peripheral vision, accompanied by a series of progressively louder sounds, caught Satya off guard, and she was thrown into a panic when the last sound occurred extremely close by.
She instantly turned to its source, ready to… Satya wasn’t quite sure what she could’ve done at this range, but she needn’t have worried. Next to her on the bench reclined a woman with wild brown hair, wearing a dark grey jacket that was both several sizes too big and probably far too thick for today’s warmer weather. After accounting for the woman’s odd fashion sense, Satya recognized her face as one of several whose features she’d studied intently, knowing one of them would be her contact today.
“Cheers, love!” Tracer offered in greeting, then, noting Satya’s startled expression, “Oh, sorry about that, love. Didn’t mean to scare you!”
“It’s…” Satya took a breath, recovering from the shock. “It’s alright. You’re with…”
Hearing the name out loud made Satya nervous again. Every step she’d taken since she’d reached out initially had brought with it an overpowering feeling of this is real, I’m actually doing this. I’m leaving everything I know behind, and none more so than now, looking across her bench at a genuine agent of Overwatch, seated next to Satya and waiting expectantly for her answer.
“Tracer,” the woman said, filling the silence at Satya’s pause and offering her hand, “but we’re friends now so you can call me Lena.”
Friends? Satya considered, puzzled. She’d barely spoken to Lena in the minute or so they’d known each other. She watched as Lena’s eyes darted briefly down to her waiting hand and back up to meet Satya’s gaze before having a moment of revelation and giving Lena her own hand in response.
“Satya Vaswani, Lead Architech on…” she trailed off as she shook Lena’s hand neatly. “Satya,” she corrected, following Lena’s lead with a hint of embarrassment. It had been quite some time since Satya had introduced herself like this, in what she had slowly realized was an informal setting.
“Nice to have you on board, Satya. Now, let’s get outta here, yeah? We can chat in the car, love. This heat is killing me.”
“You could have dressed more properly for Brazil’s climate,” Satya said, gesturing to Lena’s massive jacket. She was silently thankful for having recognized the hyperbole.
“This was the only one I have that’s thick enough so the light doesn’t show through.”
Satya then noticed how Lena’s jacket fell oddly around her chest and forearms, remembering the strange harness and gauntlets she’d seen Tracer wearing in photos. She remembered her own covered arm and, in doing so, realized she was feeling somewhat uncomfortable herself.
“Lead the way,” Satya offered in agreement, “I hope your vehicle is air-conditioned.”
Lena shot Satya a grin, standing from the bench and looking very relieved. She turned to the walkway to their left and made a quick motion like she was about to break out in a run, but stopped, realizing something. She turned back to Satya and made a ‘follow me’ gesture with her hand, looking as if she might be trying to hide her disappointment.
Satya’s disguise hadn’t been a problem in the relatively cooler morning, but now that the sun was directly overhead – “high noon,” she’d heard Lena mumble to herself, chuckling at what must have been an inside-joke Satya wasn’t privy too – she was beginning to regret today’s fashion choices.
Lena was faring even worse, made exceedingly obvious by her increasingly hurried movement, heavy breathing, and pained sighs every time they turned a corner and realized they still had a fair distance left to walk before they could reach the exit.
“You couldn’t have picked somewhere closer to the lot, love? It’s like a labyrinth in here.”
“I… apologize.” Satya offered, unsure what she should suggest. She had deduced that the light on Tracer’s chest had something to do with her powers, and that her gauntlets were where she stowed her weapons, but couldn’t imagine why the woman would wear her entire uniform – was uniform the right word? – to this meeting. At her memory of what Tracer’s outfit looked like in all the more recent photos, Satya’s eyes went wide in concern. “Don’t tell me you’re wearing your other jacket under there?”
“Nah, skipped all that today, love! I’m not that crazy.”
‘Skipped all that today?’ Satya considered. Does that mean...
