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The Arc of Conflict, Edda 14b: What Would You Have Us Do?

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"What would you have us do, Michael?" Angela demanded. "We cannot leave this unanswered."

"Yeah, doc," Lena said, jumping in. "Just let them go off all how-d'ya-do? Oh, you turned on us as we were savin' you, tried to kill a couple of us and take a bunch more hostage, but hi ho, that's fine!"

Dr. Ngcobo shook his head. "No, of course not. But Angela - wasn't it you who said we must become very good at forgiveness?"

Angela pulled back, just a little, surprised at the echoes of her own words, and nodded, slowly. "...yes. But only for those who have admitted they need it."

Lena nodded. "They haven't even admitted they've done anything, yet!"

"They're not speaking to us at all," Moira noted. "Diplomatic channels remain closed, and the Concordat cities in Russia are reporting extraordinarily heavy police presence. They are deeply worried - and I think they are right be."

"We've been teleporting in shielding systems," Hana said. "It's improvised, but if they need to get everyone out, it'll help a lot."

"That is my point!" Michael insisted. "It is bad, now! It will get much worse if you - we - go on some sort of mass killing spree. We cannot just destroy a government."

"We aren't touching the Duma, doc," Lena responded, frowning, "Or the PM. Athena says they weren't..."

"The Duma and the PM are useless. Show appendages of the real power structure."

"But they shouldn't be," she snapped back.

"Yes, but you would gut the actual systems of power, and the resulting chaos would bring a terrible price to everyone." He shook his head. "And taking out the chain of command is pointless. Most of them were simply following their orders."

"Zarya did not," Satya noted, "simply follow her orders, and she is perhaps the greatest patriot I have ever seen."

"Indeed," Moira nodded. "A bit over a century ago, the world received some important lessons about why one should not necessarily follow orders - and possibly also about patriotism." She smirked, feeling more centred, more herself, arguing on the side of direct action. "Perhaps Akande was right about some reminders being necessary."

"If the Russian army has a surplus of anything," Danielle noted, "it is in the officer corps."

"My point remains - they failed." Michael did not shout, or even raise his voice, but the deep profundo of his words carried his conviction.

"But they're still trying," Fareeha noted. "Active measures are out en masse. We're retaliating, and at the moment, our memes are faring better than theirs. But they will keep going until they have no choice but to stop."

The God of Wisdom closed his eyes, briefly, knowing the Huntress was correct.

"Fine," he granted. "A response. Perhaps it is necessary. I... can accept that." He opened his eyes again. "But measure it. If you do not want to guarantee a new war... give them a way out."

Across the table, Hana laughed, once, and all heads turned, seeing a grin spread across the Goddess of War's face.

"Yeah," she said. "You're right. We've gotta game this."

She tapped the tabletop a bit, with the index finger of her right hand.

"And... I've got an idea."

-----

"So that's what happened," Commander Amari said, nodding. "I can't say I'm surprised."

Strike Commander Morrison nodded along with his XO. "It matches our data, for the most part."

"You knew some of the plan already, I think," Dr. Zhou said. "Angela thinks you did. She's pretty angry about that. Aleksandra said she knew some of it, too, but not all. Did you?"

"We had suspicions something might be up," Strike Commander Morrison did not quite lie. "But no real evidence. Nothing actionable."

"So the Russian agent - she was also a target?" Commander Amari asked.

"We don't really know. But she was..." Mei-Ling looked deeply sad. "They were willing to kill her, I think. To get one of... to get the omnium. And to get Sombra."

"Is Oasis talking to Russia at all? Are there any attempts to talk this down?"

"I don't know how much there is. The Russian embassy has been pretty quiet, as far as I know, but... I'm not really in the loop on that. The Science Ministry" - of China, she meant - "doesn't know much they can tell me either."

"We've read Oasis's statements, but the city is all but opaque to us," Ana admitted. "Anything you can tell us would be tremendously helpful."

"They're... really angry. Not just over the omnium. Angela, in particular. I've never seen her like this."

"I wouldn't react well to allies trying to take me prisoner, I must admit," Ana replied.

