There was a soft noise permeating the air.
It was not loud –in fact, it could only be heard because the rooms were completely empty, noticeable in the silence as a background noise, intrusive and continuous; it was the sound of machines buzzing, electricity that kept the generators active in the past decade despite the state of abandonment of the building.
In what felt like the first time in the past ten years, something else echoed in the empty corridors –the sound of footsteps, slow and careful.
Two figures made their way through the compound, leaving behind small footprints on the dusty floors of the corridors; every time they passed by a door, one of the two would stay behind, acting as a guard of sorts, scouting around for any possible attack, while the other would click the door open and peek inside.
After a quick check, the second person would shake their head, slowly, and the two would resume their walk.
They proceeded slowly, carefully, door by door by door, until finally, past an area with a rusty ‘personnel only’ warning sign faded with age, they found what they’d been searching until then.
A room bigger than the others, with a big rectangular table in the middle, surrounded by wooden armchairs. At one side, an empty wall, and what looked like an empty desk –but there was more to it than it appeared. Cables from under the desk led to the nearby wall, and even here, with no machines visible, there was the same low, buzzing sound of electricity.
The shorter of the two figures, clad with a thick cloak and a mask that hid their face, made a small, curt gesture to the other as they entered the room. The taller one tapped the devise on their wrist, and a small pulse of blue energy flared from it. After a couple, tense seconds, they nodded, and both relaxed minutely.
It looked like the security cameras still worked, but there was no recording space, so the footage simply did not get recorded –probably because of how long the place had been abandoned. The emergency generator still worked, but it would do the old owners no good…
A mistake they could seize.
“Are you sure?” the taller of the two figures finally spoke, voice low and raspy after hours of silence. “Wouldn’t want all this to be for naught.”
The other shuffled their hood down, revealing blond hair messily tied back in a short ponytail, then after a moment of hesitation, also removed the mask from their face. The bangs under her eyes seemed even darker in the room, proof of many sleepless nights.
“Yes. We have been doing intel for months for this… they grew complacent, and we made sure to keep them busy elsewhere. As long as we leave no trace of our passage, and are careful, we should be alright. Here…” she motioned for the empty desk, “is something important. Plans, a way to use the machine we’ve managed to build during these last months. Guidelines. Who their original target was.”
“This place looks old. You sure we can read the files, Mercy?”
“I trust our team, Pharah.”
Alone in the room, with the only sound around them that of humming machinery left alone for a decade, the two stared into one another’s eyes before Pharah –Fareeha Amari, once part of Helix, now undercover for Overwatch– nodded sharply at her companion. Mercy –Angela Ziegler, once part of the original Overwatch team, who’d worked on her own as a doctor for years before making a return, pushed more by need than her own will– returned the nod with a grim smile.
“We have no other option, Pharah.”
“I know. I know. I still don’t like it. I should have been with them, not…” Fareeha bit down on her lower lip, anger flashing on her face. “They hunted us down like mice, I should have…” a gentle hand on her own closed fist made her falter, and she looked up again, meeting Angela’s eyes.
Rather than pity, or softness, she found anger there as well. “I know. I would have wanted… but it was too important. I needed you with me. The program I’ve got here… we will download everything and read through it. If everything goes well, we will finally have the upper hand to stop Talon.”
They approached the desk, Angela first and Fareeha lagging behind, eyes flickering from one side of the empty room to the other.
Nothing made it seem different from the others they’ve visited, except…
When Angela pushed a small panel on the underside of the desk, the surface lit up and turned into a giant glowing keyboard, touchscreen keys flickering green as a holographic computer screen appeared in the air in front of her, booting up slowly before it turned into a ‘password required’ screen. Hands steady, Angela tapped a long code she had memorized, one number after the other, and–
The computer activated, the password screen turning into a computer desktop.
“It worked,” Fareeha murmured, eyes wide. For the first time in forever, a kindle of hope lit inside her chest.
“Yes. And now…”
Angela looked at the desktop. There were many folders there, though she did not know which one she would need. She looked around the desktop, searching until her fingers found a small, almost invisible opening in the wood that revealed the slot for a minidisk. Pushing with her finger, the slot clicked open, and she retrieved the SD card with the program she’d been given, sliding it inside.
