Lena Oxton’s last words were cut off.
“It’s fine,” she was saying, “I think it’s fi–” And then the radio cut out as the Slipstream slipped from existence in a bright blue flash. A silence fell over the air traffic control tower of Watchpoint: Pembrey for a solid two minutes. “It could be a fluke,” one of the air traffic controllers said, “The teleportation could have messed up her signaling. Give it another minute, let her reset her comms.”
Another minute of silence passed. The Overwatch Experimental Flight program was no stranger to collective anxiety, the flare of butterflies in the stomach from watching a new fighter take to the air, the way everyone seemed to draw a tense, shallow breath as a prototype drone banked a turn. But it was no stranger to failures, either. That was the point of experiments, after all–testing, failing, learning, getting better–they had been so sure this would work. It would be a wonderful, revolutionary thing–obviously it would be years before it could be developed for commercial use but in terms of immediate response to global incidents? It was brilliant. But as the air traffic control tower looked out over the waters of Carmarthen Bay, a chill seemed to gather in the room. Something went wrong. Something had gone terribly, terribly wrong. Lena Oxton, young, bright, Lena Oxton, one of the faces of Overwatch’s future, was gone. And it was Overwatch’s fault.
The search efforts for her were an anxious formality–maybe only one or two of the experimental fight program really held out hope that the teleportation had been successful and something else had gone wrong and Oxton was forced to make a water landing. Everyone in the flight program knew but didn’t want to say it: the black box was state of the art. If it was gone, Slipstream was gone, and Tracer along with it.
It was three months of a PR nightmare. Several directors resigned and funding was gutted. Numerous engineers and scientists were fired or reassigned to less public, more out of the way work with other Overwatch science divisions. Watchpoint: Pembrey, the experimental flight division’s crown jewel, became little more than a gloomy airfield–mostly used for Orca maintenance and run by a skeleton crew of pit engineers and security. No one really wanted to work there after the Slipstream Incident—without its old crew of engineers and scientists, it felt broken. Everything there felt broken and off.
And on top of that it was haunted.
It wasn’t confirmed haunted—no hauntings ever really are, but several janitors working graveyard shifts had reported a figure made of bright blue light appearing in a flash, screaming, and disappearing again. The sightings started out short, erratic, nighmarish, but as time went on, and the blue figure’s sporadic appearances persisted, other witnesses reported odd behaviors. The blue figure would appear next to Lena Oxton’s old locker, trying and failing to get it open, its hands merely phasing through the lock. The blue figure would appear sprinting, on the shoreline path next to Carmathen Bay where Tracer would go for her morning runs. The figure would appear in Watchpoint: Pembrey’s hangar, staring at where the Slipstream once was. In that time, the ghosts features became sharper and sharper–a sharp jaw, a small, slightly upturned nose, a head of spiky hair—everyone knew who the ghost was, but most dared not to say it.
Four months of random sightings passed, some within hours of each other, some weeks apart. In that time, a ramshackle rocket broke through the atmosphere and Overwatch recovered it, finding it had only one passenger. A genetically modified gorilla from the Horizon Lunar colony, carrying with him a head full of astrophysical and engineering knowledge, and a lot of bad memories. Winston’s scientific prowess proved invaluable, but the gorilla was quiet and kept to himself mostly. He apologized often for absentmindedness, offhandedly mentioning the loss of his father. Overwatch said he could work at any state-of-the-art Overwatch facility he so desired. He chose Pembrey—now a quiet and out of the way Watchpoint. Strike Commander Morrison briefly questioned his choice, but immediately recognized the grief that seemed to radiate off Winston, and was willing to give the gorilla the space he needed to grieve.
Winston had only been on Watchpoint Pembrey a week when he saw the ghost. She appeared when he was rifling through his locker, said, “What did you say about thermodynamics?” Winston could not recall saying anything to her about thermodynamics and then she disappeared again. She reappeared several weeks later, screaming while Winston was eating his breakfast, then disappeared again. He gave remarkably little reaction. She appeared again a few days later. “—fix it?” she said.
“What?” said Winston.
“Can you fix it? The thing you were saying yesterday. The time thing.”
“…time thing?” said Winston.
“You’re a super-genius, aren’t you?” she tilted her head.
“I mean… that’s being… very generous about it,” Winston paused, “You seem very calm about the fact that I’m a gorilla.”
“Well I’ve been seeing you around the watchpoint for almost a year now, I’m pretty used to you,” she said, smiling. Winston had only been on the Watchpoint for eleven days.
She reappeared a few hours later.
“You aren’t frightened?” she said.
“You’re not a ghost,” said Winston, he paused and then added, “It’s basic thermodynamics.”
“Basic thermo-what—” she started before disappearing again.
She reappeared two days later.
“Thermodynamics,” Winston said quickly, as soon as she appeared, “If you can’t interact with a ghost, it isn’t made of matter, and if ghosts aren’t matter, ipso facto, they are energy–however, in every thermodynamic system, energy is lost. Ghosts, by simple laws of physics, have nothing to sustain themselves on, and therefore cannot exist.”
“What are you talking about?” she said before disappearing.
It was four weeks before she appeared again. Winston was staring at the photo of his father again when he saw a glowing blue figure in the doorway.
“Is there a reason why you keep appearing to me?” said Winston.
“What kind of question is that? You’re my best friend!” she snapped before disappearing.
She reappeared 17 hours later and shouted, “OH MY GOD A GORILLA WHY IS THERE A GORILLA WHAT IS GOING ON” before disappearing.
She reappeared several minutes later. “If I’m not a ghost, what am I?”
“…someone who’s not experiencing time linearly,” Winston said.
“Can you—?” she started before disappearing.
Winston thought in silence for a few moments. “… fix it,” he said, remembering the second thing she had ever said to him, “’Can you fix it?’”