"No, of course not! I wouldn't either! I'm angry too! But... this... could turn into the kind of war we were trying to stop! That we had to stop!" She looked more anxious than either Overwatch head had seen her since being Changed. "We can't let this happen!"

"Can't let what happen, Mei?" the older woman asked.

"They're - they're going to try to deliver a message. Russia won't listen, and public statements aren't getting anywhere, so they're going to deliver a response to Katya Volskaya directly. I don't know now."

"A response?" Morrison leapt upon the word. "Mei, are they going to take some sort of action?"

"Probably. Not first. First, it's a message. They want Volskaya to admit what she did, and stand down. Then talk. But if she doesn't do it..."

"An ultimatum," Jack said, with no small share of dread.

"They're really angry."

This isn't just going to end, is it? Morrison asked himself. "Can you - Angela's your friend. Can you calm her down? If you can talk her down, that'll have an effect on all of them."

"I've been trying. And I will try again! But most of the time when I talk to her, I just get more angry too! What they did... was so mean!"

خرة, Amari thought. The feedback loop is going the other way. "Then - don't worry about it, Mei. Worry about the ecopoint, instead."

Morrison glanced at Amari, confused for a moment, but then understanding.

Dr. Zhou smiled, a little less nervously. "Yes. I have been thinking mostly about that situation. We have quarters set up here, and we are rotating shifts in and out of the dome, to keep everything going until the emergency is over."

"Concentrate there, then. But also keep an ear open for us, doctor, please," Morrison added. "And - don't debate any of them, but if you can get Dr. Zielger or... Hana, particularly... to talk to us, I think it'd help."

"I'll try," Mei-Ling replied. "I promise."

"Thank you, Mei. And good luck."

"Thanks, Ana. If I find anything else out, I'll let you know right away!"

Amari and Morrison kept the channel between them open, and widened microphone access to the full conference rooms in both Watchpoints.

"She's bein' sucked in," McCree drawled, stating the obvious.

"She's being sympathetic to her friends," Brigitte countered.

"I am afraid, my squire, that it is very much the same thing," Reinhardt rumbled. "They are folding in ranks, as would any company."

"Brigitte," Torbjorn said, "I don't suppose y'have anything y'want to stop pretending we don't know about right now, do ya?"

The young armourer sighed, and looked down at her special phone, the one everyone pretended she didn't have, and had worked so hard to keep it that way.

"Hana's... she says they're... planning something. They're going to retaliate." She looked up, and spoke quickly. "But they want to give Russia a way out! They don't want a war, they're trying to give Volskaya a way to back down!"

"She's sure?" Morrison asked.

"She's sure," Brigitte nodded. "She said it was her idea."

"And you are..." Amari stepped carefully, knowing this had gone badly before. "You... are confident she's... speaking freely, as herself?"

"I..."

She disappointed herself with a moment of hesitation. Hana sounded so... clinical about it. Like it was a strategy, for and of itself, in a game.

"...yes," she decided. "I am."

"If it includes that ultimatum," Genji noted, "I do not think it will go over well with Volskaya," and Jesse nodded his agreement.

"A university city-state issuing ultimatums to Russia," Amari grumbled. "Everything else aside, the arrogance..."

"Russia betrayed them!" Brigitte surprised herself by shouting. "What would you do?"

"I would hit back, of course," Amari laughed. "But I am not a superpower."

"Or some kind of self-styled 'god,' McCree snipped. "An' they are."

Ana dipped her head towards her XO, in support. "And because of that, I have more freedom to react, without causing devastating harm. They... have less."

She shook her head.

"Someday - if we cannot stop them - they will have to learn this."

-----

"We're the ones he thinks he can talk to," Hana told Mei-Ling, her blue-steel gaze darting to the doctor's sapphire. She tried to remember that in many ways, the Strike Commander was right. "That's why he asked for us."

"I agree," Angela replied, frowning. "If... were this Overwatch, were these the old days, I am certain he would be sympathetic to our side. When something like this happened, he would have met with Gabriel, unofficially, somewhere quiet, and there would have been retribution, with a cover of deniability. Then, if necessary, he would grumble in public, make promises to Geneva that he never meant to keep, come home, and pat Blackwatch on the back and say job well done."