The computer screen flashed blue, before a familiar symbol took over the desktop.
“Now we wait,” she exhaled a trembling breath, and tugged a chair closer to fall on it, her body tense like a rod.
Fareeha shifted behind her, hands on the back of the chair, holding it so tightly her knuckles went white under her gloves. “How long, Angela?”
“We’re downloading everything to send to the base. It shouldn’t be long, but we need to cover our tracks.”
“I want to see.” Fareeha’s voice was like steel, and she leaned forwards a bit, looking at the folders. “After so long… I need to know. I need to see.”
Angela found herself nodding along, understanding Fareeha’s desire and feeling the same.
They had spent months on a wild-goose chase, not daring to hope, gathering every fragment of information like it was golden, trying to make sense of what they had in hand, fighting against time, against Talon…
And now they were here, alone, while the rest of their team was fighting, trying to cover them.
Did this facility truly have what they needed to stop Talon? To stop Hubris’ reign?
Her hand shook as she moved to the screen in front of her, tapping a folder. She had no idea where to start, and the first few folders she checked had only nameless files with no extension. She opened another, then another, and finally she found something –a folder full of images, and more nameless files.
The images were stills of places –some she recognised, some that were unfamiliar to her. There was a grey building with no logo, surrounded by trees. There was a cemetery, and what appeared to be a firing range. Then, streets of a city, a shot of London’s tower, then another familiar view of the city, then a view of a statue she’d never seen before, depicting a tall omnic in a contemplative pose. Then, a monastery, the grounds covered in snow.
“Wait.” Fareeha stopped her from closing the folder. “These files…” she tapped on the keyboard, slower than Angela had been, and a program started up, converting all the files into something else. Some were videos, some were documents, and even more images. “Here, dad taught me how to do this.”
Eyes narrowed, Angela selected the properties for one of the video files. “This makes no sense,” she murmured. “The date is… wrong.”
The date of creation of the file was that of the current year, yet –two months in the future.
They checked another video, then the third –they all had alternating dates, but with one thing in common… all of them were ‘created’ in the future.
“If the base has been abandoned for a decade, why would these be…” Fareeha grunted. “The tech here is too old.”
She brushed Angela’s hand away and opened another image, only to see a black screen.
“See. The encryption corrupted some of the files. It’s possible it did not manage to convert everything correctly. That would explain the dates.”
“Let’s open the documents first.” Angela’s hand moved away from the video files and onto something else.
The first file she selected appeared to be a partially encrypted email conversation that had been downloaded from a faulty mailing service. It contained a long chain of mails between a man called Xavier and Doctor Stern, who was explaining some sort of theory based on some new nanomachine-driven technology he wanted to build.
It seemed that he had been contacted by a Talon representative, but part of the conversation was indecipherable, square symbols replacing letters and making it impossible to fully understand what was happening, yet…
“This must be their first contact with the creator of the machine,” Angela licked her lips, eyes wide. “He had no funds, of course Talon found out and offered.”
The mails hinted at attached files, so Angela clicked out of the page to search the rest of the images she had not looked at. She opened one, and found a familiar face –a man with glasses and a white goatee, staring into the camera with a bored expression.
“Doctor Stern,” Fareeha grunted out. “Too bad they disposed of him so quickly. He would have been helpful.”
“We will have to make do without him.”
She clicked on another image, and it was a photo of design papers, notes scribbled in the margins, and a detailed drawing of a machine –the same one that was now safely hidden in the Overwatch base.
Of course, not the exact same.
They had recreated the machine after weeks of patient, slow work. They did not own the original –nobody knew where it was, or if Talon had disposed of it after using it. Yet, they had no idea how to use it, or what it even did.
Excitement making her heart race, Angela clicked on the next picture, then the one after that, and she almost gasped when she saw plans –details, notes, little comments…
This was what they’d been searching for. They could make the machine work.
The second file was a report, but Angela only scrolled through a little bit of it. It talked about an omnium, though not one she knew about, in the Sino-Tibetan area. It seemed to focus on a specific batch of omnics, and Angela frowned, wondering what that had to do with anything.