Satya didn’t let herself finish that thought, instinctively putting it aside like she had always done, until quite recently, with any lines of thinking she felt might have interfered with her steadfast dedication to her work at Vishkar.
It wasn’t long before they made their way to the parking lot. “And here we are!” Lena exclaimed excitedly, gesturing with both hands to a sleek, black vehicle.
It was one of the longer sport utility models with extended seating, like a hybrid between a minivan and a limousine. Upon being lead inside by an exhausted but cheerful Lena, Satya noted that beyond the driver and passenger positions, the rest of the grey faux-leather seating was arranged in two long benches along the walls. From the hidden but visible dividing lines and grooves along the floor, Satya deduced that the seats were modular and could separate and swivel to form traditional rows. As it was, however, there was clear access to a storage space in the back, and Satya set down her hardlight faux guitar case on grey carpeting next to a large brown suitcase with a small British flag sticker in the upper right corner. The vehicle was, in fact, air-conditioned, to Satya’s immense relief.
She spent a moment trying to decide which seat it would be the least rude to take before settling on the middle of the bench – composed of five modular seats, she’d counted – on the left side of the vehicle. She could see the entrance to the botanical gardens through the right-side windows, but more importantly, she also had a clear view of Lena, who’d taken the front right seat to… drive, Satya had thought, but Lena was reclined back in her chair, arms crossed and one foot resting on the dash, and remained that way even as the vehicle started moving.
“Gotta watch the road, love. Safety protocols and all that,” Lena began, facing forward but otherwise inattentive to anything happening outside the vehicle. “Don’t sweat about the suitcases, the antigrav on the Porpoise here is top-notch. It’s perfect for being inconspicuous, too. Can’t see through the windows from outside, and it can even change color. If we need to pick a new one, Athena takes requests!”
“Athena?” asked Satya, having been about to ask about the Porpoise moniker but figuring this was more important.
“Who’d you think was driving, love? I only do planes! Hey Athena, Care to chime in?”
“Greetings Lena, Satya,” an electronic voice filtered through the overhead speakers.
“The AI is driving the vehicle?” Satya asked, concerned.
“I have a long history of successful service functioning as Overwatch’s auto-pilot system,” Athena began. “I have only been engaged in two crashes in that time, out of several hundred successful flights.”
Flights, Satya noticed. “But are we safe now?” she asked Lena. “Has it been tested in this type of vehicle?”
“I can make it three crashes, if you’d like.”
“Oi! A!” Lena interrupted, glancing toward the ceiling. “Be nice.”
Satya felt sick. It wasn’t that she had anything against AI, at least she didn’t think she did. She considered artificial intelligence an integral part of an efficient and orderly society. It was simply that the unprofessionalism of her interactions so far with Lena had slowly been eroding Satya’s faith in Overwatch’s competence, and she realized that she’d unfairly placed those doubts upon Athena.
I did say ‘it,’ she remembered. Had Athena taken offense? The AI Satya had dealt with in her work at Vishkar had never reacted like this, with… sass? Sarcasm? Satya wasn’t sure which word was correct. She realized, adding a brief twinge of resignation to her guilt, that Athena apparently had better social skills than she did.
“You alright back there, love?”
Lena had turned to look at Satya – enough that she no longer had her eyes the road, which only added to Satya’s concern – and was watching her expectantly. Satya fell into an all-too-familiar mad rush to get her thoughts in order and work up the courage to speak before Lena, inevitably, would decide the pause in conversation had gone on for too long and Satya would lose her chance.
“S’okay, love. Take your time.”
Satya paused. Was she…
Lena offered Satya a small smile and nodded.
“I…” Satya began, grabbing hold of the silence like a lifeline. It was a long moment before she continued. “I would like to apologize to Athena. Could you…”
“I can hear you.” Athena interjected. There was no venom in it, only a statement of fact.