Mei-Ling considered that, disquieted. "...that's..."

"That's exactly what happened, Mei." Angela sighed. "More than once. And perhaps it was necessary, in the fight against..." She stopped, for a moment, then laughed. "...against Talon. Against... us. Or who we were, for a little while, before."

"Then why wouldn't he understand now? If he's still who he was then, why..."

"Because we aren't them anymore, Mei, and they know it. Russia proved that. Neither are you, though..." She smiled, and brushed the doctor's cheek with the backs of her fingers, gently, and the climatologist smiled. "Though you still try, and I admire you for it."

Hana bit her lower lip and thought, a bit, about that. "That doesn't mean we have to fight 'em. It's the Russians who did this, not Overwatch."

"True, though I know Jack - I think they knew more than they acknowledge, and let it happen. It is his way."

"I do not think that," Mei-Ling said, firmly, taking back Angela's hand, for a moment. "Not really." And Angela nodded, granting the possibility.

"Nobody wins a two-front war," Hana continued, oblivious, for the moment, to the others. "We need to make 'em stay out of it. Brigitte understood - at least, I think she did - when I told her. Maybe..."

"Jack knows how important it is to avoid a large conflict," Dr. Zhou insisted, to Angela. "You know he does. Just talk to him."

Angela fluffed out her wings, and grimaced, still so very angry inside. Some part of her wanted that large war, for this, but a larger part of her soothed that part, reminding her, no. "It will not change what we need to do."

"But it'll show we're willing to talk. That we're not launching straight into a bloodbath," Hana said, and tapped the table. "We stopped another omnium. That has to count for something with him. It did last time."

"I would not count on that," said the Goddess of Life. "Last time, we killed it. This time, we tried to save it... and I do not think that will 'count' for nearly so much."

Hana didn't know what to say, to that, but found that if nothing else... she had to agree.

-----

“I have reservations.”

Danielle raised an eyebrow. “But you agreed to the plan.”

“I do not question Hana’s strategy,” Satya admitted as she watched Sombra’s sleeping form, the ever shifting lines of her vitals displayed behind the bed. “But I wonder if it is enough.

Danielle considered that for a moment before she replied. “Remember - this will be the beginning, not the end.”

Despite her anger and uncertainty, Satya’s lips turned up in a faint smile as she turned to leave. “I suppose that is true.”

It had been quite some time since Satya needed to lean on her skills in espionage and infiltration, but she had not forgotten what she had learned as Symmetra, and so, entering Moscow was surprisingly easy. A cover identity, a few bribes, a bit of misdirection.

Volskaya, she had calculated, would almost certainly retreat to her offices here, far from the front lines, and closer to Europe should she need to withdraw further. Giving up the protection of her factories and the heavy armor detachments stationed there, in favour of access, political influence, and mobility, here.

It was the most logical course of action, really.

Perhaps Satya would compliment Katya on it when they met.

She had brought her photon projector, but it was surprisingly easy to simply stay ahead of both patrols and cameras with her enhanced speed and her natural grace.

Her first real challenge came when she reached the perimeter of the office complex. Even though there were no Syvatogors, Volskaya had set the building on the border of one of the city’s open squares, with no sources of cover that could conceal an approach. Anyone attempting to reach the gates would have to prove they had legitimate business or be turned away, and an attempt to storm the building would be cut down by the guard positions thanks to the unlimited lanes of fire.

It was fortunate, then, that she had no intention to approach on foot. Crouching in an alley off the square’s perimeter, she generated one of her teleporter stations within a few seconds.

Her next move would be more difficult. Thick walls surrounded the complex, and there was no vantage point to see within to help her place another station. But she did not need to see.

Assuming a uniform thickness for the walls and standard reinforced construction, maximum range for hard light matrix generation, and the desired distance within…

Figures and angles played through her mind, until she had a firm concept of where the teleporter needed to appear. Her arm raised as she ‘aimed’ the array, her fingers slowly flexing and closing as she finished her calculations on where the stored design would need to appear, then snapped them wide as the projectors flared into life, and a moment later the teleporter before her blossomed as the path was opened.