“If the machine needs an omnium core, I don’t know how many are still functioning, but we should be able to ask for Russia’s cooperation.” Fareeha reassured her, one hand moving from the back of the chair to her shoulder.
“You’re right.” Angela took a few deep, slow breaths, calming down.
The next document’s first page was a single phrase, that had both Angela and Fareeha freeze.
It read ‘Mission hubris’, and had a small symbol that neither of them knew just underneath.
“How egotistic,” Angela hissed, eyes narrowed as the screen changed, “for him to call a mission after himself…”
Yet, she felt a surge of sheer smugness.
This was the lead they’d been chasing for so long.
This was what Hubris was planning.
The rest of the file, unfortunately, was mostly blank, corrupted words taking page after page of space with only a few words here and there was were understandable –‘target’, and ‘mission’, and ‘we need to program everything exactly to prevent’… but prevent what? They had no idea.
“You think we could get them fully fixed at the base?” Fareeha asked, scrolling down a bit more before closing the file.
“Yes. We will get everything.”
Finally, curiosity too much for them to wait any longer, Angela clicked on the first of the video files –the one with the earliest date.
It was a shaky recording, using what looked like a hand-held camera. Nothing professional.
The shot was of a laboratory, offering a panoramic view of a partially assembled something on a table, various computers, and an open window. Outside, Fareeha could recognize the familiar shape of Oasis’ buildings.
“Ah, yes. I think… that’s enough, yes?” the view shook, fumbled and unfocused before the camera was placed on a surface, and a face appeared a second later –Doctor Stern, looking a little hopeful, a little hesitant. “You’ve asked for a demonstration, right? I don’t have the machine ready yet… even with your… generous donation, I do not trust the colleagues you have… uh…” his eyes shifted to the side, then back to the viewer. “A-anyway. I’m working quickly, having helpers would slow me down. They… my projects, you see. They’re… not complex, but… I know how to read them. I will do this on my own.”
He swallowed, then moved away from the camera, pointing at the machine on the table.
“This is the main part. It uses the energy of converted nanomachines –and ah, the… the ones you sent to use… were more powerful than I had expected. I had to, well, correct the polarization to make them stable, but they’ve been. Useful. Yes, very useful. I did not think I could go farther than… a week, maybe two, and I already thought it would be a game-changer, but with these…?” his eyes seemed to gain a weird, excited glint. “It could be months… plural. You… you mentioned there is a possibility to gain… more, than that. If it’s true, the possibilities could be… limitless.”
Angela and Fareeha exchanged a puzzled gaze, but they were both worried.
Was this about a possible resource of free energy? Nanomachines had never been used in such a way, but if this was what powered Talon’s weapons, then perhaps… they could understand how to shut them all down.
The camera zoomed elsewhere in the room, showing a stacked pillar of mice cages.
“I started with mice, obviously –the first few experiments did not yield any result. The first five mice were splintered, two of them died due to the wounds.” Angela’s eyes narrowed. “I tried using the same one three times, and once, the effect reverted.”
“What… what is he even saying?” Fareeha shook her head. “This isn’t helping. Check another video.”
Angela nodded, but before that, she clicked on another document. This one was just as corrupted, but it did have something interesting to it –it finally mentioned one of the possible targets of Talon.
“I think…” Angela’s eyes widened as she scrolled past pages of corrupted, encrypted text, “the omnium from before… it was a starting point. I think their target is an omnic.”
“This is good. We’re finally going somewhere with this!”
They clicked on another video file, and again, Doctor Stern was the first thing that appeared in the camera view.
“I… I’ve been told I should use better equipment, but. My camera is fine, for this.” The man appeared a little less tidy this time, lab coat collar rolled awkwardly, and eyebags a little more pronounced –though not as bad as Angela’s ones– but he still appeared triumphant, eyes sparkling and lips stretched in a thin, satisfied smile. “Part three of the experiment went great –this time, I used monkeys, and as expected, synching them using a sleeping cycle worked better. The results were stable, and I have advanced the theory further. Soon, I will be able to use human volunteers.” A flicker of worry passed through his face. “I… I have been assured nothing will befall on them should the experiments be conclusive.”