Satya considered where she should direct her words, and settled on the closest set of speakers on the ceiling. She was shaking, feeling as if the circular parts of the speakers were eyes watching her every movement. She took another moment to compose herself before she was finally able to speak, her voice uneven. “I… did not mean to offend, but I realize I must have. I am sorry for doubting your capabilities… and for not addressing you correctly, if that was part of it…” Satya trailed off, not sure how to continue but feeling as if she’d said everything she wanted to.
“I accept your apology,” Athena replied, sounding slightly apologetic herself, “I realize much of this may be new for you.”
Satya felt a weight lift off her chest, one she’d expected to carry for days or weeks, if not the rest of her life. “Thank you,” she said softly and to no one in particular, feeling it applied to both of her travel companions.
“No problem, love!” Lena chimed in, still displaying her friendly smile. “You’re doin’ a lot better at this than ol’ Torb, I’ll tell you that.”
Satya relaxed, and Lena went back to watching the road as she began going over the basic information Satya had given when she’d contacted Overwatch, having her fill in remaining details. Satya had never done well in interviews, but found it much easier to answer Lena’s questions when she didn’t feel like she was being watched. Satya wondered briefly if Lena had arranged it this way on purpose.
At one point, Satya noticed a blue wireframe octahedron spinning above her left palm and realized she’d been tracing out geometric shapes in hardlight while she’d been talking. She had a quick moment of panic and looked back up toward Lena, who had been occasionally looking back at her via the rearview mirror. If she’d noticed, her not-quite-driver hadn’t said anything about it, and was still going ahead with the interview. Satya relaxed again – as she’d been able to do quite often since she’d been with Lena, she noticed – and shifted her focus back to their conversation.
Lena started asking questions about Vishkar and the kind of work she did, and the warm, comforting sensation that had begun to overtake Satya vanished in an instant. What about that business with Calado? she imagined Lena saying, people DIED in that explosion, they didn’t GET their better world. What do you have to say for yourself? She waited for the question, her heart sinking further with every second that passed, but it never came. Her covert missions were only briefly touched on, and Lena quickly proceeded to the details of joining Overwatch.
“I should probably ask before we get too far, love: is there anyone you wanna bring with? We can maintain or replicate almost any equipment, so long as you let us take a look, but some people like to bring their own mechanics with ‘em, or even just friends and family, though we’d have to clear them first."
“My equipment is Vishkar’s, and I can repair it myself, so long as I have the proper materials,” Satya replied. “And my family would be strangers to me if I ever saw them again. So, no, I am going alone.”
“alright, love…” Lena said cautiously. She paused for a moment, deep in thought, and some time passed before she spoke again. “We’re gonna keep our promise. You’ll be safe with me, you’ll be safe with Overwatch, Vishkar won’t be able to get to you, and eventually they’ll stop being a problem altogether, if we have anything to say about it.”
“You… intend to eliminate Vishkar?” Satya asked incredulously.
“Stop them, at least, at any rate, once we’ve got the numbers to. It’s in our mission statement now, one of our other recruits’ conditions for joining. We’re actually going to pick him up right now. Hey! Maybe you two know each other!”
Whatever horrible realization was building in Satya’s thoughts was momentarily cut off as she was taken aback by Lena’s last statement. The possibility that she would know someone else here was slim. Satya had barely interacted with anyone outside of Vishkar in the time she’d been in Rio de Janeiro. She hadn’t even considered acknowledging the ‘friends’ part of Lena’s previous question. She hadn’t made any, nor had she held out hope that she would ever be able to.
But the vehicle had plenty of open seats, and there was still half a world away before they’d reach this new Overwatch’s headquarters in Gibraltar. If the people she was going to meet on this journey, and at its conclusion, were anything like Lena…
Cracks began to form in the walls Satya had built around herself through years of self-doubt and resignation. Shining through, she felt a tiny flicker of hope that she could not stifle, no matter how hard she tried to convince herself that this time too, just like the others, all she had to look forward to was disappointment and even more hurting. She closed her eyes to keep them from welling with tears. Of what, she couldn’t be sure.