With a single step, she made her way into one of the most secure facilities in Russia.

If their intelligence was correct, Volskaya’s private quarters were at the heart of the building.

As she walked, she carefully formed a construct between her hands. An intricate structure that seemed to form a cube, at first, but as she wove more and more layers into the form, the ‘top’ and ‘bottom’ were opened, exposing the increasingly dense structure within the slowly rotating box.

Every footstep added a layer. Every motion drew Satya closer to her goal.

The door that lead into Volskaya’s home had a single guard posted outside, and two cameras positioned to cover the hallway.

A carefully modulated burst from the projector rendered the guard unconscious before he could raise the alarm, but Satya chose to allow the cameras to record her walking through the door, the cubical construct still floating above her palm.

A small sitting room opened onto a utilitarian kitchen, with a hallway that lead to a bathroom, a child’s bedroom, and finally the master suite.

She took care to move as silently as possible. She had no desire to bring any harm to a child.

It was only when she shut the master bedroom door behind her and made her way to the foot of the four post bed that she finally spoke.

“Hello, Madame President.”

Katya Volskaya awoke with a jerk, her hand reaching to turn on her bedside lights. “Who - you!”

Satya smiled coldly as she raised the construct until it was at her eye level, the rotation finishing with the open sides aligned to the “top” and “bottom”.

She released the the structure from potential into being, and it sprang open as the compressed layers began to rapidly expand, the inner layer solidifying into a barrier harder than steel around the bedroom, the second blocking the door of the suite, on and on, growing with each iteration, until four gleaming walls of blue light had completely severed the Volskaya Industries compound from the rest of Moscow, a gleaming jewel of a prison two miles high.

“I am here to deliver a message,” Satya explained as her hand casually brushed against the grip of her projector. “I would appreciate if you will refrain from speaking until I have finished.”

Volskaya glared daggers at her, but remained silent.

“Your decision to strike at Us was cowardly, and shameful. We came to you to offer nothing but our goodwill and genuine desire to help bring peace to Russia, and you repaid that kindness with treachery.”

How did she get in here? Volskaya thought, desperately triggering the same alarm she'd triggered moments before, to no effect.

She knew better than to reach for the gun.

"You - and the Russian military - will cease active measures against us immediately. You will confess what you did, all of it, publicly, today, and then resign. All others involved with planning this betrayal will also confess their roles, and also resign. Each day's delay will result in a new level of sanction. None of you will involve yourself in politics again."

She smirked.

"Of course, that will be true regardless of what you decide to do."

Volskaya did not have to think hard to know what that meant.

"Additionally, St. Petersburg's blocked petition to join the Concordat will be approved, and Russia will take steps towards ending the abuse of its Omnic population." A thoughtful look flew across her face. "But that, I suppose, will be a matter for your successor - not you."

Katya laughed, and leaned back, against the headboard of her bed. "And here I thought you were being serious, Ms. Vaswani."

Satya raised one eyebrow, and smiled, a little. "I take it you do not accept our terms."

"Do not insult me," Katya spat, rising from the bed, and walking over to the goddess.

"Your terms - even your appearance, here - is an act against Russian sovereignty, and an act of war. You do know that, do you not?"

"You have already committed the first act of war. This is merely our initial response."

"Every Vishkar development in Russia will be raided by morning. Every building - every single construction - will be razed to the ground by afternoon."

"You will find that difficult."

"It will be done. St. Petersburg will never join the Concordat, and every current member city will expel your kind and their allies, and I will be thrilled to lead humanity against you."

She rose from her bed and met Satya's platinum-eyed stare with her own.

"Do you think we don't know what you are? Do you really think I do not know we have exchanged one devil for another?" She snorted. "A weaker one after all, I think. The omnium would just have killed me."

"I wanted to kill you. That was my original plan, in fact."

She turned, and threw a teleporter matrix into the air before her.

"But... she lived. And therefore - so will you."

The teleporter burst into life, and Satya put a hand on the frame, preparing to step through.

"I will see you again, to accept your surrender."