Angela dragged the bar ahead halfway through the video.
The scene changed, showing a monkey looking at a banana floating in the air, too high for the animal to grab it even if he tried to jump for it; the room was otherwise empty. The monkey appeared bored, but interested in the banana. Under their watchful eyes, they noticed the animal jolt as if electrocuted, though nobody was anywhere close to him.
A few seconds later, the monkey took off to the side, pushing the door of the room open and leaving. The camera did not move, but the monkey returned quickly, bringing what appeared to be a tall stool, which he used as a ladder to get closer to the banana. With a jump, he grabbed it and started to eat.
Angela clicked ahead again, and cut Doctor Stern’s voice mid-speech.
“–the experiment has been successful.”
The monkey –probably the same as before– was looking at the stool from before, now in another room.
Angela and Fareeha shrugged. “I still do not understand the point of these experiments, or what the machine does –but we don’t have time to watch all the videos at once.”
The next video was… different.
The quality of the camera, the fact that it was not a small, shaky angle… the equipment had changed, and so had the laboratory. It was not the same at all, even with little details as proof it was clear the room was larger, the machines newer, and in the middle of the area, the complete machine, identical to the one overwatch had built.
Doctor Stern was also not alone –there were two other men dressed as scientists at his side, and then Fareeha’s hand on Angela’s shoulder tightened as Akande Ogundimu, one of Talon’s leaders, appeared in full view.
“So… this is the prototype?” his voice rolled out in a drawl, but his eyes did not move from the machine, intense and focused.
“Yes, mister Akande, sir,” Doctor Stern’s voice sounded harried, breathless. “The first test runs have been successful.”
“None, sir. All tests were positive. We have received three more that we will need to replicate, which shows we have a stable loop going and no failures to report.”
“Wait, is it really safe?” another voice piped in, sounding far less amused, and Angela recognized that as well, though the name she had to put next to that wasn’t even the real one.
Sombra –the hacker whose files they had just retrieved, after months of intensive work. It was nothing short of a miracle they had circumvented her interest enough to track down this laboratory while the rest of their organization made enough of a fuss to keep her attention elsewhere.
Yet, it was because of her perfunctory determination to have a backup for everything she knew that they had even learned of this machine.
“I would not wish to use this if it was not safe,” Akande replied.
“So…” Doctor Stern swallowed, “wha… what is the target? I will need as much information as possible if you want to… do this for real. It seems stable enough to stretch for six months, but I heard that you wanted–”
“Our goal is further than that. Years, my dear doctor.”
“B–but we only managed that many months! It is already exceptional, where could we even get nanomachines that could be stable and self-replicant enough to power more than…”
The camera angled to the side, and the laboratory door showed two men dragging what appeared to be a container into the room, placing it down near the machine.
“We have that covered.” Akande sounded smug, and pleased. The intensity of his gaze seemed to make the doctor uneasy, but most of his attention was on the container, eyes wide at the implication. “We work with a nanomachine expert. You will use these to give an estimated amount of years to work with.”
The man nodded, eager to work. “It is not… it will not be used to…” he hesitated, as if regretting his words, and Akande laughed.
“No, this will not be for an execution. It is… something much better.”
It was Sombra’s turn to chuckle, the sound closer to the camera, and Angela realised with a start that it was probably her devices recording the scene.
It was Fareeha who closed down the vid, and started up another.
Again, the same scene –the doctor and Akande in the laboratory room, but it was another day, at a much later time –the lights outside the window made it seem to be mid-evening, at best.
“Everything is proceeding at a good pace. The reliable results thanks to the added nanomachines allow me to say that…” Doctor Stern licked his lips and wrung his hands together, excited yet anxious. “… it should work.”
“That makes me very happy, Doctor.” Akande straightened his back, and moved closer to the machine. “Now, I think you will be allowed to know who our target is.”
Both Angela and Fareeha jolted, and they shifted closer to the screen, eyes wide. Was he going to–
Akande slid a small remote control from his pocket and clicked on it. The air above the remote flickered and a small translucent screen appeared between him and the doctor, who moved closer to see, eyes wide and curious.