“What is it, love? You okay?”
Satya breathed deeply, trying to regain some amount of composure before answering.
“I… I think, perhaps, I will be.”
The Porpoise – Satya would have to remember to ask about that name – pulled to the side of the street, into a very cramped parking spot between two very old-fashioned vehicles, one a garish blue-green and the other a dusty light brown. From what Satya could see of them through the windshield and back window, she guessed they were old enough to be from the era when cars drove on rotating wheels instead of hovered, and that the brown one had probably been parked in the same place for just as long.
“Be back in a minute, love! You’ll hardly know I was gone!” Lena said excitedly as she opened the door and shut it behind her before Satya had time to process what she had said.
While she waited for Lena to return with this mystery recruit, Satya took in her surroundings. She winced at what she saw. All around her were dilapidated buildings, painted in some places with bright, chaotic colors, worn down to bare wood in others. Like the light brown car, which Satya was beginning to suspect had at one point been white, various objects were strewn about, abandoned or momentarily neglected, on porches, in alleys, and even on sidewalks. She was thankful Lena’s vehicle – Athena’s vehicle? Overwatch’s vehicle? – seemed to have an air filtration system. Satya knew what places like this smelled like, and she felt nauseous at the memory.
Who would Lena be meeting in this place, amid such chaos and disorder? Satya wondered. Unless…
Satya’s eyes went wide with horror as the realization she’d been staving off hit her like a ton of bricks. At that moment, she could already hear Lena’s voice from somewhere outside, getting louder as she approached the vehicle.
“…and we will, as soon as we get enough recruits, we’ll all be back to finish the job you’ve started off so well.”
No. No no no no no…
“In fact, the way things worked out, I’ve actually got a surprise for you! You could call it a down payment of sorts, in a way. You see, love…” Lena opened what was technically one of the back doors, gesturing inside. “Vishkar just lost their lead architech!”
Satya shook to her core as the familiar blue-plated, metallic legs of Lúcio Correia dos Santos stepped though the same door Lena had shown Satya through only an hour ago. The long, anemone-like tendrils of his dark hair trailed in arcs behind his head as he moved, and that yellow, headphone-wearing frog sigil stared a challenge from the center of his sleeveless, green shirt. He’d already had a troubled expression brewing behind the yellow, transparent visor over his eyes, but it turned to pure, seething rage when he actually laid eyes on the architech. “What the fuck is she doing here?”
Satya’s equally venomous glare met his as she rose from her seat – there was almost enough room to stand, but not quite, so she ended up in a somewhat awkward crouch – and stared him down. She had little trouble speaking now. When she wanted people to think she was being rude, Satya didn’t have to try very hard. “I could say the same about you, what business does Overwatch have with a street rat? ”
“Aww heellllll no! don’t tell me you actually want me to work with this imperialist scum!”
Behind where Lúcio stood at the beginning of the bench-style seating, Satya could see where Lena had frozen in place in the open doorway, a look of apologetic horror on her face. Satya was annoyed beyond all measure at how cheerful she’d been while all the time bringing her straight toward the man who’d so quickly become akin to a mortal enemy of hers. Part of her felt that it served her right for her ignorance that she now had to watch everything she’d planned fall apart in front of her.
But beneath it all, Satya could feel a twinge of sympathy for the woman. She’d been so excited, so hopeful, she’d thought this would go so well only for it to go so wrong. Satya knew that feeling well.
Something brought about by the parallel, or by the obligation she now felt to do whatever she could to ease Lena’s pain, made Satya snap her lips shut around the next choice insult she was about to throw at Lúcio and gently lower herself to her seat.
Lúcio was taken aback for only a second before apparently becoming more frustrated. “Oh, you think we’re done here?”
By now Lena had herself stepped inside, pulling the door closed behind her, and was currently attempting to awkwardly squeeze between the two front seats to get back to her former position, all evidently so she could avoid having to leave the two of them alone together for even a few seconds.
Lúcio had begun to say something else, but Satya cut him off, her voice cold but not venomous. “I am sorry for what Vishkar has done to you and your people. Everything you’ve said about them is true. I see that now, which is why, as you can see, I have defected.”
At that, Lúcio froze, clearly unprepared for Satya’s apology. She’d said it mostly for Lena – who had managed to navigate her way to what Satya had reluctantly decided to call the driver’s seat, regardless – but she had to finally admit that she was having trouble justifying her continued hatred for the DJ-turned-revolutionary. She could never accept his ideology, not when she remembered what her life had been like before Vishkar, but he hadn’t exactly been wrong to object to Vishkar’s behavior, had he? Satya would have to think on this further.
As it was, Lúcio silently turned away from Satya, giving a shrug of annoyance to the interior wall to her left, and falling lazily into the seat at the very front of the right-side bench. He dropped his yellow backpack into the seat next to him, but didn’t bother taking his luggage – a blue suitcase with green lining, decorated with the familiar frog sigil – to the rear storage area. Instead, he let it sit in the aisle where he’d dropped it at his feet. Diagonally in the aisle. Satya winced and wondered if he’d done it on purpose, before deciding that he actually probably hadn’t but would have if he’d known how much it would bother her.
“If there are no objections,” Athena broke the silence, “I shall begin driving us to the safehouse.”
A few moments passed, in which the silence resumed unabated, and the car effortlessly pulled out of the cramped space and took off down the highway, away from the favela.
Lena hadn’t said a word since she’d shown Lúcio into the car. Satya had decided that she didn’t deserve the blame for any of it. She’d been nothing but sweet and cheerful and Satya was already regretting the anger she’d felt toward her moments before, though she dared not say anything with Lúcio present.
Lúcio broke the silence instead. “So, you defected, huh?” he said without looking at Satya. “That mean you’re done with the whole ‘freedoms must be sacrificed’ thing or…”
The words came easily to Satya. She’d had to recite them to herself over and over before she could justify her rejection of Vishkar’s vision for the world without sacrificing her own in the process. “Vishkar was flawed,” she began, “they intended to assign the fruits of their success according to economic status, reinforcing the conditions that create poverty rather than eliminating them. Their institution of curfews and bans on certain activities may have overstepped the line from promoting civil harmony to instituting control. And, of course, their use of sound technology against civilians and the reckless lengths they went to in order to secure contracts” – Satya felt her heart flood with guilt at that last line – “were wholly unacceptable.”
“That doesn’t sound like a ‘yes’” said Lúcio darkly.
“I cannot condone the decision your people make to continue living in slums.”
“It’s our choice, our CULTURE, Vaswani. Do you know what that means? ” Lúcio was staring intently now, incredulous. “Of course you don’t, because you didn’t have any. You grew up in your ivory tower and think you can just take our lives away because you feel like it? Make your own decisions about how we live and who we are without knowing anything about us?”
“You talk as if you’ve all made this decision together, can individuals not have a say in your culture? ”
“We do all make it together. It’s what we all agree. You’ve seen us marching. That’s us, moving together as one!” There was something in his voice that more closely resembled pride than anger.
“And your children?” Satya asked, with pain in her voice. “Do you give them a choice, or do you dictate their lives for them? How long do they have to suffer in your filth before—”
“Fuck you!” Lúcio shouted, snapping back to pure rage and lunging forward, stopped only by his seatbelt. “Fuck you for whatever the fuck you were implying. We take care of our own.”
“Oi!” Lena finally shouted from the front, but she didn’t add anything else.
Satya had recoiled at Lúcio’s sudden outburst, her head sinking between her shoulders and her arms crossing over her chest as she sat as far back as possible in her seat. She nervously folded at the fabric of her sleeve, the medium-length, sky-blue nails on her right hand making the movement rather noticeable. In the silence at Lena’s interruption, she began weakly: “I just… want to make a better life for everyone, for people who aren’t born yet. Things should be better for them, they deserve better. And you are the one trying to rob them of that.”