Before Angela could curse at the wrong angle, the camera moved as well, and the screen came to view for them as well.
“This is our target. We have followed him unimpeded for months in order to learn as much as we could on him.”
Angela froze, tilting her head to observe the grainy image. It was an omnic –but not one she recognized.
Polished face plate with scratches on its surface, and an array of nine teal dots. The placement was familiar though, and it made her lips curl in automatic distaste.
If this was the target of Talon, then they had to find him before they could enact whatever plan they were brewing, and… she had no idea why Talon wanted him, but if the mission had a target, then they would have to learn about him.
“A… A Shambali monk?” the scientist murmured, surprised, and Angela blinked.
Her attention had been taken by the omnic’s face plate, but as she looked at the rest of him, recognizing the tattered remains he was wearing around his waist as Shambali attire, and there were…
Nine glowing orbs surrounding him.
“Who is that omnic?” Fareeha hissed, her grip on the chair’s back so tight Angela stiffened. “He bears an incredible likeness to–”
“Tekhartha Zenyatta,” Akande murmured, something intense in the tone of his voice. “Rightful successor of Tekhartha Mondatta, and his first pupil, he studied with the Shambali to his mastery, later leaving Nepal to oversee a Blackwatch agent in need of… spiritual assistance. That created a friendship strong enough to convince him to join Overwatch after its rebirth under one of the older agents. He is the only living creature… mechanical or not… to be able to become a vessel for the Iris, and use its power.”
A lifetime away, watching the video, Angela and Fareeha froze.
“No,” Angela heard Fareeha hiss, shock and denial in her voice. “What is this?! These are all lies! That is not… that monster was never… what the fuck?!”
“How boring. You moved mountains just for that omnic, is that right?” Sombra spoke up again, but even if her tone appeared as bored as her words made it sound, there was something there, like teasing.
“You have not witnessed the truth of his powers in combat as I did, Sombra,” Akande answered, and the intensity of his gaze still did not move from the photo of Zenyatta in front of him. “Harnessing that power and having it in our control… no one would be able to withstand the chaos that Talon would bring upon this world, then. Yet, each attempt to sway him to us has met a definite refusal. Such power, such control… and he refuses to use it for what it was designed to be –bring a change to the world so sudden it’d leave nothing in its wake.”
Sombra snorted. “He does use it to kick our asses on a weekly basis, or so I see,” a flick of her wrist, barely in sight of the camera she was wearing, and the device Akande was holding sparkled with pink energy and the image shifted, showing a still of Zenyatta in battle.
He’d been caught collecting omnic energy to himself, orbs ready to shoot, and behind him, back to back, was someone that Angela knew far too well –different though from what she remembered, polished grey metal and green lights yet a far too familiar sword in his grasp.
Sombra sounded smug as she added, “didn’t think you’d be so interested… then again, you rarely look at anyone like that.”
And then, Akande turned around to look at Sombra –to look at the camera, the slow spread of his lips turning his focus into something almost feral.
“Mission hubris was created solely for him. Travel back in time enough to ensure the wielder of such power will become part of Talon. Before his powers settle, before his mind gets softened by the Shambali… to be shaped and guided down a path that is less… benign.” Akande spread one hand towards the image of Zenyatta. “So that this will never come to be. And once we have him… we will rule.”
“As if you’d need to sell this to me… I’ve been on board with this the moment you offered –and I know you would need me anyway. This sounds like I get to play, and I love it.”
Akande snorted, and returned his attention to the doctor, whose eyes were wide in shock. “I…”
“We thank you for your help, doctor… I think we can continue from now on.” Akande’s smirk tightened at the edges, and mirth was drained from his face. “Take him away. We are done with him. In a week, we will commence our mission.”
“B-but you can’t!” the doctor struggled against the men who were suddenly surrounding him, holding him by his arms. “The changes you mean to do… we’ve only observed small shifts in time, my experiments, they… nothing travelled further than the few months we’ve set up. What you want to do, it could–”
“Decades,” Akande murmured, pleased, the smirk back on his face. “It will change the present in ways that we have no way to measure. I am aware. That is exactly what I want.”