“The way I see it,” Lúcio began, still scowling but his rage tempered somewhat, “you still think we should have everything that matters to us taken away, all because you think you know better than we do,” he scoffed, “can raise our kids better than we do, apparently.”
Satya felt alone, trapped. No matter what she said, Lúcio could make her sound like the villain. That was his skill. He wasn’t a revolutionary leader for nothing. But it was his argument that did the work for him, his words. How he could talk of simple things like freedom and choices and everyone would listen. Short-term, selfish thinking with no regard for the big picture, no regard for the long-term, no regard for the people like her that didn’t get out.
“Lena?” Satya asked, well aware of how desperate she would look, but she was desperate, what else could she be? “What do you think?” She regretted bringing her into this as soon as she had done so.
“Uhh… this is all kinda over my head, loves. Don’t really think I have much to contribute here.”
Of course she would side with Lúcio, Satya thought, convinced Lena’s avoidance of the question could mean nothing else, everyone does. Everyone listens to him, and no one cares about the people he hurts, the people he is too foolish and blind to see are being hurt.
Something in Satya snapped. This time she raised her voice, seething with rage. “Fine, street rat, have it your way. If you think you know what is best for all your people, if you think you can deny them a better life because of what you think is best. Then you… you are no better than Vishkar.”
“The fuck did you just say to me?”
“ALRIGHT, LOVES,” Lena shouted, so loud and scolding that both Satya and Lúcio forgot whatever they’d been about to say next, “DROP IT NOW, OR SO HELP ME I WILL TURN THIS CAR AROUND RIGHT NOW! ”
Satya’s eyes went wide in horror. In the rearview mirror she could see Lena, who was also looking at her, and the two made a kind of indirect eye contact. Lena winced, and when she spoke again, her voice was cautious and apologetic.
“It’s just a… a figure of speech, I think. Haven’t you ever been on a fam— oh.” Satya could see the exact moment Lena’s heart sank. “Sorry, love,” and after a few moments, “No one’s going to make you go back there if you don’t want to.”
Satya relaxed again, managing a slight nod of thanks. Lúcio seemed to not know what to make of any of this, and didn’t resume their conversation, so Satya turned away to look out the back window, pulling a pair of noise-cancelling earbuds out of her sweatshirt pocket. She sat there for a long while, tuning everything out and watching the road slip out from under them as they left it behind.
Lena waited about 15 minutes before daring to try to give Lúcio his entrance interview. Satya wasn’t paying attention, but could pick up a few short bursts of laughter once they’d been talking for a while. They’d be good friends, Satya thought. Lena can have other friends, she floated as an idea, waiting nervously for her own reaction to it. Eventually she decided that she didn’t disagree, though she found herself correcting the statement to Lena can have friends.
Her thoughts drifted to wondering how she was going to fix this. Would she even get the chance to? Lena, I wanted to apologize for… she imagined herself saying, finding some quiet time to pull her away for a moment, stop her while she closed up the car after they’d exited, perhaps? How would she finish that statement? …for thinking it could work this time, she couldn’t avoid answering.
At least that might get her attention, she reasoned. I want her to feel sorry for me, don’t I? Satya winced at that. She hated when she did this, imagining these conversations, but could never stop herself. Maybe I should start by thanking her, instead? I want her to know that I am not blaming her…
It was dark when they got to the Overwatch safehouse, which was a rather hidden-away mountainside hotel. It was one of the farthest buildings up the slope, bordering nothing but foliage and almost totally consumed by the jungle. The safehouse itself turned out to be three adjacent rooms in the back of the building, with windows facing into the hillside. Satya and Lúcio, of course, would be staying in the rooms on either end.
Satya didn’t get the chance to talk to Lena. In the moments she could have seized, she couldn’t work up the courage. Before she knew it, she was standing just outside the open doorway to her room, not having said a word to her.
She lingered there for a while, clinging to that last futile hope that she’d get one more chance before she closed that door behind her and wouldn’t get another one. She shook her head at how foolish she was being, and started into her room.
As she passed the threshold, she felt a hand on her upper arm and flinched, tensing up.
“Oh! Sorry, love.” Lena apologized, pulling her hand back sharply as Satya turned to face her, incredulous. “You don’t like to be… s’okay, love.”
She had changed out of the heavy jacket and into what looked to be a set of pajamas, but she still had that odd-looking harness strapped around her chest, a bright blue light in the center of metallic white panels not so unlike Satya’s own hardlight constructions. Satya would have to remember to ask about it, someday.
“I just wanted to…” Lena began, uncertainty in her voice. “I’m sorry… for all that. I Just… I still got your back, love, you don’t have to worry.”
“How do you…” Satya began, having completely forgotten everything she’d planned to say and still recovering from the shock. “How do you always seem to know what I am thinking?”
“I don’t, I just…” Lena winced, a sadness in her eyes as she reached a hand up to her shoulder and lightly pulled on one of the straps of her harness. “We’ve all got something, love.”
They stood there silently for a moment before Lena finally spoke up with “I should probably try to sleep, love. You too, we’ve got a big travel day tomorrow. Breakfast first, though, so I’ll see ya then. G’night, love!”
“Goodnight, Lena,” Satya returned, watching as the cheerful pilot with the strange harness walked back to the room next-door and gave a friendly wave as she closed it.
Despite how disastrous the day had been, Satya clung to her renewed hope that things might just turn out alright after all.
She allowed herself to smile, just a bit, as she closed the door and set her odd suitcase – she should probably make a more practical one soon, she decided – down on the floor. She slipped out of her sweatshirt, neatly folding it and placing it atop the suitcase. Under the midday sun, she’d been thankful she hadn’t worn anything heavier than a light blue tank-top underneath. Most of her wardrobe was sleeveless, in fact, as she didn’t much like the way thinner fabrics fell around her slightly asymmetrical shoulders. She checked over her left arm once to make sure everything was still in place, even though she knew it would be.
“Aww, that was so sweet! She really does care about you.” It was a woman’s voice; one Satya didn’t recognize.
Satya panicked, darting her eyes across the room in an attempt to find its source, only for the barrel of a gun to materialize directly between her eyes, and behind it, a woman with a strange side-cut of dyed purple hair and metal implants arcing over one ear. A pair of purple lips shot Satya a sinister smirk.
“Satya Vaswani…” The woman started, her finger on the trigger, and Satya closed her eyes.
“Don’t even think about calling for help, or doing anything clever with that arm of yours, comprende? You’ve given Lena enough trouble already today, don’t you think?”
Satya had to open her eyes again at that. What is she playing at?
The woman looked pleased, and her face softened into a friendly smile as she swiftly lifted her gun away from Satya’s face. “Alright, now that that’s over with, we can get down to business.” She narrowed her eyes on that last word.
Satya was still frozen in place, eyeing the woman suspiciously. Being caught so off-guard, perhaps the most unguarded she had ever let herself be, left Satya confused and terrified by the woman in front of her.
She seemed to notice, and her shoulders went slack. “Relájate! You don’t have to be so tense.” She stepped forward toward Satya, who still couldn’t move a muscle, and started in a circle around her. As she did so, she gently ran an index finger with a long pink nail down Satya’s right arm, from her shoulder to her elbow.
It… wasn’t terrible.
Nor unwelcome, exactly, though Satya cursed herself at the thought. It was just… new somehow, and Satya wasn’t entirely sure how she felt about it.
The woman appeared around Satya’s left side, holding out a hand in greeting. “Sombra,” she offered.