He turned towards the screen again, lips curling upwards in a feral smile. “And I will have it all.”
The screen fizzled and the video ended.
Angela and Fareeha, frozen on the spot, could only stare at the empty screen, uncomprehendingly.
“No…” Fareeha pushed away from the chair, anger seeping into her voice. “This is not possible!” she pointed her finger at the screen. “That was not… that was not him.”
Angela remained quiet, her face pale, distraught with what they’d just discovered.
All along –they’d thought the machine was meant to do something different. They’d chased this project with only the knowledge that Talon kept its existence hidden, which meant it had been important enough for Overwatch to devote resources on finding and acquiring a copy.
They had not expected… for the machine to be able to do that.
This was… this…
“Time travel,” she murmured, voice raw and harsh. “They… this is why some of the schematics looked so similar to the Chronal generator and… they used Moira’s studies, Fareeha. The nanites they used were probably her life’s work. It was– it was probably the same nanomachines she used on Reaper, it–”
“You can’t really tell me you believe this, Angela! That omnic is not Tekhartha Zenyatta!” anger flashed in her eyes.
“But he is. Or… or was. Fareeha… if this video is right, then what we’ve seen isn’t…” the truth of the situation hit Angela as she was about to say the words. “We’ve seen a universe that doesn’t exist anymore. Don’t you understand?” she swirled around, eyes wide, and met Fareeha’s furious face with her own frantic one. “They already did it! They’ve already–”
They had already moved through with their plan. Operation hubris had been completed even before overwatch had known about it.
This was why the files had incompatible dates.
The Tekhartha Zenyatta of the Shambali that was in the video did not exist anymore –because they’d already made sure he would not.
The Tekhartha Zenyatta that Angela and Fareeha knew so well –the Talon leader who kept opposing Overwatch, thwarting it, who’d been the cause of Fareeha’s scars, of Lena’s death, of…
Those two omnics were one and the same.
Tekhartha Zenyatta –also known as Hubris, who had rebuilt Talon, extended a web that spread around the world, who had caused ‘incidents’ to happen to every single person who attempted to oppose him, who attempted to stop Talon…
How could that have been a meek, peaceful monk originally? One who had travelled and fought side by side with Genji, of all people? Who had studied under Master Mondatta, who had been part of Overwatch…?
Even Angela could barely believe it, part of her denying the truth she’d just seen, and yet…
It was all true.
“The man in the video said he was Mondatta’s pupil, Angela! Yet we know he was the one who sent Widowmaker to kill him!”
“Yes.” Angela rubbed one hand down her face, perspiration leaving her feeling cold. “The question is… how do we fix… all of this?”
“You don’t, mi amiga.”
The voice crackled though the speakers above their heads, and Angela and Fareeha froze, the familiar voice echoing around them like a trap.
“Shit, it’s Sombra–!”
Her laughter drowned out Fareeha’s curses.
“Sorry, got to admit you were pretty brave, and… foolish, and smart to get this far thinking I wouldn’t notice, but… nah-hah, I did. And I can’t let you try to undo all the work we’ve done in the past decade… so I’m sorry to say, but you gotta go.”
Angela and Fareeha had no time –they exchanged a quick glance, Angela grabbing the tiny SD from the computer in a flash before they both darted away from the desk, rushing out of the room in their haste to leave–
They had to leave, they had to bring the files to overwatch, they had to–
But there was nowhere to go.
The explosion of an unnamed building in the outskirts of Numbani did not even deserve a report on the news channels, nothing more than a vague mention in local newspapers –especially since there were no known victims.
It had simply been chalked up to an instability of the building itself, building up electrical charge over the past decade, and since it had been abandoned and there were no records as to whom it belonged to, no investigation was started.
Everything was pushed into silence.
Of the mission Angela and Fareeha had undergone, nothing remained.
Travelling through secure means, a copy of the files Angela and Fareeha had managed to grab using Lynx Seventeen’s pirate program was sent out of the building milliseconds before the laboratory exploded.
There it waited, safe and sound, for the remaining members of Overwatch to find.
Maybe there was still hope.