When Satya remained still, Sombra dropped her hand and shrugged. “It’s okay, I already know who you are.”
Some part of Satya actually found that convenient.
“So, how did the interview go?” Sombra began. “Notice anything missing?” she added cryptically.
Satya’s eyes went wide. Calado. But… how did she know?
“I found something you might be interested in seeing, amiga.” Sombra continued. She moved her fingers in the air as if tracing something, until a holographic display appeared. “The camera really shows your good side, you know.”
Satya watched in horror as a video played on the floating screen. She recognized it as security footage from inside the Calado building, and couldn’t tear her eyes away as the image of herself shot energy drain pulses at security guards, then stepped through a teleporter just moments before the footage cut out – clearly from the explosion.
Sombra made a motion with a finger and rewound the video to a frame that showed Satya firing at one of the guards. “You know, it could have been really bad if Overwatch had seen that. Good thing I wiped it before they could.”
“What? ” Satya added, finally. They… didn’t know?
“Yeah, see, amiga? I did you a favor. Now I’m the only one who has this footage.”
“Why… why would you do such a thing?” Satya asked, incredulous.
“Because what are friends for?”
That word again.
“No one else has seen this, amiga, and I can make sure it stays that way, you just need to do me one little favor.”
Satya recoiled, suddenly realizing what Sombra was actually trying to do to her. “You intend to… extort me?” Her eyes narrowed, her face taking on a stern, combative look.
“Oh, no, nothing like that!” Sombra said, mock-clutching her hand to her heart. “What do you take me for? This is just a little exchange of favors between friends.”
She keeps using that word.
“Okay listen,” Sombra began, “We both know Overwatch is in a complicated position. How do you think it would look for them if one of their new recruits was seen on camera doing this? ” She pushed the image further toward Satya. “You really think they would still want to be associated with someone like that?”
Satya felt her breath catch in her throat. Sombra made a good point, she thought. Overwatch was attempting to regain legal status, and if something like this came out, it could be very damaging to those efforts.
“But that never has to happen, amiga. I can get you in with Overwatch. You won’t have to be the outsider this time, not with me helping you! You just have to get me the list!"
“What list?” Satya asked, becoming more and more confused by the second.
Sombra leaned in close, placing the tip of her finger between Satya’s eyebrows. “The names of the people who are going to be joining you on this trip of yours.”
Satya’s eyes went wide, and with a chill she realized that Sombra could feel the slight muscle movement through her fingertip. Satisfied, Sombra withdrew her hand with a grin.
“Relájate! No one’s going to hurt them,” she continued, “just offer them a better deal.”
“I… I can’t,” Satya managed. “I will not do such a thing.”
“I wonder what Lena would think if she saw that footage.” A devious smile spread across Sombra’s face. “You reeeeeaaally want to be friends with her, don’t you?”
Satya froze. She did, didn’t she? Desperately. Foolishly. And this woman could hold it over her, possibly make her do anything she asked, all for someone she’d met only hours ago. Was that what Satya had been craving for so long? Weakness?
“I can help you with that!” Sombra said suddenly, cutting off Satya’s thoughts. “I mean, she’s going to need to trust you anyway if she’s going to give you the list, right?” She set her hands down on Satya’s shoulders, apparently delighted at her idea.
“That’s how we can do this, amiga,” She spoke softly with a smile. “I can show you how to make friends, and you can get me that list. Does that seem fair?”
Nothing about it seemed fair to Satya, but she didn’t feel like she had a choice in the matter.
“Think about it, alright?” Sombra said when Satya didn’t respond. “I’ll be in touch.” And with that, she reached back to the still-paused video, placing it in front of Satya’s eyes one last time, before making chillingly familiar motions with her hands until the screen had folded into a pale purple holographic octahedron, rotating above her left palm. Swiftly, she reached up and crushed it into nothing, raising her eyebrow with a smirk as her whole body seemed to disintegrate into fading purple pixels.